Editor’s Letter


Updates on what we’ve been up to and the current situation with New Socialist.

Welcome, finally, to our CLASS edition. We hope you enjoy it. Rather than publishing it all in one go, we have decided to publish in instalments between now and the end of the year – so for those of you reading this in September, stay tuned: we have more essays, reviews, and cultural analysis to come. As with Bad New Times and Ecologies, we will be publishing an editorial essay attempting to explore, develop and synthesise some of the themes, but we will be doing this once all the texts are available, rather than as an introduction. Additionally, my introduction to Nicos Poulantzas’s “On Social Classes” (a text which we are very excited to be able to republish and make freely available), which is due in the second instalment, will engage with many of the pieces we’ve collected for this edition.

With CLASS, we are, sadly, saying goodbye to one of our editors. Owing to the demands of his job and other commitments, John Foster has had to step back from. John has been involved as an editor since 2019, and we will miss his consistent calmness and kindness , as well his diligent proofreading work. John also very kindly stepped forward to cover the Readers’ Editor role, which we greatly appreciated. We are really sad to see him go, and wish him all the best.

On a positive note, we are very happy to announce that Daniel Willis has joined the editorial group. Daniel has long been a regular and insightful contributor to New Socialist, with a particular focus on Latin America. He recently wrote a really exceptional analysis of the situation in Peru, and his analysis of contradictions and risks of “green colonialism” in various Green New Deal proposals is a must-read for anybody interested in ecosocialist futures. We are so excited to have Daniel involved in an editorial capacity.

We are also very excited with to launch our newly-redesigned website – a project which has taken josie many months of work (and which, she is sure, will demand many more). We want to extend our thanks to former NS editor and programming wizard Wendy Liu, as well as friend of NS Seb Grey, for all of their help in making this happen. And, of course, we apologise for any glitches or bugs you might encounter as we work to fully implement all the changes! As ever, if you have any problems with accessibility relating to the website, please get in touch – we are actively working to make the website as accessible as possible, and your feedback is so valuable to that process.

The production of CLASS has been, for various reasons, a difficult process; we want to apologise for how long it has taken, and thank our readers, subscribers, and particularly our writers, for their patience. As well as apologising, we want to be as transparent as possible and explain some of the reasons for the delay.

To accompany this editor’s letter, I’ll be writing a further, more personal and theoretical reflection on things. In the present letter, I will explain what has been going on with New Socialist – particularly with regard to the practical limitations that have led to the delay in publishing the CLASS edition, and how we might aim to deal with these problems in future. In the more reflective piece, I want to write something considering some of my problems with productivity (one of the things that have caused the delay in getting this edition out), attempting an aetiology of sorts that situates them within a set of problems of the contemporary British left, particularly left media, and, hopefully, through that writing, beginning to try to trace a path out (or at least, to get a sense of what such a path could look like). The two pieces are not entirely distinct: where practical constraints stop and problems of the conjuncture begin – especially, when the biggest constraints have been a dwindling capacity for work among the editors, and elements of the political situation that limit my capacity – is not entirely clear. However, in choosing to divide the two aspects, I am emphasising that the responsibility for the feelings, arguments and the potential disputes opened up in attempting that aetiology and trying to feel a way out, is entirely mine.

In a political situation which feels bleak, this abundance of ideas speaks to the continuing intellectual capacities of “the movement”, which remain often, perhaps largely, uncaptured in academia, journalism, and publishing.

So, on to those practical constraints. As with Bad New Times and Ecologies, we were very ambitious in the amount of work we commissioned, largely owing to the range and quality of the pitches we got. There were many pieces that we felt we couldn’t turn down. In a political situation which feels phenomenally bleak, this abundance of ideas and analyses speaks to the continuing intellectual capacities of “the movement” (insofar as such a thing exists; indeed, perhaps it now mostly exists in these capacities)–which remain often, perhaps largely, uncaptured in academia, journalism, and publishing. We hope that this range and quality of work is clear.

We also felt it was necessary to commission widely in order to offer some degree of breadth and depth to the analysis of class, and to reflect the difficulties of a single conception, whether in terms of theoretical line, analytical focus, level of abstraction, or area of life considered. If, as we believe, class pertains to (in Gramsci’s words on history in one of the final letters to his son) to “everything that concerns people”,1 then a serious treatment of it will necessarily be extensive and will exceed any single perspective. Even given the range of the work we have commissioned, there remain limits and lacunae. Some of these will be explored in my contextualising essay; others, we may not yet be aware of. As ever, we invite and encourage critical, generative responses from our readers: your perspectives are invaluable, not only to New Socialist, but to the left as a whole, if it is to have any future.

