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India and the Colonial Mode of Production-Comment

Comment A CRITIQUE of Hamza Mdvis article1 is rendered difficult by the fact 'that Alavi has written neither a historical analysis nor a theoretical essay, hut something between the two to the exclusion of both. Since for Marxists the validity of any historical analysis is a function of the concepts on which it is built, it is more important to concentrate, tobegin with, on what we regard as basic theoretical weaknesses in the article. These weaknesses spring from a profound confusion as to the meaning and nature of Marx's categories. Alavi is not exceptional in this respect, for a purely empiricist conception of the categories of historical materialism has become the hallmark of the current of modern 'Marxist' writing that rims from Andre Gunder Frank to Samir Amin and their epigones. The necessary result of this empiricist mediation of Marx's categories is a certain metaphysical scholasticism which builds its conceptions of historical development on a series of forced abstractions, EMPTINESS OF 'FEUDALISM' A discussion of the nature and tend- encies of colonial economy in India would not be the most appropriate place to bring up the question of feudalism as a 'mode of production' were it not for the unfortunate fact that whether we turn to the international fraternity of neo-populists (Frank, Amin, etc) or to our own theoreticians of 'semi-feudalism', we cannot escape this mode of production. It is the favourite forced abstraction of modern scholasticism, In the imaginary and perverse world of such abstractions it matters little that Europe did in fact- live through such an epoch of production for several centuries, that we pos- sess today a mass of detailed historical literature about the productive enterprises of this epoch, about the characteristic cycles and circuits of reproduction of feudal economy, about its specific accounting conceptions and the role of peasant labour within its process of production. Alavi's conception of the feudal mode of production can be summarised in his own words: "I would consider localised production and localised appropriation and simple reproduction to be crucial for a definition of the feudal mode of production" (p 1262); Thus; in place of a serious theo retical proposition about feudal economy, we are offered a pure banality. At the cost of stating what to many Marxists would appear aImost obvious, the reply can be brief. (1) If by localised production and so on Alavi means that under feudal economy production was not subject to and regulated by the laws of socialisation which flow from the internal motion of capitalist-commodity economy, then he is right; no such laws of socialisation were present in the feudal epoch, but for the simple reason that in all epochs of production before capitalism labour was directly social and did not acquire the property of being social through the process of its social equalisation in the specifically capitalist form of an equalisation of things {commodities).2 Thus in the localised character of its production, feudal economy shared a characteristic common to all forms of economy before capitalism. (2) Feudal economy was not an economy of 'simple reproduction' if Alavi means that it reproduced itself on the same scale of production

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