Brian Pearce

The Asiatic Mode of Production


From Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 3, 2003, pp. 369–70.
Transcribed by Alun Morgan for the Revolutionary History Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Dear Editor

Further to my letter in the last issue of Revolutionary History, I have found my notes on Ralph Fox’s piece on the Asiatic Mode of Production. He wrote it when he was working at the Institute of Marxism-Leninism. The title is, in my translation, The Views of Marx and Engels on the Asiatic Mode of Production and Their Sources. It was published in 1930, the year before the conference which marked the ‘closure’ of discussion of this question in the USSR in Stalin’s time, in Letopisi marksizma (Annals of Marxism), Volume 3, no. 13. I read it in the British Museum’s Reading Room in 1979, when its shelf-mark was Misc.A.2023.

Fox comes out strongly against the notion that the AMP was just a ‘variant’ of feudalism, notes such differences as that the peasant under the AMP was not liable for military service, and refers to the Japanese anomaly. He never refers to The Origins of the Family.

A writer in a Soviet journal in 1966 acknowledged that Fox was the only writer to have ‘analysed the creative laboratory’ of Marx and Engels where this question was concerned.

How ‘topical’ the dispute over the AMP was in Stalin’s day is recalled by Eugene Varga in his book of 1964, Politico-Economic Problems of Capitalism: ‘The opponents of the Asiatic Mode of Production concept declared that everybody (including the author of this book) who did not recognise the social order in China of the 1920s as ordinary feudalism was a political enemy.’

The discussion of the AMP which had revived in 1964 came to a sudden end in the mid-1970s. I don’t know if it has emerged again since Gorbachev.

There was an error in my letter as it appeared in the last issue. On page 287, ‘lands’ should have read ‘lords’.


All good wishes
Brian Pearce

Last updated on 30 May 2021