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Remembering Beadie Magdoff

For more than three decades, visitors to Monthly Review’s Manhattan offices would be greeted with the slightly raspy, always cheerful “Hi ya” that Beadie Magdoff offered to cabinet ministers, students, revolutionaries, workers, political exiles, and internationally renowned scholars. They came to work with the editors, to join the lunchtime discussions, and, of course, to leave with the latest Monthly Review Press books that Beadie made sure they bought. Beadie was an instrumental part of the daily life of MR, indefatigable not only in the small tasks she took on, but in her insistence on an unyielding passion for social justice as well as a clear focus on the case for socialism.

Beadie came to MR when her husband, Harry Magdoff, joined Paul Sweezy as co-editor in the late sixties, bringing her contagious humor and activist stamina honed over decades, reaching way back to her working class South Bronx neighborhood. It was there that she imbibed the spirit of protest and rebellion against injustice. Her parents and their neighbors were workers and devoted union members. Like them, the young Beatrice Greizer, called Beadie by her friends, understood the workers’ struggle. Like them, the fight for the interests of the working class was at the core of her experience. Her mother never missed picket line duty during a strike and so, from preschool days, Beadie marched too. Beadie was educated in the New York City Public School system and the then-tuition-free municipal colleges, earning a Bachelor’s degree from Hunter College and a Master’s from City College. But when asked about her education she made sure that the inquirer knew that she also had been a student at the Yiddisher Arbeiter Universitat (Jewish Workers University), a center for Yiddish-speaking activists to study Marxism, socialism, and the history and culture of the struggle.

Beadie was an activist all of her life. She took part in May Day parades, in demonstrations in support of the unemployed, the Spanish republic, the civil rights movement, and against the Vietnam war, to name but a few. Beadie continued to march and to demonstrate as long as she could walk. While at Hunter College she helped organize the National Student League. When strikers in Harlan County were shot by police, Beadie and her comrades went to Kentucky to demonstrate with the Students League in support of the strikers.

When she was fifteen, Beadie met Harry Magdoff and three years later, in December 1932, they were married. As they liked to tell it, the wedding took place between meetings of the National Student League and Youth Against War and Fascism.

With the advent of the New Deal, the Magdoffs, like so many others appalled by the depredations of the Great Depression, went to Washington to do something about it. They lived in suburban Virginia where, at first, Beadie was occupied with raising their sons Michael and Fred. But as soon as she could, she joined the League of Women Voters, in those days the most progressive organization in reactionary and Jim Crow Virginia. She was elected vice president of the Virginia League and spoke widely at public meetings and on the radio.

With the end of the Second World War, the Magdoffs returned to New York where Beadie was a school teacher, working mainly with early innovative special education programs. In addition, she was active in the radical New York Teachers Union. The union, destroyed in the 1950s red-scare, made a historic contribution in its struggle, not only for decent wages for ill-paid teachers, but for its pioneering pedagogical innovations, including the development of teaching aids for what has become Black History Month. The materials were distributed and used nationwide. She also participated in the defense of many under attack during the McCarthy years, raising funds for legal expenses and organizing theater parties, lectures, and concerts.

In the bleak 1950s, Beadie helped to create the Fund For Social Analysis to support people working in Marxist studies, an area of scholarship then stagnant, at best, in U.S. universities. With Beadie as the main fundraiser, the Fund placed advertisements in campus newspapers and posted notices on bulletin boards, offering to support authors of essays and books in the Marxist tradition. Arguably, the Fund, and Beadie’s role in it, was an important factor in the rebirth of radical scholarship in the 1960s.

Beadie organized her West 84th Street apartment so that it could be used often for discussion groups, meetings, and fundraisers. Before long, Beadie began to give dinner parties that became well known in both New York and international left-wing circles for their lively discussion of the issues of the day of concern to radical activists and theorists alike. The dinners became important gathering places for people of different professions and views. On one occasion, MR’s co-founder and co-editor Leo Huberman called her to say that representatives of the India Planning Commission were in town and wanted to see Harry. So, Leo said, “make a dinner.”

Invitations to Beadie’s dinners were in great demand. She had two rules for these events: everybody had to take part and there could be only one conversation at the table. Beadie permitted no chit chat. If someone spoke longer than she thought made sense, or was dominating the discussion, Beadie would say “Shut up,” and, turning to another guest, would say, “Now what do you think about” the issue under discussion. Many useful and important friendships developed among those who came to these dinners. And they were also important in gathering resources and support for MR.

When Monthly Review expanded its book publishing program with a paperback line, Beadie volunteered and came daily to MR to do the multiplicity of publishing chores Harry Braverman (then head of Monthly Review Press) asked her to do. A multitasker long before that word entered the language, she took her place at the desk at the entrance to the office so that, whatever else she was doing, she announced visitors and made sure they bought books; often they left with more than they intended.

Beadie continued her dinners and volunteer work until illness began to restrict her activities. She remained a friend to many and a joy to all who knew her. She was beloved and especially devoted to her husband Harry and her immediate family as well as to her larger family: the staff, editors, and readers of Monthly Review.

  • Beatrice “Beadie” Magdoff, born February 18, 1913, died, June 9, 2002.
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