In a human life, attainment of the fiftieth year, while cause for reflection, is nothing exceptional, statistically speaking. For a magazine of the American left, fifty years is a veritable eternity. Simply to reach the age is a stunning achievement.
Think of the ever-looming threats that have destroyed so many promising radical publications in the century now drawing to a close. Government harassment and repression destroyed the International Socialist Review and the Masses during the First World War. Withdrawal of financial backing caused the loss of the Seven Arts in 1917 and the Marxist Quarterly in 1937. An editor’s death brought an end to the Modern Quarterly in 1940, and an editor’s caprice eliminated Marxist Perspectives in 1980. Loss of perspective and declining subscriber rolls extinguished the country’s greatest radical newspapers seventy years apart, the Appeal to Reason in 1922 and the Guardian in 1992. Splits or fusions in sponsoring groups or parties caused many other publications to be abandoned. Then, lest we forget, there is sheer discouragement, demoralization, disorientation, and disenchantment. Countless left-wing periodicals lie defunct and yellowing in archives, reminders of the once-great aspirations of writers and readers who watched their dreams scatter to the wind.
Some fates, on the other hand, are worse than death. Perseverence can indicate sterility instead of vitality. Year in year out, the issues may appear, but if they merely recite the same rote formulae, then the ideas are musty though the ink is fresh. Life can drain out of a project in other ways, most commonly by dilution of purpose. What profiteth a periodical if it gains the world and loses its soul? Maturity so often brings hankering for status, audiences, and influence once properly disregarded. Rationality starts to seem to require abandoning revolution, good sense to require compromise, and good taste to dictate a closer eye toward fashion. Such are the ways that a brilliant Marxist magazine like Partisan Review moves to the liberal center, finally arriving at neoconservatism.
The miracle of Monthly Review is that it is alive in all senses. It has made it to an advanced age without having lost the spring in its step, stayed true to its socialist promise while remaining alert and engaged with the world around it. What has been its secret?
At risk of confusing historical materialism with crass materialism, let’s start with the money. Not that anyone ever expected to make money, or did, from Monthly Review. But it is one thing to dream of a magazine, quite another to pull it off, and an essential condition for actually establishing a publication, even a radical one, on a national scale is to have the means to do it properly. You must pay the printer, the rent, the phone, the lights, the heat, the postage, and the staff. Even the writers, from time to time.
It is fortunate that any intelligent Marxist theory of history admits a role for chance, because Monthly Review might never have come to be had it not been for Cleopatra’s nose—in this case, Professor F. O. Matthiessen‘s unanticipated inheritance.
Matty, as he was known to his friends, among them his former Harvard colleague Paul Sweezy, was a distinguished scholar of American literature, author of American Renaissance (1941), and a founder of American Studies. He was also a Christian and a socialist who rejected Marxism while freely drawing insights from it. Matty and Paul were present at the creation of the Harvard Teachers’ Union in 1935.
In late autumn 1948, after the debacle of Henry Wallace’s independent presidential campaign, which both men had supported, Matthiessen visited Sweezy at the family farm in New Hampshire where Paul was residing, having resigned from Harvard a few years before. After a walk outdoors, they were sitting by the fire, having a drink. Out of the blue, Matty informed Paul that he had unexpectedly inherited a considerable trust fund after his father had died as a result of an automobile accident in California. Matty was a full professor at Harvard, a successful author, with no dependents. He didn’t need the money. Would Paul like it to start that magazine he and Leo Huberman were always talking about?
This windfall—a commitment of $5,000 for three years in succession, totalling $15,000, or $75,000 in today’s purchasing power—made the launching of Monthly Review possible.1
In other words, the money, as any good Marxist would have guessed, was a manifestation of social relations. Not extraction of surplus value, mind you: this gift was several steps removed from the accumulation process. Relations, rather, of friends acting in concert, the kind of social relations that have kept Monthly Review afloat ever since.
First among friends were Leo and Paul, the editors. They differed in background, one steeped in the New York left, the other in New England’s higher learning, one born into the lower middle class, the other into relative privilege, one Jewish, the other Protestant. Each, though, had become a Marxist in the depth of the Depression, just as the Nazis took power in Germany. Each had studied at the London School of Economics. Each had been an editor and a writer. Just before the United States entered the Second World War, they met and became friends. Cast apart for the war’s duration, they became reacquainted afterward and began to contemplate a socialist magazine of a new sort.
The career of Leo Huberman (1903-1968), seven years older than Sweezy, shows the depth of intellectual and political experience that the two brought to Monthly Review. Born and raised in New Jersey, Huby graduated from New York University in 1926, studied in England in 1933-1934, and received an M.A. from NYU in 1937. He was the author of We, the People (1932), a popular history of the United States published when he was twenty-nine, and Man’s Worldly Goods (1936), a general economic history which sold more than five hundred thousand copies, as well as The Labor Spy Racket (1937) and The Great Bus Strike (1941). He held a series of positions: chair of the social sciences department in 1938-1939 at New College, an experimental unit of Columbia University’s Teachers College; labor editor of the liberal paper PM in 1940-1941; columnist forU.S. Week in 1941-1942; director of public relations and education for the National Maritime Union in 1942-1945; and editor of the experimental pamphlet division of the publisher Reynal and Hitchcock in 1945-1946. Promoter, popularizer, publicist, Huberman devoted all of his considerable energies to Monthly Review until his death from a heart attack in Paris in 1968.2
Although Huberman and Sweezy’s were the sole names on the masthead, several other people had great importance in the magazine’s early life. One was Otto Nathan (1893-1987), a German emigré, former advisor to the Weimar Republic, New York University economist, and close friend of Huby’s. The third founding editor, Nathan hesitated to be listed publicly on the cover, though he did write several signed articles in 1949. After that first year, Nathan parted ways with the others, but his short tenure ought not obscure his crowning achievement: obtaining a contribution for the premier issue from Albert Einstein. The physicist whose name was synonymous with genius called the establishment of Monthly Review an “important public service” at a time when “free and unhindered discussion” of socialism had fallen “under a powerful taboo.”3
An even more crucial figure during the first fifteen years was Paul A. Baran (1910-1964). Baran was initially unknown to most readers because he used a pseudonym, Historicus. But he had a warm friendship with Sweezy dating from 1939, when he arrived in the United States from Europe after studying in Moscow, Berlin, and Frankfurt. He began writing for MR under his real name in 1956, and he gained renown around the world as the author of The Political Economy of Growth (1957), which explained the enormous discrepancy between rich and poor nations as the result of the imperialist structure of the world economy. By the early 1960s, when it began to be common to refer to an “MR school”—a term that did not always sit easily with those it purported to describe—Baran’s name was almost always mentioned in the same breath with Huberman’s and Sweezy’s. “No parlor pinks,” observed Business Week in 1963, “the trio peddles a brand of socialism that is thoroughgoing and tough-minded, drastic enough to provide the sharp break with the past that many leftwingers in the underdeveloped countries see as essential.” Hired by Stanford in 1948 and tenured in 1951, Baran was probably the only publicly declared Marxist then teaching in an American department of economics, but he was treated coldly by his faculty colleagues and subjected to a salary freeze by an administration cowed by alumni pressure. Haunted by insomnia and stress, he died of a heart attack in 1965. The book he had all but finished writing with Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (1966), would become the defining theoretical reference point for a new generation of radical economists in the next ten years.4
