Base and Superstructure
Base and Superstructure
Base and Superstructure
Mechanical materialism and its aftermath
The answers given to these questions lead
to very different views about how society develops.
At the one extreme, there is the view that
the base is the forces of production, that they inevitably advance, and that this
in turn leads to changes in society.
Political and ideological struggle is then
seen as playing no real role. Human beings are products of their circumstances,
and history proceeds completely independently of their will. The outcome of wars,
revolutions, philosophical arguments or what-not is always determined in advance.
It would have made not one iota of difference to history if Robespierre had walked
under a carriage in 1788 or if the sealed train had crashed in April 1917.
This view of Marxism is based upon a certain
reading of Marx himself, in particular upon a powerful polemical passage in The
Poverty of Philosophy:
‘In acquiring new productive forces, men
change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in
changing their way of earning a living, they change all their social relations.
The handmill gives you society with a feudal lord; the steam mill society with an
It is in the years after Marx’s death that
such a mechanical, determinist view of history comes to be regarded as ‘Marxist’
orthodoxy. It was during this period that Marxism came to hegemonise the German
workers’ movement, and through it the Second International. But it was Marxism as
seen through the eyes of Karl Kautsky, the ‘Pope of Marxism’.
For Kautsky, historical development had inevitably
produced each mode of production in turn – antiquity, feudalism, capitalism – and
would eventually lead to socialism. There was an ‘inevitable…adaptation of forms
of appropriation to forms of production’. Revolutionary movements could not alter this pattern of development.
Thus the Hussites of the 15th century and the revolutionary Anabaptists of the
16th century had been able to fight courageously and to present the vision of a
new society; but, for Kautsky, they could not alter the inevitable development of
‘The direction of social development does
not depend on the use of peaceful methods or violent struggles. It is determined
by the progress and needs of the methods of production. If the outcome of violent
revolutionary struggles does not correspond to the intentions of the revolutionary
combatants, this only signifies that these intentions stand in opposition to the
development of the needs of production.
Violent revolutionary struggles can never
determine the direction of social development, they can only in certain circumstances
accelerate their pace…’
The task of revolutionary socialists under
modem capitalism was not to try to cut short the historical process, but simply
to reflect its development by carefully building up socialist organisation until
capitalism was ready to turn into socialism. But, at the same time, counter-revolutionaries
could not stop the onward march of the forces of production and, therefore, of
historical evolution. Kautsky insisted that ‘regression’ from more advanced to
more backward forces of production never occurred. ‘Economic development’, said his most influential work, his introduction
to the German Social Democratic Party’s Erfurt Programme, ‘will lead inevitably
to the… conquest of the government in the interests of the [working] class’.
Very close to Kautsky’s formulations were
those of the pioneer Russian Marxist, Plekhanov. He held that the development of
production automatically resulted in changes in the superstructure. There is no
way human endeavour can block the development of the forces of production. ‘Social
development’ is a ‘process expressing laws’. ‘The final cause of the social relationships lies in the state of
the productive forces.’ ‘Productive forces… determine… social relations, i.e. economic
He provides a ‘formula’ which sets out a
hierarchy of causation in history. The ‘state of the productive forces’ determines
the ‘economic relations’ of society. A ‘socio-political system’ then develops on
this ‘economic basis’. ‘The mentality of men living in society [is] determined in
part directly by the economic conditions obtaining and in part by the entire socio-political
system that has arisen on that foundation.’ Finally, the ‘various ideologies …
reflect the properties of that mentality’.
He would assert that ‘history is made by
men’, but then go on to insist that ‘the average axis of mankind’s intellectual
development’ runs ‘parallel to that of its economic development’, so that in the
end all that really matters is the economic development.
The outcome of great historical events like
the French Revolution did not depend at all on the role played by individuals like
Mirabeau or Robespierre:
‘No matter what the qualities of a given
individual may be, they cannot eliminate the given economic relations if the latter
conform to the given state of the productive forces.
Talented people can change only individual
features of events, not their general trend.’
