Sweezy, Paul Marlour


Sweezy, Paul Marlour
(1910–2004)
   Sweezy was a prominent Marxist economist and the founder of Monthly Review magazine. Born in New York, he obtained a doctorate in economics from Harvard University in 1937 following a spell at the London School of Economics, where he embraced Marxian concepts for the first time. After teaching at Harvard up until 1942, in 1949 Sweezy, along with Leo Huberman, founded the socialist magazine Monthly Review, a controversial move in the atmosphere of the American “Red Scare.” In 1956 Sweezy was subpoenaed by the New Hampshire attorney general, who investigated his beliefs as a consequence of his lectures on socialism at the University of New Hampshire. However, Sweezy, quoting the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and testifying that he had never been part of the Communist Party of the United States of America, refused to conform and was cited for contempt of court. This was duly overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
   Sweezy was a committed Stalinist for much of his life, though he did align with Maoist China and then Kim II Sung’s North Korea shortly after Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Josef Stalin at the 1956 Communist Party of the Soviet Union conference. Sweezy was a key theoretician for the left. His 1942 Theory of Capitalist Development comprised a seminal modern introduction to the thought of Karl Marx, and offered, for the first time in English, a critique of complex Marxian problems. He elucidated an underconsumptionist analysis of the crisis in capitalism, suggesting that as increases in consumption were not matching increases in investment, unproductive uses of output became required, for example military spending. In 1966 Sweezy and Paul Baran’s Monopoly Capital was published. This became a key theoretical work for the “New Left” of the time, and forwarded the concept of stagnation theory. The central predicament facing capitalism was its difficulty in selling the economic surpluses left by capital accrual. The result, in an attempt to ease the declining rate of profit as foreseen by Marx, would be increases in defense spending, marketing and debt. Each of these “quick fixes,” however, was extremely limited. The only consequence could be that monopoly capital would tend, in its restriction of output and technological innovation in the interest of maintaining profit, toward economic stagnation.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.