America’s #1 Commie

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Cornel West

Cornel West, the former Harvard and Princeton professor and author of Race Matters, has called him “a long distance runner in the freedom struggle against imperialism, racism and capitalism.” Howard Zinn, the late author of A People’s History of the United States, praised his memoir as “a humanizing portrait of someone who is often seen only as a hard-line revolutionary.” Among his other admirers are Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, the author of Race Rules, and activist Cindy Sheehan.

The man in question? Bob Avakian, longtime chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP). Now 73, he’s been a veritable Zelig of the American far left, described in a 2005 profile as “the marathon man of the international anti-imperialist struggle.”

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Bob Avakian

Attracted in his youth (he was an undergraduate at – where else? – Berkeley) to various New Left groups – among them the Students for a Democratic Society, the Free Speech Movement, the Weathermen, and (although he’s white) the Black Panthers – Avakian became a community organizer in Richmond, California, where he sought to convert workers to Communism. In 1968, he and several Bay Area comrades founded their own organization, the Revolutionary Union, which took its inspiration from both Stalin and Mao, whose deadly Cultural Revolution was then in full swing.

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Mao Zedong

During a 1971 visit to China, Avakian experienced the Cultural Revolution firsthand, finding it “wondrous”; four years later, under his leadership, the Revolutionary Union morphed into the Mao-besotted RCP. Though upset by Mao’s death the next year and by China’s subsequent embrace of capitalism, Avakian soldiered on, declaring that, with Beijing’s betrayal, he and his RCP brethren were now “the true upholders of Maoism” on the planet. Around this time, the RCP shifted its emphasis from “workplace organizing [to] an increasingly hysterical militancy in the streets”; after he and other party members were arrested for rioting, assaulting cops, etc., etc., during Deng Xiaoping’s 1979 visit to Washington, D.C., Avakian skipped bail and fled to France from what he has called America’s “suffocating climate of intolerance.”

stalin1Ever since, Avakian has consistently insisted on the greatness of Mao and Stalin. “If the bourgeoisie and its political representatives can uphold people like Madison and Jefferson,” he wrote in his memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond, “then the proletariat and its vanguard forces can and should uphold Stalin.” And he’s devoted his life to the RCP, which runs a newspaper, a website, and a chain of stores called Revolutionary Books, all of which serve to advance the cause of Mao and Stalin.

But in addition to promoting Mao and Stalin, Avakian has unashamedly promoted himself. As Mark Oppenheimer wrote in a 2008 profile, the RCP – thanks in part to Avakian’s Stalin-like purges of other party leaders – gradually became “a cult of personality focused on him.” One tool in Avakian’s effort to turn himself into a cult figure was invisibility: for a long time almost nobody knew where he lived, and he never appeared in public; in his frequent writings (as in North Korea and Mao’s China, the shelves of his bookstores groan with copies of the Dear Leader’s works), Avakian continued to describe himself as being in exile, even though all charges against him were dropped in 1982, and even though he returned to the U.S. from Europe some time after the turn of the century. As Oppenheimer put it, “the chairman is still on the run, even if nobody is chasing him.”

More tomorrow.

Zinn is winning

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Howard Zinn

David Greenberg, a professor of history at Rutgers, has vividly captured the impact of Howard Zinn‘s 1980 book A People’s History of the United States on the students who are assigned it as a school textbook. In a 2013 article, Greenberg recalled that when he was in school, he became “enamored” of Zinn’s opus.

In my adolescent rebelliousness, I thrilled to Zinn’s deflation of what he presented as the myths of standard-issue history….Mischievously – subversively – A People’s History whispered that everything I had learned in school was a sugar-coated fairy tale, if not a deliberate lie. Now I knew.

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David Greenberg

So it has been with millions of other American students. Zinn’s book was tailor-made to appeal to them – to, that is, low-information adolescents eager to rebel against their parents’ worldview. To be sure, a few of these kids go on to study history and, as Greenberg puts it, “come to realize that Zinn’s famous book is…a pretty lousy piece of work.” But a much larger percentage of students who’ve been brainwashed by Zinn never snap out of it, alas – they never realize the extent to which they’ve been misled. And consequently they grow into adults who truly believe that America has been the greatest blight on the world stage instead of the greatest blessing.

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Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting

Earlier this week we looked at Howard Zinn’s intense involvement with the American Communist Party, the details of which were made public just six years ago. What’s striking – if unsurprising – is that these revelations haven’t put a dent in the enthusiasm for his book on the part of “educators” and other fans. Among those fans are the movie stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. They wrote the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting, in which Damon’s character sang Zinn’s praises.

