Introduction to the Second Edition of the Theory of Monopoly Capitalism

By Foster, John Bellamy | Monthly Review, July/August 2013 | Go to article overview

Introduction to the Second Edition of the Theory of Monopoly Capitalism


Foster, John Bellamy, Monthly Review


The present-day world can only be described to present-day people if it is described as capable of transformation. -Bertolt Brecht1

The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism: An Elaboration of Marxian Political Economy was initially written thirty years ago this coming year as my doctoral dissertation at York University in Toronto. It was expanded into a larger book form with three additional chapters (on the state, imperialism, and socialist construction) and published by Monthly Review Press two years later.2 The analysis of both the dissertation and the book focused primarily on the work of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy, and particularly on the debate that had grown up around their book, Monopoly Capita!: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (1966).5 In this respect The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism was specifically designed, as its subtitle indicated, as an "elaboration" of their underlying theoretical perspective and its wider implications.

My original motives for the analysis were twofold: (1) to provide a more thoroughgoing explanation of the economic surplus concept and the theory of accumulation to which it was related, and (2) to correct certain misconceptions of Baran and Sweezy's analysis that had arisen as a result of the "back to Marx" intellectual movement of the 1970s- and that had led to various traditionalist or "fundamentalist" Marxian criticisms of their work.

The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism was an organic product of my own formative intellectual development. For me the late 1960s and early '70s were dominated by opposition to U.S. imperialism, particularly the Vietnam War and the U.S.-backed coup in Chile, and by the economic storms of this period that culminated in the crisis of 1974-1975. I first read Monopoly Capital in 1974 when I was studying economics at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and like other radical students that 1 was associated with at the time (most notably Robert McChesney) the immediate effect of encountering Baran and Sweezy's analysis was profound, and, as it turned out, long-lasting. No other work was so influential among left political economists in the United States at that time. I found the historical depth and breadth of Monopoly Capital astounding.

We read Monopoly Capital back to back with our neoclassical economics texts, but also alongside other works in Marxian political economy such as Ernest Mandel's Marxist EconomicTheory; ?. K. Hunt and HowardJ. Sherman's Economics: Mainstream and Radical Views; Sherman's Radical Political Economy; Andre Gunder Frank's Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America; Harry Magdoff's The Age of Imperialism; Sweezy's The Theory of Capitalist Development; James O'Connor's The Fiscal Crisis of the State; and Harry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital.4 But it was Monopoly Capital that constituted both for myself and for those with whom I was most closely associated the essence of the Marxian political-economic view in the early to mid-1970s.

One small book that we read in our classwork at the time, Assar Lindbeck's influential The Political Economy of the New Left, engaged in a polemic against the radical economics that had arisen in the United States associated with the founding in 1968 of the Union of Radical Political Economics (URPE) and centering its criticism on Monopoly Capital,5 My fellow students and I traveled to an URPE conference in 1975 to hear some of the new developments in radical political economy first hand.

Later, as a graduate student specializing in political-economic studies at York University in Toronto in the late 1970s and early '80s, I was to study Marx's Capital much more intensively than I had previously and was attracted for a short time to the more fundamentalist analyses of thinkers like Ben Fine, Laurence Harris, David Yaffe, and Paul Mattick.6 All of these writers had criticized Baran and Sweezy's Monopoly Capital for its rejection of the significance under monopoly capitalism of Marx's law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. …

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