Sunday April 20th, 2014, 2:32 pm (EDT)

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Happy Birthday, Paul!

In honor of Paul’s 90th birthday, we asked a number of people from different walks of life—trade unionists, radical activists, academics, and longtime friends—to write short tributes to Paul.

John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, Editors

Ricardo Alarcon: When we first read Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution, I could not anticipate that someday I would have the privilege of meeting its authors, Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy, and establishing a relationship with them that would forever enrich my life. That book first came to us, young militants of a movement that was trying to consolidate itself and advance in a largely unknown world, and it revealed both the challenges that lay ahead and the solidarity and understanding that will always accompany an authentic revolution.

It is practically impossible to summarize in a few words how much I owe personally to Paul. His books are responsible, in large measure, for what I may have learned about capitalism and imperialism, and the lucid analysis of MR enlightened me and many others about the complexities of the struggle for socialism and freedom. From a third world perspective, Paul’s theoretical contributions and the political commitment of his entire life are inseparable from our saga toward independence, justice, and development. I especially cherished our discussions about Marxism and socialism and, above all, the many hours we spent analyzing the Cuban Revolution, its problems, and its promise.

He is not responsible, of course, for my errors, neither of theory nor of practice. He always did his best, including the afternoon when he was so unsuccessful in trying to convert me into a tennis player.

Paul Sweezy’s unique capacity for an honest, critical, and committed vision of socialism make him one of the most important and influential thinkers of the progressive movement, permitting him to become what Che considered the highest echelon of human life, a revolutionary—a consistent and unrepentant one. He is a kind of man that shall be needed forever and will shape the future.


Samir Amin: I met Paul Sweezy first through my reading of The Theory of Capitalist Development (1942). I was a student in Paris in the early 1950s. Most of the economic Marxist literature at that time simply repeated what Marx had written in Capital, without adding anything. That reminded me of the Islamic theological production, reduced to “Comments of the Koran,” then repeating endlessly “Comments of the Comments.” Paul’s book just proved—and convinced me immediately—that Marxism could be used in another, creative manner, powerful for the analysis of really existing capitalism. Paul, of course, pursued that direction. He identified a real and major problem of capitalist reproduction, whose solution could be found within the framework of an analysis restricted to the study of the relation between the two departments (production of means of production, and production of consumption goods) of Book Two of Capital. For that purpose, he and Baran introduced a new concept, that of surplus, and conceived a third department (for absorption of the surplus). That was also, for me, a gigantic step in the development of creative Marxist political economy.

I met Paul, physically, later—in the early 1970s in New York. I immediately felt a deep respect and developed a fraternal friendship with him, Harry Magdoff, their families, and all the colleagues of the Monthly Review team, not only for their intellectual qualities and exceptional lucidity, reflected in the magazine and in the books published by Monthly Review Press, but also for their enormous personal political courage. Paul and his friends at Monthly Review stand in the “heart of the beast,” in the center of the major imperialist power. Yet they never hesitate to support the people victimized by U.S. imperialism in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and never make the least concession in that respect. In the most dramatic time, that of McCarthyism, Paul and Harry stood among those few individuals who gave Americans and the peoples of the whole world a most beautiful example of courage.

That lucidity and rigor of thought, that courage, call immediately for total respect and warmest love.


Nicholas Baran: I have known Paul since I was a little boy, when Paul and my father, Paul Baran, were close friends and collaborators. I spent many an evening listening to the two Pauls discuss issues which I barely understood, but knew to be of great importance. After all, there was a picture on the wall of the two of them, along with Leo Huberman, visiting with Fidel Castro! Paul has been like an uncle to me, and it is a great honor to be able to congratulate him on his 90th birthday in the publication to which he devoted his long and distinguished career. Happy Birthday, Paul!


Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall: My parents were in the Communist Party and their politics seemed troglodyte to me in high school. Somehow, rummaging in their belongings, I found Albert Einstein’s “Why Socialism?“ I read it, had friends read it, and suddenly socialism made sense to me. During the movement, we followed MR and put the Vietnam War in the context of U.S. imperialism. Fanshen by William Hinton had an enormous impact on the women’s liberation movement. Consciousness-raising (a major practice and theory of second-wave feminism) came directly from the speak bitterness campaigns. Thank you, Paul, for enriching my (and the movement’s) life.


Grace Lee Boggs: Marx would have been proud of a long-distance runner like Paul. I know I am.


