A Blast from the Past: Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital

A Blast from the Past: Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital

Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, two Marxist economists, began writing Monopoly Capital in the mid-1950s. After Baran died in 1964, Sweezy put the already revised manuscript into final form, and Monthly Review Press published the work in 1966. The New Left in the United States adopted Monopoly Capital almost immediately as a standard text—one of those books “everyone” read or discussed in a study group or recommended to radical friends. Outside the United States, the book enjoyed equal (and perhaps longer lasting) success. Between 1966 and 1974, Monopoly Capital was translated into sixteen languages.

As I considered how to reconsider Monopoly Capital, several “rules of the game” appealed to me: first I’d recollect whatever I could from my 1970 reading (not much it turns out); then I would reread the book cold—that is, without any background material or commentary; and finally I’d use whatever might help to understand why Monopoly Capital suited the New Left so well. I haven’t set out to evaluate the book’s economic theory in relation to orthodox Marxism or contemporary left economics; those analyses already exist, and I’m not qualified to add to the debate. The economics of Monopoly Capital interests me now only in that it “spoke” to American New Leftists a generation ago. Of course, the book spoke about much else as well.

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Lima