Marxist Courses

Below is an exchange between myself and a former student on a Marxist Theory course she is taking at UT Austin. After our exchange, I started thinking about how many schools offer such courses. I know most courses subscribe to a broader topic, such as 19th Century German Philosophy. I get to teach a great deal of this stuff in most of my courses, but especially in my AP European History class. I came across this exchange via a message forum regarding courses on Marxism. Though I have a point of view, and one from being well read, I am a bit suspicious of anyone who might place Marx in the same category as Hitler. I mean, Marx’s ideas were transformative, but in the end, they did not live up to his expectations. And how could they. You are talking about a concept that works against the human will and desire; I will say that his model has been used in an academic setting to promote some discourse, in matters regarding societal inequalities: racism, sexism, jingoism, etc. I suspect Warner Todd Huston has confused Marx’s ideas with that of Marxist-Leninism. It seems that misinformed people do that. You can read his post in its entirety regarding colleges teaching Marx here. Just to be clear, he is not wholly inaccurate in all of his claims. I find the topic too narrow; however, if you throw in how it has impacted post-modernism and religion, then I would be interested.

Warner Todd Huston states that Marxism is problematic in his column Amherst College:Should Marxism be Given Another Look….

Marx has proven an utter failure through every manner of implementation of his ideas on both large and small-scale and does not behoove the time spent on him as a legitimate course of study unless it is as an adjunct to political science or history, and then only as a negative example therein.

Marx deserves nothing but the contempt of everyone. And our universities don’t deserve much better for their slavish love for this murderous, beast at this rate.

Yes, he should be taught. But he deserves to be placed as the worst human being in human history. Worse than Hitler, worse then Stalin, even worse then Torquemada.

Exchange with former student:

From former student:

So I’m taking a class on Marxist philosophical/social theory this semester. It made me think of you and the amazing times that took place sophomore year. I miss you lots, hope everything is going well 🙂

From Carson:

You need to swing by campus and visit with me about your course on Marxist Theory. I have read so much about him, but little of what he actually wrote. Maybe Houston Christian will let me teach a course on Marxist Theory. And think, folks still think he based his entire theory on the emergence of the Soviet Union. Yes, I laugh at folks everyday. Come see me.

From former student:

Haha yes, my professor said something along the same lines about the lack of anything Russian in this course, whether it be the Revolution or the Soviet Union, so I’m pretty excited to delve into his writings. Next time I’m in Houston I’ll stop by, but seeing as it will probably be on a weekend, we might have to get coffee or lunch somewhere 🙂


8 thoughts on “Marxist Courses

  1. I like your idea of a Marxist theory course at HCHS, but I think I have a better idea considering the atmosphere there (need I explain?).

    A course that raises comparisons of core concepts and intentions between multiple economic models is …preferable because while you are teaching Marx, that’s all well and good, but teaching Marx alongside a concept a student may be less biased against (i.e. Smith capitalism) would bring in more students. Let me explain. My first year course at Macalester, “Work, Wealth, and Well-being,” discussed Marx (and I mean Marx, not Marxist-Leninism) in basic detail alongside Adam Smith’s root capitalism and more contemporary labor and economic models/theories (i.e. Robert Edwards’ “Contested Terrain” on various forms of labor & separate case studies on Thai laborers). Such a course helped to put Marxism in a more objective frame of mind, as one of many systems rather than THE system of issue.

    “And think, folks still think he based his entire theory on the emergence of the Soviet Union. Yes, I laugh at folks everyday.”
    I know what you mean, and not even on this subject all the time. More often I get asked about Islam (i.e. veiling) or on ethanol and other energy issues.

  2. The quote you list from Huston’s article sums it up quite nicely. I couldn’t have said it any better. Additionally, if I was paying $17k+ a year to send a child to HCHS, it would be precisely to not have course options on Marxist Theory available.

  3. Brandon — you really think Marx had millions of people killed? I am assuming you have read a great deal on this topic to agree with Mr. Huston. We would never offer such a course, nor would I want to teach it. Now, one in 19th century intellectual ideas, I am on that.

    Courses in sociology spend a great deal of time linking his concepts to modern that problems. Price tag of an education should never be the point. Exposure to “ideas” is what is key in any good academic institution, regardless of ideology. I am sure you would agree with that.

  4. Exposure to ideas is certainly not a bad thing. And while the price tag of an education isn’t the point, it is certainly a very important factor and cannot be disregarded, unless one is very wealthy and the cost really is no object. And even if it is no object, the value for the money should still be taken into account. Students need to develop the critical thinking skills that help them separate good ideas from bad ideas. The problem lies in the veneration of Marx and his ideology and the continued pursuit among the universities and academics to make his failed and destructive ideas relevant.

    The quote from Huston conveys it quite nicely:

    “Marx has proven an utter failure through every manner of implementation of his ideas on both large and small-scale and does not behoove the time spent on him as a legitimate course of study unless it is as an adjunct to political science or history, and then only as a negative example therein.”

    It is not that Marx should never be discussed again, but that he needs to be discussed in the proper context. Ideas are powerful and have consequences. And Marx’s ideas, and the pursuit of those ideas, are reflected in much of the blood-stained history of the totalitarian ambitions of the 20th century.

  5. Very good point, Brandon. I really cannot argue against what you stated; I guess I also should have stated that academic disciplines are shifting their approach toward this particular way of thinking; it was the most influential model of the 20th century; it failed to see the 21st century.

    I am curious, how might you define the proper context? I present it from a school of thought vis-a-vis class conflict. Thus, much of my discourse on this matter revolves around class and the Industrial Revolution.

  6. I would say the proper context would be along the lines of what you mentioned in your post – 19th Century German Philosophy/19th Century Intellectual Ideas. An entire course dedicated solely to Marxist theory lends far to much credence to his ideas, especially since, as you aptly pointed out – You are talking about a concept that works against the human will and desire.

    Thanks as well for pointing out the shifting approach. That aspect had crossed my mind as well. While I am sure that we would not see eye-to-eye on class conflict, I certainly agree that your approach to discourse on the matter does seem most appropriate in the context of the Industrial Revolution.

  7. I big fear is that too many teachers dumb down this topic. They focus on Russia or the Russian Revolution or the Cold War. I was playing around on the net seeing what folks are teaching when I crossed this page.
    Thank god Carson you are not the norm when teaching real topic such as this and other stuff. This fluffy conversation here is too simple. People do not get it.

  8. Having read the article, and, subsequently, the discourse between both you and Brandon, I would like to add a further dimension that seems to be presenting itself, and as you Edward yourself might offer an opinion on (given your statement revolving classes, not the Marxist C, in the context of conflict though in the framework, if I read this correctly, of Marx) the use of framing a seemingly neutral topic, specific maybe, (as in your own instruction on conflict) or class in the structure of the Marxist ideal and/or interpretation. And to be forthright in my opinion, usually detrimentally to the course, student, and school. I myself have seen graduate courses in history waylaid by professors hell-bent on teaching entire classes based around a Marxist understanding of history. …History flows towards the progress a greater utopia (the argument, constructed to look like a real argument, has the presupposition of loss since the construction was already based on its own bias) “and this is how we should view our understanding of history”, etc… All surrounding Marxist theory. So as to be sure I am adequately understood to represent a main-stream contemporary schooling I will say, though I won’t for my own anonymity give the name, that I am attending a tier one school near the top of the usual national rankings. So, my question is thus- should a graduate course designed to teach Masters and PhD students the methods of viewing and studying history, sociology and anthropology be done in the strict paradigm of Marxism? Do you think this is appropriate?

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