Ends and Means: History and Consequences of Anti-Communism

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In this interview, Howard Zinn discusses how the word communism (and Marxism) is used to obscure people’s attention, scapegoat people and movements, and how he prefers to get to the essence of where people stand on issues rather than using labels. Zinn heralds radicals as people we need to help achieve a more just world.

This interview is part of “The History and Consequences of Anti-Communism” series which includes selections from a conference organized by the Institute for Media Analysis at Harvard, 1988. Recorded by volunteers from Deep Dish Network, Paper Tiger TV, Community Access Producers from Somerville, Boston and Cambridge and others. View more clips at DeeDeeHalleck’s blogspot.

PART I

PART II

TRANSCRIPTION: PART I

EDITORS NOTE: This transcription has been reviewed and edited to capture and match sentence structures to the best of our ability. Please check the actual audio before quoting passages.

Howard Zinn  
You want me to identify myself? Okay. I’m Howard Zinn. And I’ve been teaching for years at Boston University. And before that I taught at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, a small, Black women’s college. And I’m historian, sort of, as I was trained in history at NYU, graduate work at Columbia, etc. I’ve written a bunch of books on history, including a book called A People’s History of the United States. And I suppose I, I come to this question of communism and anti-communism from several vantage points. One, when I was growing up in the slums of New York, which is where I grew up in a working class family which had a hard time making a living, and which, therefore led me at the age of 18 not to go to college, but to go work in a shipyard for three years. And that was the start of my professional career as a shipyard worker. And when I heard the word communist, well, a communist was somebody… I didn’t know what a communist was, except that it was bad, radical, wild, crazy, etc. However, about the time I was 17 or so I ran into, well they ran into me, a couple of communists guys who lived on my block. And what impressed me was that they knew a lot about what was going on in the world. And they knew what was going on in Mexico. They, they knew what was going on. They knew about fascism. They knew about Mussolini and Hitler. And I began reading and I was, I was impressed with the fact that they, they were very sincere and dedicated people who care about what was going on in the world. They weren’t only interested in sports, like, which I was interested in. They were interested in what was happening to people in Germany, what was happening to people in Spain, and that kind of concern really impressed me. Once they asked me to go to a demonstration in Times Square. I didn’t know what it was about but I went along because I’d never been to a demonstration and I’d rarely been to Time Square even, even though I lived in New York, it was exciting. I went to this big demonstration and there were all these people walking down through Times Square with signs and I thought, “Oh, that’s nice. It’s, uh, very American.” That was the America I thought about, freedom of expression, etc. They’ll probably, they were communists, I guess, you know. Can you tell a communist by looking at them? Carrying a picket sign, they must be a communist.

Howard Zinn  
Soon I found myself carrying a sign, somebody handed me a sign. To this day, I don’t know what it was, except I think was anti-war or something. Then I heard sirens. And I thought there must be a fire somewhere around. And then I saw police on horseback galloping through the crowd, swinging their clubs. And I didn’t believe it. You see, I thought, this is the picture of Czarist Russia, the Cossacks, you know, racing through, you know. This was America, these people weren’t doing anything. They weren’t even blocking traffic, they’re walking along carrying signs, and here were the police ordered out to break their heads and break up their demonstration in the land of free speech and the Bill of Rights, and the First Amendment, and why? Because they were communists. And what it said to me was several things at once, and that is: anti-communism is just an. . . anti-communist against. . . seems to be against anybody who demonstrates against something, you know that the establishment stands for. Anybody who steps out of line, anybody who says something different. Well, taught me something else, that something my communist friends had been saying to me, which I didn’t quite believe turned out to be true. And that is they had said, “You know, the government is not neutral.” Because I’ve been brought up and I learned this in civics and so on, right? “Yeah, sure. They’re rich and they’re poor and there’s capital and there’s labor. There are different interests in this country, but the government is neutral. The government mediates among these — balance of powers, checks and balances, all of that stuff I learned in school. The government is neutral. My friends had said, these communist guys, had said, “Government is not neutral, government is on the side of the rich, government is on the side of the powerful. If there’s a labor dispute, the government is going to be on the side of management, you know. And if somebody is protesting, the government is going to be side, like the, police are going to be against the protesters. And so there was. . . When they said, “The Bill of Rights?” Yeah, sure we have the Bill of Rights, but actually it doesn’t exist for certain groups of people, doesn’t exist for Blacks. It doesn’t exist for minorities of various kind, doesn’t exist for radicals, doesn’t exist for communists. Well that, my experience that night. I should add one little thing, which was not a little thing, and that is while I was carrying this sign, at a certain point, I was spun around, and all I saw was a big form of a plainclothes man and I was hit on the side of the head and knocked out. I woke up in a hallway. I was unconscious, I woke up in a hallway. I don’t know how much later. I looked around. Time Square was back to where it was, before the demonstration started. I saw no one around. My friends weren’t around, no demonstration, no police. It was a weird, spooky feeling. But when I woke up, I woke up with these realizations that I’m just talking about, made me think you know about what is all this about communism.

