Howard Zinn’s most famous work, A People's History of the United States, is consistent with the historian’s long-held perspective as to whether the American Civil War ended the division between capital and labor. The short response is definitely not. The entire book purports to be a more socialist rendition of American history that differs substantially from the traditional perspectives favored by historians and long accepted by the American public.
The answer to the question posed is dealt with primarily in chapter 10, entitled “The Other Civil War.” Much of the chapter is devoted to the historical happenings leading up to the post-war period. Citing Morton Horwitz and The Transformation of American Law, Zinn states:
“In the thirty years leading up to the Civil War, the law was increasingly interpreted in the courts to suit the capitalist development of the country.”
He argues that socialism is a healthy, viable solution to the economic disparity between the rich and poor, which was intentionally hidden from the populace during the post-war years.
Zinn asserts that rich politicians and wealthy people corrupted the American government. They suppressed the opinions of the poor and disenfranchised, women, former slaves, Native Americans, and other groups that attempted to change the political climate. He provides numerous examples of the schism between capital and labor. For example, he states,
“That contract law was intended to discriminate against working people and for business is shown by Horwitz in the following example of the early nineteenth century: the courts said that if a worker signed a contract to work for a year, and left before the year was up, he was not entitled to any wages, even for the time he had worked. But the courts at the same time said that if a building business broke a contract, it was entitled to be paid for whatever had been done up to that point.”
In his view, the double-standard perpetuated the separation between the captains of industry and the labor forces long after the Civil War ended. Zinn states:
“It was a time when the law did not even pretend to protect working people—as it would in the next century.”
Citing Horwitz once again, Zinn writes with emphasis:
“By the middle of the nineteenth century the legal system had been reshaped to the advantage of men of commerce and industry at the expense of farmers, workers, consumers, and other less powerful groups within the society. ... it actively promoted a legal redistribution of wealth against the weakest groups in the society.”
Zinn favored socialism as the solution. He points out that by 1877, black people in America had neither sufficient unity nor enough capability and influence “to defeat the combination of private capital and government power.”
His cynical and controversial positions, including praising communism as a political ideology more inclined to help the poor and downtrodden than American capitalism, expose Zinn’s ideology and his belief that the growing division between capital and labor did not effectively end with the Civil War.