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Economic Development and Historical Specificity: Late Karl Marx?

Bracarense Natalia, North Central College

Widespread interpretations of the first volume of Capital maintain that Karl Marx conceptualized economic development as an historical process in which economic progress is cosmopolitan, evolutionary, and teleological. The less-developed countries, in terms of industrial growth, could see their future reflected in the mirror of the most advanced. Less widely read are Marx’s notes and letters from 1870 to 1881, in which he revisited discussions of heterogeneous social formations in the world. In fact, throughout his life Marx studied countries with different levels of capitalist development, such as Ireland, India, and Russia. In these studies, Marx saw a possibility for different routes of historical progress and talked about systemic developments where the historical periodization and evolution he observed in Western Europe did not necessarily follow. Marx admitted that alternative modes of production could emerge from Russian peasant communes or the artel, which was a self-organized community based on shared ownership of land. In the last years of his life, Marx concluded that pressures imposed on and from the artel could unfold either with the destruction of these communities by the forces of capitalism or with society being “transformed into this higher form without Russian peasants going through the intermediate step of bourgeois individual private ownership of land” (Marx 1874).The present paper aims at analyzing Marx’s reflections on the meaning and historical possibilities of the coexistence, in varying degree, of capitalist and strong non-capitalist elements within a societal arrangement and their potential impact on our current understanding of economic development.


Keywords: Russia, Historical Evolution, Peripheral Capitalism

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