American History Review of the 20th Century: Manning Marable and Howard Zinn
Interviewed by Amy Goodman • Democracy Now! • December 27, 1999
LISTEN TO AUDIO:
Today we are taking a look at the people, events and social movements of the century. We are joined by two activist scholars who will shed some light on this subject, Manning Marable and Howard Zinn. [includes rush transcript]
Manning Marable is a professor of history and political science and the director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University. He is an adviser to members of the Congressional Black Caucus and is currently a national co-chairperson of the Committees of Correspondence. He has written over 100 articles in scholarly publications such as The Black Scholar and the Howard Law Journal. Dr. Marable has written many books, including his new book, Dispatches from the Ebony Tower; How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America; Black American Politics; Race: Reform and Rebellion; The Crisis of Color and Democracy; Beyond Black and White; Race, Inequality, Power (with Leith Mullings) and Malcolm X: Black Nationalist Visionary.
- Professor Manning Marable
Howard Zinn, professor emeritus at Boston University, is one of the country’s most distinguished historians. Zinn is a decorated World War II Air Force bombardier. After getting his Ph.D. from Columbia University, he taught at Spelman College in Atlanta and was an activist in the civil rights movement. Later teaching at Boston University, he became active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. He is the author of many books, including The Cold War and the University; A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present; The Politics of History; The Twentieth Century: A People’s History, and You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times.
- Professor Howard Zinn
AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Curtis Mayfield, our musical break, urged African Americans to keep on pushing at the height of the civil rights movement with songs that preached pride and perseverance. He died. His life imitated his art when an onstage accident in 1990 left him a paraplegic but failed to stop his music. He continued to record new songs by singing flat on his back. The gentle voice that sounded more like a pensive philosopher than a raging revolutionary was silenced on Sunday, when Mayfield died at the age of 57.
This is Democracy Now!, as we move into the last week of the year, of the decade, of the century, of the millennium. Throughout the week, we’re going to be taking a look in different ways at the last century, and today we are joined by two scholar activists to go through the century with us and maybe beyond.
We’re joined by Manning Marable, a professor of history and political science and the director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University, an adviser to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, currently a national chairperson of the Committees of Correspondence. He’s written over a hundred articles in scholarly publications, such as The Black Scholar and the Howard Law Journal.
We’re also joined by Professor Howard Zinn, author of People’s History of the United States. Howard Zinn, among his most recent books, The Zinn Reader.
And we welcome you both to Democracy Now!
MANNING MARABLE: Good morning.
HOWARD ZINN: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t we begin with Professor Marable? As you look back at the century, what is most significant to you?
MANNING MARABLE: I think that from the standpoint of people of color and third world people, that the 20th century will be seen as a time of fundamental change and the creation of a new political relationship between the West and the rest of us.
One can see—you can almost divide the century in half. During the first half of the 20th century, the struggle in the United States was against America’s version of apartheid, Jim Crow segregation. Throughout the rest of the world, the structure of domination of people of color was colonialism, so that there was a connection between opposition, democratic opposition movements, in the United States, in the Caribbean, in Asia and Africa, that formed the foundation for what would become, especially in the post-World War II era, the third world.
In the second half of the 20th century, as colonialism, as a political structure of authoritarian domination by Europe over the third world, began to collapse and Jim Crow began to collapse in the United States, the terms of the struggle were redefined: for the third world, neocolonialism and the struggle to achieve genuine political and economic independence of the West; in the United States, the terms of the debate regarding the status and future of people of color was also reframed into the post-civil rights era. So, Du Bois’s prediction that the problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the color line is, in many ways—was very—was, in many ways, just very accurate.
W.E.B. DU BOIS: Returning now to the United States, I look again upon the scene. The legal fight led by the NAACP has been an astonishing success.
AMY GOODMAN: W.E.B. Du Bois.
W.E.B. DU BOIS: But its very success shows the limitations of law and law enforcement, unless this program has an economic foundation, unless the mass of Negro people have not simply legal rights, but have such rights to work and wage that enable them to live decently. Here in the United States, we have had a stirring of the Negro population, which emphasizes these rights.
