New book!

Revolutionary Education: Theory and Practice for Socialist Organizers
Learn moreOrder a copy

Marx’s writings on Asia: A sober assessment

Sep 15, 2022

"A reverse-glass export painting of the Thirteen Factories in Guangzhou." By: Unknown Chinese artist. Source: Wikimedia.

Introduction

Throughout most of recorded history, Asia has been the wealthiest region in the world. The riches of Asia attracted people from around the Old World, as exemplified by the travels of figures like the Venetian Marco Polo or the North African Ibn Battuta, who ventured to Asia in the 13th and 14th centuries and brought word of the lands and peoples he encountered, information which helped spark the age of Western exploration that began to establish ongoing interactions between Europe, India, China, and other parts of the continent. The rise of European capitalism drove the creation of commercial exchanges with Asia, as Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English traders built up networks of trade. With the Industrial Revolution the European powers, first the British and then others, were able to exert direct military power over Asian countries, and launched a period of imperialist domination which would persist until they were driven out in the middle years of the 20th century. The extraction of wealth from Asia created, for a while, a global economy in which the West held the levers of power based on the exploitation of labor both in the factories of the metropole and in the workshops, commercial farms, and plantations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

In the course of the 19th century, a radical critique of capitalism emerged, primarily in the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which was further elaborated and extended in analyses of imperialism by revolutionaries like V.I. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. These efforts were naturally focused first and foremost on Europe and its colonial extensions. This was the battleground on which the developing class struggle was taking its course. The dynamics of capitalist production, the imperatives of accumulation, and the social and cultural effects of exploitation and oppression were the critical arenas of the investigation and interpretation of the contemporary world.

The analysis of the organization and functioning of capitalism, as well as its historical origins and development, remain the dynamic core of Marxist political economy. From the broad overview presented in the Communist Manifesto of 1848 through the exploration and elaboration of ideas and arguments in the notebooks he kept, including the Grundrisse from 1857-58 and the drafts of 1864-65, the Preface and Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy in 1859, and his published magnum opus, Capital in three volumes (the second and third edited by Engels posthumously), Marx produced a careful and precise explanation and understanding of the capitalist system. He was clear that his subject was primarily capitalism as it had developed in Britain, but with relevance to the geographically adjacent economies of France or Germany, and the historically antecedent formations of northern Italy and the Netherlands.

The “Asiatic mode of production”

Marx was also interested in and concerned with questions of the economic history of the rest of the world, both in terms of how European capitalism was reshaping global relations in his own time, and in how non-European societies had developed economically. He never produced a comprehensive exposition of his views on these topics, but there are scattered comments throughout his economic writings. One area about which Marx made numerous observations was Asia. Some of these gave rise to later debates and discussions about what has been called the Asiatic Mode of Production [1]. This, in turn, became part of the elaboration of a theory of the sequential development of modes of production, though in the official orthodoxy of the Soviet Communist Party in the 1930s, the Asiatic mode itself was no longer invoked, with the sequence rather beginning with a stage of primitive communal ownership (and it’s worth noting that “primitive” was not a value judgment but a descriptive category) [2].

The question of “Asia” is more than a matter of historical-materialist theory. In the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, and with the failure of revolutionary uprisings in Hungary and Germany after the end of World War I, the Communist International (The “Comintern” or the “Third International”) became a vital force for supporting and coordinating communist movements around the world. The question of revolution in the colonial world, in countries that were not part of the industrialized capitalist core of Western Europe and North America, became central to the work of the International. Some of the most dynamic movements emerged in places like China, the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina, and British India. There were intense debates about how these revolutions should be organized, about the nature of the political struggle in these societies, about what class forces were involved [3]. Marx’s ideas about “Asia” were important in these discussions, as Marxists tried to assimilate the social economies of Asian countries into their understanding of the development of capitalism and its place in the contemporary world dominated by Western imperialism [4]. These debates were also embroiled in the internal struggles for leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with Stalin and Trotsky sharply disagreeing. In the end, of course, Stalin consolidated his position as the dominant figure in the Soviet system, and his view of the five-stage sequence of the historical development of modes of production became the only acceptable theoretical position by the late 1930s, as noted above.