What united these thinkers, the central project that enlivened Monthly Review from the start, was what Baran termed “the critical appraisal of the capitalist order in the light of reason.”5
From its very first issue, Monthly Review challenged the prevailing view that through managerial fine-tuning, capitalism had an infinite potential to grow. Monthly Review opposed class exploitation and the organization of production for private profit rather than social need. Its editors and writers maintained that poverty, inequality in wealth and income, racial oppression, imperialism, and waste were permanent and endemic, not atavistic or peripheral, features of capitalist society. In contrast to then-prevalent liberal assumptions, Monthly Review held that social irrationality and injustice could not be resolved by better policy solutions offered within the framework of the capitalist state or property relations. The task of intellectuals was to demystify the current order as thoroughly as possible, to practice, again in Baran’s words, the “continuous, systematic, and comprehensive confrontation of reality with reason.”6
Although the leading lights of Monthly Review were virtuoso economists, and although the magazine, especially by the 1970s, would become known for its excellence in political economy, it is worth underscoring that in its social theory MR never depicted capitalism in narrowly economic terms. This is true even in Monopoly Capital, Baran and Sweezy’s magnum opus, where they described the mature capitalist economy as “monopoly capitalism” in order to emphasize the concentration of capital in a handful of giant firms in each leading industry. Although they wrote in the midst of the long postwar boom, which had created a number of illusions among mainstream analysts, Sweezy and Baran identified powerful systemic tendencies toward stagnation. The most original aspect of their assessment was to identify the factors that had offset stagnationist tendencies after the Second World War, including the massive highway and suburban growth stimulated by the automobile, vast Cold War arms expenditure, and the wasteful expansion of advertising and sales. This assessment was, as Sweezy would later express it, “much more than…economics in the usual meaning of the term.”7
The point is not just that Monthly Review‘s approach to economics was unabashedly historical, critical, and political. It is not even that in intellectual interests the Monthly Review group roamed far and wide, with Sweezy initiating a signal historical debate about early modern Europe, for example, and Baran exploring psychoanalysis. Nor is it that the magazine was unrestrictive in subject, ranging from natural science to anthropology, with editorials on such unpredictable topics as the quiz show scandal. The important point is that Monthly Review stood in fundamental opposition to the whole of the capitalist order—economic, cultural, ideological, political, and social.
This stance had profound political implications. Namely, the responsibility of intellectuals was not to be counselors to power (policy wonks, to borrow an apt if graceless phrase from our own day) but to maintain radical independence of judgment, to practice what Baran described as “clarity, courage, patience, faith in the spontaneity of rational and socialist tendencies in society.” Socialist aspirations, even if they relegated left-wing intellectuals to the outside edge of what C. Wright Mills called the “American celebration,” were a source of realism that Monthly Review refused to forsake for the mirage of influence. “Nor should we continue to kid ourselves that we have only to water down our program a bit, accommodate here, and compromise there—and we will be a force again,” wrote Huberman. “Not so. That is the road to our own extinction. For what do we gain if our voice is finally heard again—but the message it proclaims is garbled, or so modified as to be no longer worth hearing? Let us, instead, do what we can do—speak out honestly and clearly for what we stand for.”8
Yet financial means, talent and experience, and a coherent outlook, while valuable traits, do not alone explain the success of Monthly Review at a time when socialism was becoming, as the editors observed in their first editorial, “little more than a dirty word.” History cannot be willed, and the magazine’s infancy coincided with what might have been the worst period for American socialists in the entire twentieth century: the heyday of McCarthyism.
It was no casual thing to subscribe to a socialist magazine in the early 1950s. Monthly Review had to be mailed out in plain wrappers. In the climate of official accusation, investigations, and guilt by association—of Truman’s loyalty oaths and the House Committee on Un-American Activities, of J. Edgar Hoover and the Rosenberg execution, of people setting their radical books out on the curb with the trash—Monthly Review may be counted as lucky merely to have survived.
But it did far more than that, and the paradox should not go unobserved. Most Marxist ventures are launched in bursts of enthusiasm, in days when mass radicalization provides ripe audiences, when enormous marches in the streets make the goal of a revolutionary transformation appear somewhat less far-fetched than usual. Monthly Review was launched in 1949, when the left was in headlong retreat, under tremendous attack, and disintegrating rapidly. As a result, Monthly Review‘s subscribers increased steadily from 450 at the time of the first issue to 2,500 in 1950 and 6,000 in 1954.
As a result? Yes, for that is the paradox: a good part of the left, beset and beleaguered, in a state of confusion, fragmentation, and even depression, stood in need of precisely the kind of calming and reasoned analysis, simple and straightforward language, openness to voices from multiple quarters, and uncompromising independence that Monthly Review quickly came to exemplify. The independent Marxism of Monthly Review ran counter to the prevailing national winds, but it was perfectly suited to a bruised American left seeking new modes of expression and new forms of community, with a recent history of disappointment and organizational failure.
At first, Monthly Review was a pole of attraction for a precise milieu on the left. It reflected the concerns and politics of those who had lived through a shared political experience, that of the Popular Front, and who were trying in troubled times to find a way to keep expressing their socialist convictions while quietly reflecting upon many aspects of Marxist practice and theory. This independent socialist cohort provided the core of readers, supporters, and writers who were a precondition for the success of the magazine.
The immediate background, reaching unhappy conclusion a mere six months before, was Henry Wallace’s 1948 presidential campaign. After serving a term as vice-president under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Wallace was appointed secretary of commerce in 1944. He was kept on, after FDR’s death, in the administration of Harry S. Truman until his criticism of Washington’s increasingly hardline anticommunism in foreign policy forced his resignation. His 1948 candidacy represented an attempt to revive the New Deal coalition of labor, the left, and liberals within a new Progressive Party.
While he was not much of a radical or a particularly sharp political thinker, Wallace ran decidedly to the left of Truman on civil rights and opposed the escalating Cold War. His public support, relatively substantial at first, was an extension of the militant left wing of labor and the New Deal, the sort who had supported Roosevelt’s reforms and hoped to deepen them. Instead, the campaign marked the break-up of “progressivism.” Truman usurped much of Wallace’s domestic program while becoming an ever more strident cold warrior, typifying the midcentury embrace of redbaiting by mainstream liberalism. In the end, Wallace got only one million votes, rather than the five or ten million some predicted he would receive.
The group that launched Monthly Review did not think the problem had been that Wallace had run as an independent. The deplorable drift of the Democratic establishment only confirmed to them the value of exploring alternatives to the two-party system. Huberman even called for “the creation by labor of a political party of its own to advance its interests.”9 The real problem, the editors thought, was that the Popular Front against fascism had been replaced by an intensified crusade against Communism, often designed and executed by liberals. The left-liberal alliance of the Depression and Second World War was being severed in the Cold War atmosphere.
