Group of newsboys on a stoop at 4th & Market Sts. "Take our mugs, mister?" Investigator, Edward F. Brown. Location: Wilmington, Delaware. Photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine, May 1910.

Newsboys on a stoop, Wilmington, Delaware (1910) |  Lewis Wickes Hine via trialsanderrors / CC BY 2.0 DEED

On February 16, 2024, The New School’s Creative Publishing & Critical Journalism (CPCJ) and Woodbine Research Center presented a discussion on the role of radical politics in publishing. Writers and editors both at the forefront of a growing wave of new leftist magazines and those helping to reshape legacy publications gathered to address the state of media at the time of immense political and economic challenges. 

The conversation featured Hira Ahmed, founder and editor of Acacia, a new magazine of politics and culture for the Muslim left; Lisa Borst, senior editor at n+1, a magazine of literature, culture, and politics founded in response, in part, to the Iraq War; Max Fox, founding editor of Pinko, a gay communist magazine; Charlie Lee; associate editor at Harper’s, the oldest continuously running magazine in the United States; Natasha Lewis, co-editor of Dissent, founded in 1954 by democratic socialists; Waldemar Oliveira, international advisor of Hammer & Hope, a new anti-capitalist, anti-racist publication and political project inspired by the Black Radical Tradition; and Edward Ongweso Jr, editor of Logic(s), a magazine focused on technology, finance, and labor.

The panel was led by Natasha Lennard, contributing writer at the Intercept and co-director of the CPCJ program at the New School for Social Research, and Max Moorhead, editor at The Reservoir, a journal published by Woodbine, a mutual aid hub in Ridgewood Queens.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Max Moorhead: The initial impetus for this panel was to reflect on the growing wave of little magazines that arose with changes in technology that created an ability to reach a mass audience with very little infrastructure. Some of these magazines—n+1, Guernica, Jacobin, the New Inquiry, and a host of others—confronted Occupy, shaking up the way they related to themselves, the public, and their relationship to activists and the radical Left. Since then, there have been many other events forcing these reckonings, including the 2020 BLM protests and mass uprisings, and now the US–backed genocide in Gaza. Today, we’ll reflect on the state of these magazines and look for new opportunities, new solidarity, and new connections with each other.

What is the relationship between being an activist and being a journalist or editor? Everyone here has different relationships to that question. I’ll throw this to Lisa to start because n+1 published a great piece in 2013 called “Cultural Revolution.” It was about the proletarianization of the intellectual class, and how work for people who were middle class or had academic jobs had suddenly become more precarious.

Lisa Borst: I think the proletarianization of the intellectual class is even more operative now than it was in 2013, when that piece was published. The piece lays out three paths for the intelligentsia in the wake of the crumbling of our two central institutions, publishing and the academy. One possibility is that intellectual work just goes away. People stop having time to write and read and edit, and we see this kind of total retrenchment: maybe it comes to seem like the twentieth-century moment that gave rise to Dissent and a million other amazing cultural projects was a historic aberration—and that, in fact, history progresses toward illiteracy and cultural lack. Option two is we still have culture, but people just make it in their free time. I think the editors say that people spend their evenings doing culture and laundry. That feels perhaps most true to me right now. So the path there is we still have a sort of intellectual Left, but it’s partial and it’s freelance and it’s really precarious and it’s also sadly the domain of the sort of bourgeois few who even have free time to begin with. And then option three, the sort of Trotskyist option—very appealing—is workers become more like intellectuals and intellectuals become more like workers. The proletarianization of the intellectual class results in a sort of mainstreaming of communism because labor has been forced by capital to do the work of the arts.

Natasha Lennard: Hammer & Hope specifically tries to think tactically about interventions and communications with activists on the ground internationally. How does that work? 

Waldemar Oliveira: Hammer & Hope is a magazine that thinks of itself as a platform for political discussions. We’re an organization that tries to have a direct participation in both the intellectual and political debate. Most of the members of the editorial team are activists, so there’s no partition in their identity. This is very explicit not only the way we approach our topics, but also the people we invite to be interviewed, the questions we formulate, and how we discuss those questions.

We have this idea that we need to discuss strategy and tactics to make the magazine a space where different social movements can reflect about their own strategy, their own tactics. So when you see, for instance, a piece about Kansas City’s tenants fighting eviction, you will see support for direct action and you will see how it works, how it’s organized. When we interview the different branches of Students for Justice in Palestine, or when we interview rural workers both in the United States and in Brazil, we have in mind that we are not just journalists thinking, promoting, or publicizing their struggles, we are trying to have a deeper debate on how they organize and what they think of the current state of their political struggle in their countries and in connection with the activists in other countries as well. So we are trying to have a more direct impact on struggles and position ourselves as comrades as part of that process.

Lennard: How does a magazine like Harper’s, which definitely does not consider itself and has never framed itself as an activist magazine, navigate questions of being in response to and in conversation with these political calls?

Charlie Lee: The role of Harper’s obviously is not activism, but like any magazine, Harper’s is still made up of the editors that put it together. And so Harper’s today has a very different group of editors than it had 10, 20, or 30 years ago. That’s not to say that there’s not continuity between how the magazine has been at different times, but that there is a lot of opportunity for the magazine to be, in a qualified sense, an expression of the views of those editors.