The influence of this model has remained significant in Marxist historical thought ever since. As scholars like Harry Harootunian have noted, a model like this was not intended by Marx to be a rigid, empirical description of a system, but more of a methodological device for abstracting an understanding of historical and economic dynamics [5]. In other words, the Asiatic Mode of Production was not an anthropological claim but rather a theoretical tool that allowed Marx to distinguish the particularities of capitalism from other social formations and modes of production.

All of this leaves open the question of what Marx actually thought about Asia and how Asian societies related to the historical development of modes of production and the eventual emergence of capitalism in Europe. The idea that capitalism is a uniquely European development, that the rest of the world remained in some “pre-capitalist” stage and would only be incorporated into capitalism through direct encounters with European, or later American, capitalist imperialism, has shaped both Marxist and bourgeois understandings of history. Whether this is an accurate assessment of global economic history is perhaps not so simple a question to resolve. Recent scholarship on questions of “early modernity” have suggested that there were many aspects of economic and cultural life in Asian countries that were quite similar to features normally associated with the rise of capitalism in Europe [6]. Other studies have raised questions about the degree to which commercial capitalism may have developed in some non-European economies, and about Marx’s own views of the nature of some non-European societies [7]. Scholars in the “post-colonial” tradition, for example, often misread or selectively read Marx’s comments while neglecting to read his writings on colonialism and non-European social formations to portray him as Eurocentric or an advocate of colonialism [8].

It is in this context that I want to explore Marx’s economic writings to see how he portrayed and understood Asia— particularly India and China—and to raise the question of how Marxists today might apply Marx’s historical-materialist methodology to the analysis of the historical political economies of Asia as we have come to know them through more recent studies, with a breadth and depth of knowledge not available to Marx in the middle years of the 19th century. I will argue that, while Marx’s understanding of Asia was certainly flawed—especially in light of more recent evidence—this was the result of the information with which he was able to work. However, Marx’s method of historical-materialist inquiry provides the path to a very different understanding of the economic history of China that has been prevalent in both Marxist and bourgeois scholarship.

“Asia”

Before considering Marx’s statements regarding Asia, it will be useful to consider what the term means. The name originates in European antiquity and was used by the Greeks to refer to everything to their east, often with overtones of barbarism and otherness. Asia, though only vaguely understood, remained a realm of great interest to Europeans through the Middle Ages, with a trickle of commerce linking the West to the wealth of China or India via trans-Eurasian trade routes, both overland and maritime. By the early modern period, there was a heightened engagement with Asia as first the Portuguese and Spanish, and later the Dutch and English launched their voyages in search of access to the riches brought to their attention by Marco Polo and others [9].

In modern geography, Asia refers to a huge space encompassing the territory from the Ural Mountains in Russia, the Caspian Sea, and the Anatolian Peninsula across to the Pacific Ocean and extending down through the Malay Peninsula and across the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagoes. It includes countries ranging from Russia to Turkey, Iran and India to Pakistan, China, and the Central Asian states, Korea to Japan, the countries of mainland Southeast Asia to Indonesia, and others. Nearly 5 billion people live in what is called Asia, with a hugely complex range of variation in languages and cultures, and, of course, in economic conditions. In many ways, it designates a space that is not Europe, an otherness beyond the Eurocentric core.

