Social Scientist. v 15, no. 171-72 (Aug-Sept 1987) p. 1.


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Editorial Note

THE FACT that the spread of capitalism in Third World societies has not led to the kind of development which had taken place in the countries where capitalism originated, has been the object of analysis in a host of Marxist and radical writings. In the lead article of the current number of Social Scientist, which is devoted to certain themes in history and historical perspective, Diptendra Ba-rrjee re-explores this terrain, provides a critical survey of much of this literature, and revives the "much-maligned" concept of the Asiatic mode of production as an aid to understanding the trajec-tary of development of societies like ours. Both the earlier failure of these societies to make the transition to capitalism despite the proliferation of "anti-diluvian" forms of capital, as well as the emergent class-structure in these societies today, characterised, according to him, by the slow growth of an emasculated indigenous bourgeoisie, the collaborative role of the old ruling groups in the metropolitan economic network, a partial separatism, at least, of peasant producers from their means of production, and the continuing extraction on a significant scale of absolute surplus labour, all of which contribute to the palpable co-presence of a strong state and a weak civil society, are traced by him to certain specificities of these societies, which the concept of the Asiatic mode of production sought to draw attention to.

The crux of the matter, according to him, is that unlike in other pre-capitalist modes such as slavery and feudalism, the ruling groups in the Asiatic mode, represented by the states a".d its officials and agents, had no direct or indirect hand in the management of the basic production process. 'This meant, on the one hand, that the old parasitic ruling groups, could align themselves, as long as they got their money, with metropolitan capital when the latter became a "structural presence" in these societies ; on the other hand, the peasant producers and collective entities, that had everything to lose if their production system were undermined, put up a fierce, even suicidal, resistance, through a reduction in their subsistence, to the onslaught of capitalist penetration. This dual phenomenon, according to the author, also explains the attenuated basis for capitalist development in post-colonial Third World societies ; it underlies such characteristics as the existence of a deformed "lumpen bourgeoisie", the rampant use of the state largesse for conspicuous consumption, and the over-politicisation of social life.

The concept of the Asiatic morl^ as a tool for analysing the prc-



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