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Uneven and Combined Development (1)

by Neil Davidson on June 13, 2017
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Uneven and Combined Development: Modernity, Modernism, Revolution (1): The Classic Forms of Uneven and Combined Development

Trotsky’s theory of Uneven and Combined Development was born out of his experience of the Russian Revolution. To mark the centenary of the revolution, we are publishing a series of five pieces by Neil Davidson that explore the theory’s wider contribution to how we understand capitalist modernity. These articles show how ideas that began life in the revolution continue to inspire new ways of grasping the world, and that we are very much engaging in a living 21st century world when reflecting on the previous century. The series published here are extracts of his forthcoming book Violating all the Laws of History that will be published in the Haymarket Historical Materialism series in 2018.

Introduction

The contemporary debate over uneven and combined development began with Justin Rosenberg’s 1995 Deutscher Memorial Prize Lecture. [1] Since then, opinion among the growing body of those who find the concept useful has broadly divided in two, with both sides able to claim varying degrees of support from Trotsky’s writings. One sees uneven and combined development as a relatively recent process which only became possible during the imperialist era of capitalism – usually seen as beginning in the Great Depression of the 1870s – when geopolitical rivalry and colonial expansion partially extended industrialisation and urbanisation from their original capitalist heartlands to the remaining European absolutist states and what we now call the Global South. [2] The other side sees uneven and combined development as a transhistorical or transmodal process which can be found throughout human history, although some adherents of this position accept that it only achieved a truly systematic character during the late nineteenth century. [3] I have recently tried to assess the relative merits of these positions, from the perspective of the former, and will not repeat that discussion here. [4]

What I will address in this post is whether uneven and combined development can indeed be extended, not backwards through time, but sideways through space: in other words, whether the process has been generated in every society which has experienced capitalist modernity, rather than being confined to backward or underdeveloped areas. It may be useful to begin the discussion by reminding ourselves of the famous passage from The History of the Russian Revolution where Trotsky introduced the concept:

The privilege of historic backwardness – and such a privilege exists – permits, or rather compels, the adoption of whatever is ready in advance of any specified date, skipping a whole series of intermediate stages. From the universal law of unevenness thus derives another law which for want of a better name, we may call the law of combined development – by which we mean a drawing together of the different stages of the journey, a combining of separate steps, an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms. [5]

Alongside this passage, however, we also need to consider another by Trotsky, written shortly before his murder in 1940: ‘Only a minority of countries has fully gone through that systematic and logical development from handicraft through domestic manufacture to the factory, which Marx subjected to such detailed analysis.’ [6] In fact, the minority consisted of only one country, England, although there were also a handful of territories within countries (the North-East of the USA, Catalonia before its incorporation into Spain) which had similar trajectories. The very shortness of the list does, however, support the argument I intend to make. For if the overwhelming majority of even the advanced capitalist states did not undergo the ‘systematic and logical development’ to which Trotsky refers, then surely they too must have ‘skipped intermediate stages’ and ‘drawn together the different stages of the journey’? Before turning to these issues, we need to explore Trotsky’s original argument in more detail.

1.1.      The ‘Law’ of Uneven and Combined Development

Trotsky first formulated what he called the ‘law’ of uneven and combined development in 1930, in order to explain the conditions of possibility for a particular strategy, that of permanent revolution, which he had first proposed twenty-five years earlier in relation to Russia. In this scenario, capitalist relations of production had been established and were perhaps even in the process of becoming dominant, but the bourgeois revolution had still to be accomplished. The existence of a militant working class, however, made the bourgeoisie unwilling to launch such a revolution on their own behalf for fear that it would get out of their control. The working class, on the other hand, could accomplish the revolution against the pre-capitalist state which the bourgeois itself was no longer prepared to undertake and – in Trotsky’s version of permanent revolution at any rate – move directly to the construction of socialism, providing of course that it occurred within the context of a successful international revolutionary movement:

The irrevocable and irresistible going over of the masses from the most rudimentary tasks of political, agrarian and national emancipation and abolition of serfdom to the slogan of proletarian rulership, resulted…from the social structure of Russia and the conditions of the worldwide situation. The theory of Permanent Revolution only formulated the combined process of this development. [7]

