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Economism, sometimes spelled economicism,[1] is "the most orthodox [position in Marxism which] provides one-to-one correlations between the socio-economic base and the intellectual superstructure".[2][3] Economism refers to the distraction of working-class political activism from a global political project to purely economic demands. The concept encompasses rewarding workers in socialism with money incentives, rather than incentivizing workers through revolutionary politics. The term is originally associated with Vladimir Lenin's critique of trade unionism.

In Marxist analysis


The term economism was used by Lenin in his critique of the trade union movement, in reference to how working class demands for a more global political project can become supplanted by purely economic demands.[4] Economistic demands include higher wages, shorter working hours, secure employment, health care, and other benefits.[4]

In his criticism of economism, Lenin's view was that the political figure of the worker could not necessarily be inferred from the worker's social position.[5] Under capitalism, the worker's labor power is commodified and sold in exchange for wages.[5] While negotiating the sale of labor power is necessary for survival under capitalism, Lenin argued that participating in that negotiation did not guarantee a worker's political existence and in fact obscured the underlying political stakes.[5]

Lenin used the term in his attacks on a trend in the early Russian Social Democratic Labour Party around the newspaper Rabochaya Mysl.[6] Among the representatives of Russian economicism were Nikolai Lochoff, Yekektarina Kuskova, Alexander Martynov, Sergei Prokopovich, K. M. Takhtarev and others.[7]

Cultural Revolution

The charge of economism is frequently brought against revisionists by anti-revisionists when economics, instead of politics, is placed in command of society; and when primacy of the development of the productive forces is held over concerns for the nature and relations surrounding those productive forces.

"Smashing Economism", 1967 Chinese Propaganda Poster.

Economism became a familiar term in Chinese political discourse only during the Cultural Revolution.[4] Mao Zedong criticized the material incentives of economism, arguing that production must be led by revolutionary politics and to reward productivity with money promoted the wrong values and was inconsistent with making factories a bastion of proletarian politics.[8]

In particular, economism became the most important issue during the Shanghai People's commune.[4] Although many historical narratives of the Cultural Revolution have described economism as an effort on the part of the Chinese Communist Party leadership to bribe workers into political passivity, more recent scholarship argues that those narratives are only "partially correct, at best."[9] Academic Yiching Wu argues, for example, that although local bureaucrats were in fact willing to make economistic concessions to workers, they had no control over the eruption of worker grievances and demands.[9] Instead, economistic demands during this period were rooted in worker's actual conditions and driven by factors including the deterioration of work conditions during the state-driven economic accumulation of the late 1950s, the weakness of Chinese trade unions, and the collapse of the economy during the Great Leap Forward.[10]

Other uses

The term is often used to criticize economics as an ideology in which supply and demand are the only important factors in decisions and outstrip or permit ignoring all other factors.[11] It is believed to be a side effect of neoclassical economics and blind faith in an "invisible hand" or laissez-faire means of making decisions, extended far beyond controlled and regulated markets and used to make political and military decisions.[11] Conventional ethics would play no role in decisions under pure economism, except insofar as supply would be withheld, demand curtailed, by moral choices of individuals.[11] Thus, critics of economism insist on political and other cultural dimensions in society.[11]

Old Right social critic Albert Jay Nock used the term more broadly, denoting a moral and social philosophy "which interprets the whole sum of human life in terms of the production, acquisition, and distribution of wealth", adding: "I have sometimes thought that here may be the rock on which Western civilization will finally shatter itself. Economism can build a society which is rich, prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably wide diffusion of material well-being. It can not build one which is lovely, one which has savor and depth, and which exercises the irresistible power of attraction that loveliness wields. Perhaps by the time economism has run its course the society it has built may be tired of itself, bored of its own hideousness, and may despairingly consent to annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer."[12]

See also


  1. ^ Garber, Megan (30 June 2014). "Why 'Efficiency' Is Inhumane". The Atlantic. Retrieved 20 December 2020.
  2. ^ Policy Futures in Education, Volume 3, Number 1, 2005. Transmodernism, Marxism and Social Change: some implications for teacher education Mike Cole, Bishop Grosseteste College, Lincoln, United Kingdom
  3. ^ Young, R.M. (1998) Marxism and the History of Science The Human Nature Review. "The defining feature of Marxist approaches to the history of science is that the history of scientific ideas, of research priorities, of concepts of nature and of the parameters of discoveries are all rooted in historical forces which are, in the last instance, socio-economic. ... There are variations in how literally this is taken ... There is a continuum of positions."
  4. ^ a b c d Wu, Yiching (2014). The cultural revolution at the margins : Chinese socialism in crisis. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-674-41985-8. OCLC 881183403.
  5. ^ a b c Russo, Alessandro (2020). Cultural Revolution and revolutionary culture. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 180. ISBN 978-1-4780-1218-4. OCLC 1156439609.
  6. ^ Lenin, Vladimir (1902). "What Is To Be Done?". Retrieved 5 October 2023.
  7. ^ "ЭКОНОМИСТЫ • Большая российская энциклопедия - электронная версия". Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  8. ^ Karl, Rebecca E. (2010). Mao Zedong and China in the twentieth-century world : a concise history. Durham [NC]: Duke University Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-8223-4780-4. OCLC 503828045.
  9. ^ a b Wu, Yiching (2014). The cultural revolution at the margins : Chinese socialism in crisis. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. pp. 98–99. ISBN 978-0-674-41985-8. OCLC 881183403.
  10. ^ Wu, Yiching (2014). The cultural revolution at the margins : Chinese socialism in crisis. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. pp. 99–101. ISBN 978-0-674-41985-8. OCLC 881183403.
  11. ^ a b c d U.C. Mandal, Dictionary Of Public Administration (2007), p. 149, ISBN 9788176257848, Sarup & Sons publishing
  12. ^ Nock, Albert Jay. Memoirs Of A Superfluous Man. p. 147.