Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Radical Society is here. Its very first issue is labeled Vol. 29, No. 1, because the journal is in fact a reinvention, a resurrection of the old Socialist Review, whose executive editor I was from 1986 until 1989*, originally founded under the name Socialist Revolution in 1970. You could, if you wished, trace the journal back further to a split in the editorial board of Studies on the Left in the 1960s, when one faction wanted to make that journal the official publication of what was then presumed to be a potentially successful revolutionary party that was seen to be forming in the United States.

Socialist Review found a good deal of its liveliness & an even larger portion of its own internal strains & turmoil in having not one, but two editorial collectives, geographically distant, each with its own demographic, politics & culture. That the journal survived as long as it did under the stewardship of dueling collectives was itself a miracle, a marriage born to some degree out of mutual convenience. Originally founded by a group centered (and largely funded) by Studies on the Left veteran James Weinstein (who would later create & publish In These Times), SR, as everyone seemed to call the journal, originally was the project of a group of folks in the San Francisco Bay Area who had gone through the 1960s together. Some were out of school & working as political activists; others had gone on to grad school. All shared the perception that the left in the United States suffered from a lack of theoretical understanding. When three of the first-editorial-generation grad students all got jobs in the Boston area, a second editorial collective was started**. Very soon, one collective had evolved entirely into tenured academics, while the other consisted of (generally younger & poorer) grad students & activists. While the tension between the two collectives was sometimes unbelievable, the Boston’s group economic focus proved a useful balance to the West Coast collective, which periodically introduced some extraordinary work, perhaps most notably Donna Haraway’s “Manifest for Cyborgs.”***

SR very much reflected the history & fate of the ‘60s generation up until the early 1990s, when an attempt to “pass the baton” to a younger cohort ran into difficulties, the collectives seemed to fall apart, as did a distribution deal with Duke University Press. Now Radical Society has emerged with a mostly new collective – SR veterans Barbara Epstein & Howard Winant on the new editorial board – the term “collective” seems to have been retired – as are, among others, Kira Brunner, a former editor of Dissent & co-editor of The New Killing Fields; Peter Marcuse, an urban planning professor from Columbia; Vanessa Mobley of New Republic Books; fiction writer Rachel Neumann; Greg Smithsimon, a grad student at Columbia; Daraka Larimer-Hall, organizer for the Young Democratic Socialists (the youth organization of Democratic Socialists of America); Ellen Willis, author of No More Nice Girls who teaches communications at NYU; and Laura Secor of the Boston Globe.

Radical Society continues SR’s tradition of left contrarianism by making its big article in its first issue Ellen Willis’ “Why I am not for Peace.” While hardly an endorsement of George W’s cowboy imperialism, Willis does outline the case from a position not far removed from the one being made these days by Salman Rushdie, that Hussein must be removed to end the torment of the Iraqi people.

This is followed a column in which four commentators respond to a blurb from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz. As interesting as the responses are the respondents: journalist Abid Aslam, psychoanalyst George Saki, Nation columnist Katha Pollitt & poet Charles Bernstein, who offers up a theory of spf – surreptitious policy factor.

Nor is Bernstein the only poet to show up in this issue. “Café Europa” is a talking piece given by David Antin, presented here as an essay with curious formatting. There is a sizeable selection of works by Romania’s epic poet Eugen Jebeleanu, with an introduction by Andrei Codrescu. There is a full-page poem, “A Rainbow for the Christian West,” by René Depestre, translated by Jack Hirschman. And finally, there is a two-page excerpt from a poem entitled “California,” written by Eleni Silelianos.

* I stayed on the West Coast editorial collective until the pressures of a difficult twin pregnancy swallowed up what little time & energy I had available in late 1991.

** There was briefly an attempt to create a third collective in New York, but it failed to take root.

*** Unfinished Business: 20 Years of the Socialist Review, published by Verso, is an excellent collection of pieces reflecting the perspective of both collectives (I write this as a co-editor of the volume). Even the blurbs on the back of the paperback reflect the tension between the two: Noam Chomsky weighing in for the Boston Collective, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak for the West Coast.