`Monthly Review' at 60: Six decades of campaigning for `social and ecological revolution'

On September 17, 2009, Monthly Review celebrated its 60th anniversary at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in New York City. Five-hundred enthusiastic supporters gathered to hear remarks by Robert McChesney, Grace Lee Boggs, John Bellamy Foster, Fred Magdoff, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Michael Tigar, and hear music by Toshi Reagon.

More than six decades ago, Paul Sweezy and his good friend, the labour journalist Leo Huberman, had long dreamed of founding a magazine offering a forum for insightful comment and analysis of world and national events from a specifically socialist perspective. The two already had a history of activism in the radical cauldron spawned by the Great Depression, the rise of the labour movement, and the World War II. By 1948, with the accelerating crises of Cold War and domestic repression – and with seed money from Sweezy's good friend and Harvard colleague, the literary historian and critic F.O. Matthiessen – they pressed forward with their plan for what would become Monthly Review.

It was to be a publication that would stand against class exploitation and opposed to the organisation of production for private profit rather than social need. Paul and Leo 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. As intellectuals they saw as their task demystifying the current order as thoroughly as possible and to practice, as Paul Baran would later put it, “the continuous, systematic and comprehensive confrontation of reality with reason”.

Monthly Review was launched in May 1949, initially reaching only a few hundred subscribers, in what was a grave time for radical dissent. The enveloping reactionary, brutal and vulgar system of oppression – McCarthyism – was felt in every corner of society, impacting trade unions, government, publishing, film, television and education. It made the survival, even the very existence, of the fledgling Monthly Review enterprise all the more surprising.

But survive it did.

The first issue featured the lead article Why Socialism? by Albert Einstein. From the first issue of Monthly Review, it spoke out for socialism and against US imperialism, and is still doing so today.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Monthly Review offered ongoing investigation of the emergence of Africa, Asia, and Latin America from the colonial yoke, the consolidation of US-led imperialism, and the triumph of the Chinese Revolution. In the United States, it examined the use of the tools of fear to destroy or neuter the labour movement and its erstwhile allies in the old New Deal coalition at the same time that it examined an economy increasingly sustained by military spending.

In the early 1960s Sweezy and Huberman, accompanied by Paul Baran, visited Cuba, publishing a special issue, Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution, which became a worldwide bestseller. Monthly Review was among the first to recognise the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution.

In 1968, with the untimely death of Huberman, longtime contributor Harry Magdoff joined Sweezy as co-editor. The two went on to both inform and challenge a new generation of activists and students around the world with their analysis of the world economy and imperialism. Monthly Review and its contributors pioneered in the study of economic stagnation in the First World as it made sense of revolutionary insurgency in the Third World.

With the advent of the 21st century, Monthly Review experienced another changing of the guard: John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney joined the editors as they examined the increasingly volatile international economy. They were among the first to study the impact of “financialization”, the growth of dangerous bubbles in the domestic and global casino market and the role of obfuscation and distortion by the corporate medal. MR's analysis of the Great Financial Crisis was ahead of the curve, a fact recognised by the London Guardian's economics editor when he celebrated the work of Foster and Magdoff.

It may be worthwhile asking what caused Monthly Review to win such respect and influence on the broad left and in even in mainstream circles. The major characteristics are clear:

First of all there is MR’s plain, no-nonsense Marxism. Sophisticated in thought but simple and modest in style, the magazine, along with its book publishing arm Monthly Review Press, and now joined by the Web site MRZine.org, has steadily and unflinchingly championed the interests of the hungry, the dispossessed and the great majority of humankind against capitalism, racism and other forms of oppression.

Monthly Reviews astute use of the tools of political economy has informed its economic reportage, insuring a broad-based sensibility and avoiding the economic profession’s descent into model building, technicality, and mathematical abstraction.

Throughout its history, Monthly Review's has demonstrated a proven internationalism, not only opposing US military, economic and political domination over other peoples, but providing careful analysis, insight and an informed point of view on developments in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Above all, it has been Monthly Review's ability to put the present into historical perspective. Assessment of contemporary events is an extremely challenging type of Marxist writing, perhaps the most challenging, and Monthly Review's editors have been extremely adept at it.

Monthly Review has had but six editors. The original editors were Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman. Leo Huberman died in 1968, and Harry Magdoff became an editor in 1969. Ellen Meiksins Wood served ably as editor in the period 1997-2000.

In May 2000 John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, themselves of the "1968" generation and educated by Monthly Review, took over the primary editorial responsibilities. Founding editor Paul Sweezy died on February 27, 2004, and a special issue devoted to his work appeared in October 2004. On June 1, 2004 Robert McChesney ceased to be formally designated as an editor, while continuing as a contributor and a director of the Monthly Review Foundation, the not-for-profit entity that operates both Monthly Review magazine and Monthly Review Press. Harry Magdoff died on New Year's Day, 2006. A special issue focusing on his contribution to the understanding of capitalism and imperialismappeared in October, 2006.

John Bellamy Foster, the current editor, continues the tradition of combining accounts of what is new (without falling for fads) with the equally vital task of seeing the longer process. That tradition, as summarised by Paul Sweezy, is to see the present as history. On July 14, 2006 Monthly Review began a daily web magazine MRZine.org featuring a broad range of articles, reviews and commentary.

Revenues from subscriptions and the sales of books have always fallen short of the demands on Monthly Review's resources. This is inevitable; in today's world any anti-imperialist and socialist enterprise that finds its resources sufficient to the tasks we face must either be moribund or false. The contributions — over and above subscriptions and book sales — of a global community of several thousand people sustain MR. Monthly Review today places most of its articles on the web and MRZine has attracted a substantial and growing readership.

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal and its sister publication Green Left Weekly congratulates Monthly Review  on its 60 years of socialist activism and education and urges its readers to consider subscribing to MR. Links and GLW were proud to support John Bellamy Foster's visit to Australia to attend the historic Climate Change, Social Change conference in Sydney in 2008. For more Links articles, videos and audio from Monthly Review writers, please click HERE.