Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1957 - Selections by Peter Myers, April 27, 2003; update May 16, 2009. My comments are shown {thus}.

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Karl A. Wittfogel was a Communist of the anti-Stalinist (Trotskyist) camp. He joined the German Communist Party in 1920, but later turned against Communism through Stalin's overthrowing of the Jews who had brought the Revolution to Russia: stalin.html.

Arthur Koestler was similar: a Communist and Zionist until Stalin dished out the harsh treatment to Jews, that Jews had meted out to non-Jews during the "Trotskyist" period: koestler.html.

Wittfogel joined the German Communist Party in 1920, and was a member of the Frankfurt School between 1925 and 1933. Its other leading members were Jewish, and Wittfogel fits the pattern of Jewish Bolsheviks who abandoned ship through Stalin's seizing power. Evidence of Jewish ancestry or identity has not been presented, but the Christian religion was sometimes a cover for Jews who had assimilated but retained a Jewish identity. Leo Amery, author of the Balfour Declaration, is a modern example of a covert Jew: balfour.html.

Stalin used the same covert methods that Jews did, and his actions were only clear in hindsight.

He banished Trotsky in 1928. The Moscow Trials of 1936-8 were aimed at Trotsky's support-base, especially Kamenev and Zinoviev (the three leaders of the Left Opposition being Jewish): stalin-purges.html.

For Wittfogel as for Arthur Koestler, the Nazi-Soviet Pact was the final straw. in 1939, he broke with the Communist Party; later, he campaigned against the Communist regimes.

He gave up on Trotsky too. Wittfogel not only criticizes Stalin, but also makes direct criticisms of Marx, Lenin & Trotsky.

Trotsky wrote in his essay The U.S.S.R In War (written 25 September, 1939; published in The New International, New York, November 1939, Volume 10, No. 11 pages 325-332): http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1939/1939-war.htm

Recently, an Italian 'left communist,' Bruno R., who formerly adhered to the Fourth International, came to the conclusion that 'bureaucratic collectivism' was about to replace capitalism. (Bruno R. - La bureaucratisme du monde. Paris, 1939, 350 pp.) The new bureaucracy is a class, its relations to the toilers is collective exploitation, the proletarians are transformed into the slaves of totalitarian exploiters.

Bruno R. brackets together planned economy in the U.S.S.R., Fascism, National Socialism, and Roosevelt's 'New Deal.' ... Like many ultra lefts, Bruno R. identifies in essence Stalinism with Fascism.

Bruno Rizzi presented his ideas in his book The Bureaucratisation of the World (1939): http://www.marxists.org/archive/rizzi/bureaucratisation/index.htm

Rizzi's ideas were taken up by James Burnham, another former Trotskyist, in his book The Managerial Revolution (written in 1940): burnham.html.

George Orwell, another Trotskyist, adopted Burnham's ideas in his book 1984.

None of these authors were aware that the USSR had been set up by atheistic Jews, and that Stalin had overthrown them: stalin.html.

But, of course, their information came from Trotsky himself.

Trotsky set out his own analysis about the Bureaucratisation of the Soviet Union in his book The Revolution Betrayed (1937) : trotsky.html.

Trotsky calls Stalin a Bonapartist, likening him to Napoleon I and Napoleon III. But he also likens him to Hitler, saying that all of them were defeaters of the democratic forces. Trotsky never admits the covert Jewish leadership of those "democratic" forces.

He writes, "Stalinism and fascism, in spite of a deep difference in social foundations, are symmetrical phenomena."

Rizzi , Burnham, Orwell, Wittfogel and Hayek all echoed this assessment.

Contrary to Trotsky's position, what Napoleon I, Napoleon II, and Stalin have in common is that they defeated Jewish and/or Freemasonic revolutionary movements from within, yet carried the revolution forward; Hitler did the same from the outside.

Some may object over the Freemasonry claim. But Trotsky himself agreed, in his autobiography My Life: the Rise and Fall of a Dictator, that the French Revolution had been launched by Freemasons or Illuminiati. He studied this topic when in Odessa prison.

His words on this topic are at worst.html.

Wittfogel went on to blame the Russian civilization for the harshness of Communism. Never acknowledging that the Bolshevik regime had been set up by Jews, he went on to link the bureaucratic control in the USSR with what he saw as similar systems in Ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, China, the Islamic world, Mexico and the Andes.

But these were the Ancient Civilizations. In this article I will let Wittfogel present his case, then go on to argue that his damning of the Civilizations that are our forbears is derived from the Bible's condemnation of Egypt, Babylon and Rome.

I then argue that Ancient Greeks, such as Herodotus, respected Egypt and Babylon, and acknowledged that they derived much of their own civilization from them. It's only the Biblical view that condemns them all outright (juat as it erroneously says that the Pyramids were built by slaves - HEBREW slaves).

Voltaire and other Enlightenment intellectuals paid tribute to Chinese civilization.

Wittfogel joined forces with the Anglo-American Establishment, the secret society set up by Cecil Rhodes to dominate the world, via bodies such as the Round Table and the Council On Foreign Relations: quigley.html.

His work was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Wittfogel's worldview is very much like that of Lionel Curtis, the leading analyst of the Round Table around the time of World War I. He depicted world history as a struggle between Freedom (Ancient Athens) and Despotism (the Persian i.e. Achaemenian Empire), with the British Empire playing the role of Athens today - despite it being a behemoth swallowing a quarter of the world and controlling much more besides: curtis1.html.

We all laughted at Yes, Minister (and Yes, Prime Minister); I myself did not miss an episode. But this was the most powerful propaganda for Privatisation, cast as humour.

Capitalism, in which the economy is privately owned by wealthy individuals and corporations, is like Feudalism, a decentralized system in which local lords dominate, and privately own the land their serfs live on.

In contrast, in the Ancient Civilizations the land was owned publicly (by the Government), and the economy was a "managed" one rather than left to "market forces". It was that "managed" economy which produced the temples of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the irrigation works ... the things most people admire in those civilizations.

Wittfogel says he got his concept of "managerial society" from James Burnham. James Burnham was a Trotskyist who became a leading anti-Communist. His book The Managerial Revolution (1941, 1942) was one of the influences on George Orwell (also a Trotskyist) in writing 1984.

Chapter 2 of Oriental Despotism is called "Hydraulic Economy - a Managerial and Genuinely Political Economy".

The Managerial Revolution depicted a convergence between Communism, National Socialism and New-Deal policies (in the West) towards what he called "Managerial" society, where the public services manage the state and the economy. Disparagingly, he branded the bureauracy the "ruling class" in such managerial economies; a theme taken up by Djilas, in his book The New Class. For Burnham's writings, see burnham.html.

Decades later, Thatcherism and Reaganomics (privatization and deregulation) have got rid of the public-sector Managerialism Burnham wrote about in The Managerial Revolution, and replaced it with rule by company boards and anonymous creditors, many based in tax havens, not answerable to the public in any way. They've lined their own pockets, automated the farms, factories and offices, thrown the workers to the wind, and immersed most countries in foreign debt.

Against Wittfogel, I argue that the totalitarianism of the USSR derived not from Russian tradition - which Alexander Solzhenitsyn showed was far milder than that of the Bolsheviks - but from Judaism. I draw attention to the totalitarianism Israel Shahak noted in Judaism. In his book Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years (Pluto Press, London 1994), Shahak repeatedly says that Judaism has a totalitarian streak (on pp. 10, 15, 16, 18, 19, 102, and 103): shahak1.html.

It was to hide that link, that Wittfogel stygmatized the whole of "Ancient Civilization".

It's time to re-examine the issues, so as to counter the domination of the earth by huge companies and banks.

This must begin with a re-examination of the start of the Bolshevik regime; if, as is clear, it was a Jewish Government (see zioncom.html), does this mean that socialism must be opposed? I argue "No"; that a new attempt must be made; that, this time, it can't be Jewish-dominated, but nor can it exclude Jews as Nazism did. My website is dedicated to this project.

It's a project that must draw on the best minds, that must consider the writings of the leading thinkers, whether sympathetic to the project or not.

Is the Asia Model a "Confucial Renaissance", as Reg Little argues (confucian-renaissance.html)? Or is it "Oriental Despotism", as Wittfogel argues, and today's Greens argue?

Joseph Needham protested that the "civilization which Professor Wittfogel is so bitterly attacking was one which could make poets and scholars into officials." Needham's 1959 review of Wittfogel's 1957 book Oriental Despotism is presented here in full.

Wittfogel points out that Western Europe, whose agriculture relied on rainfall, never developed public works like the East, except when Rome became "Orientalized".

While condemning Wittfogel for hiding the Jewish role in Bolshevism, and thus distorting his whole argument, one must also acknowledge the brilliance of his book. It is time to unshackle it from the ideology in which Wittfogel wrapped it.

Today's Greens are depicting the irrigation works of the ancient civilizations as a tragic mistake.

My position, as a Taoist, is that the individual needs a social structure - a family structure and a state structure - to belong to. But these can, and should, allow the individual quite a lot of freedom, with the proviso that the structure must be maintained.

This is one of the great intellectual battles of our time. Let it begin ...

(1) Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism (2) Joseph Needham's Review (3) background material on Wittfogel

(1) Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power, Yale University Press, New Haven 1959. First published 1957.

{p. v} A COMPARATIVE STUDY of total power, when it is based on documentary evidence for the institutional peculiarities of the East and the West, requires time, patience, and much friendly help. I am profoundly indebted to the Far Eastern and Russian Institute of the University of Washington for enabling me to engage in the diverse research that constitutes the factual basis of the present book. As co-sponsor of the Chinese History Project, New York, Columbia UnlVersity provided facilities of office and library. For a number of years the Rockefeller Foundation supported the over-all project of which this study was an integral part. Grants given by the American Philosophical Society and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research made possible the investigation of special aspects of Oriental despotism.

An inquiry into the nature of bureaucratic totalitarianism is bound to encounter serious obstacles. ...

{p. vi} New York, July I955


KARL A. WITTFOGEL University of Washington, Seattle

The present text is substantially identical with that of the first printing. However, for purposes of clarification, a few changes have been made, the most important on pages 20, 194 f., 27, and 320. In response to a number of inquiries, I have documented my assertion that the Mongols were familiar with the methods of Orientally despotic, especially Chinese, statecraft when they established their control over Russia (p. 220).

I have also sought to eliminate occasional inconsistencies in the use of the term "total" as different from "totalitarian" power (pp. 360, 366). As in the original text, the designation "total power" - the broader category - is used for the limited absolutisms of Europe and Japan, the semi-managerial Oriental despotisms, and the modern total managerial states. In accordance with distinctions made on pages 1 l l f., 122 ff., 159 f., 319 f., and 44o, the word "totalitarian" is employed only for incipient and developed forms of the Communist and Fascist apparatus states.


WHEN in the 16th and 17th centuries, in consequence of the commercial and industrial revolution, Europe's trade and power spread to the far corners of the earth, a number of keen-minded Western travelers and scholars made an intellectual discovery comparable to the great geographical exploits of the period. Contemplating the civilizations of the Near East, India, and China, they found significant in all of them a combination of institutional features which existed neither in classical antiquity nor in medieval and modern Europe. The classical economists eventually conceptualized this discovery by speaking of a specific "Oriental" or "Asiatic" society.

The common substance in the various Oriental societies appeared most conspicuously in the despotic strength of their political authority. Of course, tyrannical governments were not unknown in Europe: the rise of the capitalist order coincided with the rise of absolutist states But critical observers saw that Eastern absolutism was definitely more comprehensive and more oppressive than its Western counterpart. To them "Oriental" despotism presented the harshest form of total power

Students of government, such as Montesquieu, were primarily concerned with the distressing personal effects of Oriental despotism, students of economy vith its managerial and proprietary range The classical economists particularly were impressed by the large water works maintained for purposes of irrigation and communication. And they noted that virtually everywhere in the Orient the government was the biggest landowner.

These were extraordinary insights. They were, in fact, the starting point for a systematic and comparative study of total power. But no such study was undertaken. Why? Viewed alone, the social scientist' withdrawal from the problem of Oriental despotism is puzzling. But it is readily understandable when we consider the changes that occurred in the 19th century in the general circumstances of Western life. Absolutism prevailed in Europe when Bernier described his experiences in the Near East and Mogul India and when Montesquieu wrote The Spirit of the Laws. But by the middle of the 19th century representative governments were established in almost all industrially advanced countries. It was then that social science turned to what seemed to be more pressing problems.

{p. 2} FORTUNATE AGE. Fortunate, despite the sufferings that an expanding industrial order imposed on masses of underprivileged men and women. Appalled by their lot, John Stuart Mill claimed in 1852 that "the restraints of Communism would be freedom in comparison with the present situation of the majority of the human race." But he also declared that the modern property-based system of industry, outgrowing its dismal childhood, might well satisfy man's needs without grinding him down into "a tame uniformity of thoughts, feelings, and actions."

Fortunate age. Its ever-critical children could combat the fragmented despotism of privilege and power, because they did not live under a system of "general slavery." {footnote a} Indeed they were so far removed from the image of absolutist power that they felt no urge to study its substance. Some, such as Max Weber, did examine illuminatingly, if not too systematically, certain aspects of Oriental statecraft and bureaucracy. But by and large, what Bury said at the close of the period of liberalism was true: little effort was made to determine the peculiarities of absolutism through detailed comparative study.

Fortunate age. Optimistic age. It confidently expected the rising sun of civilization to dispel the last vestiges of despotism that beclouded the path of progress. ...

a. Marx (1939: 395) applied this term to Oriental despotism without realizing that more comprehensive forms of state slavery might emerge under conditions of industy.

{p. 3} Distinguishing as I do between a farming economy that involves small-scale irrigation (hydroagriculture) and one that involves large-scale and government-managed works of irrigation and flood control (hydraulic agriculture), I came to believe that the designations "hydraulic Society" and "hydraulic civilization" express more appropriately than the traditional terms the peculiarities of the order under discussion. The new nomenclature, which stresses human action rather than geography, facilitates comparison with "industrial society" and "feudal society." And it permits us, without circumstantial reasoning, to include in our investigation the higher agrarian civilizations of pre-Spanish America as well as certain hydraulic parallels in East Africa and the Pacific areas, especially in Hawaii. By underlining the prominent role of the government, the term "hydraulic," as I define it, draws attention to the agromanagerial and agrobureaucratic character of these civilizations.

THE present inquiry goes considerably beyond the findings of the early students of Oriental society. In the following pages I endeavor to describe systematically man's hydraulic response to arid, semiarid, and particular humid environments. I also indicate how the major aspects of hydraulic society interlock in a vigorously functioning institutional going concern.

This going concern constitutes a geo-institutional nexus which resembles industrial society in that a limited core area decisively affects conditions in large interstitial and peripheral areas. In many cases these marginal areas are politically connected with hydraulic core areas; but they also exist independently. Manifestly, the organizational and acquisitive institutions of the agrodespotic state can spread without the hydraulic institutions which, to judge from the available data, account for the genesis of all historically significant zones of agrarian despotism. An understanding of the relations between the core and the margin of hydraulic society - a phemenon barely noted by the pioneer analysts - is crucially important for an understanding of Western Rome, later Byzantium, Maya civilization, and post-Mongol (Tsarist) Russia.

In the matter of private property the early institutionalists were satisfied to indicate that the Oriental state controlled the strategic means of production, and most importantly the cultivable land. The real situation is much more complicated and, from the standpoint of societal leadership, much more disturbing. History shows that in

{p. 4} many hydraulic societies there existed very considerable active (productive) private property; but it also shows that this development did not threaten the despotic regimes, since the property holders, as property holders, were kept disorganized and politically impotent.

Obviously, too much has been said about private property generally and too little about strong and weak property and about the conditions which promote these forms. The analysis of the varieties of private property in hydraulic society determines the limitations of nonbureaucratic (and of bureaucratic) private property under Oriental despotism. Its results contradict the belief that practically any form of avowedly benevolent state planning is preferable to the predominance of private property, a condition which modern sociological folklore deems most abhorrent.

And then there is the problem of class. Richard Jones and John Stuart Mill indicated that in Oriental society the officials enjoyed advantages of income which in the West accrued to the private owners of land and capital. Jones and Mill expressed a significant truth. But they did so only in passing and without stating clearly that under agrodespotic conditions the managerial bureaucracy was the ruling class. They therefore did not challenge the widely accepted concept of class which takes as its main criterion diversities in (active) private property.

{But the bureaucracy did not privately own those resources, as for example Rupert Murdoch privately owns much of the world's media, and makes or buries politicians. Is Murdoch a despot? Wittfogel restricts this term to public servants; but who is he serving? The nomenklatura of the Communist countries could not appropriate wealth for their own purposes to anywhere near the extent of today's big businessmen, or the managers they employ.}

The present inquiry analyzes the patterns of class in a society whose leaders are the holders of despotic state power and not private owners and entrepreneurs. This procedure, in addition to modifying the notion of what constitutes a ruling class, leads to a new evaluation of such phenomena as landlordism, capitalism, gentry, and guild. It explains why, in hydraulic society, there exists a bureaucratic landlordism, a bureaucratic capitalism, and a bureaucratic gentry. It explains why in such a society the professional organizations, although sharing certain features with the guilds of Medieval Europe, were societally quite unlike them. It also explains why in such a society supreme autocratic leadership is the rule. While the law of diminishing administrative returns determines the lower limit of the bureaucratic pyramid, the cumulative tendency of unchecked power determines the character of its top. ...

