A Selection of Zinn's Posts
from the ZinnZine Forum

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Zinn Replies about Resources

A new book from me? Who do you think I am, Noam Chomsky? Someone who turns out books faster than anyone can read them? Do you know my latest --

a memoir -- called "You Can't Be Neutral On A Moving Train"? (Beacon Press) Right now I'm not working on a new book. I'm trying to polish up a play I've written (I had two produced before this one) -- a one-person play called "Marx in Soho" (yes, the man himself re-appears in our time to tell

us what he thinks of us). It has been produced in Washington D.C. and at two colleges in Minnesota.

High school teacher resources? First, a high school version of A People's History, subtitled "Teachers' Edition" (that is, shorter, with questions and projects at the end of each chapter) will be published this summer by The New Press, 450 W. 41 St. NYC 10036. Many high school teachers

are finding useful the book by James Loewen "Lies My Teacher Told Me" , published by The New Press, mentioned above.

Also: you should know about a terrific organization called Rethinking Schools, 1001 E. Keefe Ave. Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53212, which puts out newsletters designed specifically for teachers, with articles, bibliographies, all sorts of suggestions. During the Columbus Quincentennial, they put out a 100 page booklet on Columbus, called "Rethinking Columbus" which immediately sold 200,000 copies.

Best wishes,

Howard Zinn

 

Zinn Replies re EPIC

Ron Wright:

True, I don't deal with the EPIC movement -- it was short-lived because it came out of Sinclair's unsuccessful bid for the governorship of California in 1934, and when he lost it fell apart. (It was dealt with most recently in the television series produced by Blackside on The Great Depression (you can probably get the episode dealing with that from PBS).

If you have access to a very good library (Johns Hopkins or the Library of Congress) you can find the book by Upton Sinclair, entitled "The EPIC Plan for California", which really consists of four pamphlets he put out during the 1934 campaign. Sinclair wrote another book in 1934 called "I, governor of Califorrnia, and how I ended poverty." Easier to get in the library, I think, would be the biography by Leon Harris, titled "Upton Sinclair,American Rebel" (Crowell, 1975) iin which he deals with the EPIC movement.

I hope this is helpful.

By the way, you probably know FDR did not give Sinclair the support he wanted in that campaign, which may have cost him the election.

 

Zinn Replies to a multi part question

It's true that we had enough problems dealing with exploitation on a national scale, and that globalization, multi-nationals, corporations freely moving across the planet to seek low-paid labor and profitable markets -- that all complicates the problem. I am not an expert on global economic issues, but I would make a few points and make a few reading suggestions:

1. I know it is the conventional wisdom, even the Left conventional wisdom, to point to what you call the "greatly increased standard of living" in the post-war world until 1970. And it is true that the overall distribution of income was less skewed towards the upper 5% of the population in this period than in earlier periods, or in thecurrent period. But I don't think we should be satisfied with situations where most people are "better off" in one period than in another, because even in those "better" periods, the distribution of income is still badly distorted in favor of the rich. Also, overall statistics always conceal the misery of important sections of the population -- poor whites, ghetto blacks, native Americans on reservations, single mothers. The Fifties were presumably a relatively prosperous time but Michael Harrington's "TheOther America" destroyed thecomplacency engendered by that overall judgement.

2. The increasingly global nature of capitalism does not make it impossible for working people in a particular nation, if they are organized and militant enough, to prevent their standard of living from being pushed down. Germany, for instance, is more susceptible to international trade pressures than the United States, yet workers there have succeeded in maintaining income levels, and social programs much more effectively than we here in the United States.

3. Still, it is true, that we will need cross-national solidarity more and more to protect living standards. For instance, Mexican and U.S. trade unions will have to build powerful ties in order to prevent migrating corporationsfrom taking advantage of Mexican workers and thereby either taking the jobs, or lowering the pay of American workers. Each country's trade unions will have to insist that the movement of capital across borders does not lower wage or environmental standards, and also insist that any job loss be met with government guarantee of work, or generous unemployment benefits. If we had a full employment policy in the United States (promised vaguely, but never fulfilled by the Employment Act of 1946; declared as a goal by the Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights which the United States has signed) with the government as guarantor of jobs for anyone willing to work, the flight of capital to other countries would not as onerous as it is now.

You might take a look at these sources:

David Korten "When Corporations Rule the World" (1995, Kumarian Press, 14 Oakwood Ave. West Hartford, Conn.06119). Korent has an impresive background in dealing with matter of international economic development, and he concludes with interesting suggestions on how people at the grass roots can creat "caring, sustainable economic communities and to control their own resources, economies, and means of livelihood."

I would also recommend the newly-published book by Michael Albert, "Thinking Forward" (Arbeiter RingPublishing, 2-91 Albert St. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3B 1G5, which presents an imaginative an vision of what a participatory economy might be like. (It is over a century since Edward Bellamy's "Looking "Backward", and we clearly need new ideas about a good society)

Another new book, published by Westview Press (5500 Central Ave. Boulder, Colorado 80301-2877) by the radical economist Doug Dowd, called "Against the Conventional Wisdom: A Primer on Current Economic Controversies and Proposals", might also throw interesting light on these issues.

Howard Zinn

 

Zinn Replies Re Biographies

You're right -- it is an outrageous practice. It came into vogue a few years ago when pop-historians (am example: Bob Woodward in "The Brethren" quotes Supreme Court justices in situations where obviously he could not know exactly what they said in private conversations) and biographers (especially of Hollywood stars) discovered that their books sold more when people thought they were getting actual conversation. So they make it up.

Occasionally, a book reviewer will call attention to this practice and criticize it. But that doesn't stop the growing number of authors who do it. Professional historians won't do it, because their colleagues will laugh at them. But journalists and hack political writers don't care who laughs so long as they sell books.

By the way, if you ever want to check up on anything in the Che biography, there is a guy in the Boston area who has done a lot of work on Che -- indeed, was planning his own biography. He is a former Life photo-journalist -- Lee Lockwood (a friend of mine, as are most important people). E-mail: lee@world.std.com Howard

P.S.

After sending you my message about the relative newness of making up quotes in historical or biographical narrative it occurred to me that Plato, in his dialogues, put words in Socrates' mouth decades after the event -- and I'm quite sure he had no tape recorder. I also feel sure that he twisted Socrates' ideas to fit his own.

Howard

 

Zinn Replies re Theory of History

Can't you think of an easy question, one which would enhance my standing in the left because I could answer it with decisivenss and authority? A theory of history, no less! Well, I could say, from my place on the mountain: I have discussed that a good deal in my book THE POLITICS OF HISTORY. But the reason for the forum is to get something straight from the

horse's mouth without having to buy the whole horse. So...

Yes, there are theories of history which see patterns (Schlesinger, Jr. sees 30 year cycles of liberalism-conservatism; the earliest of historical theories was probably that of Vico (c.1725, THE NEW SCIENCE) who saw a continuous cycle going from theocracy to aristocracy to democracy, and then repeating on a different level). Hegel saw not a cycle but a progression of increasing understanding by man of the unfolding of God's (or the Spirit's) plan. Marx also saw a progression, determined by the necessity to continually develop the forces of production, and (here comes Marx the revolutionary( at a certain point there is powerful human intervention to move from capitalism to socialism. So we get not a determinist theory but one emphasizing human agency.

(In the last three chapters of THE POLITICS OF HISTORY I deal with a lot of questions like this: about causality, generalization, history as "science", etc. and deal with many of the writings on these issues. Chapter 2 is a critique of "History As Private Enterprise"and Chapter 3 suggests "What Is Radical History?)

But to get off the horse: I don't think we can "predict" from history, because that does not take account of our own intervention. Or, to put it another way, we cannot predict in order to know what to do -- we must do, in order to know what to predict. Although, even when we DO, we still will not be able to scientifically predict, only to suggest possibilities.

To put it another way, no matter how much we study history, we can't come up with certainties for the future, only with probabilities and possibilities. Historical experience can tell us that tyrants will probably fall -- though we can't say when, because that depends on what people do. Historical experience with U.S. intervention tells us what the probable results will be for the people in the victim country. When some people on the left (though they may be ashamed to admit it)had high hopes for Clinton they were ignoring the history of bi-partisan politics in this country, the continuity of basic direction whoever is elected president. The strong probability of his continuing to serve wealth and power could only have been moderated if a great movement of rebellion had developed in the nation (instead of a fragmented left, and misdirected Fascist-populist violence). Whenever a government commission is set up to study a problem, we can fairly well predict that nothing will result. (When Kenneth Clark testified before the Kerner Commission after the 1967-68 riots he said wearily: there have been many commissions before you; nothing changed. He knew the history.)

