An independent Marxist journal owned and published by the non-profit, tax-exempt Monthly Review Foundation, Monthly Review (MR) professes to offer “a relentlessly critical and coherent analysis of modern capitalism.” The publication was launched in May 1949 by Marxist economist Paul Sweezy and Marxist historian/author Leo Huberman, who together served as its editors for the next 19 years. Sweezy and Huberman were “two old-line, pro-Soviet Marxists,” writes historian Ronald Radosh, noting that they called themselves “independent socialists” only because they “had minor differences with the tactics and organizational demands of the official American Communist Party.”
Sweezy and Huberman created MR to serve as a rallying voice for dejected, hard-left supporters of Henry Wallace’s failed 1948 Progressive Party presidential campaign. Sweezy later wrote that MR‘s mission was to see “the present as history” through a lens of Marxist theory, thereby promoting international communism and hastening the inevitable collapse of capitalism.
F.O. Matthiessen, a gay socialist and a professor of history and literature at Harvard University, personally supplied much of the funding – $5,000 per year for three years – that was needed to get the nascent MR off the ground.
The eminent physicist Albert Einstein contributed an article titled “Why Socialism?” to MR‘s inaugural issue. In the months and years that followed, MR bylines included such famous radicals or Marxists as Isabel Allende, Samir Amin, Anne Braden, Paul Buhle, Fidel Castro, Noam Chomsky, W.E.B. Du Bois, Barbara Ehrenreich, Daniel Ellsberg, Che Guevara, Lorraine Hansberry, Michal Kalecki, C. Wright Mills, Joan Robinson, Annette Rubinstein, Jean Paul Sartre, I.F. Stone, Anna Louise Strong, E.P. Thompson, William Appleman Williams, and Malcolm X.
During MR‘s first two decades, Sweezy and Huberman published generally sympathetic views of existing Marxist dictatorships. Any problems in these totalitarian states were largely described as having been caused by their capitalist enemies or by deviations from the pure principles of the Marxist founders.
In 1952, Sweezy and Huberman launched Monthly Review Press (MRP), to create a publisher for radical journalist I.F. Stone‘s The Hidden History of the Korean War, which characterized that war as a Washington plot; the book had been rejected by 28 separate publishers. MRP went on to become one of America’s largest publishers of Marxian books and authors.
In 1959 and 1960, Sweezy and Huberman visited Cuba, touring the island with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Soon thereafter, MRP published the Sweezy-Huberman book Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution. This was followed by MRP’s publication of Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare (1961); Marxist historian William Appleman Williams’s The United States, Cuba and Castro (1962); Guevara’s Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War (1968); and Huberman and Sweezy’s Socialism in Cuba (1969).
Along with its unstinting propaganda in behalf of Cuba, MR has supported the Communist regimes of China, North Korea, and the late Soviet Union.
MR has long been exceedingly critical of American foreign policy, depicting the U.S. as a nation that promotes aggression and imperialism around the world. “Knowledge of imperialism — on both theoretical and empirical levels — is crucially important to the development of the left movement in this country,” wrote MR‘s editors in 1968. Today MR boasts that it “played a global role” in the “upsurge against capitalism, imperialism, and inequality” in the 1960s, by helping to educate “a generation of activists.”
When Leo Huberman died in 1968, he was replaced as MR co-editor by Harry Magdoff, a Marxist economist who had headed the Current Business Analysis Division in the U.S. Department of Commerce under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, and had worked as special assistant to Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace. In 1950, then-Congressman Richard M. Nixon had issued a report accusing Magdoff of being a Soviet spy, a charge that gained increasing credibility in the years that followed.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, as the U.S. economy was faltering under the weak leadership of President Jimmy Carter and a Democratic Congress, MR emphasized “the tendencies toward stagnation in U.S. capitalism.”
In the early 1980s, MR voiced “an increased concern about the arms race and skyrocketing military spending” under the Reagan Administration, depicting President Reagan as a man who routinely neglected the needs of the poor by diverting vital funds from social welfare programs to military initiatives.
In more recent years, MR‘s editorial emphasis has focused on the evils of U.S. imperialism and the need to curtail capitalism and private property in order to preserve the environment.
Paul Sweezy continued to co-edit MR until 1997, when Ellen Meiksins Wood took Sweezy’s position alongside Magdoff. Three years later, Ms. Wood handed the reins to co-editors Robert McChesney and John Bellamy Foster, whose efforts were supplemented somewhat by Magdoff. McChesney stepped down from his post as co-editor in 2004, though he continued to serve as a contributor to MR and as a director of the Monthly Review Foundation. Since McChesney’s departure, MR‘s editorial committee has been led by Foster. Magdoff remained active as well until his death in 2006.
In 2006, MR launched a daily web magazine titled MRzine. In 2017 the site was migrated to a new project called MR Online, featuring an updated website and publishing system.
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Further Reading: “Paul Sweezy, 93, Marxist Publisher and Economist, Dies” (NY Times, 3-2-2004); “About Monthly Review” (MonthlyReview.org); “Monthly Review at 50” (The Nation, 6-7-1999); “The Monthly Review Story: 1949-1984” (by Robert McChesney, 5-6-2007); “Monthly Review” (Keywiki.org); “The Commitment of an Intellectual: Paul M. Sweezy, 1910-2004” (by John Bellamy Foster, 10-1-2004); “Harry Magdoff, 92; Socialist Economist Was Accused of Being a Spy” (Los Angeles Times, 1-12-2006).