Towards a Radical Critique of Eurocentrism: An Interview with Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nisancioglu


Accord­ing to the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive, the origin of cap­i­tal­ism was a Euro­pean process at its core: this was a sys­tem born in the mills and fac­to­ries of Eng­land, or under the blades of the guil­loti­nes dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion. Polit­i­cal Marx­ism or even World-Sys­tems analy­sis have not escaped from this Euro­cen­tric vise. In How the West Came to Rule: The Geopo­lit­i­cal Ori­gins of Cap­i­tal­ism (Pluto Press, 2015), Alexan­der Anievas and Kerem Nisan­cioglu return to and recon­cep­tu­al­ize Trotsky’s the­ory of unequal and com­bined devel­op­ment in order to assess the deci­sive role of non-West­ern soci­eties in capitalism’s emer­gence. In this sense, they offer an inter­na­tion­al­ist the­ory of social change that is also not solely focused on the role of indus­trial labor. 

Ben­jamin Birn­baum: Your recently pub­lished book How the West Came to Rule, starts with a crit­i­cal assess­ment of the Marx­ist-inspired the­o­riza­tions regard­ing the tran­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism such as World-Sys­tems The­ory or Polit­i­cal Marx­ism. Why are they insuf­fi­cient to account for how the West came to rule?

Alexan­der Anievas and Kerem Nisan­cioglu: Well, there are actu­ally two dis­tinct, albeit tightly inter­con­nected, issues here. The first regards World-Sys­tem Analy­sis and Polit­i­cal Marx­ist con­cep­tions of the tran­si­tion from feu­dal­ism to cap­i­tal­ism and the sec­ond involves explain­ing the ascen­dancy of West­ern dom­i­na­tion. In the open­ing chap­ter of How the West Came to Rule, we really only focus on the first ques­tion con­cern­ing the tran­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism vis-a-vis Polit­i­cal Marx­ism and Immanuel Wallerstein’s par­tic­u­lar ren­di­tion of World-Sys­tem Analy­sis, while in later chap­ters we con­nect this issue to the “rise of the West” debate. We pro­ceeded in such a way because for both Polit­i­cal Marx­ists and the par­tic­u­lar form of World-Sys­tem Analy­sis put for­ward by Waller­stein, these two his­tor­i­cal ques­tions are largely con­flated: the ori­gins of cap­i­tal­ism in cer­tain West­ern Euro­pean states (notably, Hol­land and Eng­land) explains how “the West” rose to a posi­tion of global dom­i­nance.

This kind of approach is not so much wrong, as it is incom­plete. Clearly once the ini­tial break­throughs to cap­i­tal­ism were made in the Nether­lands and Eng­land, this led to increas­ing mate­rial dis­par­i­ties between these soci­eties and oth­ers. At the same time, how­ever, the advent of cap­i­tal­ism in North­west­ern Europe did not imme­di­ately trans­late into the kind of hier­ar­chi­cal power rela­tion that char­ac­ter­ized the nine­teenth cen­tury inter­na­tional order. While cap­i­tal­ist social struc­tures offered the pro­duc­tive poten­tial for increased tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions (par­tic­u­larly within the mil­i­tary sphere) and supe­rior finan­cial and orga­ni­za­tional capac­i­ties, the devel­op­men­tal effects were not instant or undif­fer­en­ti­ated, but stag­gered and uneven. Indeed, had it not been for the Euro­pean “dis­cov­ery” of the New World and the sig­nif­i­cant mate­rial ben­e­fits accrued to Europe – the ben­e­fits of which were dis­pro­por­tion­ately dis­trib­uted to the Nether­lands and Eng­land – this poten­tial may have gone largely unre­al­ized (cf. Chap­ter 5). Much the same can be said for the effects that the colonies in the East Indies had on Dutch cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment: were it not for the Dutch rul­ing class’ abil­i­ties to draw on this vast – albeit dis­persed – mass of labor-power in Asia, its cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment would have been unsus­tain­able in the way other “ante­dilu­vian” forms of cap­i­tal1 were like the North­ern Ital­ian city-states of Genoa and Venice (cf Chap­ter 7).

For these rea­sons, an account of the ori­gins of cap­i­tal­ism in North­west­ern Europe is in itself not enough to explain the sub­se­quent ascen­dancy of West­ern power. Rather, cap­i­tal­ism should be con­ceived as hav­ing pro­vided the con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­ity for North­west­ern Euro­pean states to even­tu­ally over­come and dom­i­nate their Asian rivals. Nonethe­less, it was only once cap­i­tal­ist Britain trans­formed itself into an indus­trial-cap­i­tal­ist power that it was capa­ble of dom­i­nat­ing other highly devel­oped Asian soci­eties such as China. More­over, Britain’s indus­tri­al­iza­tion was greatly facil­i­tated by both the New World “dis­cov­er­ies” and, per­haps even more impor­tantly, the col­o­niza­tion of the Indian land­mass which was only made pos­si­ble through a con­flu­ence of inter­nal and exter­nal pres­sures that severely desta­bi­lized the Mughal Empire by the early eigh­teenth cen­tury (see Chap­ter 8).

So the reduc­tion of the ques­tion of “how the West came to rule” to an expla­na­tion of the tran­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism is, as we see it, a gen­eral prob­lem com­mon to both Polit­i­cal Marx­ists and World-Sys­tem Ana­lysts such as Waller­stein and those who closely fol­low him. At the same time, there are num­ber of more speci­fic prob­lems with their respec­tive the­o­riza­tions of the ori­gins of cap­i­tal­ism (cf. Chap­ter 1). Briefly stated, we high­light three par­tic­u­larly prob­lem­atic and inter­con­nected issues with Polit­i­cal Marx­ist expla­na­tions of capitalism’s emer­gence: firstly, their com­mit­ment to a method­olog­i­cally inter­nal­ist and Euro­cen­tric – or, more pre­cisely, for Brenner’s fol­low­ers, Anglo­cen­tric – analy­sis of the ori­gins of cap­i­tal­ism; sec­ondly, the result­ing defi­cien­cies in their exam­i­na­tion of the rela­tion­ship between the mak­ing of cap­i­tal­ism and geopol­i­tics; and, thirdly, their highly abstract and min­i­mal­ist con­cep­tion of cap­i­tal­ism. For these rea­sons, we argue that Polit­i­cal Marx­ist approaches to the study of cap­i­tal­ism are both the­o­ret­i­cally and his­tor­i­cally unten­able, despite the many invalu­able insights and con­cepts they have to offer. Sim­i­larly, while high­light­ing some of the impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions that Waller­stein and other World-Sys­tem schol­ars have made to the study of capitalism’s ori­gins, we nonethe­less argue that this approach – espe­cially Wallerstein’s ren­di­tion of it – remains lim­ited by two debil­i­tat­ing prob­lems: the unwit­ting repro­duc­tion of a cer­tain kind of Euro­cen­trism that erases non-Euro­pean agency; and the inabil­ity to provide a suf­fi­ciently his­tori­cized con­cep­tion of cap­i­tal­ism.

