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New Leader records, 1895-2011 bulk 1924-2006 

New leader
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180 linear feet (180 linear feet 103 document boxes 75 custom boxes 23 oversize boxes 18 record cartons)
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Biographical Note

The New Leader, a social-democratic journal of "news and opinion" commented upon, engaged with -- and, at times, actively attempted to reconfigure-- the tenor of its epoch. From 1924 to 2006, it printed significant work by prominent intellectuals on an array of subjects, but it devoted its best energies and much of its editorial space to criticizing the Soviet Union. Originating as the official newspaper of the American Socialist Party, it evolved into a liberal anti-communist magazine that truly found its voice as an untiring adversary of Stalinism. The combination of progressive social advocacy and staunch Cold War combativeness allowed it to engage an unusually wide swath of the political spectrum; its stances attracted praise or ire-- and often both-- from figures as diverse as Upton Sinclair and Senator Joseph McCarthy. "It would be impossible for any normal person to agree with all that appears in The New Leader" wrote The New York Times on the occasion of the journal's thirtieth anniversary"but it is possible for all lovers of free expression to welcome the fact that The New Leader exists and that, with its variety of voices, it continues to sound off.". For eighty-two years, the magazine featured crucial, vivid reportage. "Every good impulse in social and political life has had the support of this paper" a columnist noted. "Every lively, honest and decent writer who had something interesting and important to say has had his chance." Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham City Jail" appeared in its pages; it was the first American periodical to provide a forum for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. World leaders and policymakers contributed essays, as did literary icons such as Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler, Richard Wright, Hannah Arendt, and George Orwell. These bylines, though gaudy, could be found elsewhere. It was a set of New York intellectuals -- notably Daniel Bell, Sidney Hook, Irving Kristol, Lionel Trilling, and Eric Bentley-- who wrote most prolifically for The New Leader, and endowed it with a unique pluck and purpose. More than any other individual, however, Samuel "Sol" Levitas shaped the journal's character and policy. The longtime executive editor was known as the "Jefferson of East 15th Street." A world traveler, his wide acquaintance gave his publication global reach and a cosmopolitan perspective. He pursued authors everywhere, and his relentless requests kept "contributors of five continents at work." Some wrote for The New Leader out of commitment to its cause, others because of their respect for Levitas. No one did so for the money; at best, the magazine offered a "tangible token of appreciation." In the postwar years, European correspondents were compensated with "food and commodity packages." But, most people worked gratis. To produce a quality journal in such conditions took determination. When Levitas had a particular person in mind for a certain piece, he wouldn't let up. "He gets articles written for him by pleading [or] scolding" wrote a Newsweek reporter. One author wrote to him: "You are the most flattering, persecuting Editor I have ever known.". Born in Ruff, Russia, in 1894, Sol Levitas became a socialist at the age of fifteen. He allied with the Mensheviks-- a moderate party that was nevertheless far too radical for the Czarist state -- and, at sixteen, he was jailed for the first time. As World War One began, he traveled to Chicago to avoid military service. Then, in February 1917, when the Romanovs were deposed, he hurried back to participate in the revolution. Arriving in the Pacific port of Vladivostok, he edited the Labor Daily and served as vice-mayor of the city, supporting the liberal provisional government against Bolshevik radicals. In October, Lenin's party came to power and the Menshevik moment was over. For the next few years, Levitas was imprisoned repeatedly for writing and organizing against the Soviets. In 1923, disguised as a Red Army colonel, he escaped from Russia, returning to the United States for good. Levitas toured the country, joining the Socialist Party, contributing articles to the Jewish Daily Forward, and raising money for other Russian exiles. If his Soviet sojourn had introduced him to factionalism in its highest stage, he soon learned that leftists in America were also adept at in-fighting. Their divisions could be read through their journals. The Call, a socialist newspaper based in New York City, folded after a party split in 1918. The short-lived Leader failed soon thereafter. The New Leader appeared for the first time on Saturday, January 19, 1924, in a standard newspaper format. A copy cost a nickel; a year's subscription was two dollars. From the start, its international character was apparent: the front page featured stories on high rents in New York City, the Labour government in Great Britain, and a German economic crisis. Letters from Eugene V. Debs, A. Philip Randolph, and Ramsay Macdonald wished success for the fledgling publication. Staff worked in a warren of rooms housed in a nineteenth-century office near Union Square. In the early days, a few full-timers wrote most of the main pieces. Daniel Bell alone contributed about 5,000 words each week. "Foreign correspondents used to be invented -- always with high-class names" recalled a contributor. "And, since their expense accounts were negligible, they could be spotted over the earth with carefree negligence.". In 1930, Levitas was brought onto the magazine staff as business manager. He and the editor, James Oneal, had divergent visions for The New Leader, and their struggle for control soon degenerated into