Howard Zinn  
When I went to work in the shipyard at the age of 18, I began. . . I had time to read at night, and I began to read Marx and Engels, I read the Communist Manifesto. Communist Manifesto, wow, you know, what does it call for? It made a lot of sense to me. In fact, it was sort of exciting, exhilarating, because the Communist Manifesto, it put a lot of things into perspective. It it said, Look, mankind has gone through a whole series of stages, you know, from living in very primitive societies to feudalism. Now we’re living mostly under capitalist society. All these stages are necessary as part of history and they all contribute something in capitalist, capitalism contributes something as capitalism develops the technology, machines, electricity, etc., etc., to a very high point. Well, capitalism is modern society with all of its advances. And it does a good job at that, you know, builds the railroads and the steel mills, and airplanes and so on. But it does it at the expense of human beings, does it by people working long hours, 12-16 hours a day, it does it a terrific human expense. It does it by the rich capitalist nations exploiting the poor, darker peoples. Africa, Asia, you know, controlling them, imperialism and so on. And also it does it at the expense of wars, continual wars, and economic crisis. It all made sense, it all fitted into what I was seeing. It seemed to hold true to me. And when Marx talked about, well, history moves on, capitalism will have to move on. The working people, the people who are who are who are not doing well under the system are someday going to rise up and overthrow the system, and they’re gonna change it, they’re going to set up a system where people will share things more equally, and where people won’t be exploited, and we won’t have national boundaries, and we will have an international society and everybody will be brothers and sisters and, and someday you won’t even have a government. Well, you’ll have administrators, you’ll have a social security system or a health system or traffic cops that take care of, you know, this problem or that problem, but you won’t have police and courts and states and jails and armies. You won’t need them because people will have the basic necessities. And when people have the basic necessities, they don’t need to do those things. Oh, that sounded really good to me. Really, impressed me. And you might say I was a, from that point on and in my head, a communist with a small C. I didn’t, that is, uh, let’s understand the difference. Communism with a small C is somebody who believes in the idea of communism. Communism with a big C is a guy or woman who’s a member of a Communist movement, you see.

Howard Zinn  
But I enlisted in the Air Force, after being in the shipyard and I, in the Air Force I kept reading. And this was in, in World War II. I was a Bombardier in the Air Force in World War II and, and in fact, as part of my political consciousness which developed when as a result of meeting these communists, I very conscious of fascism. One of the things that was impressive about the communists is they were the first ones, really the most fearless ones, to fight fascism. They went over and volunteered to fight in Spain against fascism. They risked their lives, they weren’t drafted, and then half of them died there. That’s very impressive, these self-sacrificing people. When I worked in the shipyard I was aware that communists were organizing workers. I began to read labor history. Communists had organized auto workers, communists had or helped organize the CIO. They done a lot of good things during the Depression. Communists had organize the unemployed, they organized tenants, they’ve done a lot of really good things. I wasn’t thinking about the Soviet Union. I wasn’t thinking about these, you know, Stalin…really, well yeah, that Soviet Union, they call themselves Communists or Marxists or socialists, whatever. But I didn’t really know much about what was going on over there. And when the communists said, “Well, it’s a great place over there,” I didn’t really go into it. When I came on, but during the war, while I was flying missions, bombing missions, some guy I was talking to, a guy on another crew, who is also very interested in politics, as I was and read a lot as I did, gave me books to read, which suggests to me that the Soviet Union was not all it was cracked up to be. At least, not by the my communist friends and made me think twice about what was going on in the Soviet Union.