These prob­lems with Polit­i­cal Marx­ism and World-Sys­tem Analy­sis turn out to be quite big when exam­in­ing the his­tory of cap­i­tal­ism. With­out a strong under­stand­ing of the broader inter­so­ci­etal or geopo­lit­i­cal con­texts in which Euro­pean soci­eties (notably within the North­west) first made the tran­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism, you sim­ply can­not explain how cap­i­tal­ism first emerged. The mak­ing of cap­i­tal­ism in Europe was not sim­ply an intra-Euro­pean phe­nom­e­non, but a decid­edly inter­na­tional or inter­so­ci­etal one, which saw non-Euro­pean agency relent­lessly imping­ing upon and (re)directing the tra­jec­tory and nature of Euro­pean devel­op­ment. Trac­ing this inter­na­tional, often extra-Euro­pean dimen­sion in the ori­gins of cap­i­tal­ism and the so-called “rise of the West” is one of the key themes of the book.

While our empha­sis on these inter­na­tional sources of capitalism’s emer­gence may seem rather obvi­ous to some, it’s strik­ing how few the­o­ret­i­cal approaches (Marx­ist or oth­er­wise) actu­ally provide a sub­stan­tive his­tor­i­cal soci­o­log­i­cal the­o­riza­tion of “the inter­na­tional.” Whether the approach in ques­tion con­cep­tu­al­izes the pri­mary “unit of analy­sis” as oper­at­ing at the domes­tic or world level – as exem­pli­fied by Polit­i­cal Marx­ism and World-Sys­tem Analy­sis, respec­tively – the prob­lem remains the same. By work­ing out­wards from a con­cep­tion of a speci­fic social struc­ture (be it slav­ery, feu­dal­ism, cap­i­tal­ism, etc.), the the­o­riza­tion of “the inter­na­tional” takes the form of a reimag­in­ing of domes­tic soci­ety writ large: an extrap­o­la­tion from ana­lyt­i­cal cat­e­gories derived from a soci­ety con­ceived as a uni­tary abstrac­tion. This then van­ishes what is unique to any inter­so­ci­etal sys­tem: a super­or­di­nat­ing “anar­chi­cal” struc­ture irre­ducible to the his­tor­i­cally var­ie­gated forms of soci­eties con­sti­tut­ing any given sys­tem.

This is a par­tic­u­larly debil­i­tat­ing prob­lem for Marx­ism because one of the hall­marks of Marx­ist the­ory is a strong claim to be able to provide a gen­uinely holis­tic con­cep­tion of social struc­tures, which requires a the­o­ret­i­cal inter­nal­iza­tion of the inter­de­pen­dency of each ele­ment within it “so that the con­di­tions of its exis­tence are taken to be part of what it is.”2 If such a claim is to be taken seri­ously, then the the­o­ret­i­cal stand­ing of “the inter­na­tional” for a his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ist approach to the ori­gins of cap­i­tal­ism requires a direct engage­ment with the ques­tion of what is “the inter­na­tional” under­stood and the­o­rized in its own sub­stan­tive his­tor­i­cal and soci­o­log­i­cal terms. In other words, how can one offer a prop­erly “soci­o­log­i­cal def­i­n­i­tion” of “the inter­na­tional” – mean­ing “that dimen­sion of social real­ity which arises specif­i­cally from the coex­is­tence within it of more than one soci­ety” – which “for­mu­lates this dimen­sion as an object of social theory…organically con­tained, that is, within a con­cep­tion of social devel­op­ment itself?”3

Our the­o­ret­i­cal answer to this prob­lem­atic – and the Euro­cen­tric modes of analy­ses it often gives rise to – is a crit­i­cal recon­struc­tion of Leon Trotsky’s con­cept of uneven and com­bined devel­op­ment (UCD) which has seen a recent revival in the dis­ci­pline of Inter­na­tional Rela­tions thanks in large part to Justin Rosenberg’s work.4 By posit­ing the mul­ti­lin­ear char­ac­ter of devel­op­ment as its “most gen­eral law,” uneven devel­op­ment pro­vides a nec­es­sary cor­rec­tive to the onto­log­i­cal sin­gu­lar con­cep­tion of soci­eties and the atten­dant uni­lin­ear con­cep­tion of his­tory that under­pins Euro­cen­tric analy­ses. By posit­ing the inher­ently inter­ac­tive char­ac­ter of social-polit­i­cal mul­ti­plic­ity, com­bined devel­op­ment in turn chal­lenges the method­olog­i­cal inter­nal­ism of Euro­cen­tric approaches whilst fur­ther sub­vert­ing its strong stag­ist model of devel­op­ment.

BB: Polit­i­cal Marx­ists offer a sharp dis­tinc­tion between feu­dal extra eco­nomic forms of sur­plus extrac­tion and cap­i­tal­ist non-coer­cive forms of sur­plus extrac­tions. Thus, they get close to an ideal-type abstrac­tion. Yet, Marx doesn’t seem to use such a sharp dis­tinc­tion as he con­sid­ered – for exam­ple – slav­ery in the Amer­i­cas as at least par­tially cap­i­tal­ist because it is part of a wider set of inter­na­tional cap­i­tal­ist eco­nomic rela­tions. How do you deter­mine cap­i­tal­ism?

AA and KN: We’re in absolute agree­ment with your assess­ment of Polit­i­cal Marxism’s con­cep­tion of cap­i­tal­ism; it is far too abstract and Pla­tonic to be very use­ful in under­stand­ing cap­i­tal­ism (past or present) as it excludes or exter­nal­izes so many socio­his­tor­i­cal processes that were – and con­tinue to be – inte­gral to the devel­op­ment and repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ism. This has some impor­tant polit­i­cal impli­ca­tions. The exter­nal­iza­tion of “extra-eco­nomic” forms of exploita­tion and oppres­sion from cap­i­tal­ism ulti­mately leads Polit­i­cal Marx­ists to exclude the his­to­ries of colo­nial­ism and slav­ery, an exam­ple you cor­rectly point out, from the inner work­ings of cap­i­tal­ism, argu­ing instead that such prac­tices were rooted in the feu­dal or abso­lutist logic of geopo­lit­i­cal accu­mu­la­tion. While we would not go as far as to claim that Polit­i­cal Marx­ists ignore colo­nial­ism and slav­ery per se – for exam­ple, Char­lie Post has a num­ber of excel­lent works5 on these issues, even if we dis­agree with his the­o­ret­i­cal con­clu­sions – they do nonethe­less view these his­to­ries as sit­ting out­side the pure “logic” of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment.

