Among America's more important actors and singers is Paul Robeson, born a century ago. An impressive talent who struggled against pervasive racism, Robeson would seem to deserve the centennial celebration of his life beginning this month. Unfortunately, he had an ugly side: He was an avowed communist who received the Stalin Peace Prize in 1952.
Anyone can make a mistake, but Robeson knew what he was doing. In 1949, he met in Moscow with his friend, Yiddish author Itzik Feffer, who informed Robeson of the start of Joseph Stalin's anti-Semitic purges. Robeson told reporters on his return to the United States that "I heard no word about" anti-Semitism. Feffer was later murdered by Stalin.
One wonders how Robeson, who died in 1976, would have responded to the collapse of communism. A few unrepentant communists remain: two dozen fill Sunset Hall, a Los Angeles home for the aged begun by Unitarians. The facility sports a picture of Robeson, a bust of Soviet revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, and books on Marxism, Chinese dictator Mao Zedong and leading Bolshevik Leon Trotsky.
Sunset Hall's residents spend their time pining for the good ol' days. At age 8, Glady Foreman, now 90, was labeled a "little socialist" by her father. She predicts that "socialism, crushed to the Earth, will rise again."
Jacob Darnov, 101, was a messenger for the early Soviet army. He unashamedly proclaims that Lenin is "the greatest politician we ever had in this world."
Wayne Friedlander, who ran Sunset Hall until recently, says that these people "are the giants," to whom he, a former member of Students for a Democratic Society, owes an enormous debt. "Giants."
Yes, giant fools. What else can one call people who promoted, and still defend, the most murderous philosophy in human history?
In his book, "Death by Government," University of Hawaii Professor R.J. Rummel catalogs the catastrophic record of the "politicians" so beloved by the residents of Sunset Hall. The Soviet Union was the greatest killing machine in history, slaughtering some 62 million people, according to Rummel. The number is incomprehensible. During the worst of Stalin's purges, the secret police set quotas.
The 20th century, filled with so much horror, is mercifully coming to a close. While we may choose to forgive those who supported murderous totalitarians, we should never forget.
Explains Rummel: "But murder and arrest quotas did not work well. Where to find the 'enemies of the people' they were to shoot was a particularly acute problem for the local NKVD, which had been diligent in uncovering 'plots.' They had to resort to shooting those arrested for the most minor civil crimes, those previously arrested and released, and even mothers and wives who appeared at NKVD headquarters for information about their arrested loved ones."
The second most murderous regime, also surpassing the Nazis' Third Reich, was that of Mao Zedong. Rummel figures that the Chinese communists killed about 35 million people. Cambodia's Khmer Rouge wiped out an estimated 2 million; both the Vietnamese and North Korean regimes murdered about 1.7 million. Poland killed 1.6 million through extensive ethnic cleansing after World War II. At the same time (and in much the same way), Yugoslavia slaughtered some 1.1 million.
Lesser communist tyrannies also dotted Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. In some of these slaughterhouses the dead numbered only in the hundreds of thousands and even tens of thousands -- indicating unusually mushy communism.
What may be most astounding, however, is not that true believers survive, but that The New York Times chose to put a story about Sunset Hall on its front page. Observes columnist Michael Kelly, "If a Times reporter found a brave little band of aging Nazis, who kept a bust of Hitler in the living room, and who declared that fascism would rise again, and wrote this up cute -- well, this simply could never happen."
Indeed, the effort to rehabilitate former communists blacklisted by Hollywood during the Cold War exhibits the same myopia. Many did suffer, and some suffered unfairly. But being denied public credit for one's script is hardly the same as being sent to the gulag.
Observes the Washington Post's Stephen Rosenfeld, "What is missing from the discussion is an evaluation of the substance of the political views many of the movie people had." Those blacklisted were supporting a monstrous tyranny, one that oppressed, slaughtered and enslaved entire populations. The refusal to hire them is as unsurprising as, say, the refusal to hire professing Nazis. The real victims were the 100 million-plus people gunned down by despots wallowing in plaudits from pampered left-wing intellectuals in the West.
The 20th century, filled with so much horror, is mercifully coming to a close. While we may choose to forgive those who supported murderous totalitarians, we should never forget. However charming, talented or cute communist apologists may now appear to be, they remain drenched with blood.