Wallace’s poor showing was doubly tragic to the founders of Monthly Review because he had not focused attention upon genuine political alternatives to capitalist society. Sweezy and Huberman had served together on the Progressive Party’s national platform committee. They thought he had been mistaken to refrain from a genuinely radical program, which had allowed Truman to appropriate his domestic policies and meant that supporters of the Progressive Party were not drawn toward any larger understanding of the need for changes in the social system. Wallace had simply stood as a third and better candidate.10
On the left, many were thinking along the same lines as the editors of Monthly Review. Their hopes for change had been fired by the great movements of the 1930s and rekindled after the Second World War with the demise of the fascist powers and the great strike waves at home. Most radicals had not expected reaction to be nearly so fierce and quick in coming. Some capitulated, but many were far from ready to give up the ghost. Their memories were still fresh with marches of the unemployed, sit-down strikes by industrial workers, campaigns against racial segregation, and student rallies against fascism and war. Many of them drew a similar balance sheet of disappointment regarding the 1948 election. The National Guardian, launched in 1948, was the journalistic expression of this milieu, which had its more cerebral and analytical offshoot in Monthly Review.
The existence of this sort of opinion—socialist but independent, unrestricted by party position—would hardly have been thinkable ten years before, which is another way of saying that the difference between the 1930s and the late 1940s was not merely in the disintegration of the New Deal coalition but in the weakening of Communist Party influence on the left.
Quite substantial during the Great Depression and Second World War, the Communist Party was still significant in 1949, especially compared to the remnant of the once-vast Socialist Party. But as a result of its own errors and severe attacks upon it, the CP was experiencing a hemorrhage in membership. Its periphery was increasingly restive. Although the magazine had a varied readership from the beginning, many Monthly Review readers and writers were veterans of the Popular Front that the Communist Party had spearheaded, and they often looked back on that history with pride. But they shared to one degree or another—it would be a mistake not to admit a range—Huberman and Sweezy’s opinion that the time had come for a politically and intellectually independent left.11
In the view of Huberman and Sweezy, the Communist Party had not carried out enough explicit education for socialism, had too often lost its socialist bearings, had frequently violated the protocol essential for cooperation on the left, and had a mistaken habit of denouncing anyone who did not support its line completely and unreservedly. Their views, in short, were not unlike those of journalist I. F. Stone, who in Monthly Review expressed weariness with “the stultifications and idiocies, the splits and the heresy-hunts, which make the Communists so ludicrous a spectacle half the time.”12
But Stone made that remark while opposing those who proposed to purge the CP from the Progressive Party. That was consistent with Monthly Review‘s corollary tenet: rejection of redbaiting. Monthly Review opposed government attempts to outlaw Communist activity, resisted prejudicial judgments against individual Communists, and fought the barring of Communists from political coalitions or educational institutions because of their political affiliation alone. The pages of Monthly Review were, by example, open to Communist contributors.13
This was nothing less than an attempt to create a new left-wing culture, not a mere political stance. In a lead editorial for an early forum in the magazine, “Cooperation on the Left,” the editors rejected both redbaiting and exempting any group on the left from criticism. After distinguishing cooperation from unity, they wrote that the U.S. left’s “historic task of capturing the most formidable citadel of capitalism” would require humility all around: “a certain minimum willingness to face facts, to accept criticism, to admit mistakes, and to try new methods.”14
Cooperation was not merely a rhetorical expression at Monthly Review. All who recall the magazine’s early circle speak of its extraordinary spirit of companionship and relatedness.15
Who created that communal sensibility? Along with the two editors, we might begin with two women who were on staff from the beginning and who would remain with Monthly Review to the end of their lives: Gertrude Heller Huberman (1902-1965) and Sybil Huntington May (1893-1978).
Gert, the youngest of twelve children who had immigrated with her parents from Russia at age three, was accountant and subscription manager. A former schoolteacher, bookkeeper for the League for Industrial Democracy, and supervisor of Long Island nursery school education for the Works Progress Administration, she had been married to Leo since 1925. In its first three years, Monthly Review was published from their apartment up three flights of stairs on Barrow Street in Greenwich Village and from their summer place at Martha’s Vineyard, where a garage became a makeshift office. Every month, Gert lugged the sacks full of journals to the post office.16
Sybil May, a graduate of Vassar College, had met Leo when he taught briefly at the experimental City and Country School in Greenwich Village, where she had a long career. Older than the others, she retired from teaching at about the same time Monthly Review was founded to serve as record-keeper, correspondence respondent, and an impeccable proofreader who kept the magazine virtually error-free for nearly thirty years.17
In other words, the initial staff—Leo, Paul, Gert, Sybil—were close friends. Around them gathered a wider group of shared inclination. Meetings were held with radical graduate students from Columbia and Harvard, and with intellectuals and prominent figures of the left, such as Oskar Lange, Michael Kalecki, Max Werner, Cedric Belfrage, James Aronson, and Barrows Dunham.18
The “Notes from the Editors” columns, wrapped inside the front and back covers of the magazine, and known around the office as “Nifties,” following the acronym NFTE, were a chatty way of enhancing and focusing these associations. Updates about the doings of the editors and their friends were accompanied by endless enjoinders to readers to subscribe, to get their friends to subscribe, and to get local libraries to purchase MR pamphlets and books. The Nifties also served over the years to extend the magazine’s ecumenical solidarity to the events and publications of other sectors of the left, ranging from the Friends of Kathy Boudin to the Young Socialist.
In the winter of 1950-1951, support for the magazine became more formal with the establishment of Monthly Review Associates, a group of donors, volunteers, and political allies coordinated for many years by Sybil May. Its first chair was Henry Pratt Fairchild (1880-1956), who had taught sociology at New York University from 1919 to 1945 and was the author of Economics for the Millions (1940), among other books. Founding treasurer Aleine Austin represented a younger cohort who had come of political age in the 1940s. A graduate of Antioch College who had attended the Highlander School in Tennessee, Austin served as an assistant to Huberman at the NMU during the war, obtained an M.A. from Columbia University in 1947, and was author of a popular history, The Labor Story (1949); subsequently, she would obtain a Ph.D. and teach American history at several institutions.19
The Associates were not merely an indispensable source of cash donations but a social gathering point. A program of lectures began in March 1951, when Joshua Kunitz spoke on “Toward an Understanding of Socialist Culture.” The best-attended talk, in May 1958, featured British socialist G. D. H. Cole on the subject “Socialism and Capitalism in the World Today,” with sociologist C. Wright Mills as chair and 1,100 in attendance. In March 1961, the well-known English economist Joan Robinson addressed “Anti-Americanism.”
Such were the efforts and people, young and old, familiar and surprising, who sustained Monthly Review from the beginning. It was in every sense of the word a collective enterprise, one whose spirit is reflected in the shared editorship that has characterized the magazine (always co-edited) and, in a different way, in the brown-bag lunches still held once a week at the office where the editors preside over a salon with any guests who happen to be visiting New York that day from the far corners of the earth.