By con­trast, in How the West Came to Rule, we exam­ine these his­to­ries as inte­gral or con­sti­tu­tive aspects of the for­ma­tion of cap­i­tal­ism as the glob­ally dom­i­nant mode of pro­duc­tion (see esp. Chap­ters 5, 7 and 8). We also look at the inter­twined and var­ie­gated for­ma­tion of racial, gen­der and sex­ual hier­ar­chies intri­cately bound up and con­sti­tu­tive of the mak­ing of cap­i­tal­ism. With these issues in mind, we argue in the book that cap­i­tal­ism is best under­stood as a set of con­fig­u­ra­tions, assem­blages, or bundles of social rela­tions and processes ori­ented around the sys­tem­atic (re)production of the capital–wage-labor rela­tion, but not reducible – either his­tor­i­cally or log­i­cally – to that rela­tion alone. By plac­ing an empha­sis on such con­fig­u­ra­tions and assem­blages, we aim to high­light how the accu­mu­la­tion and repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal through the exploita­tion of wage-labor pre­sup­poses a wider array of dif­fer­ent social rela­tions that make these processes pos­si­ble. These social rela­tions may take numer­ous forms, such as coer­cive state appa­ra­tuses, ide­olo­gies and cul­tures of con­sent, or forms of power and exploita­tion that aren’t imme­di­ately given in or deriv­a­tive of the sim­ple cap­i­tal-wage-labor rela­tion, such as racism, patri­archy and unwaged labor. To be a bit more con­crete, the exam­ple you give of slav­ery in the Amer­i­cas – and, sim­i­larly, the forms of slav­ery in the Dutch colonies in East Asia – is exactly the kind of con­fig­u­ra­tion which was geared toward the sys­tem­atic repro­duc­tion of the capital–wage-labor rela­tion within Eng­land, but is nonethe­less not reducible to that rela­tion itself (see Chap­ters 5 and 7).

BB: On the one hand, Chakrabarty states that His­tory 1s are “con­sti­tu­tively but unevenly mod­i­fied” by His­tory 2s, on the other hand accord­ing to Chib­ber “Chakrabarty over­es­ti­mates the power of His­tory 2 to desta­bi­lize His­tory 1, he vastly under­es­ti­mates the sources of insta­bil­ity within His­tory 1.” How does the the­ory of uneven and com­bined devel­op­ment (UCD) con­tribute to under­stand the processes of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion within the uni­ver­sal­iz­ing dynam­ics of cap­i­tal­ism?6

AA and KN: There is a lot of con­fu­sion over Chakrabarty’s dis­tinc­tion between His­tory 1 and His­tory 2. Some quick def­i­n­i­tions then:

  • His­tory 1 denotes a past pre­sup­posed by cap­i­tal, “a past posited by cap­i­tal itself as its pre­con­di­tion” and “its invari­able result.”7 Although Chakrabarty leaves this largely unspec­i­fied, it is clear that what he has in mind is abstract labor.
  • His­tory 2 denotes those his­to­ries that are encoun­tered by cap­i­tal “not as antecedents” estab­lished by itself, nor “as forms of its own life-process.”8 His­tory 2s are not “out­side” of cap­i­tal or His­tory 1. Instead, they exist “in prox­i­mate rela­tion­ship to it,”9 whilst “interrupt[ing] and punctuat[ing] the run of capital’s own logic.”10 His­tory 2s may well include non-cap­i­tal­ist, pre-cap­i­tal­ist or local social rela­tions and processes, but the con­cept is not exhausted by these, and can refer to uni­ver­sal and global cat­e­gories, social rela­tions and process, includ­ing com­modi­ties and money – two uni­ver­sal cat­e­gories cen­tral to the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ism.11

Now, on the one hand, we would argue that Chakrabarty doesn’t under­es­ti­mate the sources of insta­bil­ity within His­tory 1. In Provin­cial­iz­ing Europe, Chakrabarty devotes an entire sub­sec­tion titled “Abstract Labor as Cri­tique” where he analy­ses pre­cisely those sources of insta­bil­ity within His­tory 1 (what is com­monly known among Marx­ists as the “mov­ing con­tra­dic­tion”). On the other hand, Chakrabarty in no way over­states the sig­nif­i­cance of His­tory 2. That is, the mis­take lies with Chibber’s inter­pre­ta­tion; by reduc­ing His­tory 2 to “local cul­ture,”12 it is clear that Chib­ber doesn’t under­stand what His­tory 2 actu­ally means. This becomes espe­cially evi­dent when Chib­ber invokes the “uni­ver­sal strug­gle by sub­al­tern classes to defend their basic human­ity” and “the inter­est in well-being” as a “fun­da­men­tal source of insta­bil­ity to cap­i­tal.”13 From the above def­i­n­i­tions, we can see that when Chib­ber invokes “well-being” and “basic human­ity,” he is para­dox­i­cally invok­ing His­tory 2s as the “source of insta­bil­ity to cap­i­tal.” If any­thing Chib­ber is guiltier of the prob­lem he attaches to Chakrabarty than Chakrabarty him­self.

The quag­mire of mud­dle fash­ioned by Chib­ber shouldn’t hin­der us from read­ing Chakrabarty sym­pa­thet­i­cally, or indeed read­ing him as a Marx­ist. Like Marx, Chakrabarty empha­sizes the ten­dency for cap­i­tal to uni­ver­sal­ize and dif­fer­en­ti­ate in equal mea­sure. But where Chakrabarty goes beyond Marx is iden­ti­fy­ing uni­ver­sal­is­ing and dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing ten­den­cies out­side of but related to the pristine logic of cap­i­tal (though he’s not alone in doing this). This brings into our under­stand­ing of global cap­i­tal­ism forms of oppres­sion but also agency and resis­tance that can reside out­side of the wage-rela­tion. This opens the the­o­ret­i­cal, his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal space to acknowl­edge the ways in which repro­duc­tive and/or affec­tive labor, or anti-racist, anti-caste strug­gles are  inte­gral to anti-cap­i­tal­ist pol­i­tics. It brings into view indige­nous strug­gles over land or the earth as vital com­po­nents of global resis­tance.

How­ever, there is an addi­tional source or field of uni­ver­sal­iza­tion-dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion that Chakrabarty doesn’t dis­cuss – the inter­so­ci­etal or inter­na­tional. One of the key insights of UCD is to demon­strate how the exis­tence of mul­ti­ple soci­eties – mul­ti­ple states – under cap­i­tal­ism is at once an indi­ca­tion of its uni­ver­sal­is­ing ten­dency and its ten­dency towards dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and frag­men­ta­tion. That is, the nation-state func­tions as a uni­ver­sal stan­dard of what form a polit­i­cal com­mu­nity can and should take. At the same time, con­crete processes of uneven and com­bined devel­op­ment con­sti­tute one of the biggest sources of con­tin­u­ing dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion between nation-states.

