Marx in the Classroom

The next two weeks of my AP European History syllabus and AP US History syllabus are filled with discussion sets and readings about class conflict. Next week both sections of European History are presenting seminar papers on Jacques Barzun’s book Darwin, Marx, and Wagner. Today in US History we are addressing the plight of the working class and their insecurities. Without strong unions to worry about at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century, an employer could let any worker go for joining a union or speaking against his/her employer. Essentially, Gilded Age corporations worked hard to inculcate a process of class subordination. Furthermore, the government’s marriage to corporations only furthered a model of class conflict and animosity.marx-bio.jpg (9551 bytes)

As part of US History’s reading syllabus this term, students are required to read The Communist Manifesto (cartoon version link here). Karl Marx’s Four Modes of Production marks a shift in human behavior. Once humans reach stage three, they empower a strong government to regulate their lives and create a sense of social and economic equality. Then, according to Marx, humans naturally progress to stage four: Communism; it is at this point Marx’s model fades into a state of disillusionment. Here he contends that after a proletariat revolution brings about a socialistic/ communistic change, government will wither away. Marxism failed to find a place in the United States and for the most part England due to the late activity of the government. 1900 to 1920 was a “progressive” period when the US government adopted many of the socialist ideas of the Populist Party. Fearing Communism after the Bolshevik Revolution, the US government clamped down on un-American perspectives as early as 1920.

In the 19th century a number of social critics in England, continental Europe, and the US came to fix their attention on the nature of work. They “slowly” realized that factories and machines degraded the status of workers, denying them any joy at life. Government’s reaction to this in the US kept strong elements of Marxism out. Marx called for the proletarians to unite. In England and the US they did by formulating unions.

Terms such as socialist and Marxist are often used synonymously, much to the bitterness of non-Marxist socialist. As a member of Democratic Socialist of America, my major aim is to address matters of racial inequality, as well as political and economic. Marxism in academic circles has been victorious; however, not on the political stage. It will be interesting to see how students feel about terms they have only heard used incorrectly by the misinformed.


7 thoughts on “Marx in the Classroom

  1. I also think there is that early Puritan influence that shaped American religious culture and capitalism. Though Weber was German, he clearly had America in mind when reflecting on religious values and the growth of capitalism.

  2. After reading a little of Marx, Goldman, and readings on the Pullman, Homestead, and Haymarket riots/strikes my ideas of Marx and socialism have changed from a fairly narrow view that “Communists are Evil” to a more liberal sense of the situation. I grew up thinking communists were the root of all evil, and that capitalists were good, but when you actually sit down and read excerpts of the Manifesto and works by Goldman on Anarchy it kind of changes the views. Marxism is not the spawn of evil, it’s an intellectual ideology that aims for a classless society, a “utopia” of sorts written by Plato in his work ‘Republic’ and in ‘Utopia’ by Thomas More. I say that not through a completely intellectual and educated answer that shows I have read those works, I say that because my understanding of utopia is an ideal society, and Marx in his Manifesto is speaking of an ideal society for all men. Continuing on, another book I HAVE read by Wilbur Smith, a historical fiction writer who writes about ‘swashbuckling’ adventures (as reviews and critics call it) in Africa, actually touched on the topic of leftist thinking and Marx in government. The setting of it was in a rally where speakers came to talk and after the rally there was an upheaval where the leftist movement attempted to influence the South African Parliament to do something, I don’t remember what, by marching onto the building. They were repelled and soon as military force was shown a majority ran and scattered. In the chaos gangs started to loot and steal and used the leftist movement as cover, making the leftists appear like wrongdoers which seems to be the idea in capitalist societies of the era the book was set in (pre-WW2). A majority of those in the crowd were also, as Wilbur Smith writes, blacks, members of the Socialist party (as in they had membership cards), and populist activists. I believe from what I understand that Leftist movements like Marxism and other kinds of Socialism are purely academical as made by governments that fear it and crowds that use the Leftists as scapegoats. By saying this I don’t mean to be a Marxist myself, I believe it’s a misunderstood ideology that could work only if every piece of the system works. An unlikely situation in an uncompromising world.

  3. The last words of the clip:

    “The openly declare that their aims can only be declared by the forceful overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The Proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains, they have a world to win. Workers of all countries unite.”

    That keeps me up at night…

    I need to go read some Ayn Rand so I’ll be able to fall asleep.

  4. Hey Walker,
    Remember how the Marxist taught about conflict between the classes and use this teaching as a means to start rebellions. I worded that really poorly.
    Reminds me of Carson. Maybe he is planning a revolution. You never know.

  5. Walker,
    We need to hold de-Carsonologyization classes after school. It is amazing how easily kids in our class accept Carson’s BS as truth.

  6. Carson already has an environment group or some liberal hooblah planned. I say we picket that bad boy so they can’t accomplish anything.

    And I’ve always thought Marx would make a great Santa Claus…

  7. Pingback: Marxist Courses | The Professor

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