Letters - 17 March 2010

Another View on Jackie Robinson and Paul Robeson

A letter in CHALLENGE (3/3/), commented on an article in a previous issue (2/3) on the busting of Jim Crow in U.S. baseball and on one line in a letter (2/17) describing the article as “awesome.” The March 3 letter writer felt that, “Jackie Robinson’s career was [not] a positive anti-racist development of the civil rights movement,” saying that in writing about this topic “we should choose fighters who devoted their lives to the working class,” such as Paul Robeson.
This raises two points: the content of the article itself and the relationship between Robinson and Paul Robeson.

Firstly, the article itself was not about “choosing” Robinson as a “fighter who devoted his life to the working class.” Its theme was the major role of communists in cracking baseball’s Jim Crow. It described the intense campaign the Communist Party, and especially its Daily Worker sportswriter Lester Rodney, waged in making it a mass issue: picket lines at ball parks, 150 Daily Worker articles, forcing tryouts of black ball players by major league teams (generally ignored by the racist owners) and spreading the issue in the trade unions. The fact that Robinson became baseball’s first black player was incidental to the article. It certainly did not paint him as an anti-racist hero like Paul Robeson.

However, Robinson’s signing led to hundreds of black (and also Latino) players playing before — and being cheered by — millions of black, Latino and white fans and, I think, contributed to feelings of multi-racial unity throughout the working class. It helped break Jim Crow barriers in Southern (and Northern) hotels, restaurants and stadiums.

Obviously, this did not end, or even appreciably reduce, racism in capitalist society as a whole. Only communist revolution can destroy racism.

However, while it was true that Robinson succumbed to the pressure of Dodger-owner Branch Rickey and black misleaders in testifying against Robeson at a HUAC hearing, Robinson had two sides. Most of his testimony condemned racism (a fact ignored by the racist capitalist press). He declared that “racial discrimination is not “a creation of Communist imagination.” (“Journal of Sports History,” Summer 1979).  “The fact that it is a Communist who denounces injustice in the courts, police brutality and lynching when it happens doesn’t change the truth of their charges…”

“Lynchers Our Chief Enemy Jackie Tells ‘Red’ Probers,” was the front-page headline in the black newspaper, the Philadelphia Afro-American.” HUAC didn’t want to hear that.

“While in military service in World War II,…stationed at…[Fort Hood, Texas], Robinson was court-martialed…for challenging the Jim Crow tradition which dictated that blacks should sit in the rear of a military bus.” (Journal of Sports) This was long before Rosa Parks.

Two years after the hearing, in the Dodger dugout before a game, a Daily Worker sportswriter showed Robinson articles reporting the KKK-type attack on Robeson at Peekskill, NY. “Jackie read the articles all the way through and then…—where other players and sportswriters could hear—…he said. ‘This is a damned shame and I don’t care who knows it….Paul Robeson is a great man and they should respect him.’ (“Press Box Red”)

In his 1972 autobiography, “I Never Had It Made,” Robinson wrote: “I would reject such an invitation [to testify against Robeson] if offered now….I have grown wiser and closer to painful truths about America’s destructiveness. And I do have increased respect for Paul Robeson, who…sacrificed himself [and] his career…because, I believe, he was sincerely trying to help his people.”

Yes, in 1947, when “the chips were down,” Robinson criticized Robeson. But that was not the whole story. Robinson was part of a sequence of events that, due to the efforts of communists, made a dent in Jim Crow racism. And I think, in that sense, his career was a “positive anti-racist development.”

Red Baseball Fan

911 Truth Movement: A Chance for the Left?

The 911 Truth Movement, like all mass movements, has a left, center, and right. Over time, the contradictions between these segments will increase as decisions about the direction of the movement narrow. For instance, now that it has been shown by reputable experts in their fields that the events of 9/11, as explained by the official voices, could not have possibly happened in the manner that we have been led to believe, the investigation of this mass murder can take on a more concrete appearance. There is no longer the choice between “What happened?” and “What to do about it?” Now there is only “What to do about it?” Our choices narrow, and as they do, we are pointed in certain directions.

We can expect the right to develop around ideas designed to stunt and divert the growth of the movement. The center, as always, will be fluid. The left will become increasingly preoccupied with destination scenarios, and the differences between factions will grow, in time, fierce.

This has been the growth cycle of political mass movements. In the U.S. We should look at the history of those movements, for what they reveal to us about ourselves. In my youth in PLP, we were involved in those mass movements.

If PLP wishes to participate in this new mass movement, it has a chance to have an influence. If not, the Party will lose the opportunity to develop and grow within that movement to unearth the truth about what happened that day.

Skeptical engineer 

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