Howard Zinn: Forever! Health and Anarchy!

Dmitri Prieto

HOWARD ZINN - Photo Wikipedia

I just found out about the departure of Howard Zinn, one of the remarkable intellectuals of this time.  In fact I learned this through a posting by Armando Chaguaceda in Havana Times.

His biography in Wikipedia includes the “uncomfortable” symbol of the A inside the O: a reference to the axiom “Anarchy is Order” and the emblem of the anarchist movement of which he was an adherent.

Uncomfortable? – yes.   Only a few thinkers today dare to proclaim themselves anarchists. Howard Zinn was one of them.   Since there is almost no Internet access in Cuba, this uncomfortable fact is little known here.

As an uncomfortable signatory of a 2003 letter of the “Campaign for Peace and Democracy,” Howard Zinn (together with Chomsky, Wallerstein, Lowy, Said, Albert and other “leftists”) commented on some events —also very uncomfortable— which occurred that year in Cuba.

At home I have Zinn’s book “La otra historia de los Estados Unidos” (The other history of the United States), though today I must admit with chagrin that I still haven’t read it.  Nonetheless, I also recognize that the Spanish title of the work served us a few years ago in organizing a forum entitled “The Other Legacies of October,” devoted to approaching in depth —for the first time in Cuba— the issue of “(non) existing socialism.”

That book by Zinn was also a key reference in the article that debuted the popular Havana Times author, my friend Yusimi.  Decidedly, it is a book that shows us that “another history is possible,” and this is exactly what many people are attempting today in Cuba.

I also noted that Howard Zinn donated the author’s rights of the Spanish edition of his book for the publishing of a Spanish edition of “¿Haití para qué?” (The Uses of Haiti), by Paul Farmer – the book that introduced me to the Haitian issue.  Though little understood, this is an issue that is now widely discussed as a result of the recent disaster on the neighboring island.  Thanks to Howard Zinn —indirectly, as is so often the case— I fell in love with Haiti and its history.

Zinn’s “Marx in Soho” in Cuba

In Cuba we also know Zinn for his (also uncomfortable) theatrical piece “Marx in Soho.” In it Marx complains of the blisters on his butt (which finally took him to that place where Howard Zinn now accompanies him) and he speaks of how his comrade-opponent Bakunin used to get drunk on vodka and piss out the window of his London apartment.

As an admirer of both, I also became an admirer of Howard Zinn when I was among a small audience that enjoyed his work staged “live” at a Havana campground site on the shore of the Florida Strait (the same used by the balseros to launch their rafts in ‘94).  This was under an unyielding attack of mosquitoes and after a ponderous and plodding meeting of the Asociación Hermanos Saíz of creative youths, of which I was a low-level officer at that time.

Meanwhile, other cadre, officials and delegates got drunk on Cuban rum, though contrary to Bakunin, they didn’t relieve themselves out of a window because the campgrounds of revolutionary Cuba are obviously better equipped than the lair of London’s Moor.

In fact, the effort to make a video-debate of “Marx in Soho” was one of the stupid pretexts that some “youth cadre” used to attack my friend Daisy, even trying get her kicked out of the university where she studies.  They used that pretext to try to convince people that Daisy was “counter-revolutionary”!  The problem was that Daisy had made them uncomfortable (just like Zinn).  These were the types who don’t know about Marx, or Bakunin, or Zinn, or what a revolution really is because they don’t want to know.  They only chew on their truths as if these are bubble gum.  That’s their problem!

Armando, Daisy, Yusimi… these are three true comrades, and current writers for the “uncomfortable” Havana Times. Marx, Bakunin, Farmer, Chomsky, Wallerstein, Lowy, Said, Albert… How many more uncomfortable names can we interweave in that unbreakable network that unites the hearts of people who question the destiny of this world?

Whether we are right or not, respect for the truths of others is only possible if we’re willing to defend our own.  But what’s certain is that we’ll only be able to defend these if we respect those of others.  For such uncomfortable teachings, for having connected names, minds and hearts —not around a dogma, but around the questioning of dogmas— I thank you Howard Zinn.

So, one more has left for the beyond, where the vagabond souls of anarchists go.  Zinn, by the way, was a pilot in World War II.  He survived combat and later struggled against war and governments.  Today he continues to assist in the survival of many others – including us, those of us here in Cuba in our so difficult and again so uncomfortable revolution.  This revolution can come into being if and only if it’s done (uncomfortably) by us ourselves.  Howard Zinn: Forever! Health and anarchy!