{p. 5} The reader will not be surprised to learn that this theory has aroused the passionate hostility of the new total managerial bureaucracy that, in the name of Communism, today controls a large part of the world's population. The Soviet ideologists, who in 1931 declared the concept of Oriental society and a "functional" ruling bureaucracy politically impermissible, no matter what the "pure truth" might be, cynically admitted that their objections were inspired by political interests and not by scientific considerations. In 1950 the leaders of Soviet Oriental studies designated as their most important accomplishment "the rout of the notorious theory of the 'Asiatic mode of production.'"

The reference to the "Asiatic mode of production" is indicative of the kinds of difficulties that confront the Communist attack on the theory of Oriental society. To understand them, it must be remembered that Marx accepted many values of the Western world, whose modern private-property-based institutions he wished to see destroyed. In contrast to the Soviet c:onception of partisanship in art and science, Marx rejected as "shabby" and "a sin against science" any method that subordinated scientific objectivity to an outside interest, that of the workers included. And following Richard Jones and John Stuart Mill, he began, in the early 1850's, to use the concept of a specific Asiatic or Oriental society. Stressing particularly the Asiatic system of economy, which he designated as the "Asiatic mode of production," Marx upheld the "Asiatic" concept until his death, that is, for the greater part of his adult life. Engels, despite some temporary inconsistencies, also upheld to the end Marx' version of the Asiatic concept. Neither Marx nor Engels clearly defined the phenomenon of a marginal Oriental society; but from 1853 on, they both emphasized the "semi-Asiatic" quality of Tsarist society and the Orientally despotic character of its government.

Lenin spoke approvingly of Marx' concept of a specific Asiatic mode of production, first in 1894 and last in 1914. Following Marx and Engels, he recognized the significance of "Asiatic" institutions for Tsarist Russia, whose society he viewed as "semi-Asiatic" and whose government he considered to be despotic.

I WAS UNAWARE of the political implications of a comparative study of total power when in, the winter of 1922-23 and under the influence of Max Weber I began to investigate the peculiarities of hydraulic society and statecraft. I was unaware of it when, in 1924 and now with reference to Marx as well as Weber, I pointed to "Asiatic" society as dominated by a bureaucratically despotic

{p. 6} state. I was unaware of having drawn conclusions from Marx' version of the Asiatic concept, which Marx himself had avoided, when in 1926 and employing Marx' own socio-economic criteria, I wrote that Chinese developments in the second half of the first millennium B.C. made "the administrative officialdom - headed by the absolutist emperor - the ruling class" and that this ruling class, in China as in Egypt and India, was a "mighty hydraulic [Wasserbau] bureaucracy." I elaborated this thesis in 1926, 1927, 1929, and 1931, impressed by Marx' insistence on an unbiased pursuit of truth. In 1932, a Soviet critic of my Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Chinas denounced my belief in the objectivity of science. It was at this time that the Soviet publishers ceased to print my analyses of Asiatic society in general and of Chinese society in particular.

In the 1930's I gradually abandoned the hope that in the USSR the nationalization of all major means of production might initiate popular control over the government and the rise of a classless society. Deepened understanding of the character of Soviet society paved the way to further insights into the structure and ideology of bureaucratic despotism. Re-examination of the Marxist-Leninist view of Oriental society made it clear that Marx, far from originating the "Asiatic" concept, had found it ready-made in the writings of the classical economists. I further realized that although Marx accepted the classical view in many important essentials, he failed to draw a conclusion, which from the standpoint of his own theory seemed irescapable - namely, that under the conditions of the Asiatic mode of production the agromanagerial bureaucracy constituted the ruling class.

Lenin's ambivalence toward the "Asiatic system" is perhaps even more revealing. In 1906-07 Lenin admitted that the next Russian revolution, instead of initiating a socialist society, might lead to an

{p. 7} "Asiatic restoration." But when World War I opened up new possibilities for a revolutionary seizure of power, he completely dropped the Asiatic concept, which, with oscillations, he had upheld for twenty years. By discussing Marx' views of the state without reproducing Marx' ideas of the Asiatic state and the Oriental despotism of Tsarist Russia, Lenin wrote what probably is the most dishonest book of his political career: State and Revolution. The gradual rejection of the Asiatic concept in the USSR, which in 1938 was climaxed by Stalin's re-editing of Marx' outstanding reference to the Asiatic mode of production, logically followed Lenin's abandonment of the Asiatic concept on the eve of the Bolshevik revolution.

THE CAMPAIGN against the Asiatic concept shows the master minds of the Communist camp unable to bolster their rejection with rational arguments. This in turn explains the oblique and primarily negative methods with which the friends of Communist totalitarianism in the non-Communist world oppose the outlawed concept. To the uninitiated these methods, which use distortion and de-emphasis rather than open discussion, are confusing. To the initiated they disclose once more the scientific weakness of the most powerful attack against the theory of Oriental (hydraulic) society.

{p. 9} The marginally Oriental civilization of Tsarist Russia was greatly influenced by the West, though Russia did not become a Western colony or semi-colony. Russia's Westernization radically changed the country's political and economic climate, and in the spring of 1917 its antitotalitarian forces had a genuine opportunity to accomplish the anti-Asiatic social revolution which Marx, in 1853, had envisaged for India. But in the fall of 1917 these antitotalitarian forces were defeated by the Bolshevik champions of a new totalitarian order. They were defeated because they failed to utilize the democratic potential in a historical situation that was temporarily open. From the standpoint of individual freedom and social justice, 1917 is probably the most fateful year in modern history.

{Note Wittfogel's continued allegiance to Marx, while being anti-Communist. This "Trotskyist" combination is also called Marxist Anti-Communism, and Richard Kostelanetz identified as dominant in the U.S. from the mid 70s: kostel.html}

The intellectual and political leaders of non-Communist Asia, who profess to believe in democracy and who in their majority speak deferentially of Marx, will fulfill their historical responsibility only if they face the despotic heritage of the Oriental world not less but more clearly than did Marx. In the light of the Russian experience of 1917 they should be willing to consider the issue of an "Asiatic restoration" not only in relation to Russia but also to present-day Asia.


THE MASTER5 of the modern totalitarian superstate build big and integrated institutions, which, they say, we cannot emulate. And they display big and integrated ideas, which, they say, we cannot match.

{p. 11} CHAPTER 1 The natural setting of hydraulic society.


Contrary to the popular belief that nature always remains the same - a belief that has led to static theories of environmentalism and to their equally static rejections - nature changes profoundly whenever man, in response to simple or complex historical causes, profoundly changes his technical equipment, his social organization, and his world outlook. Man never stops affecting his natural environment. He constantly transforms it ...

{a standard Marxist viewpoint}

{p. 22} THE CHARACTERISTICS of hydraulic economy are many, but three are paramount. Hydraulic agriculture involves a specific type of division of labor. It intensifies cultivation. And it necessitates cooperation on a large scale. The third characteristic has been described by a number of students of Oriental farming. The second has been frequently noted, but rarely analyzed. The first has been given practically no attention. This neglect is particularly unfortunate, since the hydraulic patterns of organization and operation have decisively affected the managerial role of the hydraulic state.

Economists generally consider the division of labor and cooperation key prerequisites of modern industry, but they find them almost completely lacking in farming. Their claim refiects the conditions of Western rainfall agriculture. For this type of agriculture it is indeed by and large correct.

However, the economists do not as a rule so limit themselves. Speaking of agriculture without any geographical or institutional qualification, they give the impression that their thesis, being universally valid, applies to hydraulic as well as to hydroagriculture and rainfall farming. Comparative examination of the facts quickly discloses the fallacy of this contention.



WHAT is true for modern industry - that production proper depends on a variety of preparatory and protective operations - has been true for hydraulic agriculture since its beginnings. The peculiarity of the preparatory and protective hydraulic operations is an essential aspect of the peculiarity of hydraulic agriculture.

a. Large-scale Preparatory Operations (Purpose: Irrigation)

THE combined agricultural activities of an irrigation farmer are comparable to the combined agricultural activities of a rainfall farmer. But the operations of the former include types of labor (on-the-spot ditching, damming, and watering) that are absent in the operations of the latter. The magnitude of this special type of labor can be judged from the fact that in a Chinese village a peasant may spend from 20 to over 50 per cent of his work time irrigating, and that in many Indian villages irrigation is the most time-consuming single item in the farmer's budget.

Hydroagriculture (small-scale irrigation farming) involves a high intensity of cultivation on irrigated fields - and often also on nonirrigated fields. But it does not involve a division of labor on a communal, territorial, or national level. Such a work pattern occurs only when large quantities of water have to be manipulated. Whereever, in pre-industrial civilizations, man gathered, stored, and conducted water on a large scale, we find the conspicuous division between preparatory (feeding) and ultimate labor characteristic of all hydraulic agriculture.

b. Large-scale Protective Operations (Purpose: Flood Control)

BUT the fight against the disastrous consequences of too little water may involve a fight against the disastrous consequences of too much water. The potentially most rewarding areas of hydraulic farming

{p. 24} are arid and semi-arid plains and humid regions suitable for aquatic crops, such as rice, that are sufficiently low-lying to permit watering from nearby rivers. These rivers usually have their sources in remote mountains, and they rise substantially as the summer sun melts part of the snow accumulated there.

Upstream developments of this kind cause annual inundations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Turkestan, India, China, and in the Andean and Mexican zones of America. In semi-arid areas on-the-spot rains create additional dangers when they are overconcentrated (convectional) or irregular. This condition prevails in North China, northern Mesopotamia (Assyria), and the Mexican lake region. Thus a hydraulic community that resorts to preparatory labor to safeguard the productive use of water may also have to resort to protective labor to safeguard its crops from periodic and excessive inundations.

When, in protohistorical times, the Chinese began to cultivate the great plains of North China, they quickly recognized that the centers of greatest potential fertility were also the centers of greatest potential destruction. To quote John Lossing Buck: "Geologically speaking, man has settled these plains thousands of years before they were ready for occupation. ..." The Chinese built huge embankments which, although unable to remove entirely the risk inhering in the ambivalent situation, matched and even surpassed in magnitude the area's preparatory (feeding) works.

In India enormous problems of flood control are posed by the Indus River and, in a particularly one-sided way, by the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers, which in Bengal create optimal conditions for the cultivation of rice and maximal dangers from floods. By 1900 Bengal boasted ninety-seven miles of larger irrigation canals and 1,298 miles of embankments.

In ancient Mesopotamia even watchful rulers could not completely prevent the inundations from damaging the densely settled plains. In Turkestan excessive floods periodically threatened the Zarafshan River Valley. In Upper Egypt the Nile, in very high flood, rises one meter above the level of the settled countryside, in Middle Egypt two meters, and in the Delta area up to three and a half meters. The inhabitants of the lake area of Mexico could benefit from its fertility only if they accepted the periodic overflow of its short, irregular, narrow streams, which they sought to control through a variety of protective works. Thus in virtually all major hydraulic civilizations, preparatory (feeding) works for the purpose of irrigation are supplemented by and interlocked with protective works for the purpose of flood control.

{p. 25} 2. COOPERATION

A STUDY of the hydraulic patterns of China (especially North China), India, Turkestan, Mesopotamia (especially Assyria), Egypt, or Mesomerica (especially the Mexican lake region) must therefore consider both forms of agrohydraulic activities. Only by proceeding in such a way can we hope to determine realistically the dimension and character of their organizational key device: cooperation.

a. Dimension

WHEN a hydraulic society covers only a single locality, all adult males may be assigned to one or a few communal work teams. Varying needs and circumstances modify the size of the mobilized labor force. In hydraulic countries having several independent sources of water supply, the task of controlling the moisture is performed by a number of separated work teams.

Among the Suk of Northeastern Africa, "every male must assist in making the ditches." In almost all Pueblos "irrigation or cleaning a spring is work for all." Among the Chagga, the maintenance of a relatively elaborate irrigation system is assured by "the participation of the entire people." In Bali the peasants are obliged to render labor service for the hydraulic regional unit, the subak, to which they belong. The masters of the Sumerian temple economy expected every adult male within their jurisdiction "to participate in the digging and cleaning of the canals." Most inscriptions of Pharaonic Egypt take this work pattern for granted. Only occasionally does a text specify the character of the universally demanded activities, among which lifting and digging are outstanding.

In Imperial China every commoner family was expected on demand to provide labor for hydraulic and other public services. The political and legal writings of India indicate a similar claim on corviable labor. The laws of Inca Peru obliged all able-bodied men to render corvee service. In ancient Mexico both commoner and Upper-class adolescents were instructed in the techniques of digging and damming. At times the masters of this hydraulic area levied the manpower of several territorial states for their gigantic hydraulic enterprises.

In 19th-century Egypt "the whole corviable population" worked in four huge shifts on Mehmed Ali's hydraulic installations. Each group labored on the canals for forty-five days until, after 180 days, the job was completed. From 1881 on, at a time of decay and disintegration the whole of the corvee fell on the poorest classes," the smaller number being compensated for by an increase in the

{p. 26} labor-time to ninety days. In some regions the conscripts were kept busy "for 180 days."

b. Integration

ORDERLY cooperation involves planned integration. Such integration is especially necessary when the objectives are elaborate and the cooperating teams large.

Above the tribal level, hydraulic activities are usually comprehensive. Most writers who mention the cooperative aspect of hydraulic agriculture think in the main of digging, dredging, and damming; and the organizational tasks involved in these labors is certainly considerable. But the planners of a major hydraulic enterprise are confronted with problems of a much more complex kind. How many persons are needed? And where can such persons be found? On the basis of previously made registers, the planners must determine the quota and criteria of selection. Notification follows selection, and mobilization notification. The assembled groups frequently proceed in quasimilitary columns. Having reached their destination, the buck privates of the hydraulic army must be distributed in proper numbers and according to whatever division of operations (spading, carrying of mud, etc.) is customary. If raw materials such as straw, fagots, lumber, or stone have to be procured, auxiliary operations are organized; and if the work teams - in toto or in part - must be provided with food and drink, still other ways of appropriation, transport, and distribution have to be developed. Even in its simplest form, agrohydraulic operations necessitate substantial integrative action. In their more elaborate variations, they involve extensive and complex organizational planning.

c. Leadership

ALL TEAMWORK requires team leaders; and the work of large integrated teams requires on-the-spot leaders and disciplinarians as well as over-all organizers and planners. The great enterprises of hydraulic agriculture involve both types of direction. The foreman usually performs no menial work at all; and except for a few engineering specialists the sergeants and officers of the labor force are essentially organizers.

To be sure, the physical element - including threats of punishment and actual coercion - is never absent. But here, if anyvhere, recorded experience and calculated foresight are crucial. It is the circumspection, resourcefulness, and integrative skill of the supreme

{p. 27} leader and his aides which play the decisive role in initiating, accomplishing and perpetuating the major works of hydraulic economy.

d. Hydraulic Leadership - Political Leadership

THE effective management of these works involves an organizational web which covers either the whole, or at least the dynamic core, of the country's population. In consequence, those who control this network are uniquely prepared to wield supreme political power.

From the standpoint of the historical effect, it makes no difference whether the heads of a hydraulic government were originally peace chiefs, war leaders, priests, priest-chiefs, or hydraulic officials sans phrase. Among the Chagga, the hydraulic corvee is called into action by the same horn that traditionally rallied the tribesmen for war. Among the Pueblo Indians the war chiefs (or priests), although subordinated to the cacique (the supreme chief), direct and supervise the communal activities. The early hydraulic city states of Mesopotamia seem to have been for the most part ruled by priest-kings. In China the legendary trail blazer of governmental water control, the Great Yu, is said to have risen from the rank of a supreme hydraulic functionary to that of king, becoming, according to protohistorical records, the founder of the first hereditary dynasty, Hsia.

No matter whether traditionally nonhydraulic leaders initiated or seized the incipient hydraulic "apparatus," or whether the masters of this apparatus became the motive force behind all important public functions, there can be no doubt that in all these cases the resulting regime was decisively shaped by the leadership and social control required by hydraulic agriculture.


WITH regard to operational form, hydraulic agriculture exhibits important similarities to heavy industry. Both types of economic activities are preparatory to the ultimate processes of production. Both

{p. 28} provide the workers with essential material for these ultimate processes. And both tend to be comprehensive, "heavy." For these reasons the large enterprises of hydraulic agriculture may be designated as "heavy water works."

But the dissimilarities are as illuminating as the similarities. The heavy water works of hydraulic agriculture and the heavy industry of modern economy are distinguished by a number of basic differences, which, properly defined, may aid us in more clearly recognizing the peculiarities of hydraulic society.

