Magazine article Monthly Review

Interview with Paul M. Sweezy

Magazine article Monthly Review

Interview with Paul M. Sweezy

Article excerpt

INTERVIEW WITH PAUL M. SWEEZY

The following interview was conducted by Sungar Savran, visiting scholar in economics, and E. Ahmet Tonak, professor of economics at Simon's Rock of Bard College, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on March 20, 1986. The interview previously appeared in Onbirinci Tez (Eleven Thesis), a Marxist theoretical journal published quarterly in Istanbul, Turkey since November 1985. The interviewers, who are the members of the editorial collective of Onbirinci Tez, thank Derek Link for his contribution to the transcription of this interview.

E. Ahmet Tonak (EAT): We would like to start out by discussing your lifelong activities as a socialist intellectual and author before turning to questions of theory and politics. You have, on various occasions, made clear that you turned to socialism and were convinced of its relevance for the contemporary world at the beginning of the 1930s, which means that you have been active developing and defending socialist views for more than half a century. Now it seems obvious that at least until the mid-seventies, this period was not really marked by a vitality of the socialist movement in the United States. During the Cold War period, in particular, socialism was to be downgraded and vilified by the political establishment, the mass media, the intelligentsia, etc. How would you characterize the experience of being in an extremely small minority as a socialist? Are there any significant and interesting instances of the pressures you were submitted to that you would like to evoke?

Paul M. Sweezy (PMS): Well, of course, the period of fifty years that you mentioned has been one of great variety. The reason I first became interested in Marxism and radical ideas was because of the state of the world in the early thirties, the financial collapse, and the Great Depression, the international situation which was prelude to the Second World War. And during that decade, particularly in the United States--well not particularly, but certainly markedly in the United States-- there was an upsurge of radical activity and radical thought. Up to then, I would say, there was virtually no Marxism in the United States.

You may be familiar with the work of Thorstein Veblen. He was one of the original faculty at the New School. He was not a Marxist, but he was very strongly influenced by Marxism, and he was just about the only important U.S. social scientist of the time, of the 1920s, who had really taken Marxism seriously. There was the old Socialist Party which had developed a few interesting thinkers, particularly Louis Boudin, who was more or less in the mold of Kautsky and the social democratic theories of the German party. But he was also an original thinker. And there were a few others. But by and large, in academia anyway, Marxism was nothing of any influence whatever, and whatever was known about it or written about it was a caricature, was not serious. There was no serious Marxist tradition. When I came back from England in the fall of 1933, it had already begun to change. There was a good deal of questioning and thinking around the big universities. I was at Harvard at the time, but this was true of various other universities too. Particularly in New York, New York University, City College. During the 1930s, the Communist Party, of course, grew rapidly, and took a leading role in the organization of the working class, and the CIO, the breakaway federation from the American Federation of Labor. And generally speaking it was a period of a great deal of not very sophisticated theoretical work, but a good deal of ferment and interest. And that was the context in which I became a self-educated Marxist. I had had a normal neoclassical training, but as a Marxist I had a problem of mostly teaching myself, and of course in conjunction with trying to absorb traditions, German particularly, and the European tradition. It was during that period that I gradually wrote, over several years, The Theory of Capitalist Development, which was started more or less as an effort of self-clarification. …

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