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Economism, briefly, is the guarantee of the adequacy of the economy to its own reproduction without the necessary implication of other factors, or elements, such as the state, ideology, law, or subjectivity. Economism takes the lawlike nature of the economy as a given and understands its effects on other elements to be that of a simple linear cause.[1]

Economism attributes to economic factors a dominant and immediate role in shaping social relations, and therefore considers willful voluntary intervention of the political, ideological, or military sort into social relations to be ineffective. Among Marxists, the term is often used derogatively, accusing its referent of a supine attitude toward impersonal economic forces and lack of revolutionary vigor. Lenin employed the idea in 1899 in some articles which criticized sections of the Russian left for concentrating on economic reforms to the exclusion of political agitation.[2] According to Tom Bottomore, in 1901 Lenin defined "economism" as having the following features (Bottomore's words): "a vulgarization of Marxism which downgraded the conscious element in social life; a striving to restrict political agitation and struggle; a failure to understand the need to 'establish a strong and centralized organization of revolutionaries'." Lenin's 1902 "What is to be Done?" criticized trade union consciousness as economistic and reiterated that socialism would not come about as an automatic result of economic development.

Economism is strongly associated with the German Social Democratic Party's theorist Eduard Bernstein (1850 - 1932) who advocated gradual reform to improve the economic condition of the working class and the abandonment of radicalism.

Antonio Gramsci associated "economism" with "the iron conviction that there exist objective laws of historical development similar in kind to natural laws, together with a belief in a predetermined teleology like that of a religion."[3]

The debate about economism is an aspect of of the debate within historical materialism about the relative importance of economic and technological factors, compared with "superstructural" factors such as ideology, politics, culture, and class consciousness, in determining the progress of societies.[4]

Economism in 19th century Russian social democracy

The text in this section is a copy of material from the article "Economism" at

In Russian Social-Democracy (early twentieth century): The newspaper Rabochaya Mysl (Workers' Thought) (1897-1902) and the magazine Rabocheye Dyelo (Workers' Cause) (1899-1902) were organs of the "economists."

In 1899 there appeared Credo, a manifesto of the "economists," which was drawn up by E.D. Kuskova. When Lenin, then in exile, received a copy of Credo, he wrote A Protest by Russian Social Democrats, in which he sharply criticized the programme of the economists. The "economists" theoretically limited the aspirations of the working class to an economic struggle for higher wages and better working conditions, asserting that further political struggle was the business of the liberal bourgeoisie. They denied the vanguard role of a party with the working class, considering that the party should merely observe the spontaneous process of the movement and register events.

In their deference to spontaneity in the working-class movement, the economists were against the importance of revolutionary theory and class-consciousness, and instead asserted that socialist ideology could arise out of the spontaneous movement. Since they were against instilling working class values in workers, Lenin explained, they then were in fact preaching for the continuation of instilling bourgeois values in workers.

Non-Marxist usage

According to Wikipedia, conservatives Albert Jay Nock and Wilhelm Roepke have both used the term to denote overemphasis of the economic.[5]


  1. (Jason Read, The Micropolitics of Capital, 2003, p 23.)
  2. Tom Bottomore, "economism", in his A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, 1991. He cites Lenin, "Retrograde trend in Russian Social-Democracy", and "Apropos of the Profession de foi" in Collected Works, vol. 4.
  3. Gramsci, "Some Theoretical and Practical Aspects of Economism," in Selections from the Prison Notebooks, part II, sect. 1. Cited in Bottomore, "economism".
  4. Bottomore, "economism".
  5. Wikipedia, Economism and Talk:Economism. Retrieved Oct 2013.