While most textbooks are written from the colonizer’s perspective, “The People’s Spiral of U.S. History” is instead informed by the roles of Indigenous people and women.
At a time when textbooks are being probed by conservatives anxious about issues ranging from gender to race, Harvey Wasserman emphasizes the roles Indigenous people and women have played in shaping this country in his new book The People’s Spiral of U.S. History.“The greatest misconception about American history is that the Indigenous people have had no impact on our history, when in fact they were here for 20,000 years [and] had an extremely advanced culture,” Wasserman tells The Progressive. “None of our history books really deal with the impact of the theft of the Indigenous society on American culture.”Screen Shot 2022-06-02 at 8.54.25 AM.png Yet, Wasserman says, Indigenous cultures and histories are largely absent in high school history classes, perhaps the “number one void in all of American historiography.” He cites the importance of the Native matriarchy plus “the Iroquois Confederacy, the Five Nations of Haudenosaunee, which ruled much of northeastern North America/Turtle Island centuries before the Declaration of Independence.”Putting a radical new spin on America’s “Cowboys and Indians” mythology Wasserman insists: “The Iroquois Confederacy was far more democratic than ancient Athens. The Europeans came here and confronted this very advanced democracy,” which agitated Westerners used to the hierarchical rule of divine right monarchies.Wasserman also shines a light on the left, calling Socialist Party presidential contender Eugene V. Debs his “favorite American politician.” Wasserman, who describes himself as a “social democrat,” says he considers Senator Bernie Sanders to be the contemporary counterpart of Debs.Concerned that his book would “be burned” before being “picked up” as a text for schools, Wasserman says: “I want this book to change, from the bottom up, how people do American history. The dialectic [is] between the Indigenous—who are never given any credit—and the Puritans, who were absolutely horrible. If you really want to understand the current rightwing culture, you have to start with the Puritans in 1630s Boston. I’ve had this spiral theory for fifty years—it’s a really easy way to teach and understand history.”Screen Shot 2022-06-02 at 8.54.46 AM.pngCreative CommonsHarvey WassermanWasserman envisions U.S. history as recurring “spirals” pitting the Puritan against the Indigenous ethos. There are, he argues, six cycles that get regularly shorter: “Infant Empire” from 1688-1828; “Manifest Adolescence” from 1828-1896; “Bully Manhood” from 1896-1932; “Full Adulthood” from 1932-1960; “Mid-Life Crisis” from 1960-1976; and “Imperial Senility” from 1976-1992. “After that, we basically have a flatline, a death rattle, from Clinton to 2022,” he says.Wasserman cites other historians, such as William Appleman Williams (The Contours of American History), Oswald Spengler (Decline of the West), and ninety-two-year-old Quaker Staughton Lynd as influencing his cyclical conception of history. Another prominent historian who impacted Wasserman’s worldview was renowned author Professor Howard Zinn, who “By remaking our view of the founding of this nation and the nature of our class, race and gender relations, Howard framed how the people’s spiral portrays our American story.”He adds, “By upending our understanding of America’s imperial foreign policy, and by reevaluating the cycles that set the rhythms of our story, William A. Williams joined Howard Zinn in making the spiral what it is.” Though The People’s Spiral has some levity, it looks at the evolution of the United States from the vantage point of the “wretched of the Earth,” to quote Frantz Fanon—not from the perspective of the exploiters who have usually been glorified in textbooks. For Wasserman, “American exceptionalism” is the “empire’s superiority complex” justifying “conquering the world.” Amid the “Trumpocalypse” that Wasserman says has been the harbinger of a fermenting civil war, The People’s Spiral’s closing chapters take a look at what could come next.“Democracy is in tremendous danger,” Wasserman says. “The Republican Party, as it stands today, is unprecedented in our history, it’s an outright fascist party. The real reason we’re on the brink of autocracy is the absolute feebleness of the Democratic Party. . . . If we don’t change the technology that gives us our food and energy, our species is doomed.”Find Harvey Wasserman’s book The People’s Spiral of U.S. History here.