Channeling Howard Zinn

If there was any doubt about the political purpose of the New York Times’ 1619 Project this summer it should have been eliminated at the third Democratic Party primary debate.

Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) opened by accusing President Trump of “trying to sow hate and division among us.” Three-house-owning millionaire Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) inveighed against the “oligarchic form of society” he claims the United States is becoming. But former congressman Beto O’Rourke topped them both. Moderator Linsey Davis pointed out that the Democratic candidates were on stage at a historically black college, that the primary concern of young black voters is racism, that the community was still “raw” from the “racially motivated attack on Latinos in El Paso” and that the long-standing “racial divide” was made worse by President Trump. She then asked O’Rourke why he thought he was “the most qualified candidate to address this divide.”

The Irishman praised himself for “calling out” the issue on “August 3rd and every day since then,” and “long before then, as well.”

“Racism in America is endemic,” he declared. “It is foundational. We can mark the creation of this country not at the Fourth of July, 1776, but August 20, 1619, when the first kidnapped African was brought to this country against his will and in bondage and as a slave built the greatness and the success and the wealth that neither he nor his descendants would ever be able to fully participate in and enjoy.”

The special issue of the New York Times Magazine to which O’Rourke alluded featured a cover photo of a body of water against sky, superimposed with “In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of the country that has been formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is time to tell our story truthfully.”

Inside, the first page intoned against the traditional understanding of 1776 as “the year of our nation’s birth,” advising instead:

What if, however, we told you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the country’s true birth date, the moment that its defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August 1619. . . . when a ship arrived at Point Comfort . . . bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans. Their arrival inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years. This is sometimes referred to as the country’s original sin, but it is more than that: it is the country’s very origin.

All this time! Now we are finally getting the truth.

Zinn Laid the Foundation

Well, actually, no. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has been making the claim since 1980, when it was first published. Marching now towards the 3 million mark in sales it is the most popular history book in America, thanks to its use in classrooms and promotion by movie stars, musicians, and sports figures.

In his second chapter (the first one, largely plagiarized, about the fictitious genocide by Columbus, other explorers, and colonists against universally peaceful natives) Zinn begins with a long quotation from Hampton Institute English professor J. Saunders Redding’s 1950 book, They Came in Chains, about the “strange ship . . . a frightening ship” flying a Dutch flag, carrying a “motley” crew and bringing to the Jamestown settlement of Virginia, a “cargo” of 20 slaves.

From Redding’s vivid description, Zinn leaps to his assertion, “There is no country in world history in which racism has been more important, for so long a time, as the United States. And the problem of the ‘color line,’ as W.E.B. Du Bois put it, is still with us.”

Further, for Zinn, “American slavery” was “the most cruel form of slavery in history” because of “the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture.”

Zinn explains that “slavery developed quickly into a regular institution, into the normal labor relation of blacks to whites in the New World. With it developed that special racial feeling—whether hatred, or contempt, or pity, or patronization—that accompanied the inferior position of blacks in America for the next 350 years—that combination of inferior status and derogatory thought we call racism.”

Racism is baked into our (capitalistic) character. (Zinn, who died in 2010, and his acolytes elide the fact that slavery was a global phenomenon practiced since time immemorial.)

“White Supremacists” and “Mortal Threats”

For Zinn, slavery never ended—not after emancipation, not after the 1960s civil rights movement. For Beto O’Rourke, slavery’s legacy lives on in higher rates of school discipline and maternal mortality rates. So he pledged to “sign into law a reparations bill,” while also calling out “the fact that we have a white supremacist in the White House,” who “poses a mortal threat to people of color all across this country.”

A president who really was a white supremacist was the progressive Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who segregated federal offices and the military (with Franklin D. Roosevelt as assistant secretary of the Navy eagerly carrying out Wilson’s directives and then appealing to the segregationist vote in his 1920 campaign for the vice presidency). Such actions, as well as showing “Birth of a Nation” in the White House, emboldened the Ku Klux Klan, which really was “a mortal threat.”

