Alexander Vladimirovich Buzgalin: In memoriam It is with great sorrow that I learned about the recent sudden death of Aleksandr Buzgalin. Just a few weeks ago he was vibrantly discussing Marxist Political Economy at the recent forum of the World Association of Political Economy and energetically planning the way forward. Warm and extremely polite and at the same time witty and unwavering in his views, Aleksandr had an inspiring presence in all international fora that I have met him. His death is a terrible loss for Marxist Political Economy and the communist movement. Apart from his broader contributions, Buzgalin played a leading role in keeping Marxism and Communism alive in Russia in an era of reaction and blatant anti-communism. Born in 1954 in rural Russia, he
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Alexander Vladimirovich Buzgalin: In memoriam
It is with great sorrow that I learned about the recent sudden death of Aleksandr Buzgalin.
Just a few weeks ago he was vibrantly discussing Marxist Political Economy at the recent forum of the World Association of Political Economy and energetically planning the way forward. Warm and extremely polite and at the same time witty and unwavering in his views, Aleksandr had an inspiring presence in all international fora that I have met him.
His death is a terrible loss for Marxist Political Economy and the communist movement. Apart from his broader contributions, Buzgalin played a leading role in keeping Marxism and Communism alive in Russia in an era of reaction and blatant anti-communism.
Born in 1954 in rural Russia, he graduated with distinction from the Faculty of Economics of Lomonosov Moscow State University in 1976. In 1979 he finished his postgraduate studies at the same university and took up a post at Lomonosov. In 1989 he defended his PhD and since 1992 he has held the rank of professor at Lomonosov. During his academic career he took many crucial academic positions; among them as Distinguished Professor of the M.V.Lomonosov Moscow State University, director of the Institute of Socioeconomics of the Moscow Financial and Juridical University, Director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at the Department of Philosophy of the Lomonosov Moscow State University etc.
He was the author of more than 300 academic works, including 23 books. He regularly presented papers at important international forums. Many of his works have been translated into several other languages (English, Chinese, German, Japanese and Spanish).
He was the Editor-in-Chief of the Russian journal Questions of Political Economy and member of the editorial boards of six journals in Russia and other countries (International Critical Thought, World Review of Political Economy, Terra Economy etc.).
He served as member of the governing bodies of many scientific associations both in Russia (Free Economic Society, Association of Political Economy etc.) and abroad. Special mention should be made to his valuable contribution to the World Association of Political Economy (WAPE), in which he served as one of its vice presidents.
Buzgalin’s intellectual contributions in Marxist Political Economy span an impressively wide area. Among them prominent is his emphasis on the materialist dialectical methodology of Marxist political economy and its application in both abstract and concrete economic analysis. Another significant issue that Buzgalin studied is why, how and in which cases not only progressive but also regressive changes occur in the economy. In his books Global Capital and The Limits of Capital (co-authored with Andrey Kolganov) Buzgalin offered an intriguing analysis of contemporary capitalism arguing that technological and institutional developments lead to significant qualitative transformations of commodity relations. One of these transformations is the rapid growth of markets for simulacra (that is, for commodities which have an apparent price, but which do not possess a normal content either in terms of value or of use value). Buzgalin and Kolganov found this analysis on the basis of the Marxist labour theory of value and explicitly reject the post-modernist notions that predominate in many Western Marxist analyses. In discussing the collapse of the Soviet Union, Buzgalin proposed the notion of ‘mutant socialism’. This refers to a primitive phase of the transition from capitalism to socialism where, while breaking out of the bounds of capitalism, this social system did not succeed in creating a viable basis for the subsequent advance to communism. While criticizing the failure of the soviet model, Buzgalin on the other hand did recognize several positive aspects which are valuable consignments for the future. Regarding the controversy on the role of plan and the market in socialism, Buzgalin took a qualified position. While market relations exist during the long transition era from capitalism to socialism, market is not a socially neutral mechanism: it tends to create capitalist relations. Thus, its dominance by central social planning (and its subsequent withering away) is a sine qua non for socialist transition. This was a burning issue which Aleksandr debated energetically with Chinese colleagues.
Buzgalin was pivotal in defending the position of Marxism in general and of Marxist Political Economy in particular within Russian academia. He struggled unwaveringly against its marginalization by the Russian dominant academic and political elites. He devoted enormous amounts of personal effort to support younger scholars to continue their work in Marxism against economic difficulties and lack of academic prospects due to mainstream persecutions.
But, in tandem with his academic endeavours, Aleksandr was above all a communist militant. At the last 28th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1990 he was elected to the Central Committee representing the Marxist platform and fought against the dominant pro-capitalist tendencies. Following the dissolution of the USSR and the banning of the Communist Party Buzgalin remained a steadfast and active Marxist. He organized several associations (e.g., ‘Scholars for Democracy and Socialism’) and mass movements (e.g., the ‘Alternatives’ movement) and was present and active in the refoundation of the Communist movement in Russia. I think that the words of one of his Russian comrades describes him very accurately: ‘he was a real communist’ and ‘he always placed the common good above personal interest’.
Aleksandr’s death leaves a serious vacuum in Marxist Political economy and in the movement for creating a just society. However, his works will continue to inspire those sharing his views and will always remind the importance of critical thought and struggle for social justice in our times.
Professor of Political Economy
Department of Social Policy