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Is Marx Dead?

In response to:

What's Left of Marx? from the November 21, 1985 issue

To the Editors:

Permit me to remind your readers that neither Mr. Walzer nor Mr. Elster seem to be aware [NYR, November 21, 1985] that their elders had important and thoughtful things to say about the significance of Karl Marx.

Without providing them with a bibliography (I assume that Stanford, Oslo and Chicago have somehow managed to acquire the Library of Congress listings), I dare to suggest two items:

  1. Joseph A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, Oxford University Press, New York, 1954.

  2. G.D.H. Cole, What Marx Really Meant, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1934.

It is fascinating to learn that Marx was wrong, but that he was right; but we would prefer to claim his insights as our own. Now if you want seriously to make such a claim then you might begin with James Madison’s Federalist Paper No. 10. (And others in that collection of essays.)

The cottage industry of dismissing Marx has become one of the growth sectors of American academia. To make a bit of a joke: it all goes to prove that Marx was wrong—the superstructure does now and again determine the base.

Wm. A. Williams

Corvallis, Oregon

Michael Walzer replies:

I think that Professor Williams’s metaphor is wrong. Books and articles on Marx are coming out at a pace that suggests an academic assembly line. Some of them are critical, to be sure, but many are sympathetic—interpretations and reconstructions of Marxist arguments designed to make them available to new generations of social scientists and philosophers. Many of the authors are Marxists, if only academic Marxists: there can’t ever before this historical moment have been so many of that breed. Professor Williams would do well to read them before dismissing them, and Elster’s book, which takes Marx very seriously, would be a good place to start.

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