Economic Materialism

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Economic Materialism


(also economic determinism), the dogmatic simplification of the materialist interpretation of history. In essence, economic materialism reduces the wealth of the dialectics of social development to the operation of a predominant age-old “economic factor.” While recognizing economics as the subject of history, economic materialism views people as the passive “element” of the productive forces or as the products of production relations. From the productive forces and production relations, economic materialism schematically deduces all other phenomena of social life that have no active role of their own. Economic materialism views people solely as personifiers of economic categories, or economic personae.

The ultimate expression of economic materialism can be found in the vulgar sociologism of V. M. Shuliatikov. Economic materialism as a whole is characteristic of the opportunist “tradition” (of E. Bernstein, for example). It is also manifested in the works of certain Marxists, such as A. Labriola, P. Lafargue, and F. Mehring. As V. I. Lenin pointed out, what led to the emergence of economic materialism was the assimilation of Marxism “in an extremely one-sided and mutilated fashion [by those who] had learnt by rote certain ‘slogans,’ certain answers . . . without having understood the Marxist criteria for these answers” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 20, p. 88). Criticism of economic materialism is a necessary condition of the creative development of Marxism.


Lenin, V. I. “O karikature na marksizm.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 30.
Lafargue, P. Soch., vol. 3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931. (Translated from French.)
Gramsci, A. Izbr. proizvedeniia, vol. 3: Tiuremnye tetradi. Moscow, 1959. (Translated from Italian.)


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