There is another way to put all of this. Sweezy, Huberman, and Baran—Harry Magdoff was equally prominent after 1968, as is Ellen Meiksins Wood today—were crucial to Monthly Review. They were responsible for elaborating its ideas, mission, and reach. But their names might never have reached as wide a public were it not for that family of people who make any such project work: friends, staff, board members, donors, writers, supporters, readers, subscribers.
In the course of time, the small original band was joined or succeeded by newcomers, both fleeting and permanent, whose full range of experiences—friendships, conflicts, attainments, mishaps, antipathies, and desires—can only be hinted at in recollections like this one:
During the summer break from college in 1962, I was employed at MR at minimum wage to perform menial tasks—primarily, as I recall, related to mailing books and sending invoices—while I soaked up Marxist wisdom from the very air in the office. (I must also have soaked up smoke from the cigarette perpetually dangling from Leo’s lower lip.) On the rare occasions when Paul Sweezy appeared in the office, I was speechless with lust. I doubt Paul ever had the slightest idea of what was going on in the young intern’s head and I, of course, never let on.20
Among the lasting additions to the staff were Bobbye Ortiz (1918-1990) and Judy Ruben (1931-1997). Ortiz had left a middle-class Jewish family in Arkansas to attend Barnard in 1933, where she took part in groups against war and fascism before transferring to the University of Chicago, where she helped support the steelworkers’ organizing drive. From 1939 through much of the 1950s, she lived in Mexico and England, returning to the United States to serve as assistant to Huberman beginning in 1957. As associate editor from 1968 to 1983, she helped connect the magazine to Latin American and socialist-feminist currents. Ruben, raised in a left-wing family that was close to Monthly Review, and therefore friends with Leo and Sybil May long before she joined the staff in 1974, ranged well beyond her duties in permissions and rights to become something of an institutional ambassador to the wider world.21
Monthly Review, in short, has been the product of considerable activity from below, much of it by women neglected in historical and journalistic accounts of the project. Many people, past and present, from volunteers to assistant editors, contributed to the life of the institution by carrying out the crucial tasks: answering the ever-ringing phone, reading manuscripts, attending to advertising and promotions, replying to correspondence, laying out the pages, sitting on committees.22
No matter how great the staff’s esprit de corps and moral commitment, 1949 was a difficult time to launch an independent socialist magazine in the United States. The magazine’s politics—“socialist, Marxist, non-Communist but willing to cooperate with anyone, including Communists, on agreed aims and by agreed methods”—made it exceptional at a time when the red menace stalked the national imagination.23
Consider just a few events of 1949. Regents at the University of Washington voted in January to dismiss three professors for alleged Communist backgrounds (with Sweezy testifying as an expert on Marxism before the faculty committee). At the University of California, regents voted in June to impose loyalty oaths on the Cal faculty. A Smith Act trial held from January to October resulted in the imprisonment of eleven Communist Party leaders for conspiring to “teach and advocate” the violent overthrow of the government. Popular opinion reached the level of mass hysteria as Alger Hiss, a former State Department official, entered court on charges of perjury as he contested charges of passing classified documents to Whittaker Chambers, an ex-Communist. Outside of Peekskill, up the Hudson River from New York City, those returning from a Paul Robeson concert in September 1949 were bloodied by a miles-long mob chanting “Jew bastard,” “dirty nigger,” and “Moscow lover.” No wonder that many Monthly Review contributors adopted such bylines as “A University Professor of Social Science.” In the September 1949 issue, every single contributor preferred to remain anonymous.
The repression took full McCarthyist shape after the summer of 1949, when revolution shook China and the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb. In a 1950 speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, Senator Joseph McCarthy sought to blame Communist infiltration of the Roosevelt and Truman State Departments for the “loss” of China. A heresy hunt ensued, fed by the deepening Cold War, the expansive designs of U.S. empire, business’s desire to roll back the gains of labor and the New Deal, and conventional major party rivalry.24
The design and virtual effect of the anticommunist crescendo was to eliminate the influence of the American left in every corner of society—labor unions, government, publishing, film, television, and education—by tainting radical dissent with the odor of “subversion.” All radicals were forced to fear for their livelihoods. The sweeping character of redbaiting and its symbolic rites is illustrated by the attacks visited upon the editors of Monthly Review, neither of whom had ever belonged to the Communist Party.
In 1953, Leo Huberman was called before McCarthy’s Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Governmental Operations, where he was interrogated about his books, many of which the State Department had bought for its reference libraries. Rather than invoke the Constitutional right not to incriminate himself, as many witnesses had, Huberman stated that he had never been a Communist and refused to answer all other questions on Constitutional grounds of free speech. His stance won him praise from the British New Statesman and Nation:
This has rarely, if ever happened before. The Senators threaten contempt citations against witnesses who plead the Fifth Amendment; they were not prepared for attacks on themselves for undermining the First by exceeding their legal powers. Here lies the strength and the importance of Leo Huberman’s position. Neither a government employee nor dependent upon universities or other private employers, a frank statement could not prejudice his employment. Though it takes courage to make a public avowal of free speech for heretics, especially Marxists, he felt that someone had to make a start.25
Sweezy’s day before the inquisitors came in 1954 after he was summoned by the New Hampshire Attorney General to answer questions about his involvement with the Progressive Party and a guest lecture he had given at the University of New Hampshire. Sweezy refused to answer on the grounds that his political beliefs should not be subject to government inquiry. He lost at the county level and was sentenced to jail, but was set free on bail for three years as the appeal made its way through the judicial system. In 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction on technical grounds as one of a series of decisions correcting the worst excesses of the McCarthy era.26
One inadvertent legacy of the McCarthy years was the creation of Monthly Review Press. It all began with I. F. Stone’s inability to find a publisher for his assessment of the official version of the Korean War. Written with humor and critical bite, the manuscript suggested that rather than being a case of simple unprovoked aggression from the North, the war—still underway at that time—had been “encouraged politically by silence, invited militarily by defensive formations, and finally set off by some minor lunges across the border,” and that the truth about its precise origins lay somewhere “hidden in the murk of dispute between pro-Communists and anti-Communists.”27
Stone had been a writer for the New York Post from 1933 to 1939, Washington correspondent of The Nation between 1940 and 1946, and writer for the New York dailies PM, the Star, and the Daily Compass from 1942 to 1952. That a journalist with his experience, ability, and ready-made audience was unable to get his book published was dramatic indication that in the realm of culture the Cold War had fallen to sub-zero temperatures. Sweezy and Huberman decided the book should see the light of day, and The Hidden History of the Korean War (1952) became the first title offered by Monthly Review Press.