Marx’s deeper inquiry into Asia can be traced to his earliest economic writings, by which I especially mean his notebooks of 1857-58, known as the Grundrisse, the economic notebooks of 1864-65 (recently published in English for the first time), the three volumes of Capital (the third of which was edited by Engels from the material in the 1864-65 notebooks), and some additional comments in texts including the 1848 Communist Manifesto and the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy from 1859. These works include two basic kinds of comments about Asia. Some of these refer to Asia generically, while others refer more specifically to India and/or China. One kind of comment refers to developments taking place in the contemporary world, in the ongoing dynamic of the relationship between Europe and Asia which was unfolding in Marx’s own times. The other type, which are the main focus of my consideration here, are descriptions or characterizations of the political and economic features of Asia throughout history, a delineation of a social economic order which was outside the narrative of capitalist development Marx articulated for Europe.

Marx was, of course, a creature of his own time, operating within a particular knowledge economy, an intellectual environment with specific contents and limitations. He was literate in several languages, both modern and classical, but not in any Asian language. The serious study of Asian history was in its infancy in Europe in the mid-19th century. More was known about India because of the activities of the East India Company and its merchants and administrators up to 1857, and a good deal of information about China had been accumulated from the two centuries of reports sent back by Jesuit missionaries and others (although these were strongly shaped by the specific contexts in which they were produced). But the bulk of information about Asia to which Marx had ready access was concerned with trade and with the challenges of colonial administration and control. Merchants, military leaders, and colonial or diplomatic officials, while perhaps personally intrigued by the customs or cultures of the lands they were exploiting, for the most part, did not devote themselves to acquiring the linguistic or historical knowledge which would have deepened their understanding of Asia’s long and complex past.

Marx’s statements on Asia

Perhaps the most famous of Marx’s pronouncements about an Asian topic came early, in the Communist Manifesto, which he published along with Friedrich Engels in 1848. In a long discussion of the rise of the bourgeois economic system and its spread around the world Marx wrote, “The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate” [10]. This passage, while not a serious analysis of the functions of the capitalist system, nonetheless invokes some key concepts which recur throughout Marx’s observations about Asia. The use of the image of the “Chinese wall” which must be broken down, and the characterization of a “barbarian” other, highlight the idea that Asia is a place apart from, and different from, Europe, the birthplace of the bourgeois order. It’s important to note, however, that Marx used “civilization” in a derisive manner and never equated it with “progress” or “advancement.” Just after writing about how capital would break down the “Chinese walls,” for example, Marx and Engels state that capitalism forces “all nations, on the pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst” [11].

These basic motifs are elaborated in more substantive ways in Marx’s specifically economic writings, to which we will now turn. I will present these in chronological order from the succession of texts in which they appear, and then draw some overall conclusions about the essential features of Marx’s view of Asia and its political-economic history.

After the tumultuous years of revolutionary activity in the late 1840s and the trauma of the post-revolutionary retreat of communist activities across Europe, Marx moved to London, where he would live for the rest of his life. The first half of the 1850s was a difficult period, during which Marx struggled to maintain his family and to work with many of the other continental political refugees that wound up in Britain. But by the second half of the decade, he was able to settle into the period of deep study of political economy which would culminate in the writing of Capital. He spent long hours in the Reading Room of the British Library and in his makeshift study at home. He took copious notes on a wide range of primary and secondary sources, keeping massive notebooks and drafting and re-working versions of what would become the three volumes of his masterwork, Capital. Some of Marx’s writings reached published form in his lifetime or shortly thereafter, as with the final two volumes of Capital. Others, especially the notebooks he kept in the late 1850s and early-to-mid 1860s, were long neglected and not published until the mid-20th or early 21st centuries.

The first set of notebooks, published under the title Grundrisse (ground plan/outline/rough sketch), were compiled in 1857-58, although only the “Introduction” was released and translated before 1939. The Grundrisse contains numerous comments on trade with India or China, including information about exchange rates for silver and gold and other materials dealing with the contemporary development of relations between Europe and Asia. These are beyond the scope of this study, which is concerned with Marx’s understanding of the historical nature of Asian economies. Much of this material is presented in Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins, where he also engages with Marx’s journalistic writings about China, India, and other Asian questions [12].

