V. I.   Lenin

Book Review: A. Bogdanov. A Short Course of Economic Science

Written: Written in February 1898
Published: Published in April 1898 in the magazine Mir Bozhy, No. 4. Published according to the text in th magazine.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 4, pages 46-54.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
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A. Bogdanov. A Short Course of Economic Science. Moscow, 1897. Publ. A. Murinova’s Bookshop. 290 pp. Price 2 rubles.

Mr. Bogdanov’s book is a remarkable manifestation in our economic literature; not only is it “no superfluous” guide among a number of others (as the author “hopes” in his preface), it is by far the best of them. In this note, therefore, we intend to call the reader’s attention to the outstanding merits of the book and to indicate a few minor points which could, in our opinion, be improved upon in future editions; in view of the lively interest displayed by our reading public in economic questions, it is to be expected that further editions of this useful book will soon be forth coming.

The chief merit of Mr. Bogdanov’s Course is the strict adherence to a definite line from the first page to the last, in a book that treats of many and very extensive problems. From the outset the author gives a clear-cut and precise definition of political economy as “the science that studies the social relations of production and distribution in their development” (3), and he never deviates from this point of view, one that is often but poorly understood by learned professors of political economy who lapse from “the social relations of production” to production in general and fill their ponderous courses with a pile of empty banalities and examples that have nothing to do with social science. Alien to the author is the scholasticism that often impels compilers of textbooks to indulge in “definitions” and in an analysis of every aspect of each definition; the clarity of   his exposition, actually gains, rather than loses, by this, and the reader gets a clear conception, for example, of such a category as capital, both in the social and in the historical sense. In his Course, Mr. Bogdanov bases the sequence of his exposition on the view that political economy is the science of the historically developing systems of social production. He begins his Course with a brief exposition of “general concepts” (pp. 1-19) of the science and ends with a brief “history of economic views” (pp. 235-90), outlining the subject of the science in Section C: “The Process of Economic Development”; he does not give his outline dogmatically (as is the case with the majority of textbooks), but by means of a characteristic of the periods of economic development in their proper sequence: the periods of primitive clan communism, slavery, feudalism and guilds, and, finally, capitalism. This is precisely what an exposition of political economy should be. The objection may be raised that under these circumstances the author is inevitably compelled to break up one and the same theoretical division (e. g., money) between different periods and thereby repeat himself. But this purely formal short coming is more than compensated by the fundamental mer its of the historical exposition. And is it really a short coming? The repetitions are quite insignificant and are of benefit to the beginner because he is better able to grasp the more important postulates. The treatment of the various functions of money in the various periods of economic development, for example, shows the student clearly that the theoretical analysis of these functions is not based on abstract speculation but on a precise study of what actually happened in the course of the historical development of mankind. It provides a more complete conception of the particular, historically determined, systems of social economy. The whole task of a handbook of political economy is, of course, to give the student of that science the fundamental concepts of the different systems of social economy and of the basic features of each system; the whole task is one of placing in the hands of the student who has mastered the elementary handbook a reliable guide to the further study of the subject, so that, having understood that the most important problems of contemporary social   life are intimately bound up with problems of economic science, he may acquire an interest in this study. In ninety nine cases out of a hundred this is precisely what is lacking in handbooks of political economy. Their shortcoming is due not so much to the fact that they are usually limited to one system of social economy (i.e., the capitalist system) as to their inability to focus the reader’s attention on the basic features of that system; they are unable to give a clear definition of its historical significance and to show the process (and the conditions) of its emergence, on the one hand, and the tendencies of its further development, on the other; they are unable to represent the different aspects and different manifestations of contemporary economic life as component parts of a definite system of social economy, as manifestations of the basic features of that system; they are unable to give the reader reliable guidance, because they do not usually adhere to one particular line with complete consistency; and, lastly, they are unable to interest the student, because they have an extremely narrow and incoherent conception of the significance of economic questions and present economic, political, moral, and other “factors” in “poetic disorder.” Only the materialist conception of history can bring light into this chaos and open up the possibility for a broad, coherent, and intelligent view of a specific system of social economy as the foundation of a specific system of man’s entire social life.