A cen­tral fac­tor per­pet­u­at­ing this uneven devel­op­ment, man­i­fested in ter­ri­to­ri­al­ized and geo­graph­i­cal forms, is the con­struc­tion of spa­tially-embed­ded phys­i­cal infra­struc­tures (e.g. trans­port facil­i­ties and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies) nec­es­sary for the expanded repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal. Invest­ments in such built envi­ron­ments come to define regional spaces for the cir­cu­la­tion of cap­i­tal. Cap­i­tal thus demon­strates a clear ten­dency towards con­cen­trat­ing in speci­fic regions at the expense of oth­ers, pro­duc­ing a some­what porous but nev­er­the­less iden­ti­fi­able “ter­ri­to­rial logic of power” – region­al­ity – inher­ently aris­ing out of the processes of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion in time and space.14

This form of uneven devel­op­ment is unique to the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. The effect of these ten­den­cies is that they will per­pet­u­ally act to under­mine any uni­fi­ca­tion of “many cap­i­tals” into a sin­gle frac­tion of “global cap­i­tal.” As Marx said, “Cap­i­tal exists and can only exist as many cap­i­tals and its self-deter­mi­na­tion there­fore appears as the mutual inter­ac­tion of these upon one another.” It must then by neces­sity “repel itself from itself.” Con­se­quently, a “uni­ver­sal cap­i­tal, one with­out alien cap­i­tals con­fronting it, with which it exchanges – is there­fore a non-thing.”15

More­over, as David Har­vey has shown, the repro­duc­tion and spa­tial expan­sion of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion pro­duces and neces­si­tates the cre­ation of rel­a­tively immo­bile and con­cen­trated orga­nized ter­ri­to­rial con­fig­u­ra­tions. Dense spa­tial con­stel­la­tions of cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions can thereby provide the ter­ri­to­rial foun­da­tions of states by both com­mand­ing and sup­ply­ing the nec­es­sary resources to sus­tain a func­tion­ing state appa­ra­tus. In this sense, the uneven and com­bined char­ac­ter of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment rein­forces and per­pet­u­ates ter­ri­to­rial frag­men­ta­tion which, in its con­tem­po­rary modal­ity, takes the form of a plu­ral­ity of sov­er­eign nation-states. In our view, this ter­ri­to­ri­al­iz­ing and deter­ri­to­ri­al­iz­ing geopol­i­tics of cap­i­tal­ism is unac­counted for in Chakrabarty; a geopol­i­tics that we think is cru­cial to under­stand­ing the ori­gins of cap­i­tal­ism and its con­tin­ued con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous repro­duc­tion.

BB: You under­line a weak­ness shared by both Euro­cen­tric and post­colo­nial accounts:the pre­sup­po­si­tion of a “her­met­i­cally sealed Euro­pean his­tory in which moder­nity was cre­ated before being sub­se­quently expanded glob­ally.”16 What are the main ideas of the “inter­na­tion­al­ist his­to­ri­og­ra­phy” of cap­i­tal­ism which is sup­posed to abol­ish that weak­ness?

AA and KN: What we mean by an “inter­na­tion­al­ist his­to­ri­og­ra­phy”17 is this: that the ori­gins and his­tory of cap­i­tal­ism can only be prop­erly under­stood in “inter­na­tional” or inter­so­ci­etal terms, and that this very “inter­na­tion­al­ity” is con­sti­tu­tive of cap­i­tal­ism as a his­tor­i­cal mode of pro­duc­tion. Although this may seem intu­itively obvi­ous to many read­ers, in the book we demon­strate how exist­ing con­cep­tions of cap­i­tal­ism have hith­erto failed to take this “inter­na­tion­al­ity” seri­ously, lead­ing to prob­lem­atic the­o­riza­tions of its ori­gins and devel­op­ment that limit not only our his­to­ries of cap­i­tal­ism, but also our cri­tiques of the present.

While there have been many stud­ies that empir­i­cally point to this “inter­na­tional” dimen­sion of capitalism’s his­tor­i­cal emer­gence and devel­op­ment, they by and large fail to the­o­ret­i­cally incor­po­rate the speci­fici­ties of “the inter­na­tional” as an organic com­po­nent of social devel­op­ment (see above). In other words, the inter­na­tional or geopo­lit­i­cal sources of devel­op­ment are rel­e­gated to the sphere of con­tin­gen­cies, exoge­nous “shocks” and/or other unthe­o­rized exter­nal­i­ties attached in an ad-hoc way to a pre-formed the­ory of soci­ety con­ceived as a sin­gu­lar abstrac­tion. In over­com­ing the the­o­ret­i­cal and empir­i­cal weak­nesses of such approaches, the book offers a the­o­ret­i­cal recon­struc­tion of Trotsky’s idea of UCD which uniquely incor­po­rates a dis­tinctly inter­so­ci­etal dimen­sion of causal­ity into its basic con­cep­tion of devel­op­ment. For implicit in Trotsky’s orig­i­nal for­mu­la­tion was a fun­da­men­tal rede­f­i­n­i­tion of the con­cept and logic of devel­op­ment itself: one inscribed with a “more-than-one” onto­log­i­cal premise that is miss­ing in other social the­o­ret­i­cal approaches.18

Such a per­spec­tive not only widens the spa­tial scope of analy­sis to cap­ture the dis­tinct deter­mi­na­tions aris­ing from the coex­is­tence and inter­ac­tion of mul­ti­ple soci­eties (i.e. “the inter­na­tional”), but also allows for a res­olute focus on the var­ie­gated rela­tions of inter­con­nec­tion and co-con­sti­tu­tion between “the West” and “the Rest” in their joint, if uneven, mak­ing of the mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist world. From the eco­nom­i­cally regen­er­a­tive effects of the expan­sion of the Pax Mon­golica over the Long Thir­teenth Cen­tury to the Ottoman-Hab­s­burg “super-power” rivalry dur­ing the Long Six­teenth cen­tury to the “dis­cov­ery” of the New World and its’ divi­sion along lin­early-demar­cated spaces of sov­er­eignty to the broader eco­nomic and strate­gic ben­e­fits accrued from the colonies span­ning the Atlantic to Indian Ocean, all these his­tor­i­cal processes and devel­op­ments were absolutely cen­tral to col­lapse of feu­dal­ism and the emer­gence of cap­i­tal­ist moder­nity (cf. Chap­ters 3-8).

BB: Marx wrote that “the veiled slav­ery of the wage work­ers in Europe needed, for its pedestal, slav­ery pure and sim­ple in the new world.“19 How did the new world “dis­cov­er­ies” con­tribute to the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism and the mod­ern ter­ri­to­ri­al­ized state sys­tem?

AA and KN: Indeed, the 1492 “dis­cov­er­ies” were cru­cial to the for­ma­tion of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist Euro­pean soci­eties, con­sti­tut­ing a fun­da­men­tal vec­tor of uneven and com­bined devel­op­ment through which the mod­ern world order was born. In How the West Came to Rule, we exam­ine a vast array of dif­fer­ent processes and devel­op­ments in which the “New World” impacted the dif­fer­en­tial devel­op­men­tal tra­jec­to­ries of the “Old World” in their var­ie­gated tran­si­tions (and non-tran­si­tions) to cap­i­tal­ist moder­nity.

