Focus and Scope
“The intellectual lodestone for the international Left since 1964”, Mike Davis
“Compulsory reading for people who refuse to be resigned to the idea that there can be no alternative to our unacceptable society”, Daniel Singer
“Socialism has always been about democracy, human rights and internationalism…that faith is what has characterised the work of the Socialist Register”, Tony Benn
The Socialist Register was founded by Ralph Miliband and John Saville in London in 1964 as an annual survey of movements and ideas in the particular historical context of the British New Left. Currently edited by Leo Panitch, Colin Leys, Greg Albo and Vivek Chibber, with each annual volume constructed around a particular topical theme, it has consistently been committed to developing an independent relation to Marxism, free from sectarian and dogmatic positions.
It is distinguished by its willingness to publish longer, sustained pieces that take up particular themes in a rigorous and consistent manner, and by cutting across disciplines compared with the more academically-oriented left publications. Its multifaceted critiques of capitalism, especially through interventions within state theory, but also at the level of political, economic and cultural contradictions, have culminated in what is widely recognized as perhaps the most distinctive investigations on the left today of globalization, the internationalization of the state, progressive competitiveness, and the new imperialism and popular global mobilizations arraigned against it. At the same time, the journal distinguishes itself from publications on Marxist economics that have become increasingly technical, as well as from those in which political economy is entirely abandoned in favour of a more post-modern orientation.
The Register’s critical perspective on the contradictions that led to the demise of communist regimes as well as social democracy and the dynamics of trade union mobilization, have informed the journal’s orientation to exploring the possibilities of socialist renewal and substantive strategies of ‘structural reform’ and radical democratization. Displaying the broadest international coverage among socialist journals published in the English language, the Register is one of the few socialist journals that also truly involves an international spectrum of contributors, and its readership reflects this. The English edition published by Merlin Press in the UK, in addition to being co-published by Monthly Review Press edition in the USA and the Fernwood Books in Canada, itself has a very broad international reach, and there are also separate English editions in India and Greece, as well as editions in Spanish, Portuguese and Turkish, with individual volumes translated and published in Iran and South Korea.
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HOW IT ALL BEGAN: A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY
Please also see Thirty Years of The Socialist Register by Ralph Miliband, from SR 1994.
The Socialist Register was conceived on an exceptionally sunlit Sunday, April 7 1963, over lunch. Sitting round the table were John Saville, Lawrence Daly, Edward Thompson, Ralph and I. To an outsider it was evident that Lawrence Daly in some ways dominated the group. Daly, who had once been a working miner in Fife and later became a trade union leader, had been part of John and Edward’s circle in the course of their break with the Communist Party in 1956-57 and after, and they considered him a most remarkable working class intellectual. He had attracted considerable attention in the 1959 general election campaign when he had beaten the official Communist candidate into third place in Willie Gallagher’s old constituency – a traditional stronghold of Communism. But what sticks out in my memory is not the politics but that Edward wanted to talk to him about poetry and that the afternoon concluded with a discussion about Shakespeare’s sonnets which Lawrence had been reading.
In their different ways, all the individuals at our little meeting were among the first wave members of the British New Left, and represented various aspects of a revived Marxist culture whose immediate antecedents were the revelations of the 20th Party Congress. On the one hand, Khrushchev’s speech to the Congress of the CPSU had exposed the crimes of Stalinism as well as the fallibility of the Communist project as exemplified in the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolution. On the other hand, the broad Left and even the centre of the political spectrum in Britain had demonstrated widespread disillusion with Cold War politics, in the protest against the colonialism of the Suez invasions and in the growing movement against nuclear weapons. It was the coming together of personalities and groupings which included the left of the Labour Party and young intellectuals in the universities who previously had never had a political affiliation, which gave the New Left a coherent point of reference for political action later on. Two journals, The New Reasoner and Universities and Left Review supplied an intellectual link for disparate individuals and endowed the project with genuine excitement.
International links were formed with dissidents in the East and West long before the birth of the New Left in the USA. In 1957 Ralph was sending copies of both journals to C. Wright Mills and had organised a meeting of the New Left group with the Polish dissident philosopher Leszek Kolakowski in 1958.
I sometimes mentioned that glowing afternoon of April 1963 to Ralph, but he didn’t have the same memories – he certainly did not remember that we had kebabs for lunch and that he had thought that they were too `chichi’; or that all four of them had just returned from an acrimonious meeting with the editorial team of New Left Review – which had taken up Saturday the 6th and part of the Sunday, and whose outcome had stimulated them into setting up not an `alternative’ but `another’ socialist journal to which they could give their energies.