Howard Zinn  
And after the war, even though I continued being sympathetic to actually the idea of communism and socialism, and, and…I became more and more…. The Soviet Union didn’t interest me that that much, you see.  But when I found out about it, I didn’t like what it was doing. Sure, they introduced health care and they did a lot of reforms, and they did a lot of things for the Russian people that had never been true under Czars and so on. But a lot of ugly things began to appear. And then, and I’m rushing now down to the present day to my present thinking, because I don’t want to take you day by day through my life, right? But it seems to me it is very important to understand that the word “communism” is such a complicated word, that it means so many things. And then when people are anti-communists, when workers are anti-communist, Americans are anti-communist, when they get indignant, when they get hatred in their eyes to the word “communist,” it’s because, I think. . . It’s not because they’re against socialized medicine, or against people sharing things, or against the better distribution of wealth. It’s because they’re thinking communists: Stalin, the Soviet Union, firing squads, you know, the the secret police, pulling people out of the houses in the middle- taking… Communism is, represents the “that,” you see. Something that the Soviet Union has done in the name of communism, which is not good, which is, does not meet the vision, vision of a free society that I think Marx really had decided that communism should be. So communism means that, but also to other people, it means that original dream of an international society, no differentiation between sex and race. No, very rich and very poor. Or…not that everything, -body will be exactly equal [inaudible] or the caricatures of communism, of what everybody will be exactly equal. It’ll be so boring, you know.  Of course, that’s not the point. The point is that, you know, when 1% of the American population owns a huge proportion of the wealth of the United States, and 30 million people are really, really poor. And all you have to do is walk into any city in the United States and you see that Marx was right. There’s a class system. There are rich there are poor, and that original dream that we have to do away with such a class system. Rich and poor in American cities, rich and poor in the world, rich Americans and poor people in Africa and Asia, rich in North America, and poor in Guatemala and Nicaragua and Honduras, countries that we have had relations with for years, and we’ve done nothing to alleviate that poverty. In fact, to make it worse, and to control them.

Howard Zinn  
So I think that the word “communism” has to be understood in all its complexity, and you have to separate the parts  that represent something “bad,” you know, Soviet secret police, Stalinism. Parts that ev[en], well, now even Gorbachev, even before him Khrushchev for a while, right, put [asides?] and now we, we did, that was wrong. Have to separate those parts from that original idea, which I think is still a good idea, which we still need. I mean, look at the world today. The world of people fighting wars, this [was suppose?] to be small wars. The war in Iran, Iraq, a million people die. The war in Southeast Asia, a small war, 2 million people, 3 million people die war in Korea. A small war — 2 million people die. A world of nations divided and fighting one another. I mean, the, that international spirit of the original idea of socialism, that’s very…we need that very badly. Today, we need to do something about the distribution of wealth. Now we have…our problem is to have the good things about socialism and communism, along with freedom, freedom of speech and civil liberties, no secret police and, you know, none of the ugly things that both capitalism and socialism have, that governments do to people.

Howard Zinn  
You know, I guess there are two things I’d like to say about, about the way the word “communism” has been used in the United States, you see. And that one is that what it what it loses sight of, is that radicals in American history — and by radicals I mean, they’ve been communists, they’ve been socialists, they’ve been anarchists, they’ve been all sorts of people who are, who want things changed, who’ve been indignant at the way things are going. And these radicals, these anarchists, these socialist, these communists, without them we would not have had the kind of changes that took place in this country, which were good changes. Because very often these people, these agitators, these radicals, they were the ones who needed to start things off.  They didn’t do it all by themselves. But for instance, in 1886, there was a movement in the United States for the eight hour day. Now that movement was propelled and given forced by anarchists. And they were organizers and stimulators and provokers and, in fact, the… as a result of their activities, they were put in jail and some of them were executed on some phony charge because some bomb was thrown in Chicago, the Haymarket Affair, in the ranks of policemen, the policeman died. They never found out who threw the bomb, but they just… Who you going to arrest? We’re going to arrest eight anarchists, and we’re gonna hang four of them.