For exam­ple, we look at how the inter­so­ci­etal inter­ac­tions, con­flicts and strug­gles between Euro­peans and Amerindi­ans that took place in the Amer­i­cas were crit­i­cal to the emer­gence of mod­ern con­cep­tions of ter­ri­to­rial sov­er­eignty and the devel­op­ment of Euro­cen­trism, sci­en­tific racism and the mod­ern insti­tu­tion of patri­archy. We exam­ine in par­tic­u­lar how the Span­ish jurists of the six­teenth cen­tury sought to rec­on­cile the increas­ing gap between Chris­ten­dom as an all-encom­pass­ing uni­ver­sal ide­ol­ogy and the encoun­ter with non-Chris­tian peo­ples in the Amer­i­cas. The jurists’ response to these prob­lems invited a recon­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of uni­ver­sal­ity, based on an onto­log­i­cal dis­tinc­tion between Euro­peans and “Indi­ans.”

Thus, whilst colo­nial­ists were con­duct­ing the “great­est geno­cide in human his­tory”20 in the Amer­i­cas, these ide­o­logues in Europe were busy­ing them­selves with tear­ing down an author­ity – Chris­ten­dom – that was prov­ing inca­pable of artic­u­lat­ing New World expe­ri­ences. It was out of the resul­tant debris that the twin con­cep­tions of the Euro­pean Self and the non-Euro­pean Other would emerge, paving the way for an ide­o­log­i­cal appa­ra­tus – Euro­cen­trism, racism, patri­archy – that would serve to both legit­imize the hor­rors of colo­nial­ism and spur the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism. The colo­nial encoun­ter in the Amer­i­cas also wit­nessed (for the first time in his­tory) the devel­op­ment of lin­ear forms of sov­er­eignty ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity (cf. Chap­ter 5).

We fur­ther show how the plun­der of Amer­i­can pre­cious met­als and resources by Euro­peans fur­ther exac­er­bated an already nascent diver­gence between the feu­dal­ism of the Iberian empires and the incip­i­ent cap­i­talisms of North­west Euro­peans. Indeed, the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism in Eng­land was itself depen­dent on the widened sphere of activ­ity offered by the Atlantic. As we demon­strate, it was only through the soci­o­log­i­cal com­bi­na­tion of Amer­i­can land, African slave labor, and Eng­lish cap­i­tal that the lim­its of Eng­lish agrar­ian cap­i­tal­ism were even­tu­ally over­come. Not only did the widened sphere of cir­cu­la­tion implied by the highly lucra­tive transat­lantic tri­an­gu­lar trade offer numer­ous oppor­tu­ni­ties to Eng­lish cap­i­tal­ists to expand their sphere of activ­ity, but the com­bi­na­tion of dif­fer­ent labor processes across the Atlantic enabled the recom­po­si­tion of labor in Britain through the Indus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion. The bru­tal exploita­tion of slaves on the plan­ta­tion offered an array of “inputs” that con­tributed to the Indus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion. It was in this respect, among oth­ers, that the real sub­sump­tion of labor under cap­i­tal in the British fac­tory, and the estab­lish­ment of “free” wage labor in Europe, “needed” as its fun­da­men­tal pre­con­di­tion “the unqual­i­fied slav­ery of the New World as its pedestal.”

BB: Neo-Webe­rian schol­ars con­sider geopo­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion as the dri­ving force behind state for­ma­tion in Europe. Thereby, in a real­ist man­ner, they sup­pose that inter­na­tional pol­i­tics take place within a con­text of anar­chy. If anar­chy is not the dri­ving force behind pol­i­tics what explains the war-prone nature of the Euro­pean feu­dal state sys­tem?

AA and KN: In short, the answer lies in the speci­fici­ties of feu­dal rela­tions of pro­duc­tion which, over the course of the late Medieval and early mod­ern peri­ods, descended into a gen­er­al­ized sys­temic cri­sis. At first sight, this might seem like an illicit return to the kind of inter­nal­ist Euro­cen­tric the­o­riz­ing we crit­i­cize through­out the book. How­ever, when widen­ing the analy­sis beyond Europe, it is impor­tant to rec­og­nize that Europe’s feu­dal social rela­tions – and the geopo­lit­i­cal sys­tem emerg­ing there­with – along with their tech­no­log­i­cal, mil­i­tary, and ide­o­log­i­cal com­po­nents all bore a dis­tinctly inter­so­ci­etal origin as we show in the book (cf. Chap­ters 3, 4, 6, 8)

While keep­ing these inter­so­ci­etal, extra-Euro­pean sources of the mak­ing of Euro­pean feu­dal­ism in mind, how then did feu­dal­ism gen­er­ate such a com­pet­i­tive and war-prone geopo­lit­i­cal sys­tem? Here we par­tially fol­low Robert Brenner’s work on the sub­ject. In the absence of the kind of unprece­dented eco­nomic dynamism afforded by cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions, war was an expe­di­ent mode of expand­ing the sur­pluses avail­able to the rul­ing classes under feu­dal­ism. Feu­dal pro­duc­tive rela­tions offered few incen­tives for either peas­ant or lord to con­tin­u­ously and sys­tem­at­i­cally intro­duce more pro­duc­tive tech­no­log­i­cal meth­ods, par­tic­u­larly as peas­ants had direct access to their means of pro­duc­tion and sub­sis­tence. Con­se­quently, lordly inter­ests lay in extract­ing more sur­pluses by directly coer­cive means. This could be done by push­ing the peas­ants to the limit of their sub­sis­tence or by seiz­ing the demes­nes of other lords. The lat­ter course resulted in a process of “polit­i­cal accu­mu­la­tion” amongst the lords them­selves – a war-dri­ven process of state for­ma­tion.21

This con­di­tion meant that the aris­to­cratic rul­ing class required the polit­i­cal, ide­o­log­i­cal, and mil­i­tary means in order to exploit the peas­antry and extract a sur­plus for the pur­pose of lordly con­sump­tion. How­ever, unlike the trib­u­tary empires in Asia, these means were not con­trolled by – or con­cen­trated in – a cen­tral­ized and uni­fied state, but instead dis­persed across the nobil­ity. This dis­per­sion of coer­cive capa­bil­i­ties meant that polit­i­cal author­ity in Europe was frag­mented, par­cel­lized and there­fore also highly com­pet­i­tive, with height­ened intra-lordly strug­gle tak­ing place over ter­ri­to­ries both within and out­side of feu­dal “states” (see Chap­ters 4, 6,and 8).

The lords left stand­ing at the end of the process of geopo­lit­i­cal accu­mu­la­tion formed the basis for the abso­lutist state. Rep­re­sent­ing a “rede­ployed and recharged appa­ra­tus of feu­dal dom­i­na­tion,”22 the abso­lutist states sys­tem of early mod­ern Euro­pean remained dri­ven by the sys­temic imper­a­tives of geopo­lit­i­cal accu­mu­la­tion that came to inter­act – and in some cases fuse – with the emerg­ing logic of com­pet­i­tive cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion accom­pa­ny­ing those states already mak­ing the tran­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism in part explain­ing the endemic state of war-mark­ing the epoch. What made this era of per­ma­nent war so intense was the gen­er­al­ized cri­sis of feu­dal pro­duc­tion rela­tions beset­ting Europe.