Sure, history if fascinating just as a story about people -- as you say, like reading novels -- and by the way, a novel may convey history more accurately (in the sense of capturing the deep reality) than a straight factual account which misses the human element. (A student who reads The Grapes of Wrath will get a better sense of the depression than someone who reads a straight history of the Thirties, with facts, laws, statistics, presidential speeches)

Well, there's lots more to say, but it's 1 A.M. and it's all your fault.

 

Zinn Replies re Sixties Memoirs

Since the Sixties are being so distorted, and since we're getting such sleazy memoirs as that of Roger Rosenblather (I dubbed him that after hearing him pontificate on the Lehrer News Hour), whose memoir is delightfully skewered by Katha Pollitt in a recent NATION column -- we could use more and more memoirs frrom people who were in the fray in those years -- yes, history from the people, not from disdainful (and jealous) onlookers. Nice thing about a memoir, you don't have to do a lot of research, most of it is in your head, and you don't have to think about "style" -- the more straightforward the better.

Howard

 

Zinn Replies re Education

Dear Sean:

You are certainly right about how the schools keep dinning it into young ears: become a success, build a career (in other words, get rich, even if it kills whatever real desires you have, to write poetry or play music, or change the world). Here in Massachusetts, some committee has gone througheight drafts of a "curriculum" for socialstudies, an endless argument about what students should learn -- but both sides of the argument obviously agree that tthe goal is "success", test scores, "achievement". All these educators -- and all the students -- should read Peter Kropotkin's "Advice to the Young" (reprinted in his book "Revolutionary Pamphlets", in which he says: whatever you study, medicinen, science, engineering, whatever, do it with aview towards helping the oppressed people of the earth. The Sixties produced a flood of books on education, because the turmoil of thadt time led young people to question the education theey were getting, knowing the standard education, "success_oriented" had not prepared them for war, racism, despoliation of poor countries and poor peoople. So people begfan reading Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed), Ivan Illich, Paul Goodman, and others. Jonathan Kozol's book "?Death ?At ?An ?Early Age" described what hapopens to a sociallyconscious teacher who tries to bring that consciousness to his students. Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis wrote "Schooling in Capitalist America", which you might find useful. I wish parents would show up at PTA meetings and demand, as with your query, why students are only geared for competition and personal advancement? There's an interesting book on this issue of competiveness and cooperation by Alfie Kohn (I forget the name).

Best,

Howard Zinn

 

Zinn Supplies Various References

Dear Jeff:

Thank you for your kind words about my book. (By the way, reading the Tao Te Ching -- the Arthur Waley translation is one of the best, there ar so many -- was one of the life-changing experiences for me.) Good history books? Where to begin? E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, a classic. But on U.S. history: Charles Beard, ?An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution; Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition; WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction (if you really want to go heavy on thtat period you could also read Eric Foner's fine book "Reconstruction". For a panoramic view of social movements and radicala thought in American history , Staughton and Alice Lynd "Nonviolence in America". For a good glimpse into a forgotten but fine moment in US radical history, Joyce Kornbluh's collection of IWW documents "Rebel Voices". The best history of the Vietnam war I know is Marilyn Young's "The Vietnam Wars". The best way to get the history of the civil rights movement is through oral history, I think: Henry Hampton's "Voices of Freedomm", and Howell Raines "My Soul Is Rested".

Come to think of it, all of Studs Terkel's oral histories tell you more about those periods than regular history books: "Hard Times" on the Depression, "?The Good ?War" on World War II. Good books on the fifnancial and political shenanigans of the 19th century, alot of it reminding you of things going on today: Matthew Josephson's "The ?Robber Barons" and also "The Politiccos". The bibliography at the back of A People's History will give yoiu more stuff. If you have a special interst in the American ?Revoflution, read the books put out by Northern Illinois University Press, edited by Alfred Young.

I'm not planning tobe in Minnesota again soon,but I will be in Madison Wisconsiin, at the University and doing a benefit for The Progressive Magazine November 18-19.

Best wishes,

Howard Zinnn

P.S.

Oh yes, I should also tell you about Gerda Lerner's books on women's history, again oral history and documents, whichc I always prefer, "Black Women in White America",and others.

And (we always forget Latino-Chicano history): Elizabeth Martinez' book of photos and texts: "500 Years of Chicano History"

 

Zinn replies to query about teaching, texts, etc.

Let me first say that you write very very well, and when you ask about how to write "more effectively" I could hardly begin to suggest how. I don't know what you mean by "allowed to have resources in front of me" -- okay I found a flaw in your writing!; you used one expression (that one) which was not clear. Almost everyone who writes (even novelists and occasionally poets -- Nabokov took millions of notes as he went through his days) draws on resources. Those teachers who give "tests", not allowing students to have anything in front of them are creating unreal situations, one which they would not like to face themselves, because in real life when you write no one is standing around to make sure you don't use any resources.

Yes, the word "anachronistic" is used to put down historians who appear to be making moral judgements on things that happened in the past. in professional lingo that is sometimes described as "presentism". But of course every historian is a presentist, whatever pretense he/she uses to disguise that -- everyone speaks of the past from a present vantage point. When we began to write and speak about Columbus' atrocities, we were accused of being "anachronistic" -- or, as they put it, "evaluating Columbus' actions from the moral standpoint of our time". It just takes a bit of thought to see that there is no one moral standpoint in a particular time. Are these folk saying that in our time moral standards forbid mutilation, torture, murder?! Or that in Columbus' time there were not people (Las Casas and others) whose moral standards made them horrified by what Columbus did? There have been historians (more quiet these days than when I was growing up), who said: "we must look at slavery from the standpoint of its time" (but in its time there was the standpoint of the abolitionists as well as that of the apologists). I remember a review in the NY Times of Richard Drinnon's book (a wonderful historian if you have not read his FACING WEST, you should) on the internment of the Japanese in World War II and the reviewer haughtily said: well, he doesn't understand the temper of the time. But there were different tempers in that time -- sure most Americans went along with the treatment of the Japanese but there were those who didn't. Those who talk about "sticking to the facts" should be told to look at Dickens' HARD TIMES, and the absurd teacher Gradgrind who insisted on teaching "facts, facts, only facts". It is a common fallacy, even in the highest of intellectual circles, which comes from not seeing -- although once you point it out, it is hard to refute -- that behind every presented fact is a judgement -- the judgement that this particular fact is important enough to pay attention to, and others that have been omitted are not.

Which suggests an answer to your question "how to refocus the class' discussion" -- and that is to go outside the boundaries of information created in the class, outside the premise of the discussion and present facts that are outside those boundaries and startling. If people are discussing how many men would have been killed in an invasion of Japan in 1945, thereby justifying the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you might ask: why should we invade Japan?

You ask about alternative sources for European history. I don't know of a "textbook" that does that. (In fact, my People's History is not a textbook, although the New Press in N.Y. is soon publishing a textbook version for high schools). There is atwo-volume text in world history by someone named O'Brien, called THE WEST AND THE WORLD which is quite good. Aside from that, I can only think of histories of specific eras in European history, or specific parts of Europe that are good. Eric Hobsbawm, the English Marxist historian (whatever a Marxist historian is!) has written a number of fine books on European history: "The Age of Revolution" and "The Twentieth Century" and others. Christopher Hill, another English historian has written good stuff on the Puritan Revolutions of the 17th century. E.P. Thompson's THE MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS (19th century) is a classic. There is an old book, I don't know how available, by A.L. Morton, called A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF ENGLAND. Immanuel Wallerstein has written overarching studies of capitalism-colonialism. Check the book (I forget the author, and I'm away from home so I don't have "resources" in front of me) HOW EUROPE UNDERDEVELOPED AFRICA) And there are good books on the French Revolution and the Paris Commune (now there's a good subject in European history: find Lissa garay's book (he was a participant) called A HISTORY OF THE COMMUNE OF PARIS (or something like that). And read Karl Marx' short book, brilliantly written (I wouldn't torment you by recommending a fat one) on the French revolution of 1848 and events thereafter: THE 18TH BRUMAIRE OF LOUIS BONAPARTE.

Good luck!

Howard

 

About Truths in Historical Writing...

