[Marxism] Dirk Struik [ math/dialectics and HUAC]

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Sat May 14 15:12:49 MDT 2005

I will be posting some stuff written by the (now deceased) MIT 
mathematician Dirk Struik relevant to the thread on dialectics and 
math/Godel, particularly to some comments made by Carlos. i highly 
recommend Struik's: A Concise History of Mathematics, from which i will 
be posting selections soon. This text was copyrighted in 1948, meaning 
Struik wrote this material before HUAC. i will try to dig up one of the 
references i found on he web page below:

    G Alberts, On connecting socialism and mathematics : Dirk Struik,
    Jan Burgers, and Jan Tinbergen, Historia Math. 21 (3) (1994), 280-305.

In light of current pressure on leftists in academia, i thought there 
would be some interest in Struik's history. see the snippet below.

note too that MIT's own on-line history of Struik claims he was granted 
emeritus status:


contrary to the quoted material below.

Struik lived to the ripe age of 106. He was asked about his longevity:

    When asked what he had done to achieve such longevity he was given
    to retorting that he simply had not died. At other times he
    attributed it and his happiness to 3M: Marriage, Mathematics, and
    Marxism. "Mathematicians grow very old; it is a healthy profession.
    The reason you live long is that you have pleasant thoughts." Asked
    on his 100th birthday what he missed most, he replied: "My wife."

les schaffer

The years of World War II brought changes as Alberts notes in [1]:-

    During the war years much of the normal mathematical research
    activity at MIT came to a standstill. Some of the professors were
    involved in research for the military; others, including Struik,
    carried heavy teaching duties connected with the training of
    military personnel. Aside from this, Struik spent much of his time
    pursuing an entirely new research project: to study the origins of
    American science in their social and economic setting, a subject
    that had barely been touched on by historians before this time. Even
    more significantly, the dialectical-materialist approach Struik
    adopted towards this subject was unprecedented.

Struik's Marxist views, however, were bound to lead to trouble in the 
McCarthy era and indeed this is exactly what happened.

At first the McCarthy period was, as Struik put it:-

    ... half reminiscent of Nazi Germany, half of Alice in Wonderland.

In April 1949 he was accused by an F.B.I. informant. By July 1951 he was 
charged with being a member of the Communist Party and having taught 
Marxism. He was brought before the House Un-American Activities 
Committee and, on legal advice, invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused 
to answer each of over 200 questions that were put to him.

Struik was later indicted on charges and bail set at $1000 which was put 
up by friends who supported him. He was suspended from MIT, with salary, 
while he was indicted. Since there was no real evidence against Struik 
the case was not brought, but on the other hand it was not dropped until 
1955. During this period Struik concentrated on historical projects, 
having been prevented from teaching.

By late 1955 Struik was reinstated in his teaching duties and held these 
until 1960 when, at the age of 65, he had to retire. MIT refused him an 
Emeritus position and his attempts to find positions in other 
universities in the United States failed. He eventually accepted 
invitations from Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Utrecht. He turned his 
attention to a number of topics of special interest to him, in 
particular to promoting the history of the sciences, especially 
mathematics, in Latin America.

In [12] a former student at MIT described Struik's teaching:-

    He taught mathematics not as some esoteric mystery, but as practical
    common sense. And yet, at the same time he gave us a glimpse of the
    sheer beauty of it. It was at this time that I understood Edna St
    Vincent Millay's line "Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare".

from: http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Struik.html

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