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Paul M. Sweezy

Michael A. Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada and the author of Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class (Palgrave, 2003).
This essay was adapted from one appearing in Maxine Berg, ed., Political Economy in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Philip Allan, 1990). The author has added a postscript for 2004.

Biographical Note

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.1 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. As Meghnad Desai testified years later (in the introduction to his own text in Marxian economics):

There was in those days one book that students could read if they wanted to acquaint themselves with Marx’s thought. The Theory of Capitalist Development, when all is said and done, still remains a classic introduction to Marxian economics….It was a definitive statement of a certain period about how Marx and his system were a key to the understanding of capitalism. While the book comes in for much casual criticism today, Paul Sweezy can be credited for having kept the eventual prospect of a revival of Marxian economics alive.2

Similarly, two German writers, Gerd Hardach and Dieter Karras, commented in 1974 that “as an analytical and exhaustive resume of the history of Marxist theory up to the 1930s, Sweezy’s book is still without any rivals today.” Lending support to Desai’s point, they noted that, on the eve of the rebirth of West German Marxism, the 1959 German edition of the book “made available to the German reader a theoretical tradition which had been very largely produced in German-speaking areas and then subsequently effectively suppressed by fascism and the postwar restoration.”3

Yet, The Theory of Capitalist Development was not only an introduction to Marxian economics and a transmission of a theoretical tradition. Sweezy also initially formulated there his general theory of capitalist stagnation. It is a theory which has been offered to explain not only the Depression conditions of its origin but also the postwar boom (the “Golden Age”) and the subsequent crisis of the 1970s and 1980s.

Paul and Leo Huberman in Cuba

More than the author of a single text, however, Paul Sweezy has probed for answers about society and social change in many directions. His questions in relation to Maurice Dobb’s Studies in the Development of Capitalism in 1950 triggered a major debate on the transition from feudalism to capitalism whose echoes reverberate today—just as a later exchange with Charles Bettelheim would pose critical questions about the transition to socialism. From his book on the Cuban Revolution (with associate Leo Huberman) to his emphasis on capitalism as a world system to his essays on post-revolutionary societies, Sweezy has addressed the important questions of our time; and no one could say (as he has about neoclassical economists) that he has concerned himself with “smaller and decreasingly significant questions” with the result that there is “a truly stupefying gap between the questions posed and the techniques employed to answer them.”4

For many, though, it is for his joint work with Paul Baran, Monopoly Capital, that he will be remembered. Begun in the mid-50s, a time of “full-fledged McCarthyism” when “it was practically impossible for Marxist dialogue to exist within the U.S. academy,” the book became upon its publication in 1966 the introduction to radical economic analysis for an entire generation of university students and an important influence on the New Left of the period.5 But, Sweezy has never rested on his laurels. In Monthly Review (the magazine founded in 1949 by Sweezy and Huberman), he and his co-editor Harry Magdoff continue to analyze current economic developments and to explore their theoretical significance. After over a half-century of Marxist scholarship, the dean of radical economics continues to guide (and to receive graciously) younger colleagues and students.

None of this is the trajectory which could have been predicted at the time of Sweezy’s birth in New York City on April 10, 1910. Sweezy’s father was a banker, one of five vice presidents of the First National Bank (a predecessor of the Citibank), and Paul had the background appropriate to the scion of a wealthy family. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and then went on to Harvard (as had his brother Alan before him). During his time there from 1928 to 1932, he edited the Harvard Crimson and was trained in the standard neoclassical economics.6

There was no sign here of his future path. And, there certainly was no indication that this banker’s son would become the object of a McCarthyist witch hunt by a New Hampshire subversive activities committee. Questioned in 1953, he was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to jail. While out on bail, he appealed the charge which was ultimately overturned in 1957 by the U.S. Supreme Court in one of the landmark decisions on McCarthyism.7

The year of his graduation, 1932, was of course a time of troubles. The period to follow brought the stock market crash, bank failures, the onset of the Depression of the 1930s, the rise of Hitler and the First Soviet Five-Year Plan. And, as for so many others, these events represented a challenge to the education Sweezy had received. What, after all, did this have to do with the neoclassical economics that he had studied at Harvard?

Sweezy recalls arriving in London in 1932 for a graduate year at the London School of Economics with a feeling of “confusion edged with resentment at the irrelevance of what I had spent the last four years trying to learn.” There, however, he found graduate students actively debating the issues of the day, a “continuous state of intellectual and political ferment” and, it was there that he first came into contact with Marxism. He returned to Harvard after that year “a convinced but very ignorant Marxist.”8

Changes had begun at Harvard as well. Graduate students and younger faculty were beginning to take an interest in Marxism. (Among those with whom Sweezy was to have many discussions about Marxism was Shigeto Tsuru, who later contributed an appendix to The Theory of Capitalist Development comparing the reproduction schemes of Quesnay, Marx, and Keynes.9) Perhaps the most significant development for Sweezy, however, was that he met and became a student of Joseph Schumpeter who had joined the Harvard faculty in 1932. The atmosphere around Schumpeter was one certain to stimulate a young economist: he organized informal seminars and discussion groups and attracted economists from around the world. What Sweezy received there, along with others in the “Schumpeter circle,” was encouragement and an atmosphere of intellectual clash and excitement. He was to describe this period subsequently as the most stimulating of his life.10

As it happens, Sweezy took only one formal course from Schumpeter, a small graduate seminar of four or five people, which included Oscar Lange and to which Wassily Leontief came. Yet, he went on to become Schumpeter’s assistant in an introductory graduate course in economic theory and a very close friend.11 With Schumpeter on his thesis committee, he completed his doctoral dissertation in 1937 on the coal cartel during the English industrial revolution (for which he was awarded the David A. Wells Prize for best essay in economics by the Harvard Economics Department).

During this time, Sweezy worked at becoming “a self-educated Marxist.” In this, too, Schumpeter was central. For, despite his own diametrically opposite political perspective, Schumpeter was “a unique figure. He understood the importance of Marxism.” A contemporary of Hilferding and Austro-Marxists like Otto Bauer, he had architected his own theory of capitalism as a deliberate alternative to Marxism. Thus, “he paid Marxism the compliment of understanding and recognizing that it was the most important intellectual trend of the time.”12

In 1938, Sweezy became an instructor at Harvard, teaching a course on the economics of socialism (in which he had previously assisted). Attempting to increase the level of treatment of Marxism in the course, he proceeded to teach himself and to absorb the European (especially German) traditions in Marxist thought. The Theory of Capitalist Development was written over these years—“started more or less as an effort in self-clarification.” Completed soon after the United States entered World War II, the book was published shortly before he went into the U.S. Army in 1942.13

The Early Work

Yet The Theory of Capitalist Development was not Sweezy’s first book or contribution. In a study undertaken in 1937 for the National Resources Committee (a New Deal agency), he demonstrated that, contrary to the Berle and Means classification of a substantial number of leading U.S. corporations as “management-controlled,” it was possible to identify eight clearly definable “interest groups,” industrial and financial alliances among the large corporations.14 To understand the control of corporations, Sweezy stressed the importance of a “knowledge of the general policies of the companies and individuals involved”(162). Citing the policies of the investment banking firm of J. P. Morgan & Co. and its alliance with the First National Bank of New York (his father’s bank) in the first and most important of the interest groups, he proposed that not only stock ownership but also banking and underwriting relations were critical in tracing industrial and financial alliances (163, 168).