But commissioning the work is never the end of the story. While some of our writers are academics or professional authors, and are capable of producing articles and essays quickly, many others have different backgrounds, and a range of pressures on their writing and thinking time. Moreover, even the most seasoned writer requires an editor. We have always been committed to a process of extensive editing and working with writers to develop their pieces, we’ve always viewed editing as part of a process of political education on our side and the writer’s side, a process of clarification and development, and helping writers write their best possible piece.

All of this, of course, takes time. We made our commissioning decisions at a point where we were optimistic – in retrospect, over-optimistic – about our editorial capacities. This is not the first time this has happened, but it is the time when the gap between our hopes and our actual capacities has been the greatest, and the effects of that gap most difficult. The work it has taken to get this edition ready – not just editing, but other work, too, particularly on the website – has been beyond what our editors who do get paid are paid for. This has meant that we have, once again, been reliant on unpaid work from both those editors, as well as the rest of our editorial group. This is – if it’s a question of exploitation at all – a question of self-exploitation; but even self-exploitation has its limits, tends towards exhaustion. As long-time readers will know, this need for considerable unpaid work is not new, but this year it has taken place in a context where illness, family commitments, and the necessity of earning enough money to live have sharply diminished our ability to do it.

Over-optimistic commissioning has been a constant over the last few years. We need to learn from it, and also find ways to ensure we have more editorial capacity, so that we can do at least some of what we want to do. We are beginning to make plans around developing this editorial capacity, as well as producing editions that will require a little less work from us. Of course, some of these issues, though not all of them, are underpinned by the perennial and tedious need for material resources. This is a problem that is not unique to us: see, for example, the experience of the early New Left Review (which we discussed a little in the Bad New Times editors’ letter) and Stuart Hall’s gentle chiding of readers; subscribing to the NLR, he argued,

Represents a tax on yourself for something which you want to support. After all, most of us are paying a little something towards the Missile Programme, but we have all been a little light-hearted about making a regular contribution in some form to keeping and maintaining a socialist press”.

With more money, we could pay for more editorial work. Things would not have to take so long, squeezed in between other commitments. But equally, we understand that – as should be the case with a socialist publication – many of our readers, particularly under current conditions, do not have huge amounts of disposable income – we are a long way, in fact, from the post-“you’ve never had it so good” context of Hall’s plea (“If ‘Tory Freedom’ is working in your part of the world just now, how about letting us in too?”). Additionally, given our failure to publish much recently, we understand why subscribing to NS may not be a priority for what disposable income comrades do have, whether that is in deciding how to “keep and maintain a socialist press”, or in other spending. In the last year or so, we have, ultimately, faced a vicious circle: we struggle to produce in large part because of resource limits; this means less attention, dwindling subscriptions, then less capacity; and so it goes on. There is more to say on this, but much of this approaches a set of questions around personal discouragement within a particular set of problems determining the left and left media, so I will return to it in the second half of this letter. However, at this point it is worth adding that on the most basic level, during the Corbyn years, and in their immediate aftermath, it was possible to run to a very significant extent on enthusiasm, on a sense of urgency, constituted by political demands. This meant a far greater capacity for unpaid work, questions of resources whilst by no means irrelevant could, to some extent, be overcome through a left voluntarism. This is no longer the case.

We hope that a publication like New Socialist is possible under current conditions. We know that it is necessary, but that, by itself, does not guarantee its existence.

To conclude this letter, it is worth outlining a collective plan. We intend to continue, to make a go of things, and that will be significantly easier if we can attract more subscriptions. We hope that a publication like New Socialist is possible under current conditions. We know that it is necessary, but that, by itself, does not guarantee its existence.2 We have a second and third instalment of some incredibly exciting and important work on class to publish. After that, we are planning for a smaller edition which, we hope, will offer a theory of this conjuncture, and which should will be practically manageable. With Jack Frayne-Reid becoming officially our podcast editor, we will be working on establishing a regular podcast. We will be restarting our subscribers’ meetings to help open space for wider input into New Socialist from those comrades who keep it going. Ultimately, though the possibility of New Socialist is not to be asserted in the space of a text. It will be settled practically—one way or the other.

  1. Antonio Gramsci. [1937]. 1997. Prison Letters. London: Pluto Press. p. 273. 

  2. This question of necessity of something in a conjuncture not guaranteeing its possibility (and the gap between the space of theory or the text on the one hand and political practice on the other), is central to Althusser’s reading of Machiavelli as “the first theorist of the conjuncture”, and of the “harsh light of his utopianism” particularly around the necessity of the unification of Italy. I draw on this extensively in my reflective piece. Louis Althusser. [1972, 1977]. 2000. Machiavelli and Us. London: Verso. pp. 18, 125.