When revisited in the 1960s and 1970s by students and scholars whose consciousness had been profoundly shaped by another war in Asia and who were less likely to accept the received wisdom of Cold War orthodoxy, books like Stone’s won a reputation as hidden classics of critical scholarship. Stone’s book also set a pattern for its publisher. In addition to issuing germinal works by Sweezy and Huberman, Monthly Review Press in its initial fifteen years tended to publish books that were critical of American foreign policy and unable to find a mainstream outlet, including Harvey O’Connor’s The Empire of Oil (1955), Paul Baran’s The Political Economy of Growth (1957), and William Appleman Williams’s The United States, Cuba, and Castro (1963).
That ostracized texts were its mainstay should not give the impression that Monthly Review Press was for “losers” from a publishing standpoint. Take Fanshen (1966) by William Hinton. Hinton had lived in China from 1947 to 1953, initially as a UN worker. Following the 1949 revolution, he observed land reform in a village, taking more than one thousand single-spaced pages of notes. When he returned home at the height of McCarthyism, his notes were promptly confiscated by customs officials. After a lengthy court battle, Hinton retrieved his notes in 1958 and immediately began writing while working as a truck mechanic in Philadelphia. He finished the book early in 1964 but spent three unsuccessful years showing it to trade publishers in Boston and New York. Some told him frankly that it was too political. After he gave it to Monthly Review Press, the cloth edition sold out rapidly, and paperback rights were contracted to Vintage, with royalties split evenly between Hinton and Monthly Review Press. Vintage sold a staggering two hundred thousand paper copies, and Fanshen is still in print to this day, now from the University of California Press.28
Until the mid-1960s, Monthly Review Press was overseen by Huberman, a consummate organizer, but as it grew in size and Leo began experiencing health problems, he and Sweezy sought an additional hand. In 1967, they found what they were looking for in Harry Braverman (1920-1976). In the prior seven years, Braverman had risen from editor to vice-president and general manager of Grove Press in New York. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he had a background as a worker in the shipbuilding and steel industries, where he had been a union organizer and socialist activist. As a Trotskyist in the Socialist Workers Party in the 1940s and 1950s, Braverman was part of the subgroup led by Bert Cochran, heavily trade unionist in composition. When that group split with the SWP in 1953, Braverman edited its magazine the American Socialist until the group disbanded in 1960. (Monthly Review and theAmerican Socialist published a joint issue, “American Labor Today,” in July-August 1958.) This depth of working-class and socialist experience enabled Braverman to write his masterpiece, Labor and Monopoly Capital (1974), a brilliant criticism of managerial control and the eradication of skill from work, which became Monthly Review Press’s all-time bestseller.29
In his ten years at the helm, Braverman put a creative stamp on Monthly Review Press. It became one of the leading publishers of radical books in the world, translating Marxist classics by the likes of Rosa Luxemburg, Nikolai Bukharin, and Karl Korsch, and issuing influential English-language titles such as Andre Gunder Frank’s Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America (1967), Che Guevara’s Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War (1968), Ernest Mandel’s Marxist Economic Theory (2 vols., 1970), Kwame Nkrumah’s Consciencism (1970), Daniel Guérin’s Anarchism (1971), Louis Althusser’s Lenin and Philosophy (1971), Aimé Césaire’sDiscourse on Colonialism (1972), Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America (1973), Amilcar Cabral’s Return to the Source (1973), Samir Amin’s Accumulation on a World Scale (1974), the anthologyToward an Anthropology of Women (1975) edited by Rayna Reiter, and Charles Bettelheim’s Class Struggles in the USSR (2 vols., 1976).
Geller was succeeded by Susan Lowes, who served as director through 1995. Lowes, who had come to MR with Braverman from Grove and had been managing editor under Geller, introduced several much-appreciated series, including the New Feminist Library and Cornerstone Books. Monthly Review Press in her tenure continued to publish highly praised works, among them the collection Powers of Desire (1983) edited by Ann Snitnow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson, Elizabeth Ewen’s Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars (1985), Cornel West’s The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought (1991), John Bellamy Foster’s The Vulnerable Planet (1994), and Shadows of Tender Fury: The Letters and Communiques of Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (1995).
Today, Monthly Review Press is governed by a hybrid of self-managed departments and a joint staff-board editorial committee; there is no single staff director. It continues to be a major publisher of significant writings by the editors of Monthly Review and other accomplished authors—Ellen Meiksins Wood, Daniel Singer, Paul Buhle, and Adolph Reed, to pluck just four names from the current season’s catalogue.
The growth of the press is reflective of a more general fact about the institution: once the Truman-Eisenhower decade was behind it, Monthly Review thrived in the atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s. Having endured a decade of intense repression, relative capitalist stability and growth, political quiescence, and liberal ideological consensus, Monthly Review served to provide an arc of continuity between the disintegration of the old left and the emergence of a new one.30
It is not easy to say whether Monthly Review was more old left or new, if a choice has to be made. Perhaps that is because the designations are, to an extent, contrivances. But it seems fair to say that Monthly Review was a journal of the old left that extended its sympathies to the new, that from the beginning it held certain beliefs identical to the new left’s central tenets, and that it was further shaped over time by interaction with the movements and events of the 1960s, serving as one place of fusion for overlapping generations of the left.
Obviously the editors, readers, and contributors to Monthly Review were drawn primarily from the old left. Appearing in its pages in the 1950s were Carey McWilliams, Anne Braden, Agnes Smedley, Anna Louise Strong, Edgar Snow, Stanley Moore, and Joseph Starobin, as well as the occasional luminary from abroad, such as Jean-Paul Sartre. A column by the eclectic independent radical Scott Nearing, “World Events,” ran from 1953 to 1972, and a number of contributors from old left backgrounds, such as Annette Rubinstein and Carl Marzani, continued to write for the magazine into the 1990s. Monthly Review‘s editors, of course, differed with the sort of new leftists who were skeptical about socialism or who associated Marxism with economic crudity.31
On the other hand, the magazine had several new left traits. In 1956, Monthly Review‘s editors were stunned by the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Khrushchev revelations about the extent of Stalin’s crimes. They responded immediately to the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-1956, were inspired by the ensuing civil rights movement, and published writings in the 1950s and early 1960s by W. E. B. Du Bois, Shirley Graham, Oliver Cromwell Cox, James and Grace Lee Boggs, Conrad Lynn, and Lorraine Hansberry, as well as an interview with Malcolm X in 1964. The magazine’s principled independence from party control anticipated the culture of the new left, and its policies of opposing redbaiting and extending aid to anyone on the left were compatible with the principles of inclusiveness and “anti-anti-communism” promulgated by an early new left trying to work its way out of the dead end of Cold War liberalism.