Anne Braden: Paul’s brilliant intellect and clear vision have made him a beacon for many decades to people across this country who are working to build a just society. He has stood firm in his conviction that human beings truly are capable of creating an equitable social order and he has never wavered in the face of all of the temporary winds that blow and tell us otherwise. Thus, he sets an example for younger generations and for all those who might get discouraged when change does not come quickly enough. I believe his influence will live on far into the future and will make a difference in the lives of generations yet unborn.


Paul Buhle: No individual has had a more profound direct and indirect impact upon Marxism in the United States than Paul Sweezy, whose work in MR and outside has prompted a profound shift in the way the modern nation-state is viewed. Working at the heart of the evolving global system, Sweezy has seen with clear eyes the fall of centuries-old empires as prelude to the consolidation of a neo-imperialism threatening the planet itself. Happy 90th birthday and please, many more!


Pablo Gonzalez Casanova: The intellectual presence of Sweezy in the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first is admirable. In Sweezy, a firm intellectual will to understand and change the world in favor of the victims of the system stands out. His intellectual work reveals the real and conceptual novelty of the historical categories of Marxism. He fights from the academy beside the workers and the common people. He truly realizes his vital goal: “To take part in establishing a serious and authentic North American brand of Marxism,” as he wrote in his Four Lectures on Marxism (Monthly Review, 1981).

In all of Sweezy’s research projects, the study of monopoly capitalism and his desire to link the struggle for socialism with programs for democracy stand out. His theory of the development of capitalism from its feudal origins to its socialist transformations occupy an important place among the most original theses of contemporary Marxist theories. With Paul Baran, he takes a fundamental epistemological, ethical, and political step when he studies imperialism as an internal phenomenon, not just as an external one. From the “entrails of the monster,” he saw his own country as a victim of an oppressive system. Sweezy combines the change of emphasis toward the internal and the universal, which characterizes the new left, with a critical approach to “actually existing socialism.” He supports the struggle for the liberation of nations—for instance, that of Cuba—and the project of a radical democracy in the United States as well as in the rest of the world.

Sweezy had to renounce his position as a professor at Harvard. He suffered the McCarthy judicial persecutions. When he refused to answer the judges’ questions, he was sentenced to jail. He had to appeal twice for the Court to suspend the sentence. Among his best-known collective and permanent works is Monthly Review (founded in 1949), which he first published with Leo Huberman and now publishes with Harry Magdoff. The intellectual and moral elegance of Paul Sweezy places him among the best North American intellectuals.


Noam Chomsky: It’s a real pleasure to join the tribute to Paul Sweezy for the marvelous work that he has done for so many years. He has been an inspiration to generations of young people, as I know from personal experience, and a continuing source of enlightenment, understanding, and always inspiration as well, for those of us who have been fortunate enough to follow his great contributions over the years. Paul has touched many minds and many lives, very profoundly, and the world is a much better place for it. And I know that I am only one of a very large company who not only thank Paul for all he has done but also look forward with eager anticipation to what is sure to lie ahead.


Paul Sweezy is one of the few thinkers we have always been able to turn to for help in our own thinking. His words are always simple, direct, profound, yet polite and user-friendly. He never overwhelms or intimidates us with his superior knowledge, but always leaves us plenty of room to breathe. The search for truth is an ongoing adventure. We are always pleased when Paul, out of the depth of his wisdom and width of his understanding, asks Ossie and Ruby to come along on the hunt.


Doug Dowd: Back in the 1940s, I came across a poem by Stephen Spender that began, “I think continually of those whose were truly great“ and that concluded:

Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air singed with their honour.

I do not think continually “of those who were truly great” but usually when I do think of those considered great, it is more likely to be with scorn than with respect. However, for many decades now, when I have thought of Paul, it is increasingly of him as truly great—as a human being, as an “intellectual radical” (which Baran contrasted with “radical intellectual”), and in his utter devotion to the creation and ongoing life of MR.

For me, the beginning was Paul’s The Theory of Capitalist Development (1942). That book made a coherent whole out of Marx for me, for which I am forever indebted. And then, at the very moment when the Cold War and McCarthyism were being institutionalized, Paul and Leo (with the critical help of F.O. Matthiessen) created Monthly Review.

MR was a source of both nourishment and vitality for those countless years in which the likes of us were meant to be incarcerated (literally for some, figuratively for the rest), suffocated, demoralized. For lefties like us, MR was food supply and oxygen—providing a steady flow of information and analysis and, very importantly, an outlet for our own thought and work. I choose not to imagine what the past fifty years would have been like without MR, without Paul, without Leo and Gertrude and Sybil and then the other Paul and Judy and the two Harrys, making it and keeping it vibrant for who knows how many of us over time. Bless MR, and all those marvelous human beings.