So while we’re on the topic of President Wilson, let’s revisit another anniversary, the 1919 riots. That was when black soldiers returning from service in World War I were greeted with attacks because they wore uniforms. (Uniforms triggered progressives also during the Vietnam War.) No doubt, the racists were emboldened by Wilson’s policies.

The year 1919 marks another anniversary: the founding of the Communist Party of the United States. The following year, the “first discussion on record of the Negro problem by an American Communist took place in Russia. . . .” at the Comintern’s Second Congress; the “Negroes in America” was the 14th point of the 16 theses that Lenin submitted to the delegates, according to Theodore Draper’s American Communism and Soviet Russia. The following year, Lenin sent the American Communists a letter urging them to recognize “Negroes” as “a strategically important element in Communist activity.” The November 1921 issue of the Communist dutifully proclaimed, “The most important point in our agitation must to fix responsibility for the Negro’s sufferings where it rightly belongs: on the bourgeoisie and the Capitalist-Imperialist System!

The aim was to promote the idea that all the efforts of the bourgeoisie—whether in trying to get a fair trial for young men accused of rape in Scottsboro, to get FDR to lobby for an anti-lynching law (unsuccessful), to equalize salaries among public school teachers (state successes due to the NAACP), to desegregate schools and drinking fountains, to outlaw discrimination in the military (FDR opposed three bills introduced in 1938 by Republican Congressman Hamilton Fish and backed by the Pittsburgh Courier), voting, and jobs—were all futile.

But neither Zinn nor the New York Times makes distinctions or assigns blame or praise to individuals. As in Communist ideology, individuals are mere cogs in a “system.”

An “Inordinate Fear of Communism”

According to Andrew Sullivan, the special New York Times issue was a “neo-Marxist” presentation of American history, seen through the lens of “critical race theory,” once the purview of academics but now of the activist Times.

But it is more than “neo-Marxist.” It is Marxist simply. Neo-Marxism is what Howard Zinn tried to promote in his writings about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the New Left, and the Vietnam War. He, like other Marxists, did a linguistic dance, in one step claiming that young people did not have “hang-ups” about Communism, so read Communist publications at SNCC offices and learned important Marxist teachings at teach-ins and protests. But that did not mean that young people were becoming Communists!

It became a sign of bad manners and racism to speak of “the threat of Communism.” Zinn wrote his book during the term of Jimmy Carter, who told an audience at Notre Dame University in May 1977 that Americans had gotten over their “inordinate fear of Communism.” Not that it raised his esteem in Zinn’s eyes, as evident by his description of the Carter presidency in a later edition as acting like a cog “within the historic political boundaries of the American system, protecting corporate wealth and power, maintaining a huge military machine. . . .”

Blowing Up the System

Beto O’Rourke and the other Generation X and Y candidates, educated in this view, believe that the only way to get rid of racism is to fundamentally change the governmental and economic system. A People’s History always pins the blame on “the System.”

Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro proclaimed that the El Paso shooter was “inspired by this president to kill people who look like me” and declared white supremacy “a growing threat to this country.” He promised to “root out racism” with a plan to “disarm hate” in an office dedicated to that objective in the White House. “Systemic racism,” Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) echoed, “is eroding our nation from health care to the criminal justice system.” South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg claimed that a “neutral policy” was not enough to kill “systemic racism.”

Old Man Biden’s pleas about remembering the Constitution when disarming the American people sound about as quaint as the “record players” he said African Americans should use in order to build their children’s vocabulary. A systematic overhaul is what the Generation X and Y candidates seek. The Democratic future is the dictatorship of the proletariat—descendents of those presumably brought over on slave ships—with conservatives purged of “hate” by any means necessary.

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About Mary Grabar

Mary Grabar, Ph.D., a resident fellow at The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, is author of Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America and Debunking "The 1619 Project.” She currently is writing a biography of George Schuyler.

Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

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