Just as Kautsky’s interpretation of Marxism
dominated in the parties of the Second International, Plekhanov’s was taken up as
the orthodoxy by the Stalinist parties from the late 1920s onwards. In the
hands of Stalin and his ‘theoreticians’ it became an unbendable historical law:
development of the forces of production inevitably led to corresponding changes
in society, so the growth of industry in Russia would inevitably lead from a ‘workers’
state’ to ‘socialism’ and from ‘socialism’ to ‘communism’, regardless of the misery
and hardship involved; by contrast, the clearest indication that Western capitalism
had outlived its lifespan was the decline in its forces of production.
The reaction against determinism
Stalinist Marxism did not long outlast
Stalin himself. The ‘new left’ of the late 1950s and the Maoist left of the mid-1960s
both launched assaults on the crude mechanical determinist account of history.
They insisted, rightly, that in Marx’s own
historical writings – the Class Struggles in France, The 18th Brumaire of Louis
Bonaparte, The Civil War in France – there is not a hint of a passive, fatalistic
approach to historical change. They also laid great emphasis on certain remarks
Engels had made in a series of letters he wrote at the very end of his life, in
the 1890s, criticising an over-crude use of historical materialism. Engels had
written to Starkenburg:
‘Political, juridical, philosophical, religious,
literary, artistic, etc development is based on economic development. But these
all react on one another and also upon the economic basis. It is not that the economic
situation is cause, solely active, while everything else is only passive effect.
There is rather interaction on the basis of economic necessity which ultimately
always asserts itself.’
And to Bloch:
‘According to the materialist conception
of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and
reproduction of real life. More than that neither Marx nor I have ever asserted.
Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only
determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless abstract senseless
The economic situation is the basis, but
the various elements of the superstructure – political forms of the class struggle
and its results, to wit: constitutions established by victorious classes after a
successful battle, etc, juridical forms and even the reflexes of these actual
struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical
theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas
– also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and
in many cases preponderate in determining their form…
There is an interaction of all these elements
in which, amid all the endless host of accidents, the economic element finally asserts
itself as necessary.’
The post-1956 new left went on to argue
that even the terms ‘base and superstructure’ were simply a metaphor, not to be
taken too seriously. The ‘reciprocal’ influence of the superstructure on the base
meant that ‘determination’ was not to be seen as a strict causal relationship.
The Maoist left did not begin with such an
explicit break with the past. The doyen of this school, Louis Althusser, was quite
willing in his early 1960s writings to quote Stalin himself favourably.
But the Althusserians created a new theoretical
structure which destroyed most of the content of the old notions of ‘base’, ‘superstructure’
and ‘determination’. Society consisted of a number of different structures – the
political, the economic, the ideological, the linguistic – each developing at its
own speed, and having an impact on the others. At any particular point in history
it could be any one of them that dominated the others. It was only ‘in the last
instance’ that the economic was ‘determinant’.
The new left and the Maoist-Althusserian
schools were initially very hostile to each other.
Yet both of them redefined historical materialism in a way that
opened the door to a great dose of voluntarism.
For the 1950s new left, this meant moving
away from any tight definition of class or any real concern with how social being
might affect social consciousness. In the writings about current events by the
most prominent British new left figure, E P Thompson – right through from his
1960 essay ‘Revolution’ to his anti cruise missile writings of 1980 – there is the insistent
message that energy and goodwill and a repudiation of tight categories can be enough
in themselves to open the road to victory. In his more theoretical writings he
rejects the view that ‘economic’ factors play any sort of determining role in history,
or even that they can be separated out from other factors such as the ideological
Althusser’s tone is different: in his earlier
writings the key to change is still a party of an essentially Stalinist sort. But
there is the same element of voluntarism as in Thompson: if only the party understands
the articulation of the different structures, it can force the pace of history,
regardless of ‘economic’ factors.
Most of his followers have abandoned any
notion of ‘determination’, even in ‘the last instance’, and have moved to positions
that deny any possibility of understanding how societies change. So, for instance,
one English post-Althusserian, Gareth Stedman Jones, now tells us that the only
way to understand any ideology is in its own terms and that you must not make any
attempt to interpret its development in terms of the material circumstances of
those who adhere to it. We are right back to the old empiricist adage, ‘Everything is what it
is and nothing else.’ Such is the mouse that the elephantine structures of Althusserianism
have given birth to.
