“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”
-Karl Marx, The German Ideology
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn is an exception to a powerful rule: corporate rule over mass production under capitalism, including the mass production of ideas, reinforcing corporate rule over society.
A People’s History breaks through this rule, in both method and content. It helps undermine capitalist ruling ideology by simply turning it on its head.
We’re normally taught the top-down history of “great men,” or of ideas somehow competing equally in a vacuum of “objectivity,” or of capitalism as a “natural” state of human society – or all of the above.
Zinn’s History examines U.S. history from a different perspective – influenced by Marxism and anarchism and stressing the words and actions of non-rulers, the vast majority of people, the 99%.
It’s an unusually interesting introduction to U.S. history, a surprising one for many youth. It debunks myths Americans are indoctrinated with at a young age. Figures such as Columbus (gold-crazed murderer), or the Founding Fathers (slave masters), and others are exposed.
A People’s History is useful for activists who want to begin a conversation about class society and socialism in the context of U.S. history, especially a conversation with those who aren’t familiar with activism or radical politics.
One example from the book:
“Eugene Debs had become a Socialist while in jail in the Pullman strike. Now he was a spokesman of [the Socialist Party, which] … had 100,000 members, and 1200 office holders in 340 municipalities. Its main newspaper, Appeal to Reason, had half a million subscribers… There were fifty-five weekly socialist newspapers in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and summer encampments that drew thousands of people.”
Who knew, right? There are many moments like this throughout A People’s History. In a capitalist-dominated society, working-class history is buried. Reading A People’s History is a way to begin rediscovering our history.
“[The] circumstances of my own life…demanded of me a new kind of history. By that I mean a history different from what I learned in college and in graduate school and from what I saw in history texts given to students all over the country.”
-Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States