Heavy water works feed the ultimate agrarian producer one crucial auxiliary material: water; heavy industry provides auxiliary and raw materials of various kinds, including tools for finishing and heavy industry. ...

The character of the labor force varies with these spatial and operational differences. Heavy water works are best served by a widely distributed personnel, whereas heavy industry requires the workers to reside near the locally restricted "big" enterprises which employ them. The hydraulic demand is satisfied by adult peasant males, who continue to reside in their repective villages; whereas the industrial demand is satisfied by a geographically concentrated labor force.

The bulk of the hydraulic workers are expected to remain peasants, and in most cases they are mobilized for a relatively short period only - at best for a few days, at worst for any time that will not destroy their agricultural usefulness. Thus division of agrohydraulic labor is not accompanied by a corresponding division of laborers.

The contrast to the labor policy of heavy industry is manifest. Different from heavy water works, which may be created and maintained during a fraction of the year, heavy industry operates most effectively when it operates continuously. The industrial employers prefer to occupy their personnel throughout the year; and with the growth of the industrial system full-time labor became the rule. Thus division of industrial labor moves toward a more or less complete division of laborers.

The two sectors are also differently administered. In the main,

{p. 29} modern heavy industry is directed by private owners or managers. The heavy water works of hydraulic agriculture are directed essentially by the government. The government also engages in certain other large enterprises, which, in varying combinations, supplement the agrohydraulic economy proper.


AMONG the intellectual functions fulfilled by the leaders of agrohydraulic activities, some are only indirectly connected with the organization of men and material; but the relation is highly significant nevertheless. Time keeping and calendar making are essential for the success of all hydraulic economies; and under special conditions special operations of measuring and calculating may be urgently needed. The way in which these tasks are executed affect both the political and the cultural development of hydraulic society.

To be sure, man is deeply concerned about the swing of the seasons under all forms of extractive economy and throughout the agrarian world. But in most cases he is content to determine in a general way wllen spring or summer begin, when cold will set in, when rain or snow will fall. In hydraulic civilizations such general knowledge is insufficient. In areas of full aridity it is crucial to be prepared for the rise of the rivers whose overfiow, properly handled, brings fertility and life and whose unchecked waters leave death and devastation in their wake. The dikes have to be repaired in the proper season so that they will hold in times of inundation; and the canals have to be cleaned so that the moisture will be satisfactorily distributed. In semi-arid areas receiving a limited or uneven rainfall an accurate calendar is similarly important. Only when the embankments canals, and reservoirs are ready and in good condition can the scanty precipitation be fully utilized.

The need for reallocating the periodically flooded fields and determining the dimension and bulk of hydraulic and other structures provide continual stimulation for developments in geometry and arithmetic. Herodotus ascribes the beginnings of geometry in Egypt to the need for annually remeasuring the inundated land.

No matter whether the earliest scientific steps in this direction were made in the Nile Valley or in Mesopotamia, the basic correlation is eminently plausible. Obviously the pioneers and masters of hydraulic Civilization were singularly well equipped to lay the foundations for to major and interrelated sciences: astronomy and mathematics.

As a rule, the operations of time keeping and scientific measuring

{p. 30} and counting were performed by official dignitaries or by priestly (or secular) specialists attached to the hydraulic regime. Wrapped in a cloak of magic and astrology and hedged with profound secrecy, these mathematical and astronomical operations became the means both for improving hydraulic production and bulwarkin the superior power of the hydraulic leaders.


THE masters of the hydraulic state did not confine their activities to matters immediately connected with agriculture. The methods of cooperation which were so effective in the sphere of crop-raising were easily applied to a variety of other large tasks.

Certain types of works are likely to precede others. Generally speaking, the irrigation canal is older than the navigation canal; and hydraulic digging and damming occurred prior to the building of highways. But often derivative steps were taken before the original aclivities had progressed far, and different regional conditions favored different evolutionary sequences. Thus the divergencies of interaction and growth are great. They include many constructional activities above and beyond the sphere of hydraulic agriculture.


a. Aqueducts and Reservoirs Providing Drinking Water

A COMMONWEALTH able to transfer water for purposes of irrigation readily applies its hydraulic know-how to the providing of drinking water. The need for such action was slight in the greater part of Medieval Europe, where the annual precipitation furnished sufficient ground water for the w ells on which most towns depended for their water supply.

Even in the hydraulic world, drinking water is not necessarily an issue. Wherever rivers, streams, or springs carry enough moisture

{p. 31} to satisfy the drinking needs of the population throughout the year, no major problem arises. The inhabitants of the Nile and Ganges Valleys and of many similar areas did not have to construct elaborate aqueducts for this purpose.

The irregular flow of rivers or streams or the relatively easy access to fresh and clear mountain water has stimulated in many hydraulic landscapes the construction of comprehensive installations for the storage and distribution of drinking water. In America great aqueducts were built by the hydraulic civilizations of the Andean zone and Meso-America. The many reservoirs (tanks) of Southern India frequently serve several uses; but near the large residential centers the providing of drinking water is usually paramount. In certain areas of the Near East, such as Syria and Assyria, brilliantly designed aqueducts have satisfied the water needs of many famous cities, Tyre, Antioch, and Nineveh among them. In the Western world of rainfall agriculture, aqueducts were built primarily by such Mediterranean peoples as the Greeks and the Romans, who since the dawn of history maintained contact with - and learned from - the technically advanced countries of Western Asia and North Africa. No doubt the Greeks and Romans would have been able to solve their drinking-water problem without inspiration from the outside; but the form of their answer strongly suggests the influence of Oriental engineering.

b. Navigation Canals

AMONG the great agrarian conformations of history, only hydraulic society has constructed navigation canals of any major size. The seafaring Greeks, making the Mediterranean their highway, avoided an issue which the ancient city states were poorly equipped to handle. The not-too-numerous Roman canals were apparently all dug at a time when the growing Orientalization of the governmental apparatus stimulated, among other things, a growing interest in all kinds of public works.

The rainfall farmers of Medieval Europe, like their counterparts elsewhere, shunned rather than sought the marshy river lowlands. And their feudal masters paid little attention to the condition of the watercourses for which they had no use. Still less did they feel obliged to construct additional and artificial rivers - canals. Few if any important canals were built during the Middle Ages, and medieval trade and transport were seriously handicapped by the state of the navigable rivers.

It was in connection with the rise of a governmentally encouraged

{p. 32} commercial and industrial capitalism that the West began to build canals on a conspicuous scale. The "pioneer of the canals of modern Europe," the French Canal du Midi, was completed only in the second half of the 17th century, in 1681, that is, little more than a century before the end of the absolutist regime. And in the classical country of inland navigation, England, "little ... was done in making canals ... until the middle of the eighteenth century" - that is, until a time well after the close of England's absolutist period and immediately prior to the beginning of the machine age.

As stated above, the members of a hydraulic commonwealth felt quite differently about the management of natural and artificial watercourses. They approached the fertility-bearing rivers as closely as possible, and in doing so they had to find ways of draining the lowland marshes and strengthening and reshaping the river banks. Naturally the question of inland navigation did not arise everywhere. Existing rivers and streams might be suitable for irrigation, but not for shipping (Pueblos, Chagga, Highland Peru); or the ocean might prove an ideal means of transportation (Hawaii, Coastal Peru). In certain localities inland navigation was satisfactorily served by man-managed rivers (Egypt, India) and lakes (Mexico) plus whatever irrigation canals were large enough to accommodate boats (Mesopotamia).

But when supplementary watercourses were not only possible but desirable, the organizers of agrohydraulic works had little difficulty in utilizing their cooperative "apparatus" to make them available. The new canals might be only minor additions to the existing watercourses. The ancient Egyptians constructed canals in order to circumnavigate impassable cataracts, and they temporarily connected the Nile and the Red Sea; but these enterprises had little effect on the over-all pattern of the country's hydraulic economy. In other instances, navigation canals assumed great importance. They satisfied the needs of the masters of the hydralllic state: the transfer of parts of the agrarian surplus to the administrative centers and the transport of messengers and troops.

In Thailand (Siam) the different hydraulic tasks overlapped. In addition to the various types of productive and protective hydraulic installations, the government constructed in the centers of rice production and state power a number of canals, wllich essentially served as "waterways," that is, as a means for transporting the rice surplus to the capital.

The corresponding development in China is particularly well documented. In the large plains of North China the beginnings of navigation canals go back to the days of the territorial states - that

{p. 33} is, to the period prior to 221 B.C., when the various regional governments were still administered by officials who were given office lands in payment for their services. The difference between the state-centered system of land grants as it prevailed in early China and the knighthood feudalism of Medieval Europe is spectacularly demonstrated by the almost complete absence of public works in feudal Europe and the enormous development of such works - hydraulic and otherwise - in the territorial states of China.

The geographical and administrative unification of China vhich vastly increased the political need for navigation canals also increased the state's organizational power to build them. The first centuries of the empire saw a great advance not only in the construction of irrigation canals, reservoirs, and protective river dikes but also in the digging of long canals for administrative and fiscal purposes.

When, after several centuries of political fragmentation, the Sui rulers at the end of the 6th century again unified "all-under-heaven," they bulwarked the new political structure by creating out of earlier and substantial beginnings the gigantic Imperial Canal, significantly known in China as Yun Ho, "the Transport Canal." This canal extends today for about 800 miles, its length equaling the distance from the American-Canadian Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico or

{p. 34} - in European terms - the distance from Berlin to Bordeaux or from Hamburg to Rome. For labor on part of this gigantic water work the Sui government mobilized in the regions north of the Yellow River alone "more than a million of men and women," that is, almost one-half of the total population which England is said to have had from the 14th to the lfith century.

The gigantic effort involved in banking the rivers and building the canals of China is indicated by the American agronomist, F. H. King, who conservatively estimates the combined lengths of the man-managed watercourses of China, Korea, and Japan at some 200,000 miles. "Forty canals across the United States from east to west and sixty from north to south would not equal in number of miles those in these three countries today. Indeed, it is probable that this estimate is not too large for China alone."


a. Huge Defense Structures

THE need for comprehensive works of defense arises almost as soon as hydraulic agriculture is practiced. Contrary to the rainfall farmer, who may shift his fields with relative ease, the irrigation farmer finds himself depending on an unmovable, if highly rewarding, source of fertility. In the early days of hydraulic cultivation reliance on a fixed system of water supply must in many cases have driven the agrarian community to build strong defenses around its homes and fields.

For this purpose hydraulic agriculture proved suggestive in two ways: it taught man how to handle all kinds of building materials, earth, stone, timber, etc., and it trained him to manipulate these materials in an organized way. The builders of canals and dams easily became the builders of trenches, towers, palisades, and extended defense walls.

In this, as in all corresponding cases, the character and magnitude of the operations ere determined by internal and external circumstances. Surrounded by aggressive neighbors, the Pueblo Indians ingeniously utilized vhatever building material was at hand to protect their settlements, which rarely comprised more than a few hundred inhabitants. The fortress-like quality of their villages is manifest to the present-day anthropologist; it struck the Spanish

{p. 35} conquistadores who were forced at times to besiege a single settlement for days and weeks before they could take it. Rigid cooperation assured security of residence, just as it assured success in farming. An early observer stresses this aspect of Pueblo life: "They all work together to build the villages."

{p. 36} In pre-Columbian Mexico the absence of suitable labor animals placed a limitation on transport, and while this restricted siege craft, it did not preclude the struggle for or the defense of the cities. In emergencies many government-built hydraulic works in the main lake area fulfilled military functions, just as the monster palaces and temples served as bastions against an invading enemy. Recent research dravs attention to various types of Mexican forts and defense walls. Because of their size and importance, they may safely be adjudged as state-directed enterprises. The colossal fortresses and walls of pre-Inca Peru, which astonished early and recent observers, are known to have been built at the order of the government and by "incredibly" large teams of corvee laborers.

Many texts and pictorial representations have portrayed the walls, gates, and towers of ancient Egypt, Sumer, Babylonia, Assyria, and Syria. The Arthashastra indicates the systematic manner in which the rulers of the first great Indian empire treated problems of fortification and defense. At the dawn of Chinese history new capitals were created at the ruler's command, and during the last centuries of the Chou period the territorial states used their corviable manpower to wall entire frontier regions, not only against the tribal barbarians but also against each other. In the 3d century B.C. the unifier of

{p. 37} China, Ch'in Shih Huang-ti, linked together and elaborated older territorial structures to form the longest unbroken defense installation ever made by man. The periodic reconstruction of the Chinese Great Wall expresses the continued effectiveness of hydraulic economy and government-directed mass labor.

b. Roads

THE existence of government-made highways is suggested for the Babylonian period; it is documented for Assyria. And the relationship between these early constructions and the roads of Persia, the Hellenistic states, and Rome seems 'beyond doubt." The great Persian "royal road" deeply impressed the contemporary Greeks; it served as a model for the Hellenistic rulers, whose efforts in turn inspired the official road builders of the Roman empire. According to Mez, the Arabs inherited "the type of 'governmental road,' like its name, from the Persian 'Royal Road.'" Beyond this, hovever, they showed little interest in maintaining good roads, probably because they continued to rely in the main on camel caravans for purposes of transport. The later Muslim regimes of the Near East used highways, but they never restored them to the state of technical perfection which characterized the pre-Arab period.

Roads were a serious concern of India's vigorous Maurya kings. A "royal road" of l0,000 stadia, which is said to have led from the capital to the northwestern border, had a system of marking distances which, in a modified form, was again employed by the Mogul emperors. In Southern India, vhere Hindu civilization was perpetuated for centuries after the north had been conquered, government-made roads are mentioned in the inscriptions; and "some of them are called kings highways." The Muslim rulers of India continued the Indian rather than the West Asian pattern in their effort to maintain a netvork of state roads. Sher Shah (d. 1545) built four great roads, one of which ran frorn Bengal to Acra, Delhi, and Lahore. Akbar is said to have been inspired by Sher Shah when he built a new "king's highway," called the Long Walk, which for four hundred miles was "shaded by great trees on both sides."

In China, a gigantic network of highways was constructed immediately after the establishment of the empire in 221 B.C.

{p. 42} EVIDENTLY the masters of hydraulic society, whether they ruled in the Near East, India, China, or pre-Conquest America, were great builders. The formula is usually invoked for both the aesthetic and the technical aspect of the matter; and these two aspects are indeed closely interrelated. ...


a. Uneven Conspicuousness

THE majority of persons who have commented on the great builders of Asia and ancient America are far more articulate on the non-hydraulic than on the hydraulic achievements. Within the hydraulic sphere more attention is again given to the aqueducts for drinking water and the navigation canals than to the productive and protective installations of hydraulic agriculture. In fact, these last are fre-

{p. 43} quently overlooked altogether. Among the nonhydraulic works, the "big houses' of power and worship and the tombs of the great are much more carefully investigated than are the large installations of communication and defense.

This uneven treatment of the monster constructions of hydraulic society is no accident. For functional, aesthetic, and social reasons the hydraulic works are usually less impressive than the nonhydraulic constructions. And similar reasons encourage uneven treatment also within each of the two main categories.

Functionally speaking, irrigation canals and protective embankments are widely and monotonously spread over the landscape, whereas the palaces, tombs, and temples are spatially concentrated. Aesthetically speaking, most of the hydraulic works are undertaken primarily for utilitarian purposes, wllereas the residences of the rulers and priests, the houses of worship, and the tombs of the great are meant to be beautiful. Socially speaking, those who organize the distribution of manpower and material are the same persons who particularly and directly enjoy the benefits of many nonhydraulic structures. In consequence they are eager to invest a maximum of aesthetic effort in these structures (palaces, temples, and capital cities) and a minimum of such effort in all other works.

Of course, the contrast is not absolute. Some irrigation works, dikes, aqueducts, navigation canals, highways, and defense walls do achieve considerable functional beauty. And closeness to the centers of pover may lead the officials in charge to construct embankments, aqueducts, highways, bridges, walls, gates, and towers with as much care for aesthetic detail as material and labor permit.

But these secondary tendencies do not alter the two basic facts that the majority of all hydraulic and nonhydraulic public works are aesthetically less conspicuous than the royal and official palaces, temples, and tombs, and that the most important of all hydraulic works - the canals and dikes - from the standpoint of art and artistry are the least spectacular of all.

b. The Monumental Style

SUCH discrepancies notwithstanding, the palaces, government buildings, temples and tombs share one feature with the "public" works proper: they, too, tend to be large. The architectural style of hydraulic society is monumental.

This style is apparent in the fortress-like settlements of the Pueblo Indians. It is conspicuous in the palaces, temple cities, and fortresses of ancient Middle and South America. It characterizes the tombs,

{p. 44} palace-cities, temples, and royal monuments of Pharaonic Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia. No one who has ever observed the city gates and walls of a Chinese capital, such as Peking, or who has walked through the immense palace gates and squares of the Forbidden City to enter its equally immense court buildings, ancestral temples, and private residences can fail to be awed by their monumental design.