No wonder, then, that the magazine was embraced by a good part of the new left as indispensable reading. Indeed, since the magazine was so obviously an outgrowth of the experience of an older left, it is surprising how early some quintessential writers of the new left enter into its pages. Staughton Lynd and William Appleman Williams began writing for Monthly Review in 1952—not, say, 1962, when one might expect to see their names. C. Wright Mills wrote on psychology for Monthly Review in 1958. In the following two years the editors ran articles by Raymond Williams and Ralph Miliband, introducing them to an American readership that had almost certainly not yet heard of their sort of British socialism. “He was always a little detached, and he rarely ‘belonged’ to any fraction or section,” wrote E. P. Thompson of Raymond Williams upon his death. “He told me once, in the late 1960s, that he then felt closest to the American Monthly Review.“32
From a very early moment, in other words, Monthly Review was able to connect with the new left at home and abroad. As Nina Serrano recollects, the magazine was part of the changes blowing in the wind in Madison, Wisconsin, as early as the late 1950s:
, came to speak off-campus; although he reached only the leftist students, his influence was profound. Most of us left his reception as subscribers to Monthly Review. For the next few years, articles from that magazine were often the center of lively discussion. (Sweezy’s co-editor was Leo Huberman, whose book, Man’s Worldly Goods, I’d found very moving in my teens. When I met Leo in the 1960s, a year or so before he died, I felt affirmed to find such a kindly and warm man.)33
One convergence of the magazine and the young radicals was on foreign policy. Monthly Review, like the new left, was shaped in opposition to the Cold War and its hot skirmishes. Long before most Americans had ever heard of Vietnam, even before the war had become a fully American war, the editors accurately prophesied the direction of the conflict in Southeast Asia: “Are we going to take the position that anti-Communism justifies anything, including colonialism, interference in the affairs of other countries, and aggression? That way, let us be perfectly clear about it, lies war and more war leading ultimately to full-scale national disaster.”34 Likewise, the special July-August 1960 issue, “Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution,” later issued as a book, was a very early, timely portrait of changes on the island after the first of several visits by Huberman and Sweezy following the 1959 revolution. It was considered indispensable reading by many young radicals intrigued by the possibility that Cuba represented a departure from conventional Communism and the American empire alike.
As the decade took shape, other new left names made their appearance: James Weinstein (1963), Todd Gitlin (1964), Carl Ogelsby (1966). There were writings by the likes of Ronald Radosh and David Horowitz, who later turned to the right, and by those, like Noam Chomsky, who have stayed the course. As a popularly written revolutionary socialist magazine produced by intellectuals, Monthly Review held appeal for a student new left that was highly educated but often failed to produce much in the way of intellectual material of its own, and correspondingly it attracted new left writers who sought a serious outlet for their analyses. Indeed, the new left immediately adopted Sweezy and Baran’s Monopoly Capital (1966), writes Joanne Barkan, “as a standard text—one of those books ‘everyone’ read or discussed in a study group or recommended to radical friends.”35
The magazine’s stance toward the working class in the advanced capitalist countries was as complicated as the new left’s. The leading Monthly Review writers on the subject—Huberman, Sweezy, and Braverman—attempted as Marxists to come to terms with the American working class’s postwar conservatism, while holding out the possibility of eventual working-class radicalization. But in some not-insignificant instances, writers for the magazine wrote off organized labor as absorbed within the system and looked elsewhere for sources of revolutionary change. In a much-discussed special issue of 1963, for example, James Boggs maintained that “the workers themselves have drawn the curtain on the era of the union,” which has “outlived its usefulness,” and that trade unions are “today fulfilling the same functions for the American state as the Russian trade unions do for the Russian state.” This message—that class struggle would have to take place outside and against unions—was all the more powerful in that it was delivered by an eloquent revolutionary black industrial worker.36
The American left’s turn toward socialism and revolution in the last years of the 1960s and early 1970s was contradictory, combining reasoned recognition of the impossibility of liberation under capitalism with reckless tendencies toward adventurism and sectarian fratricide. The astute and the pathological in that moment cannot be conveniently separated out. It can be said, however, that the new level of radicalization—partially propelled by a black liberation struggle which looked to anti-colonial and Marxist movements abroad, and energized by the worldwide eruptions of 1968—further stimulated Monthly Review‘s growth. As many turned to revolutionary Marxism between 1968 and 1973, believing it to provide a framework for comprehending world events and a compelling guide to political action, and as the organizational crack-up of the new left prompted a substantial minority of activists to seek out more serious Marxist analysis and socialist politics, Monthly Review‘s paid circulation rose to 9,072 in 1970 and peaked at 11,500 in 1977.
The magazine’s growing appeal in the late 1960s and early 1970s stemmed in part from the mass movement against the Vietnam War, which prompted younger readers to seek a more sophisticated analysis of imperialism. The hunger of students for answers as to why the United States was at war in Southeast Asia was, in fact, what stimulated Harry Magdoff to write the set of articles for the magazine compiled in his popular book The Age of Imperialism (1969). Opposing mainstream dismissals of an economic basis for U.S. foreign policy as well as crude interpretations of interventions abroad as the result of strict balance-sheet measurements of material interests in specific countries, Magdoff argued that imperialism was not a chosen policy but part of the very essence of a capitalist society, an international system that inevitably gave rise to the desire to keep open the option of investment the world over.37
When Magdoff joined Sweezy as co-editor after the death of Huberman, the bond further strengthened both the magazine’s economic coverage and its already-impressive commitment to the analysis of imperialism and third world issues. In the 1960s and 1970s, Andre Gunder Frank, Samir Amin, and others associated with Monthly Review extended the dependency theory that Paul Baran had initiated, arguing that the third world was underdeveloped not because it was pre-capitalist or pre-modern but because of capitalism itself: modern imperialism. The spectacular wealth of the North and destitution of the South were not unrelated; the third world lagged behind because it was the integral periphery of a capitalist system, not because it hadn’t yet reached a magical “take-off” point. Only a revolutionary breakaway from empire could free the third world from underdevelopment. These positions won Monthly Review a worldwide readership and esteem. Many MR readers had experiences like that of Allen Young, who had taken a course from Baran at Stanford and found that he could drop Baran’s name “in leftist circles anywhere in South America and win instant admiration and respect.”38
As the new left in the United States grew more aware of the extent of armed struggles in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, Monthly Review was also looked to as a source about national liberation struggles and revolutionary strategy. One influential document was “Revolution in the Revolution?”—a book-length explanation of guerrilla techniques by Regis Debray that appeared as a special issue in summer 1967 and was followed the next summer by another special issue, full of highly critical replies to Debray. Of the editors’ own assessments of political developments in Latin America, particularly poignant were their essays on Chile following the election of socialist Salvador Allende, whose inauguration Sweezy and Ortiz attended. The editors were among those to call upon the Chilean administration to develop an armed popular counterweight to the military before a coup led to the tragic massacre of virtually the entire Chilean left, including Allende, in 1973.39
Perhaps the greatest dilemma that the twentieth century presented for revolutionary socialists was the emergence of states like the Soviet Union, formed after massive revolutionary upsurges, different in class structure, ideology, and social organization from capitalism, but lacking in working-class democracy. How did Monthly Review come to terms with this defining problem?
In one sense, the editors’ definition of socialism remained constant across fifty years: to them it was the negation of capitalism, a thoroughgoing transformation of property relations, the abolition of private profit as the organizing principle of production. While seeking reforms in the here and now, Monthly Review has thus been decidedly to the left of social democratic reformism, opposed to political collaboration with capitalist institutions and imperialism as self-defeating compromises.
