[Howard Zinn raw #17]

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Howard Zinn attends an Awards Dinner for the Eugene V. Debs Foundation held at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana.

0:40 The quartet leads the attendees in a rendition of “Solidarity Forever.”

3:18 Noel Beasley introduces Ed Clark.

4:15 Ed Clark says his last time in Terre Haute was thirty five years ago, when he was a budding young radical at Southern Illinois University. He recounts how he and some of his friends in his Marxist reading group traveled out to Terre Haute to visit the Eugene V. Debs Home. He talks about the shifts in United States society since his first visit to the Debs Home, namely the proliferation of alternative perspectives and histories, which he credits to Zinn. Clark speaks about a union drive that took place a few years back in Massachussetts. He says that Howard Zinn responded enthusiastically when they asked him to support the union drive by participating in a demonstration at the company plant. Clark hands Zinn a plaque honoring him with the Eugene V. Debs Award in Education.

14:48 Zinn takes the podium. He thanks the Foundation and says that he feels very much at home with trade union people. “I was a union person before I ever set foot in a college classroom.” Zinn gives credit to the GI Bill for allowing him to attend college. He talks about how corporations had no problem with “big government” until the government starting pursuing programs like Social Security and the GI Bill that benefitted everyday working people.

19:05 Zinn says Debs was probably the first socialist that he heard about. He says he starting a reading group with his co-workers at the shipyards, where they read Karl Marx, Upton Sinclair, and Eugene Debs.

22:55 Zinn talks about growing up class-conscious, in part due to his father’s membership in the waiters’ union when he was growing up. When he was in graduate school he says, he realized the extent to which labor struggles had been erased from United States history, from elementary schools to universities. “I determined that when I was going to teach history, it was going to be class-conscious history. It would be the history of class struggle.” He speaks on the class dimensions of United States history and the fact that the Founding Fathers are better characterized as wealthy landowners and slaveowners, not “the people.”

27:55 Zinn talks about the popularity of Eugene Debs. He tells the story of Debs’s imprisonment and eventual release. “Debs was a socialist. And the word socialist needs to be revived.” He talks about the history of socialism in the United States and how the movement reached the height of its power prior to the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. He recounts discussions he had immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, which he saw as an opportunity to set the record straight on “socialism,” moving away from Soviet interpretations and towards the socialism of Debs and Mother Jones and Helen Keller. “I firmly believe that there’s millions and millions of people in this country that believe in the ideas of socialism. That is, they believe in the elements that make up the socialist idea, the ideas of equality and the idea that we are all one in the world, that national boundaries are stupid and that wars are ridiculous and that we’re all brothers and sisters across national boundaries all over the world. […] So I think there’s a great resevoir of possibility out in this country for organizing, for educating, and for beginning to change the way our society functions and what happens in the world.”

37:15 Zinn converses with attendees after the event, signs some books. A dozen or so attendees are lined up waiting to speak with Zinn.

 

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