ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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India and the Colonial Mode of Production

Hamza Alavi (1921-2003) was a leading Marxist theorist and sociologist of south Asia in the 20th century. 

The debate on whether (and if so, how) Indian agriculture has moved from a feudal mode of production to a capitalist mode of production has been a long and a vexed one. EPW brings you this essay by Hamza Alavi, that has been at the centre of this debate, on the colonial mode of production and the structural specificity that distinguishes it from both feudalism and capitalism in the metropolis. 

Abstract: The Indian debate on the mode of production revolves around the question whether, in the last 15 or 20 years, there has been a decisive movement in Indian agriculture from a feudal mode of production to a capitalist mode of production. Similar questions have been raised elsewhere.

The protagonists in the Indian debate have looked at European (including Russian) historical parallels and theoretical propositions that have been advanced in those contexts; there is, however, a surprising omission of any reference to the Chinese experience or theoretical contributions.

A more serious criticism could be that, by focusing on the agrarian economy, the debate conceptualises ‘mode of production’ too narrowly – although it must be said that, on specific issues, the wider contexts of the developments in agriculture and some of the implications arising therefrom are considered.

Neither the concept of ‘feudalism’ in India (during the period of direct colonial domination) nor the contemporary phenomenon of rural ‘capitalism’, it is argued here, can be grasped theoretically in all its implications except specifically in the context of the worldwide structure of imperialism into which it is articulated.

A consideration of this fact leads towards a conception of a colonial mode of production and the structural specificity that distinguishes it from both feudalism and capitalism in the metropolis.   

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