Rural Mentalities of the past

An issue that occupied discourses on rural India in the nineteenth century was the question of whether the village holds or owns its lands in common or whether the cultivating households of an Indian village hold them severally.

There were three modes of production apart from the capitalist. The first and earliest of these was the communal or tribal. The Asiatic mode seems always to be classed as a variant of the communal, a direct development out of the primitive mode that accompanied the rise of agriculture. Clans were present in all of the precapitalist formations, but they were of primary importance in the earliest or tribal mode and hence in the Asiatic mode.

Persons of the clan community saw the clan not as the result of their cooperative efforts, but as its presupposition. Consistent with this is a further presupposition: the members of the community thought of the land not as their personal property, but as the property of the community. They were merely its possessors; hence the displacement of ownership on to a fictional entity, the clan ancestor or deity.

Within the Asiatic states that arose out of such earlier tribal societies, a division into classes took place, but this was synonymous with the division into villages and the state. The surplus it extracted was, consistent with this lack of differentiation, both a tax and a rent. The ownership of the landed property of the various communes became, in its turn, displaced on to the oriental despot and his divine double, an imagined god.

The village lands on which he labours belong not to him who plows them but to the village as a whole. He merely possesses his land and only then by virtue of his descent from an ancestor and patriarch of the clan, who is at the same time founder of the village. The village itself belongs in the metaleptic thought of the villager, to a remote owner or state in the form of an oriental despot.