Top critical review
An Instrument of Socialist Indoctrination
Reviewed in the United States on May 10, 2019
On May 6, 2019 Monmouth University Polling Institute released a poll that surveyed attitudes on capitalism versus socialism. The title of the published poll was " SOCIALISM vs. CAPITALISM? - Socialism not seen as compatible with American values, but opinion is not overwhelmingly negative". The first line of the narrative said this: "Most Americans say socialism is not compatible with American values, but only 4-in-10 hold a decidedly negative opinion of it. The latest Monmouth University Poll also finds that less than half the country has a clearly positive opinion of capitalism."
For traditional and patriotic Americans who love this country and believe in its founding principles, its founding documents, and free market economy the fact that a majority of 57% say that socialism is not compatible with American values may be comforting. But the flip side is 29%, almost one-third of the Americans polled, believe that socialism IS compatible with American values. That is concerning and I think certainly explains a lot of what is happening today in our daily headlines.
How did we get here? Well, the book I am reviewing here is one big piece of that answer. Published originally in 1980, Zinn's "A People's History "has sold an estimated 4.9 million copies according to Ron Radosh, a adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of history at the City University of New York. Mr. Radosh goes on to say that this book has also found its way into many of our schools and universities as a history text. I think that this book has caused our nation great damage.
This is not serious historical work. It is a piece of "popular culture" propaganda designed to stir up resentment. First off it is billed by its publisher, Harper Perennial, as "The Classic National Bestseller". History texts normally do not qualify as "best sellers". Their purpose is to accurately document the past using facts as much as possible, hopefully so we will not repeat our mistakes. That an accurate history text IS entertaining is a real bonus for the reader, but besides the point. History should be a work of truth, as far as possible uncolored by ideology. This is not the case with this book. To quote Eric Foner in the New York Times Book Review, " Historians may well view it as a step forward toward a coherent new version of American History." That this book is viewed as a "step forward" and a "new version" should give the reader pause as too its accuracy and purpose.
Howard Zinn was a Communist. Based on what we know to be true about people who subscribe to this world view, we cannot trust them to be truthful. According to Zinn, America is bad and has been oppressive to its people and the world since it was founded. I did not find mention of one kind or good thing America has done in its entire existence. And, like all other progressives Zinn is woefully ignorant of the permanence of human nature (something Marx hated and disputed). Pesky human nature is always the stumbling block to their plans to find unicorns.
Howard Zinn admits that he hopes his book causes a revolt of the middle class against the existing order. He freely admits this bias: "..it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance. That makes it a biased account, one that leans in a certain direction. I am not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which was all stand leans so heavily in the other direction - so trembling respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful , by inattention, to people's movements - that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission."(Page 631) I disagree with that entire premise.
This so called "history" is long on moral posturing and short on citations of fact. This is a pattern with so called "progressive historians" and Zinn is no exception. They seldom cite where their information comes from. Readers, especially students, should be promised factual historical accounts. But in these cases must take the author's word for their accuracy. Foot notes are not used, rather they list their bibliography. This is convenient for the author, but not the reader. If a student wants to check for factual accuracy there is a major time investment involved. Otherwise, the reader has to take the word of the anther. These authors often justify this approach by saying that to include foot notes would cause "clutter". Again, I quote the author: "To indicate every source of information in the text would have meant a book impossibly cluttered with footnotes.. ", and "I have gone through the following standard scholarly periodicals:" which are then listed. (Page 689)
Zinn's thoughts on the perfect society are utopian, and frightening... On page 639 he states:
"The society's levers of powers would have to be taken away from those whose drives have led to the present state - the giant corporations, the military, and their politician collaborators. We would need - by a coordinated effort of local groups all over the country - to reconstruct the economy for both efficiency and justice, producing in a cooperative way what people need most. We would start on our neighborhoods, our cities and workplaces. Work of some kind would be needed by everyone, including people that have now kept out of the labor force - children, old people, "handicapped" people. Society could use the enormous energy now idle, the skills and talents now unused. Everyone could share the routine but necessary jobs for a few hours a day, and leave most of the time free for enjoyment, creativity, labors of love, and yet produce enough for an equal and ample distribution of goods. Certain basic things would be abundant enough to be taken out of the money system and be available - free - to everyone: food, housing, healthcare, education, transportation. The great problem would be to work out a way of accomplishing this without a centralized bureaucracy... Decisions would be made by small groups of people in their workplaces, their neighborhoods - a network of cooperatives, in communication with one another , a neighborly socialism avoiding the class hierarchies of capitalism and the harsh dictatorships that have taken the name "socialism."
This is a dangerous pipe dream. To implement such a vision there first would have to be a complete overthrow of the existing order as Zinn indicates. This would necessarily entail theft of private property, violence against dissenters, and then a decent into chaos and misery of the very people he want to help. This is what happens every time there is revolution and socialism is implemented in place of the old order. There have been no historical exceptions that I am aware of.
Socialism, or whatever you want to call it, has failed miserably every time it has been tried and is nothing new. The Pilgrims tried it in the 1600's and it caused death and privation then. Whatever the new (Plymouth) colony produced was to be put into a common warehouse, with each individual getting one equal share. All the land, buildings and end products were communally owned. But this system gave no incentive to the most creative and industrious among the settlers to work any harder than anyone else.
The book rambles without a logical structure, unless you are a progressive who thinks of people divided by class, race, sex, gender, sexual preference, other grievances and so forth. He does follow a timeline of sorts, but is not very consistent. Frankly, it is a poorly written book and really more of a novel or book of opinion. Zinn makes no bones about his biases but that does not make the book any more readable or valuable. Communism is snake oil and Zinn is a poor salesman. This is not history and should not be taught as such in public schools. But it has been and is. I now understand better why a generation of people hate America and want to transform it. And that in itself is a shame.