Paul Robeson, Jr.

Paul Robeson, Jr.

: Photo from Creative Commons / Author of Photo: Marjorie Lipan


* Son of the devoted Stalinist, Paul Robeson
* Proud member of the Communist Party
* Advocated a revolution to topple the existing American social structure
* “All institutions in [the U.S.] are, to one degree or another, infected by racism.”
* Likened Republicans to fascists and Nazis
* Died in 2014


Paul Robeson Jr. was a civil rights activist, a Marxist, and a self-declared “black radical.” He was the only child of the famous entertainer and devoted Stalinist, Paul Robeson Sr. (1898-1976).

Born in New York City on November 2, 1927, Paul Robeson Jr. spent much of his young life traveling the world with his parents. He lived for some time in Moscow, where he attended school with Joseph Stalin’s daughter and became fluent in Russian. Robeson returned to the U.S. in 1939 and later attended both Rutgers and Cornell Universities, earning a degree in electrical engineering. By the time he graduated in 1949, he was well known for his radical political views. Robeson subsequently went on to train as an electrical engineer, and also worked as a translator of ­Russian-language scientific journals.

A “Black Radical” & Communist Who Hated America

Like his father before him, Robeson detested the United States, characterizing it as a nation rife with bigotry and injustice aimed at nonwhite minorities. “This is still a profoundly racist country,” he said in 1996, “meaning [that] the majority of white people are still racist, to one degree or another…. All institutions in this country are, to one degree or another, infected by racism.”[1]

Robeson believed that the American government felt threatened by his father because the latter presented “an alternative value system of an unassimilated, automatically dissident culture.” Taking great pride in his quest to follow in his father’s activist footsteps, Robeson said in 1993: “I follow in my father’s cultural tradition, and like him, I am a black radical.”

Robeson claimed that his father had never officially joined the Communist Party because “he thought it would destroy his effectiveness.” “I, being a generation younger and not an artist,” added Robeson, “felt that the way to be effective was through an organization.” “He [my father] wasn’t the communist in the family,” Robeson said on another occasion. “I was.”  But contrary to the younger Robeson’s claim, Paul Robeson Sr. had in fact been a longtime secret member of the Communist Party, as CPUSA head Gus Hall proudly revealed in May 1998.

Paul Robeson Jr. was likewise a member of the Communist Party, from about 1948 to 1962. “It [the Party] was an instrument,” he later said, “a radical instrument that could help advance the interests of African-Americans. It helped build the early civil-rights movement and independent trade union movement in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.” Robeson left the Party in 1962 because, by his telling, “it became bureaucratic and corrupt.”

Vienna World Youth Festival

Robeson regularly attended meetings of the Vienna World Youth Festival (VWYF). Known for their intense, sometimes violent debates, these festivals were used by Robeson and fellow members of the international communist movement to indoctrinate as many young people as possible against America and in favor of Russia. Meanwhile, pro-American anti-communists such as Charlie Wiley (1927-2022), Herb Romerstein (1931-2013), and others tried to counter them. Wiley, for one, described Robeson as a man who was “really hardcore,” “a hard, committed, austere communist”; a “mean, tough, no nonsense” individual; “not one to mess around with”; and “a worse America hater than his father.” Wiley also said that while he (Wiley) was generally capable of tricking other American communists into trusting him as an ideological kindred spirit, Robeson “didn’t trust me at all.” “The younger Robeson constantly gave [Wiley] a cold, hard stare,” reports historian Paul Kengor. “He knew his way around. Unlike the wide-eyed liberals, Robeson was a committed radical leftist who was no sucker.”

Robeson’s Use of Crude Language

Wiley added the following noteworthy observation about Robeson’s personality:

“As an interesting side-note, there was one funny thing I remember about Paul Robeson Jr. It’s funny what sticks with you, but I remember the language he used. He was the first male I ever encountered who swore in front of women with really foul language—rude, crude. I mean the ‘F-word’ and everything. You have to understand that men just didn’t talk like that in those days. Later on they would all the time, but not back then. Robeson was the first time where I saw that. It really struck me. It was very unusual.”

