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An Important Message from John Bellamy Foster

Dear Friends,

Volume 1, number 1 of Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine was published in May 1949. May 2024, therefore, marks the magazine’s seventy-fifth anniversary. The inaugural issue included articles by Albert Einstein, Paul M. Sweezy, Leo Huberman, and Otto Nathan, with Huberman and Sweezy listed as the founding editors. Nathan, a socialist economist and good friend of both Einstein and Huberman, was initially one of the founding editors, but chose to remain off the masthead, since, as an untenured professor, he was vulnerable to McCarthyite attacks, and he soon drifted away from the magazine. Nevertheless, his contribution was a significant one, since he was instrumental in the publication of Einstein’s landmark article, “Why Socialism?” in the first issue.

The intellectual and political relationship that brought Huberman, Sweezy, Nathan, and Einstein together at the moment of Monthly Review’s formation dated back to 1946–47, when all four were involved, through the Albert Einstein Foundation for Higher Leaning, in the planning of a new, more radical form of higher education in the United States: the founding of Brandeis University (a story told in the May 2024 issue of MR). Yet, this effort was to collapse in the face of what was perhaps the first instance of McCarthyism aimed at the university system. Subsequently, Huberman, Sweezy, and Einstein threw themselves into Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party campaign for the presidency, seeking to sustain the radical New Deal coalition of organized labor, civil rights activists, populist farmers, and left intellectuals. With Wallace’s dismal showing in the 1948 election, Huberman, Sweezy, and Nathan, with Einstein’s support, turned to a new way of promoting socialist education in the United States, through the founding of Monthly Review magazine, which they saw as a kind of holding action in the Cold War climate of the time. Harvard professor F. O. Matthiessen provided the initial funding.

Monthly Review’s first issue featured multiple outstanding contributions, including Sweezy on the contradictions of U.S. capitalism, Huberman on socialism and the labor movement, and Nathan on the left’s prospects in Eastern Europe, as well as Huberman and Sweezy’s short editorial, “Where We Stand.” Yet, it was Einstein’s “Why Socialism?” that best captured the magazine’s overall aims and ambitions, and which has remained the leitmotif of the magazine over the last three-quarters of a century.

For Einstein, the “worst evil” of capitalism was its “crippling of individuals.” In response to his efforts on behalf of world peace in the nuclear age, an intelligent and well-educated acquaintance openly asked him: “Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?” This spoke to a dangerous and disturbing loss of moral equilibrium in an alienated society that lay at the base of so much contemporary social malaise. People, he explained—in analysis inspired by Thorstein Veblen—were at once individual and social beings, shaped by both biological and cultural inheritances. Yet, the predatory phase of civilization, of which capitalism was the most developed form, intensified the egoistic drives of the individual at the expense of social drives. Drawing on Karl Marx, Einstein argued that this antagonistic relation had its structural basis in the class-exploitative system of capital accumulation. The extraction of surplus value from workers drove the concentration and centralization of income and wealth, in turn producing an ever-growing oligarchy of power that even a democratically organized society was unable to uproot. “I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils,” Einstein wrote, “namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals.”

In the essay’s final paragraph, Einstein turned to the goal of Monthly Review: “Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.”

This vision, born of a desperate struggle to combat the rightward drift of U.S. society, still in large part defines us today. In the seventy-five years since Einstein’s essay, the outlook of the magazine (and the Press) has widened and changed with the times, taking on issues of global imperialism, racial capitalism, the social reproduction of gender and the family, economic stagnation and financialization, the planetary ecological crisis, and myriad other historical contradictions, including the vicissitudes of socialism itself.

Yet, in our view, the negative dialectic of human alienation and capital accumulation continues to be responsible for the “grave evils” of our society. In the twenty-first century more than ever, “the only way” out of this antagonistic relation, as Einstein declared, is to actively advance a meaningful socialist critique, uniting theory and practice. But in order to continue this struggle further into the twenty-first century, we need your help.

Any donation you can afford, large or small, will ensure we continue the work envisioned by our founders. Thousands of people worldwide wish they could give to the magazine but cannot do so; please consider making a donation in their name. Write, as you have in the past, a generous check. Help celebrate Monthly Review’s seventy-fifth birthday and contribute not just to critical analysis of the world as it is, but to the creation of a new one. You are our support. We are counting on you.

In Solidarity,

John Bellamy Foster

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