Book Review: Paul Robeson – Hero Before His Time (1989) – By Rebecca Larsen

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Whilst researching Paul Robeson, I have accessed a number of interesting books to gain details that are often hidden or obscured. This (1989) book – Paul Robeson – Hero Before His Tine – by Rebecca Larsen is concise and to the point. The author gives poignant (and sometimes surprising) details about the life of Paul Robeson, but quietly persists in a determined denigration of the Soviet Union. Although this is only a brief critique of this work, on page 67 of the 1989 hardback edition (whilst implying that Paul Robeson was wrong about the USSR) the author casually offers ahistorical disinformation as ‘fact’, stating that following the October Revolution there followed a Muslim uprising which left tens of thousands dead, and thousands of others driven off their land! There is no incident of this nature in the Russian-language Soviet Archives, or in modern Russian academic records. Even in the work of EH Carr in the UK (a British academic who wrote a detailed history of the Soviet Union from 1917-1929) there is no mention of any such deliberate targeting of Muslims. Indeed, the opposite is true. I suspect Rebecca Larsen is ‘White’ as she is applying the Eurocentric fall-back position suggesting that Paul Robeson (despite writing a book that makes money out of his name) was ‘too stupid’ to understand Soviet history. Knowing the intelligence of Paul Robeson can this allegation go unchallenged? Indeed, as if expecting her first fact to be attacked as ‘fake’, Larsen then feeds into her attempted deconstruction of Paul Robeson’s admiration for Soviet Russia’s ‘Internationalism’ and ‘multiculturalism’ the story of Black-American Robert Robinson who emigrated to the USSR in 1930 and received free healthcare, free accommodation and a free university education. Despite relinquishing his US Citizenship in 1937 (stating the USSR was not a racist place, unlike the US), he was not conscripted into the Red Army – but protected from any danger by the Soviet population. Larsen does not mention any of these facts which would support Paul Robeson’s view, but instead focuses on Robert Robinson’s return to the US (he left the USSR in 1974), and a Cold War biography within which Robinson profoundly changes his view – accusing the Soviets as being racist to all non-Whites! Obviously, after living off the Soviet State for 44 years of his life, Robert Robinson wanted to return to the US and make a comfortable life for himself (within the capitalist system) after giving-up the Socialist path that had transformed his life. Rebecca Larsen is a typical bourgeois author and her puerile anti-Sovietism is not very clever or well hidden. I use this book as a springboard (through references) into other Paul Robeson works – but of course – Larsen does not reference her Muslim comment because it has no basis in fact. In many Larsen misrepresents Robinson in an attempt to discredit Robeson, and one is left wondering just what was the point of her book at all?

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