Asiatic Capitalism and Agrarian Relations
Posted by Taimur Rahman on October 8, 2008
This work attempts to demonstrate that the colonial path of the capitalist transformation of India resulted in a fusing of the features of capitalism and the Asiatic mode of production to give rise to a social-formation that is best termed Asiatic capitalism.
At the heart of every mode of production is the mode of surplus extraction based on certain relations of production. Slavery, serfdom, and wage labour are all different relations of production that are that heart of slave society, feudalism and capitalism respectively. Similarly, the AMP is based on a variant of class exploitation where peasants are held in collective bondage by the ruling class organized as a state that extracts a tribute from village communities. In Pakistan, this labour relation was called muzara’at. Hence, muzara’at is the central labour relation of the AMP in South Asia.
To understand the emergence of Asiatic capitalism one has to briefly analyze how the AMP was transformed by British colonial rule. In 1764, the British East India Company consolidated their victory at the Battle of Buxar by defeating the Mogul emperor Shah Alam II. The Emperor granted the Company the right to collect land-revenue (called Diwani) in Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. Thus, the Company began to feed off the surplus generated from the social foundation of the AMP in India. However, with a view to rationalizing and improving the efficiency of collecting land revenue, the British introduced the Permanent Settlement Act in 1793. Although this Act introduced private property in land, it did not fundamentally alter the labour relation of muzara’at. Now the muzara’as were obligated to pay land-revenue (tribute) not to the a representative of the state but to the private owner of the land. Previously the collective-slaves of the state, the muzara’as were
now the collective slaves of the zamindars that had acquired the status of landlord through the colonial regime. Even land that was owned by the colonial state, the system of wage-labour did not replace muzara’at. While private property took the place of Asiatic property in land, wage-labour did not come to replace muzara’at in agrarian relations.
Thus emerged a system of private property and commodity production on the economic foundation of muzara’at. In other words, the surplus produce is converted into a commodity but muzara’at remains more or less intact. Wage-labour mainly emerged in cities where small manufactories transformed into industry. As a result, whether in cities or in the countryside, all institutions of state and society remain stamped by customs that are linked to the AMP encapsulated by the caste system. It is a grave error to think that the caste system survives merely as an ideological vestige. On the contrary, the very economic foundations of contemporary society give rise to the continuing existence of caste as an organizing principle of agrarian relations.
These agrarian relations, private property in land and commodity production on the economic foundations muzara’at (without wage-labour), is what this study terms ‘Asiatic capitalism’. As long as agrarian relations remain constrained by the presence of muzara’at, there can never be economic dynamism or growth.
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