Asiatic mode of production

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The theory of the Asiatic mode of production (AMP) was devised by Karl Marx around the early 1850s. The essence of the theory has been described as "[the] suggestion ... that Asiatic societies were held in thrall by a despotic ruling clique, residing in central cities and directly expropriating surplus from largely autarkic and generally undifferentiated village communities."[1]

The theory continues to arouse heated discussion among contemporary Marxists and non-Marxists alike. Some have rejected the whole concept on the grounds that the socio-economic formations of pre-capitalist Asia did not differ enough from those of feudal Europe to warrant special designation.[2] Aside from Marx, Friedrich Engels was also an enthusiastic commentator on the AMP. They both focused on the socio-economic base of AMP society.[3]


Marx's theory focuses on the organisation of labour and depends on his distinction between the following:

  • The means or forces of production; things such as land, natural resources, necessary for the production of material goods; and
  • The relations of production; the social relationships people enter into as they acquire and use the means of production.

Together these compose the mode of production and Marx distinguished historical eras in terms of distinct modes of production (Asiatic).[4] Marx and Engels highlighted and emphasised that the role the state played in Asiatic societies was incredibly dominant and this was accounted to either the state's monopoly of land ownership, its sheer political and military power or its control over irrigation systems.[5] They accounted this state domination to the communal nature of landholding; this isolated the inhabitants of different villages from one another.


The Asiatic mode of production is a notion that has been the subject of much deliberation on the part of Marxist and non-Marxist commentators alike. The AMP has endured much controversy and contest from many scholars and is the most disputed mode of production outlined in the works of Marx and Engels.[6] Questions regarding the validity of the concept of the AMP were raised in terms of whether or not it corresponds to the reality of certain given societies.[7] Historians have questioned the value of the notion of the AMP as an interpretation of the "facts" of Indian or Chinese history.[8]

The subsequent acceptance of the AMP concept has varied with changes in the political environment. The theory was very unpopular in the Soviet Union in the period between the two world wars. Wittfogel suggested in his concept of Oriental despotism that this may have been because of the uncomfortable similarity between the AMP and the reality of Stalin's Russia.[9]

The AMP is not compatible with archaeological evidence.[10]


  1. ^ Lewis, Martin; Wigen, Kären (1997), The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography, Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 94, ISBN 978-0-520-20743-1. 
  2. ^ Krader, Lawrence (1975), The Asiatic mode of production: sources, development and critique in the writings of Karl Marx, Assen: Van Gorcum, ISBN 978-90-232-1289-8. 
  3. ^ McFarlane, Bruce; Cooper, Steve; Jaksic, Miomir (2005), "The Asiatic Mode of Production – A New Phoenix (part 2)", Journal of Contemporary Asia 35 (4): 499–536, doi:10.1080/00472330580000291. , p. 499
  4. ^ Marx, Karl (1875), "Critique of the Gotha Programme", Marx & Engels Selected Works 3, Moscow: Progress Publishers, pp. 13–30. 
  5. ^ Marshall, Gordon (1998), "Asiatic mode of production", A Dictionary of Sociology, retrieved 22 August 2010. 
  6. ^ Hindess, Barry; Hirst, Paul (1975), Pre-capitalist Modes of Production, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, p. 178, ISBN 978-0-7100-8168-1. 
  7. ^ Offner, Jerome (1981), "On the Inapplicability of 'Oriental Despotism' and the 'Asiatic Mode of Production' to the Aztecs of Texcoco", American Antiquity 46 (1): 43–61, doi:10.2307/279985. 
  8. ^ Legros, Dominique (1977), "Chance, Necessity and Mode of Production: A Marxist Critique of Cultural Evolutionism", American Anthropologist 79 (1): 26–41, doi:10.1525/aa.1977.79.1.02a00030 , p.38.
  9. ^ Wittfogel, Karl (1957), Oriental despotism; a comparative study of total power, New Haven: Yale University Press. 
  10. ^ Alfarano, Alexandria. "Oriental Despotism and the Asiatic Mode of Production: A Modern Day Critique". The Ohio State University Libraries.