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Ben Affleck

After Zinn’s CPUSA past came to light, William Sullivan noted Damon’s and Affleck’s refusal to denounce Zinn for his Stalinism, and suggested that the only logical reason for this refusal must be “that they believe so fervently in America’s place as the wickedest of nations that they are unable to realize the absolute fact that Communism surpasses even National Socialism as the responsible ideology for more forced famine, death, and political oppression than any other governmental structure in modern history.” Sullivan elaborated:

To believe that Communism, in any form, could be less vile than our American republic is beyond comprehension, but Howard Zinn was guilty of it. And given that practical history screams the contrary of Zinn’s beliefs, one could argue that his followers have not so much been educated by the factual substance of his work, but indoctrinated by the slanted ideas therein.

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Stephen F. Cohen

We kicked off this week by discussing the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC). A 1995 article in the New York Times reported on the foundation’s plans to construct a museum in memory of the approximately 100 million people killed by Communism during the twentieth century. It is hard to imagine any decent human being criticizing such a project; but our old friend Stephen F. Cohen – the Russia “expert,” Kremlin sympathizer, and spouse of Nation publisher and limousine Marxist Katrina vanden Heuvel – disapproved strongly, telling the Times that the proposed memorial was “triumphalist,” an idea hatched by “cold-war warriors” whose “sermonizing against Communism” betrayed their lack of seriousness.

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The VOC’s Times Square display

That memorial has yet to be built. Meanwhile Howard Zinn’s magnum opus has sold millions of copies and poisoned millions of minds, as exemplified by the VOC’s own reports on young Americans’ ignorance of – and benign attitudes toward – Communism. Clearly, a serious nationwide educational effort is desperately required. The VOC itself has recently taken a small step in this direction, installing billboards in Times Square that seek to set the record straight on Communism. Kudos to them. But it’s only a drop in the bucket. Because Zinn – alarmingly – is winning.

A masterpiece of misinformation

We’ve been looking at Howard Zinn‘s 1980 masterpiece of misinformation, A People’s History of the United States – a book that Daniel J. Flynn has rightly described as a “cartoon anti-history.”

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Howard Zinn

Not one American hero goes unsmeared by Zinn. Not one admirable American action escapes being interpreted by Zinn as having its genesis in the very lowest of motives. American achievements are either ignored or belittled. As Zinn tells it, to quote Rutgers history professor David Greenberg, “The Constitution, the Civil War, the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima—all were self-serving acts.” Even left-wing historian Martin Duberman, author of a biography of Zinn, has criticized him for treating U.S. history “as mainly the story of relentless exploitation and deceit.” For Zinn, even Pearl Harbor was America’s fault. (People of color can never be the bad guys.)

Nowhere in the People’s History, Flynn points out,

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Down the memory hole: Alexander Hamilton

do we learn that Americans were first in flight, first to fly across the Atlantic, and first to walk on the moon. Alexander Graham Bell, Jonas Salk, and the Wright Brothers are entirely absent. Instead, the reader is treated to the exploits of Speckled Snake, Joan Baez, and the Berrigan brothers. While Zinn sees fit to mention that immigrants often went into professions like ditch-digging and prostitution, American success stories like those of Alexander Hamilton, John Jacob Astor, and Louis B. Mayer – to name but a few – are off the Zinn radar screen. Valley Forge rates a single fleeting reference, while D-Day’s Normandy invasion, Gettysburg, and other important military battles are skipped over. In their place, we get several pages on the My Lai massacre and colorful descriptions of U.S. bombs falling on hotels, air-raid shelters, and markets during the Gulf War of the early 1990s.

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Normandy invasion: quietly omitted by Zinn

In updated editions of the People’s History, we also get a moral equation between the U.S. and the 9/11 terrorists.

In short, Zinn’s book is pretty much an example of wall-to-wall America-bashing. Throughout it, he deep-sixes positive stories, twists good stories into bad ones, and turns heroes into villains. And while doing all this, he does one more very important thing: he takes care not to provide any historical or international context – thereby making it possible for ill-educated readers to come away actually believing that America is a uniquely malevolent country, unparalleled by any other nation past or present.

