Magazine article Monthly Review

An Interview with Paul M. Sweezy

Magazine article Monthly Review

An Interview with Paul M. Sweezy

Article excerpt

A founding editor of Monthly Review, Paul Sweezy has made widely recognized contributions to economics, history, and political analysis.

Born in 1910 in New York City, son of a Wall Street bank executive, Sweezy attended Philips Exeter Academy and Harvard University, where he was president of the Harvard Crimson, graduating in 1931. He spent the 1932-1933 academic year at the London School of Economics, where he was exposed to Marxism, and returned to Harvard as a graduate student. He received his Ph.D. in 1937, and his dissertation, Monopoly and Competition in the English Coal Trade, 1550-1800, was published by Harvard University Press the following year. Sweezy taught economics at Harvard for five years until, in the year of publication of his work The Theory of Capitalist Development (Oxford University Press, 1942), he joined the research and analysis division of the Office of Strategic Services, wartime forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, for which he edited the classified European Political Report. Returning to the United States in fall 1945, Sweezy decided that, faced with the certitude of being denied tenure, he should resign from Harvard. In 1946, he received a grant from the Social Sciences Research Council and took up residence in New Hampshire, where he wrote Socialism (McGraw-Hill, 1949).

Sweezy's subsequent books were all published by Monthly Review Press. He is co-author of Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution (1960) and Socialism in Cuba (1969), with Leo Huberman; Monopoly Capital (1966), with Paul A. Baran; and The Dynamics of U.S. Capitalism (1970), The End of Prosperity (1977), The Deepening Crisis of U.S. Capitalism (1980), Stagnation and the Financial Explosion (1987), and The Irreversible Crisis (1988), all with Harry Magdoff. His articles and lectures are collected in The Present as History (1953), Modern Capitalism and Other Essays (1972), Post-Revolutionary Society (1980), and Four Lectures on Marxism (1981).

This interview is a composite drawn from three sessions conducted by Christopher Phelps in tape-recorded telephone conversations in 1997 and 1999, and seven sessions conducted by Andros Skotnes for the Columbia University Oral History Project in 1986 and 1987.


Q: Not to put too fine a point on it, but how could you and Leo Huberman believe that a socialist magazine would go anywhere in 1949, given the situation? The left was under attack and unraveling. The loyalty oaths had already been instituted. You understand what I mean: the times did not seem auspicious for the founding of an independent socialist journal.

SWEEZY: The circumstances did not seem altogether favorable, did they? Leo and I both felt very strongly that the ideas of socialism were being neglected, or lost sight of, or misrepresented in American intellectual life. We thought of it as a kind of holding action, a rear-guard action, but we thought that something should be done to keep continuity to the older traditions of Marxist socialist thought in this country. And we didn't know exactly what we were going to do, anyway - Leo and I and some other people. I can't say that we were confident that it would take hold, yet we did have hope. We thought it would be a viable thing to do, and it turned out that we were right.

Q: Let me ask about Huberman and your relations with him. It seems to me from reading both of your works that each of you had different strengths, and that there might have been an informal division of labor between you. He was more of a popularizer, and he also appears. . . .

SWEEZY: He was a much better businessman than I was.

Q: Was he?

SWEEZY: Oh, yes. He could do that kind of thing. He had a real flair for it. Leo could have been a very good businessman if he'd gone into business. He had all of the talents which I haven't got at all. I'm a mess as far as doing anything in an organized way. …

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