Note to Self: A not atypical tankie: Paul M. Sweezy:
An Obituary (2004): Marxist Economist Paul Sweezy Is Dead: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal: I would like Paul Sweezy to be remembered for the following passage: "The publication in 1952 of Stalin’s Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR would make possible today a more satisfactory reply.…In the light of [Stalin’s] explanation…I would like to amend the statement which Mr. Kazahaya criticizes.…[The amended statement] conveys my meaning more accurately than the original wording and is, I think entirely in accord with Stalin’s view." (Paul Sweezy (1953): The Present as History (New York: Monthly Review Press), p. 352.) Paul Sweezy called himself an intellectual. Paul Sweezy publicly revised his opinion on an analytical issue in order to agree with the position taken by a genocidal tyrant. Fill in the blank: Paul Sweezy was a ...
Note to Self: Paul Sweezy in the 1950s, getting increasingly disturbed at news of the GULAG and yet also willing to stand up and say in public that:
The political leadership in the Soviet Union is acting as the agent of the working class.... [T]he working class is the ruling class in the Soviet Union…. [There is] more genuine democracy in the economic and social spheres in the Soviet Union than anywhere else in the world…
And willing to accept correction on matters of technical economic theory from Josef Stalin:
The publication in 1952 of Stalin’s Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR would make possible today a more satisfactory reply.… In the light of [Stalin’s] explanation…I would like to amend the statement which Mr. Kazahaya criticizes.… [The amended statement] conveys my meaning more accurately than the original wording and is, I think entirely in accord with Stalin’s view…
Paul Sweezy: The Present as History (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1953).
pp. 50-1: "Burnham alleges that[for] a society [to be] socialistit must be. fully democraticWithout entering into a discussion of the precise meaning of the term
democracy', we may agree that socialism has been historically thought of asfully democraticin all spheres'. We may also agree that this does not apply to the Soviet Unioni in the political sphere, where there is a single-party system and certain restrictions on civil liberty. At the same timethere is more genuine democracy in the economic and social spheres in the Soviet Union than anywhere else in the world..."
p. 62: "From the standpoint of economic science, the political leadership in the Soviet Union is acting as the agent of the working class. No relation of exploitation exists between controllers and workers.The real issue is one of general interests and objectives, which are prescribed by the structure and form of social relations as a whole. In this sense the objective of those who direct the Soviet economy can only be production of use values which corresponds in every way to the interests of the working class. We might, therefore, say that the working class is the ruling class in the Soviet Union..."
p. 76: "those who understand that in essence Marxism is a method of analysis and a guide to action will be in little doubt that Schwartz has mistaken the enrichment of Marxism by the two great twentieth-century revolutions [of Lenin and Mao] for its decomposition..."
p. 286: "[Hayek] even goes so far as to compare Nazi anti-semitism with the liquidation of the kulak in the USSR. The two things, of course, have absolutely nothing in common. The Jew remains a Jew; the kulak could, and most of them did, become a collective farmer on exactly the same terms as his fellows..."
p. 352: "The publication in 1952 of Stalin's Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR would make possible today a more satisfactory reply. In the light of [Stalin's] explanation I would like to amend the statement which Mr. Kazahaya criticizes.[The amended statement] conveys my meaning more accurately than the original wording and is, I think entirely in accord with Stalin's view..."
Hoisted from the Archives (2004): What Do I Think of Paul Sweezy?: People are asking me what I think about Paul Sweezy...
What do I think about Paul Sweezy?
Well, first I think it's annoying to have to spend time figuring out whether a paragraph Sweezy writes is (a) what Sweezy believed, (b) what Sweezy thought would be good for the Movement to believe, or (c) what Sweezy did not believe and did not think it would be good for the Movement to believe but that he felt he had to pretend to believe because it was the Party Line.
Going roughly in chronological order...
I think that the Theory of Capitalist Development (1942) is mostly what Sweezy thought. He's still young enough, convinced enough, and bold enough to (largely) say what he thinks. It is clear that--for example--when he argues that after World War II ends those nations that wind up in the socialist camp will develop much more rapidly and successfully than those that wind up in the capitalist camp, this is something he really believes.
But even in TCD there are some passages that I, at least, find it hard to believe that Sweezy believed them. For example, on p. 191 there is Sweezy's dismissal of Marx's "The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production.... Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at lat reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument.... The knell of private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated" as "not so much a prediction as a vivid description of a tendency." Sweezy cannot say, under Party discipline as he is, that there is a jot or tittle of the Apocalypse of St. Karl of Trier that is wrong, but he can redefine Marx's prediction as a mere tendency that can be overwhelmed for centuries if not millennia by counter-tendencies that somehow Marx doesn't find space to talk about.
