8 AMERICANS who won the Soviet PEACE Prize

Russia Beyond (Jean-Claude FRANCOLON / Getty Images, TASS, Nikolai Naumenkov/TASS, Public Domain)
During the Stalinist era, the Soviet leadership decided to award a Peace Prize to foreigners, regardless of their political views. Since its inception and until the collapse of the USSR, the prize was awarded to these eight Americans, as well as to many other foreigners.

The International Prize for “Strengthening Peace Among Peoples” was one of the Soviet Union’s most prestigious awards. Established in 1949, it was called the Stalin Peace Prize until 1955, and after de-Stalinization it was renamed in honor of Soviet revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin and it became known as the Lenin Peace Prize. 

The prize was awarded annually to five to ten citizens of any country in the world, “regardless of their political, religious and racial differences, for outstanding services in the fight against warmongers and for the strengthening of peace”. 

The laureate was awarded a medal, a diploma and a cash prize (about $25,000 at the exchange rate at that time). It was up to a special committee to choose the winners of the prize. 

1. Arthur Moulton, in 1950

From left to right: American writer John Howard Lawson, Soviet writer Alexander Fadeev, sociologist William Edward Burkhardt Dubois, composer Dmitry Shostakovich, Bishop Arthur Moulton, William O. Stapledon, and Kiri Hrovek at the Cultural and Scientific Conference on World Peace in New York

Arthue Moulton (1873-1962) was a Protestant bishop and social activist. He took part in World War I, serving as a chaplain in the field artillery and in a military hospital in France. After the war he took over the position of bishop in the State of Utah, U.S., but retired in 1946 to promote world peace. He declined the cash award for the Peace Prize, stating that “The only reward I want in working for peace is peace”.

Incidentally, in the 1950s, the USSR also honored another important priest with this award - the abbot of Canterbury Cathedral in England, Johnson Hewlett, who was considered a great friend of the Soviet state and a supporter of the ideas of communism.

2. Paul Robeson, in 1952

American singer Paul Robeson tours USSR in 1958, pictured with children at the Artek Pioneer Camp in Crimea

African-American singer and actor, Paul Robeson (1898-1876), was an ardent fighter against racial segregation in the U.S. Also, he was very sympathetic to the Soviet Union, stating that there was no racial prejudice in the USSR since it was a multi-ethnic country. Because of this position, Robeson attracted increased attention from the FBI, and later his concerts began to be banned in the U.S.

In 1934, Paul came to Moscow at the invitation of Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein to star in his project on racism in the U.S., which, however, failed. “Here, for the first time in my life, I walk in full human dignity. You cannot imagine what that means for me as a Negro,” Robeson’s biographer, Scott Nollen, quoted his words that were pronounced in Moscow. In 1949, he once again toured the USSR and even sang songs in Russian. 

Paul Robeson’s curls: Cook the Soviet dessert that honors a famous African-American singer

In the early 1950s, Robeson was included in the “Hollywood Black List” for his “anti-American views” and was forbidden to travel abroad. At the same time, in 1952, the USSR awarded Robeson the Stalin Peace Prize.

On Stalin's death, he wrote a moving article praising his policy of “friendship of nations.” In 1958, the American singer went to the USSR and he gave concerts, appeared on television and met with Soviet audiences.

Read more about Paul Robeson's Soviet ties here.

3. Howard Fast, in 1953

Howard Fast in 1962

The father of American writer, Howard Fast (1914-2003), was originally from the Russian Empire. A critic of racial hatred and a member of the U.S. Communist Party, Fast spent some time in prison for his “anti-American activities,” where he began writing his famous novel Spartacus, about the ancient slave revolt in Roman times. It was later adapted by director Stanley Kubrick and became one of the most popular foreign films in the USSR of all time. 

In 1953, Fast was awarded the Peace Prize and his novels were widely published in Soviet newspapers and translated into the many languages of the USSR. However, he later changed his attitude toward Soviet ideology and was consigned to oblivion in the USSR.

4. W.E.B. Du Bois, in 1959

William Du Bois and American writer Shirley Graham (left) during a visit to Leningrad in 1959

In 1895, social activist and writer William Du Bois (1868-1963) became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the early 20th century and also supported the American Crusade Against Lynching created by Paul Robeson. 

