Howard Zinn (August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010) was a Communist who is most famous for his book A People's History of the United States. Initially only being known by people who read the Socialist magazine The Nation, the book, due largely to a hat tip from Matt Damon's character Will Hunting in the film Good Will Hunting, has sold over a million copies and gives a far-left interpretation of political history (see historical revisionism). Zinn's work manifests an inability or unwillingness to engage in objective analysis, and lacks contextual considerations, and instead his presentation of history is a polemic for liberal change. Zinn was very popular with liberal elites, and his book was made into a propagandistic film, The People Speak, which the History Channel carried on cable television.
Zinn's motivation for his anti-American views as well as his radical point-of-view presentation of history appears to have formally begun with an event at an early age. When he the age of 17 (in 1939) he attended a pro-Nazi-Soviet anti-British Imperialism rally in Times Square where was knocked senseless by police. As a result, Zinn stated that, "I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of democracy. I was a radical, believing something was fundamentally wrong with this country." In addition, he later served in World War II as part of a bomber crew in the United States Army Air Corps, although it should be noted that, due to his having already adopted anti-American views by that point, the actual reason for participating in World War II was not due to patriotism to America but instead to aid the Soviet Union due to Hitler breaking the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact. Ironically, given his wartime role, he would later use out of context statements of alleged American mass murder of women and children of various peoples as an indictment.
A People's History
For a more detailed treatment, see A People's History of the United States.
A People's History of the United States is Zinn's best known work. The book does not incorporate the newer theories of history, but provides an energetic heavy-handed attack on conservatives, business, and white men. His book is stuck in 1950, methodologically, and does not appreciate the scholarship of the last 4 decades in the "new" intellectual, political, economic, diplomatic, military, cultural or social history. His "newest" ideas are that the white male "working class"—as well as blacks, Indians, and women—are victims of capitalism, a stock notion of 1930s socialist philosophy regarding workers.
Communist Party activity
In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Cliff Kincaid, Editor of Accuracy in Media, on July 30, 2010, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a 423-page file on Howard Zinn. The FBI file reveals that while Zinn denied being a member of the CPUSA, several reliable informants in the party identified Zinn as a member who attended party meetings as many as five times a week, even serving as a delegate to the New York State Communist Party Convention. In 1951, he taught a class on Marxism at CPUSA headquarters in Brooklyn, and it seems highly unlikely he would have been allowed to do so in this setting if not a Party member himself. Acquaintances in the New York loading dock where he worked at the time were also said to regard him as a Communist.
The FBI first opened a domestic security investigation on Zinn in 1949, which revealed Zinn's activities in what were called Communist Front Groups, and received reports from informants that Zinn was an active member of the CPUSA, with one stating that he was "believed to be a CP member as of October, 1956." In the 1960s, the Bureau took another look at Zinn on account of his criticism of the FBI's civil rights investigations. A 1964 FBI memorandum refers to Zinn as "a professor and writer who has a background of known membership in the Communist Party (CP) and has continued to demonstrate procommunist and anti-United States sympathies." It also reveals that while Zinn had denied membership in the CPUSA, his denial "was not supported by facts" - a reference to the substantial evidence and eyewitness testimony provided by informants in the CPUSA. Further investigation was made when Zinn traveled to North Vietnam with Daniel Berrigan as an anti-war activist. The investigation ended in 1974, and no further investigation into Zinn or his activities was made by the FBI.
Ron Radosh, himself a former CPUSA member, also confirmed that Howard Zinn was a member of the CPUSA, and also left the party like himself, although what differed was their motives: Radosh realized that the Communist Party was antithetical to the American way, while Zinn left because "it [the CPUSA] wasn't revolutionary enough."
Historian Mary Grabar notes how several portions of Zinn's work are plagiarized from other radicals. Most notably, passages from Zinn's A People's History of the United States mirror those from authors Gary Nash and Hans Koning.
- Howard Zinn: Communist liar
- Zinn, Howard. "The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy", p. 158
- Howard Zinn, FBI files, Part 1, p. 4, 5, 11, 50, 54, 80, and 109, Part 1, https://vault.fbi.gov/Howard%20Zinn%20
- Federal Bureau of Investigation, Howard Zinn
- Cliff Kincaid, Leftist "Historian" Howard Zinn Lied About Red Ties Friday, 30 July 2010
- Howard Zinn’s Anti-American Propaganda Takes Over The Smithsonian
- Howard Zinn's American Holocaust