The outstanding merit of Mr. Bogdanov’s Course is that the author adheres consistently to historical materialism. In outlining a definite period of economic development in his “exposition” he usually gives a sketch of the political institutions, the family relations, and the main currents of social thought in connection with the basic features of the economic system under discussion. The author explains how the particular economic system gave rise to a certain division of society into classes and shows how these classes manifested themselves in the political, family, and intellectual life of that historical period, and how the interests of these classes were reflected in certain schools of economic thought, for example, how the interests of developing capitalism were expressed by the school of free competition and how, at a later period, the interests of the same   class were expressed by the school of vulgar economists (284), the apologist school. The author rightly points out the connection between the position of definite classes and the historical school (284), as well as the school of Katheder-reformers[7] (the “realistic” or “historico-ethical” school), which, with its empty and false conception of the “non-class” origin and significance of juridico-political institutions (288), etc., must be characterised as the school of “compromise” (287). The author connects the theories of Sismondi and Proudhon with the development of capitalism and with good reason relegates them to the category of petty-bourgeois economists; he shows the roots of their ideas in the interests of a specific class in capitalist society, the class that occupies the “middle, transitional place” (279), and recognises without circumlocution the reactionary import of such ideas (280-81). Thanks to the consistency of his views and his ability to examine the different aspects of economic life in their relation to the fundamental features of the economic system under discussion, the author has given a correct assessment of such phenomena as the participation of the workers in the profits of an enterprise (one of the “forms of wages” that “can very rarely prove profitable for the employer” [pp. 132-331) or the production associations which, “being organised within capitalist relations,” “in reality serve only to increase the petty-bourgeoisie” (187).

We know that it is precisely these features of Mr. Bogdanov’s Course that will give rise to more than a few reproaches. It stands to reason that representatives and supporters of the “ethico-sociological” school in Russia[8] will be dissatisfied. Among the dissatisfied there will also be those who assume that “the question of the economic conception of history is purely academic,”[1] and many others.... But apart from this, one might say partisan, dissatisfaction, the objection will be raised that the posing of questions so extensively has led to the extraordinarily condensed exposition of the Short Course which, in the brief   space of 290 pages, deals with all periods of economic development, from the clan community and savagery to capitalist cartels and trusts, as well as the political and family life of the world of antiquity and the Middle Ages, and with the history of economic views. Mr. A. Bogdanov’s exposition really is condensed to the highest degree, as he him self states in his preface, wherein he says plainly that his book is a “conspectus.” There is no doubt that some of the author’s terse notes, dealing mostly with facts of a historical character, but sometimes with more detailed problems of theoretical economics, will not be understood by the beginner who wishes to learn something of political economy. We, however, do not think that the author should be blamed for this. We would even say, without fear of being accused of paradoxes, that such notes should be regarded as a merit and not a shortcoming of the book under review. For, indeed, were the author to think of giving a detailed exposition, explanation and basis for every such note, his book would have attained immeasurable dimensions quite out of keeping with the purposes of a short guide. And it would be impossible to outline, in any course, no matter how extensive, all the data of modern science on all periods of economic development and on the history of economic views from Aristotle to Wagner. Had he discraded all such notes, his book would positively have been worsened by the reduction of the scope and significance of political economy. In their present form these terse notes will, we think, be of great benefit both to teachers and students who use the book. Concerning the former this is more than true. The latter will see from the sum total of these notes that political economy cannot be studied carelessly, mir nichts dir nichts,[2] without any previous knowledge, and without making the acquaintance of very many and very important problems in history, statistics, etc. Students will see that they cannot become acquainted with problems of social economy in its development and its influence on social life from one or even from several textbooks or courses that are often distinguished by their “facility of exposition”   as well as by their amazing emptiness, their meaning less phrase-mongering; that the most vitally important questions of history and present-day reality are indissolubly bound up with economic questions and that the roots of the latter are to be found in the social relations of production. Such, indeed, is the chief purpose of any guidebook—to give the basic concepts of the subject under discussion and to show in what direction it is to be studied in greater detail and why such a study is important.

Let us now turn to the second part of our remarks and point out those places in Mr. Bogdanov’s book that, in our opinion, stand in need of correction or expansion. We hope the respected author will not demur at the trivial and even hole-picking nature of these remarks: in a conspectus individual phrases and even individual words have incomparably greater significance than in an extensive and detailed exposition.