The societies which Trotsky originally identified as subject to uneven and combined development and to which he devoted most attention, were ruled by absolutist or tributary states which had been forced to partially modernise under pressure of military competition from the Western powers. As he noted, ‘the Great War, the result of the contradictions of world imperialism, drew into its maelstrom countries of different stages of development, but made the same claims on all the participants’. [8] Combined development in Russia was therefore generated by attempts on the part of the absolutist state to overcome the backwardness attendant on uneven development; but as Trotsky pointed out:

Historical backwardness does not imply a simple reproduction of the development of advanced countries, England or France, with a delay of one, two, or three centuries. It engenders an entirely new ‘combined’ social formation in which the latest conquests of capitalist technique and structure root themselves into relations of feudal or pre-feudal barbarism, transforming and subjecting them and creating peculiar relations of classes. [9]

The former levels of stability typical of feudal or tributary societies are disrupted by the irruption of capitalist industrialisation and all that it brings in its wake: rapid population growth, uncoordinated urban expansion, dramatic ideological shifts. ‘When English or French capital, the historical coagulate of many centuries, appears in the steppes of the Donets Basin, it cannot release the same social forces, relations, and passions which once went into its own formation.’ [10]

Other Marxists had noted the coexistence of different temporalities within the same social formations. Antonio Labriola, perhaps Trotsky’s most important philosophical influence, wrote that Russian industrialization ‘seems destined to put under our eyes, as in an epitome, all the phases, even the most extreme, of our history’. [11] Even here, however, Labriola is drawing attention to the coexistence of forms rather than their mutual interpenetration. Trotsky, however, was interested in the process by which these forms were fused, the result permeating every aspect of society, ideology as much as economy. The archaic and the modern, the settled and disruptive overlap and merge in all aspects of the social formations concerned, from the organization of arms production to the structure of religious observance, in entirely new and unstable ways, generating socially explosive situations. It is tempting to describe these as mutations, except that the inadequacy of the language involved led Trotsky to reject the biological metaphors in which stages of development had been described from the Enlightenment through to the Third International in its Stalinist phase – and which is continued in the present-day notion of ‘hybridity’: ‘The absorptive and flexible psyche, as a necessary condition for historical progress, confers on the so-called social “organisms”, as distinguished from the real, that is, biological organisms, an exceptional variability of internal structure.’ [12] Trotsky himself pointed to the existence of such forms in general terms in his notebooks on dialectics from the mid-1930s:

Some objects (phenomena) are confined easily within boundaries according to some logical classification, others present [us with] difficulties: they can be put here or there, but within stricter relationship – nowhere. While provoking the indignation of systematisers, such transitional forms are exceptionally interesting to dialecticians, for they smash the limited boundaries of classification, revealing the real connections and consecutiveness of a living process. [13]

Trotsky’s position is often misunderstood, albeit in diametrically opposite ways. On the one hand, Razmig Keucheyan writes:

The theory of uneven and combined development, which is found in particular in Trotsky, refers to the idea that the development of ‘advanced’ countries has as its inevitable counterpart the under-development of ‘laggard’ countries. In other words, the lag in question is not in fact a lag, but strictly contemporaneous with the ‘advance’ of the western countries. In this sense, the underdevelopment of some is the direct result of the development of others – hence the idea of ‘combined’ uneven development. This thesis has significant strategic consequences. Among other things, it assumes breaking with the idea that a country must be ‘mature’ for socialist forces to unleash a revolution in it. Such maturity is impossible to achieve, since under-developed countries are maintained in a state of underdevelopment. This idea has been developed by ‘world-systems’ theorists, among them Wallerstein and Arrighi.’ [14]

On the other hand, Gurminder Bhambra complains:

We were all seen to be headed in the same direction and Europe, or the West, simply provides the model of where it is that the rest of the world would arrive. … The narrative of historical transition, in this case of ‘uneven and combined development’, is reified as the narrative of history – where ‘unevenness’ points to difference and ‘development’ to the universal framework within which those differences are to be located – and the histories of the rest of the world are understood within the problematics of this narrative. [15]

From one perspective then, uneven and combined development sees the non-West permanently trapped in a subordinate role, while from the other, the Rest of the World slowly ascends the developmental ladder towards the same level as the West, without ever arriving. Keucheyan assimilates Trotsky’s position to another (World Systems) of which he approves; Bhambra does likewise to another which she rejects (Eurocentrism). In fact, Trotsky held neither position. It is true that he emphasizes the partial nature of their adoptions from the advanced countries:

Russia was so far behind the other countries that she was compelled, at least in certain spheres, to outstrip them. …the absence of firmly established social forms and traditions makes the backward country – at least within certain limits – extremely hospitable to the last word in international technique and international thought. Backwardness does not, however, for this reason cease to be backwardness.[16]

Within these spheres and limits, however, backward societies could however attain higher levels of development than in their established rivals: ‘At the same time that peasant land-cultivation as a whole remained, right up to the revolution, at the level of the seventeenth century, Russian industry in its technique and capitalist structure stood at the level of the advanced countries, and in certain respects even outstripped them.’ [17]

These adoptions, however, did not in themselves necessarily undermine the state, since: ‘The [backward] nation…not infrequently debases the achievements borrowed from outside in the process of adapting them to its own more primitive culture.’ [18] Indeed, initially at least, ‘debased adaptation’ helped preserve the pre-capitalist state in Russia. From 1861 tsarism established factories using the manufacturing technology characteristic of monopoly capitalism in order to produce arms with which to defend feudal absolutism. [19] The danger for the state lay in what these factories required in order to run, namely workers – and workers more skilled, more politically conscious than that faced by any previous absolutist or early capitalist state. [20]Uneven and combined development in Russia created a working class which, although only a small minority of the population, was possessed of exceptional levels of revolutionary militancy. ‘Debased adaptation’ was intended to preserve the existence of the undemocratic state; but to the extent that the former was successful it helped provoke the working class into destroying the latter. Thus, for Trotsky, the most important consequence of uneven and combined development was the enhanced capacity it potentially gave the working classes for political and industrial organization, theoretical understanding, and revolutionary activity: ‘when the economic factors burst in a revolutionary manner, breaking up the old order; when development is no longer gradual and “organic” but assumes the form of terrible convulsions and drastic changes of former conceptions, then it becomes easier for critical thought to find revolutionary expression, provided that the necessary theoretical prerequisites exist in the given country’. [21] S. A. Smith describes the trajectory of one Russian worker who had his mind opened in this way to ‘critical thought’:

For Kanatchikov, discovery of evolutionary theory came like a lightning bolt… His discovery of Darwin was soon complimented by his discovery of Marx: by 1902, aged 23, he had painfully mastered the first volume of Capital. This furnished him with a scientific understanding of society and the determination to dedicate himself to the cause of overthrowing capitalism. [22]

Kanatchikov exemplifies a general tendency identified by Tim McDaniel, namely that the militancy of Russian workers was ‘the product of leadership by a militant proletarian core of advanced workers employed in modern industry’, not of ‘disorientated workers of peasant origin and to young recruits into industry’. In his view, with which I agree, accounts ‘which emphasise the ‘“spontaneity” and unpredictability of worker militancy’ end up ‘denying to it the coherence and ultimate rationality ascribed by Trotsky’. [23]

Trotsky was not alone in seeing the possibilities for Russia to avoid supposedly necessary stages of development; but those who shared his vision tended not to belong to the ranks of his fellow-Marxists, but to the community of modernist writers and artists whose work – as we shall see in Part 2 – was in many ways a response to or cultural expression of uneven and combined development. In his novel Petersburg, completed on the eve of 1917, Andrei Biely wrote of Russia needing to accomplish ‘a leap over history’ in order to escape the tensions caused by its multiple temporalities, even though he envisaged this occurring in quite a different way than Trotsky did. [24]

1.2.      Eastern Variations

Trotsky began to identify uneven and combined development in countries other than Russia from the late 1920s. Some modern writers like Fouad Makki have argued that this involved overestimating ‘the significance for the non-Western world of the specific political experience and pattern of development of early twentieth century Russia’ on the grounds that ‘Russia was a major territorial empire in its own right, and its absolutist state was able to relate to the geo-political and economic exigencies of its Western capitalist milieu from a position of relative political autonomy.’ [25] This is true, but of limited significance, since the key point is not whether particular states are able to compete externally in geopolitical terms, but the internal relationships and experiences produced by the processes of industrialisation and urbanisation – whatever the reasons for which they were undertaken.

A stronger case for Russian exceptionalism has been made by McDaniel, who argues that the Tsarist Empire tended to produce a revolutionary labour movement in four ways. First, it eliminated or at least reduced the distinction between economic and political issues. Second, it generated opposition for both traditional and modern reasons – the defence of established religious practices on the one hand, and of wages and conditions on the other. Third, it simultaneously reduced the fragmentation of the working class and prevented the formation of a stable conservative bureaucracy, thus leading to more radical attitudes. Fourth, it forced a degree of interdependence between the mass of the working class, class conscious workers and revolutionary intellectuals. [26] McDaniel claims that, since the emergence of the Russian labour movement under tsarism, a comparable set of conditions has only arisen in Iran during the 1970s. [27] It is true that the Pahlavi state bore some similarities to that of the Romanovs, although these are largely formal since – as we shall see in Part 4 – the former was a capitalist state and the latter was not; but more importantly, McDaniel ignores the way in which working class movements comparable to and contemporary with those in Russia arose in societies with quite different state formations. What then were these other types of society identified by Trotsky as subject to uneven and combined development?

One was exemplified by China and the post-Ottoman Arab Middle East after the First World War – formerly analogous state forms now past the point of collapse and disintegrating under Franco-British imperialist pressure. Here it is the absence of any centralised state which forms the context. Instead of being directly colonized, these newly fragmented territories saw agents of foreign capital establish areas of industrialization under the protection of either their own governments or local warlords, both of which presented the same blocks to overall development. The result in relation to China was made by one of Trotsky’s then-followers, Harold Isaacs: ‘The pattern of Chinese life is jagged, torn, and irregular. Modern forms of production, transport and finance are superimposed upon and only partially woven into the worn and threadbare pattern of the past.’ [28] As this suggests, even where industrialisation and urbanisation did occur, uneven and combined development did not necessarily follow, as sometimes the archaic and modern may be too distant from each other to fuse. Smith quotes an assessment of conditions in Beijing in 1918 by a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Li Dazhao, in which he describes how ‘the gap in time between old and new is too big, that the spatial juxtaposition is too close’:

Wheels and hooves move side by side, sirens hoot, there is the sound of cars and horses, of rickshaw pullers spitting and cursing each other. There is diversity and confusion, complexity to an extreme degree. … The new resents the obstacles posed by the old. The old resents the dangers posed by the new.[29]

It was Shanghai, rather than Beijing, where the different temporalities fused to such an extent that the city became both a centre of capitalist modernity and of the opposition to it, serving as the venue for the launch of the CCP: ‘Shanghai thus served as a polyvalent symbol; an emblem of consumer affluence and of class exploitation, of foreign imperialism and patriotic resistance, of individualism and mass society.’ [30] Combined development was experienced throughout the entire texture of urban life where capitalism took hold. Shanghai was in the vanguard in terms of both production and consumption, as J. G. Ballard recalls from his childhood in the 1930s:

…Shanghai was a waking dream where everything I could imagine had already been taken to its extreme. The garish billboards and nightclub neon signs, the young Chinese gangsters and violent beggars watching me keenly as I pedalled past them, were part of an overlit realm more exhilarating than the American comics and radio serials I so adored. Shanghai would absorb everything, even the coming war, however fiercely the smoke might pump from the warships of the Whangpoo River. My father called Shanghai the most advanced city in the world, and I knew that one day all the cities on the planet would be filled with radio-stations, hell-drivers and casinos. [31]

These were not simply childhood impressions. The city had textile mills before anywhere in the Southern states of the USA and by 1930 was home to the largest mill in the world; the first cinema in Shanghai opened only five years after the first large cinema opened in San Francisco. [32]

The most dramatic changes affected the working class. After 1918, workers were mainly former peasants or rural labourers, who were now subject to the very different and unaccustomed rhythms of industrial urban life without intervening stages. Jean Chesneaux writes that the main characteristics of the Chinese proletariat were ‘its youth, its instability, its swollen lower ranks and its lack of a developed labour elite’. [33] In this respect the Chinese working class closely resembled its Russian forerunner, not least in the openness to Marxism which these conditions tended to produce: ‘The fact that the students and workers…are eagerly assimilating the doctrine of materialism’, wrote Trotsky, ‘while the labour leaders of civilized England believe in the magic potency of churchly incantations, proves beyond a doubt that in certain spheres China has outstripped England.’ In these cases ideology outstrips economy, for ‘the contempt of the Chinese workers for the mediaeval dull-wittedness of [Ramsay] MacDonald does not permit the inference that in her general economic development China is higher than Great Britain’. [34]

Trotsky also identified a third type of society as experiencing uneven and combined development: these were among the actual colonies, although not every colony did so. ‘Commercial, industrial and financial capital invaded backward countries from the outside’, he wrote, ‘partly destroying the primitive forms of native economy and partly subjecting them to the world-wide industrial and banking system of the West.’ [35] What Peter Curtin calls ‘defensive modernization’ was not enough to protect these societies from Western incursions. In the case of the Merinian monarchs of Madagascar, for example: ‘They not only failed to modernize beyond adopting Christianity and superficial European fashions, they failed to build a kind of society and government administration that would perpetuate their own power.’ [36] Once the race for imperial territory began in earnest during the closing decades of the nineteenth century, it became strategically necessary for the Western powers to seize territories which were often of no value in themselves – indeed, which were often net recipients of state expenditure – but which it was necessary to retain in order to protect those territories which were of economic value, like India. [37] Colonial rule could of course throw societies backward, as in the case of British-occupied Iraq. Ruling through the Hashemite monarchy after 1920, the regime deliberately rejected any attempts at modernization, except in the oil industry. Instead, it reinforced disintegrating tribal loyalties and semi-feudal tenurial relationships over the peasantry. Peter Gowan describes the British initiatives as:

‘the creation of new foundational institutions of landownership in order to revive dying traditional authority relations, resulting in economically and socially regressive consequences, undertaken for thoroughly modern imperialist political purposes – namely, to create a ruling class dependent upon British military power and therefore committed to imperial interests in the region.’ [38]

Nevertheless, even in this type of colonial context, some industrialisation took place. The British in India, for example, were unwilling to allow full-scale industrialization in case it produced competition for its own commodities, but was prepared to sanction it in specific circumstances for reasons of military supply or where goods were not intended for home markets – a form of ‘licenced industrialisation’, particularly in textiles. [39] This could not lead to general economic development, it is true, but as Jürgen Osterhammel writes, ‘even at the end of the nineteenth century, the socially and economically “backward” regions of Europe were certainly not ahead of the more dynamic ones of India or China’. [40]

As in the case of absolutist states like Russia, there were examples among the fragmented former empires and the outright colonies of how it was possible to pull ahead in particular areas or industries of all but the most developed areas of the West. Here too the outcomes were not always straightforwardly revolutionary, but leaving aside complete rejection of capitalist modernity, there were three possible responses to it, all of which I illustrate here with examples from the history of modern Islam.

One was renewal, where capitalist modernity led to existing cultural practices being maintained in new ways which were then assimilated to tradition. Eric Hobsbawm has written of ‘the invention of tradition’ that ‘we should expect it to occur more frequently when a rapid transformation of society weakens or destroys the social patterns for which “old” traditions had been designed, producing new ones to which they were not applicable, or when such old traditions and their institutional carriers and promulgators prove no longer sufficiently adaptable and flexible or are otherwise eliminated’.[41] Here is one, highly pertinent, example of this process from the late nineteenth century:

In the Muslim world, the Islamic burkah, the full body covering of Muslim women, was growing in popularity. Often wrongly regarded as a mark of medieval obscurantism, the burkah was actually a modern dress that allowed women to come out of the seclusion of their homes and participate to a limited degree in public and commercial affairs. Even in this insistence on tradition, therefore, one glimpses the mark of growing global convergence. [42]

Indeed, as even one of the arch-defenders of the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis points out of another innovation: ‘The office of ayatollah is a creation of the nineteenth century; the rule of Khomeini and of his successor as “supreme Jurist”, an innovation of the twentieth.’ [43]

These examples illustrate one extreme. At the other we find adoption, a similar embrace of modernity – or at least one version of it – and rejection of tradition that we have already encountered in Russia and China, here in 1940s Iraq:

The impact of the [Marxist] theory, particularly on minds that lived on ancient ideas – ideas that assumed that poverty and wealth were something fated, unalterable features of life – can be imagined. An Iraqi of a religious family, who had been brought up according to the traditional Shi’ite precepts and became a member of the Politbureau of the Communist party in the forties, recalled in a conversation with this writer how when reading a forbidden book he first came across the idea that distinctions between men were not God-given but were due to human and historical causes, the idea was to him ‘something like a revelation’. There was nothing in his previous experience to suggest anything different. He had taken for granted the Koranic injunction: ‘And as to the means of livelihood we have preferred some of you to others’. [44]

A third response lies between these extremes, all the more interesting because it can be seen as a potential bridge from one to the other – adaptation, where ‘contemporary’ forms of class struggle were deployed in order to defend ‘archaic’ forms of religious observance, as occurred around the jute weaving industry in Bengal during the 1890s. During this period the Scottish mill managers both introduced night working and attempted to prevent workers – many of whom had only recently arrived from the countryside – from attending religious festivals, to which the mainly, but by no means exclusively Muslim weavers responded by rioting and striking. Anthony Cox writes of their motivations: ‘In part, this growing militancy was encouraged, if not fostered, by notions of fairness and honour held by Indian workers.’ In particular, they held to notions of customary rights (Dasturi), fairness (Instaf) and social honour (Izzat):

For many Julaha weavers, the imposition of night working and the attack on their rights of worship, as well as challenging concepts such as dasturi and insaf, also challenged their sense of honour as Muslims and must have underlined the alien, colonial character of the mill managers and supervisors, making them more receptive to the nationalist and Pan-Islamic rhetoric of Indian nationalism and Muslim reform organisations respectively. The militancy of the workers, though, went much further than was thought politic by many nationalists and Pan-Islamic leaders. [45]

Much the same spurs to action can be found in the great strike wave of 1920-22 in which individual disputes were often responses to assaults by supervisors on children or women:

The patriarchal character of social relations within the jute workforce, encompassing ideas of personal honour or Izzat, undoubtedly contributed towards male workers coming to the defence of women and child workers. It is also clear that the heightened political atmosphere that accompanied, and contributed towards, the labour upsurge of the time played a major role in the jute workers’ willingness to challenge paternal despotism. [46]

Thus far, I have drawn examples from the areas identified by Trotsky as experiencing uneven and combined development and having the potential for permanent revolution, roughly from the period encompassed by his own lifetime. Ankie Hoogvelt speaks for many commentators when she describes the process outlined by Trotsky as leading to a ‘historically unique situation which is ripe for socialist revolution’. [47] How ‘unique’ was the situation though? Peter Thomas writes of one important case: ‘Italy, along with much of Western Europe, had experienced a “belated” modernity not qualitatively dissimilar from that which preceded the Russian Revolution’. [48] Indeed, in the case of Italy – one of the established, imperial capitalist powers – these developments were occurring contemporaneously with those in Russia. As Gail Day notes:

In Italy and especially in Russia the peasant-based life ‘of the past’ and the urban life ‘of the present’ co-existed side-by-side on the cities’ borders. … It seems to have been that the existence of sharp contrasts between the old ways of life and new ones that gave the [artistic] movements in Italy and Russia their sense of greater urgency – an urgency that was bound up with the social and political crises that both countries faced. [49]

Despite the diametrically opposite political affiliations of the Constructivists in Russia and the Futurists in Italy – themselves indicative of the different outcomes to the crises in these countries – their artistic practices were comparable, suggesting similar responses to a common experience. How could a virtually universal socio-economic process generate such similar cultural responses while simultaneously leading to such different political results?


References

[1] Justin Rosenberg, ‘Isaac Deutscher and the Lost History of International Relations’, New Left Review I/215 (January-February 1996).

