Paul Marlor Sweezy (April 10, 1910 – February 28, 2004) was a Marxian economist, political activist, publisher, and founding editor of the long-running magazine Monthly Review. He is best remembered for his contributions to economic theory as one of the leading Marxist economists of the second half of the 20th Century.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early years[edit | edit source]

Paul Sweezy was born on April 10, 1910 in New York City, the youngest of three sons of Everett B. Sweezy, a vice-president of First National Bank of New York.[1] His mother, Caroline Wilson Sweezy, was a graduate of Goucher College in Baltimore.[1]

Sweezy attended Phillips Exeter Academy and went on to Harvard and was editor of The Harvard Crimson, graduating magna cum laude in 1932.[1] Having completed his undergraduate coursework, Sweezy spent the 1931-32 academic year taking courses at the London School of Economics, traveling to Vienna to study on spring break.[1] It was at this time that Sweezy was first exposed to Marxian economic ideas, causing his interests to shift from journalism to economics.[1] He made the acquaintance of Joan Robinson and other young left-wing British economic thinkers of the day.[1]

Upon his return to the United States, Sweezy again enrolled at Harvard, from which he received his doctorate degree in 1937. Sweezy was deeply impacted through his participation in a graduate seminar conducted by the economist Joseph Schumpeter, becoming fast friends for life with the conservative thinker.[1]

While at Harvard, Sweezy founded the academic journal The Review of Economic Studies and published essays on imperfect competition, the role of expectations in the determination of supply and demand, and the problem of economic stagnation.[1]

Sweezy became an instructor at Harvard in 1938.[1] It was there that he helped establish a local branch of the American Federation of Teachers, the Harvard Teachers' Union.[1] In this interval also Sweezy wrote one of his most important works of economics, The Theory of Capitalist Development (1942), a book which summarized the labor theory of value of Marx and his followers. The book was the first in English to dealt with such questions such as the transformation problem thoroughly.

From 1942 to 1945, Sweezy worked for the research and analysis division of the Office of Strategic Services. Sweezy was sent to London, where he worked as an analyst of British economic policy for the US government.[1] Sweezy was the recipient of the Social Science Research Council Demobilization Award at war's end.[1]

Sweezy wrote extensively for the liberal press during the post-war period, including such publications as The Nation and The New Republic, among others.[1] He also wrote a book, Socialism, published in 1949, as well as a number of shorter pieces which were collected in book form as The Present as History in 1953.[1]

Magazine founder[edit | edit source]

In 1949, Sweezy and Leo Huberman founded a new magazine called Monthly Review, using money from historian and literary critic F. O. Matthiessen. The first issue appeared in May of that year. The magazine, established in the midst of the American Red Scare, a self-described "independent socialist magazine" which closely resembled the Communist Party's theoretical monthly, Political Affairs, in form and content while moving away from a rigid communist political line.

Monthly Review rapidly expanded into the production of books and pamphlets through its publishing arm, Monthly Review Press.

Over the years Monthly Review published articles by a diverse array of voices, including material by Albert Einstein, W. E. B. Du Bois, Jean-Paul Sartre, Che Guevara, and Joan Robinson.[2]

In 1954 New Hampshire Attorney General Louis C. Wyman subpoenaed Sweezy and made inquiries into his political beliefs and associations, demanding to know the names of his political associates. Sweezy refused to comply, citing his First Amendment right of freedom of expression. He was cited for contempt of court, but the US Supreme Court overturned that citation in 1957.

Activism[edit | edit source]

Sweezy was active in a wide range of progressive causes, including the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, the National Lawyers Guild, the National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.[3] He was the chairman of the Committee in Defense of Carl Marzani and was particularly active fighting against the prosecution of members of the Communist Party under the Smith Act.[3]

An outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, Sweezy was a prominent supporter of Bertrand Russell's International War Crimes Tribunal.[3]

Contributions to economics[edit | edit source]

Main article: Monopoly Capital

Sweezy's first formally published paper on economics was a 1934 article entitled "Professor Pigou’s Theory of Unemployment," published in the Journal of Political Economy in 1934.[1] Over the rest of the decade Sweezy writing prolifically on economics-related topics, publishing some 25 articles and reviews.[1] Sweezy did pioneering work in the fields of expectations and oligopoly in these years, introducing for the first time the concept of the kinked demand curve in the determination of oligopoly pricing.[1]

In 1966, Sweezy published Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order with Paul Baran. The book set forth the idea of stagnation theory, also called secular stagnation. The main dilemma modern capitalism would face, they argued, would be how to sell the economic surpluses created by capital accumulation. Increases in marketing, defense spending and various forms of debt would tend to alleviate the falling rate of profit foreseen by Marx. However, they believed that these remedies to capital's difficulties were inherently limited and that monopoly capital would tend toward economic stagnation.

This book is regarded as the cornerstone of Sweezy's contribution to Marxian economics.

Death and legacy[edit | edit source]

Paul Sweezy died February 27, 2004. He was 93 years old at the time of his death.

Sweezy was lauded by economist and public intellectual John Kenneth Galbraith as "the most noted American Marxist scholar" of the late 20th Century.[4] He was also called "the best that Exeter and Harvard can produce" and regarded as "among the most promising economists of his generation" by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson.[5]

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 John Bellamy Foster, "Memorial Service for Paul Marlor Sweezy (1910-2004)," Monthly Review.
  2. Louis Uchitelle, "Paul Sweezy, 93, Marxist Publisher and Economist, Dies," New York Times, March 2, 2004.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Francis X. Gannon, Biographical Dictionary of the Left: Volume 2. Boston: Western Islands, 1971; pp. 564-566.
  4. John Kenneth Galbraith, Economics in Perspective. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987; pg. 189.
  5. Paul Samuelson, “Memories,” Newsweek, June 2, 1969.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

Works[edit | edit source]

  • Monopoly and Competition in the English Coal Trade, 1550-1850. [1938] Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1972.
  • The Theory of Capitalist Development. London: D. Dobson, 1946.
  • Socialism. New York: McGraw-Hill Company, 1949.
  • The Present as History: Reviews on Capitalism and Socialism. (1953, 1962).
  • Modern Capitalism and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.
  • The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism. London: New Left Books, 1976.
  • Post-Revolutionary Society: Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980.
  • Four lectures on Marxism. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1981).
  • "The Limits of Imperialism." In Chilcote, Ronald H. (ed.) Imperialism: Theoretical Directions. New York: Humanity Books, 2000.

With Leo Huberman[edit | edit source]

  • F.O. Matthiessen, 1902-1950. New York: S.N., 1950.
  • Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1960.
  • Regis Debray and Latin American Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1968.
  • Socialism in Cuba. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969.
  • The Communist Manifesto after 100 Years: New translation by Paul M. Sweezy of Karl Marx's "The Communist Manifesto" and Friedrich Engels' "Principles of Communism." New York: Modern Reader, 1964.
  • Vietnam: The Endless War: From Monthly Review, 1954-1970. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970.

With Harry Magdoff[edit | edit source]

  • The Dynamics of US Capitalism: Corporate Structure, Inflation, Credit, Gold, and the Dollar. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.
  • Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Chile. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974.
  • The End of Prosperity. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977.
  • The Deepening Crisis of US Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1981.
  • Stagnation and the Financial Explosion. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987.
  • The Irreversible Crisis: Five Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1988.

With others[edit | edit source]

  • Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order. With Paul A. Baran. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966.
  • On the Transition to Socialism. With Charles Bettelheim. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971.

External links[edit | edit source]

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