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Neil Davidson

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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Neil Davidson

The article begins by reconstructing the theory of uneven and combined development from Trotsky’s own writings in relation to Russia. It then looks more closely at the notion of the “modern” which in Trotsky’s account combines with the “archaic” or “backward,” before arguing that role of modernity suggests that uneven and combined development has been a far more widespread process than solely in the Third World/Global South. Drawing attention first to the English exception, the article then surveys examples from both West and East before concluding with an assessment of the relative durability of both permanent revolution and uneven development in the twenty-first century.

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Neil Davidson

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Neil Davidson

Abstract

This review of Chris Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages situates the book within the context of his earlier writings on the transition to feudalism, and contrasts his explanation for and dating of the process with those of the two main opposing positions set out in Perry Anderson’s Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism (1974) and Guy Bois’s The Transformation of the Year One Thousand (1989). Although Framing modifies some of Wickham’s earlier positions, it largely sidesteps explicit theoretical discussion for a compellingly detailed empirical study which extends to almost the entire territorial extent of the former Roman Empire. The review focuses on three main themes raised by Wickham’s important work: the existence or otherwise of a ‘peasant’-mode of production and its relationship to the ‘Asiatic’ mode; the nature of state-formation and the question of when a state can be said to have come into existence; and the rôle of different types of class-struggle - slave-rebellions, tax-revolts and peasant-uprisings - in establishing the feudal system.

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Neil Davidson

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The discussion of the American Civil War as a bourgeois revolution, reopened by John Ashworth’s recent work, needs to be based on a more explicit conceptualisation of what the category does, and does not, involve. This essay offers one such conceptualisation. It then deals with two key issues raised by the process of bourgeois revolution in the United States: the relationship between the War of Independence and the Civil War, and whether the nature of the South made conflict unavoidable. It then argues that the American Revolution is unique for two reasons: the non-feudal nature of Southern society and the fact that the Northern industrial bourgeoisie, unlike their European contemporaries, were still prepared to behave in a revolutionary way.

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Neil Davidson

Abstract

Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nişancıoğlu’s How the West Came to Rule is an important intervention within Marxist historical debates which seeks to use the theory of uneven and combined development (UCD) to explain the origin and rise to dominance of capitalism. The argument is shaped by a critique of Political Marxist ‘internalist’ explanations of the process, to which the authors counterpose an account which emphasises its inescapably ‘inter-societal’ nature. While recognising the many contributions that the book makes to our historical understanding, this article argues that these insights do not depend on UCD, and could have been arrived at without reference to it. In particular, it will try to show that UCD is inapplicable in periods before the consolidation of capitalism, but might be more usefully extended spatially rather than chronologically.