Nevertheless, TCD is valuable in two dimensions. It is valuable as an explication and updating of Marx. It is valuable as the record of the intellectual position a very smart man takes up as he tries to wrestle with the world under the assumption that the Apocalypse of St. Karl of Trier is gospel. I think TCD is the most valuable of Sweezy's books.
Sweezy's contribution to the intra-Marxist Dobb-Sweezy debate on the origin of capitalism is also quite valuable. Sweezy has a powerful advantage over his intellectual adversaries: they are trying to prove that Marx was right, while he is trying to figure out what happened. And Sweezy was right: urban commerce was a principal knife in the prying-open of the feudal oyster.
Later on Sweezy--to my mind at least--deterioriates. In Sweezy's 1953 essay collection, The Present as History, it is hard to avoid seeing the Party hack. For example, consider claims that the "political leadership in the Soviet Union is acting as the agent of the working class.... [T]he working class is the ruling class in the Soviet Union," or that there is "more genuine democracy in the economic and social spheres in the Soviet Union than anywhere else in the world." These simply cannot be taken seriously as attempted descriptions and analyses of the state of the Soviet Union in the late 1940s and early 1950s by anybody who has made any attempt to inform themselves. They are party-line bilge.
The mid-1960s book, Monopoly Capital I find harder to classify. Very interesting (and I think valuable) in MC is the neo-Galbraithian neo-Veblenesque critique of consumer society: capitalism's problem is not that it is less productive than socialism but that its productivity is directed toward useless, counterproductive, and happiness-destroying ends. This critique does, I think, have a lot of truth in it, and I have always found it quite valuable. It does, however, lead me to places I do not want to go: "One need not have a specific idea of a reasonably constructed automobile, a well planned neighborhood, a beautiful musical composition, to recognize that the model changes that are incessantly imposed upon us, the slums that surround us, and the rock-and-roll that blares at us exemplify a pattern of utilization of human and material resources which is inimical to human welfare...." Sweezy would have been very happy indeed as the Commissar for Culture who banned Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company.
In MC Sweezy (and Baran) have the potential for freedom. By the mid-1960s there is no longer a serious Party to be a hack for, no longer a Stalin for a stooge to follow. But they don't take advantage of it. The health of the Movement takes a certain priority over the intellect, in the same way that the Party line had done in previous decades. There is a bait-and-switch on foreign policy going on in the book: On one page the Communist Bloc is peaceful and subject to brutal attack by the likes of Dean Acheson who is "organiz[ing] counterrevolutions in Eastern Europe" (never mind that Acheson was a believer in containment, not rollback. Hell! Dulles was a believer in containment, not rollback, save when he wanted to appear otherwise for domestic political purpose). On another page we have "the revolutionary peoples have achieved a series of historic victories... Vietnam, China, Korea, Cuba, and Algeria.... It is no longer mere rhetoric to speak of a world revolution: the term describes... the dominant characteristic of the historical epoch." It's as if Sweezy (and Baran) expect their readers to be stupid: not to recognize that the World Communist Movement cannot at the same time be peaceful and defensive and also expansionist and militant.
Moreover, there are statements in MC about the U.S. domestic economy in the mid-1960s that are extremely hard to credit as attempts at analysis. To argue in the mid-1960s boom that "capitalism’s basic law of motion, temporarily thwarted [during World War II] soon resumed its sway. Unemployment kept steadily upward, and the character of the new technologies of the postwar period sharply accentuated the disadvantages of unskilled and semi-skilled workers.... By the end of the 1950s the real state of affairs could no longer be concealed: it was impossible to continue to believe in the existence of a meliorative trend..." Such passages are things it would be helpful for the Movement to believe. They are not conclusions reached through serious analysis." The failure to theorize about just why the U.S. and Britain wound up on the USSR's side in World War II similarly strikes me as a place where Sweezy (and Baran) dare not go, because the conclusions they will reach will be unhelpful to the movement.
As for Sweezy's other and later writings.... I always found anything cowritten with Magdoff to be worth reading.... I always found anything cowritten with Huberman to be not worth reading.... I always wondered how much of the stuff about the revolutionary economic and political potential of third-world socialism was meant to be taken as serious analysis, and how much just to keep up the spirits of the Movement by telling them earnestly that somewhere socialism was advancing and utopia was being constructed...
Christopher Phelps (1999): An interview with Paul M. Sweezy: "Q: Do you regret any of those positions in the early days of the magazine? The editorial after Stalin died in 1953, for instance, called him one of the greatest men in history, I believe...
...SWEEZY: Something like that. Well, in some ways he was, but he had his underside, too. I guess one should have been more cautious, but I think you had to take positions which were pretty much unambiguous. Either you were for or against the regimes, the actually existing socialist countries. I should have been, of course, much more perceptive, selective, and better informed. No doubt about that. I'm sure I wouldn't write anything the same now as I would have at any given time in the past. I wouldn't want to go back and try to rewrite those articles.
