The Progressive was established in January 1909 as La Follette’s Weekly, created as a vehicle for his ideas by the Wisconsin “Progressive” Republican U.S. Senator Robert M. La Follette. La Follette advocated more regulation of, and higher taxes on, railroads; direct political primaries; restrictions on big business; and “progressive” taxation. The entire United States economy, claimed La Follette, was controlled by fewer than 100 men who, in turn, were controlled by the banking groups of J.P. Morgan and Standard Oil.
La Follette’s and his magazine’s national popularity peaked in 1911-12, and then declined sharply outside his native Wisconsin when La Follette turned refused to support Theodore Roosevelt’s candidacy in 1912. Support for La Follette and his magazine support declined further when he stridently opposed U.S. entry into World War I.
In 1924 La Follette ran for U.S. President as the candidate of the new Progressive Party and only carried Wisconsin. He died the following year.
In 1929 the magazine La Follette founded was re-named The Progressive. Publishing popular socialist writers like Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and Carl Sandburg, the publication continued to advocate anti-war, anti-capitalist, pro-socialist ideas akin to those of La Follette.
The 1929 stock market crash, the Great Depression, the rise of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and growing concern about the Soviet Union further eroded popular and advertising support for The Progressive.
By 1940 the magazine was in dire financial straits. It was taken over and revived by two young University of Wisconsin graduates, Mary and Morris Rubin.
After Democratic President Harry Truman won World War II by dropping nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Progressive promptly urged the United States to dismantle its nuclear weapons, a position the magazine has not changed since then.
In 1948 when former FDR Vice President Henry Wallace ran for the presidency as the candidate of a new, more radical Progressive Party, The Progressive magazine supported Wallace, who held a positive, even friendly view of the USSR and opposed “Truman’s Cold War” to stop Soviet expansion. The Progressive opposed the growth of the U.S. military, opposed the United Nations police action to prevent a Communist takeover of Korea, and later opposed U.S. intervention to prevent a Communist takeover in South Vietnam.
The Progressive proudly states that it, “more than any other publication, helped to expose McCarthyism [the anti-Communist tactics of Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy] in the 1950s.
The Progressive was sympathetic to the revolutionary dictatorship of Marxist Fidel Castro, who seized power in Cuba in 1959. When Castro began arming Communist guerrillas in Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1980s, “The Progressive,” boasts the magazine today, “published pathbreaking stories about U.S. support for death squads in Central America.”
The Rubins gradually ceded editorship of The Progressive to Erwin Knoll, an Austrian-born radical who would serve as Editor for 21 years. One of the editors Knoll promoted was Sidney Lens, a former member of the Communist League of America, a precursor of the Socialist Workers Party.
Though The Progressive is anti-war, anti-nuclear weapons, and largely pacifist — except for its support of U.S. entry into World War II where America fought to save its endangered ally, the Soviet Union — in 1979 Erwin Knoll decided to publish an article titled “The H-Bomb Secret: How We Got It and Why We’re Telling It.” This article included a highly detailed recipe telling any reader precisely how to manufacture an H-bomb many times deadlier than the atom bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The U.S. Government sought and was granted an injunction by a Wisconsin federal judge prohibiting The Progressive from publishing this article on grounds that it constituted a “clear and present danger” to the nation.
In recent years The Progressive opposed sanctions and all other U.S. efforts to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
In 1994 Matthew Rothschild, a Harvard graduate who had been Editor of Multinational Monitor, a magazine founded by Ralph Nader, became Editor of The Progressive. In 1998 Rothschild hired Barbara Ehrenreich, an executive of the Democratic Socialists of America, as one of his magazine’s columnists. Others who write regularly for the magazine include Chomsky acolyte David Barsamian, author/editor of the 2004 book Louder Than Bombs: Interviews from The Progressive Magazine; author and retired professor Noam Chomsky; Texas leftist Molly Ivins; correspondent for The Nation John Nichols; and history professor Howard Zinn. Among those whose Progressive interviews appear in that book are Noam Chomsky, communist revolutionary and professor Angela Davis, actor Danny Glover, Australian journalist John Pilger, the late professor Edward Said, and professor Howard Zinn.
In 1993 Rothschild created The Progressive Media Project (PMP), which also functions as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit entity. It tailors and distributes op-ed pieces by radical minority writers to American newspapers. It also conducts clinics to teach writing skills to leftist activists. PMP supports the creation of socialist world governance, racial and gender preferences, the abolition of private property through strict environmental regulation, and the imposition of government control over what can be written or said in all media.
The Progressive Media Project is interwoven with the editors and activities of The Progressive Magazine, which means that grant money and resources obtained by one can be made available to the other. Major benefactors of PMP include the Carnegie Foundation, the Chicago Tribune Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Ms. Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Tides Foundation, the Wisconsin Community Fund, and Working Assets.