This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of Monthly Review Press. The idea of starting a book publishing arm of MR had its origin in an accidental meeting in Central Park in 1951 between noted journalist I.F. Stone, then a reporter and columnist of the leftist New York Daily Compass, and MR editors Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy. Stone told Huberman and Sweezy that he had written a book disputing the official history of the Korean War but had not been able to find a publisher in that era of fervent McCarthyism and war hysteria. They asked to see the manuscript, and on its strength decided to establish Monthly Review Press. The Hidden History of the Korean War, the very first book published by Monthly Review Press, was released in May 1952.
The genius of Monthly Review Press in those early years was that it published important critical works by major authors that could find no other outlets, but for which there was a considerable demand. Among these were Harvey O’Connor’s The Empire of Oil (1955), Paul Baran’s The Political Economy of Growth (1957), Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy’s Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution (1960), William Appleman Williams’ The United States, Cuba, and Castro (1963), Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital (1966), and William Hinton’s Fanshen (1966).
When the plan to start the new press was first announced, in January 1952, the MR editors were frank about how difficult an undertaking it was:
We do not conceal the fact that we have undertaken this commitment with some trepidation. Both financially and in terms of time and effort, it will involve a sizeable investment. There is, of course, no guarantee that it will succeed. But on the other hand, we are going into it with high hopes. If it does succeed, we will be in a position to extend our efforts in the publishing field. We may be on the road to solving one of the most urgent problems of the American Left: how to find an outlet for the kind of serious literature which is so badly needed. Needless to say, we are counting heavily on the cooperation of MR readers to make the venture a success. If we didn’t have confidence in your wholehearted support, we would never have gone into it at all.
MR readers did come to the rescue of the new press again and again in those early years, helping to maintain its existence against all odds.
During its first fifteen years Monthly Review Press was overseen by Huberman, himself a highly successful author, but by the mid-1960s, as the press grew in size, the MR editors began looking for a director of the press. In 1967, their first choice, Harry Braverman, decided to take the job. Braverman had worked for many years as a skilled worker in various metal working industries, and then (after a stint as coeditor of The Amercian Socialist) had gone on into book publishing, where he had risen in seven years from editor to vice president and general manager at Grove Press.
Under Harry Braverman’s leadership, and in response to the stimulus provided by the movements of the 1960s and early 1970s, Monthly Review Press expanded to become what was sometimes called “the university press of the left.” These heady years saw the publication of numerous key titles, including Andre Gunder Frank’s Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America (1967), Che Guevara’s Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War (1968), Harry Magdoff’s Age of Imperialism (1969), Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America (1972), Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital (1974), Samir Amin’s Accumulation on a World Scale (1974) and Unequal Development (1976), Rayna Reiter’s anthology Toward an Anthropology of Women (1975), and Hans Koning’s Columbus: His Enterprise (1976).
In these years Monthly Review Press, along with MR itself, gained many new readers (among them two of the present MR editors). Despite all of the successes, however, there remained two inescapable facts associated with the press: (1) it was not a going concern from a business standpoint, i.e., like university presses it could only exist with some kind of subsidy (in this case provided by loyal MR supporters), and (2) its greatest successes as well as its reason for existence had to do with the unique titles that it published, which would either not find a publisher readily elsewhere, or would have been altered considerably (and in ways that would have damaged the integrity of the work) before being released by a university or for-profit press. A prime example was Braverman’s own Labor and Monopoly Capital, which only a few years ago was designated by Contemporary Sociology, the review journal of the American Sociological Association, as one of the ten most influential works in sociology of the previous quarter-century. It is extremely doubtful that Braverman’s book, which challenged all the existing nostrums and was written by an author without a Ph.D. or even an M.A., would have been acquired by a university press, and it would certainly have been excluded by mainstream for-profit publishers.
Following Braverman’s death in 1976, Jules Geller became director and was succeeded by Susan Lowes. Since 1996, the press has been managed collectively by those responsible for its financial, marketing, and editorial functions—at present Martin Paddio, Renee Pendergrass, and Andrew Nash. These years have seen economic slowdown and the weakening of radical social movements. Nevertheless, the press has continued to release major left titles, with a list quite unlike any other.
Thus over the last quarter century or more Monthly Review Press has published such important works as Hal Draper’s Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (4 volumes, 1976-1990), Harry Magdoff’s, Imperialism: From the Colonial Age to the Present (1978), E. P. Thompson’s The Poverty of Theory (1978), Paul Sweezy’s Post-Revolutionary Society (1980), Daniel Singer’s Road to Gdansk (1981) and Whose Millennium? (1999), Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson’s collection Powers of Desire (1983), William Hinton’s The Great Reversal (1990), Cornel West’s The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought (1991), John Bellamy Foster’s The Vulnerable Planet (1994) and Marx’s Ecology (2000), Michael Yates’ Longer Hours, Fewer Jobs (1994), István Mészáros’ Beyond Capital (1995) and Socialism or Barbarism? (2001), Ellen Meiksins Wood’s The Origin of Capitalism (1999), William Tabb’s The Amoral Elephant (2001), and David Noble’s Digital Diploma Mills (2002).
A distinguishing feature of MR Press is its worldwide impact. MR Press books have been translated in many languages (Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and more). They are highly regarded and used by the left in many lands. In India, MR books are being reissued at prices that make it possible for them to reach a large audience.
We think that MR Press has established an extremely distinguished tradition. Moreover, it represents a history of socialist and radical publishing in the United States that remains unique. Just as Stone’s Hidden History of the Korean War and Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital represent titles that were off limits for mainstream publishers in the United States, much the same thing could be said of some of Monthly Review Press’ more important recent titles, such as Mészáros’ Socialism or Barbarism?, Tabb’s Amoral Elephant, and Noble’s Digital Diploma Mills.
Have you considered donating stock to the Monthly Review Foundation? Supporting MR and its educational mission will give you major tax advantages: you won’t have to pay any capital gains tax on the stocks, and you will get a full tax deduction for the current value of the stocks. For additional information contact Martin Paddio (mreview [at] igc.org) at (212) 691-2555.
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