Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

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Thursday, March 22, 2018


I have been absent from this site for several days because I have been brooding about my next Marx lecture.  I have reached the point in my lectures at which I must make good on my promise to “put the irony into the equations” so that Marx’s literary critique of the mystifications of capitalism, his economic critique of classical Political Economy, and his historical account of the slow development of capitalism within the old order are united in a demonstration that capitalism rests on the exploitation of the working class.  Yesterday, during my morning walk, I figured out how to explain this in a way that will, I hope, be both clear and persuasive.  This involves a fundamental critique of the Labor Theory of Value and an entirely new set of equations that build the mystifications of the capitalist marketplace into the mathematics.  I have no idea whether the lecture will be a pedagogical success – which is to say, whether it will make any sense to the viewers – but the lecture will encapsulate my novel interpretation of Capital for eternity, or what passes for eternity in the Cloud.  This seventh lecture will be followed by a final eighth lecture in which I look to the present and try to answer two questions:  First, what is the modern neo-classical mystification of capitalism that has taken the place of the old classical mystification; and Second, what is happening right now “within the womb of the old society,” in Marx’s pregnant phrase, that is preparing the way for the possibility, if not the inevitability, of Socialism?

Meanwhile, Trump is ensnared in the trap being laid for him by a porn star, a Playboy Playmate, and a former Apprentice contestant, and the consensus among the legal commentators is that he is in for a world of hurt.  If these three women are his undoing, I shall experience a conversion on the road to Damascus and start believing in a God with a truly divine sense of humor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


The new Marx lecture is number six, not number five.  The link just posted takes you to the correct lecture, but I must figure out how to edit the title so that it is correct.  Rats!

OK, all done.

On to Number seven.


Here it is, the sixth lecture on Marx.  No sooner is it posted than I must get to work on lecture seven.  A bloviator's work is never done.

Monday, March 19, 2018


Faithful readers will recall that when the Grand Jury handed down an indictment of a nonentity for identity theft, I speculated that someone at Cambridge Analytica would be sweating bullets.  [See February 20, 2018]  Well, it looks like Cambridge Analytica is in Mueller's crosshairs now.  We shall see.


Stephen Baraban points out that my fancy literary quote is from Wordsworth, not Tennyson.  Maybe I should stick to The Big Bang Theory!  My profound apologies, and thanks to Stephen Baraban.  So much for my pathetic effort to appear cultivated.  I shall leave the error as a testament to my innumerable limitations.


It would be impossible for me to respond to all the wonderful comments posted on this blog while I was away, but this morning, as I wait to go off and deliver my sixth Marx lecture, I would like to say a few words about some of them.

First, let me thank my old friend. classmate, graduate school apartment mate, and Columbia colleague, Charles Parsons, for his observations about the 50th anniversary of the ’68 Columbia student uprising, which happened when both of us were there.  I knew that Paul Cronin is bringing out a commemorative volume.  He asked me to contribute something, but after I did, he apologized and said it had to be cut for reasons of length.  No big loss.  Charles is of course right that since the event took place in the spring, it is this semester and not the fall semester that is the real anniversary, but I am hoping that Todd Gitlin and I will draw a few students who still want to talk about it when we teach next fall.  All I can say, quoting Tennyson, is Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ but to be young was very heaven.

To those who commented on Robert Heilbroner author of the classic work The Worldly Philosophers, Bob and I were pretty good friends back when I was teaching at Columbia.  He was heir to the Weber and Heilbroner clothing store fortune, and lived in an elegant Park Avenue apartment.  My first wife and I once attended a soirĂ©e there at which the guests were entertained by a concert pianist hired for the occasion.  He was a real class act and a wonderful person.  When I donated to the Houghton Rare Book Library at Harvard my original copy of the 30 page cablegram from John Reed in St. Petersburg announcing the October Revolution, I wanted to do so in his honor, but he modestly declined, so I donated it in the name of my grandparents, lifelong socialists in New York.

A propos the idea of taping the Gitlin/Wolff course, I thought this through with regard to the Marx course I taught at UNC Chapel Hill some years ago, and decided it was a bad idea.  There is no way it could be done without compromising the freedom and protection offered to students in a classroom setting.  Imagine a student taking the course who is considering a career on Wall Street [30% of Columbia graduating seniors!]  Would such a student, intrigued by Marx or Marcuse, want his or her voice and even face in such a setting on the Internet forever?  I suspect not.  If I permit readers of this blog to post comments anonymously [or, to be more precise, Anonymously], I cannot do less for my students.

Well, there is much more to say, but my lecture beckons, and besides, in this 24 hour news cycle, last week’s comments are old news.  J

Sunday, March 18, 2018


Here is a piece Todd published today in the NY Daily News.  teaching with him is going to be a hoot!

BY Todd Gitlin [4]
Sunday, March 18, 2018, 5:00 AM
Last week's school walkouts against school shootings will probably not suffice to jolt America to its senses about guns — even if 100,000 students walked out in New York City, by one estimate, or a million nationwide, by another.  But the students have already accomplished something important: They refuse to stand idly by. They speak with the authority of victims but also the maturity of citizens. They honor the lost, and at the same time they think forward.  So they have mobilized an unprecedented force. This is not just a matter of social media. Their energy and eloquence, conspicuous after the Parkland, Fla., massacre, has put new facts on the ground. Where those facts will take us depends on what they do next and who follows the students' lead.

This week's March for Our Lives in Washington will amplify the call.  School walkouts were with us long before the age of instantaneous clicking. High school students took to the streets in the 1960s to demand reforms.  But the current walkouts are in one crucial way precedent-making. In the 1960s, the initiative came from adults who had been campaigning against segregation for years: ministers and civil rights groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congress of Racial Equality.

