Stephen P. Dunn: The Fall and Rise of the Asiatic Mode of Production.

Author:Tansel, Cemal Burak
Position::Book review
 
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The Fall and Rise of the Asiatic Mode of Production, Routledge: London, 2012; 154 pp: 9780415618625, 28 [pounds sterling] (pbk); 9780415616218 (hbk) 70 [pounds sterling]

Originally published in 1982, The Fall and Rise of the Asiatic Mode of Production, by the late anthropologist Stephen P. Dunn (1928-1999), has received a reprint as part of the Routledge Revival series. Since its initial publication, the book has held a unique location in Anglophone academy, since it catalogues the Soviet debate on Marxist theory of history in relation to the Asiatic mode of production (AMP) from 1929 to 1975. Predominantly based on primary sources in Russian, Dunn's book painstakingly charts the isochronal resurgence of the debate over half a century, and astutely reveals the vicissitudes of theoretical, historical and occasionally political positions taken by its participants.

As the author makes clear in the preface, the book deals exclusively with the literature written by Soviet authors on the topic. In lieu of treating the study of this body of work merely within the confines of intellectual history, Dunn locates them within a broader framework dealing with the fundamental questions concerning Marxist theory of history. The main theoretical preoccupation, in the author's own words, is 'whether the historical process is to be regarded as single or double or multiple, as determined by one force, or by two related forces, or by a congeries of unspecifiable factors' (p. xii).

The starting point of Dunn's chronicle is the transactions of a meeting held in Saint Petersburg (then Leningrad) by the Association of Marxist Orientalists at the Enukidze Oriental Institute in 1931. Published as 'Diskussia ob Aziatskom sposobe proizvodstva po dokladu M. Godesa' (A Discussion on the Asiatic Mode of Production According to the Report of M. Godes), the proceedings reveal the extent to which contemporary Soviet scholars were divided on both the theoretical position of the AMP in Marxism and its empirical credibility. In this first section, Dunn retraces the original transactions in Russian and offers a verbatim summary of the various positions taken by the 'Aziatchiki' and 'anti-Aziatchiki'. (1) The line of contention is the categorisation of 'ancient societies', which the Aziatchiki camp classifies as the historical site of the manifestation of the AMP. The opposing anti-Aziatchiki perspective leans towards a heuristic rejection of Marx's use of the term (but not an...

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