The per­sis­tence of armed con­flict through­out the period was not just a result of the usual struc­tural dynam­ics of the feu­dal mode – the ten­dency toward (geo)political accu­mu­la­tion – but, rather, because the process of rul­ing class repro­duc­tion was itself in cri­sis and under threat as feu­dal­ism had vir­tu­ally exhausted all pos­si­bil­i­ties for fur­ther inter­nal expan­sion (i.e. within Europe). This in turn pre­cip­i­tated a sharp fall in seignio­r­ial rev­enues, itself fur­ther exac­er­bated by the plague-induced demo­graphic cri­sis, lead­ing to a dra­matic rise in peas­ant revolts and class strug­gles more gen­er­ally (see Chap­ter 3). This per­ilous sit­u­a­tion was fur­ther exac­er­bated and “overde­ter­mined” by the per­sis­tent geopo­lit­i­cal threat ema­nat­ing from the Ottoman Empire (see Chap­ter 4). Under such con­di­tions, a near con­tin­u­ous state of war – includ­ing both intra-rul­ing class strug­gles and the inces­sant efforts to crush peas­ant rebel­lions – became a soci­o­log­i­cal “neces­sity” (cf. Chap­ter 6).

BB: Against Polit­i­cal Marx­ist accounts insist­ing on the inter­nal rea­sons for the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism in Eng­land you under­line the deci­sive role of exter­nal fac­tors via “the priv­i­lege of back­ward­ness” or “the whip of exter­nal neces­sity.” What exter­nal fac­tors con­tributed to the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism in Eng­land and how are the linked to inter­nal fac­tors such as the class strug­gle between lords and peas­ants lead­ing to agrar­ian cap­i­tal­ism?

AA and KN: Polit­i­cal Marx­ists have cor­rectly iden­ti­fied the exis­tence of a rel­a­tively homoge­nous Eng­lish rul­ing class as an expla­na­tion for England’s pecu­liar tra­jec­tory to agrar­ian cap­i­tal­ism. In con­trast to the French, where the state and the nobil­ity com­peted over peas­ant sur­pluses, the Eng­lish rul­ing class acted in unison to expro­pri­ate the peas­antry and enclose land. By “free­ing” the peas­antry from land in this way, and by con­cen­trat­ing the means of pro­duc­tion in the hands of the rul­ing class, we see the emer­gence of a dis­tinct class of cap­i­tal­ists, on the one hand, and wage-labor­ers, on the other. But why did Eng­land specif­i­cally exhibit this pecu­liar rul­ing class unity? For Perry Ander­son, among oth­ers, the answer lies in the rel­a­tive demil­i­ta­riza­tion of the Eng­lish rul­ing class dur­ing the six­teenth cen­tury. Whereas early mod­ern abso­lutist states in the rest of Europe were cen­tral­iz­ing and expand­ing their mil­i­tary capac­i­ties in the form of stand­ing armies and invest­ment in arms, Eng­land was regress­ing mil­i­tar­ily.

The obvi­ous expla­na­tion for this demil­i­ta­riza­tion is England’s rel­a­tive iso­la­tion from geopo­lit­i­cal pres­sures – they didn’t need an army because they were com­par­a­tively insu­lated from the mul­ti­ple wars engulf­ing Europe at the time. We argue one of the key rea­sons – arguably the sin­gle most impor­tant rea­son – for England’s iso­la­tion was that it was unim­por­tant to the ambi­tions and con­cerns of the major geopo­lit­i­cal pow­ers of the time – it was con­sid­ered “rel­a­tively back­ward,” a north east­ern back­wa­ter that was irrel­e­vant to the repro­duc­tion of Chris­ten­dom and impe­rial feu­dal­ism. In the six­teenth cen­tury, the sin­gle most impor­tant threat to the great pow­ers of Chris­ten­dom was found to the south­east, in the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottomans were mak­ing rapid incur­sions into south east Europe and tak­ing pos­ses­sion of the east­ern Mediter­ranean – at this time the pivot of Euro­pean geopo­lit­i­cal inter­ests. The Ottomans thus acted as a kind of buffer, or geopo­lit­i­cal cen­ter of grav­ity, that sucked the most pow­er­ful state in Europe into its orbit, leav­ing Eng­land rel­a­tively iso­lated from the machi­na­tions of the Hab­s­burgs, the Papal states, Ital­ian city states and (to a lesser degree) the French. And it was the iso­la­tion wrought by the Ottoman buffer that homog­e­nized the Eng­lish rul­ing class, enabling it to under­take such uni­fied action against the peas­antry. The his­tory of the enclo­sures there­fore can only be fully under­stood when viewed from an Ottoman van­tage point.

BB: Accord­ing to André Tosel, 1991 was not the end of Marx­ism but the end of Marx­ism-Lenin­ism which also con­tained a deter­min­is­tic, stag­ist per­spec­tive of his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment. How do you explain the re-emer­gence of UCD in Marx­ist the­ory?

AA and KN: Trots might cry: “Re-emer­gence? Pah! We always spoke about UCD!” How­ever, it is inter­est­ing that despite Trot­sky­ists’ invok­ing UCD, it is only in the last decade or so that there has been such a res­olute and inno­v­a­tive use of the idea, either the­o­ret­i­cally or his­tor­i­cally. Per­haps, more inter­est­ingly, many of these inno­va­tions are com­ing from peo­ple who long aban­doned Trot­sky­ism as a polit­i­cal project (or who were never part of it in the first place). This, inci­den­tally, is why we would resist John Hobson’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of UCD as “neo-Trot­sky­ist.”23

But the ques­tion of UCD’s very own his­toric­ity is extremely impor­tant and one we only par­tially broach in the book. Though we do rec­og­nize the con­text of its emer­gence in debates among rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies in the early 20th cen­tury, we don’t really exam­ine its recent re-emer­gence. And although we his­tor­i­cally sit­u­ate the study of cap­i­tal­ism in the post-2008 con­text, the his­tory of UCD as an intel­lec­tual project has a dif­fer­ent pulse. From a rather insu­lar, aca­d­e­mic per­spec­tive, the cur­rency of the idea of UCD is rooted in a set of intel­lec­tual prob­lems that Marx­ists (and sub­se­quently non-Marx­ists) were grap­pling within the dis­ci­pline of Inter­na­tional Rela­tions – specif­i­cally, “why is there no inter­na­tional his­tor­i­cal soci­ol­ogy?” or, more gen­er­ally, why has been so dif­fi­cult to bridge between soci­o­log­i­cal and geopo­lit­i­cal modes of the­o­riz­ing.24 UCD struck many of us as a remark­ably use­ful way of answer­ing these ques­tions. But there is a wider his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal con­text that is worth expli­cat­ing.

