Vol. 6 | The Modern Challenge to Tradition | Editorial Introduction

The Impact of Marx [Lecture]

The notation in Arendt’s hand at the top of this one page typescript identifies it as a “Lecture” and locates it in the “Rand School” in “Winter 1952.” The Rand School of Social Science was founded in 1906 in New York City as a workers’ school affiliated with the Socialist Party, enrolling during the 1910s and 1920s a large student body drawn mainly from New York’s immigrant working class. In the aftermath of the First World War, the Rand School was the target of anti-communist popular agitation and interference by agents of the New York State legislature, and by the late 1940s the institution was supported economically almost entirely by the proceeds from “Camp Tamiment,” a summer camp for workers in the Pocono Mountains. By 1956 it had closed its doors, with New York University inheriting its library and archives, known today as the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives.

The editors have been able to determine nothing further of the occasion for which Arendt gave the lecture these notes preserve. This was not her first involvement with the Rand School; a more developed 12 page typescript survives for a lecture given there in “1948 or 49,” as Arendt’s note on that typescript indicates, a lecture on anti-Stalinism in the European and American left. (That untitled lecture will be included in AE5.) We have no evidence for any subsequent lectures Arendt delivered in that venue.

Arendt’s DT shows that she was reading Marx with renewed attention in November of 1952, after her return from her European trip. She notes there Marx’s “Identifizierung von Arbeit mit Arbeits-Kraft” (DT, 271) and a few entries later observes that “nicht die Idee, sondern die Logik der Idee die Massen ergreift” (DT, 274). “The Impact of Marx” touches both of these themes, offering an early example of Arendt’s Marxian formula “labor created man” as one of “the ideas that seized the masses.” The lecture seems to have developed a distinction between labor and fabrication, and to have cast this transformation of the status of work as comparable in scope to Nietzsche’s “Umwertung aller Werte.” The second part of the lecture raised the historical question of the changing status of political activity from antiquity to modernity. Both of these problems, the problem of work and the problem of politics as modes of human action, remain central to Arendt’s philosophical concerns. “The Impact of Marx” provides a compressed snapshot of the way Arendt understood these issues early in her rethinking of the crisis in tradition.

James McFarland