[Marxism] Working Class Studies/Working Class Academics

Mark Lause MLause at cinci.rr.com
Sun Nov 6 21:06:52 MST 2005

There are serious radicals in these fields.  We generally know each
other and collaborate on things.

We might be agreed, but I want to caution against the entire terminology
of "a caucus" in a profession.  By definition, a caucus exists as a
coherent body within a larger body seeking to persuade the latter of a
perspective.  (The term itself usually gets applied to trade union
work.)  That is pretty much pointless for a variety of reasons.  There
are rarely mechanisms within an entire discipline to function as a

When there are, the chances are that you won't get much of a fair
opportunity to make your case.  When you can make your case, you can be
overwhelmed by the opposition.  I'm sure almost every academic on this
list who let it be known that they opposed the election of John Kerry
heard the same inane arguments that every other critic of the two-party
capitalist political order got in every other venue--only we heard an
even greater proportion of it...because academics are, in the end,
relatively more privileged and accordingly predisposed to greater
conservatism. (Frankly, what I've seen of their ability to look out for
their own interests on the level of basic unionism is iffy enough.)

Worse, they can announce that they agree with you--which almost always
means they are misunderstanding you, deliberately or not.  This means
that the next thing you know they're wearing beanies with "Marxist"
across the front but propellers on the top.

Despite all this, there are clearly areas in which the Left seems to
have won the debate.  As an outstanding example of this, I'd cite the
American Civil War.  This is partly because you've had really good
people in the field like Eric Foner went into the area but, much more
interestingly, because the ideas for which we have argued over many
years proved so compelling and explain so much.  When you read James
McPherson's BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM, for example, you are reading what
most scholars in the field would treat as points of consensus among us,
but there's very little major in it to which a serious Marxist would
object.  In such cases, though, there's almost invariably a great
disconnect between the way academics talk about the Civil War and the
bang-bang-shoot-'em-up focus of how it is perceived in the wider

I see the most useful kind of things we can do as groups within our
professions as things like Historians Against the War.  When you're
talking politics in academe, the best way to face is towards the
outside, the wider society....

But that's just been my experience over the last 30+ years of it...

Mark L.

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