Asiatic mode of production and Asiatic society

Asiatic mode of production and Asiatic society

(MARXISM) a mode of production and a type of society in which MARX assumed land was owned either by the state and/or self-sufficient village communities, and in which the historical development evident in European society was absent.

This is the sense in which, according to Marx, Asia ‘has no history’. In making these assumptions Marx simply accepted much of the then conventional Western view of Asiatic society as state-dominated, lacking private property in land (see ORIENTAL DESPOTISM), and therefore failing to manifest the economic and political development (e.g. CIVIL SOCIETY) characteristic of European society. Marx also accepted the prevailing, but now largely discredited, view that the distinctive form of Asiatic society could be accounted for by geographical conditions which required widespread public works to build and maintain irrigation systems and flood controls (see also HYDRAULIC SOCIETY).

Today the entire concept of a single basic form of Asiatic mode of production and corresponding form of society is in doubt. This conception has been undermined, firstly, by empirical research which fails to support such a picture of Asian society, and, secondly, by the awareness that European thinking has been dominated by a Euro-centric myth of ‘Oriental Society’ (see Said, 1985). For Marxist theory, the concept of Asiatic society has the added disadvantage of an apparent incompatibility with the general assumption of inherent social progress involved in HISTORICAL MATERIALISM. As Brendan O'Leary (1989) remarks ‘the Asiatic mode of production is the Loch Ness Monster of historical materialism, rarely sighted and much believed’. It should be noted that Marx referred to the term only once by name. See also MODE OF PRODUCTION, ORIENTALISM.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000