AMY GOODMAN: W.E.B Du Bois actually speaking in 1960, April 9th. In fact, that was Paul Robeson’s birthday. And we actually have been asking listeners to call in throughout the last week about what they think are the most important issues of the 20th century, the most important movements, the most important people, and we’re going to be playing a listener’s century on our Thursday show, December 30th. But throughout the week, we’ve also been playing just little excerpts, and today we wanted to play you one.
MARVIN GORDON: Marvin Gordon, 70 years old, born December 27th, 1929. Growing up, I had only one hero. There were many people that influenced my life, and I heard many people articulate their views of a better world. But the only person that I saw in action and followed closely was Paul Robeson. I was at both Peekskill concerts. I was at the huge AME Zion concert in Bedford-Stuyvesant, living nearby, when he was banned from the concert stage. And I was a neighbor of his in Washington Heights and used to see Eslanda and Paul often sitting down by their stoop in Jumel Place.
As to the greatest issue is the fight for real democracy, for not just the people of the United States. When I mean democracy, I mean a people-run government, not just in the United States, but throughout the world, and ethnic understanding. Yes, there are different ethnic groups, as there were different tribes in early times, but if we cannot learn how to live together as people, there is no real hope for humanity or humankind. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Just one of the listeners calling in throughout the week, and we encourage you to call in to our comment line as we build a listener’s century for Thursday. The number to call—and today we’re focusing on people who were—who had the greatest influence in the 20th century, and maybe even beyond, as well as movements. Give us a call and share your thoughts at (212) 209-2999. That’s (212) 209-2999.
Manning Marable is our guest for this hour, a professor at Columbia University, as well as Howard Zinn, professor emeritus at Boston University, one of the country’s most distinguished historians, a decorated World War II Air Force bombardier. After he graduated Ph.D. from Columbia, he taught at Spelman College in Atlanta and was active in the civil rights movement, later teaching at Boston University, where he became very active in the antiwar movement, author of many books, including the famed People’s History of the United States, as well as You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of our Times and The Zinn Reader.
Howard Zinn, on the issue of the 20th century, where would you begin?
HOWARD ZINN: Well, maybe I’ll begin with where we were just ending. That is, we’re talking about W.E.B. Du Bois. And, of course, as Manning Marable said, you know, Du Bois pointed to race as the issue of the 20th century. And Du Bois also, I think, represented something else, of course connected with race, but something that goes beyond that. That is, he represented the idea of people in various parts of the world having a common interest—that is, not just people divided by race, people divided by national boundaries. Du Bois was never bounded in his thinking by the sort of normal nationalist point of view. And to the—in fact, the latter part of his life, Du Bois, you know, spent much of his time in Africa. But I think that people who have oppressed, as black people in this country and other people, and it’s certainly true of immigrants and true of Jews—people who have been oppressed, I think, are led to think beyond nationalism and to have a vision of a world community.
To me, in the 20th century, one of the horrifying things about the 20th century—you know, and most people when you talk about 20th century, they have nothing but negative thoughts, because when you look back at the 20th century, you see a century of endless war, and you see a century of endless national rivalries exploding into mayhem and violence. And yet, it’s also true that in the 20th century, the basis has been laid. The—in people crossing boundaries, in people moving from one country to another, in culture expanding across national boundaries, the basis had been laid for a world order in which national boundaries are not going to hem people in, and national antagonisms are not going to explode into war. So I see the question of nationalism and the evils of nationalism and the violence of nationalism as one of the most terrible things of the 20th century. And I see as one of the possibilities for the next century and more the erasing of these national boundaries and the creation of a multiracial, multinational, international society.
And, you know, I think of the wars that we have fought, and I think of—you know, Manning Marable sort of divided the century into two parts and saw hope in the second part of the century and development and change in the second part of the century with the regard to the issue of racial equality. And to me, one of the most important things that happened in the second part of the century was in the 1960s, when for the first time there was a great national movement against a war that was being carried on against people in another country. During the Vietnam War, for the first time in American history, a movement developed, which became an overwhelming voice against the idea of bombing and killing people in another country thousands of miles away. And to me—
AMY GOODMAN: Now—
HOWARD ZINN: Yes, I just want to say one more thing about that, and that is, although you had wars since then, I believe that the memory of Vietnam, the lessons that were learned in the 1960s, are lessons that are going to come to fruition, you know, at some point in the near future in the United States in a revulsion against war.
