The Paths of History

The Paths of History

The Paths of History

The Paths of History


This is a broad and ambitious study of the entire history of humanity that takes as its point of departure Marx's theory of social evolution. Professor Diakonoff's theory of world history differs from Marx's in a number of ways. First, he has expanded Marx's five stages of development to eight. Second, he denies that social evolution necessarily implies progress and shows how "each progress is simultaneously a regress," and third, he demonstrates that the transition from one stage to another is not necessarily marked by social conflict and that sometimes this is achieved peacefully and gracefully. As the book moves through these various stages, the reader is drawn into a remarkable and thought-provoking study of the process of the history of the human race that focuses on the wide range of factors (economic, social, military-technological, and socio-pyschological) that have influenced our development from palaeolithic times to the present day.


The collapse of the Soviet Union and the ending of the Marxist monopoly on intellectual life freed Russian social scientists and historians to deploy a broader range of theoretical approaches to the history of their own country and the world. When one couples this renewed freedom with the very distinctive personal experience of those who have lived through the Soviet experiment, the results are sometimes remarkable. The Paths of History is one of the most intriguing and innovative fruits of this intellectual and spiritual milieu.

Its author, Igor Mikhailovich Diakonoff, was born on 12 January 1915 in Petrograd, the son of a bank employee. His father had enough experience of finance and banking to be sent as an employee to the Commercial Department of the Soviet embassy in Christiana (Oslo). Thus Igor received his primary education at a Norwegian school, and learned to speak Norwegian fluently, the first of the many languages which he displayed a remarkable ability and desire to learn in later life. (At the age of seventy-three he confessed to a colleague who was learning modern Greek: 'I'm always jealous of someone who knows a language I don't!') His highly unusual linguistic range has enabled him to penetrate the mentality of many different cultures, and this undoubtedly underlies the wide sweep of human sympathy evident in The Paths of History. One of his acquisitions was English, which he knows so well that he has translated some of the works of Keats and Tennyson, and was able to prepare this translation of The Paths of History largely himself.

After returning to the Soviet Union and matriculating in 1930 from a secondary school in Leningrad, he studied in the Assyriological Section of the History Faculty in the Leningrad Institute of Linguistics and History, mastering Akkadian, Sumerian, Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic. Following graduation, he worked in the Hermitage Museum, with its unique collection of Oriental and Middle Eastern artefacts.

He married in 1936, but the following year both his father and his wife's father were arrested. After 'learning the art of standing in prison queues', Igor was informed that his own father had been 'sentenced to ten years' imprisonment without right of correspondence'- a sentence which he rightly interpreted as execution by firing squad.

When the war came, his wife Nina, who was pregnant, was evacuated from Leningrad to Tashkent, while Igor was mobilised into military intelligence. He . . .

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