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Paul M. Sweezy

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.* One work would be sufficient to have achieved this—The Theory of Capitalist Development (first published in 1942). During the period of the 1950s and 1960s, this was the book to which one turned to learn about Marxist economics

Why Stagnation?

The question “Why Stagnation?” has a rather special significance for me. I started my graduate work in economics exactly fifty years ago this year. The cyclical downturn which began in 1929 was nearing the bottom. Unemployment in that year, according to government figures, was 23.6 percent of the labor force, and it reached its high point in 1933 at 24.9 percent. It remained in the double-digit range throughout the decade. Still, a recovery began in 1933, and it turned out to be the longest on record up to that time. Even at the top in 1937, however, the unemployment rate was still 14.3 percent, and it jumped up by the end of the year. That also happens to be the year I got my Ph.D. Can you imagine a set of circumstances better calculated to impress upon a young economist the idea that the fundamental economic problem was not cyclical ups and downs but secular stagnation?

Monopoly Capitalism

Among Marxian economists “monopoly capitalism” is the term widely used to denote the stage of capitalism which dates from approximately the last quarter of the nineteenth century and reaches full maturity in the period after the Second World War. Marx’s Capital, like classical political economy from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill, was based on the assumption that all commodities are produced by industries consisting of many firms, or capitals in Marx’s terminology, each accounting for a negligible fraction of total output and all responding to the price and profit signals generated by impersonal market forces. Unlike the classical economists, however, Marx recognized that such an economy was inherently unstable and impermanent. The way to succeed in a competitive market is to cut costs and expand production, a process which requires incessant accumulation of capital in ever new technological and organizational forms. In Marx’s words: “The battle of competition is fought by cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of commodities depends, ceteris paribus, on the productiveness of labor, and this again on the scale of production. Therefore the larger capitals beat the smaller.” Further, the credit system which “begins as a modest helper of accumulation” soon “becomes a new and formidable weapon in the competition in the competitive struggle, and finally it transforms itself into an immense social mechanism for the centralization of capitals” (Marx, 1894, ch. 27)

Capitalism and the Environment

It is obvious that humankind has arrived at a crucial turning point in its long history. Nuclear war could terminate the whole human enterprise. But even if this catastrophic ending can be avoided, it is by no means certain that the essential conditions for the survival and development of civilized society as we know it today will continue to exist

September 2004 (Volume 56, Number 4)

Notes from the Editors

The nations of the Caribbean have the world’s second highest HIV infection rates, after sub-Saharan Africa. One Caribbean nation, Cuba, however, has largely escaped the disease with only a 0.07 percent infection rate, one of the lowest infection rates in the world. On July 15 Cuba announced at a meeting with its counterparts from the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) that it was launching an initiative to help the other Caribbean nations fight HIV/AIDS by providing them with antiretroviral drugs at below market prices, as well as doctors and instruction in public health methods for combating the AIDS pandemic. Cuba’s offer to help is viewed as nothing less than “spectacular” by the other Caribbean nations

The American Empire: Pax Americana or Pox Americana?

On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a commencement address at American University in Washington, D.C., in which he declared that the peace that the United States sought was “not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.” His remarks were a response to criticisms of the United States advanced in a recently published Soviet text on military strategy. Kennedy dismissed the charge that “American imperialist circles” were “preparing to unleash different kinds of wars” including “preventative war.” The Soviet text, he pointed out, had stated, “The political aims of American imperialists were and still are to enslave economically and politically the European and other capitalist countries and, after the latter are transformed into obedient tools, to unify them in various military-political blocs and groups directed against the socialist countries. The main aim of all this is to achieve world domination.” In Kennedy’s words, these were “wholly baseless and incredible claims,” the work of Marxist “propagandists.” “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war.”

Argentina: Program for a Popular Economic Recovery

Two and a half years after its spectacular crash, Argentina seems to be entering a new political and economic phase. President Néstor Kirchner, elected in May 2003, has claimed that “the period of neoliberalism is over” and economic activity has recovered faster than generally anticipated. Payments are being made on a part of the debt held by favored creditors (above all the IMF), and international pressure to refinance and make payments on the defaulted debt has increased. Neoliberal economists remain totally discredited, but the Kirchner regime’s policy of partial payments on the debt, financed by revenues generated by severe restrictions on public spending, is applauded by a coterie of supposed “Keynesian” and “national” economists.… Questions remain: What happened to the external debt disaster? Is the enormous social crisis, for a moment extensively covered by the press and media, over? And even: Is Argentina, a neoliberal model in the 1990s of an “open, deregulated and privatized economy” now inaugurating a reverse miracle of a new type (perhaps to be termed Keynesian), a “national capitalism with a human face”?

Haiti Matters!

Arriving at the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince on the eve of the new year, 2004, the bicentennial of Haiti’s independence, tension was thick in the air. Street violence was mounting but still mostly under control. Clashes took place between opposition demonstrators and police or between anti- and pro-Aristide forces. Since the hotel is near the university and its hospital, we witnessed several groups of 100 to 200 anti-Aristide student demonstrators jogging in cadence toward police with signs and banners shouting slogans—A bas Aristide! Down with Aristide! Since my previous trip in June, anti-Aristide slogans had blossomed in some areas of Port-au- Prince, while pro-Aristide graffiti retained its hold in the poorest districts, smaller towns, and rural areas. Our visit to the towns of Fondwa and Jacmel in the south was eventful in the normal Haitian way, but peaceful. Back in the capital, at the end of our five-day trip up-country, cars were being torched, boulders rolled on roads, and gas stations and banks closed in antigovernment actions

On the Role of Mao Zedong

In 1995 a foreign reporter interviewed me about Mao. She sought me out as someone who had met the man in person and openly admired him over the years. She asked, “What about all the people he killed? What about all those famine deaths? And what about all the suffering and destruction of people in the Cultural Revolution?” With these questions she lined herself up with the current media line on Mao, the line of conventional wisdom, which is to present him as a monster—Mao, the monster. The usually more enlightened BBC reached a new low that week with their Mao centenary program. It made him out to be not only a monster but also a monstrous lecher far gone into orgies with teenage girls. Such a low level of attack! It cheapened the BBC and should have backfired, but you never can tell these days