Howard Zinn  
But the eight hour movement, which the anarchists had been so important in, that grew. It was a powerful demand and it worked. I mean, the reason we have an eight hour, basic eight hour a day is because people struggled for it and radicals were among those who were the first to struggle for it. And the socialists at the turn of the century, who fought for changes in the system of work, who have fought for higher wages, who…and fought against World War I and who raised the idea of “Why should we got to fight in foreign wars, for who, for what, for the profit of the munitions makers. We’re not really fighting for democracy and etc., and people getting killed.” The socialists raise that question, World War I, they were very important, they made a lot of Americans think about war. A lot of the literature that came out after the war where people said, you know, “Well, you know, they told us it was a war to end all wars. Obviously, it wasn’t. A war for democracy, it wasn’t. Ten million people are dead,” and so on. Well, the radicals had played an important part in that, developing that anti-war feeling. And in the 1930s, it was the communists in the labor movement that played an important part. Well, I mentioned that before, all the struggles of the 1930s. Yes.

Interviewer  
[Indecipherable]

Howard Zinn  
Yeah, okay.  I’ll just, then I’ll wrap this up very fast. But so I think that the role that radicals have played, important role, you need radicals. Radicals may be wrong at times, they may go overboard at times, they may get excessive at times, but you absolutely need them, because without radicals, you’ll have Dukakis and Bush. You’ll have the Republicans and the Democrats. You’ll have these people saying the same things, keeping things the same, keeping $300 million a year for arms every year, no matter whether they’re Republicans or Democrats. You need radicals to stimulate thought, to go outside the boundaries of thinking, and to lead and organize and provoke us. Very important.

TRANSCRIPTION: PART II

Howard Zinn  
But. . . so I read about the labor… When I got interested in labor history, as I suppose as a result of my working in the shipyard — sort of hard, dirty work. Working out on the waves where. . . right on the river and very cold in the wintertime when the wind blew in and very sort of dirty, smelly work. This was industrial work. And I realized that this what people have been doing for generations; for long, long hours and getting very, very little pay for it. And I. . . that interested me in the history of the labor movement, and I read about the labor struggles that people went through. And I read about the role that radicals have played like the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World. They were anarchists, kind of they call themselves anarchists-syndicalists, because they sort of union people who are anarchists, and who… But they were the ones who helped organize the strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912. A lot of them women, and a strike that was — not too many strikes were at that time — successful, after they went through a lot of hardships. And those anarchists who are involved in a strike, you know, did tremendously important work in organizing those people. And you know, in 1930s, I think the same thing happened in so many industries. My own experience in working in a shipyard was that talking to people, talking to people work with me, that if you stood up for the things that people wanted, that even though they thought you might be a communist or radical, because the way you’re talking, that didn’t matter so much, you know, if you were with them for bettering their working conditions. I can understand why the communists were effective in the 30s and organizing the CIO, because people are anti-communist when there’s nothing else happening, but if if something is happening, that moves them, that they’re concerned about their lives and the communists are there helping them, forget about who cares what they are, you see?

Howard Zinn  
When I was involved in the late 50s, early 60s, when I sort of, I changed my class, you might say — I’m using Marxian language — I changed my class from the working class to the, to the professorial class, you know, I went to school under the G.I. Bill of Rights, got my PhD at Columbia, went down to teach at Spelman College in Atlanta, and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. And it’s interesting to me that Civil Rights Movement was called communist. And I realized then that whenever anything went on, there was outside the pale, any struggle that went on, that people did for to better their lives, it was always called communist. Sometimes they were, there was some truth to it, there were a few communists involved. They never were a lot of communists involved because they just never were that many communists in the country, you know, even when the communist in the CIO, they were just a handful of people, but most of the people were just working people, right? But they were label “communist” was attached to the whole CIO. And the Civil Rights Movement, you could hardly find a communist. I went looking for a communist in the Civil Rights Movement. I would have a hard time finding one. Martin Luther King was called a communist. Why? A picture of him was taken at Highlander Folk School, which was a…well they called it communist. It was a school and a gathering place, a community center in Tennessee where labor organizers and Blacks and whites in the segregated South could get together. And Martin Luther King, a lot of Black people who later become involved in Civil Rights Movement, went to Highlander Folk School, attended workshops and sessions and classes. That always looks communist, just like…I remember I was quoting that congressman from Illinois, he said, “If you have a mobile library service in rural areas, this will increase communism because people will be educated.” As soon as they see people going to classes they think, Oh, well…” But Highlander Folk School was that kind of place. King went there, Rosa Parks went there, Ella Baker went there, Andrew Young went there, and pictures were taken. “I see a communist in the picture.” You see, it was it was weird.

