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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Zinn talks about the impact of class politics

Former Boston University History Professor Howard Zinn said yesterday that Americans continue to deny they live in a class-based society despite the fact that class issues have a major impact on the functions of government.

"We have had mostly class legislation in the history of the United States," Zinn said. "The Constitution was a class document ... on behalf of the rich."

In a speech titled "The Hidden Issues of Class in American Politics," and delivered to a packed audience in Carpenter Hall, Zinn described the U.S. government as "a bipartisan assault by the satisfied classes on the dissatisfied classes."

"The fundamental problem in this country is the unequal distribution of wealth," which strengthens the power structure of the rich while weakening that of the poor, he said.

Zinn discussed how the right to vote connotes a great amount of power for an American citizen, but in actuality is a rather empty notion. "Americans have grown up in a culture where the supreme act of a United States citizen is to vote and choose between two white male mediocrities," he said.

He claimed every important change in this country, even the abolition of slavery, was brought about by a major social movement as opposed to by popular vote.

Zinn cited historical examples to demonstrate the pervasive impact of class on legislation. "A riot in Boston against a law that allowed rich people to avoid conscription in the Revolutionary War" was just one example of political protest because of the inequity of the class system in America, he said.

Zinn also said the government's economic focus often favors businesses over the average citizen because the government is class-influenced. "The money is there [for welfare and environmental issues] but it is in the military budget," he said. "We must decide not to make war anymore."

Zinn added the government often protects property privileges of businesses, citing examples from as early as the 1860s, when the United States government gave more than 100 million acres of land to the railroads.

"If you look at this year's federal budget, ... you will see provisions for mining companies to buy land from the government at market price without considering the value of the minerals," he said.