The Asian mode of production was the usual economic and production system in many areas of the world as primitive communities disintegrated. Also called despotic-tributary regime, it developed in areas of Asia, Egypt, Persia and pre-Hispanic America.
One of the authors who popularized the term was Karl Marx. In his work Pre-capitalist economic formations (1858) he described the different systems that led to the transition from communal to private ownership of land. Among these stood out the oriental despotism, linked to the Asian mode of production.
In contrast to the most primitive structures, in this way the exploitation of man by man already existed. In addition, despite working to meet the needs of the community, there was a ruling class that collected a tribute from the workers. The main figure of that ruling class was the despot.
For Marx, these societies, although they are not considered slaveholders, do give rise to a “general slavery.” This was especially notorious when communities had to work for other communities for conquest reasons.
The so-called despotic-tributary regime was characteristic of those communities that left their primitive economic models behind. It is a pre-capitalist system, although it has some similar aspects.
It was some European authors who baptized it with that name, since they wanted it to differ from the systems that were established in Europe.
In any case, it not only occurred in Asia, but also in some African countries or in pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Aztec.
Chronologically it is placed in a wide period that lasted 4000 years, ending in the first millennium before our era.
In this productive system, the inhabitants of the community worked to obtain the necessary products to be self-sufficient. These were community farms and, where surpluses existed, they could be exchanged or sold to other communities.
Due to its own characteristics, it is said that it is linked to other more developed productive forms, such as agriculture or livestock.
Exploitation of man by man
Karl Marx was one of those who first described this type of mode of production. For him it gave rise to a general slavery, since in the end the workers were subordinated to a ruling class. That is why it is pointed out that there was an exploitation of man by man.
Unlike other systems in which this exploitation also appears, in the Asian way it was not personal, but collective of the whole community.
The ruling class received the tribute that the workers of the communities had to pay. This tribute could be in kind (part of what was produced) or in jobs for the benefit of that ruling class. For example, it was common for peasants to have to work in the construction of palaces, tombs or temples.
It can be concluded that this ruling class was the primitive form of the State and was formed by the aristocracy of the area, the military and the priests.
At the top of the system was the eastern despot, with absolute power and, often, religious roots. This top leader was the one who received more wealth than those delivered by the communities.
Exploitation between communities
On some occasions there was genuine exploitation between communities. This happened when there was a war and the winning community forced the defeated one to work for it.
Most of the time the defeated had to pay a tribute or, on other occasions, they became slaves to work on the lands of the winning community.
One of the characteristics that differentiates this mode of production from others is that the localities tended to be totally self-sufficient.
Everything necessary for their survival was cultivated and produced and only rarely traded with other communities.
The economic structure of these types of communities was quite simple. Among the workers there was practically no specialization or social differences. All were equally exploited by the ruling classes.
Formally, the workers were free and took care of the lands that were owned by the community. In practice, they were subordinate to the leaders.
The state and the despot
The nobles, the military, the administrators and the priests formed the ruling class in this type of system. Despite the fact that it cannot be considered a modern state, if there was a structure similar to a state apparatus.
At the head of that apparatus was the despot. On many occasions he sought religious legitimation for his absolute power with the help of the priestly caste. Identifying with the gods, or even affirming that he was one of them, was essential to consolidate his power against the people.
Both the despot and the rest of those who formed the ruling class were those who received the tributes of the workers, so their living conditions were much better than those of the common people.
Given the exploitation of workers, it is not easy to mention many advantages of this mode of production. Among those that can be found is communal ownership of the means of production.
Although they had to pay the corresponding tribute, the fact that the lands were communal made the distribution of what was produced very equitable.
Similarly, the ability to self-provide with everything necessary to survive can be considered an advantage. Finally, when surpluses were produced, they could trade with them, enriching the community.
Within the communities there were no social differences, although there were, obviously, with the ruling classes. The workers had the same rights and obligations, so there were no conflicts for that reason.
Historians also point out that this equality reached women with respect to men. Although the role of mother and caregiver was reserved for them, these activities were highly protected and considered essential.
The first of the disadvantages was the situation of exploitation of the workers by the ruling apparatus; it is what Marx described as “general slavery.” Although there was no personal master-slave relationship, in reality the entire community had to answer to the leaders.
Similarly, when war caused one community to exploit another, the situation of the defeated came very close to slavery.
Likewise, experts point out as a disadvantage the obligation to pay taxes to the despot. Depending on his attitude, they could be more or less abusive, but they always represented a great burden for the workers.
Articles of interest
Production modes .
Slave production mode .
Feudal mode of production .
Capitalist mode of production .
Socialist mode of production .
Primitive communism .
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