Because of his many visits to the USSR and for holding leftist views, Du Bois was even suspected of working for Soviet intelligence. However, the investigation was eventually dropped especially because Du Bois was defended by influential people, including Albert Einstein, who supported the NAACP. In 1959, the USSR awarded the Peace Prize to Du Bois, and in 1961 the writer joined the Communist Party of the United States. He later emigrated to Ghana and renounced American citizenship, entirely disillusioned with the country. 

5. Cyrus Eaton, in 1960

Nikita Khrushchev (right) shaking hands with Cyrus Eaton during his visit to the USSR in 1964

Canadian-born American entrepreneur, Cyrus Eaton (1883-1979), made his fortune in the gas and steel industries. In the 1950s, he was looking for business opportunities in the USSR. He visited the country several times and met with Nikita Khrushchev. To buy chrome ore from the Kazakh SSR, Eaton had to register a company in Canada because at the height of the Cold War an American company would not be allowed to trade with the USSR. 

Eaton tried to build ties between the U.S. and the USSR, and advocated mutual disarmament. He also sponsored the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs where three Soviet scientists were also invited. As a result, Cyrus was awarded the Peace Prize in 1960. After that, he tried to invest in Soviet projects - to build a gas pipeline across Siberia and several high-rise buildings in Moscow, for example. However, his ambitious plans were never fulfilled.

6. Rockwell Kent, in 1967

Rockwell Kent presents his painting as a gift to the Union of Soviet Writers, 1967

The artist Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) was a supporter of socialist ideology for which he was despised and persecuted in the U.S. At the same time, in the USSR for that very same reason he became very popular and was entrusted with the honorable mission to head the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship (he held that post from 1957 to 1971).

Moreover, realism in painting, which Kent adhered to, was no longer fashionable for Americans, but very much consistent with official Soviet art aesthetics. In the 1960s, Kent donated many of his paintings to the Soviets, and he was made an honorary member of the Soviet Academy of Arts. In 1967, Kent was awarded the Peace Prize, part of which he donated to charity.

7. Linus Pauling, in 1970

Linus Pauling speaking at the International Symposium “Perspectives of Bioorganic Chemistry and Molecular Biology” at Moscow State University, 1978

Before winning the Soviet Peace Prize, American chemist Linus Pauling (1901-1994) had been awarded two Nobel Prizes - for Chemistry in 1954, and the Peace Prize in 1962. Pauling is known worldwide as a scientist whose interests lie in the broadest field, from quantum mechanics to molecular biology (he is considered one of the founders of this discipline). He was also an active popularizer and promoter of science, as well as of international exchanges in science. 

In addition, Pauling was a peace activist. He opposed the proliferation of nuclear weapons, proving their negative impact on the atmosphere and their danger to future generations. It was this struggle for peace that was praised and celebrated in 1970 under Brezhnev, although in the 1950s the USSR had criticized his ‘bourgeois’ and ‘pseudoscientific’ ideas about chemistry.

8. Angela Davis, in 1979

Angela Davis during the awarding ceremony of the International Lenin Prize in the the Moscow Kremlin, 1979

Angela Davis (b. 1944) was incredibly popular in the Soviet Union. As an African-American, left-leaning human rights activist and a communist she became an idol for many Soviet citizens. When she was arrested and imprisoned in 1970, the slogan “Freedom for Angela Davis!” spread widely across the Soviet Union, and Soviet children wrote letters to her in prison. 

Davis on Red Square, 1972

After her release, Davis went to the USSR several times, met with fans, participated in meetings of the Soviet women's movement, and performed at the Youth Festival. Before she was awarded the peace prize in 1979, she was awarded the Vladimir Lenin birthday medal and the title of Honorary Doctor of Moscow University in 1972. 

Dear readers,

Our website and social media accounts are under threat of being restricted or banned, due to the current circumstances. So, to keep up with our latest content, simply do the following:

  • Subscribe to our Telegram channel
  • Subscribe to our weekly email newsletter
  • Enable push notifications on our website
  • Install a VPN service on your computer and/or phone to have access to our website, even if it is blocked in your country

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

Read more

This website uses cookies. Click here to find out more.

Accept cookies