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Economism is a term in Marxist discourse. It was used by Vladimir Lenin in his attacks on a trend in the early Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party around the newspaper Rabochaya Mysl and the writer Tony Cliff:
The Economists [in Russia] limited the tasks of the working class to an economic struggle for higher wages and better working conditions, etc., asserting that the political struggle was the business of the liberal bourgeoisie. They denied the leading role of the party of 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 belittled the significance of revolutionary theory and class-consciousness, asserted that socialist ideology could emerge from the spontaneous movement, denied the need for a Marxist party to instil socialist consciousness into the working-class movement, and thereby cleared the way for bourgeois ideology. The Economists, who opposed the need to create a centralized working-class party, stood for the sporadic and amateurish character of individual circles [or collectives]. Economism threatened to divert the working class from the class revolutionary path and turn it into a political appendage of the bourgeoisie.
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. This debate was most notable upon Deng Xiaoping assuming leadership of the Communist Party of China, criticising the Maoist line as ultra-leftist and accusing them of building socialism before the economy was ready. In turn, Maoists criticised Deng Xiaoping for abandoning socialism in favour of opening up the Chinese economy to capitalist reforms in a needless pursuit of expertise and recognition from capitalist nations to fuel growth.
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. 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. 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. Thus, critics of economism insist on political and other cultural dimensions in society.
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".
- Lenin, V.I. "A Talk With Defenders of Economism". Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
- Nock, Albert Jay. Memoirs Of A Superfluous Man. p. 147.
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