Within a few years, however, Sweezy proceeded to explain that the dominant role that had been played by the investment banker in the consolidation of the large firms had now declined. This was, in part, the result of the sharp decline in economic expansion during the Depression, an important explanation was “the vast internal financial resources” at the disposal of existing large corporations, which significantly reduced their necessity to resort to the capital market. Thus, the dominance of financial over industrial capital could be seen as a “temporary stage” of capitalist development.”15 It was a point subsequently underlined in his criticism of Hilferding in The Theory of Capitalist Development, where Sweezy stressed the growing importance of internal corporate financing and his preference for Lenin’s concept of “monopoly capital” over that of Hilferding’s “finance capital.”16

Monopoly was the theme as well in Sweezy’s thesis, published in 1938 as Monopoly and Competition in the English Coal Trade, 1550–1850. Using the records of the coal owners, Sweezy drew upon current theoretical developments in the theory of imperfect competition and applied the microeconomist’s tools (in a manner to be discovered many years later by the “New Economic History”) to explain the behavior of the owners and, in particular, the reasons for the emergence of excess capacity in nineteenth century industry. A demand curve facing producers which was relatively elastic above the existing price and relatively inelastic below that price tended to generate, he argued, high profits and a relatively stable price. Under the existing cartel arrangements, his model also predicted “growing individual plants with a tendency towards more growth than is warranted by the increase in demand.”17

What was particular to the early nineteenth century English coal combination, however, now had become general as the result of the growth of large-scale production which generated a tendency for “productive capacity to outrun the market.” The threat of cutthroat competition (and its implications for profits) engendered combination—but the fostering of monopoly would itself “serve further to contract markets and outlets for investment.”18

The “kinked demand curve” described (and presented complete with the discontinuity in the marginal revenue curve) in this study was subsequently to become well-known and influential as the result of Sweezy’s article, “Demand Under Conditions of Oligopoly,” published in the following year.19 Yet, the extension to current policy implications had occurred first in Sweezy’s comments upon a paper by A. P. Lerner, “The Relation of Wage Policies and Price Policies,” at the December 1938 meetings of the American Economics Association. There, he stressed the point subsequently made in his article that under conditions of the kinked demand curve the only effect of an increase in wages may be reduced profits (rather than a change in the short-run equilibrium of price and output).20

The Theory of Capitalist Development

When Sweezy published his Theory of Capitalist Development, he had already established a reputation as an important young scholar as the result of his essay on the oligopolistic demand curve. With this book, however, he added significantly to his reputation. The book introduced many to a tradition of Marxist scholarship hitherto inaccessible to Anglophones. To this day, it is often remembered for opening up the discussion of the problem of the “transformation” from Marxian values to prices and for its consideration of the work of Ladislaus von Bortkiewicz on this question. Yet, on the Marxian questions of value-theory, the falling tendency of the rate of profit and crisis theory, Sweezy’s contribution was easily as important.

Sweezy is credited with having introduced into the discussion of Marx’s theory of value the distinction between the “quantitative-value problem” and the “qualitative-value problem.” Despite the break with the English Marxist tradition of Maurice Dobb which stressed the basic continuity between the labor-cost approach of Smith, Ricardo and Marx (and, later, Sraffa), however, there has been a tendency to lump Sweezy together with Dobb as part of a single “Anglo-American” tradition which effectively treats the Marxian and Ricardian theories as identical.21

That is, simply, incorrect. Indeed, the failure to understand Sweezy’s early attempt to distance Marx’s value-theory from that of classical political economy left subsequent commentators unprepared for Sweezy’s 1974 critique of Dobb’s Theories of Value and Distribution since Adam Smith: Ideology and Economic Theory.22 Criticizing Dobb for making “Marx seem much more like his predecessors and successors than he really was,” Sweezy argued that the scope and depth of Marx’s originality and his break with the classical tradition were lost in Dobb’s account of the Ricardo-Marx-Sraffa tradition. In short, “to speak of a Ricardo-Marx tradition can only be misleading for both bourgeois and Marxist economists.”23

The point, though, was not at all new: Sweezy had begun his discussion of value thirty-two years earlier by stressing “the sharp break which divides his [Marx’s] analysis from that of the classical school”(23). And, central was the distinction between the “qualitative-value problem” and the “quantitative-value problem.” “No longer can the economist afford to confine his attention to the quantitative relations arising from commodity production; he must also direct his attention to the character of social relations which underlie the commodity form”(24).

Marx’s distinction between “abstract” labor and “concrete” labor was at the core of the “qualitative-value problem.” Abstract labor (or labor in general) was the labor represented in the value of the commodity; yet the critics of Marx’s value-theory had said “hardly a word about abstract labor”(34). The very concept of abstract labor, however, went beyond the forms of value on the surface, individual commodity prices, to consider the relations among human beings which were necessarily hidden by the commodity form; at the center of the qualitative-value problem was the “fetish character of commodities.”

It was a clear although unacknowledged break with the position of Dobb. In elevating the qualitative-value problem, Sweezy cited as support “the excellent note on value theory by Alfred Lowe, ‘Mr. Dobb and Marx’s Theory of Value’”(25n). Yet, “Alfred Lowe” was Shigeto Tsuru—to whom Sweezy acknowledged his “greatest debt” for many discussions (vi). Tsuru had openly criticized Dobb. He had argued that Dobb’s very conception of value-theory in his Political Economy and Capitalism [1937] “presupposes already a method quite opposite to that of Marx.”24 Citing Hilferding’s argument in the response to Böhm-Bawerk (which Sweezy later was to make widely available), Tsuru proposed that the essence of Marx’s value-analysis was “the qualitative statement specifying the social relation of the capitalist mode of production”(100, 102). Why, after all, had Marx underlined “the importance of distinguishing the two-fold character of labor in the commodity production, as contrasted with Mr. Dobb’s vague definition of labor as ‘the expenditure of a given quantum of human energy’”?

Rejecting Dobb’s argument that a theory of value must be quantitative in form and capable of expression in terms of “quantitative entities in the real world,” Tsuru argued that this was “an insuperable task. For such an attempt has to involve factors both apparent and essential embracing the economic system as a whole. Society is the only accountant of socially necessary labor time”(103). For Tsuru (whose honors thesis at Harvard College had explored Marx’s methodology and commodity fetishism), Marx’s “insistence on the necessity of distinguishing between value and value-form” were critical; Dobb’s focus on quantitative issues and distribution, on the other hand, was little different from that of classical political economy and, indeed, in some respects approached the “pre-Marxian complacency” of Ricardo and John Stuart Mill (101, 104).

Sweezy’s adoption of this distinction between qualitative and quantitative thus foreshadowed the subsequent debates over value which emerged among neo-Ricardians and Marxists in the wake of Sraffa’s work. Indeed, Sweezy’s discussion of the “quantitative-value problem” also diverged significantly from the classical value tradition of embodied concrete labor in his stress upon the importance of “demand.” Different traditions of value-theory, then, were transmitted by Dobb and Sweezy, and this may help to explain why Sraffa’s work subsequently had so much less of an impact among North American Marxists.

The significance attributed to “the falling rate of profit” (FROP) was another such distinction between Sweezy and Dobb (and the classical tradition). Identifying Dobb as an author who had “concluded that Marx meant the law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit to be the primary explanatory principle so far as crises are concerned,” Sweezy rejected this conclusion on two important grounds (147–8). Firstly, emphasizing Marx’s consideration of “counteracting tendencies,” he questioned the theoretical foundations of the FROP tendency with respect to the assumption that the organic composition of capital necessarily increased more than the rate of surplus-value; the formulation, he proposed, was “not very convincing” (102–4).

