‘An Amazing David and Goliath Story’

Interviewed by Catherine Murphy • Cubanow.net • March 2005

Cubanow.CM: What brings Howard Zinn to Cuba?

HZ: The fact that Cuba has just published its own edition of my book, which in the United States is called The People’s History of the United States, though in Spanish it’s been translated as La Otra Historia de Estados Unidos. They invited me to the International Book Fair to talk about my book and to participate in some other panels on the war in Iraq. I was here last spring and got to be friendly with a number of very interesting people. Cuban people are so warm. They make you feel at home and it feels good to be here. The atmosphere is a very family atmosphere. There is music and spirit… So, I was happy to come back. Cuba represents something very important in this world of wars and power plays and imperial expansion. I mean, here is this little island, which is not expanding anywhere, is not trying to take over the United States. It is, in fact, holding out in a very courageous way with meager resources against the most formidable military power in the world. This is an amazing David and Goliath story; an amazing story of heroism. So, you have to admire Cuba for being undaunted by this colossus of the North and holding fast to its ideals and to Socialism. And even though there are many problems, it’s an interesting Socialism with many possibilities… Cuba is one of those places in the world where we can see hope for the future. With its very meager resources Cuba gives free health care and free education to everybody. Cuba supports culture, supports dance and music and theatre. The United States does not do that. The United States is rich enough to do this, but it doesn’t. People who are in the arts in the United States, people who are dancers and poets and in theatre, they struggle to survive, and so, there is this model in Cuba for the future of health care, of education, of culture. We are in a world which is so full of violence and injustice that when we see a place that has the kind of future Cuba does, it’s important to hold on to it, important to immerse yourself in it, which is what you do when you come here.

CM: Why do you think the US Government, the Bush administration in particular, does not want US citizens to visit Cuba?

HZ: I wish I could probe the minds of the people who run the United States government. I would ask somebody with really advanced knowledge in psychiatry to do that. We can only guess their motives. One of them undoubtedly is that they know that Americans and people from other countries that haven’t come to Cuba are intrigued by the kind of things that Cuba has, which other countries don’t have; intrigued by Cuba’s progress in literacy, in medicine, in culture and so on. The United States would rather have people be ignorant to what Cuba is. If people don’t come to Cuba, then the government can say whatever it wants about Cuba and can ignore its accomplishments and nobody would know the difference. But when people come to Cuba, of course, they go back to the United States and spread the word. So, the United States doesn’t want that. Then, of course, the United States doesn’t want an example set of a small country that fights its government successfully; that insists on surviving in spite of all the attempts to do away with it -whether by invasion, by subversion or by blockade. It’s an irritant to the United States to see this model of survival of a small country. There’s a psychological problem there: the frustration of this enormously powerful nation that cannot bend this little country to its will. The United States has had this problem several times in its history. It could not defeat the people of Vietnam -a tiny country in Asia with very few resources, and it just could not defeat it.

CM: Your book The People’s History of the United States just sold a million copies. One of the things I found so important about the book is the need to keep the history of activism and resistance alive, which has been hidden from us. This is a particularly difficult time in the United States in terms of the dismantling of social programs. Where do you feel people in the US today get hope?

HZ: I think they get hope in several ways. First, by seeing that there are people all over the world who understand things that many Americans do not understand. When the Iraq war was first beginning about fifteen million people all over the world demonstrated against the war in a single day. That is enormously encouraging, and shows that there’s a worldwide movement of resistance. How many people support the administration? You know, it’s only fifty percent of the people. They look outside the United States and they see that it’s eighty or eighty five percent. That’s encouraging. The other thing that is encouraging is that people in the United States who might otherwise lose hope look at the history of social movements in the US and realize that these movements always look hopeless, insignificant and powerless at the beginning. Some of them would remember the recent history in the South -this is something I went through myself- where it seemed that Black people in the South were powerless. They had nothing on their side -certainly not the federal government. And yet, they rose, they organized, they agitated, they demonstrated, they went to jail. Things happened to them, but they persisted and changed the South forever. That’s a remarkable story of how a powerless people can gain power and how you mustn’t look at power in a superficial way or by asking who has the money or who has the guns? We have to ask, who has the commitment and the energy, and the spirit of sacrifice and is willing to take risks? Then you’ll see the future.

 CM: Your theatre piece Marx in Soho is playing here in Cuba. What significance do you think it has to Cuban people?

HZ: This play about Marx is significant to the Cuban people for two reasons; one of them, probably, is maybe not as necessary for the Cuban people as it is for the American people, and that is for Marx to once again bring alive his critique on Capitalism and say: Capitalism thinks it triumphed with the collapse of the Soviet Union… No, look what Capitalism has done to people. Look at its failures. Maybe the Cuban people know that. Maybe that’s why they support the idea of Socialism. But I think that something very important to people in the United States and in Cuba is to give people a clear idea of what Marxism is and what Socialism is.

Published at Cubanow.net • March 2005