Sweezy V. New Hampshire: The Radicalism of Principle

By Simon, John J. | Monthly Review, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Sweezy V. New Hampshire: The Radicalism of Principle


Simon, John J., Monthly Review


Before the founding of Monthly Review, Paul Sweezy had been an instructor at Harvard and the author of germinal works on the American economy. But his teaching and writing were always accompanied by vigorous engagement with the political movements of the time: he helped organize the Harvard Teachers' Union, taught economics at the leftist Samuel Adams School in Boston, and, in 1948, took a leading role in Henry Wallace's presidential run on the pro-New Deal and anti-Gold War Progressive Party ticket in his home state of New Hampshire. As he often did, Sweezy combined his support of the Wallace third party challenge with his ongoing advocacy of socialism.

This, along with a lecture on Marxism he gave at the University of New Hampshire, attracted the attention of New Hampshire Attorney General Louis C. Wyman, then charged by the state legislature with an investigation of "subversive activities." In January 1954, Sweezy was subpoenaed. Wyman was especially interested in whether Paul thought socialism was inevitable, whether he "advocate[d] Marxism," and whether in this "or any former lectures [he] espoused the theory of dialectical materialism."

Sweezy's subpoena, the demand that he reveal his personal political views, the investigation of his political activities, and, finally, the demand for the names of others with whom he was active were a part of the larger "anticommunist" purge against militant trade unionists, opponents of the Cold War, and the remnants of the New Deal coalition which burgeoned at the end of the Second World War. Thousands of careers were destroyed; institutions and movements of the left were marginalized. For radicals and dissenters, how they would resist became a burning question. After the Hollywood Ten were sent to prison for asserting their right to refuse to discuss their political views with Congressional inquisitors (in 1947)--the so-called First Amendment defense--it was assumed that only the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination provided reasonable safety from contempt citations, trumped-up perjury charges, and jail. Indeed, for trade unionists indicted for purportedly violating the new Taft-Hartley law's anti-Communist provisions and those caught in the spy hysteria following Mao's victory in China and the Korean War, there was little option but to use the "Fifth."

In 1953, Albert Einstein (also part of the extended MR family--his "Why Socialism?" appeared in the first issue) proposed a renewed First Amendment attack on the very legitimacy of the purge; at the time, it must have seemed quixotic at best.

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