very un-comradely behavior. Oneal complained that Levitas wanted "not a Labor and Social Democratic paper but a vague labor-liberal-progressive paper with Social Democracy so faded out of its columns that the reader will have to use powerful glasses to find it." In 1935, Levitas filed charges with the Socialist Party Grievance Committee against two opponents "for destroying a large number of New Leaders, defacing the entire office of the New Leader in my absence and for inscribing on every available place the word 'pimp.'" In 1936, after another factional cleavage, the journal allied with the newly created Social Democratic Federation. Levitas was named executive editor and Oneal eventually resigned. "The New Leader" Levitas' eventual successor would write"thus became the only place the Mensheviks ever won a revolution.". As a disillusioned exile and an enthusiastic immigrant, Levitas was equally determined to denounce Russian dictatorship and to support American democracy. For leftists-- and even liberals-- in 1939, these were not trendy positions; the Soviets were pushing for a popular front of progressive groups, while U.S. capitalism was still suffering its Great Depression. The New Leader defied the consensus, exposing the cruelties and dissimulations of totalitarian regimes. It intuited the possibility of a Hitler-Stalin pact months before the deal's existence became generally known. For taking these stances, the magazine was "hissed and booed." For "many, many years" Levitas recalled, it was "a lone voice calling attention to the manipulations and machinations of communists everywhere.". Its unrelenting anti-Bolshevism was even less welcome during World War Two, when the Russians became a "gallant democratic ally" and Stalin was transformed into "good old Joe." Most Americans believed that defeating Hitler was the nation's highest concern. "Only the Social-Democratic weekly, The New Leader, with its limited circulation, continued its lonely fight for the truth" wrote Sidney Hook. Not only did the magazine cling to its peacetime priorities, its editor chided those who appeared to soften. In 1943, Levitas rebuked Upton Sinclair for signing a petition supporting the Soviet Union. The novelist's response showed how most people understood the world situation. "We are in a position just now where our very existence depends upon the Red Army and its supporting population" Sinclair wrote. "I just don't feel that we can afford to think about factional disputes and differences of program and policy at this time.". Through the most calamitous decade of the twentieth century, when partisans and philosophers around the globe adapted to wrenching dislocations, the magazine had remained consistent. It was still, as Time described it in 1944, a "mouthpiece for many shades of liberal and leftist opinion, except Trotskyists, Stalinists and Norman Thomas Socialists" Though The New Leader had supported the American war effort, its strident denunciations of the Russian alliance at times had been an annoyance to the administration. While most journalists celebrated the Yalta accords, Levitas' magazine denounced all accommodations with Stalin. After 1945 -- as ties between the United States and the Soviet Union frayed and finally tore -- the journal found itself moving into the political mainstream; its interests and those of the U.S. government were increasingly convergent. "Without boasting, we can claim that historical events have completely vindicated our position on communism in Russia" wrote Levitas in 1949 to William Donovan, wartime director of the Office of Strategic Services. "The woods are now full of Johnny-come-lately communist hunters, but after all we are the pioneer and intrepid communist fighters on this frontier.". Yet, its new relevance did little to improve economic affairs. In the same letter to Donovan, Levitas continued"parallel with our growing esteem, we are facing a disastrous financial situation. The increase in cost of production and the drop in advertising income is a direct threat to the very life of The New Leader." If any motif in its existence was as ubiquitous as anti-communism, it was an eternal poverty, frequently verging on bankruptcy. Only Levitas' virtuosity as a manager, motivator, and nudge, kept the magazine solvent. For decades, every board meeting pondered questions of funds. Revenues from advertising and circulation fluctuated, but the trend was downward, while printing and paper expenses kept rising. Annual drives brought in some money, as did donations from wealthy supporters. Sympathetic organizations, such as The Forward, a Jewish newspaper, and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, donated several thousand dollars a year. But, ruin was never far off. In 1949, Levitas described "a very precarious financial condition where we cannot meet our payroll and can hardly meet our obligation to the printer." Writers took pay-cuts. To save money, the magazine was shortened from twenty, to sixteen, and then to twelve, pages. In the summers, it switched from weekly to biweekly publication. Yet, Levitas made it survive; "the most amazing part of this journalistic miracle" one writer noted of him"was the man's gift for garnering the funds which were necessary to keep our paper solvent from week to week and year to year. I cannot pretend to explain how this miracle was achieved.". The explanation of this miracle involves the most controversial aspect of the magazine's history -- its covert collaboration with U.S. governmental bureaus, including the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. During the early Cold War, government officials and liberal organizations began to recognize that The New Leader -- as one of the few anti-Soviet journals with credibility in socialist circles -- was becoming a useful ally in the global struggle against communism. An admirer called it "virtually the only pro-American, high-quality, left-wing literature that exists on either side of the Atlantic." As policy-makers