Putting Modes of Production to Work

Marxist historiography, historical materialism or the materialist conception of history, has been organised around the concept of modes of production since Marx’s initiation of the tradition in the second half of the 19th century. A concept applied at varying levels, the most general refers to historical epochs defined by dominant configurations of production, classically slave society, feudalism and capitalism. Marxist historians debate modular definitions in general as well as in each particular case, alongside the dynamics of ‘transitions’ from one mode to another. Conceptualisations of the various modes became subject to varying degrees of dogmatism and formalism as a result of Soviet state ideology, but across the 20th century hugely productive debates raged from Latin America across Europe to Turkey and India.

This webinar provides an overview of modes of production as an operative concept, the levels at which it’s been applied and the political stakes that have defined key debates. We’ll discuss the most recent attempts to develop modes of production as applicable heuristics for critical history writing, notably led by two Byzantinists, John Haldon and Jairus Banaji. In particular we’ll explore whether and how it’s possible to treat pre- or non-capitalist modes with the same complexity as Marx did for capital, and how modes of production relate to, or, indeed, form in themselves, conceptions of the state.

    Background Texts

Bernstein, Henry, ‘Production and Productivity’, in Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change (2010), 1-24 (a5 pages, very short & easy text outlining fundamentals).

Marx, ‘1859 Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’, paragraphs 7-8 (‘In the social production...’ to ‘Mankind thus...’).

Marx, ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, (very short).

Key Essays

Banaji, Jairus, ‘Introduction: Themes in Historical Materialism’ & ‘Modes of Production in a Materialist Conception of History’, in History as Theory (2011), 1-101.

Graeber, David, ‘Turning Modes of Production Inside Out: Or, Why Capitalism is a Transformation of Slavery’, Critique of Anthropology, Vol. 26 (2006), 61-85.

Haldon, John, ‘Theories of Practice: Marxist History-Writing & Complexity’, Historical Materialism, Vol. 21.4 (2013), 36-70.

Wood, Ellen Meiksins, ‘Rethinking Base & Superstructure’, in Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism (1996), 49-75.

Further Reading

Banaji Jairus, ‘Trajectories of Accumulation or “Transitions” to Capitalism?’ & ‘Modes of Production: A Synthesis’, in Theory as History (2010), 333-360.

Banaji, Jairus, ‘Putting Theory to Work’, Historical Materialism, Vol. 21.4 (2013), 129-143.

Banaji, Jairus, ‘Merchant Capitalism, Peasant Households and Industrial Accumulation: Integration of a Model’, Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 16.3 (2016), 410-431.

Berktay, H., 1987, 'The Feudalism Debate: The Turkish End - is “Tax vs. Rent” Necessarily the Product and Sign of a Modal Difference?', Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol.14, No.3, 291-333.

Bernstein, Henry, ‘Historical Materialism and Agrarian History’, Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 13.2 (2013), 310-329.

Bhattacharya, Neeladri, ‘Lineages of Capital’, Historical Materialism, Vol. 21.4 (2013), 11-35.

Charusheela, S., ‘Engendering Feudalism: Modes of Production Revisited’, Rethinking Marxism, Vol. 22.3 (2010), 438-445.

Da Graca, Laura & Andrea Zingarelli (eds)., Studies on Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production (2015).

Haldon, John, ‘The Feudalism Debate Once More: The Case of Byzantium’, Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 17.1 (1989), 5-40.

Haldon, John, The State and the Tributary Mode of Production (1993), 1-139.

Wood, Ellen Meiksins, ‘History or Technological Determinism?’ & ‘History or Teleology? Marx versus Weber’, in Democracy Against Capitalism (1996), 108-180.

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