Pyramids and dome-shaped tombs manifest most consistently the monumental style of hydraulic building. They achieve their aesthetic effect with a minimum of ideas and a maximum of material. The pyramid is little more than a huge pile of symmetrically arranged stones.

The property-based and increasingly individualistic society of ancient Greece loosened up the massive architecture, which had emerged in the quasihydraulic Mycenaean period. During the later part of the first millennium B.C., when Alexander and his successors ruled the entire Near East, the architectural concepts of Hellas transformed and refined the hydraulic style without, however, destroying its monumental quality.

In Islamic architecture the two styles blended to create a third. The products of this development were as spectacular in the westernmost outpost of Islamic culture - Moorish Spain - as they were in the great eastern centers: Cairo, Baghdad, Bukhara, Samarkand, and Istanbul. The Taj Mahal of Agra and kindred buildings show the same forces at work in India, a subcontinent which, before the Islamic invasion, had evolved a rich monumental architecture of its own.

c. The Institutional Meaning

IT hardly needs to be said that other agrarian civilizations also combined architectural beauty with magnitude. But the hydraulic rulers differed from the secular and priestly lords of the ancient and medieval West, first because their constructional operations penetrated more spheres of life, and second because control over the entire country's labor power and material enabled them to attain much more monumental results.

The scattered operations of rainfall farming did not involve the establishment of national patterns of cooperation, as did hydraulic agriculture. The many manorial centers of Europe's knighthood society gave rise to as many fortified residences (castles); and their size was limited by the number of the attached serfs. The king, being little more than the most important feudal lord, had to build his castles vith whatever labor force his personal domain provided.

The concentration of revenue in the regional or territorial centers

{p. 45} of ecclesiastical authority permitted the creation of the largest individual medieval edifices: churches, abbeys, and cathedrals. It may be noted that these buildings were erected by an institution which, in contrast to all other prominent Western bodies, combined feudal with quasihydraulic patterns of organization and acquisition.

With regard to social control and natural resourccs, hovever, the master builders of the hydraulic state had no equal in the nonhydraulic world. The modest Tower of London and the dispersed castles of Medieval Europe express the balanced baronial society of the Magna Carta as clearly as the huge administrative cities and colossal palaces, temples, and tombs of Asia, Egypt, and ancient America express the organizational coordination and the mobilization potential of hydraulic economy and statecraft.



A GOVERNMENT capable of handling all major hydraulic and nonhydraulic construction may, if it desires, play a leading role also in the nonconstructional branches of industry. There are "feeding" industries, such as mining, quarrying, salt gathering, etc.; and there are finishing industries, such as the manufacture of weapons, textiles, chariots, furnitllre, etc. Insofar as the activities in these two spheres proceeded on a large scale, they were for the most part either directly managed or monopolistically controlled by the hydraulic governments. Under the conditions of Pharaonic Egypt and Inca Peru, direct management prevailed. Under more diferentiated social conditions, the government tended to leave part of mining, salt gathering, etc to heavily taxed and carefully supervised entrepreneurs, while it continued to manage directly most of the large manufacturing workshops.


IN both spheres the hydraulic state levied and controlled the needed labor forces by coercive methods that were invocable by a feudal lord only within a restricted area, and that were altogether different from the methods customary under capitalist conditions. The hydraulic rulers were sufficiently strong to do on a national scale what a feudal sovereign or lord could accomplish only within the borders of his domain. They compelled able-bodied commoners to work for them through the agency of the corvee.

Corvee labor is forced labor. But unlike slave labor, which is demanded permanently, corvee labor is conscripted on a temporary, although recurring, basis. After the corvee service is completed, the worker is expected to go home and continue with his own business.

Thus the corvee laborer is freer than the slave. But he is less free than a wage laborer. He does not enjoy the bargaining advantages

{p. 48} of the labor market, and this is the case even if the state gives him food (in the ancient Near East often "bread and beer") or some cash. In areas with a highly developed money economy the hydraulic government may levy a corvee tax and hire rather than conscript the needed labor. This was done largely in China at the close of the Ming dynasty and during the greater part of Ch'ing rule.

But there as elsewhere the government arbitrarily fixed the wage. And it always kept the workers under quasimilitary discipline. ...


THUS the hydraulic state fulfilled a variety of important managerial functions.a {see footnote} In most instances it maintained crucial hydraulic rorks appearing in the agrarian sphere as the sole operator of large preparatory and protective enterprises. And usually it also controlled the major nonhydraulic industrial enterprises, especially large constructions. This was the case even in certain "marginal" areas, where the hydrauic works were insignificant.

The hydraulic state differs from the modern total managerial states {Communist, Fascist, Nazi) in that it is based on agriculture and operates only part of the country's economy. It differs from the laissez-faire states of a private-property based industrial society in that, in its core form, it fulfills crucial economic functions by means of commandeered (forced) labor.

{footnote a} a. Social science is indebted to James Burnham for pointing to the power potential inherent in managerial control. The present inquiry stresses the importance of the general (political) organizer as compared not only to the technical specialist (see Veblen, 1945: 441ff.), but also to the economic manager. This, however, does not diminish the author's appreciation of the contribution made by Burnham through his concept of managerial leadership.

{But, on the other hand, it provides security whereas Capitalism makes much of its workforce insecure}

{p. 49} CHAPTER 3 A state stronger than society


THE hydraulic state is a genuinely managerial state. This fact has far-reaching societal implications. As manager of hydraulic and other mammoth constructions, the hydraulic state prevents the nongovernmental forces of society from crystallizing into independent bodies strong enough to counterbalance and control the political machine.

The relations between the governmental and nongovernmental forces of society are as manifold as the patterns of society itself. All governments are concerned with the protection of the commonwealth against external enemies (through the organization of military action) and with the maintenance of internal order (through jurisdiction and policing methods of one kind or another). The extent to which a government executes these and other tasks depends on the way in which the societal order encourages, or restricts, governmental activities on the one hand and the development of rival nongovernmental forces on the other.

The nongovernmental forces aiming at social and political leadership include kin groups (particularly under primitive conditions); representatives of autonomous religious organizations (customary in certain primitive civilizations but, as the history of the Christian Church shows, by no means confined to them); independent or semi-independent leaders of military groups (such as tribal bands, armies of feudal lords); and owners of various forms of property (such as money, land, industrial equipment, and capacity to work).

In some cases the rise of hydraulic despotism was probably contested by the heads of poverful clans or by religious groups eager to preserve their traditional autonomy. In others, semi-independent military leaders may have tried to prevent the masters of the hydraulic apparatus from attaining total control. But the rival forces lacked the proprietary and organizational strength that in Greek and Roman antiquity as well as in Medieval Europe, bulwarked the nongovernmental forces of society. In hydraulic civilizations the men of the

{p. 50} government prevented the organizational consolidation of all nongovernmental groups. Their state became "stronger than society." Any organization that gives its representatives unchecked power over its subjects may be considered an "apparatus." In contrast to the controlled state of multicentered societies, the state of the single-centered hydraulic society was a veritable apparatus state.



SUPERIOR organizational power may have different roots. In a hydraulic setting the need for comprehensive organization is inherent in the comprehensive constructions necessitated or suggested by the peculiarities of the agrarian order.

These constructions pose numerous technical problems and they always require large-scale organization. To say that the masters of hydraulic society are great builders is only another way of saying they are great organizers.


AN organizer combines disparate elements into an integrated whole. He may do this ex tempore if his aim is simple or passing. He must make more elaborate preparations if he is confronted with a permanent and difficult task. Dealing with human beings - their labor power, their military potential, and their capacity to pay taxes - he must know their number and condition. To this end he must count the people. And whenever he expects to draw from them frequently and regularly, he must preserve the results of his count either by memorizing them or, above the most primitive level, by utilizing preliterary or literary symbols.

It is no accident that among all sedentary peoples the pioneers of hydraulic agriculture and statecraft were the first to develop rational systems of counting and writing. It is no accident either that the records of hydraulic society covered not only the limited areas of single cities or city states, of royal domains or feudal manors, but the towns and villages of entire nations and empires. The masters of hydraulic society were great builders because they were great organizers; and they were great organizers because they were great record keepers.

{p. 52} The colored and knotted strings (quipus) by which the Incas preserved the results of their frequent countings show that the lack of a script constitutes no insurmountable barrier to numbering and registering the population. In pre-Conquest Mexico the various forms of land and the obligations attached were carefully depicted in codices; and the procedures of local administrators were apparently based on these all-important documents.

In China an elaborate system of writing and counting existed as early as the Yin (Shang) dynasty, that is, in the second millennium B.C. Under the subsequent Chou dynasty census lists were used for determining potential fighters and laborers and for estimating revenue and expenditures. Specific evidence testifies to a detailed system of counting and registering in the ruling state of Chou, and we know that at the close of the Chou period the people were registered in the great northwestern country of Ch'in, and also in Ch'i. In Ch'i the census is said to have been taken every year in the autumn. It was in this season that people were also counted under the first long-lived imperial dynasty, Han. Preserved bamboo records indicate that the Han registers follow a regular pattern. The two sets of Han census figures contained in the official history of the period are the most comprehensive population data to come down to us from any major contemporary civilization, including the Roman Empire.

The later history of the Chinese census presents many problems which are far from solved. The methods and the accuracy of procedures changed greatly witll time, but the government's role in the handling of these matters cannot be doubted. In one way or another, the imperial bureaucracy succeeded in keeping track of its human and material resources.

The same holds true for India. The Arthashastra and the Islamic sources reveal the interest which both native and foreign rulers took in counting their subjects and estimating their revenues. And this interest was by no means academic. Megasthenes found various groups of officials in the Maurya empire charged with such tasks as measuring the fields and counting the people. Numerous inscriptions throw light on surveys made during the last period of Hindu India.

After China, we are probably best informed on the Near Eastern development of governmental counting and registering. The oldest deciphered inscriptions dealing with the economy of a Mesopotamian temple city contain many numerical data on land, people, agriculture and public services. In Pharaonic Egypt the people were counted regularly from the time of the Old Kingdom. Documentary evidence for the connection between the census and fiscal and per-

{p. 53} sonal obligations exist only for the Middle and New Kingdoms, but the absence of still earlier data on this point is certainly accidental. On the eve of the Hellenistic period persons and property seem to have been listed annually; and the Ptolemies probably perpetuated the ancient system. The papyri suggest that there were two cadasters used for mutual checking, one in the individual villages and one in the metropolis.

Under the succeeding regimes the methods of counting people and property, particularly land, underwent many modifications, but as in India and China the underlying principle continued to receive recognition. The Romans inherited the Hellenistic pattern and the Arabs based their system on that of Eastern Rome. The Mamluks upheld the time-honored system of record keeping, as did the Ottoman Turks, who during the heyday of their power insisted that "every thirty years a census must be taken, the dead and the ill must be separated oflf, and those not on the rolls must be newly recorded."


A GLANCE at the metropolitan and local centers of hydraulic record keeping recalls the original meaning of the term "bureaucracy": "rule through bureaus." The power of the agromanagerial regime was indeed closely interlinked with the "bureaucratic" control which the government exerted over its subjects. ...

{p. 78} The rulers of European absolutism schemed as ruthlessly and killed as mercilessly as did their Eastern confleres. Hovever, their power to persecute and appropriate was limited by the landed nobles the Church, and the cities, whose autonomy the autocratic overlords could restrict, but not destroy. In addition to this, the representatives of the new central governments saw definite advantages in developing the newly rising capitalistic forms of mobile property. Emerging from an agrarian order, which they had never controlled or exploited in the hydraulic way, the Western autocrats readily protected the incipient commercial and industrial capitalists, whose increasing prosperity increasingly benefited their protectors.

In contrast, the masters of hydraulic society spun their fiscal web firmly over their country's agrarian economy. And they were under no pressure to favor the urban capitalists as did the postfeudal Western rulers. At best, they treated what capitalist enterprise there was like a useful garden. At worst, they clipped and stripped the bushes of capital-based business to the stalk.



IN a number of stratified civilizations the representatives of private property and enterprise were sufficiently strong to check the power of the state. Under hydraulic conditions the state restricted the development of private property through fiscal, judicial, legal, and political measures.

In the preceding pages we have discussed the pertinent fiscal and judicial methods (taxes, frame-ups, and confiscations). Before turnin(J to the political aspect of the matter we must first deal with a legal institution which, perhaps more than any other, has caused the periodic fragmentation of private property: the hydraulic (Oriental) laws of inheritance.


Throughout the hydraulic world the bulk of a deceased person's property is transferred not in accordance vith his will but in accordance with customary or written laws. These laws prescribe an equal, or approximately equal, division of property among the heirs, most frequently the sons and other close male relatives. Among the sons, the eldest often has special duties to fulfill. He must care for his mother and his younger siblings; and he may be primarily responsible for the religious obligations of the family. The laws take all this into account. But their modification does not upset the basic effect: the parceling out of a deceased person's estate among his heirs.


IN Pharaonic Egypt the eldest son, who had important ceremonial tasks, received a larger share of his father's estate. But the remaining children also could claim a legal]y prescribed share of the total.

The principle of more or less even division is clearly stated in the Babylonian code. A present made by a father during his lifetime to the first-born is not included in the final settlement, but "otherwise they [the sons] shall share equally in the goods of the paternal estate." Assyrian lav is more complicated. Again the eldest son has an advantage, but all other brothers are entitled to their share.

In India the eldest son's originally privileged position was gradually reduced, until the difference between him and other heirs virtually disappeared. In the Islamic world inheritance was complicated by a number of factors, among them the freedom to will up to one-third of an estate. But the system of "Koranic heirs" is definitely fragmenting: it strictly prescribes division among several persons. The last imperial code of China reasserts what seems to have been regular practice during the whole period of "developed" private property. A family's possessions must be divided equally among all sons. Failure to comply was punishable by up to one hundred blows w ith a heavy stick.

In Inca Peru the bulk of all land was regulated by the state and its local aoencies. Some grants made to relatives of the ruler or meritorious military or civil officials might be transferred hereditarily; but the usufruct from the inherited land was subject to equal

{p. 80} division. In Aztec Mexico the bulk of all land was occupied by village communities and thus barred from full transfer at the will of the possessor. Some land, privately held by members of the ruling group, was after the holder's death divided among his heirs.


a. On Regulated Villages

A LAW of inheritance which prescribes a periodic division of private property affects different groups in hydraulic society differently. Peasants who live in regulated village communities may divide the movable property of a deceased family head, but not his fields. These must be kept intact or, from time to time, reassigned according to the recognized prerogatives or needs of the members of the community.

b. On Holders of Small Private Property

ENTIRELY new problems arise when the peasants own their land privately and freely. Scarcity of food may reduce the number of potential heirs, and this is an important demographic factor in all hydraulic societies. However, the will to live often outwits want; and despite periodic or perpetual shortages, the population tends to increase. This inevitably means smaller farms, more toil, more hardship, and, frequently, flight, banditry, and rebellion

Demographic pressures are certainly not lacking in regulated villages. But they are particularly serious where private landed property is the rule. For in such areas the impoverishment of the economically weaker elements is not counterbalanced, or retarded by the corporate economy of the village, which prevents both individual economic advance and collapse.

c. On Holders of Large Private Property

AMONG the wealthy property owners another factor of hydraulic demography becomes important: polygamy. In hydraulic civilizations rich persons usually have several wives; and the greater their fortune, the larger their harem is apt to be. The possibility of having several sons increases proportionately. But several sons mean several heirs; and several heirs mean a quicker reduction of the original property through equal inheritance.

Commenting on the dynamics of Chinese traditional society, two modern social scientists, Fei and Chang, find it "all too true" that

{p. 81} in this society "land breeds no land." Why? "The basic truth is that enrichment through exploitation of land, using the traditional technology, is not a practical method of accumulating wealth." Landed wealth tends to shrink rather than to grow; and this essentially because of the law of inheritance; "so long as the customary principle of equal inheritance among siblings exists, time is a strong disintegrative force in landholding."

The Islamic law of inheritance has a similarly disintegrative effect. Wherever it prevails, it "must in the long run lead to the inevitable parceling out even of the largest property. ..." The land grants in the Inca empire apparently fared no better. After a few generations the revenue received by individual heirs might shrink to insignificance.


a. The Democratic City States of Ancient Greece

THE fragmentation of landed property through more or less equal inheritance is certainly a significant institution. But are we justified in considering it characteristic primarily for hydraulic civilizations? "The rule of dividing up an estate on succession" also operated in the city states of classical Greece. Consistently applied, it "split up the land without ceasing." In the 4th century "apart from one exceptional case, the largest property which Attica could show ... measured 300 plethra or 64 acres." Glotz adds: "This state of things was common to the democratic cities."

b. The United States after the War of Independence

AND then there is the fight against entail and primogeniture in the early days of the United States. During and immediately after the American Revolution the spokesmen of the young republic vigorously attacked the perpetuities, which were correctly described as remnants of Europe's feudal tradition. Once the law of entail was abolished the colossal aristocratic landholdings quickly dissolved. "By about the year 1830 most of the great estates of America had vanished."

c. A Spectacular Contrast: the Strength of Landed Property in Late Feudal and Postfeudal Europe

SIMILAR attempts at breaking the power of large landed property were made in Europe after the close of the feudal period. The

{p. 82} governments of the new territorial and national states attacked entail and primogeniture through a variety of measures, statutory enactments prevailing on the continent and judicial reforms in England. Resourceful protagonists of absolutism lent the struggle impetus and color. But in the leading countries of Western and Central Europe the governments were unable for a long time to abolish the perpetuation of big property. In France this institution persisted intact until the Revolution, and in a modified form until 1849. In England and Germany it was discarded only in the 20th century.


a. Small and Mobile Property

MANIFESTLY, the perpetuation of large landed property may be opposed by different social forces. The Greek legislators, vho, according to Aristotle, recognized the influence of the equalization of property on political society, very possibly did not identify themselves with one particular social group or class. But their efforts benefited smaller rural property as well as the new forms of mobile (urban) property and enterprise. It stands to reason that the groups which profited from a weakening of big landed property accomplished this result through methods that became increasingly effective as the city states became increasingly democratized.

