In the ninety-six years since the publication of their "Manifesto," the school of political economy founded by Karl Marx and Friedriech Engels has been more often damned than understood. In part, the attacks are the result of sheer intellectual laziness in refusing to read what the Marxists wrote, but some of the blame rests on Marx's followers themselves. Anyone interested in understanding what all the shouting is really about would be required to plow through an enormous list of incredibly difficult and abstruse tomes written in German or Russian. No systematic and coherent treatment of the subject and its development through the last century has been available in English.
Dr. Sweezy has filled that gap, and filled it surprisingly well. He does not attempt to cover the whole complex area of Marxist thought, but he hits the high spots, illuminating them brilliantly. The important elements, from economic determinism through surplus value to the class interpretation of recent history, are stated, interpreted, and criticized. No such complete survey of a system of economic doctrines has appeared in recent years.
The book falls into two almost exact halves, the first of which will interest only the economist who wishes to explore the complexities of Marx's thought down to its roots. The second part of the book, however, is the first effective treatment of the Marxian view of world history yet published. Dr. Sweezy is a convinced Marxist--the reader cannot escape that fact--but his thought is refreshingly free of the usual overtones of a commentator dangling at the end of Browder's tether. This volume is the work of a pure Marxian Socialist, not of a self-contradicting member of any "radical" party.
Whether this book will "convert" many of its readers is quite another problem. Most of the stock counter-arguments to Marxian thought can be levelled against this, the most recent addition to the subject. The unrealistic division of modern society into two and only two classes, the distortion of culture into economics plus incidentals, and the ascription of cohesiveness to groups which are obviously not cohesive are all part and parcel of the development of Marxian analysis as it is presented in "The Theory of Capitalist Development."
The author must, however, be heartily congratulated on his accomplishment. Describing and condensing any scheme of thought is enormously difficult, and Dr. Sweezy has boiled Marxism down to its essential elements without losing its unique flavor.