The convergence of the old new left and
the Althusserians has created a sort of ‘common sense’ among Marxists which holds
that any talk of base and superstructure is really old hat. So widespread has
the influence of this ‘common sense’ been that it has even affected people who
reject completely the political conclusions of Thompson or Althusser.
The only concerted resistance to this tendency
has come from admirers of the orthodox analytical philosopher G A Cohen. But his
defence of Marx involves a complete retreat to the mechanical interpretation of
Kautsky and Plekhanov.
The revolutionary materialist alternative
Historically, however, there has always
been a revolutionary alternative to either mechanical materialism or voluntarism.
It existed in part even in the heyday of Kautskyism in some of the writings of Engels
and in the work of the Italian Marxist, Labriola.
But the need for a theoretical alternative
did not become more widely apparent until the years of the First World War and
the Russian Revolution proved the bankruptcy of Kautskyism. It was then that Lenin
reread Hegel and concluded, ‘Intelligent (dialectical) idealism is closer to intelligent
materialism than stupid (metaphysical) materialism’.
In the years that followed, thinkers like
George Lukács, Karl Korsch and Antonio Gramsci all tried to provide versions
of historical materialism which did not see human activity as simply a passive
reflection of other factors. And in his magnificent History of the Russian Revolution,
Leon Trotsky provided an account of a world historical event which placed massive
emphasis on subjective as well as objective factors – and was criticised from a
Plekhanovite point of view for doing so.
A non-mechanical, non-voluntarist version
of historical materialism is absolutely vital today. It can easily be found in
the works of Marx himself, if you supplement his classic account in the Preface
to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy with what he says at various
points in The German Ideology, The Poverty of Philosophy, The Communist Manifesto,
Production and society
Marx first sets out his account of historical
materialism in The German Ideology of 1846.
He starts from a materialist recognition
that human beings are biologically part of nature:
‘The premises from which we start are not
dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination.
They are real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which
they live, both those which they find existing and those which they produce by
their own activity.
The first fact to be established is the
physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relationship to
the rest of nature… The writing of history must always set out from these natural
bases and their modification in the course of history through the actions of men.
We must begin by stating the first real
premise of human existence, and therefore of all human history, the premise that
men must be able to live in order to ‘make history’. But life involves before everything
else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things. .
[This is] a fundamental condition of all
human history which today as thousands of years ago must be daily and hourly fulfilled
merely in order to sustain human life.’
So there is a core activity at any point
in history which is a precondition for everything else which happens. This is
the activity of work on the material world in order to get food, shelter and clothing.
The character of this activity depends upon
the concrete material situation in which human beings find themselves.
This determines the content of the most
basic forms of human action. And so it also determines what individuals themselves
‘The mode of production must not be considered
simply as being the reproduction of the physical existence of the individuals.
Rather it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of
expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part.
As individuals express their life so they
are. What they are therefore coincides with their production, both of what they
produce and how they produce.
The nature of individuals thus depends on
the material circumstances determining their production …’
These passages cannot be properly understood
unless Marx’s central point about human activity – best expressed in the Theses
on Feuerbach (written at the same time as The German Ideology) – is understood.
For Marx humanity is part of nature. It arises as a product of biological evolution,
and one must never forget its physical dependence on the material world around it.
All of its institutions, ideas, dreams and ideals can only be understood as arising
from this material reality – even if the route through which they so arise is often
long and circuitous. As Labriola put it, ‘Ideas do not fall from heaven and nothing
comes to us in a dream’.
But that does not mean humans are not qualitatively
distinct from the rest of nature. Like any other species, humanity has its own
defining features. For Marx the key such defining features are that human beings
have to react back upon the material circumstances in which they find themselves
in order to survive:
Men can be distinguished from animals by
consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They distinguish themselves
from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step
which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of
subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.
Humans cannot act independently of their
circumstances. But this does not mean they can be reduced to them. They are continually
involved in ‘negating’ the material objective world around them, in reacting upon
it in such a way as to transform both it and themselves.
At each point in history, human beings have
to find some way to cope with the needs of material survival. How they cope is
not something independent from the objective physical world; rather it is a product
of that world. Yet it can never be grasped simply as a mechanical consequence of
the physical constitution of nature. It is not mechanical causality, but human action
which mediates between the world in which human beings find themselves and the
lives they lead.
