Base And Superstructure

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Dominion Draft

I know of no essential difference between the English article which I created and the draft here at this writing and the public one is the reference draft in this case, not the this one.


Base and Superstructure are the economic and political constituent elements of the synthetic conceptual-pair that is explicitly and implicitly common to every form of Socialism. As theoretically used by Karl Marx, and philosophically used in Marxism, this politico-economic concept distinguishes the essential bases of social orders, from other, formative, persisting social conditions.


Dialectical Materialism posits that the economic base (the mode of production and the social order enforcing it) and the political superstructure (the State and its political system) are based upon the means of production (historic circumstance and material conditions of production). In developing Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations, Marx identifies the civil society as the economic base and the political society as the political superstructure; to wit, critical theory and like writings concern how each affects and conditions the other. [1]

In the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), Karl Marx says: [2]

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter Into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely [the] relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political, and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development, of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead, sooner or later, to the transformation of the whole, immense, superstructure. In studying such transformations, it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic, or philosophic — in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. [3]

In Studying Popular Music (1990), the musicologist Richard Middleton says that in Antonio Gramsci’s cultural hegemony theory the political superstructure is related to, yet not determined by, the elements that the economic base comprehends in its articulation; despite ready simplification, Marx’s base determines superstructure axiom requires qualification:

  1. the base is the whole of productive relationships, not only a given economic element, e.g. the working class;
  2. historically, the superstructure varies and develops unevenly in society’s different activites, i.e. Art, politics, economics, etc.;
  3. the base–superstructure relationship is reciprocal; per Engels: Base determines superstructure only in the last instance. [4]

Contemporary Marxist interpretation criticises said base–superstructure interaction theories, especially Raymond Williams’s arguments against loose, “popular” usages of base and superstructure as discrete entities, which are not the intention of Marx and Engels, to wit:

So, we have to say that when we talk of ‘the base’, we are talking of a process, and not a state [. . . .] We have to revalue ‘superstructure’ towards a related range of cultural practices, and away from a reflected, reproduced, or specifically-dependent content. And, crucially, we have to revalue ‘the base’ away from [the] notion[s] of [either] a fixed economic or [a] technological abstraction, and towards the specific activities of men in real, social and economic relationships, containing fundamental contradictions and variations, and, therefore, always in a state of dynamic process. [5]

See also

Further Reading

  • Calhoun, Craig (ed), Dictionary of the Social Sciences Oxford University Press (2002)

External links

  1. Basis und Überbau A German Political Lexicon Wiki.
  2. Marxist Media Theory


  1. Template:Cite journal
  2. Marx, Karl (1977). A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Moscow: Progress Publishers. 
  3. Marx, Karl (1977). A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Moscow: Progress Publishers: Notes by R. Rojas.
  4. Dictionary of the Social Sciences, “Base and superstructure” entry.
  5. Template:Cite journal