Mr. Bogdanov, in general, uses only the terminology of the school of economics to which he adheres. But when he speaks of the form of value he replaces that term by the expression “formula of exchange” (p. 39, et seq.). This seems to us to be an unfortunate expression; the term “form of value” is really inconvenient in a brief handbook, and it would probably be better to say instead: form of exchange or stage of development of exchange, since, otherwise, we get such expressions as “predominance of the second formula of exchange” (43) (?). In speaking of capital, the author was mistaken in omitting the general formula of capital which would have helped the student to master the fact that trading and industrial capital are of the same kind.

In describing capitalism, the author omitted the question of the growth of the commercial-industrial population at the expense of the agricultural population and that of the concentration of the population in the big cities; this gap is felt all the more because the author, in speaking of the Middle Ages, dealt in detail with the relations between countryside and town (63-66), while in respect of the modern town he said only a couple of words about the countryside being subordinated to it (174).

In discussing the history of industry, the author determinedly placed the “domestic system of capitalist   production”[3] “mid-way between artisan production and manufacture” (p. 156, Thesis 6). This simplification does not seem to us, in the present case, to be very convenient. The author of Capital described capitalist domestic industry in the section on machine industry and attributed it directly to the transforming effect which the latter exerts on old forms of labour. Actually those forms of domestic labour that prevail, both in Europe and in Russia, in the dressmaking industry, for example, cannot by any means be placed “mid way between artisan production and manufacture.” They come later than manufacture in the historical development of capitalism and it would have been worth while, we think, to say a few words about this.

In the chapter on the machine period of capitalism,[4] a noticeable gap is the absence of a paragraph on the reserve army and capitalist over-population, engendered by machine industry, on its significance in the cyclical development of industry, and on its chief forms. The very scanty mention the author makes of these phenomena on pages 205 and 270 are clearly insufficient.

The author’s statement that “during the past fifty years” “profit has been increasing more rapidly than rent” (179) is too bold an assertion. Not only Ricardo (against whom Mr. Bogdanov mentions the point), but Marx as well affirms the general tendency of rent to increase with particular rapidity under all and any circumstances (rent may even increase when the price of grain is decreasing). That reduction in grain prices (and in rent under certain circumstances), brought about recently by the competition of the virgin fields of America, Australia, etc., became acute only in the seventies, and Engels’ note to the section on rent (Das Kapital, III, 2, 259-60[9]), devoted to the present-day agrarian crisis, is formulated with much greater caution. Engels here postulates the “law” of the growth of rent in civilised   countries, which explains the “amazing vitality of the class of big landlords,” and further says only that this vitality “is gradually being exhausted” (allmählig sich erschöpft).

The paragraphs devoted to farming are also marked by excessive brevity. The paragraph on (capitalist) rent shows only in the barest outline that it is conditioned by capitalist farming (“In the period of capitalism land remains private property and takes on the role of capital," 127—and that is all!). In order to avoid all sorts of misunderstandings, a few words, in greater detail, should have been said about the emergence of the rural bourgeoisie, the condition of the farm labourers, and the difference in their condition and that of the factory workers (a lower standard of living and requirements, remnants of their attachment to the land or of various Gesindeordnungen,[5] etc.). It is also a pity that the author did not touch on the genesis of capitalist rent. After the mention he made of the coloni[10] and dependent peasants and, further, of the rent paid by our peasants, he should have given a brief characteristic of the course taken by the development of rent from labour rent (Arbeitsrente) to rent in kind (Produktenrente), then to money rent (Geldrente), and finally to capitalist rent (cf. Das Kapital, III, 2, Kap. 47[11])

In treating of the supplanting of subsidiary industries by capitalism and the resultant loss of stability experienced by peasant economy, the author expresses himself as follows: “In general the peasant economy becomes poorer— the sum total of values produced decreases” (148). This is most inexact. The process of the ruination of the peasantry by capitalism consists in its dispossession by the rural bourgeoisie, which derives from that same peasantry. Mr. Bogdanov could hardly, for example, describe the decline of peasant farming in Germany without mentioning the Vollbauer.[6] In the place mentioned the author speaks of the peasantry in general, and follows this up immediately with an example from Russian reality; well, to speak of the   Russian peasantry “in general” is a more than risky business. On the same page the author says: “The peasant either engages in farming alone or he goes to the manufactory,” that is, we add on our own part, he becomes either a rural bourgeois or a proletarian (with a tiny piece of land). Mention should have been made of this two-sided process.