Of course there are truths -- I would stand by my account of the Sixties (concentrating on the civil rights movement and the movement against the war and seeing the Sixties as a praiseworthy moment in our history) is a true account, as is Noam Chomsky's account of the Seven Day War or Eric Foner's account of Reconstruction. But you can imagine someone writing about the Sixties and presenting only stories of drug-crazed hippies and bombings (in fact, that has been done many times) all of which may be facts, but the selection of those facts is done from a different point of view, a different set of values. To say this is not to make of history only a bunch of disconnected stories. Your values create a consistency, tie the events of history together, give them coherence. I think that once you have settled on those values -- the equal right of all human beings to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- (a subjective decision, because there are those who start from a supposition that we don't all have an equal right -- that some deserve more than others, on various grounds) then you can make a rational case for the truth of one historical selection over another, one policy over another, as consistent with your basic values. So if Japanese children have an equal right to life with our children, then we can say as a fact (you may want to call it an objective fact, but I'm avoiding that word) that our account of the bombing of Hiroshima, and our judgement of that bombing, is a true account, a true judgement.

Howard

 

About Lincoln

Altaf:

No, Lincoln was certainly not an abolitionist. He found slavery personally abhorrent, but ending it was not his first priority. He was in many ways what we would consider in modern terms a typical cautious liberal -- a compromiser on serious moral issues, only moving on them when pushed by social movements. As a Congressman, he was opposed to the Mexican War (which was designed to add slave territory) but still voted to finance it. He would not speak publicly against the Fugitive Slave Act, wrote to a friend "I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down...but I bite my lips and keep quiet." He was a lawyer, with a legalistic approach to slavery: the Constitution did not give the federal government the power to interfere with slavery in the states. The District of Columbia was not a state, and he did offer a resolution, while in Congress, to abolish slavery there, but accompanied this with a fugitive slave provision that escaped slaves coming into D.C. must be returned.(Wendell Phillips, the militant Boston abolitionist, called Lincoln "that slavehound from Illinois") During the Civil War he would not do anything about slavery for fear of alienating the states fighting on the side of the North which still had slavery, said plainly that his main aim in the war was not to end slavery but to get the South back into the Union, and would do this even if it meant retaining slavery. The Whig Party which became the Republican Party which elected Lincoln represented economic interests which wanted a large country with a huge market for goods, with high tariffs to protect manufactures (which Southern states opposed). The South stood in the way of capitalist expansion. If you look at the legislation passed by Congress during the War, with the South no longer an obstacle, you see the economic interests: Railroad subsidies, high tariffs, contract labor law to bring in immigrant workers for cheap labor and to use as strikebreakers, a national bank putting the government in a partnership with banking interests. The Emancipation Proclamation was a weak document for freeing slaves, but did have great moral force.

I deal with all this in my book A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. There's an excellent chapter on Lincoln in Richard Hofstadter's book THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION.

Howard

 

On the Sixties

Since the Sixties are being so distorted, and since we're getting such sleazy memoirs as that of Roger Rosenblather (I dubbed him that after hearing him pontificate on the Lehrer News Hour), whose memoir is delightfully skewered by Katha Pollitt in a recent NATION column -- we could use more and more memoirs from people who were in the fray in those years -- yes, history from the people, not from disdainful (and jealous) onlookers. Nice thing about a memoir, you don't have to do a lot of research, most of it is in your head, and you don't have to think about "style" -- the more straightforward the better.

Howard

 

On Taoism and Marxism

Dear Jeff:

You say you don't know of any writing on the influence of Taoism on Marxism. The only writing I know that comes close to suggesting the connection is Joseph Needham's monumental work "Science and Civilization in China", a multi-volume work in which one of the volumes deals extensively with Taoism, and Needham, I think it's fair to say, was a Marxist.

Howard

 

On the Marshall Plan

Reply to Jeff Drake:

I think you are absolutely right in pointing to the hypocrisy surrounding all the fatuous statements during the recent celebrations of the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan was offered to the Soviet Union but with conditions which they were certain to reject, because it was not intended to help the Soviet Union, which certainly qualified for "humanitarian aid" on a far larger scale than any country in Europe, having suffered the greatest devastation of any nation during the war. The motives for the Marshall Plan were both economic and political. Just to point to one aspect of the economic motive: George Marshall was quoted in an early 1948 State Department bulletin: "It is idle to think that a Europe left to its own efforts...would remain open to American business in the same way that we have known it in the past." Most of the money went to American businesses exporting to Europe. At least 10% of the aid money went for European purchases of oil, moving them away from coal-dependency (which involved dealing with troublesome trade unions) to oil dependency, with the U.S. dominant in the world oil market. The political motive was to shore up anti-Communist governments in France and Italy. Truman's Secretary of State Dean Acheson said at the time: "These measures of relief and reconstruction have been only n part suggested by humanitarianism. Your Congress has authorized and your Government is carrying out, a policy of relief and reconstruction today chiefly as a matter of national self-interest". You can read much more about the Marshall Plan, that is, realistic evaluations, in Michael Hogan's book "The Marshall Plan" (Cambridge Univ. Press 1987) and in Melvyn Leffler's excellent book "A Preponderance ofPower" (Stanford Univ. Press, 1992)

Howard

 

On Truth, Science, and History

Dear Bob:

I can understand your unease at the thought that there is no "scientific" basis for historical inquiry, no "objective" truth. But those words mislead us -- give us false comfort, which is dashed as soon as we come up with some "scientific" theory of history which then turns out to be flawed, some "objective" description of a historical event which turns out to be seriously incomplete. Dogmatic Marxism (I like to think there's another kind) presented itself as a science, and it was comforting to see history as a neat progression from the primitive communism of scarcity to feudalism to capitalism to socialism to the communism of abundance. And it was useful as a starting proposition, but had to be constantly amended as historical events did not fit neatly into that scheme. "Scientific Marxism" predicted capitalist economic collapse after World War II. That did not happen and Baran and Sweezy, writing MONOPOLY CAPITAL, tried to explain why. They did not surrender their objective of replacing capitalism with a socialist society, but adapted the classical Marxist economic theory to a new, more complex reality. I don't see how you can claim an "objective" truth about a historical event, so long as any description of that event involves a selection of data out of an infinite amount of information, and the historian must decide what to select for describing the event. Is there an "objective" basis for that selection? The only basis I can see is the holding of a point of view which determines what is important to present. And that is determined by what you are trying to accomplish by studying and presenting history. Elsewhere I've given the example of mapping a territory. To draw a flat map of a sphere involves making some sort of projection of that sphere onto a flat surface. It can be done in many ways. Each way gives only a partial picture, but you can select a projection (polar, Mercator, etc.) depending on what you intend to use the map for. That doesn't make the map trivial. You may draw a map of a city showing only bicycle paths, or only street car lines, or whatever, depending on your purpose. It does not lessen the "truth" of the map. Indeed, it is very, very true, usefully true, in the way that an attempt to put in everything in the map (impossible, really) on the supposition that you would then be objective -- would leave you nowhere. By the way, I discuss the issues you raise, at some length, in my book THE POLITICS OF HISTORY. So what I give you here is an attempt to briefly answer your queries, perhaps unsatisfactorily. But to take my point of view about historical study does not leave you with "a romp through the past in search of anecdotes and morality tales" to support your point of view. Have you read my "People's History" of the U.S. Is that book such a romp? I do not start with a point of view about what happened in the past. I start with a point of view about why I am looking into the past, that is, what kind of future do I want. That leads me to ask certain questions, but it does not pre-ordain certain answers. Whatever answers I get from the past cannot embarrass me, need not be stricken because they don't fit some preconceived notion about the past. I just have to think about those answers and how they relate to my values, my beliefs, to the very purpose you declare: to "give us solutions and follies from the past" to help us towards a better future. I must study slavery in the U.S. without a preconception that I must find many slave revolts, or that I must find that every slave was whipped. Whatever I find about those two questions, whether I find a pattern of revolts, or a pattern of accommodation, or something much more complex, I must accept what I find and try to understand it. We learn from lack of rebellion as we learn from rebellion. I talk in THE POLITICS OF HISTORY about "ultimate values", which are not affected by any particular set of facts you discover about the past (we want people to live well, in peace, in equality, etc. no matter what has happened in the past), and "instrumental values" (this political party or program, that ideology), which need to be constantly re-assessed.

So, yes, there is a "ground to stand on" with this point of view, even if you surrender some abstract notion of "objectivity". As for "science", don't scientists recognize subjectivty, selectivity, research done with a purpose but open to what you find, with that purpose being the "ground" you stand on?

Well, it's 1 a.m. and I must stop! The nice thing about e-mail is you can have the last word -- for a while.

Howard

 

Albert comment (replying to Zinn) on the Truth, Science, and History topic

>>I can understand your unease at the thought that there is no "scientific" basis for historical inquiry, no "objective" truth. But those words mislead us -- give us false comfort, which is dashed as soon as we come up with some "scientific" theory of history which then turns out to be flawed, some "objective" description of a historical event which turns out to be seriously incomplete.

I think we may have a communication problem afoot...

One might argue that history is so complex that humans haven't come up with anything resembling a theory of it, yet still hold that there is such a thing as facts and truths about history...

Or one might say there are simply no truths or facts, only stories, one as good as another.

I think these stances are quite different, whether one advocates either or something else entirely.

I think a lot of the problem is the word theory. What do we mean by that?

If we mean something that explains, makes predictions, and provides assistance in making interventions -- but we don't put some AMOUNT into it, I think we do have theories of history and can have still better ones...

If we mean something which does the above at a level or quantity or accuracy comparable to physical theory accomplishments in controlled experiments, then we don't have such a theory, and will never, in my opinion.

>>I don't see how you can claim an "objective" truth about a historical event, so long as any description of that event involves a selection of data out of an infinite amount of information, and the historian must decide what to select for describing the event. Is there an "objective" basis for that selection? The only basis I can see is the holding of a point of view which determines what is important to present. And that is determined by what you are trying to accomplish by studying and presenting history. Elsewhere I've given the example of mapping a territory.

Isn't there a difference between saying that what to discuss and what to leave out is subjective, and saying that what is said corresponds or doesn't correspond to something real?

When a physicist decides to conceptualize electrons, protons, quarks, etc., these are actually subjective choices. One might (and some have) look at the vast tapestry and pull out other features to give names and conceptualize. That is a choice, having to do with the purpose one has in doing theory, etc. But when a theorist makes a claim about how the features she chooses to conceptualize affect one another, that is a claim that can be, in any useful sense the words have, true or false, and objectively decided.

And I think the same is pretty much true for society and history. What we choose to look at, and to "enshrine" as concepts, and to then make claims about, is subjective and relates to our purposes or prejudices, etc. But what we then claim about these features, is another thing, isn't it?

>>To draw a flat map of a sphere involves making some sort of projection of that sphere onto a flat surface. It can be done in many ways. Each way gives only a partial picture, but you can select a projection (polar, Mercator, etc.) depending on what you intend to use the map for. That doesn't make the map trivial. You may draw a map of a city showing only bicycle paths, or only street car lines, or whatever, depending on your purpose. It does not lessen the "truth" of the map. Indeed, it is very, very true, usefully true, in the way that an attempt to put in everything in the map (impossible, really) on the supposition that you would then be objective would leave you nowhere.

Your example seems to me to make the point that the choice of words may obscure for some...

I raise this because a lot of people would read your comments as saying there is no such thing as Truth, no such thing as Knowledge or Reason, etc., there are only stories -- a view now held, at least in words if not in their own thinking patterns, by many.

It leads folks to feel that in evaluating a claim about history or society the only questions to ask are what is the background and agenda of the author of the claim, and do we like the implications of the claim. Gone is any attention to actually trying to assess the claim on the basis of evidence and consistency, etc.

 

On Grand Theories

Dear Bob:

The problem with most "grand theories" of history, like Hegel's is that they leave no room for human intervention. That's the fundamental difference between Marx's grand theory and Hegel's, that Hegel has us becoming conscious of the progression of history as passive observers, and Marx, while seeing a certain rough progression, sees the necessity to intervene, which then makes the path of that progression much more difficult to predict.

Of course we can tell the difference between one version and another of the Sixties, of the Vietnam war, of any historical phenomenon. We do it all the time. And to say it's "just" a matter of your point of view or your values is to demean the crucial importance of those. Because you have to have those as a basis for then being able to say, powerfully, "This is what happened. This was right. This was wrong."

Howard

 

On Some Books

Dear Jeff:

Thank you for your kind words about my book. (By the way, reading the Tao Te Ching -- the Arthur Waley translation is one of the best, there ar so many -- was one of the life-changing experiences for me.) Good history books? Where to begin? E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, a classic. But on U.S. history: Charles Beard, ?An Economic Interpretation of t he Constitution; Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition; WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction (if you really want to go heavy on thtat period you could also read Eric Foner's fine book "Reconstruction". For a panoramic view of social movements and radical thought in American history , Staughton and Alice Lynd "Nonviolence in America". For a good glimpse into a forgotten but fine moment in US radical history, Joyce Kornbluh's collection of IWW documents "Rebel Voices". The best history of the Vietnam war I know is Marilyn Young's "The Vietnam Wars". The best way to get the history of the civil rights movement is through oral history, I think: Henry Hampton's "Voices of Freedom", and Howell Raines "My Soul Is Rested".

Come to think of it, all of Studs Terkel's oral histories tell you more about those periods than regular history books: "Hard Times" on the Depression, "?The Good ?War" on World War II. Good books on the financial and political shenanigans of the 19th century, alot of it reminding you of things going on today: Matthew Josephson's "The ?Robber Barons" and also "The Politicos". The bibliography at the back of A People's History will give yoiu more stuff. If you have a special interest in the American Revolution, read the books put out by Northern Illinois University Press, edited by Alfred Young.

I'm not planning to be in Minnesota again soon, but I will be in Madison Wisconsin, at the University and doing a benefit for The Progressive Magazine November 18-19.

Howard Zinn

P.S. Oh yes, I should also tell you about Gerda Lerner's books on women's history, again oral history and documents, which I always prefer, "Black Women in White America", and others.

And (we always forget Latino-Chicano history): Elizabeth Martinez' book of photos and texts: "500 Years of Chicano History"

 

On Education

Dear Sean:

You are certainly right about how the schools keep dinning it into young ears: become a success, build a career (in other words, get rich, even if it kills whatever real desires you have, to write poetry or play music, or change the world). Here in Massachusetts, some committee has gone through eight drafts of a "curriculum" for social studies, an endless argument about what students should learn -- but both sides of the argument obviously agree that tthe goal is "success", test scores, "achievement". All these educators -- and all the students -- should read Peter Kropotkin's "Advice to the Young" (reprinted in his book "Revolutionary Pamphlets", in which he says: whatever you study, medicine, science, engineering, whatever, do it with aview towards helping the oppressed people of the earth. The Sixties produced a flood of books on education, because the turmoil of thadt time led young people to question the education they were getting, knowing the standard education, "success-oriented" had not prepared them for war, racism, despoliation of poor countries and poor peoople. So people beg fan reading Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed), Ivan Illich, Paul Goodman, and others. Jonathan Kozol's book "?Death ?At ?An ?Early Age" described what happens to a socially conscious teacher who tries to bring that consciousness to his students. Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis wrote "Schooling in Capitalist America", which you might find useful. I wish parents would show up at PTA meetings and demand, as with your query, why students are only geared for competition and personal advancement? There's an interesting book on this issue of competiveness and cooperation by Alfie Kohn (I forget the name).

Howard Zinn

 

On books about the Sixties

Dear Tom:

Marilyn Young will be gratified that you liked her book on Vietnam. She is in Italy right now and I have forwarded your comment to her (authors need to hear that someone appreciates what they've done!).

You ask about books on the history/experience of student movements. There are a number of them that were written during or right after the movements of the Sixties, and you could check them out to see if they might be helpful to what you are doing. We certainly need a new national student movement.

There is a student thesis at Boston University, which you could probably get via Interlibrary Loan, by Gilbert rosenbrier, written in 1971, called "An historical analysis of student unrest". (I always liked that word "unrest", which implies that everyone else who is not rebelling is enjoying restfulness)

Barbara Ehrenreich (a super writer) and John Ehrenreich back in 1969 wrote "Long March", about student rebellion in the U.S. and abroad, published in 1969 by Monthly Review Press.

Alex Cockburn and Robin Blackburn edited a book in 1969 called "Student Power", published by Penguin, which I suspect deals mostly with the English experience, but I haven't read it so I'm not sure.

Seymour Lipset (a most conservative sociologist) and Philip Altbuch edited a collection of essays "Students in Revolt" published by Houghton Mifflin in 1969 (originally a special issue of the journal "Daedalus" -- a rather mainstream academic publication).

E.J.Bander edited a book called "Turmoil On the Campus", which I don't know at all, bu which was published in 1970 in New York.

Another book I don't know: Julian Nagel edited a set of essays called "Student Power", published in London by Merlin in 1969.

When you can't find just the book you want on a subject, you have to write it yourself! (That's how I came to write "A People's History of the United States", and I suspect many books come out of that frustration)

Howard

 

On a Native American focused Holocaust Project

1. What do you think of such a project? Am I crazy in thinking such a museum [to the "Native American Holocaust"] could be built? 2. What do you think of Russell Means? He is supposed to be controversial in the Indian community, but I am not sure why. 3. Do you know anyone else I could contact to take part in such a project?

Dear Jeff:

Of course, no one can be sure of the numbers of indigenous people living in this hemisphere when Columbus came. Perhaps 75 millions in the hemisphere, 25 million in North America. The best source for this information is David Stannard's book AMERICAN HOLOCAUST who has studied the work of the demographers. As for your questions: No it's not a crazy idea. But it would have to come from and be organized by, native Americans. Russell Means? He has done important work for the Indian community. There is in-fighting in that community as in most others so you will hear different opinions about him. But I judge people by what they do in a specific instance, not by what I heard about their history. Who else would take part in such a project? I would contact Ward Churchill, a scholar of native American history, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado. Write to AKWASASNE NOTES, Mohawk Nation, PO Box 196, Rooseveltown, N.Y. 13683. and have them put a notice in their newspaper asking who would be interested in working on such a project. Best, Howard Zinn

It's a long-time argument about the Civil War: inevitable or accidental? I doubt that it was inevitable, even given basic conflicts of interest between North >> South. Alternatives? Compromise, the North accepting slavery, the South accepting Northern economic domination. Or: compensated emancipation. But neither side wanted compromise, wanting all -- the South wanting independence, the North wanting to keep the South in the Union but totally on its own terms. Anti-slavery was not just rhetoric -- slavery was an obstacle to industrial expansion requiring free labor. But to really learn more about this: read Eugene Genovese, ROLL JORDAN ROLL. Also, James MacPherson, BATTLE CRY FOR FREEDOM. And John Hope Franklin, FROM SLAVERY TO FREEDOM. Howard Zinn

Of course no dollar amount can match the suffering endured by the Indian tribes. It would be presumptuous of me to declare what would be the right way to compensate them. The question should be put to native American activists and organizations. You might address the question to Ward Cburchill, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, who is a native American very much in touch with those issues.

Howard Zinn

 

About Historian's Citing Chomsky

Dear Michael Henderson:

Certainly an interesting question which I have not seen raised before. First, let's distinguish between "professional historians" in general, and New Left historians. William Appleman Williams was not ignored by professional historians -- he was part of the club, though a bad boy in it, and received different kinds of treatment depending on the politics of the reviewer. Oscar Handlin did a famously vicious review of Williams' THE CONTOURS OF AMERICAN HISTORY when it came out. But Williams got enough respect from fellow historians to be elected president of the Organization of American Historians. Except for people like Handlin, who went berserk at the sound of his name, historians, even when disagreeing, paid homage to him. An important factor: he was a fellow member or the profession. New Left historians of foreign policy, of course, have paid plenty of attention to Williams, seeing him as their mentor. As for the treatment of Noam Chomsky -- let's omit the professional historian in general -- they can overlook him on the excuse that he is not a historian, or because he has written mostly about recent foreign policy, from Vietnam on, so you would have to look in histories of the Vietnam war by traditional historians to see how much they refer to him. Not much is a good guess. For instance Guenter Lewy, AMERICA IN VIETNAM, a right-wing defender of our policy, mentions Noam once briefly. As for New Left historians, those dealing with domestic U.S. policy have not seen the need to use Chomsky -- he hasn't done much in that field. Those who deal with recent foreign policy, in Vietnam and Central America, might cite him once or twice, but remember they work in tandem with him, drawing from their sources as he does from his. Stephen Shalom, for instance, (IMPERIAL ALIBIS) cites Chomsky once. You made me go to my "People's History of the U.S." to see how much attention I pay to Noam Chomsky. Only when I get into the Vietnam years do I find it useful to cite him a few times. Even New Left historians may, semi-consciously, ignore work not done by people "in the field" (or use it secretly but don't acknowledge it!) -- but in the main I would say there is no nefarious motive among them when it regards to using Chomsky. Kolko and LaFeber, for instance, would not feel it necessary to draw on him, because they, like him, go back to primary sources, so they work in parallel rather than drawing from one another. As for your thesis topic -- I would think it worthwhile. Complex, because New Left historians have been treated in various ways -- some finding clear acceptance, others less so. An interesting question: how many have adapted their work even a bit, to gain acceptance. Not too much written on it. There has been some writing purporting to analyze New Left historians (Irwin Unger, BEYOND LIBERALISM: THE NEW LEFT VIEWS AMERICAN HISTORY, 1971). In THE WRITING OF AMERICAN HISTORY BY Michael Kraus and Davis Joyce (U. of Oklahoma Press, 1985) he has some material on New Left historians. Joyce is at the University of Oklahoma, Ada, Oklahoma and may be helpful. My recent essay on the historian in the cold war years appears in a collection of essays published by The New Press (THE COLD WAR AND THE UNIVERSITY).You should probably talk to Left historians who have direct experience: Jesse Lemisch & Staughton Lynd are the first who come to mind. Best of luck.

Howard Zinn

 

 

 

On the American Revolution

Since Flemming got the title wrong, it may be that he did not read my book carefully.  And the statements we make (ask Noam Chomsky about this) are often caricatured and distorted. The American Revolution was a complex affair. Yes, it received enough support from ordinary people so that a successful war could be waged against British rule. But many small farmers and working people were not enthusiastic about the Revolution, and had to be wooed or coerced into joining the battle. (John Adams that only one third of the population supported the Revolution, one third were opposed, and one-third were indifferent) Washington had to send an army into the South to bully people into joining thefray.  There were desertions. There were mutinies of soldiers against the Continental Congress which they saw taking care of the officers and not paying the privates. And there's no question that the Revolution was led by the upper classes, and it was they who then framed the Constitution, as a document which would create a strong central government to protect slaveholders, pay off bondholders, subsidize manufacturers, drive Indians off western lands.  The constitution barely squeaked by in getting ratified in three major states: New York, Virginia, Massachusetts. Yes, many ordinary people supported the Constitution. Others opposed it.

Many believed that the Revolution was for them -- had not the Declaration of Independence declared eloquently the democratic nature of the Revolution? -- but the words "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration (not a legal document), became "life, liberty and property".  To say either that it was a "rich man's revolution" or a "populist revolution"

does not do justice to the complexity of that history. 

 

 

On WWII etc.

        I know Jim Loewen's book.  Keep in mind that when you're dealing with that period, all estimates are guesses.  David Stannard, in AMERICAN HOLOCAUST, has made probably the most exhaustive study of those numbers. In an Appendix to the book, he goes into detail, surveys the older estimates and the latest literature, and concludes that the most probable population figuresare 145 million for the hemisphere and 18 million or so for what is now the U.S. and Canada. But I repeat -- this will be an ongoing debate, and I'm not sure if the exact figures matter so much as the fact that it was a huge native population which was decimated by the European invasion.

        Do you mean the huge firebombing that took place in March? That was monthsbefore the surrender. I know of no "reliable source" to verify that leaflets announcing a surrender were dropped on Tokyo at any time. A Japanese friend of mine, Makoto Oda, was a youngster in Osaka when it was bombed on August 14th, the day before the official surrender, and he

remembers leaflets announcing the end of the war, dropped with thebombs!.

That fact does not support the idea that any raid would be called off even with imminent surrender. You might check Michael Sherry's excellent book, THE RISE OF AMERICAN AIR POWER.

Howard

 

 

 

On socialist party, etc.

Dear Sean:

        I can't tell you about the Socialist Party because I have seen little sign of its existence. I agree with the principles you declare as your own, and with your unwillingness to give up the idea of "socialism".   I think,with the disappearance of the Soviet Union, we in the United States are in a better position to talk about a democratic socialism, because totalitarian "socialism" got in the way. Before there was a Soviet Union, the socialism of Debs, Mother Jones, etc., which you say you support, had a great following in this country.  And the conditions in the U.S. today -- the obvious disparities in wealth, the enormous waste of resources, the frightening power of mega-corporations,the absurd military budget -- cry out for a basic change in the economic structure, which I think most Americans, if they had a chance to discuss the issue, would accept.

Howard

 

 

 

About history

        A brief answer, because I discuss the issue at greater length in my book DECLARATIONS OF INDEPENDENCE, and in THE POLITICS OF HISTORY. Objectivity is not possible if it means not taking a stand, not having a point of view. Because writing or teaching history inevitably involves choosing from a great mass of historical data what you will present, and your choice depends on your view of what is important  to present, and that is affected by your social stance, how you think about race or class or war, etc.  Therefore, to claim objectivity is not quite honest, because you can't help being subjective, so you may as well declare yourself openly, which allows your reader/listener to judge what you say, to measure that against other viewpoints and decide for himself/herself.  Not only is objectivity not possible,but it's not desirable, because if you think history should serve a social goal, should help us deal with problems of peace and justice, then we should make our selections with that in mind. When we do that, we are not "indoctrinating", because ours is not the only point of view available. Indeed, ours, if it is a radical point of view, is a rare one, occupying a very obscure place in the large marketplce of ideas.

       You can find out what brought me to my views by reading my memoir (yes, I insist everyone must read all of my works) YOU CAN'T BE NEUTRAL ON A MOVING TRAIN. There I explain how growing up in a working-class family, being in a war, teaching in a black women's college in the South -- all pointed me away from a false "objectivity" and towards teaching history with a social purpose.

Howard Zinn

 

 

On American Revolution

        I did catch a piece of the first program, none of the second (I was speaking at the time to an audience in New Hampshire on "History"), and all of the third.  First, I should say that stylistically it was very well done: talented actors reading their various parts; a certain dramatic tension maintained. It seems to me there were gestures in the direction of recognizing certain important facts about the Revolution -- facts long ignored in traditional histories -- and this is a tribute to the fact that the writers of what I call the "new history" (some call it revisionist history, but I don't really like that term) have had an impact on the mainstream, bending it a little in the direction of a "people's history".

And so you had black slaves speaking, and two African-American historians on the program, and the point made of the irony of a slave society fighting for "freedom",  And in the last program one actor represented the "lower classes" -- somewhat caricatured, and therefore less appealing than the elegant Founding Fathers, speaking dissatisfaction with the rich leaders of the new nation.

And the point is made that the Revolution was not favorable to the native Americans, who  under the British had seen limits set on westward expansion, and now all bets were off.

And Abigail Adams needles her husband about sexual equality. In the old days, these voices would not have been included.  But, although there is an interesting sequence on lower-class Scotch-Irish immigrants supporting the British because of their hostility to the colonial wealthy classes,  the class divisions within the Revolution are passed over for the most part: for instance,  the differences in treatment of ordinary soldiers and officers -- leading to mutinies within the army, and a march of soldiers on the Continental Congress to demand their pay (the officers were getting theirs).

The finale of the program, the treatment of the Constitution, has serious omissions. The arguments over ratification are set forth, but the crucial argument of James Madison in the Federalist Papers is given to George Will to expound. He expresses Madison's idea that the new Constitution will effectively control "factions", but omits Madison's point that these factions are based on class interests, on whether one owns property or not, and while he accurately says Madison's concern is an "oppressive majority" he (and the program) omits Madison's worry about the majority, that it will asks for "an aboliton of debts...an equal division of property....or any other improper or wicked object". Without making that clear, you just give the impression of an unruly majority, not saying what it is unruly about.

The Constitution's legitimization of slavery, it's provision for the return of fugitive slaves, is omitted. And the program ends with a sentimental paean to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, throwing in the Declaration of Independence, and ending with its stirring words, although these words did not become part of our national law, as did the Constitution, with its protection of property rights, in slaves and other forms of wealth. One of the important historian-speakers in the series is

Gordon Woods, who emphasizes the democratic achievements of the Revolution.

His point of view (expressed in his book THE RADICALISM OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION)is sharply criticized in a long essay by another specialist on the Revolution, Alfred Young, in a recent volume BEYOND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (Northern Illinois University Press) who points to the shortcomings of the Revolution as a democratic event.

Howard

 

 

 

On Spanish Civil War

Remember, the Spanish people were living under Fascism. Opponents faced imprisonment, even execution.  If you want to know more about Spanish history, pre=Franco, Franco, and post-Franco, Isuggest you write to an expert, Prof. Will Watson, Dept. of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139.

 

 

 

Re Nanking Massacre

The Nanking Massacre has been known about for a long time. Yes, Eurocentrism,and US-Centrism has kept it either missing or as a quick mention in history courses. True, Japanese nationalists have not wanted to refer to it, but there is probably more mention of it in Japanese history books than in history books in this country. And there have many progressive and radical Japanese scholars who have paid much attention to the Nanking Massacre and other Japanese atrocities. One of them, Masao Maruyama, a distinguished historian at Tokyo University (whom I met during the Vietnam war -- he was a strong critic of U.S. intervention)wrote very vividly about the Nanking Massacre.

 

 

Re racism

Before I had a chance to reply to you, I received the message from Gar Lipow, which you undoubtedly have seen too, and he says very clearly and powerfully what I was going to say to you, not just about the use of the word "redneck", but about a certain contempt for white workers, based on the idea that their racism is deeply embedded in a psychic need for, as you put it "reminding the world that their racial superiority is one of the most precious things that the average redneck can do. " True, I wrote about that issue over thirty years ago, but I had just had seven years of close observation of the race issue in the deep South, and I will stand by my basic point: that racism, granted its persistence in our history, is not so deeply embedded in white consciusness that it cannot be set aside, and by that, weakened, if the white person is confronted with a conflict between racism and any of the many things he cares more about than racism: his economic needs, his fear of going to jail, his desire not to appear ignorant and backward in a society where racism becomes more and more repugnant to more and more people. I saw this again and again among white Southerners who seemed to be deeply racist, and whose behavior changed as the world began to change around them: the white kid in Atlanta who wanted so much to be an actor, and who overcame his lifetime habits of observing the rules of segregation when he was offered a juicy role in an interracial play; the bus drivers who threatened to quit their jobs if the buses were desegregated, but when faced with the reality of being unemployed, continued to drive the buses with blacks and whites sitting where they wanted; the waitress in Selma, Alabama, who, while wearing the big button worn by segregationists "NEVER", served me and Whitney Young in the airport restaurant -- why? because something different was happening all around her and she didn't want to stand out from that, just as earlier she did not want to stand out from her segregationist friends. The examples are infinite. Anyone who goes South today, and remembers the South thirty years ago, will see white people, poor and rich, behaving very differently than they once did. Just this past summer, at a conference, I met a white guy in SNCC I knew back in Mississippi, and who told me of an experience he had there, where a white deputy sheriff took him out in the woods and he thought this was the end of him, because of the organizing he had been doing among in a factory among black workers, but the deputy told him that his brother worked in that factory, and that they needed to be organized and he wanted some of the SNCC guy's union petitions. I might add that the history of the labor movement is full (despite long time craft union exclusion of blacks) of white black unity, among New Orleans dockworkers of the Twenties as well as

auto workers and steel workers of the Thirties, and countless other examples, where the class interest overcame long-held prejudices. All this is not to ignore how far we have to go, but to suggest that working class people, North and South, can be brought together, especially on the basis of a common class interest, and overcome the race barrier. Not overnight, but over time. And how fast this happens depends on our being open to it, and not on creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of immutable working-class racism. And certainly not by being contemptuous of "rednecks".

By the way, Gar Lipow's point about the NY Times poll showing low-income whites being much more accepting of affirmative action than affluent whites reminds me that all through the Vietnam war, Americans with less than a high school education were more opposed to our involvement in Vietnam than those with a college education.

Howard Zinn

 

  

On John Locke, etc.

>I'm sure I'll be corrected if I'm wrong, but wasn't it John Locke who originally coined the phrase "life, liberty, and property" which Jefferson co-opted and changed to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"?

True, John Locke, a century before the American Revolution, in his TWO TREATISES OF GOVERNMENT, laid down the political theory of modern parliamentary democracy, saying that governments are set up to protect the lives and liberties and property of the people (I don't believe he ever used the phrase "life, liberty and property", though he used the single words of that phrase).