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Mao: founder of a true “people’s government”

To be sure, every so often Zinn does briefly touch on nations that live under other systems – namely, under Communism. When he turns to these countries, however, he puts on a pair of rose-colored glasses. While describing Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government in China as a “corrupt dictatorship” (which is not entirely incorrect), all he says about Mao Zedong’s rival Communist movement is that it had “enormous mass support” and that, after Mao won the civil war, “China was in the hands of a revolutionary movement, the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people’s government, independent of outside control.” Mao’s subsequent murder of tens of millions of his own people goes unmentioned.

FILE - In this July 26, 2006 file photo, Cuba's President Fidel Castro pauses as addresses a crowd of Latin American students gathered in Pedernales, in Holguin province, Cuba, for the anniversary of the attack on the Moncada barracks. As Fidel Castro gets ready to celebrate his 90th birthday on Aug. 13, 2016, many Cubans today openly describe themselves as capitalists, and say time has proven that Castro’s economic ideas do not work. (AP Photo/ Javier Galeano, File)
Fidel Castro: folk hero

Fidel Castro is described in similar terms, as a wildly popular folk hero who “set up a nationwide system of education, of housing, of land distribution to landless peasants.” Zinn entirely omits the negative side of Cuban Communism – the systematic repression, the forced international isolation, the mounting poverty, and the mass executions of regime opponents, intellectuals, journalists, and homosexuals.

We’ll wind this up tomorrow.

Zinn’s evil America

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Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn‘s 1980 book A People’s History of the United States has long been a staple of high-school and college syllabi. Indeed, as Daniel J. Flynn has noted, it’s “so popular that it can be found on the class syllabus in such fields as economics, political science, literature, and women’s studies, in addition to its more understandable inclusion in history.”

But it’s not popular because it’s good history. It isn’t. it’s popular because the teachers that assign it agree with its politics. For left-wing “educators” eager to sell their students on a crudely, relentlessly anti-capitalist and pro-socialist account of American history, it’s a veritable Bible.

Zinn himself admitted that he wasn’t out to record history objectively but to spin it in a way that would, in his words, “advance causes of humanity.” In other words, he was selling propaganda – specifically, Communist propaganda. His book viewed every historical event through a Marxist lens. Everything was about class struggle. Every act was motivated by greed. All people were either oppressors or oppressed. Every single fact that was at odds with Zinn’s ideology was either suppressed or distorted by him to fit that ideology.

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The Founding Fathers: a gang of totalitarians

Where other historians had told the story of America as a story largely of inspiring heroes, for Zinn virtually all of those heroes were really ruthless exploiters of their fellowman. That included the Founding Fathers. “Rather than an event that inspired movements for freedom and self-government throughout the world through the present,” Flynn observed, the founding of America represented, in Zinn’s view, the establishment of “a virtually totalitarian system of oppression.”

Of course, Zinn’s attitude here is easily refuted. “If the Founders wanted a society they could direct,” asks Flynn,

why didn’t they establish a dictatorship or a monarchy and model their rule on what was the universal form of government at the time? Why go through the trouble of devising a Constitution departing from a repressive status quo and guaranteeing individual rights, mass political participation, jury trials, and checks on governmental power? Apparently inhabiting an alternate reality, Zinn doesn’t feel the need to account for this and merely explains it away as a charade designed to prevent class revolution. This is conspiracy theory with a vengeance.

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Sorry, Mr. Lincoln: emancipation was just as bad as slavery

So it goes throughout the book. Slavery? Instead of understanding how remarkable it is that an army of free citizens fought a bloody four-year war to liberate other men from slavery, a large percentage of young people today actually believe – thanks largely to Zinn’s selective, slanted reporting and frequent outright disinformation – that no other country than America has ever had slavery. So determined is Zinn to demonize the principal actors in every major event in American history that, for him, emancipation is just as bad as slavery. For both, as Flynn notes,

are explained by the same factor: greed. Whether the U.S. tolerates or eradicates slavery, its evil motives remains the same. To Zinn the important thing about the emancipation of the slaves and the Civil War that brought that about is that they served as distractions from the impending socialist revolution.

More tomorrow.

Howard Zinn, Stalinist

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The young Howard Zinn

In 2003, Howard Zinn was described as “the most influential historian in America.” As of that year, his book A People’s History of the United States was selling 128,000 copies annually; total sales have now topped two million. What a remarkable coup this was for Zinn, whose parents were working-class immigrants from Russia and Ukraine and whose father worked as a fruit peddler and ditch digger. Had Zinn’s parents not emigrated to America, any child of theirs would have grown up as a peasant under Communism. And if that child had grown up to be half as outspoken as Zinn, he’d soon have ended up either in the Gulag or in front of a firing squad. That the son of such a couple could end up as a prominent historian and a wealthy man is a tribute to the reality of the American dream.

zinnbookBut Zinn himself didn’t see it that way. Indeed, perhaps the best way to sum up his life goal is to say that he was out to destroy Americans’ belief in the American dream. For Zinn was a Communist. And he wasn’t just any Communist. He was a very active Communist who belonged to a New York branch of the Party and attended Party meetings five nights a week between around 1949 and 1953.

