"The laws of history have nothing in common with a pedantic schematism"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Tue Nov 28 07:23:04 MST 2000



>From Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, chapter one:

A backward country assimilates the material and intellectual conquests of
the advanced countries. But this does not mean that it follows them
slavishly, reproduces all the stages of their past. The theory of the
repetition of historic cycles - Vico and his more recent followers - rests
upon an observation of the orbits of old pre-capitalist cultures, and in
part upon the first experiments of capitalist development. A certain
repetition of cultural stages in ever new settlements was in fact bound up
with the provincial and episodic character of that whole process.
Capitalism means, however, an overcoming of those conditions. It prepares
and in a certain sense realises the universality and permanence of man's
development. By this a repetition of the forms of development by different
nations is ruled out. Although compelled to follow after the advanced
countries, a backward country does not take things in the same order. 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. Savages
throw away their bows and arrows for rifles all at once, without travelling
the road which lay between those two weapons in the past. The European
colonists in America did not begin history all over again from the
beginning. The fact that Germany and the United States have now
economically outstripped England was made possible by the very backwardness
of their capitalist development. On the other hand, the conservative
anarchy in the British coal industry - as also in the heads of MacDonald
and his friends - is a paying-up for the past when England played too long
the rôle of capitalist pathfinder. The development of historically backward
nations leads necessarily to a peculiar combination of different stages in
the historic process. Their development as a whole acquires a planless,
complex, combined character.

The possibility of skipping over intermediate steps is of course by no
means absolute. Its degree is determined in the long run by the economic
and cultural capacities of the country. The backward nation, moreover, not
infrequently debases the achievements borrowed from outside in the process
of adapting them to its own more primitive culture. In this the very
process of assimilation acquires a self-contradictory character. THUS THE
INTRODUCTION OF CERTAIN ELEMENTS OF WESTERN TECHNIQUE AND TRAINING, ABOVE
ALL MILITARY AND INDUSTRIAL, UNDER PETER I, LED TO A STRENGTHENING OF
SERFDOM AS THE FUNDAMENTAL FORM OF LABOUR ORGANISATION. European armament
and European loans - both indubitable products of a higher culture - led to
a strengthening of tzarism, which delayed in its turn the development of
the country.

The laws of history have nothing in common with a pedantic schematism.
Unevenness, the most general law of the historic process, reveals itself
most sharply and complexly in the destiny of the backward countries. Under
the whip of external necessity their backward culture is compelled to make
leaps. From the universal law of unevenness thus derives another law which,
for the lack 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 the separate steps, an amalgam of archaic with more
contemporary forms. Without this law, to be taken of course, in its whole
material content, it is impossible to understand the history of Russia, and
indeed of any country of the second, third or tenth cultural class.


Louis Proyect
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