2017 Winner: From ‘Oriental Despotism’ to the Obshchina: The Place of Asia and the Asiatic Mode of Production in the Works of Marx and Engels

Project Information
From ‘Oriental Despotism’ to the Obshchina: The Place of Asia and the Asiatic Mode of Production in the Works of Marx and Engels
Humanities
HIS 194T: Worlds of Labor in Asia
In this project, I intend to provide an account of Marx and Engels' changing conceptualizations of Asia and more specifically, Indian society. Using Marx's elusive concept of the 'Asiatic mode of production' as an entry point, my paper will show how Marx and Engels' encounter with India was initially hindered by their projection of a European self-image onto Asian societies, as well as by the challenges presented by the notion of 'Oriental despotism' guiding their earlier works. My framework is best described as a trans-regional intellectual history: by tracing a line from their intellectual antecedents to the revisions, progressions, and even reversions, that their works on Asia indicate, I will explore how Marx and Engels gradually wrested themselves from a Eurocentric framework and began to articulate a multilinear understanding of non-European development in their later years. While this shift would be occluded by later events in the history of Marxist thought, I hope to demonstrate the significance of these changes while detailing the stages of their thought as they unfolded. My intention is to pinpoint the limitations of Marx and Engels' thoughts on Asia while also criticizing caricatures of them as proponents of the sort of 'stagist' history Stalin would later turn into Communist orthodoxy.
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Students
  • Arash Ehya (Stevenson)
Mentors