This is the second part of a blog piece I wrote earlier entitled The Marx Question Part I. Marxism derived from the philosophical and ideological construction of Karl Marx, a Prussian born Jew. Marx’s beliefs were brought forth when he concluded that the Industrial Revolution was manifested by the bourgeoisie to subordinate the laboring poor for the good of capitalism. Critical theorists have asserted that critical theory Marxism possesses a “moral vision of a world in which the barriers between human beings and constraints upon cooperation had broken down.” Part of Marx’s thinking was that once cooperation broke down, there would be a class struggle between the bourgeoisie and proletarians that would inevitably ignite a revolution; this revolution, according to Marx, would change society by creating a praxis state. Marxism has gone far beyond its 19th century communist premise. Marx’s analysis has been used to explain the problem of class conflict. Marxist academics explore the rise and subjugation of oppressed groups by those with the means and resources to exploit their labor. This premise has been used by historians and other academics to write and teach about modern day class conflict vis-a-vis historical analysis.
During the course of the 20th century, the emergence of Marxism as an academic philosophy in higher education set forth a new wave of examining American culture. It was during the Cold War and its sub conflicts (Vietnam), as well as the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that promulgated many academics to make an ideological shift to the far left. With social and political instability taking place in the United States, Marxist academics were training young students of history, political science, economics, etc., for an intellectual war; this conflict was set to transform the thought process in classes, lecture halls, professional meetings, and published works.
Because academia was dominated by white males who saw their plight as elite, other minority groups and women were excluded from various forms of higher education. With so many groups being silenced by early modern academics, the process of infiltration of Marx’s racialist ideology was slow to take hold in educational settings. Once white leftists academics bought into Marxist’s ideas of absolute political, social, and economic equality, the academy saw a transformation in the writings of history. The historiography became more about the elements of class conflict in society rather than about the story of the conflict. One of the biggest challenges Marxist and New Left academics faced was that of conservative academics, many who believed that the educational curriculum in America should reflect the Protestant tradition of Anglo thought. Of course such a traditionalist curriculum would exclude a number of oppressed voices.
Furthermore, conservative academics argue that academic Marxism and New Left historiography allows for too many minority groups to contribute un-American values to the educational curriculum. Academic conservatives claim that Marxist are only interested in teaching about the plight of oppressed women, blacks, American Indians, and the poor. On the other hand, Marxist academics have claimed that it has only been within the past 15 years that textbooks have reflected the plight of so many oppressed groups. One of my favorite academics, Howard Zinn, wrote his A People’s History of the United States to show another side of the story. In his work, Columbus is no longer a hero; he is a capitalist who stole and persecuted many native people.
I have found that too many Americans like the nice pretty story about American society and culture. We get caught up in the anecdotes that paint George Washington or Andrew Jackson as perfect Americans. Textbooks have taught our parents and their parents to believe the false tales for the good of nationalism. Marxist academics focus their time evaluating the tales so that they can write a history about Washington’s slaves. Marxism is much more complex than a story about Karl Marx who gave rise to a communist state once known as the Soviet Union. Its teachings provides a point of view that allows both students and teachers to engage in a sense of understanding about the social and economic conflict that shape modern day America.