As critical, however, was that Sweezy argued that Marx’s view of crises and business cycles differed significantly from those of mainstream economists who assumed that “the crisis is not the result but rather the cause of a shortage of effective demand” (155). Implicit in the theory of value, he argued, was a theory of crisis which emanated from the inability of capitalists to sell commodities at their value (146). And, at the root of such crises was the contradiction between the production of use-values and the goal of producing surplus-value, the fundamental contradiction of capitalism (172).

This alternative explanation Sweezy labeled an “underconsumption” theory of capitalist crises, and he proceeded to show its undeniable presence in Marx’s texts. Yet, there was a critical gap—the theory had never been fully developed by Marx, and subsequent Marxists (like Rosa Luxemburg) who had turned their attention to the question had not succeeded in constructing a logical and detailed theory. The result was that “the outstanding present-day English Marxist economist, Maurice Dobb, assigns a role to underconsumption which is distinctly secondary to that of the falling tendency of the rate of profit” (179).

Completed, however, the underconsumption theory “would have been of primary importance in the overall picture of the capitalist economy” (178). To supplement Marx’s work by carefully formulating the Marxian underconsumption theory, then, was the project Sweezy undertook.

The General Theory of Capitalist Stagnation

“The real task of an underconsumption theory,” Sweezy proposed, “is to demonstrate that capitalism has an inherent tendency to expand the capacity to produce consumption goods more rapidly than the demand for consumption goods.” Such a tendency may be manifested in two forms. Where an increase in capacity leads to overproduction and then curtailment of production, “the tendency in question manifests itself in a crisis.” In a second case, however, capacity is not expanded “because it is realized that the additional capacity would be redundant relative to the demand for the commodities it could produce. In this case, the tendency does not manifest itself in a crisis, but rather in stagnation of production”(180).

As Sweezy noted, in either case the existence of such a tendency significantly alters the fundamental questions economists must pose. Marx’s comments in Capital imply, Sweezy argued, that:

stagnation of production, in the sense of less-than-capacity utilization of productive resources, is to be regarded as the normal state of affairs under capitalist conditions. If this view is adopted, the whole crisis problem appears in a new light. Emphasis shifts from the question: “What brings on crisis and depression?” to its opposite: “What brings on expansion?”(177)

Here was the core of Sweezy’s argument. And, it is one to which he has returned in various forms over the years. As he commented in 1980, “If a monopoly capitalist economy tends toward stagnation—in the same sense that it always used to be assumed that a competitive capitalist economy tends toward full employment—then the problem to be explained is periods of sustained expansion and buoyancy.”25 Much, indeed, of his work can be seen as a variation around this theme, which was to become a leitmotiv.

It is actually more accurate to describe Sweezy’s argument in The Theory of Capitalist Development as an over-accumulation theory of crisis than as one of underconsumption. In the model presented, crisis is not triggered by an increase in the rate of exploitation (rate of surplus value) or by inadequate effective demand. Rather, it is the result of excessive additions to capacity: a relative expansion of fixed capital occurs (in the appendix version of his argument) because of an increase in the propensity of capitalists to invest and a tendency to substitute machinery for direct labor.

Assuming a constant relation between additions to means of production and potential additions to output, the expansion of capacity tends to exceed that which would be warranted: the actual increase in the demand for consumption goods is insufficient to justify those previous investment decisions. In this argument (as in early writings of Kalecki), the essential recognition is that investment is not only a component of aggregate demand; it also, importantly, increases productive capacity.

The central problem in the argument, however, is that if the sector producing means of production expands sufficiently, there will be adequate income generated in that sector to warrant capacity increases in the consumption goods sector—a point not recognized explicitly in the model. Sweezy’s crisis theory then amounted to the argument that this condition would not normally be satisfied; thus, the general tendency would be one toward underconsumption/overaccumulation.

To understand why equilibrating growth in Department I (the sector producing means of production) was seen as a special case, we have to go back to Sweezy’s comments on the argument of Tugan-Baranowski. As Sweezy noted, Tugan demonstrated that the balance could easily be achieved if “social production were organized in accordance with a plan.” In short, “if the proportional division of output is precisely that which is prescribed by the equilibrium condition for expanded reproduction, then supply and demand must be in exact balance” (166). Yet, such a condition as the normal case was contrary to the specific characteristic of capitalism—that it is a system in which the very purpose of production is not the harmonization of production but the expansion of capital.

This did not mean that the prescribed equilibrium condition could not be achieved; it could—under special circumstances. (Indeed, in Sweezy’s appendix model, the general tendency would not exist at all if national income were growing at an increasing rate, which he suggested might be characteristic of a “young” capitalist country.) As Marx had done in presenting his discussion of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, Sweezy followed his discussion of the general tendency toward underconsumption/overaccumulation with a consideration of “counteracting forces.” Precisely because there were such counteracting causes, Sweezy proposed “that for long periods the latter (tendency to underconsumption) may remain latent and inoperative” (180).

The establishment of new industries was one such important counteracting force. Reminiscent of Schumpeter’s business cycle theory, insofar as the period of initial investments did not add correspondingly to the output of consumption goods, the tendency was suspended; only when this process was completed and new consumption goods could come on stream was the general relation between additions to means of production and additions to consumption demand re-established. In this case (as well as that of faulty investment and state expenditures), the counteracting tendency exists to the extent that there is an increase in aggregate demand but not a corresponding increase in capacity.

Yet, Sweezy proposed that the strength of new industries as a counteracting force was dependent upon the relative share of total investment absorbed; although new industries would always continue to appear, their relative importance would decline as a country industrialized. “One of the most powerful forces counteracting the ever-present tendency to underconsumption,” thus, was disappearing (220). It was not, however, the only such sea change.

A declining rate of population growth meant the dramatic eclipse of yet another of developed capitalism’s critical counteracting forces. In stressing the relation between declining population growth and stagnation (a relation epitomized as “the law of inverse relation between population growth and the tendency to underconsumption”), Sweezy was, of course, by no means alone (224). Alvin Hansen’s 1938 Presidential Address to the American Economics Association, “Economic Progress and Declining Population Growth,” had put this issue high on the list of explanations of the continuing sluggishness of the 1930s.26

Yet, rather than emphasizing the beneficial effects upon demand as Hansen had, Sweezy identified rapid population growth as extremely favorable to the expansion of capitalism because it ensured available reserves of labor. With the pressure to substitute machinery for labor thereby reduced, it followed from Sweezy’s specific model that the danger of underconsumption was not present. In the weakening, then, of these counteracting forces, Sweezy found an explanation for the progressive strengthening of the tendency to underconsumption. The prospect for mature and developed capitalist countries, thus, was increasingly one of chronic stagnation (226). “So far as capitalism is concerned,” he commented, “we are undoubtedly justified in calling underconsumption a disease of old age” (189).

But, what about the role of monopoly? Given Sweezy’s earlier work, it appears as a strange failure that the growth of monopoly plays no role in this conclusion. After all, from the rigid prices and absence of price competition under conditions of oligopoly to the “vast internal financial resources” of the large firms to the significance (noted in his thesis) of large-scale industry and combination in fostering excess capacity and the contraction of investment outlets, there was an explanation both for a growing tendency to underconsumption/overaccumulation and for this to be increasingly manifested in stagnation rather than crisis.

The Theory of Capitalist Development was not silent on the question of monopoly. In a later section, Sweezy described the tendency for higher prices and profits in the concentrated sectors, the disinclination to expand output in these sectors (because of the potential effect upon the profit rate), an increased bias toward labor-saving innovation, and the possibility that the growth of monopoly would lead to an increased rate of surplus value thereby strengthening the tendency to underconsumption (274–7). The effect of monopoly, in this respect, was clearly to intensify the inherent tendency of capitalism. On the other hand, Sweezy identified the growth of selling costs as the result of the non-price competition characteristic of concentrated industries as a counteracting force (283); this was the only one of the monopoly-related characteristics considered explicitly in the explanation of the general tendency to stagnation.

