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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.

Originally posted to NJNiceGuy on Sun May 13, 2012 at 08:35 AM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA, ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, and Progressive Hippie.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Robeson was a great american with the most beautiful bass voice I have ever heard.

  •  socialism got highjacked (0+ / 0-)

    by the same sort of people who will highjack anything with a hierarchy.

    IMHO, Marx was the weakest of the anticapitalist philosophers of the mid-19th century, even if he was the hardest working.  His contemporaries, Proud'hon and Bakunin, addressed deeper human issues.  In a way Marx, obsessed by economics, ended up being the tool that sabotaged socialism.

  •  Robeson's inspired others around the world (0+ / 0-)

    Almost any immigrant from West Bengal, India knows the tune of "Old Man River" as "Bistirno Duparer" as well as other songs that are about and celebrate Paul Robeson.  There are several versions of it on YouTube and  many of those are videos of recent recital or dance performances among Bengali-American cultural associations.

    The full tune isn't always sung and the meaning of the lyrics are slightly altered.  In the Bengali version "the river" is "the Ganga" (Ganges).  The struggle is more about the people collectively.

    The Ganga delta is in West Bengal and neighboring country Bangladesh and makes its way to the Bay of Bengal via many branches.  It's hard not to sing a couple of bars of Bistirmo Duparer" while crossing the Hoogly branch in Kolkata.

    West Bengal has been mostly left leaning since independence.  According to Wikipedia, "West Bengal was ruled by the Left Front for the 34 years (1977–2011), making it the world's longest-running democratically elected communist government."

    The performer in this video, Bhupen Hazarika, attended Columbia University where he earned a PhD.  He  became friends with Paul Robeson in New York and was influenced by him and black spirituals.  One of his regular concert offerings was, "We're in the Same Boat Brother".

    I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

    by Satya1 on Sun May 13, 2012 at 09:45:20 AM PDT

  •  His life seems like a perfect subject for a (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    anna shane

    bio-pic, something that would introduce younger mass audiences to his remarkable story.

    Where are we, now that we need us most?

    by Frank Knarf on Sun May 13, 2012 at 10:33:35 AM PDT

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