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History of Political Economy 36.1 (2004) 79-101

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Tugan-Baranovsky, the Methodology of Political Economy, and the "Russian Historical School"

Vincent Barnett

Marxist economists are not always renowned for their methodological subtlety, sometimes adhering to a form of simplistic instrumentalism—whatever serves the interests of "the working class" is by definition correct and so forth. However, one Russian/Ukrainian economist who is usually thought of as being in some sense a Marxist—Mikhail Ivanovich Tugan-Baranovsky (1865–1919)—showed considerable concern with the methodology of political economy in the first decade of the twentieth century and took a position decidedly against the prevailing orthodox Marxist view. This article presents Tugan's approach to methodology and places it in historical context by briefly comparing it with other, more well known, views from the period such as those of John Neville Keynes and T. E. Cliffe Leslie. It also asks whether something that might be called a "Russian historical school"—or a Russian strand of "historical political economy"—existed prior to 1917, in parallel with the more famous German and Irish examples. While traditionally thought of as a "legal Marxist," was Tugan also a key member of an "Eastern" historical school, and, if so, what were some of the main characteristics of his work in this respect? [End Page 79]

Alec Nove ([1970] 1990, 38) declared that Tugan's influence on his Russian contemporaries was "at least as great as that of Marshall on English economists," suggesting that its national importance cannot be exaggerated. While Tugan's methodological work has rarely been discussed in detail, Joseph Schumpeter (1954, 1126 n. 9) recognized its significance as follows:

Tugan-Baranowsky . . . was the most eminent Russian economist of that period.... The methodological aspect of his work is particularly interesting: he did much historical work of high quality; but he was also a theorist.

Schumpeter's evaluation implies that the continued neglect of Tugan's work on methodology is unjustified. Until now, Tugan has been best known among economists for his significant contributions to trade cycle theory and for his work on the history of the Russian factory (Barnett 2001c; Tugan-Baranovsky 1970). In fact, his published work ranged far wider than this, encompassing war finance, cooperative institutions, the history of economics, and the theory of socialist planning (Barnett 2001a, 2000). The first part of this article shows how this wide range of work produced interesting methodological deliberations that in some respects echoed debates that were occurring in the West. The second part suggests that, when taken as a whole, such work could be interpreted as "historical political economy," especially given the context of the work of many of his Russian contemporaries.

Tugan-Baranovsky and Methodology

Tugan-Baranovsky was born on 8 January 1865 in the village of Solenoe, near Kharkov in the Ukraine. He attended high school in Kiev and Kharkov and enrolled at the age of nineteen in Kharkov University. In 1889 he married Lydia Karlova Davydova, the daughter of the director of the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. Through this marriage Tugan came into contact with intellectual circles in St. Petersburg; indeed, this relationship was something that was very important to sustaining his character in the following decade. When Lydia died in 1900, this loss had a great effect on Tugan's life. After obtaining a master's degree from Moscow University in 1894, Tugan began his academic career as a privat-dotsent at St. Petersburg University in 1895. Tugan also had a civil service career that lasted for almost five years. At the start of 1893 he was employed [End Page 80] in the Department of Trade and Manufacture in the Ministry of Finance, this appointment lasting until his resignation in October 1897. In 1902 he married his second wife, Olha Fedorivna Rusinova, the daughter of aristocratic friends from Poltava province in the Ukraine. Tugan accepted the post of minister of finance in the Ukrainian central Rada in August 1917, but vacated this post soon after in December 1917. In 1918 he helped to establish the...


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pp. 79-101
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