Capitalism, Law of the Uneven Economic and Political Development of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Capitalism, Law of the Uneven Economic and Political Development of


the basic content of the teaching on the general rules of the development of capitalism and the international relations of the capitalist countries during the epoch of imperialism and on the international conditions for the victory of the socialist revolution. This theory was created by V. I. Lenin and developed by the CPSU and other Communist and workers’ parties.

Unevenness (disproportionality, disharmony, antagonistic conflicts) is a common characteristic of capitalism. Lenin wrote that “the only conceivable basis under capitalism for the division of spheres of influence, interests, colonies, and so forth, is a calculation of the strength of those participating, their general economic, financial, military strength, and so forth. And the strength of these participants in the division does not change to an equal degree, for the even development of different undertakings, trusts, branches of industry, or countries is impossible under capitalism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27, p. 417). It was typical of the premonopoly stage of capitalism that its social contradictions were mitigated by colonial expansion into economically underdeveloped regions of the world and by large-scale emigration to colonial settlements.

By the early 20th century the division of the world and the transformation of all countries and territories in the precapitalist stages of development into colonies and semicolonies of the imperialist states had been completed. Because this process coincided with the development of the capitalist monopolies into the ruling force in the economies of the capitalist countries and in the world market, it became a struggle to redivide an already divided world. Under the conditions of monopoly capitalism, the operation of the law of uneven development transforms the natural and inevitable differences in the level and character of development of different countries, economic branches, and economic and political factors into the source of acute international contradictions and conflicts. In certain stages of historical development these conflicts grew into world wars.

Lenin viewed the uneven economic and political development of the capitalist countries in the epoch of imperialism, as well as its consequences, as a factor determining the uniqueness of the world revolutionary process. He came to the conclusion that, because of the different levels of economic and political readiness for socialist revolution in various countries, “socialism cannot be victorious simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the others will for some time remain bourgeois or prebourgeois” (ibid., vol. 30, p. 133).

The extreme exacerbation of interimperialist antagonisms led to World War I (1914—18), which accelerated the revolutionary process and promoted the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution. The collision of imperialist interests led to World War II (1939–45) and to the development of a broad antifascist movement. The victory of the Soviet Union and the liberation of a number of countries in Eastern Europe and Asia from the fascist aggressors created the conditions for an upsurge in the revolutionary movement of the popular masses, who put an end to the capitalist systems in their countries, giving rise to the world socialist system.

The transformation of socialism into a decisive force in world development has been accompanied by fundamental changes in international relations. Above all, it has become possible to eliminate world wars. Particularly during the present period, there is little reason to believe that opposing imperialist coalitions will inevitably develop, raising the probability of a military clash between them. The historical laws of development do not operate automatically or in a stereotyped manner. However, this does not mean that they can cease to operate in the situation that gave rise to them. The principles of monopoly, domination and subordination, and distribution and redistribution by force continue to be decisive in international relations within the imperialist camp. Contradictions and bitter struggle within the framework of political and economic partnership are characteristic of imperialism’s contemporary international relations.

Under the conditions of long-term peaceful co-existence the tendency for the centripetal and centrifugal factors in the world capitalist system to come into conflict has been manifested more frequently. The centripetal factors support the alliance of capitalists in all countries. The centrifugal forces weaken this alliance and make it easier to bridle the aggressive, anti-social forces of imperialism. The document adopted in 1969 by the international Conference of Communist and Workers’ Parties declares: “Economic development is becoming more uneven among the various imperialist powers and in the capitalist world as a whole. Life demonstrates the correctness of the Marxist-Leninist theory of struggle between the imperialist powers and between the capitalist monopolies for spheres of influence. Industrial and commercial competition is growing sharper, and the financial and currency war is spreading” (Mezhdunarodnoe Soveshchanie Kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii: Dokumenty i materialy, 1969, p. 296).

The scientific and technological revolution has given rise to a number of new features in international economic ties. In particular, with foreign trade growing more rapidly than industrial output, there has been an increase in the proportion of finished products in the total volume of exports from the capitalist world, as well as an increase in the proportion of exports from the industrially developed countries. In the late 1950’s the export of capital, which had dropped sharply after World War II, began to rise rapidly, surpassing the growth rate of foreign trade. Capital was exported from a number of developed countries, primarily the USA.

The trend toward the internationalization of economic ties is a natural process that reflects the objective need to raise the efficiency of social production on the basis of the international division of labor and production specialization. Under the conditions of monopoly domination, this is an expansionist trend. As in the past, the economic basis of the contradictions is, on the one hand, the enormous gap in the levels of economic development of various countries and, on the other hand, the trend toward leveling, which is accompanied by sharp changes in the balance of forces and in the position of capitalist countries and groupings in the international arena.