In the young United States Jefferson fought for the abolishment of entail and primogeniture as a necessary step toward the elimination of "feudal and unnatural distinctions." And he based his policy on a philosophy which distrusted commerce and industry as much as it trusted the independent landowning farmers. Middle and small rural property may not have been directly represented among those who wrote the Constitution; but its influence was nevertheless great. The Revolution, which was started by protesting merchants and rioting mechanics, was actually "carried to its bitter end by the bayonets of fighting farmers."

And not only this. A few decades after the Revolution the agricultural frontier prevailed so effectively over the commercial and banking interests of the coastal towns that it "brought about the declaration of hostilities against England in 1812." It therefore seems legitimate to claim that it was a combination of independent rural (farming) and mobile urban property that brought about the downfall of the feudal system of entail and primogeniture in the United States.

{p. 83} b. The Slates of Feudal and Postfeudal Europe

THE consolidation of feudal and postfeudal landed property in Europe was challenged by a very different force. At the height of the conflict the attack was conducted by the representatives of the absolutist state; and the external resemblance to the Oriental version of the struggle makes it all the more necessary to understand the exact nature of what happened in the West.

Why were the feudal lords of Europe able to buttress their landed property to such an extraordinary degree? Because, as indicated above, in the fragmented society of Medieval Europe the national and territorial rulers lacked the means to prevent it. Of course, the sovereign, the most powerful master of land and men, did exercise a certain public authority. He claimed certain military services from his seigneurs, vassals, or lords; he had certain supreme judicial functions, he was expected to handle the foreign relations of his country; and his authority vas strengthened by the fact that the bulk of his vassals held their fiefs only as long as they fulfilled the obligations mentioned in the investiture. Thus the lords were originally possessors rather than owners of their lands; and they remained so, at least theoretically, even after tenure became hereditary.

This state of affairs has been frequently described. With certain differences - which became especially important in such countries as post-Conquest England - it prevailed in the greater part of Western and Central Europe during the formative period of feudalism. Hovever, the conventional picture stresses much more strongly the relation between the feudal lord and his ruler than the relation between the various lords. From the point of viev of proprietary development, the second is pivotal.

No matter whether the baron held his fief temporarily or hereditarily, his life was centered in his own castle and not at the royal court, it was his detached position that determined his personal and social contacts. The king might claim the military services of his vassal for some few weeks; but beyond this contractually limited period - which might be extended if proper payments were offered - he was unable to control his movements. The baron or knight was free to use his soldiers for private feuds. He was free to engage in the chase, in tournaments, and in expeditions of various kinds. And most important, he was free to meet with lordly neighbors who, likee himself, were eager to promote their joint interests.

The atomized character of the political order stimulated the association of the local and regional vassals, who singly were no match for the sovereign but who together might successfully oppose him. In

{p. 84} the race between the growth of lordly (and burgher) power on the one hand and royal power on the other, the rising central governments found themselves confronted not by the scattered feudal and urban forces of the early days but by organized estates capable of defending their economic as well as their social rights. ...

c. Hydraulic Absolutism Succeeded Where the States of Occidental Feudalism and Asolutism Failed

In late feudal and postfeudal Europe the state recognized a system of inheritance for the landed nobles which favored one son at the expense of all others. And in the modern Western world the state by and large permitted the individual to dispose of his property at will. The hydraulic state gave no equivalent freedom of decision either to holders of mobile property or to the landowners. Its laws of

{p. 85} inheritance insisted upon a more or less equal division of the deceased's estate, and thereby upon a periodic fragmentation of property. ...


As an armed and ubiquituously organized force, the hydraulic regime prevailed in the strategic seats of mobile property, the cities, as well as in the main sphere of immobile property, the countryside. Its cities were administrative and military footholds of the government; and the artisans and merchants had no opportunity to become serious political rivals. Their professional associations need not have been directly attached to the state, but they certainly failed to create strong and independent centers of corporate burgher power such as arose in many parts of Medieval Europe.

{p. 86} The countryside fared no better. The owners of land were either wealthy businessmen and as limited in the scope of their organization as were the representatives of mobile property, or - and more often - they were officials or priests, and a part of - or in association witll - the nationally organized bureaucracy. This bureaucracy might permit its property-holding members or associates to establish local organizations, such as the Chinese "sash-bearers" (inadequately translated as "gentry") and as the priests of various temples or creeds. But it discouraged any attempt to coordinate landed property on a national scale and in the form of independent corporations or estates.

The holders of family endowments (waqfs) in the Islamic Near East kept their land undivided, because these lands were destined ultimately to serve religions and charitable purposes. ...


SIMILAR causes led to similar results also in the field of religion. The hydraulic state, which permitted neither relevant independent military nor proprietary leadership, did not favor the rise of independent religious power either. Nowhere in hydraulic society did the dominant religion place itself outside the authority of the state as a nationally (or internationally) integrated autonomous church.


A DOMINANT religion may have no conspicuous competitors. This is often the case in simpler cultures, where the only relevant representatives of heterodox ideas and practices are sorcerers and witches. Here the very problem of choice is lacking; and the hydraulic leaders readily identify themselves with the dominant religion.

Secondary religions usually originate and spread under relatively differentiated institutional conditions. Wherever such beliefs are given a chance to persist (non-Hindu creeds in India; Taoism and Buddhism in Confucian China; Christianity and Judaism under Islam), the rulers tend with time to identify themselves with the dominant doctrine. It need scarcely be asserted that in the present context the word "dominant" merely refers to the social and political aspects of the matter. It implies no religious value judgment. Whether the societally dominant religion is also superior in terms of its religious tenets is an entirely different (and legitimate) question, but one which does not come within the scope of the present study.


a. The Hydraulic Regime - Occasionally (quasi-) Hierocratic

IN seeking to determine the relation between hydraulic power and the dominant religion, we must first discard a widespread misconception. In the hydraulic world, as in other agrarian societies, religion plays an enormous role; and the representatives of religion tend to be numerous. However, the importance of an institution does not necessarily imply its autonomy. As explained above, the government-supported armies of hydraulic civilizations are usually large, but the same factors which make them large keep them dependent.

{p. 88} ... The majority of all hydraulic civilizations are characterized by large and influential priesthoods. Yet it would be wrong to designate them as hierocratic, "ruled by priests." Many attempts have been made to determine the meaning of the word "priest" ...

Obviously the priest has to be qualified to carry out his religious tasks, which generally include the offering of sacrifices as well as prayers. A qualified priest may give only a fraction of his time to his religious duties, the greater part of it being spent to insure his livelihood, or he may serve professionally, that is, full time. ...

The city states of ancient Sumer are said to have been usually ruled by the head priests of the leading city temples, and the prominent courtiers and government officials, who had an important role in the administration of the temple estates, were quite possibly also qualified priests. But did these men, who were theologically

{p. 89} trained, still have time to fulfill the many religious functions of a professional priest? Deimel assumes that the priest-kings officiated in the templies only on particularly solemn occasions. Their subordinates were kept equally busy by their secular duties - and equally restricted in their religious activities. ...

The Babylonian pattern is much more frequent than the Sumerian. As a rule, the hydraulic governments were administered by professional officials who, though perhaps educated by priests, were not trained to be priests. The majority of all qualifled and professional priests remained occupied with their religious tasks, and the employment of individual priests in the service of the state did not make the government a hierocracy.

{p. 90} b. The Hydraulic Regime - Frequently Theocratic

THE constructional, organizational, and acquisitive activities of hydraulic society tend to concentrate all authority in a directing center: the central government and ultimately the head of this government, the ruler. From the dawn of hydraulic civilization it was upon this center that the magic powers of the commonwealth tended to converge. The bulk of all religious ceremonies may be performed by a specialized priesthood, which frequently enjoys considerable freedom. But in many hydraulic societies the supreme representative of secular authority is also the embodiment of supreme religious authority.

Appearing as either a god or a descendant of a god, or as high priest, such a person is indeed a theocratic (divine) or quasitheocratic (pontifical) ruler. Obviously, the theocratic regime need be neither hierocratic nor quasihierocratic. Even if the divine or pontifical sovereign was trained as a priest, the majority of his officials would not necessarily have to be so qualified. ...

In Homeric Greece the king was of divine origin, and his preeminence in religious matters was so strong that he has been called the "chief priest." Subsequent democratic developments did not destroy the relation between state and religion; but they placed the control of both types of activities in the hands of the citizens. Strictly supervised by the citizen community, the state religion of ancient Greece developed neither a clerical hierarchy nor a closed priestly order. As a rule, those destined to officiate as priests were chosen by either lot or election. Hence they lacked the training which plays so great a role in professional and self-perpetuating priesthoods. The finances of the temples were strictly controlled by politi-

{p. 91} cal authorities, who in their majority were similarly chosen. Moreover, governmental leaders were not considered divine, nor did they act as high priests or heads of any coordinated religious order. The designation "theocracy," which may be applied to the primitive conditions of early Greece, therefore hardly fits the "serving" citizen state of the democratic period.

In the great agrarian civilizations of Medieval Europe, nontheocratic development went still further. Attempts by Pepin and Charlemagne to establish theocratic authority were unable to reverse the trend toward feudal decentralization. Among the many secondary centers of proprietary, military, and political power, which restricted the authority of the national and territorial rulers, the Church proved eminently effective, since a unified doctrine and an increasingly unified leadership endowed its quasiteudal local units with quasi-Oriental organizational strength. After a prolonged period of intense conflict, the Church gained full autonomy. In the 11th century the French crown "had given way to the Holy See," and the German Emperor Henry IV humiliated himself before Pope Gregory VII. For some time the struggle between secular and ecclesiastical power continued inconclusively, until Innocent III (1198-1216) raised papal authority to such a peak that he could try, although without success, to subordinate the state to the leadership of the Church.

{This "Norman" Roman Church also took away the independence of the Irish Church at that time; although the preserver of Christianity after Rome fell, and the source of missionaries to the continent, it had retained many traditional Celtic practices}

Among the many manifestations of autonomous ecclesiastical behavior the English instance is particularly instructive. In 1215 the English bishops together with the feudal lords forced King John to recognize, in the Magna Carta, the legitimacy of a balanced constitutional government. The Carta was "'primarily' a concession made 'to God' in favour of the Anglican Church. ... By the first article the king granted 'the English Church should be free, enjoy its full rights and its liberties inviolate' and, in particular 'that liberty which is considered the greatest and the most necessary for the English Church, freedom ot elections.' Article 42 concerning freedom to leave the kingdom involved for the clergy the extremely important right to go to Rome without the king's permission."

The Church under the Carta was not just one of several groups of effectively organized feudal landowners. In its national as well as in its international organization it was different from, and in a way superior to, the corporations of the secular nobility. Furthermore, it struggled for autonomy as a religious body with specific religious objectives and claims. But however crucial these peculiarities were, the Church could not have checked the power of the political regime if it had not, at the same time, strengthened the

{p. 92} proprietary and organizational forces of the secular nobility. As the religious sector of these forces, the Church in the agrarian society of Medieval Europe became an essentially independent entity. In achieving this goal, it fatefully supported the growth of the balanced late feudal order, which eventually gave birth to modern Western society.

{p. 94} The Achaemenian kings {of the First Persian Empire}, who through conquest made themselves masters of the entire Near East, are said to have lacked divinity. Did they retain in their Persian homeland certain of their earlier nontheocratic concepts? Or were they worshiped as divine beings by their Persian subjects, because they were imbued with a divine substance? Whatever the answer to these questions may be, the victorious Cyrus adopted in Babylonia "all the elements of Chaldean monarchy," including royal divinity; and his successors acted similarly in Egypt. Like all earlier Egyptian rulers known to us Darius was called divine: "Horus" and the "good god."

The Hellenistic sovereigns of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires quickly learned to combine religious and secular authority. Significantly the worship of the king was less fully developed at the institutional fringe of the hvdraulic world, in Anatolia. But here, too the Hellenistic rulers definitely, if cautiously, sought theocratic status.

The Romans adopted many of the institutions of their new Oriental possessions. Acceptance of the emperor's divinity was gradual; but the beginnings of emperor worship go back to the early days of the empire. The cult, vhich had already been proposed bv Caesar, was officially established by the first emperor, Augustus.

{p. 95} In Early Byzantium, Christianity adjusted itself to an autocratlc regime that felt "completely competent to legislate in all religious as in all secular affairs"; but it proved incompatible with the concept of a divine ruler. Despite significant efforts to assert the quasidivine quality of the emperor, the Byzantine government was, according to our criteria, at best marginally theocratic.

Islam objects to the divinization of the ruler for reasons of its own: Mohammad was Allah's prophet, not his son; and the caliph, who inherited the prophet's authority, had no divine status. Although he was in charge of important religious matters, he cannot well be called a high priest either. Measuring the position of the caliph by our criteria, we therefore, and in conformity with expert opinion, consider it neither theocratic nor hierocratic.

In China the ruler emerges in the light of history as the supreme authority both in secular and religious matters. Whether the traditional designation, "Son of Heaven," reflects an earlier belief in the sovereign's divinity, we do not know. The overlords of the Chou empire and of the subsequent imperial dynasties, who all used this appellation, were considered humans, yet they occupied a quasitheocratic position. Entrusted with the Mandate of Heaven, they controlled the magic relations with the forces of nature by elaborate sacrifices. In the great religious ceremonies the ruler and his central and local officials assumed the leading roles, leaving only secondary functions to the professional sacerdotalists and their aides. The emperor was the chief performer in the most sacred of all ceremonies, the sacrifice to Heaven; and he was the chief performer also in the sacrifices to Earth, for the prospering of the crop, for the early summer rains, and for the national deities of Soil and Millet. Some of these rites were confined to the national capital. Others were also enacted in the many regional and local subcenters of state power by distinguished provincial, district, or community officials: the great rain sacrifice, the ceremonial plowing, the sacrifices to Confucius and to the patron of agriculture, etc.

To sum up: in the Chinese state religion, the ruler and a hierarchy of high officials fulfilled crucial priestly functions ...

{p. 114} Marx speaks of the "general slavery" of the Orient. According to him, this type of slavery, which is inherent in man's attachment to the hydraulic commonwealth and state, differs essentially from Western slavery and serfdom. The merit of Marx' formula lies in the problem it raises rather than in the answer it gives. A person commandeered to toil for an "Asiatic" state is a slave of the state as long as he is so occupied. He is perfectly aware of the lack of freedom, which this condition involves, and he is equally aware of the pleasure of working for himself. Compared with the total state slavery of the total managerial industrial society, the partial state slavery of the partial managerial hydraulic society makes indeed considerable concessions to human freedom.

b. Limitations of Thought Control

A COMPARABLE tendency to make concessions arises also in the sphere of thought control. To appreciate fully what this means, we must understand the enormous stress that the masters of the hydraulic state place on the society's dominant ideas. The close coordination of secular and religious authority makes it easy to apply this stress to both the higher and the lower strata of society. The sons of the dominant elite are generally educated by representatives of the dominant creed; and the whole population is in continued and government-promoted contact with the state-attached temples and their priesthoods.

Education usually is a long process, and its influence is profound. In India the young Brahmin who prepared himself for priestly office had to study one, two, or all three Vedas, applying himself to each one of them for twelve long years. And the members of the "protecting" Kshatriya caste, and even those of the next lower caste the Vaisya, were also advised to study the Sacred Books. In China "learning" - the study of the canonical (classical) writings - was already considered a basic prerequisite for administrative office in Confucius' time. Increasing systematization led to the holding of

{p. 115} elaborate and graded examinations, which fostered perpetual ideoIogical alertness in all energetic and ambitious young, and in many middle-aged and even elderly, members of the ruling class.

But the same societal forces that led to the systematic perpeuation of the dominant ideas also encouraged a variety of secondary religions. Many simple hydraulic civilizations tolerated independent diviners and sorcerers, whose artisan-like small-scale activities modestly supplemented the coordinated operations of the leading tribal or national creed. Under more complex conditions, ideological divergence tended to increase. Often the subject of a hydraulic state might adhere to a secondary religion without endangering his life. Non-Brahministic creeds, such as Jainism or Buddhism, are documented for India from the first millennium B.C. Buddhism persisted in traditional China, despite temporary persecutions, for almost two thousand years. And the Islamic Near East, India, and Central Asia were similarly indulgent.

