Conceptualising Non-Capitalist Modes of Production: the Asiatic Mode

  • John G. Taylor


In attempting to analyse the structure and reproduction of this particular mode of production, we immediately encounter various theoretical problems. As opposed to his analysis of the capitalist mode of production and his brief formulations on the feudal mode, Marx nowhere constructs the concept of the Asiatic mode in terms of the theory of modes of production he develops in Capital. Difficulties arising from this are also compounded by the fact that comments on the Asiatic mode are scattered throughout his writings, existing at very different times in the development of his discourse; notes on its dominant form of property contained in the German Ideology are tainted with evolutionist notions, the accounts given of British colonial penetration of India and China (which Marx assumed to be examples of this mode of production) in the letters and articles of 1850–81 are extremely limited, and the overall description of the Asiatic mode given in the Grundrisse2 is nothing more than an introduction to its structure, an introduction which should be read from within the theory of modes contained in Capital, but which in itself cannot—as we have seen—assume the status of a fully developed concept. This, then, is the problem: where Marx presents his theory, he makes hardly any mention of the Asiatic mode, since this is clearly not the object of Capital. Yet, in other widely disparate texts whose theoretical adequacy in analysing pre-capitalist modes is, as we have seen, open to question, he does give us descriptions of the functioning of the Asiatic mode.


Labour Process Social Formation Surplus Labour Village Community Determinate Relation 
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© John G. Taylor 1979

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  • John G. Taylor

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