On Marshall Berman, Marxist Intellectual of New York

Last fall, Marshall Berman, a Jewish American philosopher, Marxist humanist writer and professor of political science at The City College of New York, passed away. Vladislav Davidzon writes about his late teacher in Tablet Magazine, painting a portrait of him as a brilliant nonconformist and engaging teacher:

In hindsight, I am impressed by how neatly he synthesized the brackish world of 19th-century Russian revolutionary politics for American undergraduates, light-years removed from it. I see, on opening my notes from that autumn, that the first line I wrote down in my notebook in that class might be taken for Marshall’s credo. “Must we wait for after the revolution for joy?” This was followed by a resounding “No!”

For Davidzon, however, Berman was more than a professor. All of us experience good or bad teachers in our college experience, but there is always that one (or, if we’re lucky, perhaps two) who seem to resonate with us and inspire us to reach a higher intellectual level. This was Berman in the eyes of Davidzon. He writes:

For a man of his stature and accomplishment, Marshall was an exceedingly generous mentor, though never a coddling one. He would forward me recommendations for fellowships to apply for and books to read, and he responded to every single one of the fledgling publications that I sent his way with equal parts praise and ribaldry, as well as humiliatingly incisive criticism. […] His correspondence was as inimitable as his conversation. Terse, cagey, and luxurious, it channeled his idiosyncratic character through shorthand and orthographic syntax. His letters and emails always ended with an exhorting “shalom.”

To current core students and alumni: Do you have a professor, in core or outside, who you connect with in a similar way?


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