The great Howard Zinn

March 30, 2011

It’s pragmatic to be optimistic. There is historical evidence for the fact that when people act, persist, get together, organize, they bring about changes ” That what the great Howard Zinn, said in one of his best interviews; In fact, in this interview with the Institute of International Studies of Berkeley University, he talked about his life and his views and it should be read over and over. The great Howard Zinn, 87, died last year, on 27 January, 2010. He was a real intellectual and showed us that the lunatic left and the rotten brains are fake intellects. Here are excerpts of this great interview: “My parents were not political people at all. My parents were just ordinary. They were Jewish immigrants who worked in garment factories when they came here, and then my father became a waiter … My mother working very hard, raising four sons. And yet, of course, they had nothing to show for it. That is, they were perfect counterpoints to the Horatio Alger myth that if you work hard in this country, you will get somewhere. I think that intensified my feeling about the injustice of an economic system in which there are people all over the country like my parents who work very, very hard and have nothing to show for it … My parents knew I was a reader even though they were not readers. My father was barely literate, my mother was somewhat literate. But they knew that I was interested in books and reading. They had no idea who Charles Dickens was, but they saw an ad, they could send away coupons and a dime for each book. So they got me the whole set of Dickens and I made my way through Dickens … Yes, it was Dickens’ class consciousness that reinforced my own. Yes; it told me, what reading very often does for you, tells you you are not alone in these secret thoughts you have. Not long ago I read that someone asked Kurt Vonnegut, “Why do you write?” and he said, “The reason I write is to tell people: You are not alone.” … By the time I went to college under the GI Bill at the age of 27, I’d already worked in the shipyard, I’d been in a war, I’d worked at various jobs, and so I brought to my reading of history those experiences. And then I learned from my experience something broader, that is, a historical perspective which reinforced the ideas that I’d gained from my own life … At the age of 17, I was hit by a policeman and knocked unconscious. I woke up and said, my God, this is America, where, yes there are bad guys and there are good guys, but the government is neutral. And when I saw that, no, the police are not neutral, the government is not neutral, that was a radical insight. … The seven years at Spelman College are probably the most interesting, exciting, most educational years for me. I learned more from my students than my students learned from me. Living in the South at a very interesting time, the late fifties, early sixties, just before the onset of the big Civil Rights Movement, and then during those years, the early sixties, I learned so much. For one thing, I began to look at history in a different way. I began to look at history from a black point of view. It looks very different from a black point of view. The heroes are different, and the eras get different names. The Progressive Era is no longer the Progressive Era, because it’s the era in which more black people are lynched than in any other period in American history. I began reading black historians, things that weren’t on my reading list right up in graduate school, Columbia University … Democracy comes alive not when government does anything, because government cannot be depended on to rectify serious injustices. It comes alive when people organize and do something about it. The Southern black movement taught me that. … I’m convinced of the uncertainty of history, of the possibility of surprise, of the importance of human action in changing what looks unchangeable … You have to understand that I enlisted in the Air Force. I volunteered. I was an enthusiastic bombardier. To me it was very simple: it was a war against fascism. They were the bad guys, we were the good guys. One of the things I learned from that experience was that when you start off with them being the bad guys and you being the good guys, once you’ve made that one decision, you don’t have to think anymore, if you’re in the military. From that point on, anything goes. From that point on, you’re capable of anything, even atrocities. Because you’ve made a decision a long time ago that you’re on the right side. You don’t keep questioning … I suddenly saw what the bomb in Hiroshima did. I began to rethink the whole question of a “good war ” I came to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a good war. They may start off with good intentions, at least on the part of the people who fight in them … But those good intentions are quickly corrupted. The good guys become the bad guys. So I became convinced that war is not a solution, fundamentally, for any serious problem.


