Historical School

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Historical School


a trend in vulgar bourgeois political economy that arose in Germany in the mid-19th century.

The historical school represented a bourgeois-landlord reaction to the scientific tenets of classical bourgeois political economy, which were unacceptable to the ruling classes. It was also a reaction to the growing workers’ movement and to socialist theories— Utopian socialism and the beginnings of scientific socialism—which reflected the interests of the workers. The historical school derived its name from the vulgar historical method, which its theorists tried to introduce into political economy. In 1843 the founder of the historical school, W. Roscher, published the Brief Principles of a Course in Political Economy From the Standpoint of the Historical Method. The most prominent representatives of the historical school were B. Hildebrand, whose most important work was Political Economy of the Present and the Future (1848; Russian translation, 1860), and K. Knies, whose principal work was Political Economy from the Standpoint of the Historical Method (1853).

Marx characterized the historical school as the extreme vulgarization of bourgeois political economy (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch. 2nd ed., vol. 26, part 3, p. 528). In contrast to other schools of vulgar bourgeois political economy, the historical school, under pressure of the rapid development of capitalism and bourgeois revolutions, professed to recognize the historical character of socioeconomic phenomena. However, the theorists of this school also attempted to use the historical method to substantiate the thesis of the eternity of private ownership of the means of production and of capitalist exploitation. The historical school recognized only evolutionary changes of secondary socioeconomic phenomena and processes and denied the objective inevitability of the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist mode of production. The representatives of the historical school ignored the most important achievement of classical bourgeois political economy—the idea of the objective character of economic laws. Proceeding from these views they denied the existence of objective economic laws common to all capitalist countries, and emphasized the uniqueness of the path of economic development taken by each country, a path supposedly determined by the different “spiritual principles” of various peoples.

Denial of the lawlike character of the economic life of society led the historical school to reject the very possibility of a universal theory of political economy based on an abstract method of research and to replace it with what was termed “national economy.” For this reason Marx called the historical school the graveyard of political economy. Nevertheless, the historical school could not completely ignore the theoretical arguments of other schools of vulgar political economy that defended the interests of the bourgeoisie. The school borrowed many tenets from preceding and contemporary currents of vulgar political economy. On questions of the origin of wealth and its distribution, the historical school adopted the theory of the three factors of production, expounded by the French bourgeois economist J. B. Say, which denied the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie on the spurious grounds that unearned income was created not by the workers but by the means of production—by the instruments of labor, by land, and so forth. The school defended the concept of subjective value, considering the source of a product’s value to be its usefulness and not the labor of hired workers expended in its manufacture. Representatives of the historical school regarded profit as a special form of wages, received by the employer in return for managing production. In reality, profit is the result of the capitalists’ gratuitous appropriation of the surplus value created by the workers. Therefore, profit is also received by those capitalists who do not participate in the management of their enterprises, this function being completely shifted to hired managers. Interest on a loan—which like capitalist profit is a particular form of surplus value, that is, the unpaid labor of hired workers—was depicted by representatives of the historical school as compensation to the capitalist for “abstention from use.”

By the 1870’s and 1880’s, the historical school was being supplanted by the subjective-psychological, the social-juridical, and other schools of vulgar bourgeois political economy. From the point of view of bourgeois apologists, these new schools possessed more effective ideological resources. A number of the ideas of the historical school are employed in modern bourgeois political economy.


Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch, 2nd ed., vol. 23, pp. 102, 217, 229–30, 240, 273–74, 335, 377, 628. Kapital, vol. 2. Ibid., vol. 24, pp. 132–33. Kapital, vol. 3. Ibid., vol. 25, pp. 245, 356, 392.
Marx, K. “Teorii pribavochnoi stoimosti” (vol. 4 of Kapital). Ibid., vol. 26, part 3, pp. 527–29.
Marx, K. F. Lassaliu, 16 iunia 1862 g. (Letter.) Ibid., vol. 30.
Engels, F. Daniel’sonu, 15 oktiabria 1888 g. (Letter.) Ibid., vol. 37.
Bliumin, I. G. “Istoricheskaia shkola v politicheskoi ekonomii.” Problemy ekonomiki, 1940, no. 10, pp. 129–45.


Historical School


(in folklore) one of the most influential trends in Russian folklore in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Unlike the adherents of the mythological school and of the theory of borrowings, the representatives of the historical school strove to explain Russian folklore by reference to Russian history and to discover where and when a particular oral poetic work developed and the historical events underlying it. Some members of the historical school, notably V. F. Miller, A. V. Markov, S. K. Shambinago, B. M. Sokolov, and Iu. M. Sokolov, examined Old Russian literary monuments, drawing numerous parallels with byliny (epic folk songs) and historical songs, and creating a historical geography of the Russian epic. They undertook a number of expeditions and published valuable collections (the collections of folklore of A. D. Grigor’ev, A. V. Markov, N. E. Onchukov, N. S. Tikhonravov and V. F. Miller; the folklore collection of V. F. Miller and E. N. Eleonskaia; V. F. Miller’s collections of historical songs; A. F. Sobolevskii’s collections of lyrical songs).

The adherents of the historical school regarded the byliny and historical songs as fragments of oral chronicle and sought to prove that byliny arose in the princes’ retinues. The inconsistencies between historical events and their treatment in byliny were said to result from the corruption of the text in the peasant milieu. The poetic content of epic poetry was never investigated by the historical school. For some time the school enjoyed an international reputation and influenced the work of scholars in a number of countries. For all its methodological shortcomings, the historical school made a significant contribution to the study of folklore, collecting and systematizing an enormous amount of material.


Miller, V. F. Ocherki russkoi narodnoi slovesnosti, vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1897–1924.
Azadovskii, M. K. Isloriia russkoi fol’kloristiki, vol. 2. Moscow, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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