And that wasn’t all. He taught informal courses in Communism to other Communists. He participated in various Communist front groups, such as the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee and the International Workers Order, and in a number of Communist-infiltrated organizations, such as the American Veterans Committee. Although, as noted, he ceased being active in the Party during the 1950s, his political views remained the same, as evidenced by his enthusiasm for the Castro revolution in Cuba.

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One of Zinn’s heroes

As many observers have noted, the timing of Zinn’s involvement in the Party is interesting. He wasn’t one of those who joined the CPUSA in the 1920s or 30s, when ignorance was still a credible excuse and some of Stalin’s worst atrocities remained in the future. No, he joined up after the Ukraine famine, after the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and after the USSR’s postwar occupation of Eastern Europe. By the time he signed up as an agent of the Kremlin, it was clear to any well-informed Westerner that Josef Stalin was a thoroughly evil piece of work, fully on a par with Hitler, and that the people living in the Soviet Union and its satellites were the helpless, terrorized subjects of a monstrous tyranny.

Zinn would later go on to become a prominent academic and a leader of the anti-Vietnam movement. We’ve already written here about his friendly wartime visit to Hanoi with Father Daniel Berrigan, a fellow Communist. But it wasn’t till A People’s History came out in 1980 that Zinn became famous.

We’ll get to that tomorrow.

Josef who?

You may never have heard of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. But if you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll probably want to know about it, for it’s an institution that seeks to address a profound need that lies very close to the heart of our own efforts: namely, the extraordinary ignorance of the brutal reality of Communism in today’s America, especially on the part of young people.

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Josef Stalin: only 18% of US millennials know who he was

The extent of that ignorance was underscored on October 17 by the foundation’s own annual report on American attitudes toward socialism and Communism. The executive director of VOC, Mario Smith, summed those findings up as follows: “An emerging generation of Americans have little understanding of the collectivist system and its dark history.” While older generations are aware of the evils of Communism, millennials (born between 1982 and 2002) aren’t. This makes sense, of course. The fall of the Iron Curtain occurred before they were born or when they were small children. They’ve been taught about the evils of Nazism, but little about Communism. They know about the Holocaust, but probably not about the Gulag.

The VOC’s sobering numbers confirm this ignorance. According to the study, only 18% of American millennials can place the name of Josef Stalin; the comparable figures for Lenin and Mao Zedong are 42% and 33%. The inevitable result of this profound ignorance of Communism is a disturbingly benign attitude toward it. While 91% of older Americans and 80% of baby boomers view Communism negatively, only 55% of millennials do. Fully 25% of millennials who recognized the name of Lenin actually view him favorably.

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Joseph McCarthy: the real #1 Cold War villain

This sympathy for Communism surely owes a lot to baby-boom teachers or professors who, when they have touched on Communism, have actually treated it sympathetically. Instead of underscoring the fact that the regimes of Hitler and Stalin were equally totalitarian, many of those supposed educators have drawn sharp distinctions between Nazism and Communism, pronouncing the former as unqualifiedly evil but depicting the latter as a beautiful dream that perhaps got just a wee bit out of control. In recent decades, school syllabi touching on Communism have focused less on the horrors of life in the USSR and more on the purported victimization of American Communists during the era of the Hollywood blacklist. In this formulation, the villain of the piece is not Stalin but Senator Joseph McCarthy.

030114-O-0000D-001 President George W. Bush. Photo by Eric Draper, White House.
George W. Bush: deadlier than Stalin?

Consequently, almost 45% of millennials actually say they would vote for a socialist president – a statistic that might have been surprising before the Bernie Sanders campaign, but perhaps isn’t so surprising now. Fully 32% of millennials actually believe more people were killed under George W. Bush than under Stalin. (The figure for Americans generally isn’t much better: 25%.)

Much of the millennial sympathy for socialism and Communism can be attributed to the widespread use, in high-school and colleage history courses, of a single book entitled A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1922-2010). We’ll get to him tomorrow.