[Marxism] Indian Marxists pay tribute to Harry Magdoff

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jan 25 07:54:03 MST 2006

On an academic visit to the US, I met Harry and Beadie in September 2000 at 
their home in New York. Beadie was full of warmth and good humour, and, I 
might add, a motherly concern for me. And Harry. Here was a Marxist 
intellectual very unlike those I have met, modest and devoid of the 
arrogance characteristic of some sections of the left. He spoke with warmth 
about his friendships and his interactions with people during his visits to 
India. But one thing that startled him was "the aristocratic disdain for 
manual labour by intellectuals and professionals". I had attributed this to 
the caste system. He responded: "even when there isn't the precision of the 
caste system, other social formations and other ideologies bring similar 
results. One finds the separation of head and hand in ancient Greece, when 
slaves were the manual workers, and throughout the third world".

The widening of the gap between a handful of rich nations and the rest of 
the world, as also the incredibly uneven distribution of the productive 
forces, including technology, was of great concern to him. In a note on the 
occasion of the 150th anniversary of The Communist Manifesto he wrote: ".in 
view of the way capitalism has spread throughout the world as well as in 
the most advanced nations of the world, it is essential that the vision of 
socialism focus on a social transformation which will put first and 
foremost: the empowerment and meeting the basic needs of the poorest, the 
most oppressed, and disadvantaged." It must be added, for Harry, the 
qualification democratic as in "democratic socialism" was redundant; that 
which is not democratic cannot be socialist. My impression of Harry 
gathered from this lovely afternoon in September 2000 with the Magdoffs was 
that of a great teacher. As the conversation drifted to the New York 
Marxist School, I could visualise Harry, in the twilight of his life, 
gently helping the younger generation - those for whom the morning had just 
dawned, resplendent himself like the sun at that time of the day - 
understand what has happened up to now and what may be needed if humanity 
is to survive and create a decent future.

The short 20th century ended with the defeat of the opposition to the rule 
of capital. That opposition had many weaknesses and was internally divided; 
moreover, capital was very strong. It has been a devastating defeat, but 
this is not the "end of history"; the conditions that gave rise to an 
opposition continue to exist, which guarantees that the opposition to 
capital will stage a comeback as newer generations of the dominated, 
exploited and oppressed, and intellectuals, like Harry, who cannot remain 
unmoved take their side, both taking the place of those who die or retire.

In an interview published in the 50th anniversary issue of MR in May 1999, 
in response to a question from Christopher Phelps "What keeps you going?" 
Harry said: ". I can't be any other way. I have to believe that there can 
be a better world". Harry Magdoff did his best and hoped for the best, 
right to the very end. We will miss him.




More information about the Marxism mailing list