2 the institutional correlate would be a variety of military feudalism.

In document The question of the Asiatic mode of production : towards a new Marxist historiography (Page 146-153)

As already mentioned, Wittfogel has modified in recent years these

extremely deterministic views on the relationship between natural environ­ ment and social development.

One final example of Wittfogel's geographical interpretation of

history is his account of why the German bourgeoisie never developed into a strong independent class. He quotes Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany to support his view that the main cause of the backwardness of German industry up to 1900 was Germany's geographical position; i.e. isolation from the Atlantic Ocean, the highway of world trade since


1500. Wittfogel expands his account of the influence of geographical factors on contemporary history with a geographical interpretation of the next dialectical stage of Germany's development. In the nineteenth century, other natural factors became actualised, such as Germany's advantages

in iron and coal, and a concentrated development of industry took place; this belated development created a significant proletarian class

Ibid., p. 607. 2

Ibid., Part II, p. 587. 3

Ibid., Part III, p. 715. See Marx, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, ed. Eleanor Marx Aveling, London, Unwin, 1971, p. 4. (This series of articles has since been shown to have been written by Engels. See Rubel, Bibliographie.)

simultaneously with the final emergence of a capitalist class (which was hence forced into the arms of the feudal reaction).

Basically, as we see here, Wittfogel placed much more emphasis on the interaction between man and his geographical environment, which developed under the impact of man's transforming and actualising activity, than

on the inner laws of development of material production and its corresponding social institutions.

Historical Materialism Versus Geographical Determinism: Stalin and Beyond

The kind of latitude in the Soviet interpretation of historical materialism, illustrated by the publication (despite editorial reser­ vations) "^of Wittfogel's article 'Geopolitika,geograficheskii materializm i marksizm', was soon to be brought to an end. Stalin, in the first official statement to be made in the Soviet Union on the subject of

geographical determinism, established an official line that was to remain in force until 1963. Stalin wrote that:

Geographical environment is unquestionably one of the constant and indispensable conditions of development of society and, of course, influences the development of society, accelerates or retards its development. But its influence is not the determining influence, inasmuch as the changes and development of society proceed at an incomparably faster rate than the changes and development of geographical environment. ...Changes in geographical environment of any importance require millions of years, whereas a few hundred or a couple of thousand years are enough for even very important changes in the system of

Not only did the editor of Pod znamenem marksizma express reservations about the original article (published in three parts), but the follow-up article was rejected, and Wittfogel published it elsewhere. (For the follow-up article, see above, K.A. Wittfogel, 'Die natürlichen Ursachen der Wirtschaftsgeschichte', Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozial­ politik, Vol. 67 (1932), Nos. 4, 5, 6.)

human society.

This formula was repeated more or less mechanically in Soviet 2 expositions of historical materialism, even after Stalin's death. It signified the complete abandonment of any dynamic conception of the interaction between man and nature, and the characterising of the geo­ graphical environment as a static given, in which 'changes of any


importance require millions of years.' The fact that against this static background different social systems developed and superseded each other showed that the geographical environment by no means exercised a determining influence over human society, but could only accelerate or retard its development. The key to human history con­ sisted in the laws of development of material production, which alone explained:

Why the primitive communal system is succeeded precisely by the slave system, the slave system by the feudal system, and the feudal system by the bourgeois system, and not by some other.^

Hence Stalin's denigration of the role of geographical factors served to underpin his five-stage schema of world history.

Stalin's rigid demarcation between 'external nature' and human society, and the overwhelming precedence given to the social factor, also

Stalin, 'Dialectical and Historical Materialism' (September 1938), in Problems of Leninism, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1947, p. 482. This article, and statement on the role of the geographical environment was written for the 1938 History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Short Course.(London, Cobbett, 1943, pp. 106-07.) 2

See, for example, G.W. Kuusinen ed . , Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961, p. 145; 'The geographical environment, on the one hand, and population, on the other, form the natural material prerequisites for the process of production. However, although these natural material conditions exercise a considerable influence on the course of social development, either accelerating or delaying it, they do not form the basis of that historical process.'


