Blessed were the times when a man’s decision about his fate lay in his own hands. Blessed were the times when he relied upon himself and was under no one’s direct command and formed his life through his direct relationship to nature. These were times of transparent clarity; these were times of child-like belief in God; these were times of inner peace. The environment [Umwelt] of the man of that time existed outside of his horizon; its events passed him by or broke into his life naturally, suddenly, overwhelmingly. Wars and starvation, epidemics and bad harvests stood on the same plane—they were to man equally strange, equally incomprehensible, equally remote.… This assault of his environment into his existence, these catastrophes which from time to time would bring his life into turmoil, man could not explain to himself. For they were of a different type than he was; for they were covered by a thick impenetrable shroud…. Faith replaced knowledge at that time; prayer replaced action, and fear replaced circumspection.
Confronted with a progressive deterioration and an increasing “Americanization” of mass media in Britain, the British Labor Party appointed a Commission under the Chairmanship of Lord Reith the assignment of which is “to consider the role of commercial advertising in present day society and to recommend whether reforms are required; if so, what?” This Advertising Commission solicited oral and written testimony from various workers in that field, submitting to them a questionnaire covering the principal points on which comments were invited. Having also been asked for our reflections on the matter, we prepared the following statement the purpose of which is not so much to answer all the questions posed in the questionnaire, as to present a more or less integrated view on this, most important, subject.
This is a hitherto unpublished chapter of Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966). The text as published here has been edited and includes notes by John Bellamy Foster. The style conforms to that of their book. Part of the original draft chapter, dealing with mental health, was still incomplete at the time of Baran’s death in 1964, and consequently has not be included in this published version. For the larger intellectual context see the introduction to this issue.
That all is not well in the realm of bourgeois economic theory is strongly felt by its closest observers. Professor Mason’s blunt statement that “the functioning of the corporate system has not to date been adequately explained,” could hardly be contradicted by anyone familiar with contemporary economic literature. Its most conspicuous feature is, indeed, this very failure to come to grips with the most important aspects of what, one would think, should constitute its central problem.… The reasons for this striking reluctance to place the realities of modern capitalism where they belong: at the center of theoretical attention, are not far to seek… There can be no doubt that the model of a perfectly competitive market economy is “more tractable,” that the examination of its manifold properties is more readily achievable by means of conventional tools of economic analysis than that of a system dominated by oligopolistic corporations. It may not be economics’ claim to applause, but it is understandable that most of its practitioners prefer not to tackle “intractable” matters, but to move along the line of the least theoretic resistance.
These “Last Letters” were written by Baran and Sweezy in late February and early March 1964 and concerned “Some Theoretical Implications,” a chapter that Baran had drafted in 1962 and that they were then revising for their book Monopoly Capital. The discussion was cut short by Baran’s death around two weeks later.… They are published here for the first time.
Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s voluminous correspondence in the 1950s and early 1960s ranks as one of the crucial exchanges of letters between Marxist political economists in the second half of the twentieth century, and, indeed, in the entire history of Marxist thought.… Only a few letters in their extensive correspondence have been published so far.… We have thus chosen to publish two additional letters here in recognition of the joint centennial of the births of the two Pauls: Paul Baran (1910-1964) and Paul Sweezy (1910-2004).
Pronounced preoccupation with interpretation of historical experience, with basic problems of social dynamics, and with epistemological foundations of social science is itself an important characteristic of the revolutionary convulsions that mark the end and the beginning of epochs in human history. Thus also in our days the feeling of philosophical unrest has penetrated the ivory towers of conventional economics, and the rationale of traditional economic theorizing has become doubtful even to the most complacent practitioners of the established orthodoxy. Representing essentially a series of more or less successful attempts at the comprehension of the working principles of capitalism, customary economic thought stands completely disarmed when confronted with the decomposition of capitalism itself, when what matters is no longer the movements and the behavior of the passengers (and the conductors) on the train but the direction and the speed of the train itself.
These essays by the author of The Political Economy of Growth and co-author of Monopoly Capital cover the working range of a strong and original mind. They are as diverse as his well-known discussion of Marxism and psychoanalysis, and his expert handling of the politics and economics of development.
This landmark text by Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy is a classic of twentieth-century radical thought, a hugely influential book that continues to shape our understanding of modern capitalism. “This book… deals with a vital area of economics, has a unique approach, is stimulating and well written. It represents the first serious attempt to extend Marx’s model of competitive capitalism to the new conditions of monopoly capitalism.” — Howard J. Sherman, American Economic Review