Asiatic Mode of Production debates

A discussion on the Marxism list, August 2006

From Wed Aug 2 19:35:39 2006
Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2006 09:31:19 -0400
To: Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition <>
From: Louis Proyect <>
Subject: [Marxism] Asiatic Mode of Production debates

Erkal wrote:

> Now, I want to ask a more specific question. One of the most
> “burning” issues of the Turkish left in the 60s was the debate over
> social formations, specifically, the asiatic mode of production. Apart
> from the current political implications of this thesis as expounded my
> “many” of its defenders and the recent critiques directed to it in the
> mediation of orientalism, this matter, in my opinion, was fruitful not
> only in reflecting upon the peculiarities of the Turkish social formation
> but also in problematizing what was taken granted by traditional Marxism,
> that is Stalin's thesis of the five-stage line of social-historical
> development. This was, so to say, a defamiliarizing theoretical effect in
> that it was perhaps the first thriving of “theoretical” anti-Stalinism in
> Turkey.
> As far as I know, the debate over asiatic mode of production was
> obscured in USSR toward the end of the 20s. But it was after the process
> of de-Stalinization and the invitations to “return to Marx” began that
> this discussion started, especially with the ones going on in the
> France For instance, most of the translations over this topic was made
> from French: Maurice Godelier, Jean Suret Canale, E. Varga etc. Does
> anyone know more about the re-emergence of this discussion?y >
> I will be gratified to listen to your answers.
> E.

The Debates over the Asiatic Mode of Production in Soviet Russia, China, and Japan, [by] Joshua A. Fogel, The American Historical Review, Vol. 93, No. 1 (Feb., 1988), pp. 56–79

From: “Paul H. Dillon” <>
To: “Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition” <>
Subject: Re: [Marxism] Asiatic Mode of Production debates
Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2006 09:07:31 -0700

Maurice Godelier edited a collection of essays on the Asiatic mode of production that might be of interest. Also Jonathan Friedmann's work on stratified tribal societies.

Paul Dillon

From Wed Aug 2 19:39:09 2006
Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2006 15:38:05 -0700
From: Rakesh Bhandari <>
Subject: [Marxism] Asiatic Mode of Production Debates

Bertkay, Halil, 1987. ‘The Feudalism Debate: the Turkish End—Is “Tax Rent” Necessarily the Product and Sign of a Modal Difference?’ Journal of Peasant Studies, 14 (3): 291–333;

John Haldon has also made a controversial contribution to the debate in his book for Verso. Tax rent is argued not to constitute a modal difference. Ashok Rudra among others found it tendentious. But an important debate.

From my readings the two best introductions to Marx's own reflections on the Asiatic Mode of Production are Daniel Thorner's article “Marx on India and the Asiatic Mode of Production” and Brendan O'Leary's often polemical book The Asiatic of Production (Godelier and other Marxists are subjected to severe criticism).

The analysis of the theory's empirical validity and political uses in the twentieth century is discussed by O’Leary (almost exclusively in regards to India), but I was more interested in his analysis of the historical antecedents of Marx's own theory (Richard Jones proves more important than Hegel or Montesquieu; here I agreed with O’Leary) .

This book may prove interesting even if you are focused on Turkey rather than India.

I am imagining that Aziz Al-Azmeh's work on kingship is important in re-thinking about the East West divide, but his work is intended for the specialist reader.

There is a great collection of essays edited by Harbans Mukhia on the question of non-European feudalisms.