Anyone source on Medieval non-European societies through a Marxist lens?

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groovysocialist's picture
Joined: 3-05-17
May 3 2017 22:45
Anyone source on Medieval non-European societies through a Marxist lens?

I'd really like to see, for example, someone analyze the mode of production of societies in the Middle East-North Africa-Persia between 632 AD and the 1300s, for example, and I can't find much work on it. Are there any sources that go in to this? As far as I can tell, the way early Muslim societies produced things is largely untouched unlike European societies, where we have a fairly detailed idea of how they produced things in a number of areas.

Joined: 13-10-05
May 4 2017 00:06

can't help with that era, but for ancient Mediterranean up to late antiquity there is

Joined: 4-11-07
May 4 2017 01:28

extract on

i don't expect too much from this as the auther was a swp member, but could be a start.

you can find pdfs if you search "a people's history of the world"

edit lol its on libcom

Sike's picture
Joined: 25-10-15
May 4 2017 08:44

I'm unaware of anything in particular but perhaps some of the works having to do with what Marx called the "Asiatic mode of production" might perhaps offer some insight into the societies that your interested in.

Maybe some of the left-communists who frequent libcom will chime in with some good recommendations.

spacious's picture
Joined: 2-09-15
May 4 2017 08:18

In addition to Sike's comment above...

There's a solid book by Lawrence Krader on the Asiatic mode of production, which goes into Marx' theory, its intellectual sources, and Marx's own development of it (pretty scattered throughout his work). I think you'll find much that's relevant in it, but it is far removed from a rigorous treatment of any specific period or region, since it's primarily concerned with the theory as such.

As for the Middle East/Northern Africa, it does contain Marx's notes on some books he read about Algeria and the structures of common land property there, which the French colonisers tried to systematically stamp out.

In general, common property in land and the correlated existence of a 'despotic' state, I think are two of the defining aspects of the so-called 'asiatic mode' of production, which Marx saw as a competing form of 'political economy', different than but similar to capitalism. In many places it was the thing which early/expanding capitalism needed to supplant or undermine to gain a foothold. So the theory (its beginnings, before Marx took it up) came from the encounter with it on the part of western explorers and colonial administrators, who needed a concept to theorize this barrier they came across.

I've a pdf to share if you send me a DM.

Entdinglichung's picture
Joined: 2-07-08
May 4 2017 09:05

Islam and Capitalism by Maxime Rodinson

Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and partly Lineages of the Absolutist State by Perry Anderson

The State and the Tributary Mode of Production by John Haldon

groovysocialist's picture
Joined: 3-05-17
May 4 2017 14:51

Wow guys, thanks so much for all of these recommendations! Everything suggested here looks quite good and I'll be taking a look at each of them. I was seriously hitting a roadblock in my historical research but with these, I think I'll have a good basis for further work.

Dave B
Joined: 3-08-08
May 8 2017 18:58

On India this is supposed to be good but I have not read it.

Some caution needs to be exercised with this kind of thing as with the so called ‘Mir’ system as famously outlined by Kropotkin.

And there is a history of it within the 19th century Marxist theoreticians etc.

It was this guy;

Who really ‘started it all off’ with his book that started to do the rounds in Europe.

Then it appeared that there were a load of ‘peasant’ communist with communist consciousness in Russia.

Later analysis, correct or not, took the position that in fact these people were in fact still being exploited and producing surplus value for a ruling class in generating surplus product and performing surplus corvee type labour in the form of tributes and taxes or whatever.

But when it came to organising of their own necessary labour time they did it themselves; in a communistic kind of way.

Allocating resources eg land according to ability and need etc and even distributing the products of their own collective ‘necessary labour time’ according to need and ‘necessary labour time’ according to ability.

But it was just a hands off approach as regards the ruling class were concerned; as long as the lolly rolled in; if the ‘workers’ wanted to organise how they did it communistically, they let them get on with it.

It would appear to be a trans-historical and trans cultural solution for the ruling class.

Thus at Saint Kilda, a remote Scottish Island, as late as the 1930’s a similar system operated.

An anarcho syndicalist community that organised production within it on a communist basis.

On condition that it provided some surplus value or income as rent to the local Lord.

There was this fascinating, and when I read it, total crap statement by Karl in chapter one volume one; which he seemed to pull back from later in a comment in volume III?

It is curious in the sense of blather and the potential for different interpretation re “mutual personal relations” ?

So the idea is I think; that you hand over a load of, what looks to us like surplus lolly, to what looks to us like the ruling class.

But allegedly it is not like that at all, it is just that these priests and intelligentsia are part of the syndicate and have ‘more’ needs required for their function etc.

It was part of the ideology of the uncorrupted Scottish Clan system.

They didn’t want to be thought of a bunch of thicko’s so they would sponsor, as they viewed it, one of their own to get a good education and hold their own amongst ‘higher’ western civilisation and culture.

Thus, for discussion?

Let us now transport ourselves from Robinson’s island bathed in light to the European middle ages shrouded in darkness. Here, instead of the independent man, we find everyone dependent, serfs and lords, vassals and suzerains, laymen and clergy. Personal dependence here characterises the social relations of production just as much as it does the other spheres of life organised on the basis of that production. But for the very reason that personal dependence forms the ground-work of society, there is no necessity for labour and its products to assume a fantastic form different from their reality.

They take the shape, in the transactions of society, of services in kind and payments in kind. Here the particular and natural form of labour, and not, as in a society based on production of commodities, its general abstract form is the immediate social form of labour. Compulsory labour is just as properly measured by time, as commodity-producing labour; but every serf knows that what he expends in the service of his lord, is a definite quantity of his own personal labour power.

The tithe to be rendered to the priest is more matter of fact than his blessing. No matter, then, what we may think of the parts played by the different classes of people themselves in this society, the social relations between individuals in the performance of their labour, appear at all events as their own mutual personal relations, and are not disguised under the shape of social relations between the products of labour.

There is also this from Fred.

Interesting perhaps in the context of our economic base of our early Christian thread elsewhere?

Usury and changes in financial law being used to expropriate simple commodity production peasants, owning their own means of production, and turning them in to agricultural wage slaves?

And hence this apparently anachronistic preoccupation in the gospel stuff about ‘wages’?

………The traditional conditions of employment were thrown into confusion; there followed the breakdown which everywhere accompanies the transition from a subsistence economy to a “money economy” within the commune large differences in wealth appeared between the members — debt turned the poorer into the slaves of the rich. In short, the same process that had caused the Athenian gens to break down in the period before Solon, with the advent of the money economy, now began to break down the Russian commune. Solon was able to liberate the slaves of debt, it is true, by means of a revolutionary intervention………

Joined: 20-04-08
May 8 2017 22:27
Thus at Saint Kilda, a remote Scottish Island, as late as the 1930’s a similar system operated.

Worth a glance at

groovysocialist's picture
Joined: 3-05-17
Jun 24 2017 01:45

Does anyone have any sources for Achaemenid Persia?

Joined: 13-10-05
Jun 24 2017 19:49
Entdinglichung wrote:
Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism ... by Perry Anderson

is this recommended? sounds like the kind of thing i'd read.

Noa Rodman's picture
Noa Rodman
Joined: 4-11-09
Jun 24 2017 20:22

M.M. Dyakonov
Essay on the history of ancient Iran.
// M .: 1961. 444 p.

reviewed here:

Google translate (raw):

The book of the late MM Dyakonov was written on the basis of a study of numerous sources. It consists of three parts, preceded by a short source-study review. The author's extensive notes are important in bibliographic terms and sometimes contain valuable research excursions. Covering the most ancient history of Iran during its entry into the Achaemenid state (pages 27- 133) and briefly describing Central Asia and Eastern Iran according to Avesta (pages 58-65), the author comes to the conclusion that even at that time there existed the smallest state One of which was the principality of Vishtasp. Perhaps there was a more significant unification in Bactria, which, in M. M. Dyakonov's opinion, was not much inferior to Media and Persis (pages 64, 75-77). Note that this provision is confirmed by new archaeological materials showing that in the IX - VII centuries. BC. E. In the south of Central Asia, irrigation systems of impressive size are emerging1. The most successful are the sections devoted to the Achaemenid empire (pages 66 - 133). A clear description of political history, a thorough analysis of issues of social development, a figuratively written essay on the culture of Achaemenid Iran is the author's undoubted success. We need only add that the existence, beginning with the reign of Darius I, of a single coin (p. 91, 109) should be spoken with more caution, because the money economy of the Achaemenid state was a rather motley picture, in which the coinage was almost the first place Greek cities, especially Athens; Persian sikli were not an imperial coin, but a local coin, probably intended for Asia Minor, where their finds are most frequent. In the Achaemenids, coins of local weight systems appear in Gandhara.

Special attention should be paid to the analysis in the book of the causes of the decline of the Achaemenid empire. Her military power, the author writes, was made up by free Persian communionists. The progressive ruin of the latter has led to a weakening of the military power of the empire and the widespread development of mercenarism. At the same time, the administration did not contribute to the strengthening of slave-owning farms in cities whose economy required maximum autonomy within the military-administrative association; Town planning was almost never practiced; Autonomy of urban and temple-urban communities, all sorts of obstacles were repaired (pages 113, 117). These provisions are important for understanding the essence of the processes that predetermined the outcome of the armed conflict of the Hellenic world and the decrepit eastern despotism. However, the thesis that, in the middle of the first millennium BC. E. Central Asia and Iran knew only city-residences and rural settlements (page 107). On the contrary, in Margian, Bactria, Sogdiana and Gandhara in the V - IV centuries. BC. E. Large settlements with citadels become centers of handicraft and commercial activities, which corresponds to the development at that time of commodity circulation and money economy.

The second part of the book, called "Hellenism and Parthia", is very impressive. Here the greatest scientific interest is the treatment by the author of the Hellenistic problem, on which a long discussion among Soviet historians4 was conducted. The Hellenistic combination of Hellenistic and Eastern principles is recognized by MM D'yakonov, but he pays most attention to the political forms of the Hellenistic states, primarily the polis organization. It seems to us that in this approach to the problem of Hellenism new cognitive possibilities are laid, since, as Academician noted. AI Tyumenev, we have very little to expect from the hard-to-prove thesis of the spread in the Hellenistic East of the ancient forms of slavery. As for the Achaemenid empire, its development required a reliable guarantee of the inviolability of slave-owning private property and slave-owning production without arbitrary interference in them by the tsarist authorities. It was such opportunities that the Greek policy opened (p. 156). Proceeding from this situation, the author defines the essence of the Hellenization of the East as follows: "This process was two-sided: the Eastern world, without having developed the forms of the slave system necessary to it, had already created a military administrative association - it was necessary to supplement it with a polis organization." The Greek world created highly developed slavery And the policy, but in its former form the system of independent, disparate polices was in crisis, it needed a military unification, which was created by the conquests of Alexander the Great "(p. 157). Such a statement of the question seems very promising. M. M. Dyakonov reinforces her analysis of the internal system of the Seleucid state. No matter how limited our information on this issue, the main trend of that time - the development of numerous cities with a polis device - does not cause the reader any doubts.

The third part of MM Dyakonov's book, dedicated to the Sasanian power (pages 257-337), is somewhat inferior to the previous ones in the research respect. The author, speaking here of the reforms of Khosrov I, did not pay sufficient attention to the opinion of A. Yu. Yakubovsky that the land tax system was a kind of state form of feudal exploitation. The weak point of this part of the book are pages relating to the struggle of the Sassanids with the Central Asian associations of the Khionites, Kidarites and Ephthalites. The book in question and private omissions are also not deprived. Thus, on the map, placed between pages 174 and 175, Drangian and Areja are included in the region ceded to the Seleucid kingdom of Maurya, whereas on page 164 it is said (in full accordance with the sources) that, in addition to the lands on the basis of Maurya, Indus, only the eastern parts of Gedrosia, Arachosia and Paropamisadov

Joined: 11-02-07
Jun 24 2017 21:08

Not Marxist but maybe of interest: Patricia Crone - Zoroastrian Communism

Her book Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World is worth reading for a general overview of the way pre-modern societies worked.

Noa Rodman's picture
Noa Rodman
Joined: 4-11-09
Aug 25 2017 20:17

Pierre Briant, Appareils d'État et développement des forces productives au Moyen-Orient ancien : le cas de l'Empire achéménide, La Pensée 1981 : 9-23;
Another on the ancient orient here.

The entire archive of that (CP) journal is online:

Going over it, I found many articles on non-European societies, often by writers in the French (ex-)colonies.

(unrelated, but also found Henri Lefebvre's discussion of Merleau-Ponty (here; here)

Pennoid's picture
Joined: 18-02-12
Aug 25 2017 22:05

Passages focuses on Europe. In the sequel book, Linages of the absolutist state, Japanese feudalism is discussed and I think the 'asiatic mode'.