MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms
Asiatic Mode of Production
Before 1857, Marx and Engels occasionally used this term to refer to a distinct social formation lying between Tribal Society and Antiquity. Marx and Engels had believed that the great Asian nations were the first we could speak of as civilization (an understanding partly based on Hegel, see: The Oriental Realm). The last time they used this word was in the Grundisse, having dropped the idea of a distinct Asiatic mode of production, and kept four basic forms of societal evolution: tribal, ancient, feudal, and capitalist.
Engels explained their learning curve in a second footnote to the Communist Manifesto in 1888:
In 1847, the pre-history of society, the social organization existing previous to recorded history, [was] all but unknown. Since then, August von Haxthausen (1792-1866) discovered common ownership of land in Russia, Georg Ludwig von Maurer proved it to be the social foundation from which all Teutonic races started in history, and, by and by, village communities were found to be, or to have been, the primitive form of society everywhere from India to Ireland. The inner organization of this primitive communistic society was laid bare, in its typical form, by Lewis Henry Morgan's (1818-1861) crowning discovery of the true nature of the gens and its relation to the tribe. With the dissolution of the primeval communities, society begins to be differentiated into separate and finally antagonistic classes. I have attempted to retrace this dissolution in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, second edition, Stuttgart, 1886.