But when the Founding Fathers changed Jefferson's phrase to "life, liberty and property" in writing the Constitution, their notion of property was not really the same as Locke's. Locke's defined property as something that came out of the mixture of natural resources and human labor, so that a property-owner was someone who had, by his labor, transformed a resource into "property". This might be considered an early version of the "labor theory of value", worked on more elaborately by the economist David Ricardo, and then by Karl Marx. This definition of property would seem to exclude those who made wealth not out of labor but out of manipulating paper. But Locke was, historically a theorist for bourgeois democracy, the ideological

spokesman for the 1689 "glorious revolution" in England, which transferred power from king to parliament. He can be considered a father of modern liberal theory, combining capitalism and parliamentary democracy. His glossing over the class rule behind such a democracy is discussed in a classic Left critique of Locke by the Canadian political philosopher C.B. Macpherson, in his book THE THEORY OF POSSESSIVE INDIVIDUALISM, which came out, I believe in the early 1960s. As for "co-opting" Locke, Jefferson made it clear years after the Declaration, that he made no claim to the originality of its ideas, but wanted to present those ideas in American form, in the American context. He had certainly read Locke, and I recall that in one of his letters he said the three greatest thinkers he knew were Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke. Certainly the Declaration embodies Locke's ideas about a contract, in which the government agrees to serve the rights of the people to life and liberty and property and deserves to be overthrown if it fails to do that.

 

Howard

 

  

Re star spangled banner...

Dear Jeff:

I'm glad you recognize my standing as an expert on The Star Spangled Banner.

Well, I'll tell you what I know.

First, it was the war of 1812, barely thirty years after the Revolution. Hawks in Congress hoped a war would expand American territory, especially into Canada. But the war ended indecisively with a treaty in 1815. In 1814, the British invaded and burned Washington. Francis Scott Key, a Baltimore lawyer, went to the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay to secure the release of a friend held prisoner. He himself was detained while the British shelled Fort McHenry, near Baltimore. After a night of bombardment Key saw the Americanflag still flying over Fort McHenry, was overjoyed, as we must all be when we see the American flag flying over anything, and when he got to a Baltimore hotel sat down and wrote a poem "The Star Spangled Banner", which was published in a Baltimore newspaper. It was set to music, the tune of an English drinking song "To Anacrean in Heaven", adopted first by the army and navy, and made official anthem by Congress in 1931. And ever since then the story has brought tears to eyes of every true American.

Howard

 

 

 

Zinn answers albert re racism

>Howard,

>I was interested in your reply re racism...

>You note that you still believe that "racism, granted its persistence in our history, is not so deeply embedded in white consciusness that it cannot be set aside, and by that, weakened, if the white person is confronted with a conflict between racism and any of the many things he cares more about than racism: his economic needs, his fear of going to jail, his desire not to appear ignorant and backward in a society where racism becomes more and more repugnant to more and more people."

>But of course. There is endless evidence that this is true, as you write it. The personal cases you give are evidence, and so are experiences on sports teams, the evolution of the Jackie Robinson story being a case in point, the impact of fighting in World War Two, many instances of strike unity, and on and on.

>But, where does the insight take us? Especially given the recognition that such gains tend often to be temporary, later reversed by the return of old pressures.

>Some people look at it and deduce that the right way to fight racism is to end run it, so to speak. They would argue, rather than polarizing racial attitudes by out front race-based demands and struggles, it is critical to find avenues for whites and blacks, for example, to mutually benefit so much from alliance that they do ally, and then, working together, they overcome much white racism. The approach is called Unite and Fight, by some.

>Others look at this and say, hold on. Historically, unite and fight has meant that the whites unite and fight to win what they are seeking, with help from other races, to be sure, and then, afterward, go right back to their racist ways -- so it is Unite and Fight and Whites Win, Blacks Back -- so to speak. They then argue the need for a specifically and forthrightly race based approach to fighting racism.

>I tend to think both sides are right and both sides are wrong. The first dynamic exists but can be set back. The second approach can enhance and solidify gains made by uniting, and spur them even, but also has the possibility of polarizing and instilling racism, if not carried out well. Thus, a mix of the two is probably not only best, but necessary, and, as usual, the take it or leave it one way only has to be optimal attitude is adisaster.

>What is your take?

>Second, I wonder how you react to the argument that there is a big moral difference between racism that derives from honest ignorance and resulting prejudice on the one hand, and racism that is, well, created and sustained by denying easily accessible evidence to rationalize advantage.

>For example, down south (or in Boston, for that matter), in your experience--if we aren't talking in the midst of a raging brawl or otherwise collective and dangerous setting, who did blacks feel less personal ease in talking with, arguing with, interacting with: the ignorant overtly racist poor white, the civil and otherwise highly informed, but also overtly racist rich white, or the super informed covertly racist (but verbally anti-racist) liberal white. (I know it is a strange question, but I wonder your take, nonetheless.)

Dear Mike (I assume this is your intervention, as a two-headed sysop, facilitator and commentator)):

I agree with you on the first part of your statement -- "Unite and Fight" works sometimes; a race-based struggle works at other times. Like a lot of tactical questions which present polar alternatives, the answer changes depending on circumstances.

Yes, I think it is important to distinguish between racism based on ignorance, which can then be unhinged by information, experience, contact with black people, etc. -- and racism which is deliberately practiced for someone's advantage, and is therefore not susceptible to argument, fact, experience.

And yes, that question about "personal ease" is a strange question, and so hard to answer. Black people have not been in the position of"talking with, arguing with" white racists of any kind. As for "interacting with", it would seem to me that there would only be a difference in degree and kind of unease, depending onthe situation.

Howard

 

 

 

About marxism

Sorry to take so long to respond to you, but I've been laid up with the flu, and everything has slowed up. I started to say, you have to be healthy to deal with Marxism, but after all, Marx himself suffered from boils almost all his life, and that didn't stop him.

There's an interesting set of essays on Marx, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto, in a publication called NEW POLITICS, which you are sure not to be able to get at your corner newsstand.

I think Marx's greatest contribution was his critique of capitalism, and if you make your way through the jungle of Marxist economic theory (three volumes of das Kapital, plus a fat book which he wrote as preface to das Kapital, called der Grundrisse, and a couple of heavy volumes on Theories of Surplus Value), or, better still, fly above the jungle in a helicopter, you can find a powerful analysis, still valid today: the tendency of capitalism to create larger and larger conglomerates, its tendency to create poles of wealth and poverty, a fundamental conflict between the private profit central to capitalist accumulation and the increasingly social nature, both internally and internationally, of economic relations. You don't need to know the intricacies of the theory of surplus value to see its basic truth: that the tendency of capitlism is to drive wages down to the means of subsistence, and to keep all the rest; and that this is helped by maintaining a large group of unemployed, "reserve army of labor". Marx and Engels (don't forget that guy) saw economic crisis as inevitably getting worse and worse, and Marxist economists, in the depression of 1929 saw the fulfillment of this prophecy, but after the war, when the expected capitalist depression didn't occur, Paul Sweezy and Paul Baran, in their book MONOPOLY CAPITAL, analyzed the ways in which a capitalism unforeseen by Marx and Engels, was able to stave off depression by military spending and other devices.

When you get to the issue of what happens after capitalism, and the "dictatorship of the proletariat", Marx is not really clear. The idea is that in the post-capitalism transition period there will be a need for a strong state, a state of "the majority", the working class. As we know, that supposed dictatorship of the "majority", in the Soviet Union, quickly became a dictatorship of a party, a Central Committee, one man. Bakunin and other anarchists argued that the state would not wither away by itself, that it must be demolished immediately. The closest we can get to a description of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" in Marx is where he writes about the Paris Commune of 1871, indeed a remarkable example of grass-roots democratic involvement, and says "If you want to know what I mean by 'dictatorship of the proletariat' take a look at the Paris Commune." Marx and Engels thought the apparatus of the state -- police, army, all coercive instruments--- would become less and less necessary as society became more and more classless. But they did not foresee the complicated developments of the 20th century, the overthrow of capitalism in semi-developed countries like Russia and China, the rise of bureaucratic police states calling hemselves "socialist" and "Marxist".

In my play "Marx in Soho", a one-person monologue, I try to rescue Marx from both the ugly "Marxists" who have given socialism a bad name, and the capitalist gloaters("Marxism is dead, socialism is dead"). And I use his arguments with other characters: his wife Jenny, his daughter Eleanor, and his anarchist critic Bakunin, to show both the strengths and weaknesses of Marxist thought.

