Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Friday, May 29, 2015

ONE LAST COMMENT ON ALL THOSE BOOKS


I should like to add one final comment, in the form of a story, on the rather wide-ranging discussion that has taken place on this blog about the desirability of reading Hume or Kant or Descartes if you are a dedicated Marxist.  This story is somewhat tangential, but I think it may add something to the discussion.  The following passage comes from the book I wrote about my grandparents, Barnet and Ella Wolff, my father’s parents.  The central character, Abe Shiplacoff, was my grandfather’s close friend and comrade.  Together, they created the Brooklyn branch of the Socialist Party in the first decade of the twentieth century.  Here is the story:

 
Shiplacoff was a little man with a pinched face and a rather unimposing presence, very much in contrast with Barney, who was a big, barrel-chested man with a booming voice.  But more than any other single person, he can be credited with creating the socialist movement in the Brownsville area of Brooklyn, and leading it to its greatest electoral triumphs in 1917. Looking for background material on Shiplacoff, I stumbled on the following story in a review by John Patrick Diggins of Bertram Wolfe’s autobiography, A Life in Two Centuries. Wolfe is a well-known expert on Soviet Russia and twentieth century communist movements.  I include it here because it seems to me to capture perfectly both the strengths and the weaknesses of the generation of socialist leaders to which Abe Shiplacoff and Barney belonged. The young Bertram Wolfe apparently debated against Shiplacoff, at the Labor Lyceum, over the split in the party produced by the Third International.  The issue was whether dictatorial tactics should replace the democratic procedures of the American Socialist Party. After the debate, Diggins says, “the two adversaries resumed their discussion in a local cafe.”  There then appears this passage quoted from Wolfe’s book:

 “There was an embarrassed silence until Shiplacoff burst into tears.  ‘I have worked so hard all my life,’ he said, ‘for our party and for the labor movement, that I have never had the time to read all those books by Marx and Engels that you have read.’  Then he wept on in silence.  Suddenly, I felt sympathy for him, and more than a little shame, for I had not read ‘all those books’ either.  Moreover, for the first time I understood how much men like
Shiplacoff had given to building the party that my colleagues and I, mostly youngsters, were now tearing apart.  I did not know what to say: we both left our cake and coffee unfinished, but I never forgot the episode.  I began to feel more charitable toward the old-timers whose work we were helping to destroy.  Though I continued to use quotations, I could no longer summon up the scorn with which I had read them to that Brownsville Labor Lyceum meeting.”

I can only comment that I have read ‘all those books,’ and in them you will not find an adequate justification for replacing democratic procedures with dictatorial tactics.  Shiplacoff,
Barney, and the other ‘old-timers’ understood Marx and Engels quite as well as necessary to
devote their lives to building a working-class movement.  Would that Bertram Wolfe had done as much!

 

3 comments:

Lounger said...

Perfect anecdote and antidote.

classtruggle said...

We salute all heroes and heroines of the working class. Their efforts in promoting the struggles of the working class will never be forgotten and their example continues to inspire succeeding generations of socialists and communists around the world. On the whole, the working class has fine traditions of democratic and revolutionary struggle, and the young generation of working class activists have adopted these traditions from the older generation (particularly those educated by Communist Parties), who were talented but very underprivileged. The struggle continues!

formerly a wage slave said...

And, more generally, there is that largest portion of humanity who haven't read the books or attended the schools or gotten the "right" background to allow them to express their genuine hopes and fears about the condition of the world--to speak and be listened to--the majority of the world who get beaten down on account of the books they haven't read or the titles they haven't earned. The world is a sad place.