In these notebooks, Marx makes several comments on what he calls the “Asiatic form” of economic society, as well as other observations about Asia or the Orient. Many of these are found in the section on “Forms which precede capitalist production” at the end of Notebook IV and in Notebook V. In a section on property Marx writes:

Amidst Oriental despotism and the propertylessness which seems legally to exist there, this clan or communal property exists in fact as the foundation, created mostly by a combination of manufactures and agriculture within the small commune, which thus becomes altogether self-sustaining, and contains all the conditions of reproduction and surplus production within itself [13].

Shortly after this, while reflecting on the nature of cities in pre-capitalist societies, he comments that “Asiatic history is a kind of indifferent unity of town and countryside (the really large cities must be regarded here merely as royal camps, as works of artifice erected over the economic construction proper)” [14]. This is followed over the next few pages by two statements on the “Asiatic form:”

In the Asiatic form (at least, predominantly) the individual  has no property, but only possession; the real proprietor, proper, is the commune—hence property only as communal property in land… The Asiatic form necessarily hangs on most tenaciously and for the  longest time. This is due to its presupposition that the individual does not become independent vis-à-vis the commune; that there is a self-sustaining circle of production; unity of agriculture and manufactures, etc. [15].

Marx adds a further reference to common property in India, writing that “common property in the older, simpler form, such as is found in India and among the Slavs” [16].

He continues this discussion and looks forward to the development of subsequent modes of production in the slave and feudal forms, while noting that the Asiatic form is particularly resistant to historical change:

Slavery and serfdom as thus only further developments in the form of property resting on the clan system. They necessarily modify all of the latter’s forms. They can do this least of all in the Asiatic form. In the self-sustaining unity of manufacture and agriculture, on which this form rests, conquest [of neighboring territories] is not so necessary a condition as where landed property, agriculture, are exclusively predominant [17].

Marx elaborates that in these new modes of production the individual loses the organic integration in a community which gave them the dual status of being a member of the group and a proprietor of a share of the communal resources:

In the oriental form this loss is hardly possible, except by means of altogether external influences, since the individual member of the commune never enters into the relation of freedom towards it in which he could lose his (objective, economic) bond with it…Slavery, bondage etc., where the worker himself appears among the natural conditions of production for a third individual or community (this is not the case e.g. with the general slavery of the orient, only from the European point of view) [18].

In summarizing his thoughts on pre-capitalist forms, he returns to his basic characterization of historical Asiatic or oriental social economies, where “the original form of this property is therefore itself direct common property (oriental form)” [19].

The Grundrisse includes one additional comment which relates the general nature of the Asiatic form to a supposed specific practical feature, particularly, but not solely, associated with India: “In the original, self-sustaining communes of Asia, on one side no need for roads; on the other side the lack of them locks them into their closed-off isolation and thus forms an essential moment of their survival without alteration (as in India)” [20].

Two years after his compilation of the Grundrisse, Marx wrote a preface A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, a project which included a modified form of the first three chapters of Capital. In the preface, he outlined a sequence of the historical development of modes of production. “In broad outline,” as he writes, “the Asian, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as progressive epochs of the socio-economic order [21].

This concept of a step-by-step succession of forms, with the Asian form as the starting point, is not developed further here, but it gave rise to a tradition of thought among certain later writers, such as Karl Kautsky, of taking this sequence as a universal template that could be applied to any given society around the world. Yet it’s important to note that Marx’s presentation here is didactic and schematic in nature and can’t be isolated to imply that Marx held a “stageist” approach to history. Early in the mid-1840s, Marx wrote that “to hold that every nation goes through this development internally would be as absurd as the idea of that every nation is bound to go through the political development of France” [22]. Nonetheless, Kautsky’s interpretation dominated many Marxist debates in the early-mid 20th century.