Why was the discussion of monopoly at the center of Sweezy’s theory of underconsumption? Because something else was there—Keynes and the secular stagnation argument of his foremost North American champion, Alvin Hansen (who joined the Harvard faculty in 1937). For, without question, Sweezy was profoundly influenced by Keynes and Hansen. As he noted in 1946, “the sense of liberation and the intellectual stimulation that The General Theory immediately produced” may only be appreciated fully by those trained as economists in the period before 1936.27 Similarly, reviewing Hansen’s Full Employment or Stagnation? in 1938, he described the latter’s analysis as “brilliant and profound” and, several years later, he hailed Hansen’s contribution to a “rebirth of scientific economics.”28 Certainly the influence, in particular, of Hansen can be seen—not only in The Theory of Capitalist Development but also in a volume published in 1938 on which Sweezy collaborated, An Economic Program for American Democracy.29

Was Sweezy at the time, then, simply a left-wing Keynesian? Although there were elements in The Theory of Capitalist Development clearly drawing upon Keynes and Hansen, that is not sufficient to yield the conclusion that Sweezy can be considered a Keynesian—any more than Marx can be considered a Ricardian for similar reasons.30 At issue is the framework within which those elements were incorporated. While Sweezy followed Hansen, for example, in stressing the importance of declining population growth, he offered an entirely different explanation—just as Marx had with the classical theories such as the falling rate of profit. More than anything else, Sweezy’s work appears as a critique of the Keynesians from a Marxian perspective.

Rather than focus upon the Keynesian elements in Sweezy, the real question is how Keynes, working within the neoclassical framework, came up with an argument so easily absorbed within a Marxian framework. As Marx had argued that the political economists did not understand the underlying basis of their own laws (theories), so also did Sweezy consistently stress that the Keynesians knew what was occurring in the Depression but did not understand why. (“Hansen understands very well what is wrong with our present-day economy, and that is all to the good. But ask the question of this book: why have matters turned out as they have? You will not find much by way of answer.”31) The inadequacy of proposed Keynesian solutions was, of course, the central problem.

The Keynesians, Sweezy indicated, did not see that the troubles were “manifestations of the real nature of the capitalist system itself.”32 Thus, while Keynes “was able to demonstrate that his fellow economists, by their unthinking acceptance of Say’s Law, were in effect asserting the impossibility of what was actually happening,” Sweezy argued that Keynes was unable to proceed to a critique of existing society. Why? Because Keynes attributed the problems to “a failure of intelligence and not to the breakdown of a social system.”33 “In general,” Sweezy commented, “one can say that to the Keynesians the crisis of capitalism appears as a crisis of intelligence.”34

Nevertheless, Sweezy emphasized that, when it came to a clarification of the “functioning of the capitalist mechanism,” Marxists had much “to learn from the work of Keynes and his followers.”35 Indeed, some of Marx’s work, he argued, “takes on a new meaning and fits into its proper place when read in the light of the Keynesian contributions.”36 And, he continues to stress today that Marxists should not be afraid to learn from Keynes since “most of the valuable Keynesian insights can be added” to the basic structure of Marxism.37

Yet, it was not many years before Sweezy would identify problems in The Theory of Capitalist Development as related to the general Keynesian intellectual environment in which he had been working. Initially, as he indicated in a 1950 response to Evsey Domar and several Japanese critics of his book, Sweezy declared his exposition of underconsumption crises in terms of net aggregates to be “one of the weakest parts of the book” and argued that his aggregative analysis (attributable to Keynesian influence) was not suitable for exploring the question of underconsumption.38 In subsequent years, however, he became increasingly critical of Keynesian theory’s failure precisely because it was “wholly on the macro level.”39 The missing micro-element was that of monopoly.

The General Theory in the Golden Age40

Upon Sweezy’s return to Harvard after the war, it became clear that there were no prospects of being rehired with tenure after the completion of his existing contract. Although supported by Schumpeter for a tenure-track position, “there was never any chance that they would take a Marxist.” Accordingly, financially secure enough that he did not have to rely upon an academic salary, Sweezy resigned his position and proceeded to work with Leo Huberman to establish Monthly Review.41

In its opening issue in May 1949, Sweezy noted recent government evidence confirming “a phenomenon of great and growing importance, the extent to which the huge corporate giants now finance their expansion internally…and have consequently become independent of the capital markets generally and of banker control in particular.”42 As well, he repeated his argument that the normal tendency of American capitalism was one of chronic depression and mass unemployment.

In the context of the postwar boom, however, Sweezy now had to explain why things looked different. It was not difficult—given the massive military expenditures for World War II and the armaments build-up of the postwar period. Depression or stagnation rather than a full employment equilibrium, he argued in a 1952 restatement of his theory, must be regarded as the normal condition of developed capitalism; yet, new industries were a central factor capable of “taking up the slack.” If these new industries are “sufficiently numerous and important they may keep the system going at or near full capacity.”43 In the development of the military-industrial complex, Sweezy had found a new and important counteracting force making the tendency to underconsumption “latent and inoperative” in the postwar period.44

In the course of the Golden Age, however, Sweezy’s theory was to undergo a quite significant shift. For, a new element was to enter. Describing his theory in 1980, he indicated that it “draws upon or combines a line of thought which originated with Michal Kalecki and attained its most complete expression in the work of Josef Steindl, published in the early 1950s, Maturity and Stagnation in American Capitalism.” Despite the “strange failure of Keynesian theory” to make the connection between monopoly (at the micro-level) and stagnation (at the macro-level), Kalecki had integrated the two. “And of course it was Kalecki’s lead that Steindl followed up.” 45

This acknowledgement of theoretical influence had appeared earlier in Paul Baran’s and his book Monopoly Capital (which Sweezy described as a “simpler version” of the Kalecki/Steindl argument). There, Baran and Sweezy praised Kalecki and Steindl for their integration of monopoly at the micro-level into their macro-models. And, they noted, “anyone familiar with the work of Kalecki and Steindl will readily recognize that the authors of the present work owe a great deal to them.”46

Without question, the catalyst was Steindl’s book, which Sweezy described in his 1971 Marshall Lecture as “one of the most important and most neglected works of political economy of the last half century.”47 That appreciation is recorded as well in his 1954 review of Steindl’s book, where Sweezy proposed that, “in successfully linking up the theory of investment with the theory of imperfect competition he has, I believe, made a contribution of the first importance.”

It is interesting to note what appeared central to Sweezy at the time. He summarized Steindl’s theory as stressing that “the driving force behind capital accumulation is internal corporate saving.” In a competitive industry, those savings were responsive to demand: with a shortage of productive capacity, the resulting high profit margins would increase internal savings and thus accumulation; similarly, excess productive capacity would generate competition which drives down profit margins and thus internal savings.

