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!

  • I’m also fascinated with Haiti history, recently I’ve finish reading The black Jacobins by C.L.R James.
    Witch I strongly recommended

  • @ 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.

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