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History and Prospectus

Science & Society is a quarterly journal of Marxist thought and analysis. Published without interruption since its inception in 1936, the journal is currently entering its fourth quarter century, making it the longest continuously published journal of Marxist scholarship in the world, in any language. The journal reaches hundreds of individual subscribers, both in the United States and abroad, and has a large base of libraries and other institutional subscribers. The entire run of Science & Society issues, excepting the most recent five-year period, is now available on JSTOR.

In its early years, Science & Society played a unique role in providing a home for scholarship in the Marxist tradition. It attracted contributors from many countries, and was a major site of interaction among Marxist researchers in capitalist countries and those working in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The British "social relations of science" movement was well represented, including some of that school's leading figures, such as J. B. S. Haldane, Hyman Levy and J. D. Bernal. Also from Britain, political economists such as Maurice Dobb, and historians such as Eric Hobsbawn and Christopher Hill, contributed regularly; in this way, S&S played a role in the early development of the British Marxist Historians school. In the United States, leading figures in history, literature and the social sciences, such as Joyce Adler, Herbert Aptheker, M. F. Ashley Montagu, W. E. B. Du Bois, Abraham Edel, Lewis S. Feuer, Philip S. Foner, Margaret George, Alvin W. Gouldner, Irving Louis Horowitz, Corliss Lamont, Eleanor Leacock, Robert S. Lynd, Robert K. Merton, June Nash, Joan Robinson, and William Appleman Williams, among many others, wrote articles and reviews for the journal.

Science & Society was founded, as noted above, in 1936, after a developmental period of several years that involved two main centers: one group in Boston, led by the MIT mathematician Dirk J. Struik, and another in New York, with significant participation from faculty members at New York University. Founding editor Margaret Schlauch, the distinguished linguist and medievalist, was a member of the English Department at New York University, as was Edwin Berry Burgum, another S&S founding editor. Dr. Annette T. Rubinstein, who was not a founding editor but joined the Editorial Board in the 1960s and was active with the journal until her death in 2007 at age 97, also taught briefly at NYU, where there was a concentration of S&S activism in the first period of the journal's existence.

One particularly influential contribution arose as a result of Paul Sweezy's 1950 essay on Maurice Dobb's Studies in the Development of Capitalism, which developed into a full-fledged controversy involving, in addition to Dobb and Sweezy, Rodney Hilton, H. K. Takahashi, and Christopher Hill, subsequently published in book form as The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, under the editorship of Hilton. This "first round" debate in the theory of social transformation set the stage for the later "Brenner Debate" on the transition to capitalism, and has often been revisited in recent years in S&S.

In the early decades, Science & Society had a strong base in the non-academic political left, in a time when "ordinary" working people felt comfortable studying political economy, reading critiques of the leading mainstream intellectual figures of the time, or debating the "situation in the biological sciences" (S&S was an early critic of T. D. Lysenko). There were "friends of Science & Society" clubs in various cities throughout the United States, and the journal also achieved an international reputation. It should be noted that, while S&S was in (what could be called, in that period) the Marxist mainstream, and some of its authors were aligned with or sympathetic to the Communist parties, the journal has always been organizationally independent, never affiliated with or funded by any political party or institution.

Science & Society has of course been joined in later decades by a variety of publications with left and Marxist orientation, but it has continued to carve out a distinctive role in the widening stream of publications in progressive and critical social analysis. While it is hard to nail down this distinctiveness in a precise way, there are perhaps four main features.

First, S&S is determinedly generalist in its approach to subject matter. Drawing upon numerous disciplines, from history and economics to philosophy, sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, the ultimate goal is to transcend disciplinary boundaries and contribute to the reconstitution of social theory and research as a unified, trans-specialist practice. In pursuit of this long-term objective, the journal asks contributors from present-day disciplines to seek out the most intuitively clear and self-contained presentations of their arguments, so that the journal's contents are accessible to the motivated general reader.

Second, S&S resists exclusive identification with any particular trend or school of interpretation within Marxism, and does not attempt to give Marxism precise boundaries or definition. Thus, various identifiable positions, such as existential Marxism, autonomist Marxism, overdeterminationist Marxism, analytical Marxism, Uno-school political economy, the social structures of accumulation school, regulation theory, etc., are welcomed and represented, but always in the interest of drawing out their enduring contributions to and significance for Marxism as such, as a progressive and critical framework for social and political research and action.