Production is never individual production.
It is only the collective effort of human beings that enables them to get a livelihood
from the world around them.
So the central core activity – work – has
to be organised socially. Every particular stage in the development of human labour
demands certain sorts of social relationships to sustain it.
In The German Ideology Marx refers to the
social relations between people at any particular point in history as the ‘form
of intercourse’. And he insists that, ‘The form of intercourse is again determined
The various institutions that embody human
relationships can only be understood as developing out of this core productive interaction:
‘The fact is that definite individuals
who are productively active in a definite way enter into these definite social and
political relations … The social structure and the state are continually evolving
out of the life processes of definite individuals, but of individuals, not as
they appear in their own or other people’s imaginations, but as they really are;
i.e. as they operate, produce materially and hence as they work under definite
material limits, presuppositions and conditions independent of their will.’
In order to maintain their material lives,
human beings are forced to act on the world in certain ways – to engage in material
production. But that requires certain forms of cooperation between them.
These core relationships provide a framework
which everything else humans do has to fit on to. Everything else is, in this sense,
based on them. They provide the limits to what is possible in any society.
So, for instance, a hunter-gatherer society
does not have the means to store food for more than a few days, and can only survive
if its members are continually on the move looking for more foodstuffs. It is
therefore restricted in a number of ways: it cannot be made up of bands of more
than 20 or so people; the women in it cannot bear more than one child every four
or five years, since the children have to be carried when the band looks for food;
there is no means by which one section of society could be freed from labour in
order to engage in writing, reading, higher arithmetic, etc.
This is the narrowest way in which you can
grasp Marx’s argument. But he sees it as having even wider implications than this.
The relations of material production not only limit the rest of relations in society,
they are also the source of the content of these wider relations as well.
The history of society is the history of
changes in the ways in which production takes place, each associated with changes
in the relations between human beings immediately around the productive process.
And these changes in turn then exert a pressure on all the other social relations.
If, for instance, a band of hunter-gatherers
adopts a me of radically increasing the food available to them (by, say planting
root vegetables for themselves instead of having search for them) and of storing
food for long periods of time (for instance, in earthenware pots), this necessarily
changes their social relations with each other. Instead of continually moving,
they have to stay in one spot until the crop can be harvested; if they are staying
in one spot, there is no longer any necessity for restriction on the number of
children per woman the crop becomes something which other bands of people can seize,
so providing, for the first time, an incentive for warfare, between rival bands.
Changes in the way material production takes
place lead changes in the relations of society in general.
And even relations between people which
do not arise out production – the games people play with each other, the forms
sex takes, the relations of adults and young babies – will affected.
Marx does not at all deny the reality of
relations other than directly productive ones. Nor does he deny that they can influence
the way production itself takes place. As he puts it in Theories of Surplus Value:
‘All circumstances which… affect man, the
subject of production, have greater or lesser effect upon his functions and activities,
including his functions and activities as creator of material wealth, of commodities.
In this sense it can be truly asserted that all human relations and functions,
however and wherever they manifest themselves, influence material production and
have a more or less determining effect upon it.’
This is even true in pre-class societies.
There is a tendency for old patterns of working and living to crystallise into
relatively inflexible structures. They become ‘sanctified’ with the development
of systems of religion, magic, taboos, rituals and so or At first these systems
are carried on even in ‘bad times’, when the short term needs or desires of the
individual might lead ti actions which ruin the long term interests of the social
collectivity. But, by this very fact, they discourage innovation and move to new
forms of production, which would be of long-term as well as short-term benefit.
Exploitation and the superstructure
Something more is needed than simple cooperation
between people for the forces of production to develop beyond a certain point. Exploitation
is also needed.
While the surplus left after the satisfaction
of everyone’s minimal needs is small, resources can only be gathered together for
further development of the forces of production if the surplus is controlled by
a small, privileged minority of society. Hence it is that wherever there is the
development of agriculture proper out of horticulture, the growth of trade, the
use of dams and canals for flood prevention and irrigation, the building of towns,
there are also the beginnings of a polarisation within society between those who
exploit and those who are exploited.
