Pakistani Feudal Economy and the Asiatic Mode of Production

The Asiatic Mode of Production (AMP) figures prominently in early Marx as an explanation of a despotic mode of production that relied on centralized power and extraction of surplus labor in rural communities. Marx abandon this term in his later works and an explanation of his altered views on various modes of production can be seen in the following explanation of it:

Before 1857, Marx and Engels occasionally used this term to refer to a distinct social formation lying between Tribal Society and Antiquity. Marx and Engels had believed that the great Asian nations were the first we could speak of as civilization (an understanding partly based on Hegel, see: The Oriental Realm). The last time they used this word was in the Grundisse, having dropped the idea of a distinct Asiatic mode of production, and kept four basic forms of societal evolution: tribal, ancient, feudal, and capitalist. (Source:

It must be noted that rise of capital, for Marx, was a necessary step for the rise of the proletariat, for the future revolution depended upon the prolitariatization of the masses. Sadly, though, this has not happened in Pakistan. In fact, in Pakistan capital has arrogated the feudal mode of production to itself in a way that it has formed a new monstrosity: a capitalistic system with core feudal values still intact. This monstrous system has enabled the old hierarchies to be renegotiated in modern terms in a process that enables the landholders to retain their economic and symbolic capital without transforming the lives of the peasants, sharecroppers, or the captive labor employed in Pakistani agriculture.

Pakistan is probably the only modern nation-state in which sanctimonious modern politicians can rise to power and speak eloquently about democracy while still holding on to large tracts of land tilled and ploughed by bound, captive labor with no recourse to upward mobility. Neither Mr. Z. A Bhutto, nor the subsequent military and civilian governments have been able to dismantle this monstrous AMP.

Compared to pakistan, India abolished the large land ownership system in the 1950s and even though the conditions there are not perfect, one still does not see the kind of slave labor practiced in the rural heart of Pakistan. In a way, the democratic process itself enables the feudal elite to normalize old hierarchies within a new political system: almost all our major politicians have a feudal background in one way or the other and when the come to power, they can further strengthen their position by branching out into lucrative agribusinesses that still rely on the captive labor of peasant farmers. It is no surprise that pretty much all major agribusinesses in Pakistan are owned by large landholders. Thus, while the economy becomes increasingly industrialized and global, its worker base is still trapped in a prehistoric mode of labor.

There are quite a few consequences of this revised AMP in practice in Pakistan, not the least of which is the rise of fundamentalism. If people cannot be liberated through reformative modes, where are they likely to go? They will certainly seek the leadership of those who promise to undo the current system and make into one on which the least shall not remain the weak and impoverished: only the Islamists in Pakistan can offer this promise and that is why their ranks are growing.

Pakistan needs a serious revisiting of its feudal system and needs to bring about a massive change in the way people live in the rural heart of Pakistan. But as the ones in our parliament are mostly those who literally own their constituencies, the chances of a smooth parliamentary change are not very good. Even Bhutto, who had a lot of political capital to spend, could not get the land reform bill passed and our generals have not had much interest in the project as they mostly rely on these so-called ‘notables’ to run their regimes.

Sadly though, unless Pakistan breaks out of this Feudal, Asiatic, monstrous mode of production, it is not likely to have a viable future as a modern nation. The situation is even getting worse because due to the neoliberal state policies, the wealth is concentrating at the top and the poor are being left to perish without any viable safety nets or any hope for upward mobility. A comprehensive land reform could be a good start to change the course of Pakistani history. Will it happen in my lifetime? I am not so sure!

I am, however, planning to make this an important issue in my occasional Writings and would be grateful if the readers could contribute regional or national news and events that highlight the ills of Pakistani feudal system.

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