George Novack’s

Understanding History

Written: 1956 through 1968
Source: © Resistance Books 2002 ISBN 1876646233; Published by Resistance Books, 23 Abercrombie St, Chippendale NSW 2008, Australia
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters Special thanks to David Holmes of Resistance Books who made this transcription possible.
Copyright: © Resistance Books 2002 Reprinted here with Resistance Books permission.

Table of Contents

About The Author

The Long View Of History

1. How Humanity Climbed to Civilisation
2. The Main Course of American History and Its Next Stage

From Lenin To Castro

Major Theories Of History From The Greeks To Marxism

Uneven And Combined Development In History

1. The Uneven Course of History

The dual nature of the law
The historical background
An example from Lenin
The formulator of the law
Uneven development in nature
The uneven evolution of primitive societies
The new world and the old
The backwardness of colonial life
The inequality of continents and countries
Internal inequalities
Irregularities in society
From barbarism to civilisation
The march of civilisation
The uneven evolution of capitalism
Same causes different effects
National peculiarities
The limits of national peculiarities

2. Combined Development and Its Consequences

Fusion of different historical factors
The dialectics of combination
Britain’s social structure
Forward leaps in history
Historical reversions
The disintegration of combinations
Slavery and capitalism
The substitution of classes
The penalties of progressiveness and the privileges of backwardness
The twisted course of the Russian Revolution

3. Disproportions of American Development

The “War of Independence”
Major sources of unevenness in American life
Prospects of American development
The contrast of British and American labour
“Explosive expansion”

4. Appendix: How to Apply a Law of Sociology

The material source of unevenness
The further course of evolution
“Circumstances alter cases”
Russian development
China and Japan Under imperialism
After the Russian Revolution
“The truth is concrete”

The Problem Of Transitional Formations

The exceptional duality of transitional states
Problems of classification
The transition from food gathering to food production
Village, town and city
The transition from Roman slavery to feudalism
Manufacture: the stepping stone from the craft guild to machine industry
Transitional regimes and societies in the 20th century

Sociology And Historical Materialism

The place of sociology among the sciences
Sociology and the philosophy of history
Types of sociological theory
Historical materialism
The class character of sociology

Positivism And Marxism In Sociology

Marxism Versus Existentialism

Science and the absurdity of reality
The predominance of ambiguity
Individuals and their environment
Freedom, necessity and morality
The destiny of humanity
Alienation in modern society
The meaning of life and death
Can existentialism and Marxism be reconciled?

Is Nature Dialectical?

A comment and a response

Trotsky’s Views On Dialectical Materialism


The people and their rulers
The new socialist humanists
Hegel’s contribution
The young Marx
Development of the concept of labour
Primitive source of alienation
Dialectical development of alienation
Alienation of labour under capitalism

The great fetishes of capitalism
Alienation between the state and society
Alienation of science from society
The humanism of Erich Fromm
Is alienation everlasting?
Prime cause of alienation in deformed workers’ states
The ultrabureaucratic state and the workers
Organisation of industry
Dictatorship of the lie
Cult of the individual
The cure for bureaucratism
Stalinism and capitalism
Toward the abolition of alienation
Labour time and free time

Appendix: Existentialism And Marxism by Doug Lorimer

The origins of existentialism—
Sartrean existentialism
Althusserian structuralism
Existentialism and post-structuralism