Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 50, 2008

Social and Political Philosophy

Kevin B. Anderson
Pages 13-19

Unilinearism and Multilinearism in Marx’s Thought

Marx concentrated on Western Europe and North America in his core writings, but discussions of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America are scattered throughout his work. In the Communist Manifesto (1848) and his writings for the New York Tribune Marx posited a universal theory of historical and economic development in which non-Western societies represented backwardness, but could progress into modernity with the external impetus of the world market. Later, especially in the Grundrisse (1857-58) and the recently available Ethnological Notebooks of 1879-82, Marx gradually altered this implicitly unilinear model, replacing it with a more multilinear one in which non-Western societies (in which he included Russia) might be able to embark upon an alternate form of modernity that would offer a new challenge to capitalist modernity. The basis of this alternate form was economic, in the “communal” property forms that he saw as underlying many Asian societies, as opposed to Western-style private property.