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.


7 thoughts on “Howard Zinn: Forever! Health and Anarchy!

  • March 24, 2010 at 2:51 pm
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    I’m also fascinated with Haiti history, recently I’ve finish reading The black Jacobins by C.L.R James.
    Witch I strongly recommended

  • February 5, 2010 at 3:58 am
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    @ wrking clss guy

    Thks for ur reply. U make some good points.

    Yes, let’s nt get into sectarian scuffles re the past. It would be endless. What sincere anti-capitalists should be talking abt in HT is: “How can Cuba reform its dysfunctional, bureaucratic form of socialism in the coming several years, & provide a workable model for the rest or the world?” Now, that’s a worthwhile discussion.

    In the context of this urgent problem, I was annoyed by an article where anarchism was put fwd as some kind of a solution to Cuba’s reform needs. One can stand up and shout all day abt how horrid a state is, but that’s not really relevant . . . is it!

    The Marxist hypothesis for the “withering away of the state” was to give the state ownership of all the means of production. This retains the degrading employer-employee relationship. The bureau state get bigger, more alien, & then returns to capitalism.

    Marxism can’t be defended, but anarchism is not the alternative.

  • February 4, 2010 at 8:06 pm
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    well, the thing that i find most intriguing in anarchism is that it really isn’t centered around theorists and leaders the way marxism is but i still disagree that their ideas have harmed the working class movement. they’ve certainly damaged it less than the various socialist and communist parties that have been very quick to sell out the class when things get serious. but its a bit of a moot point. especially as time has moved on, there are certainly fewer militants who regard themselves as “followers of bakunin/kropotkin” while being anarchists than those who are still followers of various marxist leaders. i think this is in anarchism’s favor.

    as for never making a revolution, i think the anarchists in spain were probably influenced by their ideas more than proudhon’s, but let’s not make this an argument about the civil war.

  • February 4, 2010 at 6:15 am
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    @ working class guy

    It’s an odd question, given that most recognize him as the Father of Anarchism. Dmitri’s article was a tribute to both Howard & Anarchism. It doesn’t seem inappropriate to speak about Proudhon.

    Also, plz remember that we only have about 975 characters available for comments, and we all should try to keep our comments brief.

    Neither Bakunin nor Kropotkin were “working class guys.” Both were aristocrats with absolutely no knowledge or experience re the industrial working class. They were like Engels and Marx: dilettante interlopers in the working class socialist movement.

    Bakunin warped Proudhon’s ideas and made anarchism an obsession with violence that has harmed the working class and socialist movements enormously. His ideas helped lead the 1871 Communards to their mass slaughter.

    The followers of Bakunin and/or Kropotkin have never made a revolution. Their ideas have discredited the workers struggle repeatedly (Haymarket; L.A. Times)

  • February 3, 2010 at 5:55 pm
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    why would you speak of proudhon when talking about anarchist ideology? modern anarchists owe more to bakunin and kropotkin than he, to say nothing of countless other theorists and practices since their time.

  • February 3, 2010 at 2:39 am
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    Dmitri, it’s unfortunate that you’ve set forth an article of tribute to Howard Zinn as a tribute to the ideology of anarchism. Zinn was an anarchist, and he was a noble soul, but that does not mean that anarchism is an ideology that deserves to be applauded or followed.

    Anarchism means “lack of government.” Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-65) of France was the first to call himself an anarchist. For years he was for the workers “getting the guns” to overthrow capitalism. After the revolutions of 1848 however he saw the results of getting the guns without a specific program for running society afterward. Proudhon, the Father of Anarchism, changed his mind.

    He now declared that regrettably a state is necessary for the foreseeable future. What is needed, he said, is private property in the hands of peasants and the small business class, and cooperatively by the workers, as a counterbalance to the raw power of the state.

    Marxism has proved him so, so correct.

  • February 1, 2010 at 8:28 pm
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    Howard Zinn was a great American Veteran. Even though the “Zionist” who do not love the United States, first hate to admit the truth of his greatness. Professor Zinn served his Country during WW2 and was a loyal American and to the world of those suffering.

    We shall never forget his great Lectures and honesty.

    Thank You Professor Zinn for educating us in truth in a wicked world!

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