The New Leader began in 1924 under a group of figures associated with the Socialist Party of America. These included Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas. It was published in New York City by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs. Its orientation was liberal and anti-communist. The Tamiment Institute was the magazine's primary supporter.
Its overall politics shifted in its second decade:
Under Levitas's editorship, during years when the much-higher-circulation Nation and New Republic often ran acrobatic apologies for Stalin, the New Leader became a bi-weekly platform for what was then known as liberal anti-Communism.
The founding editor was James Oneal who was succeeded by Sol Levitas in 1940. Suzanne La Follette was a managing editor in the 1950s. Myron (Mike) Kolatch took over in 1961 until the magazine's closure in 2006.
Its contributors were dominant liberal thinkers and artists. The New Leader first published Joseph Brodsky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the United States. It first published Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail." Other contributors, who were generally paid nothing or only a modest fee, included James Baldwin, Daniel Bell, Willy Brandt, David Dallin, Milovan Djilas, Theodore Draper, Max Eastman, Ralph Ellison, Hubert Humphrey, George F. Kennan, Murray Kempton, Irving Kristol, C. Wright Mills, Hans Morgenthau, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Albert Murray, Ralph de Toledano, Reinhold Niebuhr, George Orwell, Bertrand Russell, Cyril Joad, Bayard Rustin, and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
The New Leader ceased print publication following the January/April 2006 double issue.
A bimonthly online version was published from January/February 2007 to May/June/July/August 2010.
Longtime Editor Myron Kolatch conducted an interview with Columbia University's The Current in Spring 2007 . He mainly discussed the history of journals of ideas (The New Leader, Partisan Review, The New Republic, National Review), and their role in politics and intellectual discourse. Also worth reading is Kolatch's "Who We Are and Where We Came From" , adapted from the last in-print issue.