Q: Did you ever respond to Irving Howe's famous article "New Styles in Leftism" in Dissent, where he referred to you as a leading authoritarian leftist?
SWEEZY: No, but I did one time appear on a program someplace with Irving Howe. What I remember is Howe taking the position that I was the most dangerous of all, because I knew what was going on, and still kept supporting these horrors. See, the rest of the left were just dupes, who believed the nonsense. Pretty early on, there was a position like the Webbs's - that the Soviet Union was an ideal new society. Gradually one had to get over that. But not by turning around, becoming an enemy, joining the other side. That's always a difficult line to follow, I think, but it's absolutely essential.
Q: And in some way it involved defense of those states?
SWEEZY: Yes, yes, indeed...
Q: Then again, by the sixties, your criticisms of the Soviet Union were quite penetrating, of a very fundamental nature, calling it a new class society.
SWEEZY: Yes, to my way of thinking, the problem of the revolutions of the twentieth century is that they did not bring to power the proletariat organized as a class. What they did bring to power is tightly organized revolutionary parties drawn from elements of various sections of society. Those parties expropriated the traditional bourgeoisie but did not do away with the capital-labor relation as such. They substituted the state for the private capitalists as the employer of labor, unifying the many capitals which had grown up independent of each other in the course of capitalist history. That is not to say that all units of capital were put under one management, of course - only that all the separate managements became subject to the same ultimate authority, which now assumed the life-and-death powers that had previously been exercised by the impersonal forces of the market.
The question then arose of what we should call these states. They weren't socialist, but were they capitalist? Charles Bettelheim and I had an exchange on this point, among others, that lasted a period of some years. Bettelheim thought that we should call the Soviet Union a capitalist society, but I thought that would introduce into our analysis preconceptions, expectations, and biases which would inevitably influence our findings and cause much confusion. To my way of thinking, the power, prestige, and privileges of the Soviet rulers did not derive from the ownership of private wealth but from unmediated control over the state apparatus and hence over total social capital. The Soviet Union, though a class society and not the socialist society it claimed to be, had none of the economic laws of motion comparable to those of capitalism. For example, there was nothing like the chronic unemployment typical of the West.
To me, the precise terminology made no great practical difference, so I called the Soviet Union, rather indeterminately, a post-revolutionary society. I held that most of the distortions in post-revolutionary societies could be traced to the conditions of capitalist hostility, that the behavior and ideology of the Soviet ruling class was the result of its long struggle against an economically and militarily more powerful enemy...
Sweezy Obituary Update: Hoisted from the Archives (2004): Paul Sweezy Obituary Update](http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movabletype/2004_archives/000386.html): You will note that my description above of Sweezy's writings in _The Present as History are value-neutral (for surely calling Stalin a genocidal tyrant is a value-neutral description of who and what he was). I apply no evaluation words to Sweezy himself. I invite readers to apply their own valuation words (and what those words should be is, I think, easy to ascertain: res ipsa loquitur, after all).
So note that every single negative evaluation of Sweezy attributed to me by people writing in the comment thread is in fact generated inside their own brains, and then ascribed to me for no other reason than what their own (bad) conscience tells them (correctly) that I must be thinking about Sweezy's morals.
I admit I did not expect such a large number of people to react by saying, essentially, that (a) what Sweezy did in compromising with Stalin was horrible, and (b) because it is horrible, what DeLong did in bringing it up is (c) blackening the memory of a great and good man. There's a certain problem of logic here.
Yet here they are: old (and new) leftists wrestling with (and losing to) their own bad consciences:
What is this crap? I generally like to tone of this weblog, but to choose the occasion of Paul Sweezy's death for a series of snide remarks and cheap insults, especially given that nothing here is based on more than one paragraph of his work, is really tasteless. I am surprised and disappointed.
Tom Slee, you should not be surprised or disappointed. So Brad does your assertion mean that every economic adviser during the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administration endorsed the slaughtering of millions of Vietnamese? And if they didn't why did they accept the appointments? Was it the patriotic opportunity to serve the country that made them overlook the fact that their policy prescriptions would aid the militarization of the economy and the slaughter of innocents? Your sanctimoniousness is as childish as it is pathetic.
It's hard to imagine Brad Delong accumulating a resume like this one. http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/profiles/sweezy.htm People still discuss Sweezy's work, even those who disagree with him (I mean, just think of the huge debates on the Sweezy-Dobb debate--Paul Sweezy unknown??? wow!). It's odd that someone whose work really does not receive much serious discussion, and most certainly won't receive much attention after his passing, would take this occasion to attack a fellow scholar.