Also, for those fortunate enough to know Paul face-to-face, not least wondrous is that though he has a deeply dour view of the past, the present, and the future that has not slowed but energized him, he has never ceased to probe deeply and to write splendidly, in words comprehensible to all concerned—just as though there is hope for the future; as indeed there is, so long as we all do what we can and must do. Nor shall I ever forget when, in the midst of the horrendous 1950s, Paul stiffed the great state of New Hampshire’s demand that he state his political views and got us all a Supreme Court decision protecting the First Amendment. I hate to stop, but I must note this: how, when Paul makes a point, it is almost always accompanied by that lovely, wry smile of his. He is an inspiration for all of us.

A few years ago, I dedicated a small book of mine to Paul, “who has meant so much to so many of us for so many years.” An understatement, if there ever was one.

Have a good 90th, Paul.


Richard DuBoff: I began graduate study in economics in 1960 and quickly became discouraged and angry at the sterility and innate conservatism of it. Then I discovered Paul Sweezy’s kinked oligopoly demand curve, and not long after that—I don’t recall how—I came across The Theory of Capitalist Development and Monthly Review. So a serious economist could do things like this after all! For me, everything Paul wrote fell like water on a parched landscape; I still wonder where my head would be today without him.

“Everyone knows that the present will some day be history,” Paul told us in The Present as History (1953). “I believe that the most important task of the social scientist is to try to comprehend it as history now, while it is still the present and while we still have the power to influence its shape and outcome.”


Barbara Ehrenreich: Paul Sweezy played an important part in my education, and not only through the pages of Monthly Review. In 1969, he and Harry Magdoff invited a few of us young radicals to come and talk to them about the issue our group was involved in—health care. This in itself was unusual; most older leftists at the time were a lot more interested in telling younger people what to do than in hearing about what we were already doing. But Harry and Paul listened patiently while we described the health care problems of low-income New Yorkers and our efforts to help them organize for better care. My job, for which I had carefully prepared, was to explain the broad outlines of the American health care system. It cost too much and served too few, I reported (much as I could today, three decades later.) The parts didn’t fit together, people fell through the cracks or never managed to find care in the first place. In fact, I concluded, the American health system wasn’t a system at all—it was a mess.

Paul’s quiet response was, in so many words: Oh, but it is a system; it’s just a system for doing something else. Then for the first time I could see the parts fitting together, the gears of the huge gerry-rigged structure finally meshing, the machine working just fine—grinding out profits. There was nothing conspiratorial about the vision Paul planted in my mind, just a basic insight into capitalism: The purpose, and the motive force of any industry, is profits. Health care is just a byproduct of the health system, just as, for example, food is a byproduct of agribusiness and information is a byproduct of the corporate media.

I doubt if Paul remembers this meeting, or his comment to me. But after that, a lot of things fell into place for me, and not only about health care. I was a reformer, I began to become a socialist. Now that I am part of an older generation myself, this incident inspires me another way: If one little comment from Paul could have affected me so much, maybe something I say or write today will have a vast and unforeseen effect on someone else, some younger version of myself.


In meeting Paul Sweezy, I felt that I was engaging a person who had upheld the socialist banner during the best and worst of times. It was once said that the test of a person’s character is to be found not during the good times, but during the moments of adversity. Paul Sweezy has demonstrated, time and again, his commitment to socialist politics and his determination to advance Marxism precisely at those moments when others have been willing to forsake the future for illusory satisfaction in the present.


Andre Gunder Frank: Of Paul’s many merits, I would like to emphasize his exceptional flexibility in developing, accepting, and encouraging others to consider revised and often altogether new theoretical, programmatic, and policy positions (including mine) in response to changing world circumstances.

Anyone who has followed Paul’s writings or MR will not need my guidance on these many momentous changes. I also wish to remark on two inflexibilities: These changes in praxis never sacrificed Paul’s inflexible adherence to his fundamental political, ethical, and human priniciples. And speaking of the latter, like so many others I have also benefitted from the inflexible personal loyalty and friendship that Paul has shown to generations of fellow travelers on the road to a better world. Thank you, Paul, for everything—including our family heirloom, a little teddy-tiger you gave my son Paul in 1964, which has only just left his desk to be passed on to his newborn daughter Laura.


