To read this content please select one of the options below:

The Uneven and Combined Development of International Historical Sociology

Theoretical Engagements in Geopolitical Economy

ISBN: 978-1-78560-295-5, eISBN: 978-1-78560-294-8

Publication date: 22 September 2015


This piece takes issue with the deployment of Trotsky’s idea of uneven and combined development (UCD) in the Anglophone discipline of International Relations (IR). It argues that this strand of thought makes a theory out of what is really a theorem (a deduction from an axiom), whilst forgetting about the original, actual theory of which it was part, Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. IR U&CD, marketed in the discipline as International Historical Sociology (IHS), posits ‘the international’ as the field to which ‘the theory’ must be applied in order to open it up to social theorisation. This is analogous to the late-19th-century subjective turn in social science in which reality is presented as unfathomable, and rationality is merely subjective, an attribute of individual ‘actors’. ‘The international’ in this sense may be compared to ‘the market’ in neoclassical economics. Although it presents itself as Marxist, the U&CD/IHS project was part of a regressive conjuncture in Anglo-American, mainstream IR, as transpires from its attempt to position itself close to the ‘English School’ in IR. I conclude with a variation on Trotsky’s original theory, applying it to the ‘permanent counterrevolution’, of which the current war on terror is the latest stage.




I owe a debt to Radhika Desai for detailed, insightful commentary and editorial suggestions. I also profited from comments on earlier versions from Benno Teschke and, Ben Selwyn. Finally I thank Alex Anievas for comments on which I intend to build in my invited contribution to a forum in International Politics on his Capital, the State and War.


van der Pijl, K. (2015), "The Uneven and Combined Development of International Historical Sociology", Theoretical Engagements in Geopolitical Economy (Research in Political Economy, Vol. 30A), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 45-83.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015 Emerald Group Publishing Limited