In the ideological as in the managerial sphere, the policies of the agrarian apparatus state contrast strikingly with policies of the modern industrial apparatus states, which, while feigning respect for traditional ("national") culture and religion, spread the Marxist-Leninist doctrine with the avowed aim of eventually annihilating all other ideologies. ...

{p. 118} In Arab Egypt, as in Byzantine Egypt, the village administration was in the hands of a headman and the elders. Under the Arabs the headman, who possibly was nominated by the peasants and confirmed by the government, seems to have apportioned and collected the tax. He designated the corvee laborers and exercised police and judicial functions.

In the Arab provinces of the Turkish Near East the village headman (shetkh) assisted the official and semi-official representatives of the government in allocating the tax. He "policed the fellahs who cultivated the lands under his charge, and the principal seyh acted as magistrate and arbitrator, with authority not only over the culti-

{p. 119} vators but over all the inhabitants." Controlling "his" peasants in an arbitrary way and being in turn controlled with equal severity by the state bureaucracy, he certainly was not the representative of a free rural village community.

In India the village headman may have been elected originally; but from the time of the later Law Books on - that is, from the end of the first millennium B.C. - his appointment is documented. As the king's representative in the villages, who "collected taxes for him" and who also fulfilled policing and judicial functions, the headman held a position of authority not dissimilar to that en]oyed by his Near Eastern counterpart. Muslim rule did not fundamentally change this administratively convenient arrangement, which in fact persisted in the majority of all Indian villages up to modern times. ...

All these activities linked the headman to the central government, although he was not part of its bureaucracy. The villagers found it hard to bring a complaint against him, even if their case was good, for he monopolized communication with the district magistracy.



THE hydraulic state is not checked by a Beggars' Democracy. Nor is it checked by any other effective constitutional, societal, or cultural counterweights. Clearly it is despotic. But does it not at the same time benefit the people?


a. Operational Necessity Not to Be Confused with Benevolence

THE hydraulic state is a managerial state, and certain of its operations do indeed benefit the people. But since the rulers depend on these operations for their own maintenance and prosperity, their policies can hardly be considered benevolent. A pirate does not act benevolently when he keeps his ship afloat or feeds the slaves he plans to sell. Capable of recognizing his future as well as his present advantages, he is rational but not benevolent. His behavior may temporarily benefit the persons in his power; but this is not its primary purpose. Given a choice, he will further his own interests, and not the interests of others.

{p. 136} Confucius' gentleman bureaucrat, the ideal ruler of the Bhagavadgita, and the "just" statesmen of the ancient Roman or Islamic Near East all try to be fair within the framework of a society which takes the patterns of despotic power, revenue, and prestige for granted.


THUS agromanagerial despots may present their regimes as benevolent; actually, however, and even under the most favorable circumstances, they strive for their own, and not for the people's, rationality optimum. They plan their hydraulic enterprises according to what benefits their might and wealth. And they write their own ticket as fiscal masters of the national surplus and as conspicuous consumers.

Stalin claims that in a modern industrial apparatus state the culture of a national minority is national in form and socialist in content. Experience shows that the "socialist" (read: apparatchik) substance quickly wipes out all but the most insignificant national elements. A similar mechanism is at work in the agrarian apparatus state. Paraphrasing Stalin's formula and replacing myth by reality, we may truthfully say that hydraulic despotism is benevolent in form and oppressive in content.

{p. 127} CHAPTER 5 Total terror - total submission - total loneliness


MAN is no ant. His efforts to escape from freedom show him ambivalently attracted by what he ambivalently abandons. The urge to act independently is an essential attribute of homo sapiens, and a highly complex one. Not all of its components are socially valuable; but among them is man's most precious motivating force: the urge to obey his conscience, all external disadvantages notwithstanding.

What happens to man's desire for autonomy under the conditions of total power? One variant of total power, hydraulic despotism, tolerates no relevant political forces besides itself. In this respect it succeeds on the institutional level because it blocks the development of such forces; and it succeeds on the psychological level, because it discourages man's desire for independent political action. In the last analysis, hydraulic government is government by intimidation.

{But is not the government of George W. Bush one of intimidation? Do not private forces reign unchecked?}



MAN is no ant. But neither is he a stone. A policy that upholds the rulers' publicity optimum confuses the people's mind, without however eliminating their feelings of frlstration and unhappiness. Unchecked, these feelings may lead to rebellious action. To counter this dangerous trend the hydraulic regime resorts to intimidation. Terror is the inevitable consequence of the rulers' resolve to uphold their own and not the people's rationality optimum.


MANY spokesmen of hydraulic despotism have emphasized the need for rule by punishment. Such a policy may be justified by the argument that guiltless people are few. Confucius preferred education to punishment; yet he, too, believed that it would take a hundred years of good government "to transform the violently bad and to dispense with capital punishment."

Thus with varying arguments, punishment has been viewed as an essential tool of successful statecraft. The Hindu law book of Manu establishes fear-inspiring punishment as the foundation of internal peace and order. Punishment, which - of course - must be just, makes everyone behave properly. Without it caste barriers would be crossed; and all men would turn against their fellows. "Where Punishment with a black hue and red eye stalks about," subjects live at peace. "The whole world is kept in order by punishment."

By punishment the ruler protects the weak against the strong, sacrifice against animal violation, property against its (nongovernmental) enemies and social superiority against assaults from below. ...

The rulers of ancient Mesopotamia claimed that they received their power from the great Enlil. This terrifying god symbolizes "the power of force, of compulsion. Opposing wills are crushed and beaten into submission." Although he is supposed to use his cruel might judiciously, "man can never be fully at ease with Enlil but feels a lurking fear." This being so, the sovereign's readiness to identify himself with Enlil or with deities descended from him is deeply significant. The Sumerian kings usually identified themselves with Enlil directly. The Babylonians upheld the basic idea, but modified it. Hammurabi pictured himself as having been "called" by Enlil; and he names Enlil's son, Sin, as his divine father. In both cases the Mesopotamian rulers stressed the terroristic quality of their postion.

{Compare Wittfogel's caricature with S. G. F. Branson's account of the Gilgamesh Epic, source of the story of Adam and Eve: adam-and-eve.html; with Samuel Noah Kramer's account of the Sacred Marriage Rite, origin of the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) in the Bible: jewish-taoist.html}

The terror inherent in Pharaonic despotism is symbolized by the poisonous Uraeus snake, which lies coiled on the ruler's forehead and threatens his enemies with destruction. The king's actions are

{p. 139} also compared with those of the fear-inspiring lion goddess, Sekhmet.

Chinese statecraft learned to express its need for terrifying punishment in the rational and moral form of Confucianism. But punishment was the primary weapon of the so-called Legalists and of such Legalist-influenced Confucianists as Hsun Tsu. And it remained a cornerstone of official policy throughout the imperial period. What we would call the Ministry of Justice was known in traditional China as the Ministry of Punishments.

The Islamic ruler saw to it that he was both respected and feared. The Arabian Nights, which depicts Harun al-Rashld usually accompanied by his executioner, presents in fictional dress a historic truth. The executioner was a standard feature of the Abbassid court.


To be sure, all governments deserving the name have ways of imposing their will on their subjects, and the use of violence is always among them. But different societies develop different patterns of integrating (or fragmenting) violence and of controlling (or not controlling) it.

a. Integrated versus Fragmented Patterns of Violence

IN ancient Greece, free men ordinarily wore arms - according to Thucydides, "because their homes uere undefended." In other words, the government did not monopolize the use of force. With the growth of public safety the early custom disappeared in most city states; but the citizens, who were potential warriors, were still permitted to keep the tools of violence in their homes. Pictorial evidence portraying the start of a campaign shows "mostly the woman bringing the weapons from the home to the departing man."

In Medieval Europe the semi-independent feudal lords from the beginning represented important secondary centers of military action, and in the course of time many towns developed their own armed forces. These feudal and urban nuclei of political and military life were free to use violence both within their own jurisdictions and against one another.

{p. 156} The fear of getting involved with an uncontrollable and unpredictable government confines the prudent subject to the narrow realm of his personal and professional affairs. This fear separates him effectively from other members of the wider community to which he also belongs.


OF course, separation is not necessarily alienation: an artisan whose forebears left their rural community may consider himself different from the inhabitants of his home village. Or an intellectual may feel himself out of tune with his co-nationals, or in times of crisis he may completely reject a social order that apparently has no use for

{p. 157} him. In such situations he may know loneliness. But as long as he can join with others of like mind, his alienation from society will be only partial.

And this partial alienation differs profoundly from total alienation. Only when a person believes he is deserted by all his fellows and when he is unable to see himself as an autononnous and innerdirected entity, only then can he be said to experience total alienation. Under the terror of the semimanagerial agrarian apparatus state he may know total loneliness without total alienation. Under the terror of the modern total managerial apparatus state he may suffer total alienation. Persistent isolation and brainwashing may bring him to the point where he no longer realizes he is being dehumanized.


THERE were many lonely people among the free men of classical Greece; and there are many lonely people in the democratic countries of today. But these free individuals are lonely in the main because they are neglected and not because they are threatened by a power that, whenever it wants to, can reduce human dignity to nothingness. A neglected person can maintain associations of some kind with a few relatives or friends; and he may overcome his passive and partial alienation by widening his associations or by establishing new ways of belonging.

The person who lives under conditions of total power is not so privileged. Unable to counteract these conditions, he can take refuge only in alert resignation. Eager to avoid the worst, he must always be prepared to face it. Resignation has been an attitude of many free individuals at different times and in different segments of open and semi-open societies. But prior to the rise of the industrial apparatus state it was a predominant attitude mainly within the realm of Oriental despotism. Significantly, stoicism arose in antiquity when the balanced society of classical Greece gave way to the Hellenistic system of total power initiated by Alexander.

{p. 158} Socrates' end was u e in several ways, but it was typical for one aspect of enforced death in an open society. Sentenced to die for politically "corrupting" the youth of Athens, he was not made to denounce his acts publicly. Nor was he deprived of the company and admiration of his friends. His ordeal, far from alienating him from his followers - or from his ideas - cemented his union with both.

{So Wittfogel is juxtaposing the "Open Society" with the "Managerial State". But this "Open Society" is based on "Free Trade", in which everyone is pitted against everyone else: opensoc.html}

In an open society governmental disapproval may leave the criti-

{p. 159} cized citizen cold; but under conditions of total power, official displeasure may bring disaster. The Chinese official and historian, Ssuma Ch'ien, was not accused of high treason. He only dared to differ with his emperor's evaluation of a defeated general, and he was only sentenced to be castrated. Living on, he described in an extraordinary letter the abject loneliness he suffered during the time of his ordeal.

According to the law of the then ruling Han dynasty, Ssu-ma Ch'ien's punishment could have been remitted by the payment of a sum of money; and this could have been done, for he had wealthy and high-ranking friends. But no one dared to aid him. No one dared to show sympathy for a man who had angered the emperor. Ssu-ma Ch'ien writes "My friends did not come to my assistance. Those who were near and intimate with me did not say a single word in my favor." So he was led into the dark room and mutilated as if he had been an animal.

{p. 219} c. The Introduction of Oriental Despotism into Russia

The Tatars, who by 1240 had crushingly defeated the Eastern Slavs, controlled their new subjects so effectively that no independent Russian power undertook to liberate them.

Nor did any internal Russian force engage in a systematic an open struggle against the Horde. The isolated military victory at the Don River, which the Grand Duke of Moscow, Dmitry, won over a Tatar army in 1380, backfired sadly: the subsequent reprisals discouraged armed resistance for another hundred years. Even when, in 1480, Ivan III refused allegiance to the enfeebled Tatars, he avoided battling against them. The Tatars, while still able to lead an army against the Muscovite host, were equally reluctant. Indecision on both sides resulted in "an unbelievable spectacle: two armies fleeing from each other without being pursued by anyone." To quote Karamsin further: "So ended this last invasion of the Tatars."

So indeed ended Tatar rule over Russia. It had lasted for almost two hundred and fifty years; and the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, which rose to prominence during this period, did so not as an independent force but as the instrument of the Khan.

{p. 224} ... it is hard to reject Vernadsky's conclusion that in the days of the Tatars the old free society of Kievan Russia was "persistently chipped away without at first affecting the facade," and that when Ivan III broke with the Horde, "the framework of the new structure was all but ready and the new order, that of a service-bound society, became clearly noticeable."

It became clearly noticeable indeed. And a few decades after Ivan's death, the forces of despotism had gained suflcient strength to destroy ruthlessly the obsolete facade. The time lag beteen incubation and maturation reflects the contradictory interests of the Tatars, who wanted their Muscovite agency to be sufficiently strong to carry

{p. 225} out the will of the Khan but not strong enough to override it. Without foreseeing the ultimate consequences of their action, they built an institutional time bomb, which remained under control during their rule but which started to explode when the "Yoke" collapsed.

Byzantium's influence on Kievan Russia was great, but it was primarily cultural. Like China's influence on Japan, it did not seriously alter the conditions of power, class, and property. Ottoman Turkey's influence on 16th-century Russia stimulated a regime that was already Orientally despotic, but it did not bring it into being. Tatar rule alone among the three major Oriental influences affecting Russia was decisive both in destroying the non-Oriental Kievan society and in laying the foundations for the despotic state of Muscovite and post-Muscovite Russia.



THUS Greece, Rome, Spain, and Russia all crossed the institutional divide. In Greece, Rome, and Spain the pendulum swung back and forth. In Tsarist Russia the reverse movement (away from a despotic state) came close to bringing the country back into the Western orbit.

{p. 348} The Chinese examination system did in fact make it possible for a number of qualified commoners to enter the bureaucracy; but its social effects were much more modest than popular legend would have us believe. What actually did happen? The question is sufficiently important for an understanding of mobility in hydraulic society to justify a brief statement of the function - and the limitation - of the Chinese examination system.

First of all, the Chinese examination system provided the absolutist governments of China with candidates for office only during a limited and relatively late period. In Chou times and probably also under the Shang dynasty the bulk of all officials held positions because their forefathers had done so.

{p. 349} The much-discussed examination system was established only in the time of the re-unified empire by the short-lived Sui dynasty (581618). It was fully developed by the subsequent T'ang dynasty - that is, it came into being something like seventeen hundred years after the beginning of the Chou dynasty and eight hundred years after the beginning of the imperial era. And even during the first half of the thirteen hundred years of its existence its influence on the social composition of the imperial bureaucracy was seriously restricted by institutionalized social discrimination, by hereditary c]aims to office (the yin privilege), and, under the conquest dynasties, by the politically prominent nobles of the "barbarian" master nationality.

The Chinese examination system was established not by democratic forces but one-sidedly by a despotic ruler. The ranking officials certainly influenced the original plan; and they implemented it, once it was established. Anyone who was eligible to participate in the examinations could take the initiative in applying; and this is a significant deviation from the earlier appointment system. However, even under the examination system the emperor and his officials ultimately decided whom they would employ, and how they would employ them. The government determined in advance how many degrees would be conferred; and even the holders of the most important degree, the chin-shih, originally were admitted to office only after they had also passed a sort of civil service test.

The insistence upon a thorough classical education gave the members of official families - and, of course, also the relatives of the ruling house - an enormous cultural and social advantage. ...

The Sui statutes that initiated the examination system expressly excluded "artisans and merchants" from holding office.

{p. 350} The Mongols were deeply suspicious of their Chinese subjects. They therefore preferred appointment for their Chinese officials to any other method of selection.

{p. 351} The examinations were open to commoners during the first six hundred years with serious restrictions, and during the last six hundred years without such hindrances. But how many commoners did actually rise to official position in the government of imperial China through this method?

{p. 355} Oriental despots were pleased to use eunuchs in many semipersonal and semipolitical spheres of court life and in government proper. Often the eunuchs vere entrusted vith confidential tasks of intelligence. Not infrequently they were responsible for their sovereign's personal safety (as heads of his bodyguard); and at times they were placed in command of important armies or navies, or in charge of the royal treasury.

Such arrangements proved highly satisfactory since, although mutilated in body and spirit, a eunuch retained his intellectual powers and his ability to act One of their number, Ts'ai Lun, is credited with having invented paper; and the most eminent Chinese historian, Ssu-ma Ch'ien, completed his great historical work after he had been castrated. Eunuch generals and admirals seem to have been no less ingenious and daring than those who had not been emasculated. In the political arena eunuch cunning at times astounded veterans of Oriental court intrigue. It was here that they were most

{p. 356} feared, because it was here that they came closest to the nerve centers of despotic power.

{p. 357} In Western Asia eunuchism flourished under the Achaemenids. It receded under the Hellenistic monarchs, but it acquired great strength as the Roman empire became increasingly Orientalized.