In oligopolistic industries, however, excess capacity was not remedied in this way because price competition was avoided, and “for this reason there is a permanent bias in favor of high profit margins and excess capacity.” Further, excess capacity discourages additional investment whereas a variety of factors inhibit a flow of investment to competitive sectors. Thus, in Steindl’s theory, there was an explanation of a long-term stagnation in capital accumulation linked to a secular decline in competition.48

As we have seen, however, all these elements were already present in Sweezy’s own work! On the other hand, providing an organizing principle for those elements could be seen as a central contribution. The place to examine the new combination is in Monopoly Capital, which Baran and Sweezy began to write in the spring of 1956 while Baran was in the process of completing his Political Economy of Growth.49

As they noted in their introduction, it was a work generated by, among other things, a dissatisfaction with the adequacy of existing Marxist analyses (including their own) of monopoly capitalism. Marxist theory could explain well the Depression of the 1930s, but fell short in dealing with a postwar period in which severe depression had not reoccurred. “Nor have Marxists contributed significantly,” they commented, “to our understanding of some of the major characteristics of the ‘affluent society’—particularly its colossal capacity to generate private and public waste and the profound economic, political, and cultural consequences which flow from this feature of the system.”50

At the core of the “stagnation of Marxian social science” was the failure to place monopoly at the very center of analysis. The project, an attempt to “remedy this situation in an explicit and indeed radical fashion,” was organized around “one central theme: the generation and absorption of the surplus under conditions of monopoly capitalism.”51

Aside from the apparent terminological shift from surplus value to the concept of the “surplus,” what stands out immediately here is the concept of the absorption of the surplus. Both aspects had been considered explicitly by Baran in his book (which had drawn upon Kalecki and Steindl as well as upon Sweezy). Indeed, writing to Sweezy in 1956 upon reading the galleys of The Political Economy of Growth, he had expressed the hope that the discussion of monopoly capitalism would help to push “Marxist thought on Mono. Cap. off its dead center and into a deepened consideration of what we both agree is the crux of the matter: the generation and absorption of the economic surplus.”52

As a concept, generation of the surplus did not present any particular difficulties at first sight. The opening discussion explored the ability of the large corporations to maintain high prices (and to avoid price competition) while at the same time cutting production costs. The lion’s share of rising productivity thus captured, the projection was one of “continuously widening profit margins” unlike Sweezy’s earlier argument, at the core was a growing rate of exploitation in the sphere of production.53

Implied, then, was a growth in the profit share of national product and, indeed, “a law of monopoly capitalism that the surplus tends to rise both absolutely and relatively as the system develops” (72). Yet, as Baran and Sweezy stressed in response to an argument by Nicholas Kaldor, this relative growth of the surplus would not necessarily be apparent in the national statistical accounts. The issue was one of “the problem of realizing surplus value,” a problem more chronic than in Marx’s time. For, only profits which are realized are recorded: “potential profits…leave their traces in the statistical record in the paradoxical form of unemployment and excess capacity” (76).

The geneology of this argument is clear. It originated with Kalecki:

Imagine, for instance, that as a result of the increase in the degree of monopoly the relative share of profits in the gross income rises. Profits will remain unchanged because they continue to be determined by investment which depends on past investment decisions, but the real wages and salaries and the gross income or product will fall. The level of income or product will decline to the point at which the higher relative share of profits yields the same absolute level of profits.54

Although Kalecki had considered the possibility of “retarded growth” and the potential for growth of unutilized capacity, the immediate influence on Monopoly Capital came from Steindl. The reason, Steindl argued, why we do not observe a decrease in the wage share of income (or an increase in the profit share of income) as the gross profit margin rises is because the rise in the profit share exists only potentially; that is, it exists only as a tendency. Thus, the rise of oligopoly increases the production of surplus value, but the latter:

can be realized only to the extent to which there is a corresponding amount of investment and capitalists’ consumption. If this amount does not increase, then the rise in the rate of surplus value produced will not lead to any increase in surplus value realized, but only to excess capacity.

For Steindl, then, the effect of a growing rate of exploitation in the sphere of production would not be reflected in an actual increase in the surplus secured but, rather, by a reduced degree of capacity utilization “so that there is not a shift of actual income from wages to profits, but a shift of potential income of workers to wastage in excess capacity.”55 It is the same point that Baran made in the forward to the 1962 edition of The Political Economy of Growth. Responding to Kaldor’s criticism, he argued that a rising surplus is entirely compatible with a constant (and even rising) share of wages in national income “simply because the increment of surplus assumes the form of an increment of waste” (xxi).

The same point—and yet not quite the same. For, what had occurred was a generalization of the category of “waste.” As Monopoly Capital would indicate subsequently, the rising surplus can be absorbed or utilized in several ways: “(1) it can be consumed, (2) it can be invested, and (3) it can be wasted” (79). Given the normal inability (always present in Sweezy’s theory) of capitalist consumption and investment to absorb the surplus that monopoly capitalism was capable of producing, “waste” (in the form of “the sales effort,” government expenditures and imperialism) now edged its way onto center stage in the analysis.

Thus, what prevented the growth of excess capacity (one form of waste) which the Kalecki/Steindl theory would predict as the rate of exploitation rose was the growing reliance upon other forms of waste. Growing relative to capitalist consumption and investment, “they increasingly dominate the composition of social output, the rate of economic growth, and the quality of society itself” (114). These were the days, remember, not of the Depression but of Galbraith’s Affluent Society, Vance Packard’s The Waste Makers and the Edsel.56 What was to be explained, in the context of a general theory of capitalist stagnation, was the relation between the “colossal capacity to generate private and public waste” and the absence of depression. Here, the treatment of the sales effort was representative.

Although Marx had treated the expenses associated with selling commodities as a deduction from the total surplus value, Baran and Sweezy proposed that the sales effort had “come to play a role, both quantitatively and qualitatively, beyond anything Marx ever dreamed of” (114). And, essentially, that new role was that advertising and other selling expenditures had become an important “mode of utilization of the economic surplus” (125). It was a waste of resources, “but in the presence of unemployment and idle capacity, these resources would have otherwise remained unutilized: advertising calls into being a net addition to investment and income” (127).

This was a shift in position. Sweezy had earlier argued that growing sales expenses act as a counteracting force to the general tendency of capitalism toward underconsumption/overaccumulation insofar as they diverted expanding productive forces “into socially unnecessary and hence wasteful channels.”57 In Monopoly Capital, however, this waste of resources not only increased output but also “the sales effort absorbs, directly and indirectly, a large amount of surplus which otherwise would not have been produced” (142).

Clearly, more than the emphasis on the absorption of the surplus was new here. There also was a quite different operative concept—a surplus which would not be produced in the absence of waste such as advertising (but also government expenditures and imperialism). While that concept was consistent with the Kalecki/Steindl framework, here Monopoly Capital drew some of its distinctive characteristics from Baran. What had occurred was a shift from the concept of “actual surplus” to that of “potential surplus”—i.e., to the surplus which would be both produced and realized at the full-employment level. As Baran had noted, the concept differed explicitly from Marx’s surplus value by including “the output lost in view of underemployment or misemployment of productive resources.”58

In the context of Baran’s own work on underdeveloped countries, the emphasis on the “utilization of available unutilized or underutilized resources” and the need to mobilize the potential economic surplus for the development of productive forces echoed the concerns of classical economists (and his own early teacher, Evgenii Preobrazhensky).59 Extension of the concept of potential surplus to monopoly capitalism, though, involved an important shift of focus. As Harry Magdoff had noted in relation to Baran’s development of the concept, the potential surplus “is an active, operative concept: it leads to an understanding of the waste, inefficiency, and unfulfilled possibilities of monopoly capitalism.”60

The system, for Baran, required waste to absorb “the overflowing economic surplus” or to provide “an adequate stimulus to additional investment by expanding aggregate demand” and in this respect Monopoly Capital followed his argument.61 Not only drawing upon Kalecki and Steindl for the connection between monopoly and the tendency to stagnation, the book also extended Kalecki’s treatment of a budget deficit and export surplus to the category of waste in incorporating the concept of the potential economic surplus.62 The latter, however, was not an unproblematic element—especially with respect to the attempt to determine the potential surplus by adding to profits (and other property income) the various components of waste.63 Yet, in combination with the Kalecki/Steindl framework, it enabled Monopoly Capital to offer an answer to its two questions: why a severe depression had not reoccurred and why monopoly capitalism was a wasteland.