John Kenneth Galbraith: This is a note of obligation and admiration for Paul Sweezy. I arrived in Cambridge as a young Harvard instructor in 1934. It was at the depth of the Great Depression which, though it had no major effect on some of the senior economic faculty, was of pressing interest for the young. Did the system really work? Leading the youthful discussion was Paul Sweezy; here was the first stage of a lifelong friendship. I was less certain, possibly more cautious, in my views than Paul. That did not prevent me from regarding him as a dominant voice of the time. That respect and friendship endured for the next near-seventy years. It is with great pleasure that I join in this tribute to an old friend and one of the durable and relentless social scholars of our time.


Martha Gimenez: When I think of Paul Sweezy, it is not primarily as editor of Monthly Review, or the author of important books, or as the stalwart intellectual who has remained steadfast in his commitment to social justice and the possibility of a better world, although these are all vital aspects of his life and influence. I think of him principally as a teacher, for I believe that when he wrote The Theory of Capitalist Development, with incomparable clarity, he became the teacher of generations of young scholars who found his work crucial for venturing into the complexities and challenges of Marx’s Capital and Marx’s method. I “met” Paul Sweezy many years ago, as a student and his student I remain. Thank you Paul, and happy birthday!


Joan Greenbaum: There are so many wonderful stories to tell about Paul Sweezy, but the first one which comes to mind, is about the first time I met him. I was taking a course at the New School called Capital, Vol. I. Somehow I had thought that it would be a small seminar, but when I came in, the room—a large, auditorium-sized space—was full to overflowing. A thin man walked up to the podium, adjusted his glasses, and hitched up his pants. Then after clearing his throat he began in that quiet and careful tone. He told us a story about a letter written by Engels to Marx, in which Engels tried firmly to tell Marx that Chapter 1, the definitions of value, was not a good place to begin. Engels’ advice was to begin with history; something like the section on Manufacturing which people had experienced and could understand. While the advice seems to have been wasted on Marx, it wasn’t on us, the students of the early 1970s. We formed study groups as he suggested and plowed right into the section on Manufacturing. Thank you, Paul!


Robert Heilbroner: Many contributors to this celebration can describe Paul Sweezy’s contributions to economics better than myself. I nonetheless write on this occasion because I hope to speak for many who, like myself, owe Paul a great debt that escapes easy description.

My story begins in 1936, when I entered Harvard University. In those days, one took four courses a year, at fifty dollars each. One course had to be in science. I chose botany and learned two words that have stayed with me, xylem and phloem; I also attended a lecture series on history of which not a trace remains in my memory, a seminar on William James which led to several more in philosophy, and a survey of art that continued all my life.

My second year was better. I took a course in economics because it was clearly the road to business success. The course was organized into small sections presided over by junior faculty, all teaching from a common textbook which mentioned the Depression twice in its four hundred pages. My own section head was one Paul Sweezy, who quietly explained a text very far from his own ideas, perhaps because he knew that its author, Alvin Hansen, chair of the department who had shrugged off Keynes’ newly published General Theory, was (perhaps still unknown to himself) fast becoming Keynes’ most passionate American voice.

For whatever reason, I decided to major in economics. I was thereupon assigned none other than the same Paul Sweezy as my tutor, with whom I met weekly. I was becoming vaguely aware of Paul’s interest in Marx, but he never had me read Capital. Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class taught me that there was more to business success than economics. Two years later, I reached the finals. Paul had encouraged me to dig into Keynes, about whom I wrote with passion; fortunately, there was no calculus on the exam and Alvin Hansen was its chief judge. I got a summa.

After the war, I had the good fortune of finding the New School for Social Research, very different from Harvard. I saw Paul only occasionally but he encouraged me to turn to the German intellectuals who were the spirit of the school—especially my mentor, Adolf Lowe, who gave me my first taste of a kind of sociological political economy. About this time, I began to write books, inspired largely by Paul or Adolf or both. Actually, I did not see Paul much in those days but I talked with him constantly—not in person but in my head. That conversation still continues as I have turned more and more to a consideration of the growing tendency of economists to consider their work a science. Never mind the disappearance of social formations, of power and obedience, of social norms and class interests, all central to economic thought as Paul and I still silently discussed it.

I rather doubt that Paul was ever aware of his voice within my head, but I am certain he knew of such a connection with many others, like himself in search of a perspective from which one could better grasp the world. Marx is no doubt indispensable for that task, but not exclusively—at least, that is what I seem to hear Paul telling me. Perhaps I misinterpret his voice, but I feel on sure ground when I salute his remarkable capacity to enter into our thoughts. This is a gift, and I know that many will join me in expressing our great indebtedness.