 

 

Re racism

Dear Jim:

I agree that the word "racism" covers a variety of behaviors, and a variety of motivations, some of which are more amenable to change than others. For many, racism is a superficial reaction, coming out of cultural brainwashing -- and can be overcome (like the young fellow I met in the South, in the Movement, who confided in me that a year before he had been part of a racist gang in Chicago, just a bunch of unthinking young guys out for kicks. For others, racism is closely connected with immediate interest, and can only be changed when that immediate interest is overwhelmed by a common interest, like whites hurt by affirmative action, or by black competitors for jobs. For still others, racism is politically useful, and so long as it is they will hold to it, and then abruptly change their behavior (George Wallace andothers), when it becomes politically useful.

The racism may still be in the mind, but changed behavior, over time can have an eroding effect on that. And then there are those whose racist behavior is deeply embedded in institutions to which their interest is powerfully attached -- and then there is a more serious problem of changing those institutions (like capitalism).

 

 

 

Re WWII...

Dear David:

If you read my essay on "Just and Unjust War" either in DECLARATIONS OF INDEPENDENCE, or in THE ZINN READER, you certainly know my views. World War II is certainly the most difficult case in which to make the proposition that there is no such thing as a just war -- and that's why I chose to concentrate on that. I distinguish between a "just cause" and a "just war".

That is, the cause of fighting Fascism was just, but that doesn't mean that the only way to do it was by a full-scale war in which we would commit great atrocities, and might even provoke the already ruthless Nazis to even more desperately cruel measures. The tough question to answer is: what was the alternative. Merely to suggest that we think about alternatives -- how to struggle against Fascism, but without war -- is already to escape the traditionally limited alternatives of surrender or war. You might say this is the most important political-moral problem we need to solve: how to achieve justice, without massive violence.

Howard

 

 

 

 

Re abolitionists

Dear Gar:

Ralph Korngold's book was the very first book I ever read on the abolitioist movement and I loved it, despite its great flaw in concentrating on white abolitionists, because it was an inspiring story. As to the accuracy of the conclusion that the movement grew rapidly and dramatically -- I would say from 1831 on -- I believe this is true, and, as you say, an important thing to note when questioning the possibility of social change.

The situation looked hopeless in 1831 for aboliton and by 1860 it was a powerful force.

Howard

 

 

 

Re Strike-Breaking

It would be foolish and wrong to say that strikers never engage in violence, but there is an enormous disproportion in the degree of violence engaged in by strikers, and that of corporations and governments.

Every situation is different, but the most typical is where strikers take action to block scabs from going o work, and the police or National Guard are called in and they club and shoot strikers. Sometimes strikers return the violence, but never on the scale used against them. In the 1877 railroad strikes, for instance, the strikers destroyed railroad property, but the armed forces called out against them, state militia and federal troops, killed about a hundred strikers. In the international Harvester Strike of 1886 that led to the Haymarket bombing, police killed strikers, not vice versa. By the way, there is no certainty about who threw the bomb into the ranks of the police in the Haymarket Affair, but there is certainty that the police then fired into the crowd of workers, killing many. In the

1892 Homestead Pa. steel strike thee was firing done by both sides, but most of those killed were strikers. In the Colorado Fuel & Iron Strike of 1913-1914 the strikers set up picket lines to stop scabs from working, were fired on by machine guns and strikers killed, and some strikers in turn killed mine guards, and after the National Guard set afire the Ludlow tent colony and eleven children and two women died, the miners went wild, destroyed mine property and killed mine guards. In the Republic Steel Strike of 1937, police shot and killed unarmed strikers. You would have to study each strike situation separately to reconstruct what happened, but what I described above as the most typical situation would hold true. It's not much different from the pattern of violence in any protest demonstration, where

rock thrown through a window will be met by murderous gunfire, or a picket line will be attacked without provocation, or demonstrators will be told to stop, paraders told to halt and when they don't they are clubbed to the ground.

 

 

 

Re people's history of Britain

Dear Darrell:

There is an old book (1930s or 1940s) by A.L. Morton, called A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF ENGLAND, which I read long ago and found fascinating. I may have, without doing it consciously, borrowed my title from him. I don't know of any recent one-volume overview of British history from a radical point of view, although there may be one. There are many histories of particular periods in English history, written by Marxists and other radicals: Eric Hobsbawm's books: PRIMITIVE REBELS; THE AGE OF REVOLUTION; LABOURING MEN; INDUSTRY AND EMPIRE; REVOLUTIONARIES; THE AGE OF CAPITAL; THE AGE OF EMPIRE; NATIONS AND NATIONALISM; THE AGE OF EXTREMES.

And E.P. Thompson's classic THE MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS, as well as others.

Howard

 

 

 

On civil war...

You probably know that not only Cleburne but other Confederate leaders, after the battle of Gettysburg, with the South becoming desperate, talked of recruiting blacks, some knowing this would lead to emancipation, others thinking they need only emancipate the ones who fought, still others thinking they could even keep the black soldiers as slaves but give them some inducements. There was a heated controversy about the proposal. Even efferson Davis said that if it came to surrender or emancipation theConfederacy would have to recruit slaves, but only free the ones who fought. Robert E. Lee publicly took that position. Cleburne said it might be necessary to arm and free the slaves, in order to save other things held dear: "...personal property, lands, homesteads, liberty, justice, safety, pride, manhood."

What all that suggests is that slavery was not the highest priority for the Confederacy, just as emancipation was not the highest priority for Lincoln. Political control, land, economic resources -- these were primary.

Howard

  

 

Re Portugese "discoveries"

Celebrating "scientific progress" is fine, but keep in mind that the Portugese sailors did not "discover" India and Asia any more than Columbus "discovered" America. Native Americans in this hemisphere resent the word "discovery" because their ancestors were already here when Columbus arrived, and they discovered him as much as he discovered them. Besides, if that "discovery" led to domination of the native population by the Europeans, it is not something to be celebrated. To say that "the world got together" is like saying that the slave trade led to blacks and whites getting together inthe Western Hemisphere.

Howard Zinn

 

On future struggle....

Dear John:

I don't think any structure or system can ensure democracy, peace, justice. That doesn't mean we must content ourselves with present structures and batter against them incessantly, making slightly more progress than Sisyphus. We can work to change institutions and structures -- like from a corporate-profit-driven economy to one based on the old socialist slogan "production for use, not for profit", but whatever new institution comes into being as a result ofstruggle, or however far you get towards such an institution (assuming that doesn't happen overnight, but incrementally), you cannot depend on it not being corrupted unless there is an eternal (yes, that's pretty long-term!) struggle to keep the new structure, the new system, the new leadership true to the goals of a decent society. So there's never any rest. Meaning we will have to take our vacations, our coffee breaks, have our fun now, while working to extent those good things to more and more people.

Howard

 

About Fawn Brodie...

Dear John:

The fact that someone received criticism in the historical journals is not a reliable indicator of the worth of the person's work! Most of the criticism centered on Fawn Brodie's excessive psychologizing about Jefferson, and emphasis on his personal life. I can imagine someone writing about Clinton and focusing on his sexual interests and ignoring major issues of war and peace, class injustice, etc.

Howard

 

Re solidarity work

Dear Mark:

The argument against getting involved in situations overseas always comes up,as you point out. A good reference point in dealing with that argument is the relationship between the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam, where some important civil rights leaders criticized Martin Luther King for publicly denouncing what the U.S. was doing in Vietnam. Of course, there's no conflict between working on domestic issues and on world issues -- the struggles are not mutually exclusive, though for individual people it may be a matter of how to divide their energies. And in the increasingly international operations of corporations, the need for international cooperation among people's movements becomes much greater.

True, we often don't know clearly what is going in other countries.

But even when we don't, it should be clear that we oppose the intervention of the United States on the side of right-wing forces, whether a junta in El Salvador, or contras in Nicaragua. In the case of Vietnam, we could not be certain about the internal politics of the National Liberation Front or the polices of North Vietnam, but we could be certain that American military invasion was wrong. We did not have to endorse what Stalin was doing to oppose those cold-war policies which brought us closer to nuclear war.

Howard

 

Re jefferson bio

Dear John:

I read the book years ago, and I remember liking it. It became notorious because she asserted Jefferson's sexuality when others painted him as asexual after his wife died, and because she believed that he was the father of the slave Sally Henning's children. But aside from that, she covers Jefferson's life and accomplishments quite thoroughly. In fact, she did give Jefferson "the proper respect", treated what she thought was his sexual liaison with a slave as a positive thing, a human relationship and not an exploitation.

She clearly admires Jefferson greatly. For a less admiring portrait, a good counter to the generally admiring biographies of Jefferson, read the chapter on him in Richard Hofstadter's THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION.

Howard