Stalin, 'Dialectical and Historical Materialism' (September 1938), in Problems of Leninism, op.cit., p. 582; History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Short Course, op.cit., p. 107.


gave rise to 'voluntaristic' attitudes in Soviet planning. Given the correct social relations, Soviet man could transform the face of the environment. It was this aspect of his formulation which was first to arouse criticism, which stemmed initially from geographers.

The Revolt of Soviet Geographers against Stalin

While Stalin's line on the geographical environment remained orthodoxy until 1963, the revolt among geographers against his inter­

pretation began quite early. In 1940, N.N. Baransky of Moscow University, read a paper at a theoretical conference of the Geographical Faculty of Moscow University on the subject of 'Marx and Engels on the Geographical Environment'. This paper presented evidence contradicting Stalin's position. The fact that Plekhanov's geographical theory exercised a very important influence on Baransky is evident from his work published as early as the 1920s.^

In 1960, when the debate was once more being opened up, Baransky brought forward arguments identical to those expressed by that other disciple of G.V. Plekhanov, Wittfogel, in the 1920s, although of course without direct reference to Wittfogel himself. For example, Baransky criticised the tendency to what he called 'geographical nihilism' on the grounds that by isolating society from its material environment it led


to idealism. Thus Baransky employed the same argument against Stalin

See Ian M. Matley, 'The Marxist Approach to the Geographical Environ­ ment' , Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 56 (1966), p. 99. Baransky was not only an extremely eminent geographer, but had been a friend of Lenin, which may have helped to preserve him in his outspokenness.


N.N. Baransky, 'Uchet prirodnoi sredy v ekonomicheskoi geografii', in Ekonomicheskaia Geografiia - Ekonomicheskaia Kartografiia, Moscow, 1960, p.40.

as Wittfogel had employed against Kautsky and Lukacs more than thirty years previously.

Baransky also followed Wittfogel in affirming that advances in technology do not mean a lessening of the influence of natural factors on the mode of production. Instead, new natural factors, such as the location of oil, have a determining influence on, for example, the distribution of industry and transportation.^

Baransky died in 1963, and it has been the younger geographer, V . A . Anuchin, who has provided much of the inspiration for the de- Stalinisation of theoretical geography, which in turn has led to the revision of Stalin's interpretation of historical materialism. Anuchin's first critique appeared in Voprosy Geografii in 1957, and was entitled

'On the essence of the geographical environment and manifestations of 2

indeterminism in Soviet geography.' In this article Anuchin launched an attack on Stalin's nihilistic formulation of the geographical environ­ ment as the unchanging background to dynamic social development. He described 'geographical indeterminism' as being much more harmful than geographical determinism; geographical indeterminism led to an 'idealist' conception of the relationship between society and its natural environ­ ment, and on the other hand, to the conception of the laws of social


development as an absolute. Anuchin was to write of the Stalinist era that:

The opinion became current that nature's role in the development of society was insignificant, that human life was wholly determined by social structure and that nature could be remade almost at will.4

Ibid., p. 54, fn. 49. 2

V.A. Anuchin, '0 sushchnosti geograficheskoi sredy i proiavlenii indeterminizma v sovetskoi goegrafii', Voprosy Geografii, 1957, No. 41, pp. 47-64.

^ Ibid., pp. 48, 55, 57. 4

V .A . Anuchin, 'A Sad Tale about Geography', in Literaturnaia Gazeta, 18 Feb. 1965, tr. in Soviet Geography, Vol. VI, 1965, No. 7 (Sept.), p. 28.