Howard Zinn  
What was interesting was that it wouldn’t have mattered if there were a few communists not in the Civil Rights Movement. The importance of the Civil Rights Movement, like all of these movements, they were movements directed against some terrible evil that was going on, whether the evil was a 12-hour day in one instance, or the evil was racial segregation in another. And then the people who gathered these, around these movements were always called communists. And so the sit-inners were called…Harry Truman said that communism is behind it and so on and other people said the same thing. But it was interesting to me that none of these accusations meant anything to Black people who were involved in the movement. Here they are, the very people who are segregating them and discriminated against them and, and beating them and killing them when they try to go to register vote are calling them communists that they try to organize against them. So they’re not going to become suddenly anti-communist.

Howard Zinn  
But what I learned was that the word communist is used, it’s a device. It’s used by the people who run things and control things and own things and want to keep things as they are, it’s used as a way of getting people’s minds off what the problem is, and,  making them — instead of looking at the people who are oppressing them, instead of looking at racial segregation, or the employers of the big corporations or the government sending people a war — they would look around for communists, scapegoats, really scapegoats. Like, people would look for Jews or people will look for Catholics at different periods in history. Infidels, heretics. A wonderful way of overcoming the natural desire of people to organize and struggle. And they discovered, you know, it’s easier than using the police to beat down everybody.  Use the word “communist” and you’ll confuse people. And you’ll make them stop what they’re doing, say, “Hey, what’s…are there communist behind this? And what does this mean?” So it’s, it made me very skeptical, and suspicious whenever I saw the word communist attached to anything. It made me want to look closer, “What’s going on here?”

Howard Zinn  
And what is interesting to me in thinking now about our present time, post McCarthyism. A lot of people said, think of McCarthyism in the 50s as the period of anti-communism. But of course, anti-communism, anti radicalism has been with us for a very long time. And before the McCarthy period, after the McCarthy period. But what’s interesting to me is, I believe that it’s no longer as successful as it used to be. I think..people have a lot of common sense. People aren’t born anti-communist, I think that, you learn it, just like people aren’t born racists, you have to learn to be racist, you have learned to be. And I think people have learned, maybe through the Civil Rights Movement, through the Vietnam War, or maybe they’ve learned through the overuse of the word communist — “communist here, or communists there” — they’ve learned to be suspicious. You know, when we use communism to describe what’s happening in Guatemala. Well, people learn, and then we stopped communism in Guatemala, and then you have a dictatorship in Guatemala, not democracy. I think that makes people suspicious. People, I think there’s a lot of learning that has taken place in the last 20 years about this use of the word communism, went to Vietnam to stop communism and we see the disastrous results. And the…well I think that in this country, something interesting happened, you know, the Hollywood 10, a blacklist and so on one by one, these people reappeared. Suddenly, the names reappeared on the screen, suddenly, they were writing movies again. Now, they have Academy Award gatherings at which these formerly blacklisted people are up there at the microphone, at the…accepting awards, and so on. I think Americans are much more resistant to the charges of anti-communism than they used to be. I think that’s a very healthy thing, because it means now it’ll be easier to simply examine things on their merits, call shots as you see them, tell the truth about things, and not be fogged by “Are there communists around where are they, they responsible?” No, let’s see, “Who’s for me? Who’s for, who’s for the children, who’s against war?” and so on. And “lets decide things rationally on their merits.” I think that kind of common sense is increasing in the United States. That’s a hopeful sign.

