A Marxist America

Monopoly Capital

by Paul A. Baran, by Paul M. Sweezy
Monthly Review Press, 401 pp., $8.75

Until his death in 1964, Paul Baran was virtually the only left-wing Marxist economist in the United States who held a full-time academic appointment. Since he was nothing if not outspoken in his beliefs, he was undoubtedly a trial for the authorities at Stanford, who, to their credit, resisted continual pressure from patriotic organizations to fire him. Somewhat less to their credit the university repeatedly passed over him for salary increases until finally the Economic Department protested in his behalf. Nevertheless when he died, people of many political opinions paid tribute to his personal courage and warmth as well as to his intellectual penetration.

Paul Sweezy, too, has suffered because of his Marxist ideas. Released from Harvard in 1942 under circumstances that aroused much resentment in the academic community, he was harassed during the McCarthy days by a zealous State district attorney whose efforts were finally curbed only by the United States Supreme Court. Since then he has been asked to teach only on rare occasions by a few audacious institutions including, I am happy to report, my own, and he has mainly devoted himself to publishing (with Leo Huberman) the left-wing Marxist magazine, The Monthly Review, together with books from the same press.

I mention these biographical details to provide a setting for a book that is so far from the run-of-the-mill of American social science as to require an introduction of this kind. Working in an isolation from the academic community which was partly enforced, and partly self-imposed, Baran and Sweezy have produced an appraisal of American society, at once bitter and perhaps embittered, that is totally at odds with the interpretation of American society we find in the books of most professors. This flavor of academic heresy is unusual only in America, however. If I judge correctly, the image of American society that arises from their pages approximates (and gives additional substance to) the way our society is seen and understood, not only in Russian and Chinese intellectual circles, but in many important centers of thought in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. If for no other reason, this fact should be sufficient to justify a careful study of this book.

BUT THERE IS ANOTHER REASON. I would also strongly urge every non-Marxian economist in America to study this book as a test of his own beliefs. This is not because I believe the Baran-Sweezy analysis to be essentially correct—indeed, as I hope to make clear, I think in important respects it is deeply flawed. It is, rather, that unlike most books we read, this one attacks prevailing beliefs at their roots. The book may arouse an emotional defensiveness in the reader, as it does in me, but at least it forces him to spell out his defense, rather than allowing him the complacency of unchallenged assumptions.

Baran’s and Sweezy’s book can be best considered, I think, in three ways: as a moral indictment, as an economic model, and as a theory of power …

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Letters

Monopoly Capital July 7, 1966