The Monthly Review School

One of our readers wants to know what is my opinion of the “Monthly Review School.” Before reading this reply, I strongly urge readers to read my reply on the “transformation problem” if you have not already done so. This reply depends in part on the arguments developed in that reply.

The Monthly Review School is a tendency in U.S. Marxism centered on the monthly socialist magazine Monthly Review, which has been published since 1949. Though it has never been organized in the form of a political party, it is held together by certain common ideas in both economics and politics.

The book “Monopoly Capital,” published in 1966 and co-authored by the Marxist economists Paul Sweezy (1910-2004) and Paul Baran (1910-1964), is considered by its members to be the leading work produced by the school. The central figure of the tendency was the remarkable Harvard-trained U.S. economist Paul Sweezy.

In addition to Paul Sweezy, the most important figures in the Monthly Review School included Paul Baran, who like Sweezy was a professional economist and author of the “Political Economy of Growth” (1955); Leo Huberman (1903-1968), a talented popularizer of Marxist ideas; Harry Braverman (1920-1976), who was an industrial worker and trade unionist before joining Monthly Review and whose main work is “Labor and Monopoly Capital”; and economist Harry Magdoff (1913-2006), author of the “Age of Imperialism” (1969) among other works.

The current editor of Monthly Review, is John Bellamy Foster (1953- ), a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. He can be considered the school’s current leader. He is very knowledgeable in economics, and has written much about Marx’s views on ecology and agriculture.

The Monthly Review School bears the marks of the society that produced it, that of the United States. The United States not only had by far the highest degree of capitalist development in the last century. It was—and is—the center of world imperialism. Along with Great Britain, the United States by the beginning of the current century had become the leading example of the decay of capitalism in the imperialist countries.

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Value Theory, the Transformation Problem and Crisis Theory

This reply owes a lot to the work of Professor Anwar Shaikh of the New School, especially his 1978 essay “Marx’s Theory of Value and the Transformation Problem” and his 1982 article “Neo-Ricardian Economics: A Wealth of Algebra, A Poverty of Theory

The transformation problem in classical political economy

The law of value as developed by classical political economy held that the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of labor that under the prevailing conditions of production is on average necessary to produce it.

According to the classical economists, the value of a commodity determines its natural price around which market prices fluctuate in response to changes in supply and demand. The fluctuations of market prices around values—or what comes to exactly the same thing, according to classical political economy, natural prices—regulate the distribution of capital among the various branches of production.

As far as the classics were concerned, natural price (to use Adam Smith’s terminology) or cost or price of production (to use Ricardo’s preferred terminology) was identical to the value of the commodity.

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