Sismondi, Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de

Sismondi, Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de

(zhäN shärl lāônär` sēmôNd` də sēsmôNdē`), 1773–1842, Swiss historian, economist, and critic. A member of the circle of Mme de Staël, he was a moderate liberal; his political views colored his writings. His celebrated History of the Italian Republics in the Middle Ages (16 vol., 1809–18; tr., abr. and rev., 1906) is marred by his Calvinist bias against the Roman Catholic Church, which he considered chiefly responsible for the loss of liberty in the Italian states. However, the work shows Sismondi to have been among the first historians to appreciate economic influence on cultural and political developments. Sismondi popularized the laissez-faire economics of Adam Smith in his De la richesse commerciale (1802). However, the social effects of the Industrial Revolution in England led him to become a critic of capitalism and a precursor of socialism in Nouveaux Principes d'économie politique (1819). In literary history, Sismondi's De la littérature du Midi de l'Europe (1813) helped found the romantic school of criticism. Sismondi considered literature a natural product of political and social institutions.
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Sismondi, Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de


Born May 9, 1773, in Geneva; died there June 25, 1842. Swiss economist and historian; one of the founders of petit bourgeois political economy.

Sismondi studied at the University of Geneva. He lived in France, Great Britain, and Italy, returning to Switzerland in 1798. In 1833 he became a member of the French Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques.

Influenced at first by the ideas of A. Smith, Sismondi later established his own system of economic views and laid the foundation for a new orientation in political economy— economic romanticism, which expressed the ideology of small-scale commodity producers. He sharply criticized capitalism and classical bourgeois political economy from the petit bourgeois Utopian position.

Sismondi revealed the contradictions and faults of capitalist accumulation: the replacement of workers by machines, the emergence of unemployment, increasing poverty among the popular masses, and child labor. He was one of the first to point out the contradiction between production and consumption, which is inherent in capitalism, and he concluded that economic crises were inevitable. Sismondi recognized the exploitative character of the capitalists’ profits, which he described as a deduction from the product of the workers’ labor. V. I. Lenin observed that Sismondi “raised the question of the contradictions of capitalism, and thereby set the task of making a further analysis” (Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 2, p. 194).

However, Sismondi did not offer a scientific solution for the questions he raised. Because he regarded wages as payment for labor, he could not explain the mechanism of the formation of surplus value. In analyzing unemployment, he uncritically borrowed the views of T. R. Malthus. He attributed crises of over-production to insufficient consumption by the working people. He concluded that under capitalism, shrinkage of the domestic market and stagnation of the productive forces are inevitable. Relying on Smith’s dogma, Sismondi advanced an erroneous thesis of the impossibility of realizing surplus value without foreign markets and “third parties,” or small-scale commodity producers.

Sismondi’s belief that small-scale commodity production is the ideal economic system revealed his failure to understand that such a system would inevitably develop into capitalist commodity production. He defended patriarchal society and the shop regulation of production, and he advocated the active interference of the government in the economy, with the goals of hindering technical progress (inasmuch as workers are forced out of work by machines), creating conditions for the participation of the workers in the distribution of profits, and forming special funds for social insurance. However, he was far from understanding the real class interests of the proletariat.

Sismondi wrote many works on the history of France and Italy. In them, as in his economic works, he defended small-scale production and tried to give his views a historical basis. Sismondi’s works are characterized by an abstract treatment of moral categories (”freedom” and “happiness,” for example), by a presentation that regards the extraction of practical lessons as the purpose of studying history, and by an exaggeration of the role of political institutions and the importance of the activities of legislators.

Sismondi’s petit bourgeois Utopian ideas laid the foundation for petit bourgeois theories of socialism. His economic views were adopted by the Narodniks (Populists), who insisted on a special, noncapitalist path of development for Russia.


Histoire des républiques italiennes du moyen âge, vols. 1-16. Zürich-Paris, 1807-18.
Histoire des Français, vols. 1-31. Paris, 1821-44.
Novye nachala politicheskoi ekonomii ili o bogatstve v ego otnoshenii k narodonaseleniiu, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1937. (Translated from French.)


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Manifest Kommunisticheskoi partii. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. “K kharakteristike ekonomicheskogo romantizma.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 2.
Anikin, A. V. lunost’ nauki. Moscow, 1971.

A. A. KHANDRUEV [23–1374–]

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