The specification of the Asian form gave way to the invocation of a “primitive” or “primitive communal” form in later versions. This was ultimately enshrined, with effects which will concern us further, in Stalin’s proclamation of the stages of historical development set out in his essay “Dialectical and Historical Materialism” and in the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Short Course). Thus, it’s worth restating that Marx was presenting a didactic model that was necessarily rough and schematic, rather than articulating a fully fleshed-out theory of development.

Marx made several further statements of his ideas about historical Asian economies and societies in the notebooks which he kept in 1864-1865—which were the basis of the second and third volumes of Capital as edited by Engels—and in the first volume, which was the only one published (and republished) by Marx starting in 1867. In the 1864-1865 notebooks, Marx returns to the topic of property:

The legal conception [of landed private property] itself means nothing more than that the landowner can behave in relation to the land just as any commodity owner can with his commodities; and this idea—the legal notion of free private landed property—arises in the ancient world only at the time of the dissolution of the organic bonds of society, and in the modern world only with the development of the capitalist mode of production. In Asia it has simply been imported here and there by Europeans.

If there are no private landowners but it is the state (as in Asia) which confronts them [agricultural producers] directly as simultaneously landowner and sovereign, rent and tax coincide, or rather there does not exist any tax distinct from this form of ground rent [23].

He also gives a basic description of the organization of production in Asian economies, specifically referring to India in one instance, and to Asia more broadly in another, and invoking the idea of a “natural economy:”

The existence of domestic handicrafts and manufacture as an ancillary pursuit to agriculture, which is the basic activity, is the condition for the mode of production on which this natural economy rests, both in European antiquity and medieval times…

The form of produce rent, bound up with a particular type of product and of production itself; the connection indispensable to it between agriculture and domestic industry; and the almost total self-sufficiency that the peasant family thereby obtains, its almost complete independence from the market and from the movement of production and of the history of that part of society outside itself, in brief, the character of natural economy as such, all make this form eminently suitable as a basis for those static conditions of society we can see in Asia for example [24].

The first volume of Capital, which is devoted to the analysis of the capitalist mode of production using England as a “chief ground” to elaborate an abstract model of capitalist production in general, includes a number of comments on trade with India, China, or Asia more broadly. Neither Marx nor Engels considered England to be a “closed national economy” and, from the 1840s onwards, analyzed England as a colonial power. Yet in Capital Marx has little to say about what he thought of as “pre-capitalist” economics, save for one important characterization of the nature of political economy in Asian history:

The simplicity of the productive organism in these self-sufficing communities which constantly reproduce themselves in the same form and, when accidentally destroyed, spring up again on the same spot and with the same name—this simplicity supplies the key to the riddle of the unchangeability of Asiatic societies, which is in such striking contrast with the constant dissolution and refounding of Asiatic states, and their never-ceasing changes of dynasty. The structure of the fundamental economic elements of society remains untouched by the storms which blow up in the cloudy regions of politics [25].

These passages yield a number of defining features that Marx felt characterized Asian societies and economies over the long sweep of history [26]. These can be summarized as follows:

  1. There was no individual or private property, only communal or state property.
  2. A self-sustaining circle of production, the unity of agriculture and manufacture, created conditions of local subsistence. No need for roads, but also the absence of roads perpetuated local autarky [self-sufficiency or independence].
  3. The self-sufficiency of the peasant family meant almost complete independence from the market.
  4. Asia was characterized by the static conditions of society. The simplicity of the productive organism was the key to the unchangeability of Asiatic societies. This contrasted with the never-ceasing changes of dynasties. The structure of fundamental economic elements remained untouched by the storms of politics.
  5. The “Asian” or “Asiatic” was the first form of progressive epochs of socio-economic order.
  6. In modern times, private property is introduced to Asia by Europeans.

This model of an Asian form of political economy, with the geographic extent of its applicability left ill-defined but expansive, along with the concept of history as a set succession of modes of production in a sequence that was universal for human societies around the planet, became fixed in some later forms Marxist thought. As noted above, the German Social Democratic leader Karl Kautsky wrote about China and Asia in 1886 using exactly this model of an “Asiatic” form of political economy and of the successive stages of social development [27]. Indeed, these same concepts featured in non-Marxist portrayals of Asia as autarkic and unchanging by such influential thinkers as Max Weber as well [28].