[2] Samantha Ashman, ‘Capitalism, Uneven and Combined Development, and the Transhistoric’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, vol. 22, no. 1 (March 2009); Neil Davidson, ‘Putting the Nation back into the ‘International’”, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, vol. 22, no. 1 (March 2009), pp. 16-18.

[3] Alexander Anievas and Kerim Nişancıoğlu, How the West Came to Rule: The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism (London: Pluto Press, 2015), pp. 57-63; Justin Rosenberg, ‘Why is there no International Historical Sociology?’ European Journal of International Relations, vol. 12, no. 3 (September 2006); Justin Rosenberg, ‘The “Philosophical Premises” of Uneven and Combined Development’, Review of International Studies, vol. 39, no. 3 (July 2013); for the argument that uneven and combined development takes on a qualitatively different aspect towards the end of the nineteenth century, see Alexander Anievas, Capital, the State and War: Class Conflicts and Geopolitics in the Thirty Year’s Crisis, 1914-1945 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014), p. 53.

[4] Neil Davidson, ‘The Conditions of Emergence for Uneven and Combined Development, in Alex Anievas and Kamran Matin (eds), Historical Sociology and World History: Uneven and Combined Development over the Longue Durée (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

[5] Leon D. Trotsky [1930–32], The History of the Russian Revolution (London: Pluto 1977), pp. 27-28

[6] Leon D. Trotsky, ‘Karl Marx’, in Leon Trotsky Presents the Living Thoughts of Karl Marx (London: Cassell, 1940), p. 41.

[7] Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, p. 907. For the trajectories of both the strategy of permanent revolution and the law of uneven and combined development, see Neil Davidson, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012), pp. 214-236, 284-308.

[8] Leon D. Trotsky [1924], ‘In Defence of the Russian Revolution’, in Leon Trotsky Speaks (New York: Pathfinder Books, 1976), p. 249. Or, in the words of a distinctively non-Marxist historian: ‘Industrialization was, from the start, a political imperative.’ See David Landes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1969), p. 139.

[9] Leon D. Trotsky, [1938]. ‘Revolution and War in China’, in Leon Trotsky on China, edited by Les Evans and Russell Block (New York: Monad, 1976), p. 583.

[10] Leon D. Trotsky [1908–1909/1922], 1905 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972), p. 68.

[11] Antonio Labriola [1896], ‘Historical Materialism’, in Essays on the Materialist Conception of History (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1908), p. 133.

[12] Leon D. Trotsky [1932], ‘In Defence of the Russian Revolution’, p. 251.

[13] Leon D. Trotsky [1933–5], ‘The Notebooks in Translation’, in Trotsky’s Notebooks, 1933–1935: Writings on Lenin, Dialectics, and Evolutionism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), p. 77.

[14] Razmig Keucheyan [2010], The Left Hemisphere: Mapping Critical Theory Today (London: Verso, 2013, p. 114; see also Warwick Research Collective, ‘World Literature in the Context of Uneven and Combined Development’, in Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World Literature (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2015), p. 8 for similar parallels with World Systems theory.

[15] Gurminder K Bhambra, ‘Talking among Themselves? Weberian and Marxist Historical Sociologies as Dialogues without “Others”’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, vol.  39, no. 3 (May 2011), p. 678.

[16] Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, p. 906; my emphasis.

[17] Ibid, p. 30; my emphasis.

[18] Ibid, p. 27.

[19] Clive Treblicock, The Industrialisation of the Continental Powers, 1780-1914 (London: Longman, 1981), pp. 281-284.

[20] Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, p. 55.

[21] Trotsky, ‘For the Internationalist Perspective’, in Leon Trotsky Speaks, p. 199.

[22] S. A. Smith, Revolution and the People in Russia and China: A Comparative History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 78.

[23] Tim McDaniel, Autocracy, Modernization, and Revolution in Russia and Iran (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1991), p. 125.

[24] Andrei Biely [1913-16], Petersburg (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 65. Trotsky’s own assessment of Biely was deeply unsympathetic and, while not entirely misconceived, is so fixated on demonstrating that the latter was uncomplicatedly embedded in Russia’s pre-revolutionary past that he misses Biely’s contradictions and consequently the parallels with his own position. See Leon D. Trotsky [1923], Literature and Revolution (London: Bookmarks, 1991), pp. 79-87.

[25] Fouad Makki, ‘Reframing Development Theory: The Significance of the Idea of Uneven and Combined Development’, Theory and Society, vol.  44, no. 5 (2015), p. 486.

[26] Tim McDaniel, Autocracy, Capitalism and Revolution in Russia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 41-47.

[27] Ibid, p. 407.

[28] Harold R. Isaacs [1938], The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (Second revised edition, Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 1961), p. 1.

[29] Smith, Revolution and the People in Russia and China, p. 18. These comments reflect unevenness within cities of the Global South, but unevenness also existed quite as starkly between cities. During a visit to Brazil in 1963, Eric Hobsbawn contrasted Recife, the impoverished capital of the north east with São Paulo: ‘It is astonishing to think I am in the same country as Recife. The skyscrapers spout, the neon lights glow, the cars (mostly made in this country) tear through the streets in their thousands in typically Brazilian anarchy. Above all there is industry to absorb the 150,000 people who stream into this giant city every year–north-easterners, Japanese, Italians, Arabs, Greeks.’ See Eric J. Hobsbawm [1963], ‘South American Journey’, in Viva la Revolucion: On Latin America, edited by Leslie Bethell (London: Little, Brown, 2016), p. 35.

[30] Smith, Revolution and the People in Russia and China, p. 18.

[31] J. G. Ballard, The Kindness of Women (London: HarperCollins, 1991), pp. 18-19. This passage, from one of his more autobiographical novels, is effectively an unreconstructed memoir, as can be seen by comparing the relevant sections of his actual autobiography. See J. G. Ballard, Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Sheppertonan Autobiography (London: HarperCollins, 2008), pp. 3-36.

[32] Lucien W. Pye, ‘Foreword’, in Shanghai: Revolution and Development in an Asian Metropolis, edited by Christopher Howe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. xv.

[33] Jean Chesneaux, The Chinese Labor Movement, 1919-1927 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1968), p. 50.

[34] Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, p. 1220

[35] Trotsky, ‘Karl Marx’, p. 41.

[36] Peter Curtin, The World and the West: The European Challenge and the Overseas Response in the Age of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 150.

[37] Eric J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1975-1914 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987), pp. 67-69.

[38] Peter Gowan [1991], ‘The Gulf War, Iraq and Western Liberalism’, in The Global Gamble: Washington’s Faustian Bid for World Dominance (London: Verso, 1999), p. 167.

[39] Christopher A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World: 1780-1914 (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), p. 182; Jürgen Osterhammel [2009], The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2014), p. 663.

[40] Osterhammel, The Transformation of the World, p. 664.

[41] Eric J. Hobsbawm, ‘Introduction: Inventing Traditions’, in The Invention of Tradition, edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 4-5.

[42] Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, p. 15.

[43] Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (London: Phoenix, 2002), p. 127.

[44] Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq: a Study of Iraq’s Old Landed Classes and of Its Communists, Ba’thists, and Free Officers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), p. 481.

[45] Anthony Cox, Empire, Industry and Class: The Imperial Nexus of Jute, 1840-1940 (Abingdon: Routledge,  2014), p. 57

[46] Ibid, p. 119.

[47] Ankie Hoogvelt, Globalisation and the Postcolonial World: The New Political Economy of Development (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1997), p. 38.

[48] Peter D. Thomas, The Gramscian Moment: Philosophy, Hegemony and Marxism (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2009), p. 202.

[49] Gail Day, ‘The Futurists: Transcontinental Avant-Gardism’, in The Challenge of the Avant-Garde, edited by Paul Wood (New Haven: Yale University Press in association with The Open University, 1999), p. 209.

This post was first published on Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century

Neil Davidson
Neil Davidson was for over two decades a career civil servant with the Scottish Government and its predecessors; he now lectures in Sociology with the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Glasgow. He is the author of The Origins of Scottish Nationhood (2000); Discovering the Scottish Revolution (2003), for which he received the Deutscher Memorial Prize and the Fletcher of Saltoun Award; How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions? (2012); Holding Fast to an Image of the Past (2014); and We Cannot Escape History (2015). Neil is a supporter of the Radical Independence Campaign and a signatory to the Scottish Left Project.

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