[While on a fact-finding trip to Prednistrovia (Transnistria) in the Summer of 2007, I visited the little museum in the capital, Tiraspol, dedicated to the 1990-92 war of independence against Moldova. In a square Plexiglas display case I saw a signed copy of Paul Robeson's book “Here I Stand.” I thought of his singing Old Man River about the Neister instead of the Mississippi. That and how his face, to me, was the face of US Communism—Robeson, Josephine Baker, WEB Dubois, the Scottsboro Boys, the Tuskegee airmen (cause they flew on the Eastern Front in WWII). Nothing very serious, just musing.
Then in December of 2007, I visited Moscow to observe the Duma elections of that year and got a real course in contemporary mass democracy: Maximize the Suffrage. My daughter Yana had given me Barack Obama's “Dreams From My Father” for Father's Day that year, and I was reading it in my room at Moscow’s eastside Holiday Inn when a story came on CNN about Paul Robeson. Connections were snapping off like JiffyPop in a microwave.
But in late summer 2008, I was driving along the Rhine, heading from Frankfurt to Altzheim to lead a CM/P seminar in Movies and the UnMaking of History for a bunch of German Free Thinkers (they wouldn't be offended if I specified they were all Communists, really). It was a beautiful scene, with this great river snaking along beside my young comrade's VW, when he stuck a cassette into dash and Robeson's Slavic folksongs started accompanying our voyage down river.
I'd expressed some of my associations to my German friends, mainly the connections I had imagined between Black Americans, like Paul Robeson and Barack Obama, and anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism and anti-Fascism (or, what I like to call just Communism). My friends warned me that the Free Thinkers I was about talk movies with were not too keen on the would-be first African American President, and that I probably should just shut up about my support for Obama over McCain.
The Germans preferred the admitted war criminal, thinking the mad bomber of Hanoi and miner of Haiphong Harbor would 'heighten the contradictions' in US foreign and military policies more effectively than the putatively anti-war Democrat and, thereby, bring about a speedier end to US imperialism and its global conflagration.
But I couldn't help being led out into confessing my Rorschachian analysis of politics in the country I had abandoned 15 years earlier: African Americans were the slaves; Communism freed the workers of the world from chattel and wage slavery; Robeson was a great Communist; Obama reminded me of Robeson in many ways . . . well, you get it. But the Germans didn't.
Yet the piece that follows was sent to me by a dear German comrade, Irene Eckart. And though she as Aryan as the High Lama (played by Sam Jaffe in Capra's 1937 Lost Horizon), I think she is sympathetic with, at least, the tone of some of my free associations.
So here's to Uncle Joe, who left us 60 years ago next month. And to the great American Communist, Paul Robeson. May their spirits, which are still alive in today's Russia, guide more world leaders toward the Reason and Decency our global society so badly needs. –mc]
Paul Robeson was an interationally renowned musical theatre artist, a stage and film actor and an outstanding athlete. He studied at Columbia Law School. He was the first black actor to perform Shakespeare's Othello.