In strong contrast to earlier custom the emperors Claudius, Nero, Vitellius, and Titus included eunuchs in their entourage. Claudius was influenced by two, Posides and Halotus; and Nero, who "married" the eunuch Spores, placed the eunuch Pelago in charge of a terror squad. Under Elagabalus and Gordian eunuchs became a permanent feature of the administration. Diocletian gave them a prominent place in his new court hierarchy.

Of the eighteen ranks of Byzantine officialdom eunuchs could hold eight, among them the distinguished Patrillios; and eunuch patricians were rated above ordinary patricians.

{p. 371} Impressed by the brutal directness with which Marxism-Leninism discussed the burning conflicts of the day, numberous writers accepted

{p. 372} significant elements of the Soviet scheme of societal development together with the Marxist-Leninist explanation of capitalism and imperialism. They did not hesitate to call the traditional institutions of China, India and the Near East "feudal." They equated post-Mongol Russia and Western feudalism. And they were convinced that Communis Russia - and recently also mainland China - had attained a higher socialist or protosocialist level of development, because they had prevailed over both "feudalism" and capitalism.


THIS being so, no responsible student of hydraulic society will deny the importance of reviewing the ideas of Marx, Engels, and Lenin about the "Asiatic system," Oriental despotism, and societal development. Manifestly such an examination is necessary from the standpoint of our subject matter. And it is highly dramatic, because Marx and Engels, and even the pre-October Lenin, accepted the very Asiatic concept that the high priests of Marxist-Leninist ideology are rejecting today.



MARX' concept of Asiatic society vas built largely on the views of such classical economists as Richard Jones and John Stuart Mill, who in their turn had developed generaiized ideas held by Adam Smith and James Mill. Adam Smith noted similarities of hydraulic enterprise in China and "several other governments of Asia"; and he commented particularly on the acquisitive power of the rulers in China, ancient Egypt, and India. James Mill considered the "Asiatic model of government" a general institutional type and he rejected forced analogies to European feudalism. Richard Jones outlined

{p. 373} an over-all picture of Asiatic society in 1831, when Marx was thirteen years old. And John Stuart Mill placed this society in a comparative frame in 1848, when the authors of the Communist Manifesto, despite an occasional reference to the "East," betrayed no awareness of a specific Asiatic society. It was only after Marx resumed his study of the classical economists in London that he emerged as a vigorous adherent of the "Asiatic" concept.

From 1853 until his death Marx upheld the Asiatic concept together with the Asiatic nomenclature of the earlier economists. In addition to the formula "Oriental despotism," he employed for the whole institutional order the designation "Oriental society," used by John Stuart Mill, and also (and with apparent preference) the designation "Asiatic society," used by Richard Jones. He expressed his specific concern for the economic aspect of Asiatic society by speaking of an "Asiatic system" of landownership, a specific "Asiatic mode of production," and, more concisely, "Asiatic production."

In the 1850's the notion of a specific Asiatic society struck Marx with the force of a discovery. Temporarily abandoning party politics, he applied himself intensely to the study of industrial capitalism as a distinct socio-economic and historical phenomenon. His writings during this period - among others, the first draft of Das Kaital which he set down in 1857-58 - show him greatly stimulated by the Asiatic concept. In this first draft as well as in the final version of his magnum opus, he systematically compared certain institutional features in the three major types of agrarian society ("Asia," classical antiquity, feudalism) and in modern industrial society.


WE need not in the present context examine every aspect of Marx' views on Asiatic society. For our purposes it is enough to underline his Asiatic interpretation of three countries that today are aain prominent on the global political scene: India, China, and Russia.

a. India ("Asiatic Society" ...)

IN two articles published in the New York Daily Tribune in 1853 Marx discussed the character of Asiatic society and the possibilities of its progressive dissolution. In these articles he cited India as a representative of "old Asiatic society" and the Hindus as having certain crucial institutions in common with "all Oriental people." He argued that "climate and territorial conditions" made "artificial irrigation by canais and waterworks the basis of Oriental agriculture." And he observed that water control "necessitated in the Orient, where civilization was too low and the territorial extent too vast to call into life voluntary association, the interference of the centralizing power of the government."

Thus it was the need for government-directed water works that according to Marx gave birth to the Asiatic state. And it was the "dispersed" condition of the "Oriental people" and their agglomeration in "self-supporting" villages (combining small agriculture and domestic handicraft) that permitted its age-long perpetuation. ...

b. China ("... Asiatic Production" and Private Peasant Landholding)

LIVING in England, as he did for the greater part of his adult life, Marx was more alert to conditions in India than in China. But from the 1850's on he viewed China, like India, as characterized by "Asiatic" institutions, and he found "the economic structure of Chinese society depending upon a combination of small agriculture and domestic industry (1859). In Volume 3 of Das Kapital, while dis-

{p. 375} cussing the impact of English trade on India and China, he made this point again. But here he also commented on the absence of a communal system of land tenure in contemporary China. In India and China "the broad foundation of the mode of production is shaped by the unity of small agriculture and domestic industry, to which, in India, is added the pattern of the village community based on communal property, which, by the way, was also the original form in China." And remarking on the slow dissolution of tlle self-sufficient rural economy in contemporary India (where Britain intervened directly) and the slower dissolution of this economy in China ("where no direct political power aids it"), he concluded that "different from English trade, the Russian trade leaves the economic foundations of Asiatic production untouched."

As early as the 1850's Marx was aware of the fact that the Chinese "Crown" permitted most of the peasants to "hold their lands, which are of a very limited extent, in full property." And the just cited passage from Das Kapital shows clearly that in his opinion the disappearance of "communal landownership" in China had not, in any significant way, undermined "the economic foundations of Asiatic production."

c. Russia ("Oriental Despotism" ... Perpetuated)

To the best of my knowledge, Russia was first called a "semi-Asiatic" country in an article signed by Marx, but written by Engels, which appeared in the New York Daily Tribune on April 18, 1853. On August 5, 1853, and this time in an article that was genuinely his, Marx contrasted certain "semi-Eastern" developments involving Tsarist Russia with "completely Eastern" events in China. From the start the term "semi-Asiatic," as applied by Marx and Engels to Russia, referred not to that country's geographic location but to its "traditions and institutions, character and conditions."

The articles of 1853 did not discuss Russia's institutional peculiarity in detail. However, in 1881 Marx spoke of Russia's isolated villages and the strongly centralized form of despotism that had arisen everywhere on this foundation. Shortly before, Engels had emphasized this point. Indeed the Marxian interpretation of Russia received its greatest currency through two statements made by Engels in the 1870's. The first, written in 1875, reads as follows: "Such a complete isolation of the individual [village] communities from each other, which in the whole country creates identical, but the exact opposite of common, interests, is the natural foundation of Oriental despotism, and from India to Russia this societal form, wher-

{p. 376} ever it prevailed, has always produced despotism and has always found therein its supplement. Not only the Russian state in general, but even its specific form, the despotism of the Tsar, far from being suspended in mid-air, is the necessary and logical product of the Russian social conditions." The second, contained in his critique of Duhring, expresses the same idea more briefiy "The ancient communes, where they continued to exist, have for thousands of years formed the basis of the most barbarous form of state, Oriental despotism, from India to Russia."

How long did Russian Oriental despotism endure? Marx insisted that Peter the Great, far from eliminating it, "generalized" it. And he expected the emancipation of the serfs to strengthen the absolutist regime, because it would destroy both the power of the nobles over the serfs and the self-government of the rural communities.

Marx did not explain how in Russia modern capitalism could develop under Oriental rule. His failure to do so is one of the most serious deficiencies in his treatment of marginal and transitional patterns of hydraulic society. But in terms of his views on the position of capitalism in the Orient, he was consistent when, in 1881 he considered Russia's modern quasi-Western capitalism a predatory, middleman-like force.


RETURNING to the over-all problems of the Asiatic mode of production, we may say no matter what Marx thought about the exact nature of landownership in the Orient, he felt certain it was not feudal In 1853, when Engels noted "that the Orientals did not advance toward landownership, not even to a feudal one," Marx warned against a too sweeping assumption of the absence of Oriental landownership. But while he then say some evidence of private landholding in India, and later also in China, he did not call their systems of land tenure "feudal."

Oversimplifying a complicated pattern of proprietary relations Marx, nevertheless, recognized a basic trend when he noted that under the "Asiatic system" the state was "the real landlord." Later he refined this early notion. In Das Kaital, Volume 3, he explained that under the Asiatic system there existed "no private landowner-

{p. 377} ship, but both private and communal possession and usage of the soil."

This position led Marx to brand the confusion of Asiatic-Egyptian land tenure with systems based on slavery and serfdom as the worst mistake that can be made in the analysis of ground rent. And it immunized him against viewing the Indian zamindars as a variant of European feudal landlords. He classified the traditional zamindars as "native tax-gatllerers." And he ridiculed the attempt to equate the British-made zamindar-landlords with England's landed gentry: "A curious sort of English landlord was the zemindar, receiving only one-tenth of the rent, while he had to make over ninetenths of it to the Government."


THUS in the "Orient" the state ruled supreme over both the labor and property of its subjects. Marx commented on the despot's position as the actual and apparent coordinator of the population's labor for hydraulic ancl other communal works; and he considered the individual land-possessing peasant "au fond the property, the slave" of the head of the Oriental community. Consistently he spoke of the "general slavery of the Orient." In contrast to the private slavery of classical antiquity, a type whose insignificance in the Orient he understood, and in contrast to the decentralized patterns of feudal control, which he also understood, Marx viewed the relation between Oriental despotism and the most important group in the population as one of general (state) slavery.


IT is difficult to harmonize these statements with the "feudal" interpretation of the Orient offered today by persons calling themselves

{p. 378} "Marxists." It is even difficult to present such an interpretation in the name of Leninism. Starting as an orthodox Marxist, Lenin upheld the idea of a special "Asiatic system" for the better part of three decades, speaking precisely, from 1894 to 1914.

a. "Asiatic Despotism," a Totality of Traits "with Special Economic, Political, and Sociological Characteristics"

THE young Lenin joined the Social Democratic movement in 1893. After a zealous study of Marx' and Engels' writings, he accepted, in 1894, the "Asiatic mode of production" as one of the four major economic configurations of society. In his first important book, The Development of Capitalism in Russia, published in 1899, he began to designate his country's Asiatic conditions as the Aziatchina, the "Asiatic system." And he termed Tsarist control over land and peasants a "fiscal land ownership."

In l900 he referred to the government of traditional China as "Asiatic", and he rejected as "pharisaic" the equation of European and Asiatic institutions. In 1902 he noted the crushing character of Asiatic oppression. In 1905 he denounced "the cursed heritage of bondage of the Aziatchina and the shameful treatment of man, and he contrasted the retarded development of "Asiatic capitalism" and the comprehensive and fast development of European capitalism. In 1906 and 1907 he engaged in a passionate debate with Plekhanov which underlined his awareness of the Asiatic system and its implications for a "semi-Asiatic" Russia. In 1911 he reemphasized the peculiarity of "the Oriental system," the "Asiatic system," and the stagnation of the Orient.

In 1912, on the occasion of the Chinese revolution, he recognized the "Asiatic" quality of traditional China by speaking of "Asiatic China" and of the "Asiatic" president of China. In l914 in a discussion with Rosa Luxemburg, he defined "Asiatic despotism" as a "totality of traits" with special "economic, political, and sociological characteristics," and he ascribed its great stability to "utterly patriarchal pre-capitalist traits and an insignificant development of commodity production and class differentiation." In the fall of that year he wrote an article on Marx for the Encyclopaedia Granat, in which once more he listed Marx' four major socio-economic configurations, "the Asiatic, the ancient, the felldal, and the modern bourgeois modes of production."

Thus from 1894 to 1914 Lenin upheld basic features of Marx' concept of Asiatic society, the Asiatic mode of production, and Oriental despotism.

{p. 379} ... C. RETREAT FROM TRUTH

... a. Marx "Mystifies" the Character of the Ruling Class

IN his effort to determine class rule Marx, like Adam Smith and his successors, asked: Who controls the decisive means of production and the "surplus" created by them? And he found that these advantages were enoyed in antquity by the "slaveholders," in feudal society by the "feudal landlords," in modern industrial society by "the capitalists," and in Asiatic society by "the sovereign" or "the state." Thus in the three types of private-property-based society of his schema Marx established a ruling class as the main beneficiaries of economic privilege, whereas with regard to government-dominated Oriental society he was satisfied to mention a single person, the ruler, or an institutional abstraction, "the state."

This was a strange formulation for a man who ordinarily was eager to define social classes and who denounced as a mystifying "reification" the use of such notions as "commodity" and "the state," when the underlying human (class) relations were left unexplained. ...

{p. 381} b. Further Retrogressions

... In the writings of the later period he emphasized the technical side of large-scale water works, where previously he had emphasized their political setting. He now lumped together control of water "in Egypt, Lombardy, Holland, etc," where previously he had distinguished the centralized and despotic governments of the Orient from the

{p. 382} private-enterprise-based "voluntary associations" of Flanders and Italy. He now mentioned the agrohydraulic function of a single state, India, where previously he had spoken of this "economic function" as devolving upon "all Asiatic governments."

A frequently cited passage in Das Kapital, Volume 1, appears to face the problem of the ruling class in Oriental society. Actually, however, it blurs the issue by introducing what, from the Marxian point of view, lS a most peculiar determinant of economic dominance. Attached to the phrase "The regulation of water in Egypt" is the following note: "The necessity to calculate the periodic movements of the Nile created Egyptian astronomy and with it the rule of the priest caste as leader of agriculture." By making astronomy the basis for economic leadership, Marx dropped his standard criterion: control over the means of production. And by stressing the hereditary ("caste") status of the "leaders" rather than their class, he further confused the matter.

Moreover, in Volume 3 of Das Kapital he asserted that "in despotic states, the labor of supreme supervision and the ubiquitous interference of the government" is demanded in "the execution of the common tasks evolving from the nature of all [sic!] commonwealths as well as the specific functions that stem from the antagonisms between the government and the mass of the people. ...


a. Asiatic Society - Yes! (Engels' Basic Attitude)

MARX' retrogressions in the treatment of Asiatic society are little known. Those of Engels have been widely publicized. Indeed the frequent references to certain passages in his book, The Origin of the Famtly, Private Property, and the State, have beclouded the fact that from 1853 until his death in 1895 Engels upheld, in largest part, the theory of Oriental society.

Engels' early role in clarifying Marx' understanding of the hydraulic aspect of the Orient and the validity of an "Asiatic" interpretation of India and Russia c has already been noted. In his critique of Eugen

{p. 383} Duhring (the Anti-Duhring) he went further than Marx by suggesting that the execution of important "socio-administrative functions" might lead to the formation of a "ruling class." And he underscored this point by noting that each of the many "despotic governments which rose and fell in India and Persia ... knew full well that it was first of all the total entrepreneur [Gesamtunternehmerin] of irrigation in the river valleys, without which no agriculture is possible there." In his critique of Duhring as well as in his book on the family Engels contrasted the "domestic slavery" of the Orient and the "work slavery" of antiquity. And in a passage inserted in Das Kapital, Volume 3, published in 1894, eleven years after Marx' death, he described the peasants of both India and Russia as being exploited by the mercilessly grinding "tax-screw of their despotic governments."

b. Asiatic Society - Yes and No! (The Anti-Duhring)

THIS long-range trend was interrupted by two major lapses - one manifested in the Anti-Duhring, the other in The Origin of the Family, Private ProlJerty, and the State.

In the Anti-Duhring Engels suggested a dual origin for the state and for its ruling class. In the first case, these two forces came into being because of excessive political pover, in the second because of the growth of private property and private-property-based production. The first development involved the rise of important socioadministrative functions and the ability of the governing persons to defy ccntrol to the extent that the original "servant" of society became its "master."

In this context Engels mentioned "an Oriental despot or satrap, the Greek tribal prince, the chieftain of a Celtic clan and so on." His two Western examples bring to mind Marx' ideas on societal dominance based on political-military function. According to Marx, this

{p. 384} type of dominance soon yielded to dominance based on private property and private-property-rooted labor (slave labor and serf labor). Only in the form of Oriental despotism did societal dominance based on public function spread far and last long.

Although Engels, in the Anti-Duhring, twice noted the enormous staying power of Oriental despotism ("thousands of years"), in neither instance did he elaborate this point. But he did list the Oriental despot first; and later in speaking of the despotic reimes of Persia and India he did specify their "socio-administrative" function: their "first duty was the general maintenance of irrigation throughout the valleys." Engels even noted that dominance based on socioadministrative function united the "individual ruling persons into a ruling class."

Thus far Engels' presentation, despite its lack of subtlety, was scientifically legitimate and in agreement with Marx' version of the classical concept of Oriental society. Equally legitimate, and again in agreement with relevant ideas of Smith, Mill, and Marx, was his statement on the second origin of classes and the state: the rise of slave-based production and of private property in slaves involved the rise of a private-property-based ruling class; and this development paved the way for an evolution that led via classical Greece and the Roman Empire to "modern Europe." And it also involved the rise of a type of state which, because of irreconcilable contradictions in the new private-property-based economy, was used by the propertied classes to protect their privileged position.

