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April 2000 (Volume 51, Number 11)

Notes from the Editors

This space has, from its earliest years, been devoted to MR affairs, viewing the readers as part of a larger family. Recently, we began to use the space for commentary on political and economic developments also. The occasion of Paul’s 90th on April 10, however, calls for something very different. If you guess that this will be a love letter, you are not mistaken. I have long wanted to express publicly my feelings about Paul. A review of his contributions to knowledge and theoretical analysis about capitalism and socialism would require a long essay. I prefer to say a few words about him as my friend and comrade.

Our friendship grew slowly, but it kept on growing and intensifying as we gathered with mutual friends to discuss MR articles and policies. There were also meetings on practical management problems. The blossoming friendship, however, did not diminish my astonishment when, shortly after Leo Huberman died, Paul asked me to become co-editor. His invitation was, of course, intriguing. But it also disturbed me. I had spent years struggling against the odds to make a living in the environment of great fear produced by the mania of anticommunism. Shortly before Paul’s invitation, however, I managed to free myself from the chains of commerce; the opportunity opened up for independent study and writing to make up for the wasted years. My admiration of MR was enormous, but I was troubled by doubts about my own adequacy for the work and fearful of the frictions and tensions so common to partnerships.

I had seen too much storm and strife in political as well as business partnerships—tensions and splits not only over substantive matters, but also because of the clash of egos. I did overcome my reluctance, but suggested that, in view of Paul’s status and co-founder, I be the junior rather than the co-editor. Paul would have nothing of that. Still, I made it clear that if ever he thought the arrangement was unsatisfactory, I would quietly withdraw. So much for talking about myself.

One of the great surprises was the harmony and mutual dependence in the editing of MR—a success I attribute to Paul’s character. In the now thirty-two years of working together, not once did Paul utter a cross word or raise his voice in anger other than against the enemy. Such differences as we had over MR’s content were quietly discussed and resolved harmoniously. What evolved was more a marriage than a “business” partnership. It was a marriage without any, and I stress any, fights of the sort that occur even in the best of marriages. As editors, we had to deal with major political and social developments—the Cultural Revolution in China and the ensuing turnaround, the breakup of the Soviet Union, the revolutionary wars of national liberation, strife on the left in Cambodia and Granada, the intifada in Israel’s occupied territory, the spread of stagnation and the financial explosion in the rich capitalist countries. These and other developments often contributed to fierce debate and divisions on the left. But not at MR’s quarters. Not that Paul and I always agreed, just that we worked out our position through discussion. In these conversations, Paul’s contribution has been of major importance because of his ability to view developments in a broad theoretical perspective and to examine the present as history. Most important of all, his head and heart are completely focused on the evils of capitalism and the need for revolutionary change in class power for the sake of humanity.

I am not claiming that Paul is a saint. He is, after all, human and, like the rest of us, has imperfections. What I want to stress, though, is that, based on my experience and observation, he is an unusually kind, gentle, and altruistic individual, one who forsook the opportunities of fame and fortune to serve the cause of socialism.

We speak frequently on the phone and have traditionally met once a week for decision-making on the next issue of MR. But before getting down to business, so to speak, we usually chatted about what was going on in the world. Imagine the rewards of discussions with a man who had the breadth of vision to write in 1970 about the Soviet Union:

What I wanted to emphasize was that when the bureaucratically administered economy runs into difficulties (as it certainly must), there are two politically opposite ways in which a solution can be sought. One is to weaken the bureaucracy, politicize the masses, and entrust increasing initiative and responsibility to the workers themselves. This is the road forward to socialist relations of production. The other way is to retreat (as was the case with the New Economic Policy under Lenin) but as an ostensible step toward a more efficient “socialist” economy. This is in fact to elevate profit-making to the guiding role in the economic process and to tell the workers to mind their own business, which is to work hard so that they can consume more. It is to recreate the conditions in which commodity fetishism flourishes along with its associated false and alienated consciousness. It is, I submit, the road back to class domination and ultimately the restoration of capitalism. (MR, vol. 22, no. 7—December 1970, p. 21)

Happy birthday, Paul!

—Harry Magdoff

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2000, Volume 51, Issue 11 (April)
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