Within that general position, however, Monthly Review‘s definition of socialism has matured considerably. In their founding editorial statement, “Where We Stand,” the editors considered public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy and comprehensive planning to be the essence of socialism. While they reserved the right to be critical of any country, they believed socialism had been achieved in the Soviet Union with the first Five-Year Plan and wrote confidently of “an actually functioning socialist system which grows in strength and vigor with every year that passes.”40
Over time, however, the editors came in effect to hold that public ownership and planning were necessary, rather than sufficient, conditions for socialism. One cause for the shift was a more critical disposition toward the Soviet Union beginning in 1956. After tanks rolled into Hungary, the editors wrote, “Any claim the Soviet Union had to moral leadership of the world socialist movement is now extinguished.” Monthly Review did not consider such episodes illustrative of revolutionary expansion, as did the State Department and Communists alike, but the reverse. By the mid-1960s the editors were prepared to maintain that the Soviet Union had become a depoliticized and thus non-revolutionary society, highly stratified, “with a deep chasm between the ruling stratum of political bureaucrats and economic managers on the one side and the mass of people on the other.”41
This pronounced criticism of bureaucratically administered societies brought the editors back to the challenge made by Albert Einstein in Monthly Review‘s premier issue:
…A planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?42
Like Einstein, the editors—especially Sweezy, who wrote most extensively on such issues—came to conclude that socialism demanded “a society in which the actual producers dominate the conditions and results of their productive activity,” as Sweezy put it in a celebrated exchange with the French Marxist Charles Bettelheim.43
By this understanding, social systems like those in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were transitional—beyond capitalism but not yet socialist. Actually, many were backtracking toward capitalism, as typified by renewed emphasis on the market as regulator. Others, the editors hoped, were heading in a more progressive direction, primarily Cuba and China. China’s Cultural Revolution was perceived by the editors as a model response to the danger of emergent privileged strata in post-revolutionary societies, and they followed Che Guevara in advocating moral or collective incentives as alternatives to coercion or individual acquisitiveness.44
This particular sensibility prompted the editors to be critical of Eurocommunism as a strategy for the 1970s, to oppose market socialism as both a theory in the West and a strategy for countries like Tito’s Yugoslavia and Deng’s China, and to resist the claim that the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989-1992 signified the end of socialism. It also led both Huberman and Sweezy to object, in different ways, to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which Huberman declared “morally, politically, ideologically” a disaster. In 1982, Sweezy protested the suppression of the Polish workers’ movement Solidarnosc, saying that the episode proved “beyond any shadow of a doubt” that “the Communist regimes of the Soviet bloc have become the expression and the guardians of a new rigidified hierarchical structure which has nothing in common with the kind of socialist society Marxists have always regarded as the goal of modern working-class movements.” In 1989, looking back at the magazine’s original “Where We Stand” editorial, Sweezy and Magdoff stood by most of the propositions but added the express stipulation that “to grow and develop and realize its potentialities socialism must be democratic in the root sense of the word.”45
The magazine’s evolving assessment of socialism reflects many of the traits that have made Monthly Review so valued by its readers, particularly its ability to change with experience and its unflagging commitment to the abolition of capitalism. Many readers disagreed, more or less sharply, with the magazine’s stances over the years toward various Communist countries. Some found Monthly Review to side too uncritically with one or another sector of the Communist world, while others found even its most subdued criticisms of such states and their policies unwarranted. But few doubted the independence and integrity of its editors’ judgments.46
What has caused Monthly Review to win such respect on the broad left and in wider circles? At least five characteristics leap to mind:
First, its plain, no-nonsense Marxism. From the beginning, the tone of Monthly Review was temperate and modest, of rational rather than religious disposition. Its distinctive mode of intellectual production—a voluntarily subsidized instititution dependent upon neither university nor party—has helped to keep its pages relatively free of jargon, dogma, and cant. Dedicated to intelligibility, informative but not pedantic, sophisticated in thought but simple and modest in style, the magazine strove for clarity and probity. As Huberman wrote in 1950, “Agitation, based on information, brings lasting converts to socialism; agitation, based on exhortation, does not.”47 The editors’ rational disposition was reflected in the magazine’s openness to a broad range of Marxist points of view, as well as to radical thinkers who worked outside of Marxism but were not hostile to it. Monthly Review‘s editors, even more honorably, recognized their fallibility. They were willing to admit their own errors and change their views from time to time to account for a world that had surprised their expectations. Even those who have found reason to disagree with them on one point or another will concede that the editors of Monthly Review never held to any position for reasons of vanity or dogma.
Second, its exemplary courage. The editors of Monthly Review stand in the front ranks of American dissenters in the second half of the twentieth century. It takes strength of character to admit one’s mistakes, it takes guts to be critical of governments and movements with which one has historically been in sympathy, and it takes courage to hold to socialist principles for fifty years against the relentless reproach of conventional society. Monthly Review stayed the course from the McCarthy era through the Reagan years, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the “end of history.” It has steadily and without fear championed the interests of the hungry, the dispossessed, and the great majority of humankind against capitalism, racism, and other forms of oppression. Its editors, every one of them highly educated, talented, and accomplished, could have chosen easier, more respectable, and more lucrative careers. But they stuck to their commitments with tenacity, despite the considerable pressures of the long haul, the fickleness of fashion, and the complacency that sometimes sets in with the passing of time.