Interviewer  
[Inaudible] George Bush [Inaudible].

Howard Zinn  
Oh, sure. Sure.

Interviewer  
[Inaudible]

Howard Zinn  
Well, you know, if we pay too much attention to elections… Here is where radicals have something to say to us, you see? Because the non-radicals, the Democrats and the Republicans say, “Elections, elections, this is democracy.” What is democratic about an election in which most people have very little to say about who the candidates are?  Most people wake up and read the newspapers and they see Bush is the Republican candidate and Dukakis the Democratic candidate, and I don’t like either one of them. We have a choice. 50% of the people did not vote. Bush won the election, was 27% of the voting population. 27%. It’s…the election is not a mandate people aren’t…Elections tell us very little about, about where people are. The election of Bush is the most unenthusiastic expression of people; people did not have a real choice. If Jesse Jackson had been on the ticket, speaking for racial equality, speaking for economic equality, speaking against our foreign policy, against the spending of huge amounts of money on the arms budget while letting the cities fester. If we’d had somebody like that, and we would have a choice.  Had no choice. So the election of Bush, Bush to me is insignificant, though the radical view makes a lot of sense, and that is, voting is not the highest expression of a citizen in a democracy. Voting is something you do once in four years, and you do it in a pitiful choice between very often terrible candidates. That’s not what democracy is; democracy is people organizing, doing, protesting, acting, speaking up for themselves every day on the job, in their community, organizing movements, joining organizations, women’s organizations, anti-war organizations, the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the women’s movement. All of these movements, and all these little groups now around the country. Groups simply fighting in their neighborhoods for clean air, against the pollution, against toxic waste, to stop a nuclear plant which might kill everybody. All these little groups, the thousands of them around the country. You see, now that’s democracy. That’s real democracy. Voting is a pitiful expression of democracy.

Interviewer  
[Which maybe you could sum up because] [inaudible] I want to explore is that communism is somehow equated with the violent overthrow of the government, and if you could speak to how the history of American communism is connected with the history of civil disobedience in this country?

Howard Zinn  
Well, sure, communists are always, you know, accused of the violent, overthrow the government, and it’s, it’s really funny, because we live in violent overthrows of the government all through history, most of them done not by communists, there’s been some violent overthrow by communists. I might say that the Russian Revolution was a revolution in which about 100 people got killed. The American Revolution was a revolution which tens of thousands of people got, you know…so violent revolution is not something that’s peculiar to communists.  It’s a, it’s a fact of revolution everywhere. But in fact that Marx himself, although they’re always quoting Marx because he used the words like force and violence and so on, and you can always quote people, and Marx believed that probably in some cases, you would need a violent overthrow of the government. But he also thought that in some cases —he pointed to England where there was, or maybe even Germany, we could vote, we were the parliaments, we had more liberties — that you might actually get to do away with capitalism without a violent revolution.  Communist in this country have certainly not been very violent. They’ve been remarkably conservative and cautious. Most of the social movements in this country have not been violent. The labor movement has been actually remarkably nonviolent. What do the labor movements do?  They picket. That’s what they do, you know, they picket. And sometimes it goes far as trying to stop strikebreakers from entering a plant, and that’s as far as they can get. They don’t generally kill people or beat people the way police do when they attack picket lines or workers. People in the Civil Rights Movement were not violent, that was strictly even philosophically, deliberately, a non-violent movement. Anti-war movement, which is now trying to be, trying to paint the anti-war movement as this group of drug-crazed, rock and roll-crazed kids, you know, with…Anti-war movement, of course, with a very non-violent movement directed against enormous violence. The greatest violence in history has not been committed by movements. It’s been committed by governments.  People should remember that. The greatest violence committed by governments, and movements have in general been remarkably non-violent. You know, a few fringe, you know, elements in movements have engaged in violence, but that’s all. So the, you know, we were going to have to have a world in which the kind of violence we’ve seen is done away with and the radical groups I think are playing an important part in helping to bring about such a world.