AMY GOODMAN: On that note, we have to break for stations to identify themselves, and when we come back, we’ll continue with our hour’s conversation with professors, activists Howard Zinn and Manning Marable. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.[break]
AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!: The Exception to the Rulers, as we talk about the seminal events and people of the 20th century. This is Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh in 1946.
HO CHI MINH: [translated] In my own name and the name of the Vietnamese people, I greet the French people. All my life, I have worked against French colonialism, but I have admired the French people.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Paul Robeson.
PAUL ROBESON: It began when I was a little boy in Princeton, New Jersey, strange to say. Technically, this is the shaping of my views, a Negro boy born in Princeton, New Jersey, in a college town where the students mainly came from the Deep South. You know, Princeton—and Princeton, Harvard and Yale was the sort of the Southern university of the North, whether you know that or not. And so I grew up in Jersey in a rather Southern atmosphere. And so—and my father was a minister, and I was shaped against that background.
Technically, I entered the sort of arena in the United States of fighting for social justice for my people in a concert, when I was in a concert in St. Louis in 1947 — it was in the Post-Dispatch — where I was singing at the Kiel Auditorium, one of the big auditoriums there. And the NAACP asked me in St. Louis at that time to come on a picket line, because Negro people could not even sit in the theater, which was just across the street. And so I grabbed a banner, and lo and behold, I saw Walter Huston coming down the street. He was in the play. So Walter walked out and joined the picket line, too. And a few nights later, when I was doing the concert, I said that I could not quite resolve the contradiction between singing to an audience in St. Louis where there was no segregation, of course, but also the same people had not—to my mind, were not fighting to see that my people could sit in the theater. It’s been corrected since. And so I said that I was giving up my career technically for the moment to enter the realm of the day-to-day struggle of the Negro people, especially.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Robeson, speaking in a conversation on Pacifica station KPFA in—many years ago, in the late 1950s.
You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, as we spend the week looking back. We’re talking with professor, activist Howard Zinn and Manning Marable. Manning Marable, a professor at Columbia University, who heads up the African-American institute, the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia. His latest book is called Dispatches from Ebony Tower: Intellectuals Confront the African American Experience. And Howard Zinn, Boston University professor emeritus, author of many books, including A People’s History of the United States and The Zinn Reader. The last book, The Zinn Reader, published by Seven Stories Press.
Manning Marable, Howard Zinn was ending on this point of people’s reaction and movement against war, particularly the Vietnam War. Can you talk about the antiwar movement and the civil rights movement and how they came together?
MANNING MARABLE: Yes. In the 1960s, in fact, perhaps the best way to get into this is to quote Harold Cruse, the author of The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. Harold once said that the two decisive decades of the 20th century were the 1920s and the 1960s. The ’20s were important because, in the aftermath of World War I, you had a number of political movements that erupted that redefined the remainder of the century. You had the Bolshevik Revolution. You had Gandhi’s emergence in India and the movement of independence throughout the Asian subcontinent. You had the expansion of the civil rights movement in the United States, the NAACP led by Du Bois, anti-colonial movements in the Caribbean, and the beginnings of the revolution in—led by the Chinese Communist Party in Asia. So all of these things began to unfold, and there was a link between economic justice, or social justice represented by the term “socialism,” a struggle to redefine the relationship between oppressed people and both centers of economic power—that is, capitalism—and political power, which was located in western Europe and the United States.
In the 1960s, the nature of those struggles, the underlying or the deep structural dynamics of those struggles were rearticulated around issues of social and economic justice in the United States, which was represented by the civil rights movement. People forget that the civil rights movement was not just about integration or the end of the political or social segregation of African Americans from the mainstream of American life, but it was also about redefining the economic relationship between working and poor people, the haves versus the have-nots, as Malcolm X put it. And it was also about an international struggle to redefine the relationship between people of color and the West, so that these—the struggle for racial justice, the struggle for economic justice, both domestically and globally, were always linked. They were linked in the 1920s, and they were linked in the ’60s, and they’re still linked today.
