- Co-founder of the Marxian “independent socialist” magazine Monthly Review and of Monthly Review Press
- Taught economics at Harvard, Cornell, Stanford and Yale Universities, and at the New School for Social Research and the University of Manchester
- Co-author of the modern Marxian theory of stagnation under capitalism
- Served in the Office of Strategic Studies, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency
Paul Marlor Sweezy was a Marxist author and the co-founder (with Leo Huberman) and longtime editor of the Marxian “independent socialist” magazine Monthly Review. Sweezy and Huberman were “two old-line, pro-Soviet Marxists,” wrote former Marxist Ronald Radosh. In his 2001 book Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left, Radosh elaborated that Sweezy and Huberman called themselves “independent socialists,” only because they “had minor differences with the tactics and organizational demands of the official American Communist Party.”
Born in April 1910 in New York City, Sweezy was the son of Everett B. Sweezy, Vice President of the First National Bank of New York (predecessor to Citibank).
Paul Sweezy was educated at the elite New England boarding school Philips Exeter Academy and then at Harvard University, where he was editor of the campus newspaper The Harvard Crimson.
After graduating from Harvard with an economics degree in 1931, Sweezy spent a year at the Fabian socialist London School of Economics. He went to Europe in hopes of studying under Austrian free-market economist Friedrich von Hayek but fell, instead, under the spell of socialist professor Harold Laski, of Leon Trotsky’s newly translated History of the Russian Revolution, and of young leftwing teacher Joan Robinson (who later became a Maoist Marxist and a formative influence on Arianna Huffington). Sweezy emerged, in his own description, “a convinced but very ignorant Marxist.”
Returning to Harvard in 1933, Sweezy became fast friends with its resident Austrian Economics Professor Josef Schumpeter. After completing his doctorate in 1937, Sweezy began teaching at Harvard and in 1938 helped found its Harvard Teachers’ Union.
“While [Sweezy] never joined the Communist Party,” wrote socialist biographer Nick Beams, “he later recalled that he might easily have done so, indicating that he had no significant differences with its political orientation.”
In 1942 Sweezy joined the U.S. Army, worked as an analyst in Europe for the Office of Strategic Services (later to become the Central Intelligence Agency), and was discharged in September 1945 as a Second Lieutenant. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his role as editor of the European Political Report.
Sweezy returned to Harvard but was turned down for its available tenured professorship in economics. He later told an interviewer that “there was never any chance they would take a Marxist.”
“Sweezy later insisted,” wrote colleague John Bellamy Foster, “that if he had not been so fortunate as to have had access to surplus value through his family inheritance he would probably have been forced like so many others to succumb to the kinds of controls and pressures inevitably exerted on those who earn their livings in the academy. As it happened, however, he was under no such need to conform and he chose not to resume his former teaching position.”
In subsequent years, Sweezy taught briefly at Cornell, Stanford, and Yale Universities, at the New School for Social Research in New York City, and in England at the University of Manchester. But his inherited money and the magazine he co-founded in 1949 became the base from which he would operate for the rest of his life.
Sweezy plunged into political activism in the 1948 Progressive Party campaign of the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s former Vice President Henry Wallace, a losing campaign that attracted many other Marxists and Soviet sympathizers.
Following Wallace’s defeat, Sweezy became founding co-editor of Monthly Review, which was intended to be a rallying point for fellow leftists. Friends from the Wallace campaign, including journalist co-editor Leo Huberman and financial benefactor F.O. Matthieson, helped launch the magazine.
In 1952 Sweezy and Huberman created Monthly Review Press, which has become one of America’s largest publishers of Marxian books and authors.
In 1954 Sweezy was twice subpoenaed by the New Hampshire Attorney General and was asked to divulge the names of his associates and whether he advocated Communism. Sweezy refused to answer, invoking his First Amendment right of free expression. He was cited for contempt of court and briefly jailed. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the citation in 1957.
In 1959 and 1960 Sweezy and Huberman visited Cuba, touring the island with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Soon thereafter Monthly Review Press published the Sweezy and Huberman book Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution.
Sweezy’s most widely applauded contribution to the cult of Marxism’s “theology” is found in his 1966 book Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order, co-authored with Paul Baran. This book dealt with the idea that according to Karl Marx, capitalism should self-destruct from stagnation as ever-more-monopolistic capitalism caused chronic excess capacity as a result of production being idled to maintain profit margins. Though this prediction was apparently proving incorrect, Sweezy and Baran argued that Marx would be proven correct in the long run. But wicked capitalists, they claimed, had temporarily maintained economic momentum and escaped stagnation by using better selling to increase demand, by growing the financial sphere of credit and investment, and by military spending in the Cold War and in Korea and Vietnam.
Sweezy argued that under advanced capitalism, the “industrial proletariat” was the only possible revolutionary agent. By 1980 Sweezy apparently had begun to recognize that a new ruling class contrary to Marxist ideals had arisen in the Soviet Union. Sweezy and Monthly Review, as John Bellamy Foster wrote, “sympathized very broadly with Mao’s call for a ‘Cultural Revolution’ and the motive that had inspired it, aimed at stopping the emergence of such a new class.”
Sweezy was asked in 1999, on his magazine’s 50th Anniversary, whether the world was “closer to socialism now than it seemed when you started Monthly Review, or farther?” He replied: “Well, if socialism is ever going to happen, we’re nearer to it now than we were then.”
Paul Sweezy died on February 27, 2004.