For starters, yes, 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union put paid to any rem­nants of sta­dial the­o­riz­ing (within Marx­ism at least). But it also opened up a set of polit­i­cal ques­tions that tore at many of the old (and prob­lem­atic) cer­tain­ties of the Marxist(-Leninist) left. We see in this period the tri­umph of neolib­er­al­ism, the chang­ing nature of the state-form, the grow­ing vagaries of so-called glob­al­iza­tion and the increas­ing sub­sump­tion of social life under the aus­pices of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion. All of these devel­op­ments opened very new polit­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties and neces­si­ties that the “old left” – with its attach­ment to the iden­tity of “the worker” – could not ade­quately engage with. Reflect­ing on this polit­i­cal and intel­lec­tual his­tory then, it is not sur­pris­ing that UCD emerges in a con­text in which the­o­ret­i­cal con­structs derived from sin­gu­lar expe­ri­ences of oppres­sion – derived from sin­gu­lar van­tage points – were becom­ing increas­ingly irrel­e­vant if not down­right use­less to the lived expe­ri­ences of the global pro­le­tariat.

Con­cur­rently, the increas­ing cur­rency of post­struc­tural­ist, post­colo­nial, crit­i­cal race, fem­i­nist and queer con­cep­tions of the way in which cap­i­tal­ism – and power more gen­er­ally – oper­ates placed a greater con­cep­tual need to engage with ques­tions of lim­i­nal­ity, hybrid­ity, inter­sec­tion­al­ity and so on. Many of the more dog­matic trends of Marx­ism tended to ignore, side­line or be openly hos­tile to these dif­fer­ent approaches, and many con­tinue to do so (think of the var­i­ous lazy dis­missals of “iden­tity pol­i­tics” that con­tinue to per­vade var­i­ous polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions that lay claim to lib­er­a­tion and rev­o­lu­tion). UCD is an idea that is – the­o­ret­i­cally at least – more sym­pa­thetic to and more in com­mon with these “post-pos­i­tivist” trends (or rather that’s the way we see it). At the same time, it is an idea that remains wed­ded in many (not nec­es­sar­ily all) respects to a his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ist approach, class analy­sis and Marx(ist) writ­ings. To our minds, UCD there­fore might con­sti­tute a frame­work through which the­o­ret­i­cal and polit­i­cal gaps between Marx­ist and non-Marx­ist crit­i­cal approaches might be pro­duc­tively bridged. For exam­ple, in How the West Came to Rule, we seek to open a dia­logue with post­colo­nial approaches, rather than dis­miss them.

BB: Michael Löwy states that “the pol­i­tics of com­bined and uneven devel­op­ment” con­sists of three dialec­ti­cally linked prob­lems: the pos­si­bil­ity of pro­le­tar­ian rev­o­lu­tion in “back­ward” coun­tries; the unin­ter­rupted tran­si­tion from the demo­c­ra­tic to social­ist rev­o­lu­tion; and the inter­na­tional exten­sion of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary process.25 What role does the unin­ter­rupted inter­na­tional rev­o­lu­tion­ary process play in your analy­sis, where UCD is con­sid­ered to be tran­shis­tor­i­cal, or – to be pre­cise – trans­modal?

AA and KN: Per­haps it’s worth clar­i­fy­ing what we mean by UCD oper­at­ing trans­modally.  When used at a gen­eral, trans­modal level, UCD is best under­stood as a basic premise or ontol­ogy of human his­tory. Put dif­fer­ently it iden­ti­fies an abstract set of deter­mi­nants which describe a gen­eral con­di­tion con­fronted by all soci­eties irre­spec­tive of his­tor­i­cal con­text. There­fore, when used at this trans­modal level, UCD doesn’t actu­ally tell us much about con­crete his­tor­i­cal processes and cer­tainly explains very lit­tle about these processes. At this level of abstrac­tion it does not con­sti­tute the­ory. How­ever, this is not the only way in which UCD can be used. In the book, we also use it method­olog­i­cally. From the trans­modal onto­log­i­cal premise we can derive a set of ques­tions for research, in par­tic­u­lar an atten­tive­ness to: (1) the mul­ti­plic­ity of soci­etal devel­op­ment; (2) inter­ac­tions between soci­eties aris­ing out of that mul­ti­plic­ity; and, (3) the com­bined forms of devel­op­ment that emerge out of these inter­ac­tions. But, these gen­eral onto­log­i­cal and method­olog­i­cal assump­tions taken on their own, still do not con­sti­tute a the­ory as such – at least not in the specif­i­cally Marx­ist sense. That is, the­ory is only pos­si­ble at the more his­tor­i­cally speci­fic-level at which the onto­log­i­cal and method­olog­i­cal coor­di­nates of study are con­nected to more deter­mi­nate, con­crete, his­tor­i­cal-soci­o­log­i­cal cat­e­gories. We think this is use­ful in that we can con­sider UCD in its his­tor­i­cal speci­ficity, as some­thing that is dif­fer­ent in dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal con­texts, with­out nec­es­sar­ily aban­don­ing the trans­modal premise. (This is in fact pre­cisely how the Marx­ist idea of “mode of pro­duc­tion” works).

Return­ing to Löwy, his exca­va­tion of the pol­i­tics of UCD takes place at a con­crete level of analy­sis, one which is inflected by the trans­modal con­cep­tion of UCD, but not derived from it. The prob­lems Löwy there­fore iden­ti­fies are speci­fic to a set of his­tor­i­cal prob­lems (in par­tic­u­lar those per­tain­ing to the 20th cen­tury) that do not nec­es­sar­ily hold in dif­fer­ent con­texts, be it today or the early mod­ern period (which is the focus of our analy­sis). Whether these prob­lems are con­sti­tuted in dif­fer­ent epochs is the work of his­tor­i­cal soci­ol­ogy and polit­i­cal activ­ity, and can­not be derived from any trans­modal claims alone.

Were Löwy’s prob­lems present or observ­able in the focus of our analy­sis (i.e. the ori­gins to cap­i­tal­ism)? Well, some of his claims – specif­i­cally the exis­tence of a pro­le­tariat and the ques­tion of tran­si­tion from demo­c­ra­tic to social­ist rev­o­lu­tion – pre­sup­pose cap­i­tal­ism, and there­fore can­not be con­sid­ered as part of the his­tory of its ori­gins. The way the third prob­lem – the inter­na­tional exten­sion of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary process – is framed is itself prob­lem­atic. It pre­sup­poses some inter­nal – domes­tic – rev­o­lu­tion that sub­se­quently extends out­wards – inter­na­tion­ally. Such a per­spec­tives suf­fers from the sort of inter­nal­ism (or method­olog­i­cal nation­al­ism) that UCD is used to over­come.

