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Paul Robeson

"Why I am a Socialist"



There are many places in the world where, personally, it would be much easier to live than in the United States, for an American Negro.


But I have a home and my people are tobacco workers and sharecroppers today on plantations in [America], and a part of that soil belongs to me.   These are my roots in this country.  On the other hand, I felt that I could make some contribution from my background, travelling about the world.  I never expected, I am quite willing to say, that I would be restricted from travelling.


First it starts as an American Negro, interested in my own people.  The other great change is very constant in my mind.  I was in the Welsh valleys, and the Welsh people sing vey much like we do - the Negro people - in many of our songs.  Beautiful songs.  And I was one of the few outsiders who sang at their national festival, which has gone on since the time of the Druids.  And I went down into the mines with the workers, and they said to me: "Paul, you may be successful, but your people suffer like ours.  We are poor people, and you belong to us.   You don't belong to the big-wigs here in this country".  And so today I feel as much at home in the Welsh valleys as I would in my own Negro section in any city in the United States. 


I just did a braodcast by transatlantic cable to the Welsh valleys, a few weeks ago.  It was there that I got my first understanding that the struggle of the Negro people, or of any people, cannot be by itself - that is, the human struggle.  So I was attracted by and met many members of the Labour Party, and my politics embraced also the common struggle of all oppressed people, including especially the working masses - specifically the laboring people of all the world.  That defines my philosophy.  It is a joing one.  We are a working people, a laboring people - the Negro people.  There is a unity between our struggle and the those of white workers in the South.  I've had a white worker shake my hand and say: "Paul, we're fighting for the same thing".


And so this defines my attitude toward socialism and toward many other things in the world.  I do not believe that a few people should control the wealth of any land - that it should be a collective ownership in the interest of everyone.


It would have to be a democratic socialism.  There are many ways, however, to struggle toward democracy, as I see that.  Take a place like China, for example, today, or the Soviet Union, or many other places, or take our own problems of Negroes.  If we were free in the South tomorrow to carry our weight, to vote, and to do everything, would we now look around and try to find the ten billionaires among our people?  Would we attempt to build them up, or would we try to answer the needs of the great millions of our people?  And so I see other ways of life - socialism - as trying to solve the problems of millions and tens of millions of people at once.  We would start from the individual to the masses.  They start from the masses this way.


Now, there are two ways, and there are difficulties each way.  I have made the decision to join in a collective struggle, and my personal sacrifices mean very little, in one way, when you see the children at Little Rock.   What does not giving a few concerts mean when you can make some contribution?


Nothing is perfect in the world.  We're going at it from different angles.  I feel that there is a great burden of proof on every society.  On our own, as well.


Giving up freedom is not any part of socialist philosophy - or communist philosophy, as far as I know.  We struck it during the war, under Roosevelt, for example.  We had to give up many privileges.  They're practically telling us that we have to do that again.  [Socialist society]  may not exactly belong to the man in the street, but he feels it is much more his than, say, I do in Charleston, South Carolina.  When a Southern American Negro explained to me that I was in the state of our great plantations, I said: "Are you sure about that?  Our great plantations?  I don't feel that they are my plantations".   But in one sense, some of the people of socialist lands feel that the country does belong to them, in a real sense.


There is no way, as I have said before, for an American Negro, however wealthy, however famous, to be anything at this period of our history, other than an American Negro.  If he doesn't know it, he'll find out.



Extracted from an interview on Pacifica Radio, San Francisco, March 15 1958, reproduced in Paul Robeson Speaks, 1978.