Fifty-four years ago when MR was being planned, one of the questions that the editors, Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy, had to decide was whether to have a section at the back of the magazine on literature and the arts, what in publisher’s parlance is called “the back of the book.” The MR editors decided not to do so, mainly for practical reasons. They did not feel that they had the necessary knowledge and training to do a good job editorially with such cultural material, and they felt sure that in the circumstances that the U.S. left then found itself they could not count on the support of enough serious socialist critics to sustain an arts section meeting the same standards as MR as a whole. In 1963, the first of these conditions changed temporarily, when Frances Kelly, who had been Business Manager of the New Left Review in London and whose special field of competence was the arts, came to work with the MR editors as Assistant and then Associate Editor. Under Frances Kelly’s editorship, MR published a cultural supplement called Review 1 as an experiment in 1965.
Review 1 carried articles on “The Dialectics of Tragedy” by Herbert Weisinger, “St. Brecht of the Theatrical Stock Exchange” by Eleanor Hakim, “Art and Revolution” by Emile Capouya, “Blues People” by Frank Kofsky, and “On Returning to Major Art” by the great Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros—along with other pieces. Review 1 generated a lot of interest and was in that respect a success. But it soon became clear that finances and editorial resources did not allow continuation of the experiment. Frances Kelly left to take charge of MR’s new London office in the following year. Nevertheless, Review 1 did reveal a distinctive approach to culture—socialist, third-world revolutionary, and linked to communities of color—that foreshadowed the kind of work that would become more recognizable in later left generations.
Although in subsequent years MR was to remain a magazine primarily devoted to political-economic issues, only rarely addressing cultural topics, the cultural milieu to which it naturally belonged emerged clearly out of the political work of the magazine and the press, and numerous figures known for their contributions to art and cultural studies have written for MR and/or offered their support over the years, figures like Billy Bragg, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, W. E. B. Du Bois, Eduardo Galeano, Lorraine Hansberry, Yip Harburg, Adrienne Rich, Pete Seeger and Raymond Williams—to name but a few.
A new opportunity for MR to contribute to cultural discussions arose recently when Paul Buhle, one of the most important cultural historians of the U.S. left (coeditor with Mari Jo Buhle and Dan Georgakas of the Encyclopedia of the American Left), offered to guest edit an issue of the magazine that would attempt to capture the spirit of socialist and progressive culture in this country and its link to labor and communities of color. We naturally jumped at the opportunity, having full confidence in Paul and the vision that he represents. The result is the present special issue. We make no claims to completeness—where cultures are concerned such closure never takes place and a certain incompleteness is therefore inherent. The most obvious gap in the present issue is the lack of a piece specifically on the Harlem Renaissance, which was intertwined with the cultural formation of the U.S. left in the early decades of the twentieth century. An attempt was made to obtain such a piece for the issue and it did not come to fruition. We are now in the process of commissioning another article on this topic. Despite such almost-inevitable shortcomings, however, this special issue provides an overall vision and a set of concrete excursions into the realm of left culture that we think readers will find captivating. We hope that this will set the stage for continuing contributions to this area in future issues of the magazine.
Stephen Jay Gould died on May 20, 2002 at age sixty. He was, in the words of the New York Times (May 21, 2002), “one of the most influential evolutionary biologists of the 20th century and perhaps the best known since Charles Darwin.” He was also one of the best essayists in evolutionary science of the last two centuries, comparable in this respect perhaps only to T. H. Huxley and J. B. S. Haldane. There was, however, another side to Steve Gould excluded from the Times obituary. As he observed in his greatest work, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, published only last March, he “had learned his Marxism, literally at his daddy’s knee.” He was a strong supporter of MR, who spoke on our behalf at a number of fundraisers, and who once told one of us that he had been reading MR since he was fifteen. In November 1995, we reprinted with permission his important essay, “Posture Maketh the Man” alongside Engels’ “The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man.” We hope to be able to publish an essay on his political ideas by several of his close friends and colleagues this coming fall.
As this issue went to press we learned of the death of Beatrice Magdoff on June 9, 2002. Beadie, or Bd, as she was known to her many friends, was a lifelong socialist, a revolutionary, a stalwart of the MR office, and for seventy years the wife of Harry Magdoff. An appreciation of Beadie, her life, and her work will appear in a forthcoming issue.
On more than one occasion recently, MR supporters have given gift subscriptions of the magazine to their local public library. We think this is one of the best ways in which to make MR available to the wider public. If you are interested in pursuing this, let us know. We will send you some brochures about the magazine to pass on to your public library, since such gift subscriptions usually have to be approved by the library board.
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