Nonethe­less, in some for­mal sense, you could argue that there are numer­ous ways in which “inter­na­tional rev­o­lu­tion­ary processes” played some sig­nif­i­cant role in the period we look at the in the book. Take for exam­ple, the cri­sis of Chris­ten­dom. We have in Europe the break­down of feu­dal­ism and peas­ant upris­ings, artic­u­lated along the lines of reli­gious revolt. At the same time, peas­ant revolts against Chris­ten­dom facil­i­tated the expan­sion of the Ottoman Empire into Chris­tian ter­ri­to­ries, fur­ther weak­en­ing the Papacy and the Hab­s­burg Empire. We have simul­ta­ne­ously in the Amer­i­cas a series of revolts by indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties against Iberian impe­ri­al­ism. Mean­while, in Asia, local com­mu­ni­ties were resist­ing attempts at colo­nial set­tle­ment by the Iberi­ans and, later, Dutch pow­ers.

We argue that these inter­na­tional, often non-Euro­pean, uneven yet inter­sect­ing his­to­ries were cru­cial to break­down of social order in Europe. It was sub­se­quently out of the wreck­age of this crum­bling social order that alter­na­tive meth­ods of exploita­tion and social order emerged – namely cap­i­tal­ism, racism and mod­ern forms of patri­archy. More­over, such new meth­ods were used specif­i­cally to crush and/or con­trol these inter­na­tional insur­gent move­ments. I guess the point here is a more basic one – the onto­log­i­cal premise of a trans­modal UCD and the method­olog­i­cal point­ers it gives rise to helps us under­stand class strug­gle and sub­al­tern agency in inter­so­ci­etal rather than domes­tic or method­olog­i­cally nation­al­ist terms. UCD helps us rec­og­nize how uneven, mul­ti­ple, insur­rec­tionary processes might inter­sect and com­bine glob­ally. And this is of rel­e­vance today, just as much as it was when Löwy was writ­ing.

This inter­view was orig­i­nally pub­lished in Péri­ode.

  1. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal, Vol­ume III, trans. David Fern­bach (Har­mondsworth: Pen­guin, 1981), 728. 

  2. Bertell Oll­man, “Marx­ism and Polit­i­cal Sci­ence: Pro­le­gomenon to a Debate on Marx’s Method,” in Social and Sex­ual Rev­o­lu­tion: Essays on Marx and Reich (Lon­don: Pluto Press, 1979), 99-156, 105. 

  3. Justin Rosen­berg, “Why Is There No Inter­na­tional His­tor­i­cal Soci­ol­ogy?,” Euro­pean Jour­nal of Inter­na­tional Rela­tions, Vol. 12 No. 3 (2006): 307–340, 308. 

  4. See esp. Rosen­berg, “Why Is There No Inter­na­tional His­tor­i­cal Soci­ol­ogy?.” See also this list of some of the con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture on uneven and com­bined devel­op­ment. 

  5. See esp. Char­lie Post, The Amer­i­can Road to Cap­i­tal­ism: Stud­ies in Class-Struc­ture, Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment, and Polit­i­cal Con­flict, 1620–1877 (Lei­den: Brill, His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism Book Series, 2011). 

  6. Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provin­cial­iz­ing Europe (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press, 2008, 2nd Edn.), 70; Vivek Chib­ber, Post­colo­nial The­ory and the Spec­tre of Cap­i­tal (Lon­don: Verso, 2013), 229. 

  7. Chakrabarty, Provin­cial­iz­ing Europe, 63. 

  8. Ibid., 63; Karl Marx, Grun­drisse, trans. Mar­tin Nico­laus (Har­mondsworth: Pen­guin, 1973), 105–106. 

  9. Chakrabarty, Provin­cial­iz­ing Europe, 66. 

  10. Ibid., 64. 

  11. “Cap­i­tal orig­i­nally finds the com­mod­ity already in exis­tence, but not as its own pro­duct, and like­wise finds money cir­cu­la­tion, but not as an ele­ment in its own repro­duc­tion… But both of them must be destroyed as inde­pen­dent forms and sub­or­di­nated to indus­trial cap­i­tal” (Marx quoted in Chakrabarty, Provin­cial­iz­ing Europe, 64). 

  12. Chib­ber, Post­colo­nial The­ory and the Spec­tre of Cap­i­tal, 235. 

  13. Chib­ber, Post­colo­nial The­ory and the Spec­tre of Cap­i­tal, 235. 

  14. David Har­vey, Spaces of Global Cap­i­tal­ism (Lon­don: Verso, 2006), 102; Ray Kiely, “Cap­i­tal­ist Expan­sion and the Impe­ri­al­ism-Glob­al­iza­tion Debate: Con­tem­po­rary Marx­ist Expla­na­tions,” Jour­nal of Inter­na­tional Rela­tions and Devel­op­ment  Vol. 8, No. 1 (2005): 27–57, 41; David Har­vey, The New Impe­ri­al­ism (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press, 2003), 103. 

  15. Marx, Grun­drisse, 401, 421. 

  16. Alexan­der Anievas and Kerem Nisan­cioglu, How the West Came to Rule (Lon­don: Pluto Press, 2015), 40. 

  17. Jairus Banaji, The­ory as His­tory (Lei­den: Brill, 2010), 253. 

  18. Justin Rosen­berg, “The Philo­soph­i­cal Premises of Uneven and Com­bined Devel­op­ment,” Review of Inter­na­tional Stud­ies, 39, 3 (2013): 569-597, 581-83. 

  19. Karl Marx, Cap­i­talVol­ume I, trans. Ben Fowkes (Lon­don: Pen­guin Books, 1976), 925. 

  20. Tzve­tan Todorov, The Con­quest of Amer­ica: The Ques­tion of the Other (Nor­man: Uni­ver­sity of Okla­homa Press, 1982), 5. 

  21. Robert Bren­ner, “The Social Basis of Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment,” in John Roe­mer, ed, Ana­lyt­i­cal Marx­ism (Cambridge:Cambridge Uni­ver­sity Press, 1986), 23-53, 31–32. 

  22. Perry Ander­son, Lin­eages of the Abso­lutist State (Lon­don: New Left Books, 1974), 18. 

  23. John M. Hob­son, “What’s at Stake in the Neo-Trot­sky­ist Debate? Towards a Non-Euro­cen­tric His­tor­i­cal Soci­ol­ogy of Uneven and Com­bined Devel­op­ment,” Mil­len­nium, Vol. 40, No. 1 (2011): 147-166. 

  24. Rosen­berg, “Why Is There No Inter­na­tional His­tor­i­cal Soci­ol­ogy?.” 

  25. Michael Löwy, The The­ory of Rev­o­lu­tion in the Young Marx (Chicago: Hay­mar­ket, 2010), 1; see also his The Pol­i­tics of Com­bined and Uneven Devel­op­ment: The The­ory of Per­ma­nent Rev­o­lu­tion (Lon­don: New Left Books, 1981). 

Authors of the article

teaches political science and international relations at the University of Cambridge. Most notably, he is the author of Capital, State, War (2014).

is a Lecturer in International Studies at SOAS, University of London. He recently published The Ottoman Origins of Capitalism: Uneven and Combined Development and Eurocentrism (2014).

is member of the editorial committee of the French-language review Période and graduated from Sciences Po Paris.