Ron Radosh: Howard Zinn’s FBI Files: What It RevealsHistorians in the News
[Ronald Radosh is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at The Hudson Institute, and a Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York's Queensborough Community College.]
The announcement last week by the FBI that it was releasing the FBI files of the late radical historian, Howard Zinn, was not met with universal acclaim. In fact, many leftists were enraged. Typical was the reaction of Noam Chomsky, who was quoted by writer Clark Merrefield. Zinn’s files, Chomsky said, were “mostly a mixture of things that they’ve picked up here and there which is mostly false, things they’ve gotten from informants that are mostly false. We took for granted that obviously we were being monitored by the FBI.” For Chomsky, anything coming from the FBI obviously has to, by definition, be lies.
The most recent comment from the ranks of the Left is by frequent Nation writer Chris Hedges, whose column in Bob Scheer’s inappropriately named Truthdigreflects the most common take on Zinn’s work by liberal/left intellectuals. Hedges writes how he used Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a text for the American history class he was giving to prison inmates. “We’ve been lied to,” students would comment at the end of class. He assigned Zinn’s work because he says it opened the “eyes of young, mostly African-Americans to their own history and the structures that perpetuate misery for the poor and gluttony and privilege for the elite.” (Wonder no more about why so much of the American underclass get a bad education.)
So what is in these files? First, the FBI had evidence that Zinn was a member of the Communist Party of the United States, and lied about his membership when being interviewed by FBI agents. The first file on the subject appeared in March of 1949, when an informant noted “that he (ZINN) is a Communist Party member and attends meetings five days a week.” Zinn was then employed by the American Labor Party, which itself gives credence to the informant’s report. By that date, the ALP — created in the early forties to give NYC labor a left-wing ballot on which to vote for FDR — had been taken over lock, stock and barrel by the CP. It never would have hired non-Party members as full-time employees.
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