Third, most participants in the S&S enterprise would repudiate one division, usually symbolized by the unfortunate geographic coinage "Western" Marxism. This term implies an invidious distinction between Marxism as interpreted within the Communist Parties in the 20th century, including in places where those parties held state power, on the one hand; and the Marxisms that flourished outside of that political framework, mainly in the academy in the United States, Western Europe, Japan, and parts of the "Third World," on the other. Science & Society, although not necessarily all authors who appear in its pages, affirms that the realities of post-capitalist societies have been complex, and have involved both negative and positive elements; that the best way to go forward is to recuperate all of the valuable contributions from the various Marxist traditions, "East" and "West," without routine political responses, either hostile or defensive.

Finally, our journal seeks to provide a home for path-breaking, first-order research; this commitment implies that S&S is not for everyone. Science & Society is not designed to be a popular journal, and does not try to compete with other publications that seek to reach out to all potential readers, without regard to scholarly commitment or prior exposure to Marxist thought. As one of our founding editors, Henry Mins, used to say: groundbreaking work cannot be easy reading. The trick, of course, is to distinguish between difficulty that is inherent in the advanced task set by an author, and difficulty that is superfluous and symptomatic of failure to run the subject to earth. While authors are always asked to do their utmost to achieve and deliver clarity, S&S is also seen as a place for work that is appropriately demanding.

Science & Society makes its contribution to Marxist thought through regular issues, containing articles, review articles, communications, and book reviews covering the entire spectrum of the transdisciplinary field. These are selected from materials submitted for publication by academics and others, after review by both outside specialist readers and a Manuscript Collective, a subset of the Editorial Board that meets regularly in New York and serves as the standing committee of the Editorial Board between that body's annual meetings. The contents of these issues has reflected the changing interests of the broader S&S community. In the 1960s and 70s, these interests expanded enormously to include the various new social movements that developed out of the civil rights, anti Vietnam War and women's liberation struggles. The journal has reached out to other currents: women's studies, cultural studies, black and other ethnic studies. Coverage of, and contributions from, Latin America, Asia and Africa have increased in importance. In line with the overall non-sectarian philosophy formulated above, the goal is to seek and incorporate contributions from all sectors of progressive and critical thought, here pointedly not limited only to those that consider themselves "Marxist." There is no attempt to steer this varied content into any preconceived channel; we believe it must develop and change in ways that cannot be predicted and controlled.

The book review section should receive a brief mention. Each issue of S&S contains 10-12 book reviews. While it is a challenge to cover adequately the books published in the wide variety of fields under our purview, the range and quality of the book reviews has often been noted, and we believe that the book review section is a distinctive contribution of the journal. Unlike the practice of many journals, assigned book reviews are evaluated by the Manuscript Collective prior to publication, and acceptance for publication is not automatic.

In addition to the regular issues, S&S produces special issues, or sections of issues, devoted to particular themes, and in these cases the editors, or Guest Editors invited to prepare these issues, do make an effort to provide overall direction in the interest of producing a unified contribution. An incomplete list of topics covered in special issues published in recent years might include: the French Revolution; the contributions of Friedrich Engels; Marxism and ecology; alternative visions and models of socialism; the Spanish Civil War; "Marxist and Feminist Thought Today"; "The Deep Structure of the Present Moment"; "History and Biography: Communist Party Lives in International Perspective"; new directions in historical materialism. Along with special issues, the editors encourage symposia, debates and discussion, appearing in the "Communications" section. These offer further opportunities for directed interventions in the journal's contents.

As Science & Society enters its eighth decade of publication, individual circulation is increasing (even as library budgets shrink, causing a small erosion in institutional subscriptions). While it is of course impossible to predict whether this will continue or to make firm judgments concerning causes, we do sense among our readers and correspondents a deepening sense of purpose. This comes from a shared understanding: intensifying social and political crisis requires a serious community both rooted in and developing a systematic alternative vision and method. We look forward to doing our part in meeting this challenge, and to securing the future of the journal by opening it up to a new core of younger readers, activists and editors.


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