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This rivalry led in turn to a third aspect: the developed imperialist states collectively, but competitively, asserting their dominance over two other types of state, described by Lenin as “the colonies themselves” and “the diverse forms of dependent countries which, politically, are formally independent but, in fact, are enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence”, like Argentina and Portugal.
But uneven development was not the sole basis for this prediction, as we can see by contrasting actual Russian development with two possible alternatives.
One of these was the path of the advanced capitalist states.
Due to a common set of circumstances, the working classes in these countries had far greater levels of both consciousness and organisation than the proletariat in the more developed countries where Marxists had traditionally expected the socialist revolution to begin.
Trotsky claimed that “the prediction that historically backward Russia could arrive at the proletarian revolution sooner than advanced Britain rests almost entirely upon the law of uneven development”.
Instead it reinforced disintegrating tribal loyalties and semi-feudal types of land tenure over the peasantry.
Tsarist Russia neither emulated the process of “catch up and overtake” among the advanced countries nor suffered that of “blocked development” within the backward ones, but instead experienced a collision between the two.
More often the peoples survived, but their social systems were immobilised by imperial powers interested in strategic advantage or plunder, or both.
Trotsky certainly took uneven development in these three senses as his starting point – as is suggested by the word order in the title of his own theory: “I would put uneven before combined, because the second grows out of the first and completes it”.
It took a political crisis to provoke this conceptualisation.
During the Chinese Revolution of 1925-7 the emergent Stalinist regime in Russia ordered the local Communist Party to subordinate its own organisation and demands to those of the bourgeois nationalists in the Guomindang.