Paul M. Sweezy ’31, a Marxist economist and former Harvard professor known for founding a socialist journal, died of congestive heart failure last Saturday at his home in Larchmont, N.Y. He was 93.
Friends and family described him as an intellectual who was very warm to those he knew, regardless of whether he shared their political and economic viewpoints.
In 1949, Sweezy co-founded the Monthly Review, an independent socialist magazine, as a way to respond to the growing McCarthyism in the United States.
Sweezy believed he had a duty to speak out, according to his daughter Martha Sweezy.
In the 1950s, he was charged by the attorney general of New Hampshire with subversive activities for lecturing on socialism at the University of New Hampshire. The case, Sweezy v. New Hampshire, went to the U.S. Supreme Court and was ruled in favor of Sweezy.
“He knew he’d be targeted. There were FBI agents sitting in the back of the room taking notes,” Sweezy said. “But he joked that Monthly Review would fire him if he didn’t speak out.”
And it was Sweezy’s strong writing that brought in prominent intellectuals and made the magazine, intended for general readership, stand out, according to John Bellamy Foster, a University of Oregon professor and editor at the Monthly Review.
“Paul started in journalism. He wrote with great clarity and style,” Foster said.
The journal’s first issue featured an article written by Albert Einstein, and the magazine continually attracted famous thinkers such as W.E.B DuBois, Malcolm X and C. Wright Mills.
In his writings, Sweezy challenged classical economic theory. He wrote several books and authored roughly 100 articles over his life.
Foster described The Theory of Capitalist Development: Principles of Marxian Political Economy and Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order, which he co-authored with economist Paul A. Baran, as Sweezy’s most important works.
Both books illustrated Sweezy’s ability to see the larger picture in terms of economic analysis, Foster said.
“He tended to see further into the future and look back further than others. He had a very complete approach that was very distinctive,” Foster said.
As a Harvard undergraduate, Sweezy served as president of The Crimson.
He developed his Marxist views while studying at the London School of Economics. He returned to Harvard and earned his Ph.D. in economics in 1937.
Soon after graduating, Sweezy became a professor at his alma mater, but took a leave of absence from the University to serve in the Army during World War II. Working at the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, Sweezy was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for “outstanding achievement.”
After the war, Sweezy returned to Harvard, but he failed to received tenure because of his Marxist beliefs, and he quit with a couple of years left on his contract, according to his daughter.
Shortly thereafter, he started the Monthly Review, where he worked for the rest of his life.
“Monthly Review was his dream,” Martha Sweezy said. “He saw himself as a writer as much as an economist. Monthly Review was his venue for doing what he wanted to do.”
Sweezy is survived by his second wife, Nancy, his third wife, Zyrel, and his three children, Samuel, Lybess and Martha.