Behind the Scenes: 40 Years of In These Times

Four decades of radical publishing

ITT Contributors December 31, 2016

James Wein­stein (known to all con­cerned as Jim­my”) already had the idea of a social­ist news­pa­per, mod­eled on the Social­ist Party’s Appeal to Rea­son, when I first met him in 1969, but he didn’t real­ly start think­ing about start­ing one until he went away to Eng­land as a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor in 1974 or 1975. We cor­re­spond­ed about it, and one of things we argued about was whether it should be an explic­it­ly social­ist news­pa­per. Giv­en Amer­i­cans’ iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of social­ism either with the Sovi­et Union or the crazy Left, I thought it would mar­gin­al­ize the news­pa­per. Jim­my thought that with­out a spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal goal, the news­pa­per would be reduced to the var­i­ous caus­es and groups that char­ac­ter­ized the left, each of which clam­ored to be more impor­tant than the oth­ers. Jimmy’s con­cern was a pre­cur­sor of the cur­rent con­cern about iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics” reign­ing supreme on the left.

Jimmy won the argument and in November 1976, In These Timespremiered as “the independent socialist newsweekly.” But by 1989, with Ronald Reagan in the White House, Jimmy came over to my side and a new subtitle, “With Liberty and Justice for All,” (from Pledge of Allegiance, written by Christian socialist Francis Bellamy) replaced the old. He did it for the same tactical reasons I had urged, but also because he had began to have doubts, as had I, about the model of socialism (featuring democratic central planning) that we had believed in. In later years, both of us moved farther away from our original socialist beliefs. Jimmy thought of socialism primarily as “socialist values,” and I defined myself as a Herbert Croly progressive.

I say all this because I think if Jimmy had started In These Times today, he and I would have agreed that it should be called “socialist.” The Bernie Sanders campaign has completely changed the discussion about socialism. It not only showed that the old stigma is disappearing, but that there is new, viable meaning to socialism based upon the achievements of European social democracy. These achievements, consisting of such things as a right to healthcare and education—regardless of income—are now under attack from business conservatives and from neoliberal converts among American Democrats (as well as European Labor and Socialist politicians) who believe that the needs of the global marketplace come first. I told Jimmy’s son and daughter last year that it was probably fortunate for them that Jimmy had not lived to see the Sanders campaign, because if he had, he would given his last cent to it. (That was in jest, of course.) The Sanders campaign was a vindication of his early vision of In These Timesand of a public socialist politics.

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