Paul Mattick 1955

Review of Paul Sweezy’s The Present As History

Source: Western Socialist, Boston, USA, May-June 1955;
Transcribed: by Adam Buick.

The Present As History. By Paul M. Sweezy. Monthly Review Press (376pp., $5.00);

Mr. Sweezy, an editor of Monthly Review and author of a highly regarded but quite muddled Theory of Capitalist Development, presents in this book a collection of book reviews and essays written firing the last fifteen years. Aside from three short and insignificant papers, all the reprinted material is still available in its original publication in various magazines. Its reappearance in book form is difficult to understand, particularly because the review, the editorial, and even the space-restricted essay are not the best media for the consideration of comprehensive theories. To review the reviews of books, of which many are no longer of real interest, is an awkward affair. It may be said, however, that within the limits of his media, Sweezy’s comments on works written by Toynbee, Burnham, Hallgarten, Sternberg, Veblen, Hansen, Pigou, and so forth, are interesting and justified not only from his own point of view but also from any other realistic and honest social attitude. Wherever Sweezy applies Marxian criticism to capitalist theories and ideologies he is quite successful, but where he tries to square his Marxism with the realities of Russian society he remains unconvincing. It should be noted, moreover, that what is particularly good in the book is not so much due to his Marxism as to his technical training as an economist. His researches in the structure of the American economy, though of interest to Marxists, are nevertheless more in the spirit of the New Deal economics. Issues such as the centralization of American capital, the changing role of the investment banker, interest groups within the economy, etc., may have emerged as well from any depression-period Congressional investigation of concentration and monopoly. In fact some of this research was undertaken on behalf of the New Deal government. But Sweezy’s rather conciliatory attitude towards the Keynesian brand of economics and his apparent lack of the specific dogmatism of the party-communist, does not alter the essentially apologetic nature of his work.