Lastly, we must mention the absence of examples from Russian life as a general drawback of the book. On very many questions (for instance, on the organisation of production in the Middle Ages, the development of machine industry and railways, the growth of the urban population, crises and syndicates, the difference between manufactories and factories, etc.) such examples taken from our economic literature would have been of great importance, since the absence of examples with which he is familiar makes it much more difficult for the beginner to master the subject. It seems to us that the filling of these gaps would not greatly increase the size of the book and would not increase the difficulty of distributing it widely, which is very desirable in all respects.


[1] This is the opinion of the Russkaya Mysl”[12] reviewer (1897; November, bibliographical section, p. 517). And to think that there are such comedians in the world! —Lenin

[2] As Kautsky aptly remarked in the preface to his well-known book, Marx’s Oekonomische Lehren. (Marx’s Economic TeachingsEd.) —Lenin

[3] Pp. 93, 95, 147, 156. It seems to us that this term is a successful substitution for the expression “domestic system of large-scale production” that was introduced into our literature by Korsak. —Lenin

[4] The strict division of capitalism into a period of manufacture and a period of machine industry is one of the most valuable features of Mr. Bogdanov’s Course. —Lenin

[5] Legal injunctions fixing tile relations between landowners and serfs.—Ed.

[6] A peasant who is in possession of a full (undivided) plot of land.—Ed.

[7] Katheder-reformers or Katheder-Socialists— representatives of a trend in bourgeois political economy in the 1870s and 1880s who, under the guise of socialism, advocated bourgeois-liberal reformism from university chairs (Katheder in German). The fear aroused among the exploiting classes by the spread of Marxism and the growth of the working-class movement, as well as the efforts of bourgeois ideologists to find fresh means of keeping the working people in subjugation, brought Katheder-Socialism into being.

The Katheder-Socialists, among whom were Adolf Wagner, Gustav Schmoller, Lorenz Brentano, and Werner Sombart, asserted that the bourgeois state is above classes; that it can reconcile mutually hostile classes, and that it can gradually introduce “socialism,” without affecting the interests of the capitalists, while giving every possible consideration to the demands of the working people. They suggested the legalisation of police-regulated wage-labour and the revival of the medieval guilds. Marx and Engels exposed Katheder-Socialism, showing how essentially reactionary it was. Lenin called the Katheder-Socialists the bed bugs of “police-bourgeois university science” who hated Marx’s revolutionary   teachings. In Russia the views of the Katheder-Socialists were disseminated by the “legal Marxists.”

[8] Lenin refers to the liberal Narodniks headed by N. M. Mikhailovsky; he criticised the views of the “school” in his What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats (see present edition, Vol. 1).

[12] Russkaya Mysl (Russian Thought)—a monthly literary and political magazine published in Moscow from 1880 to 1918; until 1905 it was liberal Narodnik in its views; the editor from 1880 to 1885 was V. M. Lavrov. During the struggle between the Marxists and the liberal Narodniks in the nineties the magazine occasionally carried articles by Marxists. In this period Russkaya Mysl published the democratic writers D. N. Mamin-Sibiryak, G. I. Uspensky, V. G. Korolenko, A. M. Gorky, A. P. Chekhov, and others. After the Revolution of 1905 it became the organ of the counter-revolutionary liberals and was edited by P. B. Struve. It was an advocate of nationalism, reaction, and clericalism, and it defended landlordism. Lenin termed the journal “Black-Hundred Thought” (see present edition, Vol. 13, “Police-Patriotic Demonstration to Order”).

[9] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, pp. 709-10.

[10] Coloni— tenant farmers renting small parcels of land from big landowners in the Roman Empire. The coloni paid in cash or kind for the right to use the land. The coloni later became bound serfs by virtue of their indebtedness to the landowners.

[11] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, pp. 763-93.

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