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November 1996 (Volume 48, Number 6)

» Notes from the Editors
November 1996 (Volume 48, Number 6)

The September 30th issue of the New Yorker carried profiles of two long-time contributors to Monthly Review—lyricist E. Y. Harburg and lawyer Michael Tigar—evoking considerable pride among MR staffers. “Yip” Harburg, who died in 1986, wrote more than one hundred songs including “Over The Rainbow,” and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime.” Writer John Lahr notes that throughout his long career on Broadway and in Hollywood all of his work evinced powerful social concerns and themes of freedom. Yip, of course, was a socialist of the MR variety. He valued the analysis and insight of this publication, as the verse printed on page 63.

Jeffery Toobin’s profile of Michael Tigar survey’s a long career representing the defendants confronting the arbitrary abuse of the authority of the state. Tigar has represented draft resisters, Students for Democratic Society, and a host of anti-Vietnam war protestors and political dissidents. Throughout his legal career, no matter if his clients were mainstream or critics from the right or left, Tigar has used the courtroom to expose and thwart the manipulation of capitalist state power. Writing in Law and The Rise of Capitalism (Monthly Review Press) Tigar described “a new jurisprudence of insurgency,” and called for “lawyers truly committed to social change [who] will…take a clearly revolutionary position” in the fight for humane society; in other words, socialism.

Tobin describes Tigar’s study as “dated academic Marxism thus missing the book’s point. In fact, the book is a trenchant study of the structure of law and legal institutions as they affected, and were affected by, the emergence of the bourgeois social order. It’s aim was similar to R.H. Twaney’s examination of another societal institution in Religion and The Rise of Capitalism written a half-century earlier. At the time of its publication and since, legal and scholarly critics understood and applauded Tigar’s work which, like Tawney’s, far from being dated, has ongoing relevance both for its historical exegesis and its understanding of contemporary consequences.

The myopia of Toobin’s piece is much the rule in current journalism. It is not a shared political vision that led the New Yorker to publish these mostly flattering articles. It is celebrity journalism that sells magazines these days. Unfortunately, this leaves analysis of the multiple crises—political, economic, environmental—of our time in desperately short supply when they are most needed.

This is precisely what led Michael Tigar to write the following appeal letter for us:

Dear Friend:

This is a letter urging you to subscribe to Monthly Review magazine. As a Professor of Law and a practicing trial lawyer, I see more evidence everyday that intelligent folk are rejecting the dominant market ideology. But the argument that “there is no alternative” still confuses people. Monthly Review magazine provides an alternative—a readable, non-sectarian analysis of the state of the world based on Marxist political economy.

Thirty-five years ago, I wanted to understand basic economic theory. Luck was with me, for my teaching assistant at the University of California, Berkeley was a graduate student named Clinton Jencks. Clint had been a militant labor leader, had successfully fought a McCarthyite prosecution effort, had returned to school to get his Ph.D. in economics. He told me to read Paul M. Sweezy’s pathbreaking book, The Theory of Capitalist Development. He also told me to subscribe to Monthly Review. I did both of these things, and discovered that the political views I was considering could now be set in a context.

Over the intervening years, Paul, Harry Magdoff, Leo Huberman, and Harry Braverman became friends and mentors. I represented Paul’s stepson in a political case in the 1970s. Paul and Harry edit Monthly Review magazine today, with the help of some friends of my generation (and some of my son’s generation!). They have kept the faith, and have seen some of their key predictions come true. For example, the long term stagnation of the U.S. economy that set in during the early seventies and has lasted to this day (real wages are lower today than in 1973!).

I wrote a book, Law and the Rise of Capitalism, which Monthly Review Press published. Time and again political leaders and students have come up to me in third-world countries and said they had read my book because of their affection and respect for Monthly Review. Monthly Review magazine has been (and is) read by leaders of movements for social change on several continents, by Nelson Mandela, and by Subcomandante Marcos.

Recent issues have featured sharp critiques of: The post-modernist fad among academics; The attacks on government social programs by mainstream economists; The politics of “free trade” and “competitiveness” in Canada and the U.S.; A special double-issue focused on capitalism and the internet.

Monthly Review has been around since 1949 and there is no magazine in the English language quite like it.

I urge you to subscribe.

Sincerely,
Michael Tigar

The Editors