Another Jim Blaut paper added to his website

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Sep 27 16:37:11 MDT 1999

I just put another of Blaut's papers out on his new website
(, which might be actually be called a
proto-website until we find permanent space for it at his university, a
place he tries to stay away from as much as possible. I expect that Jim
will enjoy looking at it as soon as he gets rid of his Kaypro and updates
to a new computer running Windows.

Here are the first couple of paragraphs:


J. M. Blaut University of Illinois at Chicago

1. Introduction

The grand old anthem of Marxism, "The Internationale," begins with these
words: "Arise ye prisoners of starvation/Arise ye wretched of the earth..."
At the time the song was written, in 1888, Marxists knew very little about
the faraway places where most of the wretched of the earth lived and
starved. They held firmly to the world-model bequeathed to them by Marx:
Historical progress occurs naturally in the European part of the world; the
rest of the world receives the fruits of this progress by diffusion.
Socialist revolution will take place in the European world and socialism
will then spread out to the rest of the world and emancipate all of the
wretched of the earth, everywhere. Today we would label this view
"Eurocentric" and "diffusionist," and it certainly was that. But every
European thinker of Marx's time accepted the Eurocentric-diffusionist model
of the world's history and geography. And the evidence about the
non-European world that was available to Marx consisted mostly of books and
documents written by the agents and agencies of diffusionism: newspaper
accounts, colonial office documents, books written by colonial officials
and missionaries, and the like.1 Marx, moreover, had no reason to question
the traditional historical accounts about the determinative role of Europe
in all of world history, given his classical German education and his
intellectual surroundings. Summing up: Marx questioned all of the unfounded
elitist doctrines which he encountered; but he did not, and could not,
question such doctrines when they related to places and peoples unknown to
him. But though Marx could not have been expected to reject the
Eurocentric-diffusionist model, the same excuse cannot be made for later
Marxists. After the turn of the century enough reliable information was
circulating in Europe about the nature of non-European societies, and about
anti-colonial struggles (notably in India and the Dutch East Indies), to
iraise questions, if anyone chose to do so, about the naturalness and
inevitability of European diffusions into the non-European world. Yet most
Marxist thinkers refused to do so. In the writings of Bernstein, Bauer,
Hilferding, Kautsky, and other major thinkers of the period, the European
world was still seen as the arena of historical changes, past and future,
and non-Europe as the recipient of diffusions from Europe. In this matter
they held views not notably different from mainstream European thinkers.

2. Euro-Marxism

By the time of the First World War, a few Marxist thinkers had begun to
question the Eurocentric-diffusionist model, or at least major parts of
that model. Luxemburg argued that the survival of capitalism depended on
wealth brought in from the non-European world; hence non-Europe had an
important effect on Europe, as well as the other way around. ("Europe," in
this paper, refers to the continent itself and European-settled regions
elsewhere, notably Anglo-America.) Lenin carried the argument considerably
farther. Unlike Luxemburg, he maintained that colonies and other dominated
regions would carry out successful liberation struggles, and so would stop,
and turn back, the diffusion process by which Europeans gained political
control and economic dominance of the non-European world.2 Since the First
world War, there have been in essence two Marxist schools of thought on the
matter of Eurocentric diffusionism. One of these I will call "Euro-Marxism"
because it proclaims the centrality of Europe in the past and present, the
priority of Europe at all times in historical progress, and the naturalness
and desirability of European influence on the non-European world. The
opposing school, which can be called non-diffusionist or uniformitarian
Marxism, broadly denies these propositions. The difference is not a matter
of politics: there have always been communists and evolutionary socialists
on both sides of the issue. One school questions the traditional European
doctrine of Eurocentric diffusionism; the other upholds it. Most Marxist
thinkers in the non-European world -- now the Third World -- tend to
question and reject the doctrine; most Marxists in the European world today
are, to one degree or another, Euro-Marxists. Marx himself was not a
Euro-Marxist: to be one implies a full awareness of the alternative
world-model, and Marx did not have, could not have had, such an awareness.

Louis Proyect

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