Spirituals, Serfs, and Soviets: Paul Robeson and International Race Policy in the Soviet Union at the Start of the Cold War

  • Christopher Silsby
Part of the Transnational Theatre Histories book series (TTH)


From Paul Robeson’s first visit to the Soviet Union in 1934 until the revocation of his passport in 1950, the early years of the Cold War transformed the artist from a figure of broad US acclaim to the object of anti-communist investigations. Performances were simultaneously informed by the shifting race policies of the Soviet Union and the USA, including the Communist Party’s ‘Black Belt’ theory of internationalism, identifying an oppressed African American nation within the US South as similar to the ethnic nations in Imperial Russia. This article examines the official policies of the Soviet Union regarding race, and then turns to the development of Robeson’s use of racialised, transnational performance in his visits in 1934, 1936, and 1949, tracing a trajectory from agreement with the official, stated Soviet policy on race to a performance of nuanced disagreement with the later Stalinist enactment of Soviet xenophobic racism during the Cold War.


Official Policy National Minority Black Belt Folk Song Folk Culture 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Silsby
    • 1
  1. 1.Graduate Center, City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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