The new exploiting group has its origins
in its role in production: it is constituted out of those who were most efficient
in introducing new methods of agricultural production, or those who pioneered new
sorts of trade between one society and its neighbours, or those who could justify
themselves not engaging in backbreaking manual labour because of their ability
to foresee flood patterns or design waterworks. But from the beginning the new exploiting
group secures its control by means other than its role in production. It uses its
new wealth to wage war, so further enhancing its wealth through booty and the taking
of slaves. It establishes ‘special bodies of armed men’ to safeguard its old and
its new wealth against internal and external enemies. It gains control of religious
rites, ascribing the advance of the social productive force to its own ‘supernatural
powers’. It rewrites old codes of behaviour into new sets of legal rules that sanctify
The new exploiting group, in short, creates
a whole network of non-productive relations to safeguard the privileged position
it has gained for itself. It seeks through these political, judicial and religious
means to secure its own position. It creates a non-economic ‘superstructure’ to
safeguard the source of its own privileges in the economic ‘base’.
The very function of these ‘non-economic’
institutions means that they have enormous economic impact. They are concerned
with controlling the base, with fixing existing relations of exploitation, and
therefore in putting a limit on changes in the relations of production, even if
this also involves stopping further development of the productive forces.
In ancient China, for example, a ruling
class emerged on the basis of certain sorts of material production (agriculture
involving the use of hydraulic installations) and exploitation. Its members then
sought to preserve their position by creating political and ideological institutions.
But in doing so they created instruments that could be used to crush any new social
force that emerged out of changes in production (eg out of the growth of handicrafts
or trade). On occasions that meant physically destroying the new productive means.
So great is the reciprocal impact of the
‘superstructure’ on the base, that many of the categories we commonly think of as
‘economic’ are in fact constituted by both. So, for instance, ‘property rights’
are judicial (part of the superstructure) but regulate the way exploitation takes
place (part of the base).
The way the political and judicial feed
back into the economic is absolutely central to Marx’s whole approach. It is this
alone which enables him to talk of successive, distinct ‘modes of production’ –
stages in history in which the organisation of production and exploitation is
frozen in certain ways, each with its distinctive ruling class seeking to mould
the whole of society to fit in with its requirements.
Far from ignoring the impact of the ‘superstructure’
on the ‘base’, as many ignorant critics have claimed for more than a century, Marx
builds his whole account of human history around it.
Old relations of production act as fetters,
impeding the growth of new productive forces. How? Because of the activity of
the ‘superstructure’ in trying to stop new forms of production and exploitation
that challenge the monopoly of wealth and power of the old ruling class. Its laws
declare the new ways to be illegal. Its religious institutions denounce them as
immoral. Its police use torture against them. Its armies sack towns where they are
The massive political and ideological
struggles that arise as a result, decide, for Marx, whether a rising class, based
on new forces of production, displaces an old ruling class. And so it is an absolute
travesty of his views to claim that he ‘neglects’ the political or ideological element.
But the growth of superstructural institutions
not only freezes existing production relations, it can also have profound effects
on the relations between the members of the ruling class themselves, and therefore
on the way they react to the other classes in society.
Those who command the armies, the police
and the priesthoods live off the surplus obtained by exploitation just as much as
do the direct exploiters. But they also develop particular interests of their own:
they want their share of the surplus to be as great as possible; they want certain
sorts of material production to take place to suit the particular needs of their
institutions; they want their sort of lifestyle to be valued more highly than
that of those involved in direct production.
Their attempt to gain their own particular
aims can lead to the building of ever more complex institutions, to elaborate rules
about social behaviour, to endless battles for place and influence. The end result
can be labyrinthine structures in which the source of wealth and privilege in material
production is completely forgotten.
When this happens, the superstructure can
go beyond simply freezing the economic activities on which it is based. It can
become a drain on them that prevents their reproduction – and, in doing so, destroys
the resources upon which the whole of society, including the superstructure itself,
depends. Then material reality catches up with it and the whole social edifice
comes tumbling down.
But none of these developments take place
without massive political and ideological struggles. It is these which determine
whether one set of social activities (those of the superstructure) cramp a different
set of social activities (those involved in maintaining and developing the material
base). It is these which decide, for Marx, whether the existing ruling class maintains
its power until it ruins society, or whether a rising class, based on new forms
of production, displaces it.
