Paul Robeson's birthday went by last month without a single mention on the daily kos website. A few weeks ago, I discovered the appearance (on youtube) of a strange and wonderful performance that I happened to see in person. It took place at a small bookstore in Trenton NJ.
A musical essay and tribute toward the life of Paul Robeson by Harry Jackendoff, with some heavy discussions about what Paul Robeson's life may have meant to the entire progressive movement, and perhaps how some of the same factors that destroyed Paul Robeson continue to harm the progressive movement today.
During the performance (which was produced for Princeton Community Television..Paul Robeson was born in Princeton), we learn a little about the life story of Paul Robeson. Through some wildly thoughtful songs performed by the 60-year-old Jackendoff, he relates Robeson's life to economics, and politics.
At a climactic point, Jackendoff seems to say that Robeson (and many progressives) fall into the trap of seeking to make the world better, but being forced to defend imperfect solutions to the problems.
Robeson wasn't destroyed because he wasn't strong enough for the fight. Striking out against bigotry and ignorance, he found himself backed into a corner, backing up communism that he couldn't defend.Jackendoff continues on to quote psychologist Erich Fromm:
What happened to socialism? Instead of understanding it as a movement for the liberation of man, many of its adherents and its enemies alike understood it as being exclusively a movement for the economic improvement of the working class. The humanistic gains of socialism were forgotten or only paid lip-service to (as in capitalism). All the emphasis was laid on the aims of economic gain. It succumbed to the spirit of capitalism which is had wanted to replace. It became the vehicle by which the workers could attain their place within the capitalistic structure rather than transcend it, and instead of changing capitalism, socialism was absorbed by its spirit.It's a beautiful performance. The best part are the songs. So you'll need to watch if you are interested in learning about one man's inspired look at the incredible life of Paul Robeson.