increasingly appreciated The New Leader's strategic value, they came to believe that it had to be supported. Levitas' top priority was -- as it had always been -- the destruction of Stalinism, and he was eager to work with the U.S. government to further that end. Since he was also perennially desperate for money, accepting financial assistance from official sources was a natural solution. During the 1950s, several new funding sources appeared. Starting in 1953, the journal received between $5,000 and $10,000 annually from Time, Inc., whose executives believed in the value of its work. Then, there were the donors referred to in board meetings simply as "friends." In 1950, Levitas revealed that "A group of Friends in Washington have contributed $5,000 to The New Leader." These "friends" offered crucial support, but their generosity was not as steady as Levitas had hoped it would be. In 1952, he informed the board that"The group of friends who for the last three years gave us a donation of $10,000.00 this year reduced it to $3,000.00." A few years later, there was good news. In 1957, he announced that"A group of our friends who are contributing $10,000 per year for the last few years to the New Leader, have increased their donation to $15,000 per year for 1957." Thanks mainly to this largesse, he was able to make a momentous announcement to that year's annual membership meeting: "for the first time in 20 years, The New Leader finished the year in the black." Yet, only a few months later, the magazine's financial woes had returned. "The second half of 1957 was not good" Levitas groaned"1958 is even worse. We owe a very substantial amount to the printer.". Though the identity of these "friends" is not revealed in the correspondence or in board-meeting minutes, scholars have argued that the CIA supported The New Leader through various semi-autonomous or dependent organizations, and at times even "resorted to the more direct method of personally handing sums of about $10,000 to Levitas." The existence of such "friends" was made known, at least cryptically, to the board of directors. However, in the more public forum of the annual membership meetings, Levitas made no mention of these sources of funding, suggesting the sensitive nature of the transactions. The government also aided the magazine by paying for foreign subscriptions. In 1952, Levitas told the board that "A group of friends have placed an order for one thousand subscriptions to England at six dollars ($6.00) per year; we have already received letters of thanks and appreciation from many readers." A similar arrangement was made to increase readership in Asia. The State Department believed that The New Leader might be useful in India, which in 1951 was experiencing "extremely Nationalist and anti-American sentiment." The government paid Levitas and supplied him with "about four or five hundred names of people including intellectuals, newspaper people, radio commentators, etc." whom it believed might be receptive to free copies of the magazine. The first issue arrived with a cover letter, which began"The New Leader is very happy to welcome you into its circle of readers and to inform you that a complimentary subscription for one year has been entered in your name. This has been made possible through the interest and aid of a group of friends of India.". When government officials sought out Levitas as a partner, they probably anticipated gaining a useful implement to further their own political ends. In other words, they didn't quite understand the person they were dealing with. Writers from whom Levitas had solicited contributions might have warned them of his perseverance, but State Department functionaries became familiar with it soon enough. The editor's letters to his connections in Washington bore the same tone as much of the rest of his correspondence: "I cannot understand your silence"; "I wrote to you on February 20 and May 2 and still no reply from you. I am really perturbed"; "I wrote to you on August 1 and I am surprised that I received no reply I would appreciate very much hearing from you.". With its financial situation improving, the magazine completed its transition from socialist newspaper to liberal magazine. In 1948, the board acted on the suggestion of Max Eastman, a frequent contributor, that the publication remove from the masthead the words "Devoted to Social Democracy." On May 6, 1950, the journal scrapped its newspaper layout entirely. "As the grey and gooey-looking cocoon suddenly astonishes the world by bursting forth as a dancing butterfly" a columnist wrote"so we are to take on the gaudy look of a slick-paper magazine." The new format cost more money -- an extra $20,000 a year -- but it was hoped that the change would "attract myriads of new readers." By 1960, The New Leader was a glossy -- though still black and white-- magazine with a stylishly understated design. Few traces of the journal's rough sectarian roots remained. Despite frequent trips to Europe-- some of which involved reporting on socialist movements for the State Department, and perhaps the CIA -- Levitas continued to forge The New Leader to his own vision. But, his health was in decline. "I was laid up in bed and have still not recuperated from my severe cold" he complained in 1951. "It is cold all over it is a cold exchequer, a cold world and this damn cold war." He spent most of 1955 recuperating from gall-bladder surgeries; "my convalescence period was and still is a very painful one" he wrote. "It takes a very, very long time before one can get back on his feet after such a terrific ordeal." At the start of 1960, having just returned from his latest foreign travels, Levitas checked in to Lenox Hill Hospital. On January 3, as the magazine staff was putting that week's issue to bed, the phone rang: "Sol had made his last deadline." Samuel M. Levitas was 66 years old. "Without being a bore or a fanatic" Sidney Hook said at his memorial"without losing his sense of humor and irony and his capacity