Since the 1990s there has been an upsurge of academic interest in Trotsky’s concept of uneven and combined development, but relatively little attention has been paid to its intellectual antecedents. This first of two articles will reconstruct the sources and components of uneven and combined development, in particular the strategy of permanent revolution, the conditions for which it was intended as an explanation, and the theory of uneven development, which Trotsky had to extend in order to provide that explanation. The article moves between the concepts of permanent revolution and uneven development, tracing their historical development from emergence in the eighteenth century until the era of the first Russian Revolution. By this point a relationship between the two had begun to be established by Marxists on the centre and left of the Second International, and in turn made possible the formulation of the “law” of uneven and combined development, which will be discussed in the second article.
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