The first memo about starting the Socialist Register was written by Ralph on that sunny Sunday, April 7 1963, on my portable Olivetti which he had adopted after discarding his own very noisy Remington Quiet Writer – a little fact so anachronistic in the days of the super-speed computer. How the Register was set up, its political purpose and its evolution, is inseparable from my own and Ralph’s lifelong intellectual and emotional involvement with John Saville, helped along by gallons of strong black tea. Its birth is the subject of this brief aide-memoire.The fizz and determination to do something that very afternoon of April 7, 1963 arose from a gradual estrangement between the `old new left’ Board of New Left Review, which happened to have been of the New Reasoner vintage, and the new directorate, or editorial committee, of New Left Review Mark 11 as Thompson called it, who included Perry Anderson, Tom Nairn and others. Briefly, and without reproducing the careful analysis documented by Lin Chun in The British New Left,1 a thumbnail sketch of the history of the two journals is in order. The New Reasoner, a quarterly established in 1957, had merged with Universities and Left Review in 1959 to establish New Left Review. The Board, whose role was advisory, represented most of the left currents of the time under the then editor, Stuart Hall. The new editorial Committee with Perry Anderson at its head took over in May 1962. Several different strands of the left were therefore struggling unsuccessfully to establish a peaceful transition to the New Left Review.
First, there was the Reasoner and the New Reasoner generation which represented a roll-call of well-known ex-Communists who had either left the Party or been expelled from it in 1956. The history of the Party in the UK had been punctuated by milestones of doubt and disaffection but not by mass resignations or expulsions. The `fifty sixers’ were different; they had put up with the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact and the absurd notion of the `imperialist’ war against the Nazis, the Slansky trials, the Soviet break with Tito, the `doctors plot’ of 1953 as well as the suppression of the Berlin rising of the same year, but were incensed by the obduracy of the Party to open up the debate after Khrushchev’s revelations to the Twentieth Party Congress. The issues at. stake were not only the perniciousness of Stalinisin but the brutal suppression of the Hungarian uprising and the uncertainty as to what would happen in Poland. The refusal to discuss these openly in a democratic spirit was ultimately the cause of 10,000 resignations and expulsions. John Saville and E P Thompson who had started The Reasoner in 1956, were later joined by an editorial Board which included Ken Alexander, Doris Lessing, Ronald L Meek, Randall Swingler, and subsequently Derek Kartun, Peter Worsley and Malcolm McEwen. Thompson symbolised the growing dissent and revulsion in his article `Through the Smoke of Budapest’ in the final issue of The Reasoner (November 1956). When the editors were forced to leave the Party rather than accede to the journal’s suppression, it became the quarterly New Reasoner in the summer of 1957.2
Parallel to the ferment spilling out of the British Communist Party, the Universities and Left Review simultaneously provided a forum for younger left academics and students, some of whom were Labour Party members. Under the leadership of Raphael (then known as Ralph) Samuel, Peter Sedgwick, Stuart Hall, Rod Prince, Charles Taylor, Alasdair McIntyre and other writers and academics most of whom had never been Communists, the ULR provided a lively forum for the independent and activist left. Some NR people like Thompson and Miliband maintained contacts and wrote for both journals. Raymond Williams, who had left the CP in 1941, was close to Thompson and Miliband in age, but was not close to the New Reasoner people or the maelstrom of their debates in the 1950s. Although he thought the New Reasoner was `a much more solid journal’, he was more attracted to ULR by virtue of addressing itself to problems of popular culture and `the extraordinary transformations of scene in England’.3
The reason for the amalgamation of New Reasoner and Universities and Left Review was that both journals seemed to be reaching out to the same constituency and both had administrative and business burdens. In particular, Thompson bore the strain of housing the editorial offices of The New Reasoner in his own home in Halifax. New Left Review, under the editorship of Stuart Hall and a large editorial board, seemed the answer to the problem, with the first issue appearing in January 1960. At first, New Left Review was a quarto bi-monthly with a magazine format using photographs, drawings and a mixture of long and short articles, reaching out to a committed but not exclusively academic audience of activists. The new editor, Stuart Hall, had a hard time with the heavy weight of left gurus on his Board and on his back. He left in January 1962 and was succeeded by the new editors Gabriel Pearson, Denis Butt, Raphael Samuel and Perry Anderson.
The character of the new NLR or The Review, as it became known, gradually changed. It became a much heavier read, with fewer but longer articles, designed in an altogether more abstract style. It was a book-size journal and meant to be used as such, with no concessions to those who wanted light relief together with the serious stuff. Whereas the NLR Mark I used its editorial columns to address readers on current issues of British politics, NLR Mark II desisted from a preachy approach or political counsel. From a magazine of 60-70 pages NLR became a 120 page journal, and its only concession to `popular’ taste were its `Scanner’ columns, brief reviews or highly intellectual analyses of rock music which will undoubtedly one day find their way into academic books on the sociology of music. A new `cultural’ analysis was initiated by Raymond Williams. His Culture and Society and The Long Revolution (1961) were very influential texts, paralleled by theoretical perspectives on the political front led by Anderson and Nairn.
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