Don’t expect Matt Damon or Josh Brolin or any of the other celebrities and Hollywood producers behind the History Channel’s The People Speak to issue apologies for their celebration of leftist professor and author Howard Zinn in light of the release last week of file 100-369217 – the FBI’s decades long investigation into Zinn’s alleged communist activities.
Already, Zinn’s far-left sympathizers are poking holes, some more credibly than others, in the 430 pages of documents, and trying to draw focus away from Zinn’s alleged membership in the Kremlin-controlled Communist Party USA and onto the fact that a Boston University administrator turned FBI informant once plotted to have him fired in the 1970s.
To the radical left, trying to interfere with an extremist professor as he dutifully decries his country as a police state is a far more egregious crime than belonging to a political organization allied with and controlled by the sworn enemy of the United States.
It’s all about perspective…
Still, Zinn’s apologists are not incorrect in pointing out that the evidence to support the claims that the professor was a card-carrying member of the CPUSA is hardly conclusive, or as J. Edgar Hoover had requested – admissible.
Despite the breadth of documentation in the file – the interviews with Zinn, the statements made by confidential informants claiming to have attended CPUSA meetings at which Zinn taught on “Basic Marxism” and encouraged participants to adhere to the tenants of Marx and Lenin, the suggestions that these meetings often took place in Zinn’s own home – proof of the kind the right might hope for is just not to be found.
That Zinn was a leftist is clear by his own admission. That he belonged to groups infiltrated by Communists is well-established, but that he was an actual, card-carrying member of the Communist Party is just not proven.
Which is not to say there is not a compelling case made. It is just not an iron-clad one.
Of course, the right’s desire to prove Zinn’s membership in the Communist Party in the late 1940s and early 1950s is certainly understandable. After all, this was long after the idealistic 1930s when the already liberal American media churned out stories to Americans wrecked by the Great Depression of a Utopian revolution occurring in the east. It was after the subjugation of Eastern Europe, the Russian bomb, and Stalin’s gulags.
To prove that Zinn was a member of the organization during this period would go a long way toward validating the animosity and distrust the right has for Zinn’s work, both as an anti-war activist, influential author and professor, and sainted historian of the left.
But it is a mistake to focus too closely on Zinn’s status as a member of CPUSA.
Proving it is difficult, and even if it could be proven – what does it prove? Undoubtedly many people in their twenties made poor choices and joined organizations that as adults they would shun. To judge Zinn’s life and career by how he spent his youth, the Eddie Vedders and Danny Glovers of the world would argue, ignores the larger question of how he spent the rest of his life.
And it is that question – how Howard Zinn spent his life – that the right should desire.
The left undoubtedly loves dancing around such myopic questions as, “Was Zinn a member of the Communist Party,” expressly because it detracts from the larger question of, “Was Zinn a communist?”
Did Howard Zinn espouse communist philosophy? Did he openly sympathize with America’s communist enemies? Did he seek to use his influence in academia and the media to convert America’s young to the cause of communism?
These questions do not require the kind of definitive proof the left can demand of the more precise issue of Zinn’s actual political affiliation. They only require the smell test, and Howard Zinn cannot pass the communist smell test.
From his well-known early work on behalf of infiltrated, trans-national labor and civil-rights organizations, to his radical anti-war activism, his seminal and revisionist historical work, The People’s History of the United States, and his lesser known entries into literature, the theater, and television – like his play Marx in Soho, or The People Speak – Zinn continually championed a view of America, capitalism, and the west in general that was utterly sympathetic to the views of Marx and Lenin.
Where he departed from their views was only in the nuanced world of implementation, the ultimate fate of the Bolshevik Revolution, and questions regarding the scale – regional or global – of the communist cause.
That our Hollywood betters continued to promote Zinn’s work is not a testament to their naivety about his official party membership status; it is a testimony to the fact that they agree with his broader communist views – at least as far as they safely can from their positions in the upper echelon of the bourgeois elite.
Consider these words from Zinn’s forward to a compilation of Anarcho-Communist activist and philosopher Alexander Berkman’s work titled Life of an Anarchist.
“Alexander Berkman is one of those lost heros of American radicalism, a rare pure voice of rebellion against the state, against capitalism, against war. …[He] is an inspiring example of living an honest life, as well as a vision of a better society.”
It might be worth here noting that Berkman did fifteen years in prison for the attempted murder of businessman Henry Clay Frick in 1892, opposed American intervention in World War One, and was eventually deported to Russia where he was a first hand observer of the revolution. So inspiring… At least to Howard Zinn, who imported hundreds of copies of his work, The ABC of Anarchist Communism into the United States, “for my students to use” and wrote a play about him.
It is Zinn’s conclusion to the introduction that is the most illuminating though.
“[Life of an Anarchist] is a welcome introduction to the ideas of anarchism,” specifically Anarchist Communism, “which appear more and more relevant in this era of bullying governments, corporate ruthlessness, and endless war.”
Viva la Revolution!
In the end, Zinn’s own words damn him, and his Hollywood appostles, far more than anything J. Edgar Hoover ever dreamt of.