There’s a connection between, for example, what happened in Seattle and what happens in New York around the struggle around the Diallo murder. That is, that racial justice cannot be achieved in the United States outside of the context of economic justice, and that the struggle in the United States for economic and racial justice, social justice, is linked globally with a broader kind of rearticulation of what does democracy mean, between working people throughout the world and those citadels of corporate and political power that define the WTO. And making those links, making those linkages, is really the challenge of the 21st century. That’s why what occurred in Seattle is so appropriate as a benchmark to ending this century. Making the link between, say, Seattle and Sing Sing, that it’s not an accident that this event could occur at the end of a period of time when, domestically in the United States, we’ve seen over the last quarter century the growth of incarceration from barely—from about 500,000 people in 1980 to nearly two million people today, that there is a link between a political economy of oppression in this country and a globalized political economy, a globalized capitalism, in which working people feel hostage to these large corporations. Making the linkages is what progressive movements have been about and will be about in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Marable, you’ve also compared the Battle in Seattle—dare we go back beyond this century, as if that’s not enough—to 1770 in Boston.
MANNING MARABLE: Yeah, that’s right. That is, it’s—if you take the long view of history, you could make a connection between, in March 5th, 1770, there were a group of Americans who were demonstrating against British imperialism, British colonialism, and arbitrary economic rules governing trade in Boston. They called it the Boston Massacre. Five Americans, including one African American, Crispus Attucks, were shot down in the streets of Boston. It was a demonstration that sparked—that sparked, in many ways, what would emerge several years later as the American Revolution. This was a struggle for a kind of democracy. It wasn’t a democracy that included African Americans or women or most white people, most white males, but it was a step forward in a struggle for democracy.
We have, at the end of this century, a struggle that brings tens of thousands of people into the streets around something that most mainstream political commentators would say is fairly abstract. But a struggle for economic justice around issues of trade in the 18th century, 1700s, became a framework, a cutting edge for what would become a broader political movement. I think that into the 21st century, that that parallel will apply.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Manning Marable, African-American studies professor at Columbia University. Howard Zinn, when you look at the century, you have a heavy emphasis on labor and the issue of socialism. Can you talk about the rise of labor in this century?
HOWARD ZINN: Well, in the early—the early part of the century, we had some of the most dramatic and violent labor struggles that have taken place anywhere in the history of the world, because capitalism in the United States in the late 19th century, from the Civil War on, became more and more ruthless, more and more cruel, and the conditions of work now were horrendous. I mean, these were the—this is the underside of what is called, you know, the great economic miracle, where the United States became a great industrial power, sort of between—you know, roughly between the Civil War and World War I. The underside of that was the conditions of the people who worked on the—building the transcontinental railroad, the people who worked in the steel mills, the people who worked on the mines, and who worked 12 and 14 hours a day, and the 11-year-old children and 13-year-old kids going into the mines, and the—you know, the tens of thousands of people dying each year in industrial accidents. And the reaction against that was a series of bitter labor struggles that took place in the early part of the century.
One of the most important of these took place in Lawrence, Massachusetts, when immigrant, mostly women, workers in the textile mills, coming from many, many different countries, a marvelous example of people crossing boundaries—people from southern Europe and people from eastern Europe, Poles and Hungarians and Lithuanians and Italians and Greeks—getting together and going out on strike against the power of the textile mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and facing the police, who came to the railroad station and clubbed them and their children as they were trying to bring the children away from Lawrence to safety, and ultimately winning a remarkable, remarkable victory, with the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, a sort of radical labor union of the time, playing a leading role. And that labor movement, to me, was an example of democracy coming alive.
