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Of Marxism and Universities
By Bertell Ollman
The role of Marxism in universities is only slightly less obscure than the role of universities in Marxism, but perhaps some light can be shed on both subjects by examining Marx's little known response to an ancient Roman myth.
Cacus was a Roman mythological figure who stole oxen by dragging them backwards into his den so that the footprints made it appear they had gone out from there. After quoting Luther's account of the story, Marx exclaims, "an excellent picture, it fits the capitalist in general, who pretends that what he has taken from others and brought into his den emanates from him, and by causing it to go backwards, he gives it the semblance of having come from his den."
Capitalists present themselves as producers of wealth, providers of jobs, donors and public benefactors. The press (their press) usually refers to them as "industry." Is this an accurate description of who they are and what they do? What stands out clearly from the example of Cacus is that what Marx and Marxists call bourgeois ideology does not so much falsify the facts as misinterpret them so as to reverse what has taken place: The footprints are there for all to see, but if we limit ourselves to what is immediately apparent (the subject matter of "empirical" social science) we will arrive at a conclusion that is the exact opposite of the truth.
Only if we examine what led up to the event in question and its surrounding circumstancesthat is, its real history and the system of events in which it residescan we hope to understand what really happened and why.
In the case of the capitalists, only by examining how they got their wealth from the surplus labor of previous generations of workers (history) and how our laws, customs and culture are biased in their favor (structure) can we see it is not the capitalists who are serving society but the rest of society that is serving them.
Though many have criticized Marxism as one-sided because of its emphasis on economic processes, Marxism is really our only all-sided analysis of capitalism as a social system, including the perspective provided by this analysis, the different events disconnected and arbitrary, and often acquire a meaning that is the exact opposite of how these events function inside of capitalism.
Yet some people continue to ask: Should Marxism be taught in a university? If we let our eyes wander away from the footprints left by Cacus's oxen, then we can see the correct question: Does an educational institution that does not teach Marxism deserve to be called a university?
Serious non-Marxist scholars in every field appreciate the contribution Marxism makes in posing the bigger questions, at least. And enough have come to accept its holistic explanations to make Marxism the major alternative to orthodox approaches in history and economics (political science is soon to follow).
And the capitalists, and those Marx called their "ideological handmaidens," who are protesting that teaching Marxism constitutes "indoctrination"...? Well, Cacus, too, had an interest in keeping people from finding out what went on in his cave.
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