[Marxism] A Jacobin piece on Genovese

Wythe Holt jr. wholt at law.ua.edu
Thu Oct 4 07:32:55 MDT 2012

My debt as a graduate student to Gene Genovese is great.  

I was in a peculiar set of positions in the 1970s, publishing legal history in order to prevent my perishing (and then, after tenure, to prevent my being zeroed out on raises) while teaching in the law school at the University of Alabama and attempting to get my PhD from the history department at the University of Virginia.  If this weren't enough difficulty, I was also transitioning from the mainstream liberal I had been reared (in almost-feudal Tidewater Virginia) to Marxism.  I had received the benefit of no Marxist (or even good leftwing) teaching in college, of course having none in law school, and when I went back to graduate school all of the instruction (and companionship) was resolutely mainstream -- meaning, skeptical of and increasingly antagonistic to Marx and a Marxist approach.  I did enjoy a year of post-law school courses at Harvard in 1975-76, where I hungrily audited the lectures of every Marxist course I could find that would admit me as an auditor (a grand total of three -- only one of the teachers of which got tenure at Harvard, and she seemed to me to be backing down from a Marxist viewpoint), but when it came to obtaining help on my dissertation, I had few places to turn.  In addition, my colleagues and the administration at Alabama were increasingly vicious, hostile, and antagonistic to me.  Two faculty "colleagues" volunteered to me frankly that, had they known I was going to become a Marxist, they would have voted against me for tenure.

Gene was at Emory when I took a desperate shot in the dark and wrote to him (from Alabama) for assistance.  He generously and immediately took up the challenge.  He very soon gave me a thorough, detailed, and valuable chapter-by-chapter reading of a draft of my dissertation, which helped enormously in my development as a writer, a scholar, and especially a Marxist.  He invited me over to Atlanta -- the wonderful hospitality also spoken of in the article which praises his undergrad teaching and is appended here -- several times, where I enjoyed good conversation, good meals, and pleasant and kindly but focused and militant attention to my intellectual and sociopolitical growth.  He introduced me to several fellow travelers.  Amid all the hostility he helped me to feel and seem "real," gave me the epitome of fine comradeship, and soon was talking with some of the members of the Virginia history faculty in support of what was, to them, an alien and somewhat frightening manuscript.  My last visit to Gene in Atlanta was to enjoy a victory meal in honor of my finally achieving the doctorate.

Yes, Gene was a very complicated and difficult person.  Yes, he was a sort of egomaniacal tyrant who was ALWAYS correct.  Yes, he always admired aristocrats (perhaps part of why he was willing to help me, the scion of generations of racist Southern "farmers").  Yes, as another article on Gene notes, his views of class and class formation were truncated and unsophisticated.  I watched from a slight distance as the Alabama history faculty -- which had intentionally lurched to the right by simultaneously hiring libertarians Grady McWhiney and Forrest McDonald -- courted Gene to try to get this big fish to land in their small and very conservative pond, unsuccessfully as it turned out.  I sadly noted Gene's peregrination to the vicious far right.  But for me, when I needed him, he was a fine comrade and friend.  

In solidarity, Wythe 

-----Original Message-----
From: marxism-bounces+wholt=law.ua.edu at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu on behalf of Louis Proyect
Sent: Wed 10/3/2012 8:03 PM
To: Wythe Holt jr.
Subject: [Marxism] A Jacobin piece on Genovese
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