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Asiatic Mode Of Production

  The Asiatic mode of production is both the most obscure and controversial of the ‘modes of production’ (economic systems) mentioned in Karl Marx\'s writings. Insofar as Marx\'s and Engels\' writings can be decoded and clearly understood, the Asiatic mode of production refers to a system in which the vast majority of the population live in villages, in which there is no private property, complex division of labour or significant external trade. The villages are exploited by a despot and his officials, to whom they pay a combination of rent and taxes. The urban population, centred on the court aristocracy and the monarchy, are parasitic on the rural population. Marx described such Oriental societies, following in the tradition of British political economy, as incapable of development into more progressive social formations. They were arbitrary, despotic and stagnant, historical culs-de-sac, which could only be transformed by external intervention by more advanced societies.

The concept is controversial because (1) Marx and Engels wrote very little about it, (2) it appears to be a reflection of Eurocentric prejudices about Asia, (3) it was used by critics of Lenin and the Bolsheviks to warn against a premature assault on Tsarism, (4) it was hotly debated by Asian communists because of its alleged implications for their revolutionary politics, and (5) it was used, notably by Karl Wittfogel, as a parable for what would happen to societies under communist dictatorships. Wittfogel additionally claimed, wrongly, that Marx deliberately suppressed the idea because it threatened to subvert his own beliefs.

The Asiatic mode of production is intellectually contested because it does not fit easily with Marx\'s theory of history: it appears to deny that history is necessarily on a progressive path, suggests that the state rather than (private property based) class might be the locus of exploitation in some pre-modern societies, and also seems to be internally contradictory. For these reasons, among others, the concept was banned by Stalin from public discussion in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. As a result the concept was often used by dissidents as a coded way of criticizing Marxist-Leninist dictatorships in the USSR and Eastern Europe, and still is used in this way in China, North Korea and Vietnam. The long-term importance of the concept is as one of many failed ideas developed by historians and social theorists to explain the uniqueness of Western civilization. BO\'L

See also agrarian society; Aristotelianism; despotism; historical materialism; Marxism.Further reading Brendan O\'Leary, The Asiatic Mode of Production; , Karl Wittfogel Oriental Despotism.



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