Our friend and comrade Pete Seeger died a year ago this month, on January 27, 2014. Pete was a long-time reader of Monthly Review and, occasionally, a writer for this magazine. Harry Magdoff used to say that when a letter arrived from Pete, nearly always handwritten and often pages long, responding to an article or suggesting a topic to be covered or a book to be reviewed, it would go right home with him, to be pondered, considered, answered, and, especially, enjoyed. Seeger’s communications were never innocuous: he would tell the editors that something MR had published was wrongheaded (or, sometimes, right-headed); he would take an idea, turn it over, and suggest where to go with it. Like his music, Seeger’s letters demanded engagement, participation—and action. He had a special place in the MR family.
The poet, dramatist, and politician, Aimé Césaire, who died on April 17, aged ninety-four, saw this work, indeed all his work, as a weapon, perhaps best exemplified in Une Tempète. In his introduction to it, Robin G. D. Kelley, wrote “the weapon of poetry may be Césaire’s greatest gift to a world still searching for freedom.”
By the time Ernesto Che Guevara (1928–67) was executed on October 8, 1967, in La Higuera, Bolivia by soldiers under the direction of an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, he had become a kind of ideological “fetish” for his Washington adversaries. For them Guevara was not simply some “terrorist” or “insurgent”—words used to describe him and his Cuban revolutionary comrades then, just as they are used to describe those who resist Western imperial designs today. He was something new in the context of the post-Second World War Cold War. The United States and its clients claimed they were engaged in a struggle to staunch “Soviet aggression” Moscow saw itself as engaged in a contest of competing systems: capitalism versus socialism. But from the outset of his political life, Che’s perspective was burnished in and energized by the immiseration and oppression he confronted in the “Third World.”
Vito Marcantonio was the most consequential radical politician in the United States in the twentieth century. Elected to Congress from New York’s ethnically Italian and Puerto Rican East Harlem slums, Marcantonio, in his time, held office longer than any other third-party radical, serving seven terms from 1934 to 1950. Colorful and controversial, Marcantonio captured national prominence as a powerful orator and brilliant parliamentarian. Often allied with the U.S. Communist Party (CP), he was an advocate of civil rights, civil liberties, labor unions, and Puerto Rican independence. He supported social security and unemployment legislation for what later was called a “living wage” standard. And he annually introduced anti-lynching and anti–poll tax bills a decade before it became respectable. He also opposed the House Un-American Activities Committee, redbaiting, and antisemitism, and fought for the rights of the foreign born. He was a bold outspoken opponent of U.S. imperialism
2005 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Albert Einstein and the centennial of the publication of five of his major scientific papers that transformed the study of physics. Einstein’s insights were so revolutionary that they challenged not only established doctrine in the natural sciences, but even altered the way ordinary people saw their world. By the 1920s he had achieved international popular renown on a scale that would not become usual until the rise of the contemporary celebrity saturated tabloids and cable news channels. His recondite scientific papers as well as interviews with the popular press were front page news and fodder for the newsreels. Usually absent, however, was any sober discussion of his participation in the political life of his times as an outspoken radical-especially in profiles and biographies after his death
The life of Malcolm X, who was murdered forty years ago this month, spanned a trajectory from oppression and victimization to inchoate rebellion and revolutionary autonomy. His was a voyage from resistance to an informed radicalism. It was a journey from which he ultimately gathered political and historical insight which, combined with his tools of persuasion and skills at leadership, made him at the time of his death arguably the most dangerous figure in this country’s history to confront its ruling class. For us, forty years later, Malcolm’s life is also informative: both about the destructive encounters that Africans, Asians, Latins, and indigenous peoples have had with this country, its culture and its history, and how deeply domestic resistance to that oppression is embedded in the global anti-imperialist struggle
This month marks the centennial of the birth of Leo Huberman, who, with Paul M. Sweezy, was founding coeditor of Monthly Review. Arguably without Huberman’s editorial and publishing skills, his radical imagination, and his indefatigable commitment to the idea of an independent, clear-sighted socialist clarion, MR might well have been stillborn. Instead, the magazine—and Monthly Review Press—became a leading voice of independent Marxian socialism both in the United States and worldwide. Much of this was due to the unique collaboration and friendship between Leo and Paul and to the larger MR “family” that included, initially, Gertrude Huberman (Leo’s wife, who died in 1965) and Sybil H. May, MR’s office manager until her death in October 1978. MR’s first office was in Leo and Gert’s Barrow Street apartment. It was there that the two editors would meet to plot the course of the magazine, shaping its worldview, enlisting its contributors, and deciding each issue’s contents. And it was there that Leo, especially, molded MR as an enterprise, a particularly risky task in those early years of the Cold War and witch-hunts
Earlier this year, Sam Hamill, poet and co-founder of the prestigious literary publisher, Copper Canyon Press, was invited to a White House literary symposium. Incensed by President Bush’s war plans, Hamill wrote in an open letter to his colleagues I believe the only legitimate response to such a morally bankrupt and unconscionable idea is to reconstitute a Poets Against the War movement like the one organized to speak out against the war in Vietnam. He asked every poet to speak up for the conscience of our country and lend his or her name to our petition against this war. The response was extraordinary. By March 1, when poetsagainstthewar.org, the web site Hamill and friends set up to receive poems, stopped accepting submissions, more than 12,000 poems had been posted. On March 5, a day of global anti-war poetry readings, the poems were presented to Congress by Pulitzer prize winner and Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets W. S. Merwin, Pulitzer prize winner Jorie Graham, and author and poet Terry Tempest Williams, as well as Hamill
What follows is a chapter from Nora Sayre’s Running Time: Films of The Cold War (The Dial Press, 1982). We reprint it here not only to mark the untimely death of its author on August 8, but because it is a good example of a kind of radical cultural analysis distinguished by incisiveness as well as clarity, and, unfortunately, not often seen. In this selection, Sayre not only provides a critical examination of films that resisted the post-blacklist conformity of Hollywood, but she places them in the context of both larger social and historical forces, and the evolving corporate pressures of the movie business.
Before the founding of Monthly Review, Paul Sweezy had been an instructor at Harvard and the author of germinal works on the American economy. But his teaching and writing were always accompanied by vigorous engagement with the political movements of the time: he helped organize the Harvard Teachers’ Union, taught economics at the leftist Samuel Adams School in Boston, and, in 1948, took a leading role in Henry Wallace’s presidential run on the pro-New Deal and anti-Cold War Progressive Party ticket in his home state of New Hampshire. As he often did, Sweezy combined his support of the Wallace third party challenge with his ongoing advocacy of socialism