Howard Zinn added: “So it became clear to me that the really critical way in which people are deceived by history is not that lies are told, but that things are omitted. If a lie is told, you can check up on it. If something is omitted, you have no way of knowing it has been omitted. … Arthur Schlesinger writes this glowing book about Andrew Jackson and Jacksonian democracy. What else was going on? And then I find out that Jackson is responsible for the brutal treatment of the Indians in the Southeast, driving them across the Mississippi, thousands of them dying. Jackson is a racist. Jackson is a slave owner. Under Jackson, the industrial system begins with the mill girls going to work at the age of 12 and dying at the age of 25. I became conscious of omissions in history, and that’s what I was determined to try to remedy …We in USA, think it requires a lot of courage just to speak your mind. I’m not going to be executed. I’m not even going to be given a long jail sentence. I may be thrown into jail for a day or two, and that has happened to me eight to nine times. I may be fired, I may get a salary decrease, but these are pitiful things compared to what happens to people in the world. So it doesn’t take much courage … somebody says: “Are you willing to risk your job? Are you willing to risk a salary cut? Are you willing to risk that you won’t get tenure?” — these are pitiful risks compared to the risks that people have taken in the world. … I know that there is a kind of conventional wisdom, or, as I put it, conventional foolishness , that if you’re passionate about something you can’t really write well about it. In the arts we accept passion, and we accept that passion in the arts makes the arts come alive. But we don’t accept it in scholarship, and therefore we draw a false line between the arts and scholarship But I believe that being passionate about your scholarly work, being passionate about history is something that needs to be expressed in order to be honest. I think there’s nothing more important than being honest about your feelings. Otherwise you are presenting something that is not yourself … I think the learning of history is a way of declaring, “I wasn’t born yesterday; you can’t deceive me.” … What history does is give you enough data so that you can question anything that is said from on high … The history can clarify things, prepare you for dealing with the duplicities of the real world. … I remember the New York Times ran a poll once, asking high school students questions about history … The questions that the New York Times asked were questions like, “Who was the president during the Mexican War?” A really important question! Here’s the New York Times, supposedly the ultimate in journalism. This is not the Star, the National Enquirer. And they are asking the question “Who was president during the Mexican War?” instead of asking, “How did we get into the Mexican War? How did it start? What was at stake? What lies were told? How much discussion was there in Congress before there was a declaration of war?”… Historians must not be sweet. But optimistic … well, yes, a cautious optimism. Cautious in the sense that I’m not positive that things are going to go well. The future is indeterminate. But after all, the future depends on what we do now. If we are pessimistic now, we are doomed in the future. If we give up at this point then we know nothing good is going to happen. If we act on the assumption that there’s a chance that something good may happen, then we have a possibility. Not a certainty, but a possibility. So I believe it’s useful, it’s pragmatic to be optimistic. But not only that, not simply an act of faith, but also because there is historical evidence for the fact that when people act, persist, get together, organize, they bring about changes. There haven’t been enough changes. So you can look at that and say, not enough. True. But the fact that some changes have been made. The fact that labor, by struggling, won the eight-hour day. The fact that blacks in the South did away with the signs of segregation. The fact that women changed the consciousness of this country about s-e-x-u-al equality. Even though those are only beginnings, that historical experience suggests reason to think it is possible that other things may change … I think that it’s important people read and learn, thinking, “I’m not doing this just because it’s fun or because it will enhance my professional career but for the purpose of learning.” This goes back to John Dooley, Alfred Lord White, that the purpose of learning is to have an effect on a world in which mostly people don’t have the leisure, don’t have the opportunity, don’t have the breathing space, don’t have the physical health even, to read a book or learn. So we who can do those things have an obligation to create a world in which maybe then people can learn for fun One thing is that even if you’re engaged in a movement where the future of that movement is uncertain, even if you’re trying to achieve an objective which looks very very far away, simply working for it makes life more interesting and more worthwhile. So you don’t have to look for some victory in the future. The very engagement with other people in a common struggle for something that you all believe in, that is a victory in itself.

Such a great man!, Such a great man! He was really a great man! He is alive in our heart. Matt Damon said that when Howard Zinn had the heart attack in the swimming pool in Santa Monica, the person who attended to him asked, “Do you need an ambulance?” And Zinn said, “No, I’m OK,” and then, said Damon, “he closed his eyes.” Zinn’s friends said he died “swimming laps”. And Zinn’s daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn said: “ My dad never swam a lap in his life!”. She also told the story of The New York Times calling him up several months before he died and explaining that the paper had a custom of preparing obituaries for people while they were still alive. Without skipping a beat, Zinn said: “What’s your deadline?!” Matt Damon’s mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, longtime neighbor of the Zinn said: ” Howard Zinn taught us that you can do everything to fight for freedom and justice, and you still make people laugh. You bring joy and justice into every moment ” And that’s the reality of the great Howard Zinn.

Howard Zinn vs the Lunatic Left

March 30, 2011

The great Howard Zinn was a real intellectual. He was not a lunatic left or even a left. The great Howard Zinn said that he was not a classic Left : “By working through political system that poisons the atmosphere, even the progressive organizations, you can see it even now in the US, where people on the “Left” are all caught in the electoral campaign and get into fierce arguments about should we support this third party candidate or that third party candidate. This is a sort of little piece of evidence that suggests that when you get into working through electoral politics you begin to corrupt your ideals.… I believe that it is preferable sometimes to have one candidate rather another candidate, while you understand that that is not the solution. Sometimes the lesser evil is not so lesser, so you want to ignore that, and you either do not vote or vote for third party as a protest against the party system. Sometimes the difference between two candidates is an important one in the immediate sense, and then I believe trying to get somebody into office, who is a little better, who is less dangerous, is understandable. But never forgetting that no matter who gets into office, the crucial question is not who is in office, but what kind of social movement do you have. Because we have seen historically that if you have a powerful social movement, it doesn’t matter who is in office. Whoever is in office, they could be Republican or Democrat, if you have a powerful social movement, the person in office will have to yield, will have to in some ways respect the power of social movements. We saw this in the 1960s. Richard Nixon was not the lesser evil, he was the greater evil, but in his administration the war was finally brought to an end , because he had to deal with the power of the anti-war movement as well as the power of the Vietnamese movement. I will vote, but always with a caution that voting is not crucial, and organizing is the important thing”

