Notes from the Editors

Monthly Review, July/August 2013 | Go to article overview

Notes from the Editors


A Note from Bob McChesney. This could be retitled "Notes from a Former Editor" as I served with John Bellamy Foster, Harry Magdoff, and Paul Sweezy as one of MR's coeditors from 2000-2004. I stepped down from the post to devote more time to activism around media and communication issues. Regular readers know that I have continued as a contributor over the past nine years, and this issue's Introduction marks my eighteenth article in the magazine since 2008. Most of those, like the one herein, were written with Foster.

Most of my research and activism has centered on the political economy of communication. With the increasing importance of media to everyday life and the exercise of power, as well as the digital revolution, there is growing and considerable interest in the area. That the work specifically translates into crucial political fights elevates its importance.

Nowhere is that more true today than in Latin America where the survival of popular politics depends to no small extent on how the raging media battles are resolved. "I believe that better than constructing roads, hospitals, and schools is to construct the truth. Lies have destroyed Latin America," Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said in a May 2013 interview. "I think one of the main problems around the world is that there are private networks in the communication business, for-profit business providing public information, which is very important for society. It is a fundamental contradiction." ("Ecuador's President Attacks US Over Press Freedom Critique," TheRealNews.com, May 21, 2013).

During my time as coeditor, communication colleagues would sometimes wonder what I was doing at MR. After all, I was a media scholar, and MR was many things, but it was not a magazine known for its work on communication. I explained the singular importance of the MR tradition, of the work of Sweezy, Magdoff, Leo Huberman, and Paul Baran, in my intellectual and political development. I also explained the importance of the MR work on advertising, monopoly, and technology in developing a radical critique of media and communication. But I had to concede the point, nonetheless.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Foster informed me two years ago that two drafts of a missing chapter of Baran and Sweezy's magisterial Monopoly Capital (1966) had been discovered in their papers. Not only that, it was a chapter on media and culture. I was shocked, to say the least. Foster provided me with the backstory: it was meant to be the penultimate chapter of the book, but when Baran died in 1964, Sweezy elected to leave it out (after doing additional work on it) as the book was already quite long and there remained unresolved issues with it.

As soon as I read the manuscript, I knew it had to be published. But what was media and culture doing playing such a prominent role in their signature work of political economy? As fate would have it, I had just come across a largely unknown and extraordinary pamphlet from 1962 by the British Raymond Williams on the need for a radical politics of communication to become a main part of socialist politics. I knew that Williams considered himself close to Monthly Review and was writing for it at the time. I could find common themes in the two works. It seemed like there was smoke, but was there fire?

Foster and I then spent many months on an intellectual odyssey which revealed that a rather sizable cohort of radical intellectuals were pursuing similar themes in the late 1950s and early '60s on the importance of media and communication. They investigated the centrality of the "cultural apparatus" (as they sometimes referred to it) to understanding the nature of modern capitalist societies, to developing effective strategies for socialist politics, and, most intriguing, to offering a vision for the constituent elements of a non-capitalist and post-capitalist democratic-socialist media system. …

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