The nation-wide public sector strike by 30 trade unions was a high point in the resistance against budget cuts and general restructuring in the UK (see November 30 – what next?). Since then, the enthusiasm and dynamic of the movement against public sector restructuring has evaporated. No new dates for joint strike action have been announced, there is very little mobilisation on the ground. In order to understand better the reasons behind this development, I suggest to focus on Trotsky’s work on uneven and combined development as well as permanent revolution.
Leon Trotsky introduced the notion of uneven and combined development in his book Results and Prospects (1906), when analysing the particular location of Russia within the conditions of capitalist expansion at the beginning of the 20th century. While Russia was economically ‘backward’ based on a large sector of inefficient agriculture indicating the unevenness of development in relation to advanced Western countries, this was combined with a number of small pockets of highly developed industries, especially in military-related production, that became established as a result of competition from the West. ‘The Russian State, erected on the basis of Russian economic conditions, was being pushed forward by the friendly, and even more by the hostile, pressure of the neighbouring State organisations, which had grown up on a higher economic basis’ (Trotsky 1906/2007: 27). Foreign capital, especially, drove industrialisation in Russia leading to a situation in which a highly centralised and advanced working class in certain sectors and specific geographical locations, especially St. Petersburg and Moscow, confronted a rather weak national bourgeoisie (Trotsky 1929/2007: 196; Trotsky 1932/2008: 8).
When Trotsky analysed the way of how Russia had been integrated into the global economy in processes of uneven and combined development, he was not simply interested in an assessment of Russian development. Rather, he wanted to understand in what way the structural preconditions of the Russian situation may facilitate revolutionary upheaval. Indeed, he assessed in what way it actually prepared the ground for a permanent revolution, in which a straight transition from a bourgeois to a socialist revolution was feasible (Trotsky 1929/2007: 253). The element of combined development is crucial in this respect, since it brings together the most advanced social forms with backward social forms, resulting in rather unstable if not explosive overall social formations. As Neil Davidson argues, ‘the archaic and the modern, the settled and disruptive, overlap, fuse and merge in all aspects of the social formations concerned, from the organisation of arms production to the structure of religious observance, in entirely new and unstable ways, generating socially explosive situations …’ (Davidson 2010: 13). Countries in the periphery, therefore, are potentially a more fertile ground for revolutionary uprisings than countries in the core with more coherent social formations. In Russia, it was an advanced military industrial sector with a highly organised working class, confronting an underdeveloped national bourgeoisie, combined with backward feudal social relations in the countryside, which provided the basis for permanent revolution. Today, as Davidson points out, ‘China and other states like India and Brazil where growth has been less dramatic remain both inherently unstable in their internal social relations and expansive in their external search for markets, raw materials and investment opportunities. It is in this inherent instability that the possibilities for permanent revolution lie’ (Davidson 2010: 17-18).
Coming back to the current global financial crisis and the cuts and restructuring in the UK, it should be no surprise that resistance is currently rather mooted. The UK as a result of its highly developed international financial markets is in the core of the European and global economy. The imposed cuts are felt, but the general social relations of production are still fairly homogenous, a fact which is also expressed in the widely accepted discourse that we are all in the same boat, we have all lived above our means and, therefore, should also all contribute our bit to the effort of cutting back national debt. By contrast, Greece is located in the periphery of the European political economy. Super profits resulting especially from German and French exports, two countries positioned within the core similarly to the UK, were invested in Greek state bonds, finance which was ultimately used to continue buying German and French exports. In order to ensure that the Greek state continues to be able to service its foreign debt, cuts and restructuring, imposed from the outside, are much more severe than in the UK (see The imposition of austerity and the move to authoritarian government – Part II). Unsurprisingly, class struggle is fought much more openly on the streets of Athens, i.e. the periphery of Europe, than in London. This does not mean that we should sit back in the UK and wait for others to push forward in the search for alternatives. On the contrary, we need to do what we can to mobilize for change. Nevertheless, we should not expect that large-scale resistance is going to start in the core. The initial spark has to come from the periphery. Solidarity with Greek workers and resistance in whatever way possible at home is our best contribution to this development.
Davidson, Neil (2010) ‘From Deflected Permanent Revolution to the Law of Uneven and Combined Development’, International Socialism, Second Series, No. 128. Available at: [http://www.isj.org.uk/?id=686]; accessed 12 September 2011.
Trotsky, Leon (1906/2007) ‘Results and Prospects’, in Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, intro. Michael Löwy. London: Socialist Resistance. PP.24-100.
Trotsky, Leon (1929/2007), ‘The Permanent Revolution’, in Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, intro. Michael Löwy. London: Socialist Resistance. PP.111-256.
Trotsky, Leon (1932/2008) History of the Russian Revolution. Chicago: Haymarket Books.
Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website: http://www.andreasbieler.net
15 March 2012