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As we know the application of the framework to the study of Indian history has been a problem because of the understanding of Marx and Engels that a distinct Asiatic mode of production prevailed in India prior to British rule. We shall return to this problem in the second part of the discussion. Suffice it to say here that leading Marxists who have researched on Indian history over the past five decades or so are generally in agreement that the concept of the Asiatic mode of production needs to be dispensed with.

However, there is still no consensus on whether the sequence primitive communism—slavery—feudalism—capitalism P-S-F-C , derived essentially from the European experience, is valid for India. In terms of world history, the origins of class society and early state formation are demonstrated in the historical record with unusual THE MARXIST comprehensiveness in the region of southern Iraq, where the earliest civilization—the Sumerian civilization—emerged around BC.

The archaeological evidence from West Asia indicates that the transition from food-gathering and hunting society Palaeolithic; Mesolithic to early food producing society Neolithic occurred initially in marginal habitats rather than in fertile river valleys as was assumed earlier. The earliest Neolithic settlements date back to about BC. By about BC food production based on both agriculture and domest- ication of animals had become widespread throughout northern Iraq.

Over the next three thousand years historical conditions developed in southern Iraq for the production of a large surplus and a class society based upon the appropriation by the ruling class of this surplus. By circa BC the Sumerian civilization had come into existence in the region with the following features: extensive urbanization; writing; use of the wheel; artificial irrigation; a powerful priesthood with political control; bronze metallurgy; patriarchy; and slavery.

The social and technological possibilities for surplus production, together with the ability to mobilize force on a large scale and ensure prolonged captivity of a large group of humans through political— legal institutions, enabled social formations in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia, etc. Besides slavery, these societies had various forms of bondage with varying degrees of unfreedom. However, agricultural production in these societies was not based on the extensive use of slave labour.

This was a development that occurred somewhat later, in the ancient Greco- Roman world. There is evidence of the use of slave labour for agricultural production, handicraft production and mining in Greece from at least BC onwards. By the beginning of the classical period, c. Although a significant proportion of the surplus was appropriated in various ways from the free peasantry, which continued to play an important role in the economy, the dominant form of surplus extraction during the classical period was the exploitation of slave labour.

Subsequently, it was in the western portions of the Roman empire, between c. The ruling class of ancient Rome during this period derived its wealth through the exploitation of slave labour on a scale that has perhaps not been replicated in any other society.

Hence, the uniqueness to some extent, of the slave mode of production in ancient Rome. Numerous factors, for instance the decline in the slave trade and the disruptions caused by Germanic migrations, brought about a crisis in the slave mode of production from around the middle of the third century AD, leading to the decline of this mode of production by the fifth-sixth centuries.

New production relations began to develop in the following centuries, especially in western Europe where production based on slave labour had been most extensive, and the crisis therefore more acute than in other parts of the empire , leading to a transition from slavery to serfdom.

Serfdom replaced slavery as the dominant surplus extraction relationship, becoming the basis of the feudal mode of production that was established in its full-fledged form by the beginning of the tenth century in western Europe. Serfdom entailed, in its uncomplicated form, production by serf-peasants who held small plots of land which they cultivated with their own labour, and the labour of their families , in return for compulsory labour that had to be rendered on the portion of the landed estate that was directly managed directly by the feudal lord.

The surplus appropriated through serf labour and other forms of unfree labour, including slave labour that still continued into the medieval period provided the resources for maintaining armed retainers by feudal lords who were placed, through ties of vassalage and overlordship, in a hierarchical political and military system.

Peasant resistance led to the decline of serfdom from the fourteenth century onwards, paving the way for the growth of capitalist relations of production. The Asiatic mode of production, never adequately described by Marx, is marked by the existence of undifferentiated village communities which are the basis of production.

Almost the entire surplus produced by the village community is appropriated by a despotic state. Ownership of land vests in the ruler; private rights in property, and class differentiation, are virtually absent. His views on the village community evolved over a period of time and in later years he referred to a more complex social organization which reflected differentiation within the village community.

A series of writings by Marxist scholars on Indian history, published from the mid-twentieth century onwards, critiqued this concept and convincingly argued for its rejection. Kosambi, R. Sharma and Irfan Habib have done pioneering work on this problem. These writings showed that the history of the Indian subcontinent, as that of societies elsewhere, could be meaningfully studied in terms of a succession of modes of production altering over a period of time through class conflicts at various levels and changes in technology and forms of surplus 52 History of Social Formations in India extraction.

Further, whereas the sequence P-S-F-C was not replicated, the universality of which is not in any case essential from the materialist perspective, relations of production based on both slavery as well as feudalism were to be found in varying degrees in Indian social formations. It goes without saying that these evolved under historical conditions of the subcontinent which gave to them their specificities. These, of course, remain matters of ongoing debates within Marxist historiography.

Nevertheless the framework developed in the early writings of Kosambi, Sharma and Habib mentioned earlier, has been reinforced by their own subsequent writings, and the researches of other Marxist scholars such as Kesavan Veluthat on early medieval south India , Iqtidar Alam Khan on the Mughal period , and Amiya Bagchi and Sumit Sarkar on colonial India. Ancient The transition from the food gathering and hunting to food production in the Indian subcontinent took place around BC.