For those who had not lived through the experience of the Depression, it was the second question (rather than the first) which was central. In the 1930s, Sweezy had asked the timely question, why does capitalism have a tendency for chronic unemployment and stagnation? In capitalism’s Golden Age, Monopoly Capital now asked a question equally as timely. And, its answers found a receptive audience in the generation, emerging from the desert of the Cold War, whose only experience had been that of the postwar boom.

There was another important question, though. As Baran and Sweezy noted, there is in Monopoly Capital “almost total neglect of a subject which occupies a central place in Marx’s study of capitalism: the labor process.” Questions such as the nature of work, the psychology of workers, the forms of working-class organization, etc.,—“all obviously important subjects,” they acknowledged, “which would have to be dealt with in any comprehensive study of monopoly capitalism”—were missing.64 Although Sweezy subsequently proposed that the gap was present because he and Baran lacked “the necessary qualifications”—the “crucially important direct experience” of the capitalist labor process, the basis for the silence goes somewhat deeper.65

In ignoring the labor process, Baran and Sweezy insisted that they had not forgotten class struggle: “The revolutionary initiative against capitalism, which in Marx’s day belonged to the proletariat in the advanced countries, has passed into the hands of the impoverished masses in the underdeveloped countries who are struggling to free themselves from imperialist domination and exploitation.”66 There was a reason for this. Several years earlier, Sweezy and Huberman had argued that rising wages of steel workers came at the expense of steel consumers; and, this was not unique to the particular industry: “sharing increased monopoly profits between big corporations and strong unions has not been confined to steel but rather has been quite general in the monopolistically organized sectors of the economy.”

The capitalist labor process and workers, thus, disappeared as subjects in Monopoly Capital because workers in monopoly capitalism were not themselves seen to be acting as subjects.67 Organized labor had consigned itself “to playing the role of junior partner in a Big Business-dominated society.”68 In a country lacking not only a revolutionary movement but also a labor party, such a judgment was not surprising.69 Sweezy expanded upon this point in 1967 noting that production workers had been able to capture a portion of the substantial increases in productivity but also citing Lenin’s argument that imperialist “booty” permits capitalists to “bribe and win over to their side an aristocracy of labor.”70

Monopoly Capital thus answered another question: what happened to the working class? A less rather than more revolutionary proletariat in the developed countries was an inherent characteristic of the era of monopoly capital. Yet, capitalism had to be understood as a “global system embracing both the (relatively few) industrializing countries and their (relatively numerous) satellites and dependencies” and, in that global system, the revolutionary subjects had become “the masses in these exploited dependencies.”71 It had become increasingly clear in the postwar period, Sweezy concluded in 1971, that “the principal contradiction in the system, at least in the present historical period, is not within the developed part but between the developed and underdeveloped parts.”72 That answer, too, found a receptive audience in a generation struggling against U.S. imperial involvement in Vietnam and elsewhere around the world.

The General Theory in a New Age of Crisis

In the retardation in economic growth which became apparent in the early 1970s, Sweezy has found confirmation that, sooner or later, the inherent tendency of monopoly capitalism toward stagnation exerts itself. The period of the 1970s and 1980s has thus been an opportunity to restate his theory in a context in which the effect of the tendency rather than that of the counteracting forces is manifest. Since this period has also been one marked by his collaboration with Harry Magdoff (who before the onset of McCarthyism had, among other things, served as the head of the current business analysis section of the U.S. Department of Commerce), it has meant that there has been a strong empirical element in Sweezy’s work in this period.73

More than a restatement of the theory, however, has occurred. Significantly, in his explanations as to why the tendency to stagnation was latent and inoperative for so long a period, the centrality of waste as a category has faded from the analysis—as has any consideration of the concept of potential surplus. Waste, despite its thematic prominence, had never been the sole “counteracting force” identified in Monopoly Capital; new industries and wars (and their aftermath) had remained part of the analysis. Thus, a wave of “automobilization” in the context of postwar consumer liquidity, as well as the enormous increase in arms spending, were identified by Baran and Sweezy as important explanations of the postwar boom.74 Similarly, Sweezy and Huberman emphasized in Monthly Review the importance of the postwar reconstruction boom of Western Europe and the stimulus of growing trade within the Common Market; within a year of the publication of Monopoly Capital, their list of factors explaining the boom included military spending, deficit finance, tax subsidies and the growth of consumer debt (but not “waste” as such).75

To this list has been added the civilian spinoff from military technology and, especially, U.S. postwar economic hegemony (with its particular implications for the growth of world trade and capital). The specific combination of these factors, Sweezy argues, was sufficient to produce a unique stimulus to investment; it meant a major investment boom in key industries and rapid growth of capacity in all the leading capitalist economies (as well as some third world countries).

The war, indeed, “altered the givens of the world economic situation” a unique set of events had provided powerful counteracting forces. Yet, “every one of the forces which powered the long postwar expansion was, and was bound to be, self-limiting.”76 And so, with the exhaustion of the special conditions, there followed increased levels of unemployment, excess capacity (on a world scale) and lagging investment—stagnation both realized and operative.77

The displacement of waste was not the only change to Sweezy’s general theory of stagnation in the 1970s and 1980s. Monopoly Capital had focused upon characteristics reflecting the unique postwar position of U.S. corporations relatively secure from capitalist competitors of other countries; and, as U.S. international economic hegemony declined, so too did monopoly slip from the center of the analysis.

In Sweezy’s Four Lectures on Marxism (1981), the focus was upon the inherent tendency of capitalism toward overaccumulation, that tendency for productive power to grow “more rapidly than is warranted by society’s consuming power.” In this context, the significance attributed to monopoly was that it “intensified” the contradictions of the accumulation process—both by enhancing the ability to accumulate and by choking off outlets for investment. More stress, similarly, was placed upon the significance of “maturity” in the explanation of why counteracting forces (such as, in particular, the effect of new industries) tend to become weaker.78 In a very real sense, Sweezy returned in this period to earlier formulations of his theory.

The Kalecki/Steindl link between monopoly at the micro-level and stagnation at the macro-level, however, has remained integral to his argument: “the more monopolistic the economy, the stronger the tendency to stagnation.”79 Stagnation, Sweezy argues, is a “consequence of the specific form of overaccumulation of capital which characterizes capitalism in its monopoly phase.” Any attempt at analysis of developed capitalism, accordingly, must recognize the importance of monopolistic elements. Precisely because of its failure to incorporate this micro-element, Sweezy has argued that Keynesian theory could not explain the emergence of “stagflation” in the 1970s.80

In the course of interpreting and analyzing current developments from the perspective of his general theory, Sweezy (in conjunction with Magdoff) has made Monthly Review during this period a unique medium in which to trace the changing fortunes of U.S. capitalism. Two such developments have been of particular interest. In the “embryo of an adequate theory of inflation under conditions of monopoly capitalism,” Sweezy and Magdoff argued in 1974 that the power of giant corporations to control prices and wages intensified the tendency toward stagnation; at the same time, however, it meant that attempts to stimulate the economy generated inflation.81 Having ignored “the monopolistic structure of the economy,” however, (bastard) Keynesian technicians accordingly were confounded in their efforts to stimulate a stagnating economy because “much of the increase in monetary demand was dissipated in inflationary price increases rather than in expanded output.”82