Interviewer  
The only last question I would ask you is just in terms of being a teacher [inaudible] a specific incident of undermining somebody’s preconceptions about communism or belief for any particular encounter, you need to teach people from their experiences, how they’ve encountered anti-communism [indecipherable]…

Howard Zinn  
Well, if you…

Interviewer  
…faculty, other faculty…

Howard Zinn  
Well, there’s a sort of simple thing that can happen in the classroom and which has happened with me too, and that is you asked students, “How many people are for are here are for communism?” and hardly anybody will raise their hand unless they’re an FBI agent. But, “How many people here are against communism?” And a lot of people against communism. “Well, how many people here believe in a more equal distribution of wealth?” A majority of people in the class will say we need a more equal distribution of wealth. “How many people here believe we really don’t need national boundaries that we should have an international society which people can move freely across borders, and so on?” Most people raise their hands. “And how many people believe that we should be cooperative in the way we we we work and the way things are owned together, and people should have a say in industry, that they, that the economy should be democratic, not only the voting for president and so on.” So most people sa, “That’s right, yes.” What I’m trying to say is, of course, the classroom is a good place to get beyond slogans, “Are you for communists or against..” [or] public opinion polls which are very bad because they give people simplistic questions and they get simplistic answers. Get beyond —  the classroom is a good place to get beyond that and to start exploring the the complexities of these words, you know.  Sure, I’m against secret police and dictatorships and Stalinism and imperialism and sending troops into Hungary, but I’m for a world which might realize that original dream of socialists and anarchists and communists which we badly need.

Speaker 2  
Can you [inaudible] being a communist?

Howard Zinn  
Oh, lots. [laughter] You know, sure. During the Vietnam War. “Oh, you’re against the Vietnam War. Oh, you must be a communist. Are you a communist?” you know. You mean you think because I, I think that here is a country which, yes, it seems that revolution in Vietnam seems to be led by communists. And because I think that we should not send an army over there to kill all those Vietnamese peasants, most of whom are not communists, and kill some of our own and kill a lot of them to prove, just because we want our government in there instead of their government, [does that] make me a communist? Seems to me, what I’m suggesting it’s really common sense to save lives, and, but… I was called a communist by this group, Accuracy in Academia, or Marxist. Well, sometimes those two things are used together, a Marxist or a communist. I was called a Marxist. And then I was asked when… Accuracy in Academia is this outfit with… mysterious outfit which came and went on in the press, you know, they were looking for Marxists everywhere in the classroom, worried that Marxist teachers were indoctrinating students. All teachers have viewpoints and…radical teachers, conservative teachers, and even teachers who don’t call themselves anything, they all have viewpoints. And when I’m asked, “Are you a Marxist?” I say, “Mmm, sort of. A little. Some. Yeah, some the ideas of Marx are very good, but I don’t know what you mean. Let’s let’s talk about it. Let’s explain it. Do you mean am I, am I for, you know, a world society and for the end of war? Absolutely. Am I against the profit motive, corporate profit as driving production and determining who gets what and what is built, determining that you should build skyscrapers for insurance companies instead of homes for low income people? Am I against that? Absolutely. You know, and so, you know, let’s take the word apart. And so yeah, I’ve been accused of that, but when I’m accused of that I try to get beyond yes or no answers and say let’s talk about real things. What we’re for what we’re against.

Interviewer  
Has it ever had any personal consequences for you?

Howard Zinn  
We out of time?

Speaker 2  
We have two minutes.

Howard Zinn  
OK.

Interviewer  

[Inaudible] to see if there’s any personal consequences or sacrifices or…

Howard Zinn  
Personal consequences have not been as a result of me being called a communist, I suppose, maybe, well, I didn’t know what was in people’s minds. But, well, I was fired from my first teaching job because I was involved with a student movement in Atlanta, you see. And people most of, the punishment is, although they may use the word communist or Marxist, most of the punishment is simply against people who are active in movements and in that sense. But I’ve been I’ve been lucky, you see, I’ve gone, you know, I’ve gone to jail a number of times for being in anti-war demonstrations or anti-arms race demonstrations and so on. But I’ve been lucky. I’ve survived and… I know a lot of people have not been lucky, a lot of people lost their jobs and a lot of, a lot of people have suffered as a result of this word “communist” thrown at them to obscure what is going on in the world.

Howard Zinn  
Yeah. Okay.