Anuchin blamed this anti-environmentalist dogma for the harm done to Soviet land-resources through a stereotyped approach to cropping, etc."*"

In 1960, Anuchin's doctoral thesis, 'Theoretical Problems of Geography', was published in Moscow. This thesis had been failed at


Leningrad, presumably because of its radical character. A large part of the book was taken up with a historical analysis of theories of geographical determinism. Anuchin himself rejected the 'pre-Marxist' form of geographical determinism which made geographical factors into the basic cause of social development. His own position was that while

the main impetus for development arose from within social forms, the direction of social development might indeed be altered by the influence of specific geographic factors on the mode of production.**3 *5

As we have seen, Anuchin strongly criticised the Stalinist

dichotomy between nature and society, on the one hand, and between laws of nature and social laws, on the other, and attempted to revive the


view of nature as a historical product. He wrote: Landscapes also follow the laws of nature in their development. But man is able to manipulate natural laws to alter their effect. Therefore any study of landscape simply from the point of view of 'pure' natural science means limiting the possibilities of cognition (my emphasis). It amounts to trying to ascertain the effect while ignoring the causes.^

As Marx once said: 'Nature ... taken abstractly, for itself, and rigidly separated from man, is nothing for man.

Ibid., p. 31. o

With the change in the official line, Anuchin has since become Deputy Chairman of the Council for the Study of Productive Forces, Gosplan. 3

V.A. Anuchin, Teoreticheskie problemy geografii, op.cit., pp. 149-150. ^ V.A. Anuchin, '0 sushchnosti geograficheskoi sredy ...', loc.cit., p. 47. 5

V.A. Anuchin, 'The Problem of Synthesis in Geographic Science', (in Voprosy Filosofii, 1964, No. 2), tr. in Soviet Geography, Vol. V (1964), No. 4, p. 35.

Marx, [Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts], in Early Writings, ed. T.B. Bottomore, op.cit., p. 217.

In fact, in spite of his formula, Stalin did regard natural laws as subject to human activity; this can be seen from the Stalin Plan for the Transformation of Nature. However, the formula of unchanging nature did enable Stalin to dismiss the geographical environment as a dynamic element in human affairs, and in general to belittle its

importance as an independent factor, /muchin's work, on the other hand, is based on the assumption that the geographical environment is an

extremely important determinant of social development and stresses the nature of the environment as a developing system formed from a combin-


ation of social and natural elements.

Because man's impact on the geographical environment is becoming increasingly complex and intensive, Anuchin argues that it is especially important to establish co-ordinated studies of any given geographical environment, i.e. a 'unified geography'. For

...without knowledge of these complexes as a whole it is impossible to predict all the possible consequences that may result from man-induced changes in the environ­ ment. And if that is so, we will inevitably be confronted with unexpected and undesirable results of man's activity. The likelihood of undesirable consequences will increase with the level of technological progress (my emphasis). An especially serious threat to nature has now arisen as a result of man's assuming control over atomic energy.-* (I.e. the environment will take its revenge on man.)

Another Moscow University geographer, who, together with Baransky, supported Anuchin's stand and wrote extremely favourable reviews of his

See S.V. Kalesnik, 'Some Results of the New Discussion about a "Unified" Geography', in Izvestiia Vsesoiuznogo Geograficheskogo Obshchestva, 1965, No. 3, tr. in Soviet Geographyf V o l . VI (1965), No. 7, p. 18. The 'Stalin Plan for the Transformation of Nature' was first publicised in Pravda, October 1948; see Ian M. Matley, 'The Marxist Approach to the Geograph­ ical Environment', loc.cit., p. 102.

V .A . Anuchin, '0 sushchnosti geograficheskoi sredy i proiavlenii indet- erminizma v sovetskoi geografii', loc. cit., p. 50.


V.A. Anuchin, 'The Problem of Synthesis in Geographical Science', loc.cit., p. 35.

book, ' was Iu. G. Saushkin. Saushkin agreed that a wall had been built between the natural and social sciences in the 'period of the personality cult' in order 'to provide a "theoretical" justification

for voluntarism in the solution of problems in the development of


society and in projects for the transformation of nature.' Stalin had bypassed the problems of the interaction between nature and society, which arose from the fact that society creates changes in its geographical

environment and is in turn affected by this new environment."^ Saushkin consciously or unconsciously harks back to the 'young Marx' of the Paris Manuscripts in describing the geographical environment as 'humanised


nature', as opposed to a purely natural category. Saushkin has tended to take the idea of humanised nature to extremes, as in his notion that in the foreseeable future the geographical environment will be, to a


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