In addition to stagflation, the theoretical issue which Sweezy has explored most in recent years is the growth of financial speculation. After years of noting the growth of debt (both private and public), he has increasingly called attention to the coexistence of a stagnant production sector and a prosperous and expanding financial sector. In 1983 Sweezy and Magdoff emphasized that a growing part of money capital was not directly transformed into productive capital, but instead was used to purchase financial instruments. There was no necessity, however, that this money would find its way, directly or indirectly, into real capital formation. “It may just as well remain in the form of money capital circulating around in the financial sector, fueling the growth of financial markets which increasingly take on a life of their own.”83

Following two years in which financial transactions proliferated and new financial instruments (options on futures, etc.) multiplied, Magdoff and Sweezy suggested that “the financial sphere has the potential to become an autonomous subsystem of the economy as a whole, with an enormous capacity for self-expansion.” In that growing divergence between a stagnant economy and a financial explosion, however, they noted in 1985 that one definite possibility was “a bust of classic dimensions.” Indeed, the most remarkable thing was that it had not yet occurred.84

But, why has this been happening? Sweezy and Magdoff have recently argued that behind the financial explosion has been a growing concentration of wealth and income. There has been:

a swelling of the pool of fresh savings seeking profitable investment outlets. However, since the demands on this pool for investment in the production of real goods and services have been declining, more and more of it has been flowing into purely financial channels, giving rise to a vast expansion of the financial superstructure of the economy and an unparalleled explosion of speculative activity of all kinds.85

The explanation is entirely consistent with Sweezy’s general theory of stagnation. (As well, it can be related to the discussions by Kalecki and Steindl of “rentiers’” and “outside” savings, respectively.86) In this respect, it may confirm Sweezy’s oft-repeated view that understanding stagnation as the “normal” state of a developed capitalist economy is a far more fruitful assumption than the full employment assumption which underlies neoclassical economics.

Whether that is sufficient for Sweezy is another matter; he has become increasingly dissatisfied with the adequacy of our understanding of the relation between the spheres of finance and production: “In economics, we need a theory which integrates finance and production, the circuits of capital of a financial and a real productive character much more effectively than our traditional theories do.”87

Paul Sweezy continues to analyze the characteristics of a mature capitalist economy—a work begun more than a half century ago. The dean of radical economics remains an eager student of history, tracing the new forms of the stagnationist tendencies of monopoly capitalism. In all this, he retains the enthusiasm of his youth. Even his earlier pessimism about workers in developed capitalist economies has been tempered with the passage of the Golden Age: if “the global system has now entered a crisis phase that gives every sign of being irreversible, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are entering a new chapter in the history of the metropolitan working classes.”88

No one would be happier than Paul Sweezy himself. He ended, indeed, his forward to Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital: “The sad, horrible heart-breaking way the vast majority of my fellow countrymen and women, as well as their counterparts in most of the rest of the world, are obliged to spend their working lives is seared into my consciousness in an excruciating and unforgettable manner.”89

To help put an end to such a situation remains the goal of Paul Sweezy at the age of seventy-eight. That, indeed, is the lesson that he draws from his general theory of stagnation: it “teaches us that what we need is not the reform of monopoly capitalism but its replacement by a system that organizes economic activity not for the greater glory of capital but to meet the needs of people to live decent, secure, and to the extent possible, creative lives.”90

Postscript 2004

This piece, written well over a decade ago, begins with the words: “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.” I had in mind, of course, that remarkable sequence of work from the 1930s through the ’80s 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) 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 counter-tendencies). And, that has meant a stress on what is unique to capitalism—on the manner in which capital by its very nature drives in a direction away from the satisfaction of human needs and the development of human potential. It meant that Paul helped us keep our eyes on the prize. The greatest legacy that Paul left us therefore is his practice and vision of what Marxian political economy should be. We will never forget.


  1. Lawrence S. Lifshultz, “Could Karl Marx Teach Economics in America?” Ramparts 12, no. 9 (April 1974): 54.
  2. Meghnad Desai, Marxian Economics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1979), 1–2.
  3. Gerd Hardach, Dieter Karras, & Ben Fine, A Short History of Socialist Economic Thought (London: Edward Arnold, 1978), 60.
  4. Paul M. Sweezy, “Toward a Critique of Economics,” Monthly Review (January 1970) reprinted in Paul M. Sweezy, Modern Capitalism and Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), 58.
  5. “Interview with Paul M. Sweezy,” Monthly Review (April 1987): 15.
  6. Michael Hillard, “Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy: Biographical Notes,” in Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff (eds.), Rethinking Marxism: Essays for Harry Magdoff & Paul Sweezy (New York: Autonomedia, 1985), 400.
  7. Lifshultz, “Could Karl Marx Teach,” 55; Sweezy, “Interview,” 8.
  8. Hillard, “Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy” Paul M. Sweezy, Four Lectures on Marxism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1981), 12–13.
  9. Paul M. Sweezy, “Preface”, The Theory of Capitalist Development (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1956), vi.
  10. Paul M. Sweezy, “Introduction” to Joseph A. Schumpeter, Imperialism and Social Classes (New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1951), xxii–xxv.
  11. Sweezy, “Interview,” 5.
  12. Sweezy, “Interview,” 5.
  13. Sweezy, “Interview,” 2; Hillard, “Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy,” 401
  14. “Interest Groups in the American Economy,” in National Resources Committee, The Structure of the American Economy, Part 1, Appendix 13 (Washington, 1939) reprinted in Paul M. Sweezy, The Present as History (New York: Monthly Review, 1953).