Edward Herman: Paul Sweezy had an important effect on my own thinking and writing. For one thing, his The Theory of Capitalist Development was the clearest and most compelling exposition of Marxian thought I had ever read, and as such it influenced me and and many others looking for elucidation of a body of thought usually hidden in obscure verbiage. Monopoly Capital and the stream of articles by Paul and others in Monthly Review continued to give an earthy, intelligible, and coherent Marxian and general left perspective that has been very important in keeping a left flame alive over a half century that has not been kind to the left. But Paul has never flagged in the good fight, and in his long committment to the struggle for a humane society, he has provided a model of the public intellectual almost without a rival.


Michael Lebowitz: Over ten years ago, in Maxine Berg’s Political Economy in the Twentieth Century (London: Philip Allan, 1990), I began an article on Paul’s work as follows: “Described by the Wall Street Journal as the ‘Dean’ of radical economics, Paul Sweezy has more than any other single person kept Marxist economics alive in North America” (131). I had in mind, of course, that remarkable sequence of work from the thirties through the eighties that Paul had produced. Yet, the statement was not entirely accurate because it was a particular type of Marxist economics associated with Paul (and, of course, with Monthly Review). Paul did not spend his time (as so many academic Marxists do) in elaborate calculations as to how a falling rate of profit would bring capitalism down or expounding sophisticated versions of Neo-Ricardian value theory—both of which he rejected in his early classic, The Theory of Capitalist Development; nor, in the same way, did he assign much importance to finding the correct solution to the “transformation problem.” The leitmotiv that has run through Paul’s work has been capital’s tendency toward overaccumulation (and on the various forms of its countertendencies). And that has meant a stress on what is unique to capitalism—on the manner in which capital by its very nature moves in a direction that is away from the satisfaction of human needs and the development of human potential. It’s meant that Paul has helped us keep our eyes on the prize. That article also commented that “after over a half century of Marxist scholarship, the Dean of radical economics continues to guide (and to receive graciously) younger colleagues and students” (132). I was referring there, of course, to myself among so many others. Thank you, Paul, and a happy 90th to you.


Lawrence Lifschultz: In 1968, on his return from a journey through South America, a correspondent for the Catholic Reporter noted with some surprise that the two most respected and well-known Americans in Latin America after Abraham Lincoln were Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman. This impression, as I subsequently discovered, was not merely confined to the western hemisphere. In 1973, sitting in the Workers’ Cooperative Coffee House in Calcutta with a group of Bengali writers for the Calcutta weekly, Frontier, I was peppered with questions about Sweezy’s theory of monopoly capital and Magdoff’s views on imperialism. During my later years as a foreign correspondent in South Asia, the “Monthly Review Phenomenon” was to recur in far-off places, from Baluchistan in Pakistan to Chittagong in Bangladesh. There was a constant refrain: what did I think of such-and-such article in Monthly Review?

I had first heard Paul speak at Yale in 1969 at a seminar led by Ken Mills, a young philosophy professor. The seminar room was much too small for the size of the crowd that turned up and we shifted to the larger Branford College Common Room. Shortly afterwards, I was asked by Ken Mills to summarize those chapters from Monopoly Capital which centered on the stagnation thesis. It was my first encounter with the concept of “capital overaccumulation,” which some years later was to lead me to Hobson, Keynes, Kalecki, and Steindl. After more than a year in rural India, I made my way through Bengal and Burma, and began a long journey through the war zones of Indochina. On my return from Vietnam, I was ready to systematically approach Marx.

Back in the United States, I asked a friend’s father, who once had been in the German socialist movement, for a list of readings. He suggested that I contact a man with whom he regularly played tennis and who was a “renowned Marxist economist” and “not a bad tennis player.” It should be easy to find him, he told me, since Paul Sweezy lived across a small tidal channel hardly a hundred yards from my parents’ home. At the mention of Paul’s name, I remembered the seminar at Yale and the Workers’ Cooperative Coffee House in Calcutta and the many questions I had been asked which I had not been able to answer. I had circled the globe in search of a neighbor!

Thus began a long, enriching, and wonderful friendship like few others I have known. Nevertheless, it began a bit suspiciously. Over lunch at Paul’s house, we leafed through Capital and as ever, he suggested an unorthodox approach. Start at the back of the book, Paul recommended. I was somewhat skeptical, having been used to reading books the other way around. Ultimately, it made good sense to try to understand Marx’s historical chapters before tangling with more esoteric concepts like “exchange value.”