I think many people at the magazine have a view that I would share in terms of solidarity with Palestine, for example, or a critical lens coming from the Left on the Biden administration—but the question is, how can we translate that in a way that fits within the Harper’s rubric and is still something that our subscribers might buy? Sometimes I’m thinking about what my parents, who have extremely different views than I do, might find persuasive. And that’s a very different approach than I think most of the people at this table would have—one where you are trying to win over somebody that you think has a different view or might be sympathetic to some of your views, but not all of them.

Harper’s also doesn’t have a specific editorial line or an editorial voice. But it does have a strong history of being anti-war, and I think a lot of the people at the magazine are very proud of that history. The March Index opens with a line about the percentage of American university professors and graduate students who feel the need to self-censor when talking about the war in Gaza for university professors: it’s 76 percent for professors and 96 percent for graduate students. The next Readings section will have an account from a man who’s currently in Gaza. We’re publishing his Telegram messages to his sister about what he’s been going through. The institutional aspects of the magazine and the political projects of its editors have a lively relationship and are constantly in conversation.

Lennard: Hira, I’m really interested in the way Acacia seeks to create a space for a community that had not yet been served by a specific magazine. How do you see Acacia in conversation with some of the other publications here tonight, and how do you imagine these publications going forth together? 

Hira Ahmed: I think that there are certain issues that a lot of other publications waited for a magazine like Acacia to take up—they wanted to give Muslims the space to address certain issues that affect the Muslim community. Two of the really big news and political pieces in the first issue were about how Muslim women are responding to the Roe v. Wade rollback and how queer Muslims in America are responding to a letter that the Muslim clergy wrote about how queerness is not allowed in Islam. One of the issues we had in the piece on homophobia was that it was coming out during the genocide and what if it legitimizes the pinkwashing that Zionists are doing? And so again, we’re really turning inward. The Muslim American community is extremely diverse and oftentimes certain ethnic or class communities get prioritized and represented to the exclusion of others. I think there’s an opportunity to build political solidarities across race, class, ethnicity, and even sect in the Muslim American community. Being cognizant of our positionality in relation to other magazines and what they can and can’t address as folks who are outside of the community is where we come in.

Lennard: Logic(s) didn’t start as a Black- and Asian-focused magazine, it was actually started by white people. Edward, I’m curious how you think of the magazine in terms of its development and movement forward?

Edward Ongweso Jr: The shift wasn’t to say the previous iteration was shit. It was great. I think the reason why we all have come to Logic(s) is because we love it but also see an opportunity for an intervention in tech coverage, which has the appearance of an assumptive critical position but is still not interrogating the origin of certain industries, the geopolitics that have driven them, the people who they affect the most, or why they keep continuing to harm or extract from specific communities or parts of the world. Instead, there’s still an assumption in mainstream coverage that something went wrong and we can pull Silicon Valley back from the brink. That markets are maybe not the absolute best way, but one of the best ways to marshal resources for developing tech.

And so the refocus is an attempt to show that if you spend any time looking at the history of these industries, it’s not really clear how you get to that conclusion. By focusing specifically on or trying to center Black, Asian, and queer voices, we’re looking to try to undermine those dominant narratives of how to talk about or critique tech companies.

We also focus on acts of resistance that are overlooked because they’re not in the United States, because they’re not in Europe, or because they’re not specifically in reaction to a US firm or US-backed firm. So the refocusing has been an attempt to experiment with developing and cultivating analysis that might get people to engage in more of the insistent and relentless criticism that is necessary to actually understand and see tech for what it is, and maybe figure out what to do with the people who are in control of this sector and the resources behind it.

Lennard: So you’re going for ruthless criticism and seeing the effects! Does anyone else want to answer how they see their publications in conversation with other publications on this panel?

Borst: I think there’s a lot of resource sharing that can be done around things like, How do you keep your budget? How many subscribers do you have and what database do you use? Many of us are on this listserv for small magazines where we share that sort of operations information. And then a similarly materialist answer: one thing that n+1 has that’s a great institutional resource is a little bit of real estate. We have a nice office, and something we’ve been trying to do more of is open it up to comrades and fellow travelers. Which is to say, if anyone wants to have a reading together, we can do that. 

Natasha Lewis: Dissent has historically been very critical of others on the left, that’s a big part of its mission. I was attracted to Dissent for that reason, even though I am interested in a lot of different parts of the Left. I think that there’s something really valuable about staking out a position that is in opposition to other magazines in order to further ideas. I’m wondering if other people think this or not: whether there has been a bit of a flattening between different magazines on the left, including ones that aren’t here today, and in liberal left magazines more broadly, where everyone moves between them and writes for all of them and they’re all kind of the same.

Max Fox: I think it’s the twofold problem that we were talking about with the state of publishing on the Left: on the one hand, everybody’s extremely precariously employed, so perhaps you don’t want to upset people and imperil your career prospects. On the other hand, it really feels like a fragile project, even though it has been maybe a decade now of these small magazines engaging forthrightly with Marxist, communist, or revolutionary politics. Maybe that sense of comradeship interferes with this tradition of open debate. We started Pinko as a magazine for thinking through gay communism together. The premise was that this is a political position that exists but we don’t know exactly what it means, and that’s why there has to be a sustained project of collective thought, i.e., a magazine, to discover it.