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Trotsky, Gerschenkron and the political economy of late capitalist development

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 17:37 authored by Benjamin SelwynBenjamin Selwyn
The study of late capitalist development is often characterized as a battle between protagonists of market-led versus state-led development. For the latter position, Alexander Gerschenkron looms large, as one of the most significant theorists of state-led development under conditions of relative backwardness. There are striking similarities between Gerschenkron's explication of the advantages of backwardness and Leon Trotsky's concept of uneven and combined development and the privilege of backwardness. (These similarities have been commented upon often but rarely subject to closer comparison.) Indeed, both men share a common problematic the comprehension of how economically backward countries could skip stages of development in order to join the ranks of economically advanced countries. This article compares their conception of this problematic and illustrates how in a number of areas the two are complementary. These are: their rejection of unilinear patterns of capitalist development, their appreciation of the role of states and institutions in facilitating late development and their understanding of development as a disruptive social process. However, in crucial areas the two diverge. These are: their comprehension of international economic and political relations, the role and position of labour in late development and, ultimately, the potential for late capitalist development to unleash social upheavals and further, non-capitalist transformations. Overall, I suggest how Trotsky's and Gerschenkron's approaches can complement each other, but that ultimately they represent fundamentally opposed approaches to human development.


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