The mode of production debate in 1970s Latin America – a hidden pearl of 20th century Marxism [Latin American Marxism stream]

David Mayer


From the late 1960s on, debates around the Marxian notion of ‘modes of production’ emerged in several world regions and in different contexts. While the meaning and reading of this notion varied greatly – ranging from very ‘philosophical’ approaches to anthropological and historicist adoptions – it is striking how, for a short moment in the 1970s, the notion became prevalent both in the Global North and South and how interrelated these debates were despite their obvious differences. One of the forgotten yet most interesting branches of this globally interrelated concern for ‘modes of production’ is the Latin American controversy about the characteristic of historical, especially colonial ‘modes of production’. It featured a striking level of conceptual complexity, empirical foundation and intellectual differentiation (suggesting different kinds of specifically ‘colonial’ and/or sub-regional ‘modes of production’). This paper will not only present some of the positions and analyses developed in this debate but also pay special attention to its historical sociology of knowledge: its embeddedness in the political controversies of the day, its connections to further debates both in Latin America and other world regions, the changes in the type of intellectuals involved, they ways an argument was constructed, and its position in the ‘geography’ of 20th century Marxism will be analysed. In this way, the paper will highlight how the Latin American ‘mode of production’-debate could become one of the most precious moments in the history of Marxism and, at the same time, a rather hidden pearl in its treasure chest.

Latin America - modes of production - history