The following year, Paul taught a seminar on Capital at Yale’s Berkeley College. I was fortunate to be a member. As I recall, Rick Levin, now President of Yale, and at that time something of a critic of neoclassical theory, used to drop in at the seminar. Robert Triffin, the renowned international monetary economist, was then Master of Berkeley College. Being a European social democrat and a friend of Paul’s from Harvard, Triffin held Paul in high regard. Having been skeptical of “perfect competition” theory since his graduate school days, Triffin had none of the “neoclassical” hangups of several leading lights of the Yale Economics Department.

Paul has been our teacher. He has introduced us to powerful tools of analysis by which to understand both our history and the present. Moreover, he has consistently eschewed the dogmatic formulations that have drained many socialist movements of their heart and soul. In my view, he always has had that essential quality that Sartre once described as the ability “to break the bones” in one’s head in order to think about new situations within the framework of enduring principles.

In May 1949, Paul and Leo set out on a mission to educate, to deepen our understanding of modern capitalism and to explore a socialist alternative to the mass misery that has been the bedrock of modern capitalism (i.e., globalization) for four centuries. Like thousands of others, I was educated at the University of Monthly Review. It is a small campus but its graduates number in the tens of thousands and they can be found in the most remote corners of the world where both critical thought and action still endure.


Michael Lowy: With his critical examination of the uneven and combined process of capitalist development and of the world domination of monopoly capital, Paul Sweezy provided intellectual and political weapons for all those—from New York to Cape Town, from New Delhi to Dakar, from Paris to Sao Paulo—who tried to fight the Empire. He helped several generations of Marxists to understand and to struggle against the established order of things. We will need him also in the twenty-first century.


John Mage: The foremost privilege in my life has been working with Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff. Paul in the last ten years has focused his energy more intently as his physical powers have waned. I have watched closely how he has helped to steer MR‘s course through the various narrows of the last several years, and his ultimate practical rule has been a question of point of view. That is, that all interesting social questions, of theory and practice alike, can and should be asked from the perspective of the propertyless majority of humankind. A second ultimate rule: keep it short. My love and gratitude to Paul Sweezy.


István Meszaros: Without realizing that Paul Sweezy’s 90th birthday was around the corner—and it cannot be very far now for Harry Magdoff, his soulmate and comrade in arms—I dedicated a study of some burning issues of our time to them. The inscription read, “This study is dedicated to Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, whose contribution in the last fifty years—in their books and as editors of Monthly Review—to our awareness of imperialism and monopolistic development has been second to none.”

I wish to reiterate the same thought on the present occasion, making only explicit my great admiration for the immense moral and political courage which made it possible to maintain a prespective that must be shared by all those who care about the very survival of humanity. In an age when the temptations for yielding to the powers of mystification and destruction are so dominant, the lucidity and consistency with which this perspective has been elaborated and sustained, in five decades of numbing adversity, remain exemplary.


Leo Panitch: The fact that Paul Sweezy was the only one of the over fifty distinguished contributors to The New Palgrave volume on Marxian Economics who was also himself the subject of a biographical entry is testimony enough to the role he has occupied for seven decades as one of great thinkers of the twentieth century. But his enormous contribution must also be measured in his role as an institution-builder for the left: founding Monthly Review in the face of McCarthyism and keeping it going decade after decade amidst the mixture of hostility and indifference of American bourgeois culture and the weakness and divisions of the left itself has been a heroic achievement. Through this remarkable combination of theory and practice, he has magnificently lived up to the definition of the vocation of the historical materialist which he set down in 1940 when he was only thirty years old:

The Marxist historian…is interested in history not primarily for its own sake but because he believes that only through the study of the past is it possible to diagnose the present and plan for the future. Consequently he tries to cut through the outer crust of people’s beliefs and emotions to the underlying forces of historical change which he finds in the economic structure of society and the class interests which it generates. Orthodox history is good if it satisfies its readers; Marxist history is right if it provides a valid guide to practical activity. (The Present as History, pp.153-154)


Frances Fox Piven: For six decades, Paul Sweezy has been a leading luminary of the left, not only in the United States, but across the globe. His work has, almost singlehandedly, kept Marxism alive and relevant as an explanatory framework, and has also broadened and elaborated that framework so that it spoke directly to ongoing developments in capitalism. Everywhere, activists and intellectuals on the left have turned to Sweezy (and to MR) for penetrating analyses of contemporary developments, always with absolute confidence that he was bound neither by state orthodoxy, or by organizational opportunism, or by timidity and a fatalist pessimism that so often silences critical voices. So we honor Paul, we treasure him, and we thank him for his life’s work. May he long continue.


Robert Pollin: Paul Sweezy was my first economics professor. He taught “Reading and Using Capital“ in the Spring 1975 semester at the New School, my first term as an economics graduate student. There was an electric feeling among New School students as we signed up for Paul’s course. I remember telling the student advisor that having Paul Sweezy teach me Capital would be like having Abraham Lincoln teach the Civil War.

The course lived up to its advance billing. Paul took us through the most important issues in Capital and many obscure but still fascinating ones—sharing his wisdom, erudition, sense of purpose, and sense of humor in his uniquely unadorned yet compelling style. Paul’s teaching and writing have remained a deep resource for me, starting with my doctoral dissertation, which was inspired by his now so obviously prescient series of MR articles in the 1970s and 1980s with Harry Magdoff on contemporary speculative financial markets.

Given Paul’s stature as a world-renowned economist and mine as a lowly graduate student when we first met, it was hardly inevitable that we would become friends. But one of the remarkable qualities about Paul is his eagerness to listen—really, truly listen—to other people, no matter who they are and what they say. This has kept Paul’s thinking fresh all these years, as well as simply making him great fun to be around.

An interesting exercise in the history of economic thought is to read Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy with the knowledge that, at the time of its writing, Paul was working closely with Schumpeter at Harvard. It becomes clear that Paul is Schumpeter’s model of the type of person who could make a socialist society work.

I could not imagine a radical left in economics today without Paul’s contributions. And though we remain an embattled minority, Paul has showed us how to stick to our principles and do our work.


Lukin Robinson: Best wishes and congratulations to Paul. What a magnificent ninety years, filled with notable achievement and deserved acclaim. Your Theory of Capitalist Development was a landmark—now almost sixty years old—in Marxist scholarship and popular education and continues to be a treasured and requently referred-to book on my shelves. And how would we have managed without Monthly Review?! Long life and good health to you: “biz a hundert un tsvanzig yar.”


Annette Rubenstein: Pushing an open door to sell me a sub to a new magazine in 1949, my literary friend, the late Lionel Berman, said: “You’ll never believe this, Annette, but Paul Sweezy’s an economist who actually writes English.”

Indeed he did, and does. For some years after buying that sub I knew Paul only on the printed page, enjoying the seemingly effortless graceful sentences that made difficult arguments easy to follow and hard to forget. When, happily, we became friends, I found how truly the style represented the man. He too was self-assured, unpretentious, gentle yet uncompromising, logical, romantic, not only willing but actually eager to entertain strange ideas and consider contradictions.

Together with countless others, I am deeply grateful to Paul Sweezy for making an art of the dismal science. And, as we celebrate our 90th birthdays together, I must thank him for confirming my faith in the intellectual as a socialist man.


Pete Seeger: I was a student at Harvard when Paul was an instructor there. What a long and glorious life he’s had teaching us all.


Howard J. Sherman: Paul Sweezy had an enormous influence on my life and I consider him the greatest American Marxist of the twentieth century. When I felt desperate during the repression of the 1950s, Paul’s activity and writing was a shining example that kept me going. His book, The Theory of Capitalist Development, formed the starting point for all of my books and articles on the business cycle. His work with Baran on monopoly profits was the inspiration for my dissertation and all of my subsequent work on profit rates. My personal meetings with Paul always gave me a tremendous lift, both personally and politically.


Daniel Singer: When we first met, for me like for many people in Europe, Paul Sweezy was not only the original and profound analyst of monopoly capitalism, he was also the living proof that, even in the very heart of imperialism, it was possible to resist and to stick to one’s principles. Thirty years on, my friend Paul still symbolizes this unyielding spirit.


William Tabb: I was sent to college with a subscription to MR and I am grateful to Paul Sweezy and the magazine for the better part of my education in world politics and economics, supplying me with information and analyses too rarely found elsewhere. As a political economist, I am indebted to The Theory of Capitalist Development which, after more than half a century, remains the best introduction to Marxism—with the notable advantage of opening one’s mind to knowledge and stimulating ideas with elegance and lucidity.

I have also been privileged to see Paul in situations when, challenged by a particularly interesting question or debate, he extemporaneously responds with brilliant new insights and ideas, distinctively different from when he is called upon to go over ground he has plowed many times before. I recall, in particular, two occasions.

