Petty Production and India’s Development

  • Muhammad Ali Jan
  • Barbara Harriss-White
Part of the Marx, Engels, and Marxisms book series (MAENMA)


Although the concept of Petty Commodity Production (PCP) has become extremely important to Marxist political economy analyses of the Global South, it is generally assumed that the concept is not contained in Marx’s own work and is an innovation by later scholars. Going against this established view, this chapter argues that although the term PCP is not found in Marx’s own writings, his writings do contain a rich set of references to the development of small-scale production in pre-capitalist and capitalist societies, albeit in an incoherent manner. It discovers three problematics related to PCP that are found in Marx’s writings—dissolution, conservation, and exploitation-autonomy—and goes on to explain the rationale behind each, arguing that it is the third which ties most closely to the critical Marxist scholarship on petty production developed by future scholars. In the rest of the chapter, the agrarian transformation and trajectory of capitalist development in India is studied with respect to the existence of PCP and it is argued that all three problematics are found to be operating in India’s small-scale property-dominated form of capitalism.


Petty commodity production (PCP) Formal and real subsumption India Agrarian transition Disguised wage labour 


  1. Adnan, Shapan. “Primitive Accumulation and the ‘Transition to Capitalism’ in Neoliberal India: Mechanisms, Resistance and the Persistence of ‘Self-Employed’ Labour.” In Indian Capitalism in Development, edited by Barbara Harriss-White and Judith Heyer, 23–45. London: Routledge, 2015.Google Scholar
  2. Banaji, Jairus. “Capitalist Domination and the Small Peasantry: Deccan Districts in the Late Nineteenth Century.” Economic And Political Weekly 12, no. 33/34 (1977): 1375–404.Google Scholar
  3. Basu, Deepankar. “An Approach to the Problem of Employment in India.” UMass Amherst Economics Working Papers 239, 2018. Retrieved from
  4. Bernstein, Henry. “Capitalism and Petty-Bourgeois Production: Class Relations and Divisions of Labour.” Journal of Peasant Studies 15, no. 2 (1988): 258–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Centre for Equity Studies. India Exclusion Report 2013–14. Bangalore: Books for Change, 2013.Google Scholar
  6. Fernandes, Walter. “Singur and the Displacement Scenario.” Economic and Political Weekly 42, no. 3 (January 2007): 203–6.Google Scholar
  7. Government of India. Economic Statistics. New Delhi: Ministry of Statistics, 2014.Google Scholar
  8. Harriss, John. Capitalism and Peasant Farming: Agrarian Structure and Ideology in Northern Tamil Nadu. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982.Google Scholar
  9. Harriss-White, Barbara. “Capitalism and the Common Man: Peasants and Petty Production in Africa and South Asia.” Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy 1, no. 2 (August 1, 2012): 109–60.Google Scholar
  10. Harriss-White, Barbara. “Debt, Credit and Contractual Synchrony in a South Indian Market Town.” In Microfinance, Debt and Over Indebtedness: Juggling with Money, edited by Isabelle Guerin, Solene Morvant-Roux, and Villarealm Magdalena, 103–24. New York: Routledge, 2014.Google Scholar
  11. Harriss-White, Barbara. “From Analysing Filieres Vivrieres to Understanding Capital and Petty Production in Rural South India.” Journal of Agrarian Change 16, no. 3 (2016): 478–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Jan, Muhammad Ali. Rural-Commercial Capital: Accumulation, Class and Power in Pakistani Punjab. PhD Dissertation, Oxford University, 2017.Google Scholar
  13. Kautsky, Karl. The Agrarian Question. London: Zwan Publications, 1988.Google Scholar
  14. Lieven, Michael. Dispossession without Development: Land Grabs in Neoliberal India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lutringer, Caroline. “A Movement of Subsidised Capitalists? The Multilevel Influence of the Bharatiya Kisan Union in India.” International Review of Sociology 20, no. 3 (2010): 513–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Marx, Karl. Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations. Translated by E. J. Hobsbawm. New York: International Publishers, 1964.Google Scholar
  17. Marx, Karl. Theories of Surplus Value. Vol. I. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1969.Google Scholar
  18. Marx, Karl. The German Ideology. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1970.Google Scholar
  19. Marx, Karl. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. London: Penguin Books, 1973.Google Scholar
  20. Marx, Karl. Capital. Vol. I. London: Penguin Books, 1976.Google Scholar
  21. Marx, Karl. Capital. Vol. II. London: Penguin Books, 1978.Google Scholar
  22. Marx, Karl. Capital. Vol. III. London: Penguin Books, 1981.Google Scholar
  23. Marx, Karl. Economic Manuscript of 1861–63. In MECW, Vol. 34. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1994.Google Scholar
  24. Mezzadri, Alessandra. “Globalisation, Informalisation and the State in the Indian Garment Industry.” International Review of Sociology 20, no. 3 (2010): 491–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Moser Caroline. “Informal Sector or Petty Commodity Production: Dualism or Dependence in Urban Development.” World Development 6, no. 9/10 (1978): 1041–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. National Commission on Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector. Reports on the Financing of Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector and Creation of a National Fund for the Unorganised Sector. New Delhi: Government of India, 2007.Google Scholar
  27. Olsen, Wendy, Penny Vera Sanso and V. Suresh “Multiple Shocks and Slum Household Economies in South India.” Economy and Society 42, no. 3 (2013): 400–31.Google Scholar
  28. Sidhu, Sunny. Trends in Self-Employment in the UK: Analyzing the Characteristics, Income and Wealth of the Self-Employed. London: Office for National Statistics, 2018. Scholar
  29. Srija, A. and Shrinivas V. Shirke. An Analysis of the Informal Labour Market in India. New Delhi: Confederation of Indian Industry, 2014. per cent20EM-october-2014.pdf.Google Scholar
  30. Venkatesh, P., M. L. Nithyashree, V. Sangeetha, and Suresh Pal. “Trends in Agriculture, Non-Farm Sector and Rural Employment in India: An Insight from State Level Analysis.” Indian Journal of Agricultural Sciences 85, no. 5 (2017): 671–7.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Muhammad Ali Jan
    • 1
  • Barbara Harriss-White
    • 1
  1. 1.Wolfson College, University of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations