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Asiatic mode of production

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Title: Asiatic mode of production  
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Asiatic mode of production

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; 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).[4] 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.[5] 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.[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 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. Wittfogel suggested in his concept of Oriental despotism that this was because of the 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,  
  2. ^  
  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,  , 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,  
  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,  
  8. ^ Legros, Dominique (1977), "Chance, Necessity and Mode of Production: A Marxist Critique of Cultural Evolutionism", American Anthropologist 79 (1): 26–41,  , 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. 
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