This week, the students took the initiative. They were the leaders. In the 1960s, there were young leaders aplenty in anti-racist and anti-war movements, but the leaders of those movements were college and university students. I know, because I was in the thick of it, with Students for a Democratic Society. Enthusiastic high schoolers did join in, but they were troops more than officers. The most celebrated, and probably the most effective, wave of schoolchildren's protest came on May 2, 1963, when more than 1,000 teenagers trained in nonviolent action poured out of high schools in and around segregationist Birmingham, Ala., which the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called "the most segregated city in the country."  Dr. King's followers had been protesting segregation for weeks but had run short of adult volunteers. King himself, at first hesitant to involve the young, was persuaded to try. The students would walk downtown, hoping to talk with the mayor about segregation. Hundreds were arrested. Set free, they turned out the next day, too.   Hundreds more teenagers turned out, too, and this time, Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor ordered his police to turn high-pressure fire hoses and police dogs on the demonstrators. This was bad for public relations. The images of assault on innocent victims circumnavigated the world and fueled still more civil rights activity, which culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Connor instantly became the poster boy for brutal white supremacy.
In October 1963, Chicago's vigorous civil rights movement declared a Freedom Day boycott to protest school segregation and the practice of assigning used textbooks to black students, among other indignities. Some 200,000 students marched in the streets. Other cities saw one-and two-day sequels, all led by civil rights activists and ministers:  New York in February, with some 450,000 staying out of school; Cleveland in April, with 85% of black students staying out; Seattle in 1966, led by the NAACP among others.

In each of these cases, objections were heard. High school kids were said to be too impressionable, too easily manipulated. "Outside agitators" were accused of stirring up trouble among docile Negroes. It wasn't only white racists who looked askance at the student insurgency. During the Birmingham protest, Malcolm X, fearing violence, took a swipe at the civil rights movement, saying that "real men don't put their children on the firing line."  King, on the other hand, said that actions like Birmingham's brought children "a sense of their own stake in freedom." He later wrote, "Looking back, it is clear that the introduction of Birmingham's children into the campaign was one of the wisest moves we made. It brought a new impact to the crusade, and the impetus that we needed to win the struggle."

Birmingham's actions were the first large-scale civil disobedience under King's leadership. The confrontation in the streets made for one of his most vivid actions.  Today too, partisans of the status quo are ever eager to deem student protestors to be pawns in somebody else's sinister game. In the folklore of five decades ago, apologists for white supremacy accused "outside agitators" of being the puppet-masters of the young. Today, without offering the slightest trace of evidence, gun fanatics accuse outspoken high schoolers of being "crisis actors" paid by the likes of their favorite demon, the philanthropist George Soros.  The high schoolers' insurgency is all the more impressive in contrast with the protest habits of their college-age elders. In recent years, despite strong campaigns for fossil-fuel divestment (a good cause) and a boycott of Israeli scholars (a bad cause), a great deal of campus energy that wants the world to think it is progressive remains self-enclosed.

Their feuds are internecine. They are parochial. They do not persuade the unconvinced. Many campus activists think they strike a serious blow against racism by shaking their fists at Mike Cernovich, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter and other far-right darlings invited onto campus precisely to elicit outrage — or at Charles Murray, a conservative thinker who actually makes arguments. They fixate on the view that speech with which they disagree is tantamount to violence, and therefore believe that they are entitled to prevent or disrupt it.  They are not embarrassed to embrace a slogan that would have been anathema for every previous generation of progressive campaigners: "NO FREE SPEECH." Their bullying is, they think, purely defensive.

Liberals are dismayed and a gleeful right — which supports the nastiest president in history — gets to crow that it's the left that's thuggish.  Meanwhile, the campuses whose symbolic "political correctness" is routinely deplored by right-wingers are toothless or counterproductive. Their passions are directed against objectionable words and gestures, so-called "microaggressions," and not against the far more consequential macroaggression that systematically — through gerrymandering, voter ID laws, restrictions on voting hours and other  measures that dampen the vote for people of color, city dwellers and ex-felons — punishes the poor and minorities.  So when I walk onto the Columbia campus, where I teach, I do not see appeals for students to go to nearby swing districts, or anywhere else, to register voters, or to lobby state officials to keep the polls open. There are local Democrats on the Upper West Side who do that work, but not many college students, either at Columbia or other universities I visit.

The high school activists have leapfrogged their older sisters and brothers.  They too often isolate themselves from off-campus political allies with whom they might actually make life better for most people of color. They rarely actively campaign for candidates who support affordable housing, more affordable health care, environmental justice and desegregation.  Even as the post-women's-march Resistance mobilizes to support electable Democrats around the country, and otherwise oppose Donald Trump's most unjust and pernicious policies, not enough campuses teem — not yet, at least — with volunteers who fan out to register voters in swing districts, to build a political force in behalf of democratic, egalitarian change.  We are learning a lot through this split-screen look at two forms of protest.

High schoolers in Florida and elsewhere are acutely aware that they live in a world where their enemies hold power. With amazing speed, less than a week after Nikolas Cruz snuffed out 17 lives with his AR-15, they arranged for buses to take them to the state capital in Tallahassee, lobbying to tighten gun laws. (The Republicans who rule the Florida statehouse refused even to consider a bill to ban assault rifles.)  Many of the high school leaders know they have to take political action if they are not to keep running into stone walls. They talk about the need to register voters. They know they need to keep lobbying but even more, they need to help elect congenial politicians. 

What the young activists will do for an encore is in their hands.  Will they surmount the passivity that has retarded past gun control campaigns? Will they avoid burning out?  And will the power of their example inspire those who are slightly older and not at all wiser in the ways of citizen activism? Here's hoping.

_Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia
University and the author of "Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit and
the Promise of Occupy Wall Street."_