I have become, by default, the family archivist, and so it is that my big sister, sifting through a lifetime of accumulated papers, from time to time puts together a little bundle and sends it to me. The latest packet included a tearsheet from the May 29, 1985 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education containing a portion of a long interview I gave to them on the occasion of the publication of Understanding Marx, my first book on the thought of Karl Marx. Barbara did not have the entire interview, and I have absolutely no recollection of having given it, but when I read again what is on the sheet, I was touched and saddened by my effusions of optimism. I had just completed a decade of intense study of the new mathematical reinterpretation of Classical and Marxian political economy published by sophisticated left economists around the world in the’60s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s. Here are some lines from the interview to give you a sense of my boundless enthusiasm for this new development.
“Although I don’t for a moment imagine that political movements start in somebody’s head, with a theory, I think that theories are an important part of political movements. There comes a point when a political movement – or a possible political movement – needs theoretical tools to direct itself, and that’s starting to happen…. I have a keen sense of my own limitations and I don’t for a moment imagine that I’m capable of doing serious, theoretically innovative work in economic.” [Mr. Wolff] sees himself as “a kind of cheerleader” for all the scholars engaged in the mathematical reinterpretation of Marx. “I’m in favor of all of them and I’m delighted when they do this stuff because it’s marvelous and exciting…. Until I got involved in this stuff, I never showed my work to other people. Now I have a sense of myself as being part of an enterprise that’s larger than myself…’ Summing up the shift in the course of his career, [Mr. Wolff] said, “it was like being reborn.”
OH! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!
[William Wordsworth, 1805, on the French Revolution]