  15. Paul M. Sweezy, “The Decline of the Investment Banker,” Antioch Review (spring 1941), reprinted in Sweezy, The Present as History, 192, 195.
  16. Sweezy, Theory of Capitalist Development, 166–9.
  17. Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly and Competition in the English Coal Trade, 1550–1850 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938), 119.
  18. Sweezy, Monopoly and Competition, 148–9.
  19. Paul M. Sweezy, “Demand Under Conditions of Oligopoly,” Journal of Political Economy (1939), reprinted in American Economics Association, Readings in Price Theory (Chicago: Richard D. Irwin, 1952).
  20. Sweezy, “Demand Under Conditions of Oligopoly,” 406. Information on the 1938 American Economics Association meetings comes from the Proceedings and Paul M. Sweezy.
  21. Michel De Vroey,” Value, Production and Exchange” in Ian Steedman et al, The Value Controversy (London: Verso, 1981) 173; see also Diane Elson, “The Value Theory of Labour,” in Diane Elson (ed.), Value: The Representation of Labour in Capitalism (London: CSE Books, 1979), 116–122ff.
  22. See, for example, Bruce McFarlane, Radical Economics (New York: St. Martins Press, 1982), 139.
  23. Journal of Economic Literature (June 1974), 482–3.
  24. Shigeto Tsuru, “Mr. Dobb and Marx’s Theory of Value,” reprinted in Shigeto Tsuru, Towards A New Political Economy (Collected Works of Shigeto Tsuru, Vol. 13) (Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd., 1976), 99.
  25. Paul M. Sweezy, “The Crisis of American Capitalism,” Monthly Review (October 1980): 3.
  26. Alvin Hansen, American Economic Review (March 1939) reprinted in American Economics Association, Readings in Business Cycle Theory (Homewood: Richard D. Irwin, 1951).
  27. Paul M. Sweezy, “John Maynard Keynes,” Science & Society (Fall 1946) reprinted in Sweezy, Present as History, 257n.
  28. “Hansen and the Crisis of Capitalism,” reprinted in Sweezy, Present as History, 268–70.
  29. Richard Gilbert et al, An Economic Program for American Democracy (New York: Vanguard, 1938). See the discussion in Robert Lekachman, The Age of Keynes (New York: Random House, 1966), 154–6.
  30. Sweezy has himself suggested this analogy in “Keynes as a Critic of Capitalism,” Monthly Review (April 1981): 34.
  31. Sweezy, “Hansen and the Crisis of Capitalism,” Present as History, 272.
  32. Sweezy, “Hansen and the Crisis of Capitalism,” Present as History, 273.
  33. Sweezy, “John Maynard Keynes,” Present as History, 258.
  34. “Marxian and Orthodox Economics,” Science & Society (Summer 1947), reprinted in Sweezy, Present as History, 313.
  35. Sweezy, Present as History, 315.
  36. “John Maynard Keynes,” Sweezy, Present as History, 261.
  37. Sweezy, “Interview,” 18.
  38. “A Reply to Critics,” The Economic Review (April 1950), reprinted in Sweezy, Present as History, 353–4, 360.
  39. Sweezy, “Crisis of American Capitalism,” 3.
  40. An excellent collection of essays by (among others) Sweezy, Kalecki and Steindl relevant to the discussion in this section may be found in John Bellamy Foster and Henryk Szlajfer (eds.) The Faltering Economy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984).
  41. Sweezy, “Interview,” 4; Hillard, “Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy,” 402.
  42. “Recent Developments in American Capitalism,” Monthly Review (May 1949) reprinted in Sweezy, Present as History, 118.
  43. “A Crucial Difference between Capitalism and Socialism,” Sweezy, Present as History, 347.
  44. See also “Peace and Prosperity,” Sweezy, Present as History, 364.
  45. Sweezy, “Crisis of American Capitalism,” 2–3.
  46. Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966), 56.
  47. “On the Theory of Monopoly Capitalism, “ in Paul M. Sweezy, Modern Capitalism and Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), 41.
  48. Econometrica (October 1954): 531–3.
  49. Paul M. Sweezy, “Paul Alexander Baran: A Personal Memoir,” Paul M. Sweezy and Leo Huberman (eds.) Paul A. Baran (1910–1964): A Collective Portrait (New York : Monthly Review, 1965), 29. Paul A. Baran, The Political Economy of Growth (New York: Monthly Review Press).
  50. Baran and Sweezy, Monopoly Capital, 3.
  51. Baran and Sweezy, Monopoly Capital, 3–8.
  52. Sweezy, “Paul Alexander Baran,” 53.
  53. Baran and Sweezy, Monopoly Capital, 71.
  54. Michal Kalecki, Theory of Economic Dynamics (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1968), 61.
  55. Josef Steindl, Maturity and Stagnation in American Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976 [1952]), 245.
  56. J. K. Galbraith, The Affluent Society (Houghton Mifflin, 1958); Vance Packard, The Waste Makers (New York, 1960). The Edsel was a grotesquely styled Ford model that became an immediate laughing stock on its production.
  57. Sweezy, Theory of Capitalist Development, 286. See also the discussion in Steindl, Maturity and Stagnation, 55–66.
  58. Baran, Political Economy of Growth, 23n.
  59. Paul A. Baran, “The Political Economy of Backwardness,” Manchester School (January 1952) reprinted in A. N. Agarwala and S. P. Singh, The Economics of Underdevelopment (London: Oxford, 1958), 81, 83; Isaac Deutscher in Sweezy and Huberman, Paul A. Baran, 94.
  60. Harry Magdoff, “The Achievement of Paul Baran,” in Sweezy and Huberman, Paul A. Baran, 77.
  61. Baran, Political Economy of Growth, 88–92.
  62. Kalecki, Theory of Economic Dynamics, 51.
  63. See, for example, Michael A. Lebowitz, “Monopoly Capital,” Studies on the Left (September–October 1966). Within this framework, selling expenses and taxes—to the extent to which they are a charge against surplus value—reduce the realizable rate of exploitation and thus the slope of the profit share line (i.e., increase output but not profits). It is logical to add these in order to reconstruct the surplus generated within production. Estimating the surplus, however, by adding undifferentiated government expenditures and advertising (according to the theory that these “absorb” a portion of the surplus) to profits means that profits made possible by the former are counted twice. See also Joseph D. Phillips, “Appendix: Estimating the Economic Surplus,” Monopoly Capital, 369–91. For a more sympathetic view of the concept of the surplus, see the comprehensive discussion in John Bellamy Foster, The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism, ch. 2. See also the essays by Henryk Szlajfer in Foster and Szlajfer, The Faltering Economy.
  64. Baran and Sweezy, Monopoly Capital, 8–9.
  65. Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York: Monthly Review, 1974), x.
  66. 66. Baran and Sweezy, Monopoly Capital, 9.
  67. The same silence was present in The Theory of Capitalist Development. Sweezy’s principal concern at that time, though, was to show that mature capitalism had an inherent tendency to stagnation; its failure to provide jobs, in short, was systemic rather than accidental or the result of a failure of intelligence. Those without jobs, thus, were the issue.
  68. Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy, “The Steel Strike in Perspective,” Monthly Review (February 1960): 357–61.
  69. Sweezy and Magdoff subsequently suggested that the theoretical silence in Monopoly Capital was in part the reflection of this political silence: “Marxism leads us to expect an intimate relation between revolutionary theory and revolutionary practice: where either is missing the other will be at the very least severely handicapped.” “Twenty-Five Eventful Years,” Monthly Review (June 1974): 7–8.
  70. Paul M. Sweezy, “Marx and the Proletariat,” Monthly Review (December 1967) reprinted in Sweezy, Modern Capitalism, 163.
  71. Sweezy, Modern Capitalism, 163, 165.
  72. Paul M. Sweezy, “Modern Capitalism,” Monthly Review (June 1971) reprinted in Sweezy, Modern Capitalism, 13.
  73. Hillard, “Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy,” 397.
  74. Baran and Sweezy, Monopoly Capital, 244-5 and Chapter 8, “On the History of Monopoly Capitalism” in general.
  75. “The Common Market,” Monthly Review (January 1962): 391; “End of the Boom?” Monthly Review (April 1967): 4.
  76. “Why Stagnation?” Monthly Review (June 1982), reprinted in Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, Stagnation and the Financial Explosion (New York: Monthly Review, 1987), 35–6.
  77. For a discussion of world excess capacity in the steel industry as “a harbinger of events to come,” see Paul M. Sweezy and Harry Magdoff, “Steel and Stagnation, “ Monthly Review (November 1977).
  78. Paul M. Sweezy, Four Lectures on Marxism (New York: Monthly Review, 1981) 39, 42–3.
  79. Sweezy, “Crisis of American Capitalism,” 3.
  80. Paul M. Sweezy, “The Economic Crisis in the United States,” Monthly Review (December 1981): 4, 8.
  81. “Keynesian Chickens Come Home to Roost,” Monthly Review (April 1974) reprinted in Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy, The End of Prosperity: The American Economy in the 1970s (New York: Monthly Review, 1977), 21–2.
  82. Sweezy, “Crisis of American Capitalism,” 6; see also “Inflation without End?” Monthly Review (November 1979): 9.
  83. Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, “Production and Finance,” Monthly Review (May 1983) reprinted in Magdoff and Sweezy, Stagnation and the Financial Explosion, 96–7.
  84. “The Financial Explosion,” Monthly Review (December 1985) reprinted in Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, Stagnation and the Financial Explosion, 147, 149–150.
  85. Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, “Capitalism and the Distribution of Income and Wealth,” Monthly Review (October 1987): 13–4.
  86. See also Kalecki, Theory of Economic Dynamics, 159; Steindl, Maturity and Stagnation, 113–121.
  87. Sweezy, “Interview,” 19.
  88. Sweezy, Four Lectures on Marxism, 86n.
  89. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, xii.
  90. “Introduction,” Magdoff and Sweezy, Stagnation and the Financial Explosion, 25.
2004, Volume 56, Issue 05 (October)
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