The Magazine

Aside from That, He Was Also a Red

The FBI’s history of Howard Zinn.

Aug 16, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 45 • By RONALD RADOSH
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Zinn had clearly left the party’s ranks by the time the New Left and the civil rights movement came on the scene. Indeed, his politics were to the left of the party. The CP supported “Negotiations Now” as a way out of Vietnam; Zinn proposed unilateral withdrawal. To be sure, he supported Third World Marxist regimes like Vietnam and Cuba. He toyed with radical groups at home such as the Maoist Progressive Labor party and the Trotskyist Socialist Workers party. He also gave his support to the young black militants of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther party. 

But in a 1965 article found in the FBI files, Zinn praised “college radicals” for having “no illusion about Reds.” They “have seen Stalinism unmasked,” he wrote. “They have watched aggression, subversion and double-dealing engaged in by all sides, West as well as East, ‘free world’ as well as ‘Communist world.’ ” His position was now that of moral equivalence. It allowed him to be “critical” of the East while saving most of his fire for the “imperialist” policies of the United States. While the Communists “will use any means to gain their ends,” as Zinn put it, the horrors in Vietnam convinced him that the United States too “will use any means to gain its ends.” It was a position many ex-Communists still on the left would take; criticize the CPUSA for slavishly following the Soviets, but save most of your ammunition for condemning the United States. 

Soon, Zinn would be taking students out of his Spelman College classes to join protest marches, declaring that the United States had “been a police state for a long time,” and traveling to North Vietnam in 1968. A short time afterwards, he began to write his simplistic paean to the “people,” and to develop a new far left narrative about America’s past. As one of his supporters wrote last week, “he was .  .  . an example of how genuine intellectual thought is always subversive.” Writing his tendentious history, which influenced a new generation to regard our country’s past with disdain, became his substitute for the old activism. That legacy is worse than anything he ever did as a member of the Communist party.

Ronald Radosh, adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and a blogger for Pajamas Media, is author of Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left.

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