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Discussions about The Asian Mode of Production (The Political Economy of Socialism: The Cognitive Deadlock of The 1970s)

Discussions about The Asian Mode of Production (The Political Economy of Socialism: The Cognitive Deadlock of The 1970s)

Journal of Economic Regulation, , Vol. 12 (no. 2),

The paper examines the history of discussions about the Asian mode of production in the USSR, associated with understanding the nature of socialism. Initial interest in the Asian mode of production was associated with the national liberation movements in China and the Middle East, which were supported by the Comintern in the 1920s. The political and economic structure of these countries was not capitalist, but also not feudal. This required the actualization of Marx's ideas and the development of a political strategy to find allies of the communists. Discussions at this time were between supporters of the Asian mode of production and those who considered it a special version of slavery and feudalism. In the 1970s. there is a turn in the interpretation of the Asian way and understanding of socialism, associated with criticism of totalitarianism (Wittfogel) and the bourgeois top of the communist parties (Djilas, Voslensky). K.–A. Wittfogel was one of the first to transfer the concept of the Asian mode of production to the economies of the USSR and Nazi Germany, substantiating the phenomena of total terror, total submission and total alienation. He views Soviet socialism as an institutional mutant, a totalitarian version of state capitalism that has no future and is based on terror. Subsequently R.M. Nureev draws parallels with the Soviet economy in his work on pre-capitalist formations. An interpretation of socialism arises not as a new, advanced social order, but, on the contrary, as a society with backward, non-market institutions. Terror in this case does not play such an important role. The main thing is bureaucratic, non-economic redistribution of products and incomes. The Asian mode of production is considered by Marxists as a transitional method from a social formation to an economic (exploitative) one, and socialism is also a transitional method (from an economic formation to a social one). The transitional methods are characterized by common features – a mixture of advanced elements with backward ones. As a result, Nureev's research did not evoke such a negative attitude as the work of Wittfogel, Djilas, Voslensky. In the late 1970s – early 1980s the concept of «power – property» is formed, which reinforces this interpretation. The recognition of its truth is a delegitimization of the existing social order, and nevertheless, it is rapidly spreading among historians and political economists who adhere to the Marxist interpretation of social processes. This is a striking characteristic of the cognitive deadlock of the political economy of socialism, which, in fact, denies itself. Subsequently the concept of power – property is used to characterize the development trajectory of post-socialist states. Similar views on institutional evolution appear in the Western mainstream (D. North, D. Acemoglu). However, researchers have a «blind spot»: when applying the concept of power – property to Russia, they ignore the proliferation of oligarchy in rich countries. In this respect, the old Marxist approach continues to be relevant and radical in upholding democratic values


Keywords: socialism; the Asian mode of production; the concept of power – property; the nature of power; oligarchy; the cognitive deadlock

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