to smile at himself, he was a totally dedicated man.". With its guiding intelligence gone, some thought The New Leader should cease publication. Instead, the board declared"The most fitting tribute we can render to the memory of Sol Levitas is to make certain the magazine to which he dedicated his life will continue to serve the nation and the free world." After an interregnum, Myron Kolatch, who had served on the staff for nearly a decade, was named managing editor. Under his leadership, the publication kept true to its anti-totalitarian philosophy, while dropping some of the more ideologically driven aspects of its agenda. While Levitas had been primarily concerned with promoting a cause, Kolatch was interested in journalism. Cultural criticism had usually been secondary to politics in The New Leader's pages. The magazine tended to take an interest in a work of literature or art only insofar as it could be linked to an ideological platform; "literature, music, film, theater, and television became so interwoven with politics that they could not easily be left out of a political periodical." In the 1960s, the journal began to take its artistic side with increasing seriousness. Its columns -- "Writers & Writing" "On Poetry" "On Screen" and "On Television" -- became important forums for thoughtful cultural opinion. The New Leader's political journalism remained predominant as the Cold War continued. Though exposés of Soviet abuses were still congenial to U.S. interests, the journal dealt with inconvenient subjects as well. It published articles on race relations and the civil rights movement. In the mid-1960s, it ran essays discussing persecutions in Yugoslavia at a time when Tito's government was viewed favorably by many American officials. Later in the decade, the magazine tweaked the idealistic dreams of the New Left with as much brio as it had employed against the Old Left. It was agnostic about the Vietnam War, critical of Castro's Cuba, and, of course, repulsed by the People's Republic of China. In those years, a contributor recalled"The New Leader was part of the support system that the small band of dissenters from New Left Maoism and liberal mushiness relied on.". During the 1970s and 1980s, The New Leader had to redefine itself, as many frequent contributors embraced the neoconservative movement. Although it shared many tenets of this ideology, its New Deal origins prevented it from allying wholly with uncritical free-market advocates. The journal continued publishing important pieces from a variety of perspectives, but as others encroached on its traditional demesne, it struggled to connect with its once-devoted audience. "[T]he magazine seemed to have lost a certain focus" a frequent correspondent wrote. "It was no longer spreading its word to its happy few. In fact nobody, I think, was sure who the happy few were.". Then, in September 1991, the cover featured a headline that Sol Levitas had always dreamed of seeing: "Lenin Nyet! The Revolution That Failed." For more than sixty years, The New Leader had worked toward this triumph. Having achieved it, however, the publication's identity became even less certain than before. "Most assumed'OK, we won that fight so we can pack up and go home'" Kolatch recalled. But, though the magazine persevered, it had to adjust to a world scene utterly different from what it had known. It would require "a heroic effort" a writer noted "to discover what principles a democratic Left might stand for in a world changed beyond recognition, as well as to explore the practical question of how such a movement might conceivably be rebuilt amid the intellectual ruins of both Marxism and New Deal liberalism.". As it reached the new millennium, The New Leader was one of the last surviving publications of its type. It is possible that the "little magazine" itself -- a politically querulous journal operated with a modest budget -- had been structurally connected to the ideological upheavals of the twentieth century. Whatever intellectual forces were to define a vision for the post-Cold War Left, it would not be a small journal published in black and white ink. Adapting one last time, The New Leader ceased print publication in 2006; since then it has been solely Internet-based. During its long run, and especially under Sol Levitas' guidance, The New Leader functioned as the voice of a specific, and significant, segment of liberal opinion in the United States. Writers and readers who shared this viewpoint revered the magazine as one of the few honest voices in American letters. As such, the journal can be read as a record of a particular political perspective. More broadly, the publication is a monument of its times. Created to oppose Bolshevism, its run coincided with an era when most intellectuals believed that the clash between communism and capitalism -- or totalitarianism and democracy -- was the crucible upon which all others depended. Whatever its world-historical ambitions, The New Leader can also be judged on the merits of its journalism. "It has courage, vision, accuracy, and it is free from over-emphasis on political partisanship" Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in 1945. "One can disagree with a good many of its strongly phrased articles without feeling that a writer is trying to put anything over on him, which is a good deal to say of any magazine of conviction.".

Scope and Contents

These records consist of correspondence, artwork, subject files, business records, and meeting minutes. The collection also includes the entire print run of the magazine, from 1924 until 2006. It features business letters between editors and contributing authors. Artwork used in The New Leader is organized by subject, or artist. The subject files touch on various topics, including the journal's interactions with other liberal-socialist groups, as well as its contacts with government agencies. Business and administrative records, as well as meeting minutes, detail the inner workings of the publication.