Third, its astute practicing of political economy. Prior to the mid-1960s, Monthly Review was practically the only place “the interested reader could turn for an indigenous American Marxist economics,” as Herbert Gintis once wrote. Sometimes it still seems that way. Yet the value of Monthly Review‘s economic writing is not a function of scarcity so much as distinction. The training and expertise of Sweezy, Baran, and Magdoff was and is formidable. Their writings are important not merely for conveying unique theses about the twentieth-century economy. Monthly Review‘s economic writing sets a commendable example simply in its general sensibility, which has avoided the economic profession’s descent into model-building, technicality, and mathematical abstraction, not to mention the absurdities of “rational choice” theory and free-market dogma. Its editors have avoided the academic Marxist drift to theory by engaging reality, handling statistics deftly, evaluating economic arguments shrewdly, and relating economic phenomena to a holistic view of society, politics, and culture.48
Fourth, its ability to put the present into perspective. Assessment of momentary events is an extremely challenging type of Marxist writing, perhaps the most challenging, and Monthly Review‘s editors have been extremely adept at it. They have avoided theoretical fads and navel-gazing, and have cultivated a long view of history. The volumes of the magazine comprise nothing less than a running assessment of capitalist reality—in many instances, an account of enduring value. Consider Sweezy’s explanation in the very first issue of why policymakers will not switch to beneficial social spending over military expenditure as a means of stabilizing the economy. Arms spending was perfectly rational to the ruling class, he observed, since it brings healthy profits and does not have the drawbacks, from capital’s standpoint, of redistributing income or enhancing the social confidence of working people. Fifty years later, this resonates not merely as a useful historical theory of the Cold War state but as a living explanation for why military spending has remained so high even after the disappearance of the Soviet pretext.49
Fifth, its proven internationalism. Although “Where We Stand” expressed the view that the foremost responsibility of American socialists was to focus upon the prospects of socialism in the United States, Monthly Review quickly came to have a world reach, propelled by its interest in revolutionary developments abroad and its recognition that the postwar capitalist system orchestrated by the United States was global in scope. As Henry Luce, founder of Time, Life, and Fortune, put it in 1941, the twentieth century was to be the “American century.” Monthly Review not only opposed U.S. military, economic, and political domination over other peoples, but was highly attentive to developments in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East on their own terms. The magazine won attention the world over, from India to Guatemala. It printed original contributions by Che Guevara, Carlos Fuentes, and Eduardo Galeano, and revolutionaries abroad organized editions of the magazine in four other languages: Spanish (1963-1970, 1977), Italian (1968-1987), Greek (1973-1975, 1983, 1987-1988), and German (1974-1975). No other magazine has played the same role in educating American radicals about struggles and developments abroad, and no other periodical of the American left has achieved such a degree of international prestige—a level of identification and respect so great that revolutionaries abroad have often looked upon MR as their magazine.50
Despite these attributes and achievements, no one should take the historic milestone of fifty years for granted. Only a tiny number of Marxist publications have lasted longer, among them the academic quarterly Science & Society, established in 1936. Just about every one of the dangers that finished off other radical periodicals—financial trouble, government harassment, an editor’s death, the waning of movements—have beset Monthly Review. At every step, the magazine has had to fight to exist against problems large and small. It has had to replenish itself repeatedly against the natural attrition of subscribers. Its primary readership has been an American left that has more often than not been in a shambles. Not every issue has come out on time, and even in the most favorable periods, cash-flow crises have sometimes necessitated emergency appeals. Without question, the central issue facing Monthly Review today is the very same one that it faced from the beginning: survival.
Still, Monthly Review is not just any radical periodical. It is something of a socialist Noah’s ark—two Pauls, two Harrys, two Hubermans, a boat that allowed socialists to outlive an ideological flood that all but extinguished hopes for radical social change. There is a sense in which the tale of Monthly Review is nothing less than the history of the whole of the American left during the period of the magazine’s existence. In its pages you will find many of the great weaknesses of the American left: exaggeration of the threat of domestic fascism, writing off of the labor unions, mistaken hopes invested in faraway states, inflated revolutionary estimations. You will also find the left’s virtues: opposition to racism and gender oppression, uncompromising internationalism, class solidarity, courage and integrity, flexibility and intelligence, dedication to the interests of the most exploited, hard-headed analysis, egalitarian and democratic aspirations.
Much has changed in fifty years, starting with the quarters. Call it paradoxical, but Monthly Review has never existed very far from Wall Street, Madison Avenue, or Midtown’s glittering monuments to capital. It has, however, moved frequently, first leaving the Huberman apartment at 66 Barrow Street (1949-1951) to settle at 218 West 10th Street (1951-1961), then sharing space with The Nation at 333 Sixth Avenue (1961-1966). These were but the first stops on an inexorable Manhattan march northward to 116 West 14th Street (1966-1974), 62 West 14th Street (1974-1982), and 155 West 23rd Street (1982-1987), finally coming to a halt at its present commodious location on the tenth floor at 122 West 27th Street. The office’s movement might be taken as a metaphor for the tireless engagement that has always characterized Monthly Review, which has kept alive to the world, never resting.
Take, for example, the prolific economic writings of Magdoff and Sweezy in the past three decades. The editors collaborated on numerous articles and books that sought to illuminate patterns of slow growth that returned to the advanced industrial economies after the long post-Second World War boom came to an end in the early 1970s. Especially innovative was their explanation of what they called the “financial explosion”—the vast expansion of debt, credit, and monetary and financial markets, extending from Wall Street to the third world. The editors have viewed these developments as a byproduct of stagnation within production as capital sought alternative outlets, a process that has to some extent counteracted stagnation but is ultimately producing greater instability as the system takes on an increasingly speculative character. Because they located these problems within the capital accumulation process itself, the editors, against conventional economic wisdom, continued to maintain that reforms would be inadequate to solve structural problems that can only be redressed by the elimination of capitalist rule.
The Reagan-Bush-Clinton years may have confirmed some of the editors’ basic economic forecasts, but they were years of defeat and retreat for the left. Despite the unfavorable odds, Monthly Review met new challenges with fresh thinking—responding in 1984, for example, to the growth of liberation theology in Latin America and faith-based radicalism in the United States with a popular special issue on “Religion and the Left.” It devoted substantial attention to the Sandinista Revolution and Palestinian intifada, the Bernie Sanders and Jesse Jackson campaigns, and the growing crisis of the world environment. And it published important original material by journalist Christopher Hitchens, anti-war activist Daniel Ellsberg, scientists Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins, labor activists Bill Fletcher and Jane Slaughter, historians Eric Foner, Robin D. G. Kelley, and Marilyn B. Young, social critics Cornel West and Manning Marable, and economist Doug Henwood, among others.
Recently, Monthly Review has enjoyed a modest but discernable renewal. The magazine’s circulation bottomed out at 4,853 in 1996, the culmination of twenty years of retreat for the left, the collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, and the apparent triumph of centrist politics and neoliberal economics. But a series of initiatives have reversed that trend, beginning with the retooling of the summer issue into a concentrated annual exploration of such important contemporary themes as capitalism and the information age, the new pulse in worldwide labor, and ecology and agriculture. Monthly Review also gained a new editor when, after a lengthy search to establish continuity for their project by finding someone from a younger generation whose approach was consistent with Monthly Review‘s long-run perspective and with whom they believed they could work constructively, Sweezy and Magdoff invited the Marxist scholar Ellen Meiksins Wood, author of The Retreat from Class (1986), to join them as co-editor in 1997. Paid circulation has grown in every recent year, reaching 5,795 last year, its highest number since 1991. As if to symbolize these changes, the magazine in 1998 experienced the first redesign in its history, with an enlarged cover, page size, and typeface.
New readers, a new format, new vitality, a new editor: the changes, in a way, only serve to underscore the continuities of principle. The magazine’s initial politics, far from being outmoded, may never have been more relevant. In a sense, with Stalinism discredited and social democracy indistinguishable in practice from capitalism, we are all—all of us who remain on the left of the left—independent socialists now. While the global rivulets of the Marxist movement are weakened, they have, even in their organized expressions, the advantage of being far more heterogenous, pluralist, and egalitarian in their modes of solidarity than their counterparts were at midcentury. Most activists and thinkers on the American left have accepted the need for considerate, democratic interaction with those from other traditions and perspectives. Since fostering these values was the original purpose of Monthly Review, and since the inequalities and instabilities of capitalism and empire still generate a desperate need for far-reaching social reconstruction, there is every reason to hope that Monthly Review will continue to serve in the coming millennium just as it has for fifty years: as the flagship journal of an American Marxism in solidarity with liberation struggles the world over.
For the complete set of reference notes, please contact the assistant editor. (212) 691-2555
Comments are closed.