Whatever happened to... Radical magazines

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The Independent Online
War of Words

Once the printing press was invented, its importance as a means of idea distribution was quickly realised. Pravda was founded in 1912 by Lenin and had a circulation at times exceeding 10m copies a day.

In Britain, Marxism Today was called the "last repository of thought" by Fay Weldon, coined the term Thatcherism, and, according to MP Chris Patten, "treated politics as an adventure for serious grown-ups."

In the Seventies, there was a wave of feminist publishing, at the forefront of which stood Spare Rib magazine.

Political Minefield

After the collapse of Communism in 1991, Pravda's circulation shrunk to 200,000. In 1996, it became a lifestyle tabloid, claiming that "our readers don't want some long, boring article taking up a whole page."

In Britain, Marxism Today was crushed by debt in 1992. Its former editor, Martin Jacques, set up a think-tank called Demos, calling it a "catalyst for a different, less ideological politics".

Popular Politics

Marxism Today was succeeded by Red Pepper, a left-of-centre political and cultural magazine. In 1994, a new magazine called Prospect was designed to appeal to a "sceptical age", or what Charles Seaford the magazine's publisher called "intellectual glamour".


This month, the magazine Class War magazine has shut itself down with the epitaph: "In short, what passes for a revolutionary movement in this country is pitiful ... " Class War had, at its height, a circulation of 15,000. Instrumental to protests against the Criminal Justice Bill, it resisted Thatcherism, inspiring direct action groups that attracted the attention of Special Branch.

What hope?

Rosie Boycott, co-founder of Spare Rib, said: "In the 1960s there was a lot of underground magazines like Oz and Friends. Out of this came the political magazines Red Dwarf, Inc. and 7 Days, driven by passionate and narrowly focused beliefs. Now such magazines stand alongside the mainstream."

Editors might bear in mind what Sartre once said, that democracy and freedom is a battle that must be fought and won each day.