Asia and Chinese Marxism in the 21st century

Not all Marxist students of Chinese history accepted these defining features. In 1926-1927, the Bolshevik Karl Radek, at that time the Director of the Sun Yat-sen University for the Toilers of China in Moscow, gave a series of lectures on China in which he challenged both the characterization of China as static and unchanging and the effort to assimilate Chinese history to the European-derived model of successive stages. Working with recent scholarship on China that had not been available to Marx, Radek rejected the idea that China remained in a feudal stage until the arrival of European imperialism in the 19th century, and argued instead for an understanding of China’s historical political economy which was dynamic and featured elements of mercantile capital and highly commercialized agricultural production [29].

Radek’s views, however, did not become widely accepted among Marxists in the Soviet Union or beyond. Radek was embroiled in the political controversies within the Soviet leadership, being closely associated with Trotsky, in opposition to the rising power of Stalin in the later 1920s [30]. As Stalin consolidated his dominance and Trotsky went into exile, Radek was largely silenced and came to conform to the orthodox version of historical materialism, including the view of successive stages of development applicable to all societies. Given the leading, guiding role of the Soviet Union in the world Marxist movement through the middle of the 20th century, Stalin’s version of a universal template of historical development through successive modes of production, and the characterization of Asia, especially China, as a static, feudal, pre-capitalist system, came to be accepted by Marxist scholars in both the socialist states and in the capitalist world.

The question remains, then, how well this representation fits the actual history of Asian, especially Chinese, political economies. Modern studies of Chinese economic history especially have yielded radically different understandings, beginning with Naitō Torajiro’s work on the commercial revolution of the Tang-Song period in the 1920s through recent works like William Liu’s study of the Chinese market economy from 1500-1800, or Richard von Glahn’s comprehensive economic history of China. Even these works, however, refrain from referring to China’s historical economy as capitalist, let alone applying that definition to Asia more broadly. Scholars such as Kenneth Pomeranz and Prasannan Parthasarathi, cited above, have argued that the economies of China and India in fact were equivalent to those of Western Europe on the threshold of the Industrial Revolution in many important ways. It is beyond the scope of this essay to set out a full investigation of how China’s economy, especially over the last millennium of imperial history, may have accorded with Marx’s own descriptions of the essential features of capitalist production. Further work must be done on this matter.

Conclusion

For the moment, I want to simply conclude with a reminder and a suggestion. The reminder is that throughout Marx’s development, he moved beyond associating the “Asiatic Mode of Production” with “oriental despotism” precisely because he “was very concerned about the question of sources, and criticised the poverty of the empirical data on which British writers based their arguments, which were often dictated by colonial interests” [31]. The suggestion is that a critical task for Marxists is to apply the historical-materialist methodology embodied in Capital and other texts of political economy to the understanding of Asia and China in order to reach a new appreciation of the complex global history of capital and the rich diversity of economic forms and developmental trajectories that preceded, accompanied, and followed the transformative expansion of European and American imperialism and the consolidation, for a brief period, of a Western-dominated global capitalist system. Contemporary struggles against imperialism and for building a socialist future will be strengthened by a more accurate understanding of the dynamics of Asian history and its implications for the path ahead.

Marxist historical materialism has played a central role in the Chinese revolution since its introduction there in the early twentieth century. Chinese scholars and activists, perhaps most prominently Mao Zedong, have used this creatively and adapted Marxist theory to the concrete material realities of China. Applying this methodology to China’s historical political economy extends and deepens this work, and will provide not only a greater understanding of the past, but also insights into the contemporary development of socialism in China.