The first, which I attended as a young faculty member, was a debate between Paul and Abba Lerner, in a huge, packed auditorium. Lerner was on the short list for a Nobel Prize in Economics, noted for having a sharp mind and being a keen polemicist. Active disagreements between the two went back to the late Thirties. This time, though, Lerner apparently sought a friendly reconciliation by avoiding the essence of their differences. Paul, on the other hand, thought that their differences were central to an understanding of the political economy of capitalism. Personal friendship was not going to stop Paul from clarifying and sharpening the contrast in their views. As the debate went on, Paul was incandescent as he wiped the floor with Lerner.

On another occasion, a friend of MR invited Paul to speak in Newark, New Jersey, and I was his driver. The audience was black and working class. It was incredible to see his intensity, the importance of what he had to say. He was charismatic, connecting with an immediacy one rarely sees between a speaker and an audience.

I celebrate these events especially on his 90th birthday because they say much about the fire, the strength of commitment, and the capacities that lie within this New England WASP. Being in and around MR over the years, I have had the pleasure of experiencing other “wow” moments as some point or another catches Paul’s interest and his mind flashes in ways few of ours can. I also get to see him occasionally as a caring, warm fuzzy, which is not always so evident in his writing and formal public appearances.


Shigeto Tsuru: Paul, in your “sacred decade of twenties” (Schumpeter’s stock phrase), you were the kingpin in the Golden Era of the Harvard Economics Department in the 1930s. You digested the Keynesian Revolution of 1936 critically and made it an intermediate step toward formulating your own tools and method of analysis in the field of political economy, systematically embodied in your classical work The Theory of Capitalist Development.

You left Harvard in the early postwar years; and the loss for Harvard was a gain for the U.S. reading public in the form of access to the valiant publication of “an independent socialist magazine:“ Monthly Review. It is impossible to write a history of journalism in the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century without mentioning the antidote effect of the lucid, penetrating analysis of contemporary events in MR. I believe that “to consider the problem of the present as a historical problem” (Georg Lukacs) has consistently been the singular strength of your writings.

Living in Japan normally, I have not had frequent enough occasions to be with you. But the most memorable was the meeting in the Three Crown restaurant in New York on June 17, 1957—the day the Supreme Court voted in your favor, as you invoked the First Amendment in your refusal to the questioning in the New Hampshire hearing. We celebrated with Rhine white wine, together with Leo Huberman—you remember!


Michael Yates: I taught my first economics class in 1969. One day in the introductory course, I got so disgusted with the formality and vacuousness of the textbook that I threw it and my notes on the floor and told the students we were going to discuss more relevant issues, namely the war in Vietnam. We did, and the class went reasonably well, but afterwards I was still emotionally keyed up, so I went to the library to read a sports magazine and calm down. As I was perusing the magazine rack, I came across a small magazine called Monthly Review and subtitled “An Independent Socialist Magazine.” Hmm! I read an article, then another, then the whole magazine. I went into the stacks and got some back issues and read them too. I subscribed that day and have been hooked ever since.

Soon I was an associate, buying MR books by the boxful. Whatever Paul and Harry wrote, I read. These works made ideas race through my head. I incorporated them into my lectures. They made me want to write too. I sent my first submission to MR in 1972; it was a critique of an article MR had published by Joan Robinson. Paul sent me the nicest rejection letter I have ever received. I still have it. He liked my piece but thought it might be too technical for MR‘s readers. He encouraged me to send future articles to MR. I was on cloud nine. Paul Sweezy, the great economist, had actually sent me a personal note, a respectful note, an encouraging note.

Paul has sent me other letters, and Harry too. Always, their generosity shone through. Many years ago, I invited them to come to my campus for a symposium on the economy. I was amazed that they agreed; I was astounded at how little they requested as remuneration. It was wonderful to meet them, to hear them speak, to have dinner and breakfast with them, and to get Paul to sign my tattered copy of Monopoly Capital.

Over the years, I have had three books and eighteen articles and reviews published by MR. Paul and Harry gave me my chance and I will always be grateful. Not just a chance to see my writing published, but a chance to make some small contribution to the struggle for a new and better society, to be a part of something greater than myself. I don’t know anyone else who would have given me this opportunity. A child of the working class, teaching at a small school in Johnstown, Pennsylvania just does not count in the academic world, even among the progressives. So, a belated happy birthday, Paul. And a heartfelt thanks to you and to Harry and to Renee and Martin and all the wonderful folks at MR.