The evidence for the beginnings of food production comes from Mehrgarh, a site located in Baluchistan. Subsequently with the spread of agriculture several Neolithic cultures evolved during the next four thousand years in the zone extending from Baluchistan to the Indus basin.

In the Indus basin advanced Neolithic cultures had developed by BC, the most prominent of which was the very extensive Kot Diji culture BC.

The development of agriculture, use of the plough, and beginnings of copper metallurgy together created conditions in the Kot Diji settlements which had grown in size and complexity for surplus production. The Harappan civilization came into existence around BC and entered its mature phase by BC. The mature phase lasted till BC. The origins of the Harappan civilization remain obscure. At the same time one needs to bear in mind that the material conditions for the emergence of the civilization were certainly presently in the Indus basin in the centuries before BC.

The Harappan civilization or Indus civilization was marked by an urban revolution. These reveal a surprising uniformity in their features pointing towards centralized control. The affluence of the ruling elite, as indicated by the archaeological evidence from the sites, was based upon the efficient extraction of a large agrarian surplus, and perhaps taxes realized from trade.

Even though this was a literate society the script remains undeciphered. Consequently it is not possible to reconstruct the political history of the Harappan civilization. The Harappan civilization came to an abrupt end between and BC. There has been much speculation by historians about the causes which led to the end of the civilization, but we are still far from having even a reasonably definite answer. One hypothesis worth considering is the overexploitation of resources leading to ecological degradation.

This link has not been substantiated. The period after BC witnessed the disappearance of cities, writing and most of the prominent features of the Harappan civilization. Urban centres did not appear again till several centuries later, and writing only as late as the beginning of the third century BC. The period following the end of the Harappan civilization was also a period in which Aryan migrations from the west Iran and Afghanistan acquired momentum, and by BC Aryan settlement in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent produced a new agrarian economy.

The evidence for this social formation Early Vedic Age comes from, apart from archaeology, the Rig Veda composed between and BC. This was an entirely rural society, combining agriculture with pastoralism. Earlier studies saw the Vedic 54 History of Social Formations in India economy as essentially pastoral; but both the archaeological evidence as well as the evidence from the Rig Veda shows that agricultural production played a vital role in the Early Vedic Age although cattle- rearing was also important.

The Aryans brought with them the horse, for which we have no evidence in the pre-Vedic period. Horse-drawn chariots which replaced the ox-drawn chariots of the Harappan period would have facilitated the subjugation of the indigenous?

There are constant references in the Rig Veda to the conflict between the Aryan tribes on the one hand and the Dasyus and Dasas on the other. Though the term shudra appears only once in the Rig Veda, its context and the evidence from the subsequent period suggests that the varna hierarchy in its rudimentary form had appeared by the end of the Early Vedic Age. The shudras, a part of whom would have been enslaved note that one of the terms used for slave, i.

With growing differentiation among the Aryan tribes, a section of the Aryans would also have been reduced to the status of shudras, as also other tribes that came in contact with Vedic society as the area of Vedic settlement expanded.

These developments continued into the next phase, the Late Vedic Period c. In this phase the zone of Vedic settlement shifted eastwards, towards the Ganga region. Settlement in this very fertile region required the clearing of dense forests, which would have been facilitated by the introduction of iron metallurgy c. However the use of iron became widespread only towards the end of the Late Vedic Period. The eastward shift combined with technological advances created the material conditions for the production of a large surplus.

This speeded up class differentiation which was reflected in the rigid hierarchy of the varna system. The brahmans and kshatriyas distinguished themselves from the vaishyas and shudras, claiming exclusive privileges.

With growing differentiation the shudras became a servile class which increasingly had no access to property. The historical trend whereby the status of the shudras and to some extent that of the vaishyas was being continuously depressed continued into the post-Vedic period. The articulation of the Brahmanical ideology of varna hierarchy, spelt out in considerable detail in this period, sought to legitimize the oppression of the lower varnas.

Shudras were generally propertyless, and worked as agricultural labour or artisans. A section of them were slaves, though slave labour was not used extensively for agricultural production. Ritual impurity came to be associated with the shudras from c. Simultaneously a distinct group, even more oppressed than the shudras, located outside the varna system and treated as untouchable, asprishya, —with numerous other forms of deprivation—, was now clearly defined e.

The wealth of the dominant varnas was based mainly upon the appropriation of surplus from the shudras labour; at times slave labour and vaishyas taxes.

Vaishyas constituted the bulk of the peasantry trade was only a secondary occupation for this varna. The success of this mode of production is to be seen in the rise of the Mauryan empire, for which it provided the resources.

The emergence of a powerful state with a large bureaucratic apparatus, territorial expansion on a scale that was hitherto unprecedented in the subcontinent, a vast standing army, extension of agriculture, growth of trade, etc. As may be seen from the Arthashastra, the Mauryan state played an important role in consolidating and.


Amar Farooqui



Early Social Formations


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