this story originally appeared in News & Letters, March 2004

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NY left institution purges

 CAPITAL teacher

New York--On Feb. 9, the Brecht Forum informed the teacher of its course on "Capital, Marx's Capital and Alternatives to Capital," Andrew Kliman, that it does not want him to teach there in the future, and that it "would not object" to his leaving before the current course was over. The expulsion letter came in response to Kliman's and the class' complaints that the Brecht substantively rewrote the course announcement without his knowledge or consent. The Brecht's version of the announcement hid the fact that the course is a seminar on Capital and, without permission, identified him as having written for NEWS & LETTERS.

"Such numerous and important changes are by no means 'purely stylistic,' as the Brecht claims," Kliman said. "I have never before had text substantially altered like this without consultation. I've never even heard of such a case before. The Brecht has shown itself to be a petty, sectarian institution utterly lacking in intellectual integrity."

Kliman had been teaching for a sixth term at the Brecht to an unusually large class of 23. The course has resumed at another location.

Teachers at the Brecht Forum, a 28-year-old New York City left educational institution, are not paid. The purged seminar leader is a widely published Marxist-Humanist theorist whose writings have clashed with established "Marxist" economics. He and others have refuted "Marxist" economists' alleged proofs of Marx's internal inconsistency.

What was Kliman's crime that merited expulsion? Only that he and the class objected to the Brecht re-writing the course description and Kliman's biography without his knowledge and consent for its catalogue, website, e-mail and flyers. The Brecht did this not once, but twice. The rewriting, which disguised the fact that the course was a course on CAPITAL, undoubtedly served to reduce enrollment.

Although the Brecht claimed the changes were "stylistic," it is known that the administration dislikes Kliman's work and politics. One student reported from personal conversations that leaders of the Brecht were "out to get" him. During another discussion of the rewriting problem, an influential person at the Brecht complained about Kliman's "idealism" and expressed disagreement with his recently published "Marx's Concept of Intrinsic Value."

The three-term seminar emerged out of Kliman's Brecht course on CAPITAL Vols. 2 and 3. He and several students co-wrote the new course's description. Acting on its own, the Brecht changed the course title to "Four Questions" and removed several points in the description, actions that disguised the fact that the course consists primarily of a close reading of Vol. 1. In addition, Kliman's biography was changed by removing references to his prior Brecht teaching, dropping some of his publications, and adding that he had published in NEWS & LETTERS.

When this happened last fall, Kliman objected privately, and the Brecht sent out the correct version of the course description to its email list. Yet when the winter publicity appeared, the description had again been modified, and the Brecht's rewrite of Kliman's bio again replaced his own. This occurred even though he had asked the Brecht not to alter the text without his permission.

Kliman and the class then requested a correction, an apology, and assurance that such re-writing would not occur again. The Brecht's executive director, Liz Mestres, not only refused, but insisted she has a right to make changes to course announcements without the knowledge and consent of their authors, even when the changes are additions that disclose teachers‚ supposed political associations. As one student said, "There is little doubt that Mestres made this identification to scare off prospective students."

Brecht administrators faulted Kliman for discussing the matter with the class; they interrupted two class meetings by shouting at him when the matter was being discussed. Several students sent letters to the Brecht objecting to its rewriting without permission. Another objected to the idea that such matters should be kept from the class. Kliman's several attempts to discuss the matter with Mestres were rebuffed.

Many class members think the issues at stake are fairly simple: no school has a right to rewrite course descriptions and bios without consultation; the class has a right to present its project as it sees fit; no institution has the right to publish teachers' supposed affiliations without permission. Yet some class members held that a left institution should not be challenged, even if it suppresses other leftists, in order to maintain "unity"-even when changing its practices would not harm the institution in any way.

Another student countered that "Only through reasoned debate can leftists work out differences and problems and figure out how best to fight. That is, the tactic of suppressing dissenting views is not only wrong 'in principle,' but produces backward movement, not forward. By debating and developing ideas now about what non-capitalism means, we are helping the movement go forward toward that goal. The process we are engaged in is the very opposite of suppressing dissent."

--Seminar participants