Harry Magdoff, who died on New Year’s Day, aged 92, had been a co-editor of Monthly Review since 1969, a pre-eminent socialist economist and the author of a groundbreaking work, The Age of Imperialism (1969). At 15, he said, reading Marx blew his mind–and he never looked back, even when, after McCarthyite inquiries cost him his job in his field, he worked in the belly of the capitalist beast as a stockbroker, among other positions. Indeed, those sojourns strengthened his grasp of how the system that he meant to overturn worked. Peaceably, of course, for he was a nonviolent man.
Robert McChesney, a friend and colleague, offered his take on Magdoff: “For some reason I had the impression that Harry was an austere, angry radical intellectual. When John Bellamy Foster asked me to join him and Harry as co-editor of Monthly Review in 2000, I anticipated that dealing with Harry was going to be something of a pain. I found him to be one of the most gentle, unpretentious and kindest men with whom I have ever worked. Getting to know him and learn from him–and he ranks in the first tier of intellectual figures in our times–has been one of the highlights of my life. I began reading Harry Magdoff in the early 1970s, when I was still a teenager. Although his best-known work concerns the political economy of imperialism, I found his analysis of the financial sector to be original, pace-setting and convincing. In some ways Harry was like the jazz genius who by being self-educated avoided the patterns that formal training creates and was able to see and understand the economy in a fresh manner. He not only fought for a just and humane world; he embodied his politics in the manner he conducted his life.”
On the Monthly Review website (www.monthlyreview.org) there is a story: A student asked Harry how he could go on hoping for socialism in America when it never came. “I don’t expect anything particular,” he said. “But this is the way I am. I have to believe there can be a better world.”