At a time when school textbooks are being probed by conservatives concerned with issues ranging from gender to race, Harvey Wasserman highlights the role Indigenous peoples and women have played in shaping this country in his new book The Popular Spiral of US History.
“The biggest misconception in American history is that Native peoples had no impact on our history, when in fact they had been here for 20,000 years. [and] had an extremely advanced culture,” says Wasserman The progressive. “None of our history books really deal with the impact of the theft of native society on American culture.
Yet, says Wasserman, Indigenous cultures and histories are largely absent from high school history lessons, perhaps the “number one void in all of American historiography.” He cites the importance of native matriarchy plus “the Iroquois Confederacy, the Five Nations of Haudenosaunee, who ruled over much of northeastern North America and Turtle Island centuries before the Declaration of Independence.”
Putting a radical new twist on American “Cowboys and Indians” mythology, Wasserman insists, “The Iroquois Confederacy was far more democratic than ancient Athens. Europeans came here and confronted this very advanced democracy”, which agitated Westerners accustomed to the hierarchical regime of divine right monarchies.
Wasserman also shines a light on the left, calling Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs “America’s favorite politician.” Wasserman, who describes himself as a “social democrat,” says he considers Sen. Bernie Sanders a contemporary counterpart to Debs.
Worried that his book would be “burned” before it was “picked up” as a school text, Wasserman said, “I want this book to fundamentally change the way people do American history. The dialectic [is] between the Natives – who are never recognized – and the Puritans, who were absolutely horrible. If you really want to understand right-wing culture today, you have to start with the Boston Puritans in the 1630s. I’ve had this spiral theory for fifty years – it’s a very simple way to teach and understand the ‘story.
Wasserman sees American history as recurring “spirals” pitting the Puritan against the Native ethos. There are, according to him, six cycles which are regularly shortened: “l’Enfant Empire” of 1688-1828; “Manifest Adolescence” from 1828-1896; “Bully Manhood” from 1896-1932; “Full Adulthood” from 1932 to 1960; “Midlife Crisis” from 1960 to 1976; and “Imperial Senility” from 1976 to 1992. “After that, we basically have a flat line, a death rattle, from Clinton to 2022,” he says.
Wasserman cites other historians, such as William Appleman Williams (The outlines of American history), Oswald Spengler (Decline of the West), and Quaker Staughton Lynd, ninety-two, as having influenced his cyclical view of history. Another prominent historian who had an impact on Wasserman’s worldview was renowned author Professor Howard Zinn, who “In remaking our view of the founding of this nation and the nature of our class relations , race, and gender, Howard has framed how the spiral of people portrays our American history.”
He adds: “In shaking up our understanding of American imperial foreign policy and reassessing the cycles that punctuate our history, William A. Williams joined Howard Zinn in making the spiral what it is.
However The popular spiral has a certain levity, it looks at the evolution of the United States from the point of view of the “wretched of the Earth”, Quotation Frantz Fanon – not from the point of view of the exploiters who have generally been glorified in textbooks. For Wasserman, “American exceptionalism” is the “imperial superiority complex” justifying “the conquest of the world”.
Amid the “Trumpocalypse” that Wasserman said was the harbinger of a brewing civil war, The popular spiralThe final chapters examine what might come next.
“Democracy is in great danger,” says Wasserman. “The Republican Party, as it stands today, is unprecedented in our history, it is an outright fascist party. The real reason we are on the verge of autocracy is the absolute weakness of the Democratic Party. . . . If we don’t change the technology that gives us our food and our energy, our species is doomed.
Find Harvey Wasserman’s book The Popular Spiral of US History here.