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Farewell, Comrade Paul

This eulogy was read by Robert W. McChesney at a memorial meeting for Paul M. Sweezy on April 17, 2004, in New York City.

The Editors

If I belong anywhere today, it is with you. But to my great regret, I cannot be physically present. No doubt other speakers will deal with Paul as a major theoretician, a worldwide influential thinker and struggler for the sake of humanity. And there is much to say about Paul the human being. Not to monopolize the stage, I have selected two areas to dwell on: Paul as a friend and Paul as a coworker.

We became friends a little more than fifty years ago. Of course, the friendship didn’t spring up out of thin air. It began in a loose acquaintanceship intertwined with Leo Huberman and Paul Baran.

In the early days, a group of us used to meet weekly to discuss what was going on in the world, Marxist theory, and related topics. A wit named the group “martyrs and convicts.” We were all hounded by the FBI and Congressional committees, blacklisted, and threatened with imprisonment. And one of us had actually served a term in jail. Whenever Paul was in New York, he participated. The talk frequently centered on the contents of Monthly Review. Our friendship blossomed at these discussions and in social gatherings, mainly at dinners organized by my wife, Beadie. More than the fingers of both hands would be needed to list all the unasked-for favors Paul bestowed. I recall especially when Beadie and I were stuck in Cambridge under doctor’s orders not to drive our car home. Out of the blue, Paul arrived in Cambridge to drive us home in our car.

Despite the growing friendship and the frequency of being on the same side of arguments, I was startled by Paul’s invitation to be coeditor of MR. Leo died in Paris when the two of them were on a European trip. Harry Braverman and I went to the airport to meet Paul. He was clearly upset and melancholy. He began to talk about the need for a successor to Leo. Harry and I urged him to wait until he was calmer and had time to reflect on the potential candidates.

Shortly thereafter, Paul asked me to join him as coeditor. The terms would be on a fully equal basis—the same as with Leo. I would be given 50 percent of the stock. As you will surely understand, that had no financial significance. But it was in Paul’s way a symbol of full partnership.

I asked Paul to take more time before acting on the selection of an equal partner. In fact, I hesitated to accept. I didn’t think I was qualified. I felt unprepared and needed time to catch up on the literature of the previous decades. Moreover, I didn’t think I was in the same league as Paul.

I resisted and urged him to consider other prospects. He refused and argued that I would have little to do. He would do all the writing; all I would need to do was review and comment on the material going into the magazine. Before long I began to turn out Reviews of the Month and other chores. After a while I reminded him of his early promise about writing and other responsibilities, Paul smilingly answered, “You didn’t believe me, did you?”

Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy in the MR office

What followed was over thirty years of a remarkable collective relationship. Our social origins—or, if you wish, class differences—were distinctly apart. Paul had about the best education one can get in the United States. Mine was scraggly and very ordinary. We came to Marxism and socialism by different routes. Nevertheless, we worked year in and out in close harmony. I don’t mean the absence of disagreements, but we never had a quarrel. No voices were ever raised. We always found a way to compromise, if needed. It was the best of human relations, a marriage in thought and purpose. The role and continuity of MR was what counted. It didn’t hurt that in personal matters mutual aid was the guide.

Paul and Leo had an understanding that if they disagreed on the Review of the Month, MR would then print two pieces up front, each coeditor presenting his analysis. Paul’s invitation to me included a continuation of that practice. There were indeed two occasions in Paul and Leo’s coeditorship when separate articles were run side by side. One had to do with the struggle between Israel and Palestine, the other concerned the entry of the Red Army into Czechoslovakia. In the latter case each one asked for my approval. Leo’s article attacked the Soviet invasion. Paul focused on the steps Czechoslovakia was taking in the direction of market socialism. He saw in it an eventual return to capitalism—an analysis that we now can recognize in Eastern Europe and China.

Paul was a socialist through and through in his passions and in his theories. His heart was with the masses, working in full sympathy with and understanding of social revolutionary and national liberation struggles.

His theory of socialism fully embraced the necessity of national planning, including the need to control foreign trade. He certainly did not close his eyes to counterrevolutionary tendencies in really existing socialism. But he never departed from the thoroughness of his belief in the need for socialism—a socialism based on empowering the poorest and the most oppressed on a road to an egalitarian society—one that was truly run by all the people and for all the people.

Paul’s last years were tough. The decline was a long one, accompanied by pain and infirmity. We should be grateful to his wife, Zirel, for her care and concern during the bad as well as the good years.

In the good years, Paul and I talked by phone almost every day. It became increasingly difficult to communicate in recent years. We couldn’t hear or understand each other. Not long before he went into the hospice program, Paul suddenly asked Zirel to get me on the phone. His voice was clear, and we exchanged some comments on the world and on MR. As his energy began to drop, his last words were, “I love you Harry.” I answered accordingly. But I never got to say goodbye. Let me say it now. Farewell, Comrade Paul.

2004, Volume 56, Issue 05 (October)
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