Semi-Asiatic Russian Society

  • Umberto Melotti


We have already seen that Marx regarded Russia as a semi-Asiatic country, and as such he often bracketed it with the truly Asiatic countries in his analyses. Its chief difference from them arose from the causes of its political centralisation: it was not a case of using a very low level of productive forces to satisfy the imperatives of a basic hydraulic-engineering system imposed by the very facts of geography and climate, but rather of defending settled populations against repeated incursions by neighbouring nomadic tribes. Nevertheless, in Russia too there was a despotic power, based on the exploitation of scattered self-sufficient village communities, in which farming and cottage industry went hand in hand and the near or total absence of privately owned land meant that the exploiting class was predominantly bureaucratic. Marx was therefore right to define it as a ‘semi-Asiatic’ country, not in a purely geographical sense, but with the weightier economic and social overtones that immediately recall the concept we have just explained of the Asiatic mode of production.


Communal Property Village Community Russian State Settle Population Russian City 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Karl Marx, ‘Russia and the Western Powers’, New York Daily Tribune, 5 Aug. 1853; in Karl Marx, The Eastern Question, ed. Eleanor Marx Aveling and Edward Aveling, Swan Sonnenschein, London, 1897, p. 75.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    For a recent article on this topic see Gabriele Crespi Reghizzi, ‘L’eredità del diritto mongolo’, in L’Est (Milan), year VI, no. 1 (Mar. 1970) pp. 95–117.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    V. O. Klyuchevsky, Kurs Russki Istori, Moscow, 1937, vol. IV, p. 282.Google Scholar
  4. 16.
    Karl Marx, letter to Ludwig Kugelmann, 17 Feb. 1870, in Werke, vol. XXXII, p. 649; Eng. trans. in Karl Marx, Letters to Kugelmann, Martin & Lawrence, London, 1936, pp. 98–9.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Umberto Melotti

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations