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

Carrol Cox cbcox at SPAMilstu.edu
Tue Nov 28 08:02:18 MST 2000

Louis Proyect wrote:

> >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.

This would have made a perfect Preface to the *Brenner Debate*. It provides
a perfect theoretical context for Brenner's thesis on the origins of
capitalism. The
primary error of most attacks on Brenner is that they assume some relationship
between priority and superiority. Trotsky makes clear the silliness of such
an assumption.

Undoubtedly, of course, there are defenders of the Brenner thesis who make
this same silly assumption. But it is false, deeply false and racist,
of what conclusion anyone derives from it. Most historians and theorists who
can be legitimately accused of eurocentrism make this assumption -- and
Jim Blaut's critique of them is accurate. It is too bad, however, that he
accepts their basic premise.


More information about the Marxism mailing list