Yesterday afternoon, I spend three hours at Duke University discussing my paper, A Unified Reading of Marx, with twenty-five faculty and graduate students from four or five different departments. It was an extremely enjoyable experience for me [they were, after all, talking about my work -- how could it be otherwise?] The only drawback, from my point of view, was that by prior agreement everyone left after three hours. I mean, I had not even told a tenth of the stories I wanted to tell, and with a glass of wine, provided by Professor Michael Gillespie, the organizer of the event, I was ready to go another three hours.
There were a great many good questions and comments, including several from my old students, Allan Buchanan and Alexander Rosenberg, now unaccountably senior members of the Philosophy Department [how did that happen so fast?], but the most interesting comment, to my mind, came from Darren Beattie, a graduate student. [I think I found it the most interesting because Beattie suggested something that had never occurred to me before, and that does not happen to me very often after almost sixty years at this game.]
Some of you may have read my essay, "The Future of Socialism" [archived at box.net], in which I observe that Marx failed to foresee the continuing ethnic, racial, religious, and nationalist sentiments that divide the working class and impede solidarity. Beattie reminded us all that in the several generations after World War II, while working class solidarity in the United States has frayed and dissipated, a series of liberation movements have taken the place of economic mobilization on the left -- the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Liberation Movement, the LGBT Liberation Movement, among others. Perhaps, he suggested, these movements will dissolve the forces separating segments of the working class from one another and thus prepare the way for a rebirth of a mass movement of the dispossessed [I hope I am capturing his idea correctly.]
Now, those who know me are aware that I am an incurable optimist, a Tigger rather than an Eeyore. If there is even a drop in the glass, I am prepared to declare it half full. I have been dismayed for decades by the substitution of cultural liberation movements for serious economic attacks on capitalism, viewing them as merely perfections of the capitalist labor market rather than challenges to capitalism. If Darrin Beattie is right, perhaps I have reason to hope. As I say, it only takes a drop in the glass for me to see it as half full, if not on the brink of overflowing.
All in all, a splendid event. I hope I don't have to wait eighty more years for another!