We need not criticize here the primitive ideas on the relation of wealth and government that Marx shared with John Locke, Adam Smith, and others. In the present context we are interested only in the fact that Engels, in the earlier part of the Anti-Duhring, indicated two different patterns of societal development ("Side by side with this [the socio-administrative] origin of class there occurred still another") and that in the last part of this same book, he abruptly abandoned this notion of a multilinear development. There he spoke of state and class rule as if they had resulted exclusively from antagonisms based on conditions of private property. And he climaxed his slanted presentation by listing only three class societies based respectively on slavery, serfdom, and wage labor.

c. Asialic Society - No! (The Origin of the Family, Private Prope1ty, and the State)

IN Engels' much quoted book on the family, which links the basic ideas of Morgan's Ancient Society and certain Marxian views, Asiatic

{p. 385} society as a major societal order has altogether disappeared. Here Engels discusses the origin of the state as if he had never heard of the "socio-administrative" state in general and of Oriental despotism in particular.

This omission cannot be ascribed to any lack of interest in societies of the "barbarian" type, for Engels elaborated on the conditions of "barbarism" in ancient Greece, Rome, and the Celtic and Germanic Middle Ages. Nor can it be ascribed to the general exclusion of matters pertaining to the Orient. Although more remiss in this respect than Morgan (Engels refrained for reasons of "space" from dealing with the pertinent history of "Asiatic" peoples), he did speak of Asia, the Asiatics, and Oriental institutions; and as already related, he contrasted the "domestic slavery" of the Orient with the "work slavery" of antiquity. But unconcerned with what he had formerly designated as the "new division of labor" - a division which, subsequent to the natural division of labor within a community, caused the rise of "functional" governments and power-based ruling classes - and also unconcerned with what both he and Marx had written regarding the exploitative quality of Oriental despotism, Engels now asserted categorically that "the first great social division of labor initiated the first great division of society into two classes: masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited."

The slavery-based society was governed by a state of slave owners, just as the feudal and capitalist types of society were governed respectively by a state of feudal nobles and a state of capitalists. In all these societies economic dominance led to political dominance. And eco-

{p. 386} nomic dominance, as Engels stressed, involved private ownership of the decisive means of production.

Thus societal leadership and exploitation were essentially rooted in private property. The despotic masters of the functional state, whose ruthless methods of exploitation Engels had once so eloquently described, remained unnoted. "With slavery, which in civilization developed most fully, there occurred the first great split of society into an exploiting and an exploited class. This cleavage lasted throughout the whole period of civilization. Slavery is the hrst form of exploitation, which is specific for the ancient world; it was succeeded by serfdom in the Middle Ages and wage labor in more recent times. These are the three great forms of servitude, characteristic of the three great epochs of civilization."

The references to "civilization" do not correct the notion of a unilinear pattern of development created by these sentences. But they show Engels aware of what he was doing - or better: of what he was hiding. In Engels' terminology, "civilization" was identical with the predominance of private property. Through his qualifying clause, he backhandedly admitted that his statement did not include the "barbarian" world of Oriental despotism.

d. Retrogressive Trends in a Supposedly Progressive Position


THIS is not a pretty picture. The founding fathers of scientific socialism, who claimed to be basing their political practice on the most advanced theory of societal development, harmed rather than helped the cause of truth when they were confronted with the most important historical manifestation of total power. Why? Did Marx have so little regard for scientific truth that he bent it easily? This certainly was not the case. The care with which he documented his own economic views and the elaborate way in which he presented opposing views demonstrate that he fully recognized the demands of scholarship.

And Marx himself was explicit on this point. Commenting on the scientific behavior of Malthus and Ricardo, he condemned all who abandoned scientific truth and the interest of mankind in general for special interests of any kind. A scholar, he held, should seek the truth in accordance with the immanent needs of science, no matter how this affected the fate of any social class: capitalists, landowners, and workers. Marx praised Ricardo for taking this attitude, which he called

{p. 387} "not only scientifically honest, but also scientifically required." For the same reasons, he condemned as "mean" anyone who subordinated scientific objectivity to extraneous purposes: "a man who tries to accommodate science to a standpoint which ls not derived from its own interest, however erroneous, but from outside, alien, and extraneous interests, [such a man] I call 'mean' (gemein)."

Marx was entirely consistent when he held the refusal to accommodate science to the interests of any class to be "stoic, objective, scientific." He was entirely consistent also, when he concluded on a note which from the standpoint of Leninist-Stalinist partisanship sounds heretically humanitarian: "As far as this can be done without sin against his science, Ricardo is always a philanthropist, as he indeed was in practice." And he was equally consistent when he branded the reverse behavior a "sin against science."


IN view of these strongly worded principles, Marx' retrogressions in analyzing Asiatic society assume special significance. Obviously the concept of Oriental despotism contained elements that paralyzed his search for truth. As a member of a group that intended to establish a total managerial and dictatorial state and was ready to use "despotic measures" to achieve its socialist ends, Marx could scarcely help recognizing some disturbing similarities between Oriental despotism and the state of his program.

The classical economist John Stuart Mill, who, in his Principles, wrote about the Oriental state, warned in the same book against an all-interfering state, against the dangers of an intellectually elitist despotism ("the government of sheep by their shepherd, without any thing like so strong an interest as the shepherd has in the thriving of his flock"), against "political slavery," and a "dominant bureaucracy." Did these and other academic exhortations induce Marx in the '50's to hide the bureaucratic aspect of Oriental despotism? This we do not know. But we do know that in the '60's and '70's anarchist writers leveled much less academic criticisms at the Marxian principles of state socialism.

When Marx was writing the final version of Das Kapital, Volume 1, he was in open conflict with the Proudonists. And from the late '60's on, both he and Engels were manifestly disturbed by the claim of the Bakunists that state socialism would inevitably involve the despotic rule of a privileged minority over the rest of the population, the

{p. 388} workers included. In 1873 Bakunin continued the attack in his book Statism and Anarchism, which insisted tha the Marx-envisaged socialist state "begets despotism on the one hand and slavery on the other." The Marxist theory "is a falsehood, behind which lurks the despotism of a governing minority, a falsehood which is all the more dangerous in that it appears as the ostensible expression of the people's will."

The political solutions offered by the anarchists were without doubt Utopian. But their criticism cut deep, as can be inferred from Marx' interpretation of the Paris Commune (which the Anarchists held to be a clownish reversal of his earlier position), and from the secrecy with which, in 1875, Marx and Engels shrouded their ideas on state socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. In his personal copy of Statism and Anarchism Marx made extensive notes, but he never answered Bakunin's acid arguments in public.

{An extract from Statism and Anarchy is at correctness.html}

Engels confused the issue of Oriental despotism most seriously in the years following the appearance of Bakunin's book. His insertion in Das Kapital, Volume 3, dealing with the exploitative despotic regimes of Russia and India was made in the '90's - when, according to Engels' own statement, he was no longer bothered by the anarchists.


THE authors of the Communist Manifesto accused the "Utopian" socialists of giving a "fantastic description of the society of the future." But Marx and Engels did exactly this when they pictured their socialist state. The fathers of "scientific socialism" who realistically, if imperfectly, analyzed the problems of capitalist economy, failed to make any comparable effort to analyze the problems of the dictatorial and functional state, a socialist variant of which they were seeking to establish. Substituting "fanatical superstitions" for scientific inquiry, they made the very mistake for which they had so harshly criticized the early Utopians.

And they suffered the same fate. The Utopian views, which in Marx' and Engels' opinion originally had a progressive ("revolutionary") quality, lost "all practical value and all theoretical justification," when new progressive societal forces emerged. Their significance bore "an inverse relation to historical development." Eventually they became outright "reactionary."

{p. 389} Under different circumstances and in a much more devastating way, the Utopian state socialists also closed the circle. Their economic and functional approach to history stimulated the social sciences of the 19th and early 20th centuries. And their social criticism stimulated the struggle against the monstrous conditions that characterized the earlier phases of the modern industrial system. But the original vision lost its progressive quality as realization neared. On the theoretical plane its reactionary potential was manifested early in Marx' and Engels' retrogressive attitude toward the Asiatic variant of managerial and bureaucratic despotism. On the practical plane this reactionary potential was manifested on a colossal scale when, nine months after the fall of the semimanagerial apparatus state of Tsarism, the Bolshevik revolution paved the way for the rise of the total managerial apparatus state of the USSR.


a. Lenin Further Cripples Marx' Crippled Yersion of the Asiatic Concept


THE factors which increasingly distorted Marx' and Engels' views of Oriental despotism increasingly produced retrogressive results in the case of Lenin.

During the first twenty years of his political career Lenin had generally accepted Marx' version of the classical concept of Asiatic society, but from the start his attitude was peculiarly selective. He never mentioned the managerial functions of Oriental despotism, although he certainly knew Engels' pertinent statements in the AntiDuhring (from which he frequently quoted) and although these functions were emphasized in the correspondence between Marx and Engels (with which he was familiar). Nor was his disinclination to explore the functional aspect of Asiatic despotism weakened by the knowledge that this aspect was stressed by Kautsky, whose "orthodox" Marxism he admired, and by Plekhanov, whom he considered the leading authority on Marxist philosophy even after they broke politically.

Lenin thus closed his eyes not only to crucial realities in traditional Asia but also to essential features of the Tsarist regime, vhose managerial activities he could observe at close range. In his Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899), he accomplished the extraor-

{p. 390} dinary feat of describing the rise of a private-property-based industry in his native land without indicating the dimension of the statemanaged enterprises which for almost two hundred years had dominated Russia's large-scale industry and which, with significant modificatlons, were still extremely important

By neglecting the managerial role of Tsarist despotism, Lenin seriously falsified the picture of Russia's economic order. By underplaying its exploitative role, he falsified it still more. In 1894 Engels noted the crushing effect of taxation on the Russian peasants. And a few years later, Nicolai-on and Milyukov showed that the government, through direct - and indirect - taxes, was depriving the Russian peasants of about 50 per cent of their income. Although he dealt with Nicolai-on's work at length, Lenin said nothing about the indirect taxes, which were numerous and heavy, and this procedure led him to the problematic conclusion that among the peasant group on which he had detailed data the taxes absorbed only about 15 per cent or "one seventh of the gross expenditure."


LENIN'S treatment of the ruling class under Oriental despotism was equally unsatisfactory. Marx' retrogressions in this respect, although enormously important for the interpretation of managerial despotism in general, did not seriously affect his analysis of modern Western society, which after all was his major concern. On the other hand, Lenin's discussion of the ruling class of Oriental despotism was anything but academic. It pertained to the very society which he was endeavoring to revolutionize.

If, as Lenin assumed, Tsarism was a variant of Oriental despotism and if under Oriental despotism landlordism originated from a nonfeudal form of state dependency, then he could be expected to hold that Tsarist society was controlled not by feudal or postfeudal landowners but by bureaucrats; and if this was his opinion, he could be expected to say so. If it was not, he could be expected to give substantial reasons for rejecting this view.

Actually he did neither. Instead he described Russia's ruling class now in one way, now in another. At times he spoke of a "dictatorship of the bureaucracy," and he saw its officials towerin "over the voiceless people like a dark forest." At times he spoke of the Tsarist government as having "bourgeois" tendencies and being subservient to the "big capitalists and nobles." Most frequently he described it as being dominated by noble landowners.

{p. 391} OBSERVING these inconsistencies, we may well wonder how a revolutionary leader whose ideas on the ruling class were so blurred could seize power. But we have only to recall Hitler's perverted interpretation of German conditions and his smashing victories over his internal enemies to realize that enormous political successes can be won on the basis of ideas that are at best semirational.

Lenin's stress on objective and absolute truth did not prevent him from demanding that socialist writers and artists follow the principle of partisanship, partinost. Throughout his career he himself did so even when it meant the abrogation of the most elementary rules of scientific propriety.

Certainly Lenin's inconsistency in defining Russia's ruling class had no scientific justification. And his tricky verbal acrobatics in and after the Stockholm debate on Russia's Asiatic Restoration foreshadow his later readiness to blackout the truth completely.

c. The Threat of the Asiatic Restoation (1906-07)

PREPARING for the Stockholm Congress of the Russian Social Democratic party in 1906, Plekhanov, speaking for the Mensheviks, challenged Lenin's plan for the nationalization of the land. Both the debate at the Congress itself and Lenin's subsequent utterances show him seriously upset by Plekhanov's argument, which, recalling Russia's Asiatic heritage, warned of the possibility of an Asiatic restoration.

The reason for Plekhanov's apprehensions can be quickly told. Encouraged by the experiences of 1905, Lenin believed that the Social Democratic party would be able to seize power if it could rally behind it Russia's small working class and the numerically strong peasantry. To win the support of the latter, he suggested that the nationalization of the land be made part of the revolutionary program. Plekhanov branded the idea of a socialist seizure of power as premature and the plan to nationalize the land as potentially reactionaly. Such a policy, instead of discontinuing the attachment of the land and its tillers to the state, would leave "untouched this survival of an old semi-Asiatic order" and thus facilitate its restoration.

This vas the dreaded historical perspective that Lenin alternately designated as "the restoration of the Asiatic mode of production," "the restoration of our old 'semi-Asiatic' order," ...

{p. 400} But the initiated will recall Marx' and Engels' view that self-sufficient, dispersed, and isolated rural communities form the solid and natural foundation of Oriental despotism. And they will recall Lenin's statement in 1914 that the "insignificant development of commodity production" was the economic cause of the great stability of Asiatic despotism.

A few paragraphs later, and as if to dispel all doubt as to what he was driving at, Lenin went still further in characterizig the new Soviet bureaucracy. To his own question, "What are the economic roots of bureaucracy?" he answered, "There are two main roots on the one hand, the developed bourgeoisie needs a bureaucratic apparatus, primarily a military apparatus, and then a judicial apparatus. This we have not got. Our bureaucracy has a different economic root ... it is the fragmented and dispersed character of the small producer, his poverty, the lack of culture, the absence of roads, illiteracy, the absence of exchange between agriculture and industry, the absence of connection and interaction betuleen them."

True, Lenin did not put a label on the phenomenon he was describing. But the details he cited all elaborated the dispersion and isolation of the villages over which the new regime ruled In Aesopian language he was obviously expressing his fear that an Asiatic restoration was taking place and that a new type of Oriental despotism was in the making.

No wonder then that at the end of his political career Lenin several times called Russia's institutional heritage "bureaucratic" and "Asiatic." He noted that Russian society had "not yet emerged" from its "semi-Asiatic" lack of culture. He juxtaposed the "Asiatic" way in which the Russian peasant traded to the "European" way. And he criticized the Soviet regime for being unable to "go along without the particularly crude types of pre-bourgeois culture, i.e. bureaucratic or bondage culture". Bondage culture - not feudal culture And shortly before he suffered the stroke that altogether removed him from the political arena, he went so far as to call the Soviet state apparatus "to a large extent the survival of the old one It is only slightly repainted on the surface."

{p. 403} ... Trotsky had never invoked the Asiatic concept in his fight against Stalin. {footnote u} ...

u. In the introductory chapters of his books on the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, Trotsky succinctly explained the managerial and exploitative quality of the Tsarist regime which, in his opinion, approached "Asiatic despotism" (Trotsky, 1923: {continued on p. 404}

{p. 404} {footnote u continued} 18ff.; ibid., 1931: 18 ff.) But in the twenties and thirties he did not discuss Chinese society in "Asiatic" terms, nor did he use the criteria of Oriental despotism when he criticized Stalin's bureaucratic despotism. In 1938 Trotsky wrote a survey of what he held to be Marx' ideas. In his discussion of the types of social relations he mentioned only three - slavery, feudalism, and capitalism (Trotsky, 1939: 8) - just as Stalin did in the same year and Lenin had done in 19l9.

{p. 443} ... the Chinese Communists moved quickly to establish a new semimanagerial order, which differs both in structure and developmental intent from the semimanagerial order of agrarian despotism. The rapid integration of the Chinese peasants into primitive collectives, called Producers' Cooperatives, indicates that Communist China is moving quickly from a semimanagerial to a total managerial order.

{end of quotes from Wittfogel}

The case against Wittfogel's argument: wittfogel2.html.

Reg Little describes the Asia Model as the "Confucian Renaissance": confucian-renaissance.html.

Wittfogel was not Jewish.

A reader sent the following letter. He requested that his email address be withheld, lest it attract spam:

Date: Wed, 04 Apr 2007 02:31:01 +0200 From: {withheld}Subject: Wittfogel To: peter.myers@mailstar.net

{quote} Dear Mr Myers,

on your pages on Wittfogel you claim he was a "Jewish Communist". He was indeed a Communist (until the 1930s) but not a Jew, unlike most of his friends and colleagues. His father was a Protestant preacher. His mother wasn't Jewish either.


To purchase Karl Wittfogel's Oriental Despotism second-hand: http://dogbert.abebooks.com/abe/BookSearch?an=karl+wittfogel

Write to me at contact.html.