Manning Marable was talking about the limited democracy that was created by the American Revolution—and it was a limited democracy. And it was a democracy that, very often we learned in school, has a very formal set of institutions, you know, and the idea being that if you have three branches of government, and if people will vote, then you have democracy. But what the history of this country shows, and especially in this century, is that democracy comes alive when people who see that the formal structure of government doesn’t help them. The formal structure of government does not change the 12-hour day, doesn’t change the conditions of work, doesn’t change the power of the corporations over working people. When people see that that formal structure doesn’t work, then they organize. They go out on strike. They demonstrate. And the labor movement of the early 20th century, and the socialist movement that ran parallel to it and became a very, very important force in the early part of the 20th century—hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people read socialist newspapers. Almost a million people voted for the socialist candidate, Eugene Debs, when he ran for president. That was a flourishing of democracy.
Now, of course, democracy goes back and forth. It’s crushed. It comes back. The labor movement came back again in the 1930s. In our time, we’ve seen a diminishing of the power of the labor movement. But I think that Seattle—the events in Seattle recently were crucial in showing what the possibilities are if a new resurgent labor movement joins with other movements, joins with people who have other issues, and they all get together in order to combat the power of the corporations allied with the government, and then democracy comes alive.
I want to say one more thing about socialism. And that is that the socialist movement that I spoke about and which flourished in this country in the early part of the century and which was joined by some of the leading sort of artists and literary figures of the time—Jack London and Helen Keller, Clarence Darrow, Upton Sinclair.
AMY GOODMAN: I have to ask you to repeat the woman that you just named, because I think very few people, though most schoolchildren in this country have heard of her and her just enormous intelligence and resourcefulness, do not know she was a socialist.
HOWARD ZINN: Helen Keller, that’s right. I remember when I went to school, all that I learned was that Helen Keller was this very, very smart woman who overcame her handicaps and became famous. But I was never told that she was a socialist. I was never told that she fought against World War I, never told that she walked on picket lines and supported labor struggles.
And—but, you know, the socialist movement, which flourished at that time, all this was before there was a Soviet Union which called itself a socialist. I think what happened later, in the 1940s and 1950s and after, that the socialist claim made by the Soviet Union for itself began to look more and more horrifying to people as the Soviet Union turned out to be a dictatorship and a police state. And as a result, the word “socialism” became associated with Stalinism and the Soviet Union, and which, to me, was a terrible mistake, because that was not really socialism. And I think what has happened since the collapse of the Soviet Union is that there’s a new possibility for a socialist movement to arise in this country, which regains the purity of purpose and the moral standing, the inspiration of the socialism of Debs and Helen Keller and Mother Jones and Emma Goldman of the early part of the 20th century. And I think it would take such a movement to begin to realize the idea of, you know, economic justice, which, as Manning points out, ties in with racial justice, and which ties in with the international solidarity for people who seek economic justice in other countries.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Professors Howard Zinn and Manning Marable on this last week of the year, of the decade, of the century, of the millennium. And we’ll be back with them in just a minute, here on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Stay with us.[break]
AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, as we take a look back at the century. I’m Amy Goodman, as we hear a clip of archival sound of Walter Reuther. This is him speaking at the March on Washington in 1963. He was elected president of the United Auto Workers in 1946 and helped engineer the merger in 1955 of the AFL and the CIO.
WALTER REUTHER: I am here today because with you I share the view that the struggle for civil rights and the struggle for equal opportunity is not the struggle of Negro Americans, but the struggle for every American to join in. For 100 years, the Negro people have searched for first-class citizenship, and I believe that they cannot and should not wait until some distant tomorrow. They should demand freedom now, here and now! It is the responsibility of every American to share the impatience of the Negro Americans. And we need to join together, to march together and to work together, until we bridge the moral gap between American democracy’s noble promises and its ugly practices in the field of civil rights. Now, one of the problems is that…
AMY GOODMAN: Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers. He died in 1970. And as we take this global, we go to a listener who listens to KUOI in Moscow, Idaho [sic].
