[Marxism] Harper's publisher invokes Marx in faux commencement speech to Columbia grads

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 16 11:11:11 MDT 2012


Columbia College Class Day Keynote Speech

By John R. MacArthur

President Bollinger, Provost Coatsworth, Vice President Dirks, 
Dean Valentini, members of the class of 2012 and their parents, 
honored guests.

I realize that many among you are disappointed that I am not the 
president of the United States. I want you to know that I share 
your disappointment.

There was a time when I harbored ambitions of becoming 
president—to fulfill the dream shared by so many young 
Americans—so that I might leave my mark on history, bring peace 
where there was war, free the unjustly imprisoned, outmaneuver the 
leaders of other great nations, bask in the admiration and 
affection of my fellow citizens, and have my pick of college and 
university commencement venues.

But then came a moment of profound disillusionment, a day of 
reckoning that changed the course of my life. It was sometime in 
the spring of 1975, late at night, and I was seated in the 
basement lounge of Carman Hall, studying for my second round of 
final exams as a Columbia College freshman. I was wrestling with a 
book—The Marx–Engels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker—but to be 
more precise I was wrestling with a particular text within the 
anthology: Part I of The German Ideology, which Karl Marx 
apparently wrote alone, without the help of his collaborator 
Friedrich Engels.

At eighteen years of age, with the Cold War still very much in 
play, I was certainly aware of Marx’s significance in history and 
contemporary politics. I also knew from Joseph Rothschild, my 
wonderful, cheerfully intimidating Contemporary Civilization 
professor from the previous semester, that I had better pay close 
attention to texts written by Germans. Rothschild was a Jewish 
refugee from Hitler’s Germany, and he understood quite viscerally 
the power of words written in German, even German translated into 
English. So I was trying, really trying to understand, but The 
German Ideology, Part I, was more than I had bargained for. For 
those of you who have read it, I don’t have to explain that this 
wasn’t one of Marx’s greatest hits. All those references to Young 
Hegelians, Old Hegelians (there didn’t seem to be any middle-aged 
Hegelians)—I had to keep referring back to Tucker’s introduction 
to reassure myself that this really was the best way to understand 
the development of Marx’s “ materialist conception of history.” 
Not even published until 1932, this text, Tucker explained, was, 
and I quote, “particularly valuable and important to the student 
of Marxist thought because Marx never again set down a 
comprehensive statement of his theory of history at such length 
and in such detail.” Be that as it may, there was no relief from 
Marx’s bulky prose: I had to face his text alone, if not exactly 
man to man, then callow man to great man. And I found myself wanting.

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