What are the similarities and differences between Rostow’s stages of growth analysis and Marxian analysis ?

The similarities and differences between Rostow’s stages of growth analysis and the Marxian analysis are :

There are certain similarities between Rostow’s stages of growth analysis and the Marxian analysis of the historical evolution of an economy.

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Similarities :

1. They are both “views of how whole societies evolve, been from an economic perspective.”


2. Both accept the fact that economic change has social, political and cultural consequences.

3. Both accept the reality of group and class interests in the politi­cal and social process, linked to interests of economic advan­tage.

4. In terms of economic technique, “both are based on sectoral analysis of growth process, although Marx confined himself to consumption goods and capital goods sectors, while the stages of growth are rooted in a more disaggregated analysis of lead­ing sectors which flows from a dynamic theory of production.”

5. Both the theories would pose, in the end, the goal of true afflu­ence for human society.

Differences :

There are also certain differences between the two approaches, which may be noted below :

(1)Human Motivation :


The most fundamental difference between the two analyses relates to the view taken regarding human motivation. Marx interpreted human behaviour only in economic terms. Economic factors according to him constitute the most potent sources of human motivation. Marx reduced the complexities of man to a single economic dimension. Accord­ing to Marx profit-maximisation is the only dominant motive of man in his economic activities. Rostow’s stages of growth analysis are no doubt an economic way of looking at whole societies, yet they do not ignore the non-economic influences. Man is viewed as a complex unit and therefore subject to a number of social, political, cultural and emotional influences.

(2) Societies :

From the above it follows that Marx considers the behaviour of societies as determined by economic considerations. Rostow’s analysis does not accept that view. In Rostow’s view, cultural, social and political forces, etc., also influence the performance of societies. Even economic performance is conditioned by the above forces.

(3) Post-traditional & post-feudal :

A contrast between Rostow’s analysis of post-traditional and Marx’s post-feudal phase—capitalism—is also worth noting. Marx held that the decisions of capitalist societies are made simply in terms of the free-market mechanism and private advantage. Marxian analysis fails to explain the emergence of a welfare state. But Rostow’s analysis of the breakdown of traditional societies is based on convergence of motives of private profit in the modern sectors with a new sense of affronted nation­hood.

(4) Conflict :


As per Marxian analysis history moves forward by the clash of conflicting interests and outlooks. According to Rostow, however, “the outcome of conflict in a regularly growing society is likely to be governed by ultimate consideration of communal continuity.”

(5) Take-off stage :

Marx’s analysis of history was based only on the experience of British take-off and drive to maturity. At that time, no other country had reached the take-off stage. By generalizing the British case Marx missed the variety of experience in the evolution of different societies. This makes the Marxian historical sequence unduly rigid and artificial. According to G.M. Meier, Rostow’s analysis can claim to be a superior alternative to the Marxian sequence. Rostows stage theory helps us “to isolate the strategic factors that constitute the necessary and sufficient conditions for determining the transition of an economy from a preceding, stage to a succeeding stage.”

(6) Major variables :

Cairncross holds that, “Rostow, like, Marx, adopts a stage approach to history. But he has failed to show how the major variables-in social and economic development operate in different situations. He says, “he (Rostow) is perhaps too anxious like Marx to dramatize history not merely to make it dramatic and give it meaning but to reduce it to a set pattern, to compare the texture of events into too narrow a frame­work of logic,” An approach to history in these terms may make good drama or supply the element of myth required for a popular manifesto; but it does not make good theory or, for that matter, good history.”

(7) Provokes but cannot answer :

Again in the opinion of Cairncross, one of the greatest weak­nesses of stage approach to history is that it provokes but it cannot ans­wer the question what comes next. The engine of growth in the Marxist system is assumed to break down completely when capitalism fulfils its destiny; Marx has nothing to say about the laws of motion of a post-capitalist society. In Rostow’s exposition, the last but presumably no’ the final stage is an era of high mass consumption. Although he brood on what lies beyond affluence he cannot tells us what stages have yet to come.

(8) Reality and the measuring rod :

Vaclav Holesovsky holds that Marx’s classification of history is-only an approximation to the reality and the measuring rod is a single variable—the varying form in which the surplus is appropriated from the producers. This is not the case with Rostow. He has adopted a sympto­matic approach and describes features of a society at various stages or development.

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