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(MARXISM) any theory or approach which emphasizes the economic determinants of social forms while failing to give adequate consideration to the RELATIVE AUTONOMY often possessed by IDEOLOGIES, the STATE, etc, and by human AGENCY.



an opportunist trend in the formative period of Russian Social Democracy (late 19th and early 20th centuries) that sought to adapt the tactics and organization of Social Democracy to the spontaneous course of the working-class movement. “Its political essence was summed up in the programme: ‘for the workers—the economic struggle; for the liberals—the political struggle’” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 26, pp. 343–44).

Among the leading Economists were K. M. Takhtaroev, S. N. Prokopovich, E. A. Kuskova, V. N. Krichevskii, A. S. Pikker (A. Martynov), and V. P. Makhnovets (Akimov). The major centers of economism were the newspaper Rabochaia mysl’ and the journal Rabochee delo (the organ of the Union of Russian Social Democrats Abroad). Economism was the first manifestation of opportunism in Russian Social Democracy; it was a variety of international opportunism—that is, of Bernsteinism. The spread and development of economism were promoted by (1) the absence of ideological and organizational unity among the Russian Social Democrats, (2) the insufficient degree of class consciousness on the part of the proletariat—a class that had just taken the first step on the path of independent struggle and was drawing recruits among the peasants, for whom the purely economic side of the struggle was the most comprehensible one, (3) the massive influx of petit bourgeois elements in the Social Democratic organizations, (4) the successful economic strikes during the period of the industrial upsurge, and (5) the arrests that eliminated the most experienced and theoretically well-trained revolutionaries.

The ideas of economism were first formulated in the first issue of the newspaper Rabochaia mysl’: “The struggle for economic status, the struggle against capital on the grounds of vital daily interests, and the strike as the instrument of this struggle—such is the motto of the workers’ movement.” The Economists, distorting the Marxist tenet that all class struggle is political struggle, maintained that any spontaneous action by the workers constitutes political action. According to the Economists, what was meant by political struggle was not the independent class struggle of the proletariat (destined to lead the bourgeois-democratic revolution) but legal opposition within the framework of the autocratic system and in alliance with other “oppositionist social strata” (for example, worker participation in the bureaus that had jurisdiction over the factories and in urban self-government and the submission of demands to the tsarist government for “protective labor legislation”).

By denying the proletariat’s need to voice its own political demands and to struggle for such demands, the “new school in Social Democracy” (as the Economists called themselves) subordinated the workers’ movement to the liberal bourgeoisie. The economists exalted the spontaneity of the workers’ movement and maintained that the proletariat would develop its own socialist awareness in the process of spontaneous struggle. They denied the necessity of a political party of the working class.

The Economists’ basic ideas were most consistently and fully set forth in the Credo—a document written by Kuskova in the early part of 1899. The spread of economism in the Social Democratic movement led to the increasing organizational and ideological fragmentation of the local groups and committees of the RSDLP. As an expression of the ideas of bourgeois liberalism in the workers’ movement, economism met with the decisive criticism of revolutionary Marxists on the one hand and with the approval of Russian liberals on the other.

Lenin struck the first blow against the newly formed trend of economism in February 1897, at a meeting between the “old men” and the “youths” of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class; the “youths,” who were influenced by “legal Marxism” and Bernsteinism, had assumed the leading positions in the league. In August 1899, from his exile in Shushenskoe, Lenin wrote “A Protest by Russian Social Democrats” (against the Economists’ Credo). The “Protest,” which was signed by 17 exiled Social Democrats, declared economism to be a manifestation of bourgeois influence on the proletariat and pointed out the close ties between economism and Western revisionism. In 1901 the newspaper hkra took up the struggle against the Economists; the decisive role in the ideological defeat of economism was played by Lenin’s book What Is to Be Done? (1902).

The influence of economism waned with the development of the workers’ movement and the growing role of the Iskra supporters in the Social Democratic organizations. By 1903 only a few of the Social Democratic organizations continued to espouse economism. At the Second Congress of the RSDLP (1903) the delegates representing the Economists (members of the League of Russian Social Democracy Abroad and of the St. Petersburg Workers’ Organization) opposed the inclusion in the party program of the point on the dictatorship of the proletariat and the introduction of socialist consciousness in the workers’ movement. After the congress, most of the Economists became Mensheviks.

The struggle of the revolutionary Marxists against economism —a struggle headed by Lenin—was a necessary condition for the establishment of that new type of proletarian party which was the Bolshevik Party.


Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. (see Index Volume, part 1, pp. 718–20).
Leninskaia “Iskra.” Moscow, 1970.
Kostin, A. F. Lenin—sozdatel partii novogo tipa (1894–1904 gg.). Moscow, 1970.
Iz islorii bor’by leninskoi partiiprotiv opportunizma. Moscow, 1966.
Istoriia KPSS, vol. 1. Moscow, 1964.


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