See You Soon, Howard

Armando Chaguaceda


Howard Zinn (August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010), a militant anarchist, social activist, historian and American political scientist, has left on a new journey.

A point of reference for the civil rights and anti-war movement in the USA, he is the author of more than 20 books, including “The People’s History of the United States,” published in Spanish in Cuba and Spain as “La otra historia de los Estados Unidos.”

An emeritus professor at the University of Boston, he has burst open the dikes that insulated an aseptic understanding of commitment, upsetting the posing and formal rituals of hubris and presumption, the pedantry of erudition.

His play “Marx in the Soho,” one of the best examples of the socialist legacy in mass communication, is embellished with brushstrokes of humor, demystification and non-cartoonish criticism of both bourgeois and Stalinist regimes.

Presented in Havana theaters, with an excellent rendition by actor Michaelis Cué, the play was later broadcast on Cuban television as a praiseworthy (and regrettably scarce) sample of socialist heterodoxy.

Those who read this short account —which hurts to write— will wonder why I’m speaking of Zinn in the present.  “Emotion prevents me from coordinating times and ideas,” some might say. The former is true, but not the latter.  I refuse to situate Howard in that past, so full of mausoleums and commemorations, or in the “luminous future,” which serves to justify our indolence and inaction.

Zinn himself reminds us of that in an essay that I share with my students every year. He writes, “Pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act. (…) And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

Just a few days ago I invoked his living legacy in an essay about the conservatism of the “gringo” establishment.  In my inconsolable atheism, today I prefer to believe that our friend, like the Marx of his play, has left to continue his battle against the demons of power in the confines of the galaxy and the corridors of eternity.  Like the “Moor of Soho,” he was with us only a short time —lucid, joking and implacable— to shake our consciences. The rest is left for us to do.

2 thoughts on “See You Soon, Howard

  • It is important to honor Howard Zinn, and those like him who have devoted themselves to the struggle for social justice and a post-capitalist world. We must honor them all, viscerally.

    Even so, let us take this provocative moment to reflect on a certain fact that is not so flattering to Howard, and to the thousands of other intellectuals who have helped lead us to a dead end. The real world socialist experiments ought to have inspired Howard and so many others to reexamine and sagely discard the core stipulation of Marxism: concentration of all the means of production in the hands of the state.

    This one remarkable failing will most likely relegate his legacy to the “respectable, but ineffective” file.

    Howard Zinn is like our beloved Fidel in one important respect: Putting Marx on a guru- or Jesus Christ-like pedestal and not reexamining the core stipulation scientifically.

    So, here we are, still alive, but stuck in the puke of monopoly capitalism.

  • Thanks for your rememberance, and especially for including the quotation about pessimism and action. Although sad to see him passing into the ages, his was a good and exemplary life which touched many. I introduced many of my students to “The People’s History…” and had the priviledge of listening to him in person several times, last of which was just a few years ago, with my son Noel, at Marlboro College. Also was fortunate to see a local production of “Marx in Soho,” performed by Marlboro Professor Jerry Levy, who gave a moving performance. Every day of our lives we should try to put into practice the last line of Howard Zinn’s quotation above.

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