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".
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. Aside from Marx, Friedrich Engels was also an enthusiastic commentator on the AMP. They both focused on the socio-economic base of AMP society.
Marx's theory focuses on the organization of labour and depends on his distinction between the following:
- The means or forces of production; items such as land, natural resources, tools, human skills and knowledge, that are required for the production of socially useful goods; and
- The relations of production, which are the social relationships formed as human beings are united ("verbindung") in the processes of the production of socially useful goods.
Together these compose modes of production and Marx distinguished historical eras in terms of distinct predominant modes of production (Asiatic). Marx and Engels highlighted and emphasised that the role the state played in Asiatic societies was dominant, which was accounted for by either the state's monopoly of land ownership, its sheer political and military power, or its control over irrigation systems. Marx and Engels attributed this state domination to the communal nature of landholding and the isolation of the inhabitants of different villages from one another.
The Asiatic mode of production is a notion that has been the subject of much discussion by both Marxist and non-Marxist commentators. The AMP is the most disputed mode of production outlined in the works of Marx and Engels. 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. Historians have questioned the value of the notion of the AMP as an interpretation of the "facts" of Indian or Chinese history.
The acceptance of the AMP concept has varied with changes in the political environment. The theory was rejected in the Soviet Union in the Stalinist period. Karl August Wittfogel suggested in his 1957 book, Oriental Despotism, that his concept of Oriental despotism showed that this was because of the similarity between the AMP and the reality of Stalin's Russia.
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- Wittfogel, Karl (1957), Oriental Despotism; A Comparative Dtudy of Total Power, New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Karl Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957.
- Andrea Zingarelli, "Asiatic Mode of Production: Considerations on Ancient Egypt," in Laura da Graca and Andrea Zingarelli (eds.), Studies on Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production . Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016.