MARK: My name’s Mark. I listen to KFAI in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thirty years old, born 1969. There are a lot of events, a lot of events that are really important. But one that is most important to me, that’s very important to me, that influenced—influential in my political attitude, I have to say the names, and then I’ll say the event: Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee and Mickey Devine, who died between May 5, 1981, and August 20, 1981, on hunger strike in Long Kesh Prison in Ireland. I’ve heard it said on your show before that the one thing that the 20th century—one thing that evolved out of it is the movement, anti-colonial movement, the movement to decolonize this world. And I think those 10 men represent that movement very well.
AMY GOODMAN: That listener from KFAI in Minneapolis, although KUOI is listening, as well. And again, we encourage you, our listeners, to call in and let us know who you think are the most important people of the 20th century, and you can go back, as well, and most important movements. Give us a call, (212) 209-2999. That’s (212) 209-2999.
As we continue with our guests, live on the phone with us, Professor Howard Zinn, a professor emeritus of Boston University, author of People’s History of the United States and You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, his — one of his latest books, The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy — as well as Professor Manning Marable of Columbia University. He heads up the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia and is author of many books, including Beyond Black and White, Race, Inequality and Power, and his latest, Dispatches from Ebony Tower, which is published by Columbia University Press.
Professor Marable, we just heard about the Irish political prisoners in the Maze prison who died on hunger strike, before that, Walter Reuther talking about race relations, he a leader in the labor movement. Your emphasis on anti-colonial struggles, linking what happens in Africa and the Caribbean to the United States as well as the civil rights movement here.
MANNING MARABLE: I think that, you know, we look back on the century, and throughout this morning we’ve been talking about the link between economic justice, which for most people throughout the world is identified with the term socialism, and racial justice or national liberation, whether it’s the struggle for decolonization in Asia and Africa, whether it was the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, or whether it was the anti-racist struggle, the struggle to dismantle Jim Crow segregation here in the United States. I think if one takes the long view about the nature of these struggles, that racial—that human equality and economic justice, which defines so many of the battles in the 20th century, even though the terms of the debate will be changed in the 21st century, the essence of the struggle still remains the same. And one can see a link between what occurred in South Africa in the century-long struggle to dismantle both British colonial power and the Afrikaner structure of racial domination, what the Afrikaners called “Herrenvolk democracy,” a whites-only, master race democracy, and a struggle that occurred in the Caribbean that was represented in its highest form by the Cuban Revolution. It was an anti-colonial struggle, but it was also a struggle to redefine the boundaries of democracy and to achieve social justice for human beings against a colonial power, the United States. And despite all of the contradictions in the idea of socialism, despite all of the problems and false promises and dead ends, that the nature of that struggle in the 21st century will remain the same.
And it remains the same in the United States. We live in a country today where the top 1 percent of all U.S. households has a greater combined net wealth than the bottom 95 percent of U.S. households, that millions of Americans, 44 million Americans, lack any medical insurance, that a half-million Americans this year went to emergency rooms and were turned away because they lacked medical insurance. We have a political structure that calls itself democratic, but we have a society in which the vast majority of American people feel more disempowered by their political system day by day. So, the struggle both for racial justice and for economic justice still remains linked and still remains the great challenge for progressive movements.
AMY GOODMAN: You talked about South Africa, and while many people think about Gandhi as the great leader of India—also another tremendous shift in the world, which was the overthrowing of British imperialism in India—he really got his roots in South Africa. This is Mahatma Gandhi speaking in 1947.
MAHATMA GANDHI: The question that a friend asked yesterday: did I believe in one world? Of course I believe in one world. And how can I possibly do otherwise, when I become an inheritor of the message of love that these great unconquerable teachers left for us? You can redeliver that message now, in this age of democracy. In the age of awakening of the poorest of the poor, you can redeliver this message with the greatest emphasis. Then you will—you will complete the conquest of the whole of the West, not through vengeance, because you have been exploited. And in the exploitation, of course, I want to include Africa. And I hope that when next you meet in India, you will—all the exploited nations of the earth will meet, if by that time there are any exploited nations of the earth. I am so sanguine that if all of you put your hearts together, not merely your heads, but hearts together and understand the secret of the messages of all these wise men of the East has left to us, and if we really become—deserve—worthy of that great message, then you will easily understand that the conquest of the West will be completed, and that conquest will be loved by the West itself. West is today pining for wisdom. West today is despairing of multiplication of atom bombs, because a multiplication of atom bombs means utter destruction, not merely of the West, but it will be a destruction of the world, as if the prophecy of the Bible is going to be fulfilled and there is to be a perfect deluge. Heaven forbid that there be that deluge, and through men’s wrong against himself.
