Paul Sweezy, Marxist scholar

Paul Sweezy, Marxist scholar

The Sunday LA Times ran a lengthy, rather complimentary obituary on Paul Sweezy, a Marxist scholar who, among others things, published the small yet influential Monthly Review magazine. Yes, I will admit to being startled that the LA Times came to praise, not slime him.

Through more than 100 articles and 20 books, Sweezy became the defining voice of Marxism in North America, revered by several generations of leftists as “the living proof,” The Nation’s Daniel Singer once wrote, “that, even in the very heart of imperialism it was possible to resist and to stick to one’s principles.”

Sweezy’s objective in all his work was to create an authentic North American Marxism, one that was “nondogmatic and nonfundamentalist.” By 1963, Business Week magazine observed that Sweezy and Huberman had fashioned “a brand of socialism that is thorough-going and tough-minded,” independent of both Moscow and Beijing. “Their analysis of the troubles of capitalism,” the magazine observed, “is just plausible enough to be disturbing.”

He played an important role in stopping the grotesqueries of McCarthyism.

<In 1954> Sweezy was subpoenaed during an investigation of subversive activities by the New Hampshire attorney general. Instead of asserting his privilege against self-incrimination under the 5th Amendment, Sweezy challenged the authority of his inquisitors by citing the 1st Amendment’s freedom of expression guarantees. Cited for contempt of court and jailed, he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in reversing his conviction in 1957, issued one of its most important endorsements of academic freedom. That decision was widely seen as one of several that ended the McCarthy-era witch hunts.

Even those opposed to Marxism may pause to reflect that Marxists were on the front lines opposing McCarthy and often spoke out, at serious risk to themselves, when others were too intimidated to do so.

Sweezy was born wealthy and lived off a trust fund.

“I don’t live like a proletariat and I don’t pretend to,” he once told the Los Angeles Times. “I think I am lucky to be able to devote a piece of the economic surplus [to] fighting the system.”

Even the NY Times gave him a favorable obit. Go figure!