Combined and uneven development

Tom Condit tomcondit at igc.apc.org
Fri Mar 24 21:04:58 MST 1995


Re "combined and uneven development":

Trotsky first used this phrase, I believe, in a pamphlet called
"Results and Prospects," which aimed to make a balance sheet of
the Russian Revolution of 1905.  (Trotsky was president of either
the Moscow or the Petersburg Soviet in that uprising--Moscow if I
remember correctly.)

Basically, he argued against the bulk of the Russian Marxists
(Menshevik and Bolshevik alike) that the Russian working class
should and could not only the take the lead in carrying out the
tasks of national democratic revolution (which the bourgeoisie
was incapable of because of its vacillation), but push forward
toward a socialist revolution.

The nature of Russian society (and of "third world" societies
today) is that although the working class make up only a minority
of society, they occupy an extremely advanced position because of
their mastery of the techniques of modern production.  A
"backward" economy moved forward in combination with other
capitalist economies because of the world market, but did so in
an uneven way because of its subordinate position (hence,
"combined and uneven development").  So in Russia in 1905 we saw
side-by-side peasants working with wooden tools and huge machine
works, advanced (for the time) oil refinery techniques and a
railroad system which didn't have dispatchers (they just ran the
trains from one end of the line to the other, then turned around
and went the other way).

This meant that the bourgeoisie was compromised both by its ties
to the still-dominant old regime and by its ties to world
capitalism, incapable of acting in any effectively independent
manner; the working class, on the other hand, lacking in
"culture" as it might be, nonetheless had the basic habits and
knowledge of modern workers the world over.  Workers, therefore,
were the only consolidated class capable of revolutionary change
in Russia.

On this point, many other Russian Marxists (including Lenin)
agreed.  Where Trotsky departed from the then-prevailing
orthodoxy was in maintaining that once workers had begun the
revolutionary process, there was no way to turn back.  You don't
seize state power, revolutionize society, and then turn it over
to the capitalists because now it's their turn to modernize the
country.  A process of continuing change under the control of the
working class ("permanent revolution") was inevitable.  Since
socialism could not be created in a backward country like Russia
because of the lack of material prerequisites, that process would
inevitably be one of pressing for world revolution.

I think it's unquestionable that by 1917 Lenin was in basic
agreement with this position (although, as the debate on the
national and colonial question in the Communist International
showed, not entirely).  Numerous of his writings from that period
onward stress the need for socialist victory in Europe as the way
out of Russia's straits.

Stalin's basic crime, of course, was adopt the position that
socialism (or something which his supporters would come to call
socialism) could be created by force and determination in the
Soviet Union, and to subordinate the entire world communist
movement to that position.  We're living with the consequences.

Tom Condit



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