Three principal centers of imperialism have developed: the USA, the European Economic Community (EEC, the Common Market), and Japan. Each has its own interests, which, to a great degree, conflict with the interests of the others. Until the mid-1950’s, US superiority over the other capitalist countries was so great that it gave rise to “Americocentrism” and the idea of an “American age,” which reflected the yearning of US imperialism for world domination. But the rapid development of the EEC countries and Japan changed the balance of forces in the capitalist world. The US share in the world capitalist economy has diminished, but even in the early 1970’s it was only slightly less than the share of all the other monopoly capitalist countries taken together. Of the 200 largest monopolies, 128 were US-owned in 1970. As the strongest capitalist country both economically and militarily, the USA plays the role of military and political leader of the capitalist world. In exercising the functions of leadership, which call for large expenditures, the USA gains privileged positions from its allies in all spheres of international relations.

Characteristic of Western Europe is a contradiction between the relatively small size of the countries, on the one hand, and the high level of economic development in most of them and the high degree of concentration and centralization of production and capital, on the other hand. Attempts to overcome this contradiction by means of imperialist wars have failed. In the conditions that took shape after World War II, integration became the principal tool of Western European capitalists in the struggle in the world capitalist market. It brought about an expansion of the domestic market of the national monopolies and strengthened their position in the world arena.

Rapid economic development, which continued even in the early 1970’s, brought Japan into second place in the capitalist world in volume of industrial output and gross national product. Japan became a powerful, self-sufficient force in the struggle for spheres of influence.

Interimperialist contradictions, which were once resolved by wars, now find temporary solutions through national or “bloc” state-monopoly protectionism. However, these measures do not eliminate the contradictions, but deepen them. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s the contradictions among the interests of the imperialist countries were most forcefully revealed in foreign exchange. As the US position in the world market grew worse, the interests of capitalists in other countries broke down the framework of foreign-exchange control and the foreign-exchange market, under which the US paper dollar, which is not in fact backed by gold, is given the role of reserve currency, and currency transactions are regulated by the International Monetary Fund, which is dominated by the USA. Launching a currency war, the USA took a number of unilateral actions between 1970 and 1973 to change the official rate of exchange for the dollar in its favor and to put pressure on foreign currencies. Each of these steps was accompanied by upheavals in the entire system of trade and currency relations and was reflected in political relations.

The agreements that were finally reached were temporary and unstable and became the starting point for new conflicts. The accumulation of large foreign-exchange reserves by other countries helps undermine the de facto US monopoly over the export of capital, which developed after World War II. The late 1960’s and early 1970’s marked the beginning of a new stage of accelerated growth in the export of capital from the EEC countries and Japan. Undoubtedly, this will lead to new clashes of interest among the monopoly capitalists of these countries and between them and US monopoly capitalists.

The trend toward evening out the technical and economic levels of the developed capitalist countries has been accompanied by the maintenance of the economic backwardness of the former colonies and dependent countries and by a struggle by monopoly capitalism for a new division of spheres of influence and for domination of the Third World. At the same time, however, the collapse of the colonial system has brought about some equalization of the opportunities of various imperialist states in the struggle for new spheres of influence. The former colonies and dependent countries are no longer passive objects of foreign claims. In many cases they have the means to defend their own interests. Under such conditions, neocolonialism has emerged as a factor in the further exacerbation of interimperialist contradictions.

New weak links and the preconditions for the strengthening of progressive forces are developing in modern capitalism. Thus, under contemporary conditions, the operation of the law of uneven development is giving rise to new contradictions that are specific to this stage of capitalist development. The capitalist system is weakened, and the consolidation of the forces waging a struggle to destroy it is promoted.


Lenin, V. I. Imperializm, kak vysshaia stadiia kapitalizma. Poln. sobr. soch. 5th ed., vol. 27.
Lenin, V. I. Voennaia programma proletarskoi revoliutsii. Ibid., vol. 30.
“Zadachi bor’by protiv imperializma na sovremennom etape i edinstvo deistvii kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii, vsekh antiimperialisticheskikh sil.” In Mezhdunarodnoe soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii: Dokumenty i materialy: Moskva, 5–17 iuniia 1969 g. Moscow, 1969.
Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Dunkina, M. K. Tsentry mirovogo imperializma: itogi razvitiia i rasstanovka sil. Moscow, 1970.
Politkheskaia ekonomiia monopolisticheskogo kapitalizma, vol. 2. Moscow, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.