Testimony Before HUAC

On February 4, 1960, Robeson testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), chaired by Pennsylvania Democrat Francis Walter. Historian Paul Kengor describes what happened during Robeson’s testimony:

“Robeson Jr. … was characteristically evasive, snide, unintimidated, and disrespectful. He refused to answer basic questions, including repeatedly refusing to affirm that he was a member of the Communist Party. He wouldn’t discuss his pro-Soviet work at the Vienna festival; to the contrary, he maligned the anti-communist Americans who were there. Amazingly, Paul Jr. accused them (the anti-communists) of agitating and turning the festival into a ‘cold-war battlefield.’ He said that they had come to ‘disrupt,’ ‘discredit,’ and ‘subvert’ the festival. They were a ‘disgrace,’ he snarled at the committee.

“It was a grossly mendacious performance. It was also a blatantly pro-Soviet stunt. Moscow surely reveled in every minute of it.

“Robeson then turned his guns on the House Committee itself, which he accused of ‘harass[ing] those who fight for Negro equality,’ of giving ‘aid and comfort to segregationists,’ of undermining ‘the enforcement of civil rights of Negroes,’ of ‘never doing anything about civil rights,’ and of being sympathetic to ‘self-confessed Nazis and Fascist collaborators.’

“This was the typical smear tactic used by the communist left. And, of course, Paul Jr. accused the committee of ‘attempting to poison the minds of young people with the ideology of McCarthyism.’”

Creating an Archive of His Father’s Documents & Recordings

After the death of his father in 1976, Robeson began to create an archive of Robeson Sr.’s correspondences, recordings and photographs. Part of that archive is housed at Howard University.

Complaining That Broadway Play Failed to Emphasize Robeson Sr.’s Socialist Views

When playwright Phillip Hayes Dean’s Paul Robeson — a theatrical production about the life of the late Paul Robeson Sr. — opened on Broadway in 1978, Robeson Jr. and more than 50 fellow prominent blacks (including Maya Angelou, Julian Bond, Coretta Scott King, and Charles Rangel) published a letter in Variety magazine calling the show a “pernicious perversion of the essence of Paul Robeson.” Specifically, Robeson and the others complained that the play failed to emphasize Robeson Sr.’s socialist views.

Supporting the Communists in Nicaragua

In 1986, Robeson was a signatory to a statement opposing the Reagan administration’s policy of aiding anti-Communist forces in Nicaragua. Drafted by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy/East and West (CPD) — a New York City-based socialist organization — the statement read as follows:

“As opponents of the Cold War East and West we protest the Reagan Administration’s escalating war on Nicaragua. The nature of the Nicaraguan regime is not the issue. We defend the democratic right of every nation to self-determination in complete freedom from superpower control, whether that domination is justified by the Brezhnev doctrine in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, or by Reagan’s claims of U.S. special interests in Central America and the Caribbean. The application of force against weaker nations blocks democratic social and political change, tightens the superpower’s grip on their respective blocs and spheres of influence, and fuels the arms race with catastrophic consequences for all of us.

“To escape from the current global impasse we must find a Third Way in which democratic activists and movements from around the world make common cause to build an alternative to both blocs. We are raising our voices in unison against this ominous heightening of the Cold War, and demand an immediate end to the United States’ growing intervention in Nicaragua. We challenge the US to set an example of non-interventionism, and we ask the Soviet Union to do the same in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan.”

Among the signers of the 1986 CPD statement were: Ed Asner, David Brower, Noam ChomskyRichard Falk, Allen Ginsberg, Todd Gitlin, Bernie Sanders, and George Soros.

Here I Stand

In 1998, Robeson published the book Here I Stand, as a response to his critics and accusers.