In fact, the great Howard Zinn was a free thinker and activist, without any classic label. He added: “The term anarchism has become associated with two phenomena with which real anarchists don’t want to associate themselves with. One is violence, and the other is disorder or chaos. The popular conception of anarchism is on the one hand bomb-throwing and terrorism, and on the other hand no rules, no regulations, no discipline, everybody does what they want, confusion, etc. That is why there is a reluctance to use the term anarchism. But actually the ideas of anarchism are incorporated in the way the movements of the 1960s began to think … I have different view about the issue of violence, and I think here anarchists have disagreed. Here in the US you find a disagreement, and you can find this disagreement within one person. Emma Goldman, you might say she brought anarchism, after she was dead, to the forefront in the US in the 1960s, when she suddenly became an important figure. But Emma Goldman was in favor of the assassination of Henry Clay Frick, but then she decided that this is not the way. Her friend and comrade, Alexander Berkman, he did not give up totally the idea of violence. On the other hand, you have people who were anarchistic in way like Tolstoy and also Gandhi, who believed in nonviolence. … There is one central characteristic of anarchism on the matter of means , and that central principle is a principle of direct action -of not going through the forms that the society offers you, of representative government, of voting, of legislation, but directly taking power. In case of trade unions, in case of anarcho-syndicalism, it means workers going on strike, and not just that, but actually also taking hold of industries in which they work and managing them. What is direct action? In the South when black people were organizing against racial segregation, they did not wait for the government to give them a signal, or to go through the courts, to file lawsuits, wait for Congress to pass the legislation. They took direct action; they went into restaurants, were sitting down there and wouldn’t move. They got on those buses and acted out the situation that they wanted to exist … Strike is always a form of direct action. With the strike, too, you are not asking government to make things easier for you by passing legislation, you are taking a direct action against the employer.”

The great Howard Zinn was not a classic or lunatic anarchist, he added: “I still think one of the most important principles of anarchism is that you cannot separate means and ends. And that is, if your end is egalitarian society you have to use egalitarian means, if your end is non-violent society without war, you cannot use war to achieve your end. I think anarchism requires means and ends to be in line with one another. I think this is in fact one of the distinguishing characteristics of anarchism … People in power can tolerate liberal ideas. They can tolerate ideas that call for reforms, but they cannot tolerate the idea that there will be no state, no central authority. So it is very important for them to ridicule the idea of anarchism to create this impression of anarchism as violent and chaotic. It is useful for them … One of the problems with dealing with anarchism is that there are many people whose ideas are anarchist, but who do not necessarily call themselves anarchists. The word was first used by Proudhon in the middle of the 19th century, but actually there were anarchist ideas that proceeded Proudhon, those in Europe and also in the US. For instance, there are some ideas of Thomas Paine, who was not an anarchist, who would not call himself an anarchist, but he was suspicious of government. Also Henry David Thoreau. He does not know the word anarchism, and does not use the word anarchism, but Thoreau’s ideas are very close to anarchism. He is very hostile to all forms of government. If we trace origins of anarchism in the US, then probably Thoreau is the closest you can come to an early American anarchist … I think our first step is to organize ourselves and protest against existing order — against war, against economic and s-e-x-ual exploitation, against racism, etc. But to organize ourselves in such a way that means correspond to the ends, and to organize ourselves in such a way as to create kind of human relationship that should exist in future society. That would mean to organize ourselves without centralize authority, without charismatic leader, in a way that represents in miniature the ideal of the future egalitarian society. So that even if you don’t win some victory tomorrow or next year in the meantime you have created a model. You have acted out how future society should be and you created immediate satisfaction, even if you have not achieved your ultimate goal … History of human behavior shows the desire for freedom, shows that whenever people have been living under tyranny, people would rebel against that”

Such a great man! Such a great and free human man! Just compare him with the lunatic lefts, for instance Noam Chomsky; the result is so clear.

This is the fourth article of Noam Chomsky vs Iranians series. The third was Chomsky: Independence vs Freedom And the second was When Intellectuals become Dumb