AMY GOODMAN: Mahatma Gandhi speaking in 1947, bringing together the issues of Africa, India and the atom bomb, a seminal movement, the middle of the century, what happened in India, the overthrow of British colonialism and the development of the Cold War. Howard Zinn, can you talk about the effects that Mahatma Gandhi had here in the United States and specifically how different movements used his development of civil disobedience and application of it.
HOWARD ZINN: Well, you know, even before Gandhi, people in this country and other countries learned the value of organized resistance. Short of violence, they learned that if you organized enough people, that you could counter the power of what seemed to be sort of invulnerable constellations of power in government, in business.
And in this country, we’ve had in our history so many examples of this. I mean, the labor movement, of course, has been using that tactic of simply withholding labor. When corporations seem to have all the power in the world, it is often forgotten that their power depends on people working for them and people buying their products. When the people who work for them stop working for them, they’re helpless. In the 1930s, they said Ford Motor Company could never be organized by unions, U.S. Steel could never be organized by unions—they were too powerful. But when workers left the factories, and they went out on strike and sometimes occupied the factories, as they did in ’36 and ’37, the corporations were helpless, and they had to give in. They had to recognize the unions and had to change the conditions of work. And, of course, there’s, you know, the civil rights movement, another example, the women’s movement, another example, the movement of disabled people in this country, Native Americans.
When—it’s very important, I think, for people to understand that when they begin to feel desperate about their powerlessness, that we have enough instances in the history of this country and other countries that show where people organize and determine to resist, that even the most powerful constellations of government and economic elites can fall before the power of the people. South Africa is a good example of it. The movements in eastern Europe of toppling government is an example of it. The movements in this country are an example of it. And I believe that there’s a fundamental common morality in people all over the world, a feeling of solidarity with other people, which at certain points in history can break through the power of governments and the power of the people who control the economy. And I think it’s important to recognize that in our history and to recognize that potential for the future, if we are going to in fact have a century which is different and better than the last one.
AMY GOODMAN: Manning Marable, do you think the struggle against apartheid in South Africa was a paradigm throughout this century, as the movement developed, for struggles in this country?
MANNING MARABLE: I think that I would probably choose—if I had to choose one struggle, as much as I love the Cuban Revolution and feel that it offers so much hope, still, for oppressed people throughout the world, I would probably choose South Africa in the struggle against—the century-long struggle against white domination, as the one that we could probably learn the most from, for several reasons.
In January 1912, the South African—the African National Congress was formed in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State. The head of it was a person that, many years ago, I did my dissertation on: John Langalibalele Dube. Dube and Sol Plaatje and Pixley Seme are the core founders of the ANC. They struggled for native rights within the framework of British imperialism. They sought—the same way Gandhi did, and Gandhi was living in South Africa at the same time. They fought for the extension or the expansion of rights to so-called “civilized natives” that were extended to whites living in the British Empire. They found that through practical struggle, that winning—that they could not achieve what they wanted within the framework of political control domination under the British. When the white South Africans took power in 1948 and imposed a form of what they termed apartheid, the nature of the struggle moved to civil disobedience.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds.
MANNING MARABLE: And—civil disobedience. Then, after Sharpeville, it moved to the need for revolution. Now, today, you have a democracy, but it is also an ongoing struggle in which white rule through the political institutions has changed, but the economic and social justice struggle still remains.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to thank you both very much for spending this hour with us to go through the last century. And, of course, we have so much more to do, and we’ll do it through the week. Again, Listeners’ Century will broadcast on Thursday, and we’d like you to participate, who you think were the seminal figures and movements of the 20th century, or even you can go to the millennium. Please call us at (212) 209-2999 and leave your comment. (212) 209-2999.
Democracy Now! • December 27, 1999