Predicting That the 21st Century Would Be “Marx’s Time”

In 1998 as well, Robeson published a piece titled “Communism or ‘Socialism’? A Return to Marx and Engels,” in which he happily predicted that the 21st century would be “Marx’s time.” Celebrating the fact that “it is the onset of the high-tech information age that, for the first time, makes possible the transition from capitalism to communism envisioned by the founders of Marxism,” Robeson stated: “Lenin pushed a revolution too far and died a decade too soon; Khrushchev seized his time and risked his physical life to end Stalinism’s terror; Gorbachev came at the right time and sacrificed his political life to return political power to the people. But Marx was a century and a half before his time. Lenin was Russia’s great revolutionary; Khrushchev was her great reformer; Gorbachev will be remembered as her great liberator. But Marx and Engels founded the theory of a popular parliamentary democracy which is destined to challenge liberal democracy around the world in the 21st century.”

Advocating Communist Revolution, Likening Republicans to Nazis

Robeson advocated an all-out revolution that would topple America’s existing social structure and usher in a Communist era. “Talk is cheap,” he said in January 2003 speech at Dartmouth University. “Revolutions never got made by talking. Revolution only happens when large groups of people spontaneously want it.” In that same address, Robeson called for a form of “economic justice” based on a massive redistribution of wealth. The U.S. government, he said, should spend “hundreds of billions of dollars” to elevate the income of every American earning less than the median income. Asserting further that the U.S. was becoming a nation of two separate cultures — one dominated by blacks, the other by white Southern Protestants — Robeson: (a) characterized President George W. Bush as “part of a neo-Confederate government geared at destroying the Union,” and (b) drew a parallel between Bush’s strong support among voters in America’s southern states, and the fact that Adolf Hitler had been very popular in the southern regions of Germany.

In a September 2005 opinion piece, Robeson again took up the theme of “two Americas,” writing:

“There have always been two Americas – the progressive America of Abraham Lincoln’s Union and the reactionary America of Jefferson Davis’s Confederacy. Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy symbolize the progressive tradition, whereas Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are the icons of the reactionary tradition.

“The constituency of progressive America consists of the working class, minorities, and the poor. The constituency of reactionary America is made up of the middle and upper classes, and its core consists of wealthy WASP southerners. ‘WASP’ stands for ‘White Anglo-Saxon Protestant,’ and since Anglo-Saxons are by definition white, this term means ‘double-white’ or ‘super-white’ Protestant. Wealthy southern WASPs are the descendants of the slave-owners, and their cultural tradition parallels that of the German Nazis.”

In the same piece, Robeson accused the aforementioned “reactionary” conservatives of having brought to the U.S. “a creeping Fascism that seeks to install power vested in big banks, business corporations, the President, and the army in place of power vested in the people and Congress.” The cure for “the disease of Fascism,” Robeson wrote, is a “peaceful anti-Fascist mass movement” comprised of a “coalition of Blacks, Latinos, labor, progressive whites, and Asians, which is committed to the political destruction of the Republican Party.” “The Republican Party has become a Confederate party with a program of … unrestrained corporate greed, racism, anti-unionism, imperial war, and domestic fear,” he added. “This Republican president [Bush] has lied to the American people about 9/11, the Iraq war, the ‘war on terror,’ the domestic economy, and home security…. His Republican Party’s political gangsters have brazenly stolen two national elections by 2.3 million (in 2000) and 3.4 million (in 2004) popular votes.” Robeson further expressed his contempt for Republicans by asserting that any blacks who chose to support Republican political leaders were “reminders of those house slaves and freedmen who loyally supported the Confederacy at the expense of the field slaves.”


Robeson died of lymphoma on April 26, 2014.

Additional Information

In 2001, Robeson appeared with Pete Seeger in the documentary film Freedom Highway: Songs that Shaped a Century, about 20th-century folk and protest music.

In 2005, Robeson appeared in 500 Years Later, a documentary film about the global impact of the transatlantic slave trade. Others in the cast included Molefi Kete Asante, Amiri Baraka, and Maulana Karenga.

Robeson also wrote and co-produced a number of scripts for theater.

Robeson authored the 1993 book Paul Robeson, Jr. Speaks to America: The Politics of Multiculturalism, a collection of essays about “the culture wars” in America. He also penned A Black Way of Seeing: From “Liberty” to Freedom, a Critique of the U.S. in the 21st Century (2007).

In his later years, Robeson lectured on a variety of political, social, economic, and cultural topics throughout the United States and Europe.

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