Fifty years from now people will still be reading Sweezy's work. Fifty years from now NO ONE will know who Brad DeLong was. Some of the people making comments here really need to get beyond this childish "Marxism has been shown to have failed" and, so, anything associated with Marx must be rejected. This is anti-intellectualism at its worst.
The only time delong could touch sweezy is after his death...nota bene the timing...
it's obvious that approximately 90% of the posts here (including the one from delong) are from people that haven't read anything of sweezy. this whole thread is a bad joke. the fact that sweezy cited stalin is to his credit in my boo—-and i don't care whether he was right or wrong on the point in question (whatever it was, since delong made sure not to tell us). you don't think people were using the mere mention of "stalin" to discredit people back in 1953? It was worse then than now. sweezy was saying "fuck you" to mccarthyites and pious liberals, because he knew that he was practicing an altogether different sort of economics than the system modeling of those supportin the capitalism. now, I'M a capitalist. but there need to be analyses that don't take the entire system for GRANTED, that try to imagine it from OUTSIDE. that's part of what a marxian perspective allows for. you can use the perspective and not be an avowed supporter of stalin's crimes. the problem is that people like delong will respond to a critical analyis of capitalism as a whole as equivalent to a call for terrorist violence. but there's a difference between theoretical critique and practical politics. (a difference that stalinist and capitalist ideologues both deny.)
What a cowardly obituary on Sweezy you give. If you think his life and work add up only to those times he accommodated himself to Stalin, then you're still living in the Cold War.
I don't understand what Brad's point is. Is it that Stalin was wrong about everything and, so, no one could ever agree with Stalin? For instance, if Stalin (properly) corrected Sweezy's grammar then Stalin would necessarily be wrong and Sweezy would be a dupe by correcting his grammar? Brad is simply engaging in good old fashioned red-bating: Sweezy once thought Stalin's explanation for some economic situation was correct and, so, Sweezy was some sort of monster. In Brad's eyes, what else do you possibly need to know about Sweezy. This mean-spirited, illogical attack on a honorable man—Sweezy—really puts Brad's intellectual standing in question...
John Cochrane Prostitutes Himself to Republican Politicians Department: Monday Smackdown/Hoisted from 2015
Noah Smith: John Cochrane Smackdown: "John writes: 'My surprise in reading Noah is that he provided no alternative numbers. If you don't think Free Market Nirvana will have 4% growth, at least for a decade as we remove all the level inefficiencies, how much do you think it will produce, and how solid is that evidence?...' I don't really feel I need to produce an alternative to a number that was made up as a political talking point. Why 4 percent? Why not 5? Why not 8? Why not 782 percent? Where do we get the number for how good we can expect Free Market Nirvana to be? Is it from the sum of point estimates from a bunch of different meta-analyses of research on various free-market policies? No. It was something Jeb Bush tossed out in a conference call because it was 'a nice round number', after James Glassman had suggested '3 or 3.5'. You want me to give you an alternative number, using the same rigorous methodology? Sure, how about 3.1. Wait, no. 3.3. There we go. 3.3 sounds good. Rolls off the tongue..."
I must say, Cochrane here reminds me of one of my most favorite quotes from tank economist Paul M. Sweezy:
The publication in 1952 of Stalin's Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR would make possible today a more satisfactory reply to Mr. Kazahaya on the law of value under socialism.... Stalin's position is that... certain features of capitalism, particularly the operation of the price mechanism in the agricultural sector of the economy, have not yet been eliminated.... I should like to amend the statement which Mr. Kazahaya criticizes, by substituting "communist" for "socialist" and "communism" or "socialism." It would then read as follows: "In the economics of a communist society the theory of planning should hold the same basic position as the theory of value in the economics of a capitalist society. Value and planning are as much opposed, and for the same reasons, as capitalism and communism." This conveys my meaning more accurately than the original wording and is, I think entirely in accord with Stalin's view...
The point at issue was whether in a proper "socialist" economy—like the post-WWII Soviet Union claimed itself to be—the peasants were still enslaved to necessity in the form of the market (the "law of value") or, instead, free people collectively deciding what to produce in order to fulfill a societally-rational plan.
Sweezy had been claiming that the USSR was such—and that, in this dimension at least, was a better society than the USA.
Josef Stalin says: "Not so fast! Frog, hop!"
And Sweezy hops.
Now John Cochrane is not Paul M. Sneezy. J.E.B. Bush is not J.V. Djugashvili. But J.E.B. Bush decides to trump James "Dow 36000" Glassman in optimism, says in a conference call "why not 4%?" for the target economic growth rate, and then says: "Frog, hop!"
And John Cochrane hops, as high and as fast as he can.
This is not a dignified or an appropriate position for a university professor to place himself in. The point is to speak truth to power, not power to truth.