References

[1] Timothy Brook, The Asiatic Mode of Production in China (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1989).
[2] Central Committee of the CPSU, History of CPSU (Short Course) (New York: International Publishers, 1939); and Joseph Stalin, Dialectical and Historical Materialism and Other Writings (New York: International Publishers, 2020).
[3] E.H.Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution (Vol. 3) (London: Pelican Books, 1966).
[4] V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1976).
[5] Harry Harootunian, Marx After Marx: History and Time in the Expansion of Capitalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017).
[6] See the “Early Modernities” special issue of Daedalus 127, no. 3 (1998); Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021); Prasannan Parthasarathi, Why Europe Became Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600-1850 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Ken Hammond, “Beyond the Sprouts of Capitalism: China’s Early Capitalist Development and Contemporary Socialist Project,” Liberation School, 13 September 2021. Available here.
[7] Jairus Bannajee, A Brief History of Commercial Capitalism (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2020); and Kevin B. Anderson, Marx at the Margins: on Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).
[8] Lucia Pradella, “Marx and the Global South: Connecting History and Value Theory,” Sociology 51, no. 1 (2017): 147.
[9] An overview of the historical awareness and understanding of Asia by Europeans down to the 18th century is found in Jürgen Osterhammel, Unfabling the East: The Enlightenment’s Encounter with Asia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018). More critical analyses of the construction of European conceptions of Asia by the beginning of the 19th century and down to Marx’s time are in Geoffrey C. Gunn, First Globalization: The Eurasian Exchange, 1500-1800 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003); and Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 8-34.
[10] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: International Publishers, 1948/2021), 13.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Anderson, Marx at the Margins.
[13] Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of a Critique of Political Economy, trans. M. Nicolaus (London: Penguin Books, 1939/1973), 473.
[14] Ibid., 484.
[15] Ibid., 484, 486.
[16] Ibid., 490.
[17] Ibid., 493.
[18] Ibid., 494, 495-496.
[19] Ibid., 497.
[20] Ibid., 525.
[21] Karl Marx, Preface and Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1959/1976), 4.
[22] Karl Marx, “Draft of an Article of Friedrich List’s book Das Nationale System der Politischen: Draft of an Article on Friedrich List’s Book Das Nationale Oekonomie,” in Marx-Engels Collected Works (Vol. 4) (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 281.
[23] Karl Marx, Marx’s Economic Manuscript of 1864-1865, trans. B. Fowkes and ed. F. Moseley (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017), 715, 778.
[24] Ibid., 774, 782.
[25] Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, trans. B. Fowkes (London: Penguin Books, 1867/1976), 479.
[26] In his introduction to the edited volume The Asiatic Mode of Production in China, Timothy Brook sets out a set of such characteristics as defined by scholars in the People’s Republic in the 1970s and ‘80s. These are similar to those in this essay, but include a focus on the hydraulic thesis of oriental despotism, which is absent from the texts considered here.
[27] Karl Kautsky, “Die Chinesischen Eisenbahnen und das Europäische Proletariat,” Die Neue Zeit 4 (1886): 515-549.
[28] Max Weber, The Religion of China (New York: Free Press, 1968).
[29] Alexander V. Pantsov, ed., Karl Radek on China: Documents from the Former Secret Soviet Archives (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2020), 22-78, 208-225.
[30] These controversies and policy disputes, especially as related to China, are delineated in fine detail in Carr,The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923 (Vol. 3), 484-540; and Carr, Socialism in One Country, 1924-1926, (Vol. 3) (London: Pelican Books, 1972), 693-830.
[31] Lucia Pradella, “Beijing between Smith and Marx,” Historical Materialism 18, no. 1 (2010): 94.

Video: “Socialist reconstruction in America”

Video: “Socialist reconstruction in America”

Watch an insightful discussion about the Party for Socialism and Liberation's latest book, Socialist Reconstruction in America: A Better Future for the United States! The webinar, facilitated by Kym Smith, features contributors Ben Becker and Jodi Dean, as well as...