Barack Obama

"Socialist" Is Not A Racist Smear

And no, Paul Robeson And W.E.B. DuBois weren't 'socialists'


Is there anything more tedious—or perhaps pernicious—than the confident, outraged, and half-educated political pundit? Thank goodness for the Drudge Report, without whom this latest manifestation of racial cryptography would have likely passed unnoticed. One Lewis Diuguid (pronounced 'Do-good,' I suspect), editorial page columnist for the Kansas City Star, is horrified to note that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has called his opponent, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), a "socialist." Now let me, as a card-carrying member of the libertarian establishment, say from the outset that while the prospect of an Obama presidency and large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate stimulates my acid reflux, I am optimistic that our presumptive leader will govern more in the style of L.B.J. than Eugene Debs. Thank heaven for small mercies. So yes, I expect the next four years to be pretty grim, but those who foretell massive grain collectivization, the requisition of SUVs, a liquidation campaign against the kulaks, would be advised to take a deep breath.

But buried in these charges of socialism, Diuguid, the Star's in-house racial cryptographer, finds clear racist intent. He explains that "J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972, used the term liberally to describe African Americans who spent their lives fighting for equality." Indeed, "freedom fighters" like "W.E.B. Du Bois, who in 1909 helped found the NAACP which is still the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization [and] Paul Robeson, a famous singer, actor and political activist who in the 1930s became involved in national and international movements for better labor relations, peace and racial justice…"

This is a sort of reverse McCarthyism; the presumption that because an activist was denounced as a 'socialist' he was obviously no such thing. But here Diuguid is, whether out of luck or ignorance, partially correct. Du Bois and Robeson were most certainly not socialists—they were Stalinists.

Du Bois, who renounced his American citizenship and formally joined the American Communist Party in 1961, five years after Khrushchev's secret speech, two years after being awarded the Lenin Peace Prize, made no secret of his "socialism." Indeed, here is a representative selection from his bootlicking obituary for Josef Stalin: 

"Joseph Stalin was a great man; few other men of the 20th century approach his stature. He was simple, calm and courageous. He seldom lost his poise; pondered his problems slowly, made his decisions clearly and firmly; never yielded to ostentation nor coyly refrained from holding his rightful place with dignity…He was attacked and slandered as few men of power have been; yet he seldom lost his courtesy and balance…His judgment of men was profound…Such was the man who lies dead, still the butt of noisy jackals and of the ill-bred men of some parts of the distempered West. In life he studied under continuous and studied insult; he was forced to make bitter decisions on his lone responsibility. His reward comes as the common man stands in solemn acclaim."

A one-off mistake, perhaps? Three years later, in June 1956, tens of thousands of Poles took to the streets of Poznan demanding democratic reform. As was customary in occupied Eastern Europe, the occupation army was dispatched to quell the demonstration, leaving 60 protestors dead (some estimates put the number in the hundreds). In a letter to a friend, Du Bois admitted that "Not even the upheaval in Poland disturbs me," for the demonstrators were likely "landlords" and members of the "military clan" in the pay of the United States.

Or how about this: Confronted with Khrushchev's secret speech, in which the Soviet leader broadly revealed the institutional terror of his predecessor, Du Bois protested that the revelations were "irresponsible and muddled." In a letter to a supporter, he explained that while perhaps "probably too cruel" at times, he nevertheless "regard[ed] Stalin as one of the great men of the twentieth century." And Stalin's brutal purges of 1936-38, during which over a million class enemies were murder, he argued, were entirely justified:

From the testimony I read at the time, I believe that justice was done to these men on the whole. In the critical struggle then going on, some innocent men might have suffered, but as to the general fairness of these trials, even reliable American observers like Raymond Robbins (sic) testified.

These were, Diuguid might be interested to learn, views shared by Paul Robeson, the great campaigner for "justice," and 1952 winner of the Stalin Peace Prize. It should suffice here to briefly excerpt Robeson's eulogy for Stalin:

"Forever [Stalin's] name will be honored and beloved in all lands! In all spheres of modern life the influence of Stalin reaches wide and deep. From his last simply written but vastly discerning and comprehensive document, back through the years, his contributions to the science of our world society remain invaluable."

After Robeson beseeched his fellow African-Americans not to fight against the Soviet Union, whom he argued viewed race relations through a progressive lens, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson told a reporter that if he ever crossed paths with Robeson he would "punch him in the mouth."

But there is a surface stupidity in Diuguid's piece too; the very modern usage of the phrase "racial code." Perhaps his historical illiteracy is forgivable (I was taught the same thing about Du Bois and Robeson, and my alma mater named its library after him), but does he truly believe that, in the bad old days of J. Edgar Hoover, those wished to speak ill of African Americans were forced to revert to some sort of secret language?

Michael C. Moynihan is a reason associate editor. This article originally appeared in Jewcy.