‘The history of all hitherto existing society
is the history of class struggle’, wrote Marx and Engels at the beginning of The
Communist Manifesto. But the class struggle is precisely the struggle between
those who use the political and ideological institutions of the superstructure
to maintain their power over the productive ‘base’ and exploitation, and those
who put up resistance to them.
The superstructure exists to defend exploitation
and its fruits. Any real fight against the existing structures of exploitation
becomes a fight against the superstructure, a political fight. As Lenin put it,
‘Politics is concentrated economics.’
Marxism does not see political struggle as
simply an automatic, passive reflection of the development of the forces production.
It is economic development that produces the class forces that struggle for control
of society. But how that struggle goes depends upon the political mobilisation
that takes place within each class.
The key role of changes in production
We are now in a position to reassess Engels’
statement that’ various elements of the superstructure… also exercise their influence
on the course of historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining
Under any form of class rule a range of
structures are built to reinforce and institutionalise exploitation. Those in control
these institutions have interests of their own, which influence everything else
which happens in society – including the nature of material production itself.
However, that cannot be the end of the matter,
as the ‘voluntarist’ rendering of Engels’ remarks implies. There is still I question
of where the superstructural institutions themselves come from. And there is the
all-important question of what happens if the superstructure develops in such ways
as to impede the reproduction of its own material base.
Marx insists that simply to assert that everything
in society influences everything – the superstructure the base as well as vice
versa – leads nowhere. He takes the point up in The Poverty Philosophy, his polemic
against Proudhon, written soon after The German Ideology:
‘The production relations of society form
a whole. M Proudhon considers economic relations as so many social phases engendering
one another, resulting one from the other… The only drawback to this method is
that when he comes to examine a single one of these phases, M Proudhon cannot explain
it without having recourse to all the other relations of society; which relations
he has not yet made his dialectical movement engender.’
In his writings Marx points to three different
consequences of such a view of society as an undifferentiated whole, with everything
influencing everything else.
Firstly, it can lead to a view in which
the existing form of society is seen as eternal and unchanging (the view which
Marx ascribed to bourgeois economists, seeing social relations as governed by ‘eternal
laws which must always govern society. Thus there has been history, but there is
no longer any’; it is the view that underlies the barrenness of the modern pseudo-science
of society, sociology).
Secondly, it can lead to viewing the dynamic
of society as lying in some mystical force that lies outside society (Hegel’s
‘world spirit’ or Weber’s ‘rationalisation’).
Thirdly, it can lead to the view that what
exists today can only be grasped in its own terms, through its own language and
ideas, without any reference to anything else (the position of those idealist
philosophers who followed Hegel in 19th century Germany, and of more recent thinkers
like Collingwood, Winch and the ex-Althusserians).
Marx’s way out of this impasse is to locate
the one element in the social whole that has a tendency to cumulative development
of its own. This is the action of humans in working on their environment to get
a living for themselves. Past labour provides the means for increasing the output
of present labour: both material means (tools, machines, access to raw materials)
and new knowledge. But in adopting the new ways of working, humans also adopt new
ways of relating to each other.
These changes will often be so small as
to be barely perceptible (a changed relationship between two people here, an additional
person engaged in a particular labour process somewhere else). But if they continue,
they will bring about systematic molecular change in the whole social structure.
The succession of quantitative changes then has a qualitative impact.
Marx does not deny the possibility of changes
in other aspects of social life. A ruler may die and be succeeded by another with
a quite different personality. People may tire of one game and start playing another.
The accident of birth or upbringing may produce a gifted musician or painter. But
all such changes are accidents. There is no reason why they should lead to cumulative
social change of any sort. They can produce random change in society, but not a
dynamic which moves society in any specific direction.
Material production, on the other hand,
does have a tendency to move in one direction rather than another. Its output is
wealth, the resources that allow lives to be free from material deprivation.
And these resources can be piled up in ever
This does not mean that forces of production
always develop as Kautsky, Plekhanov and, more recently, G A Cohen have claimed.
As we have seen, the clash between new ways of producing and old social relations
is a central feature in history.
Marx noted in The Communist Manifesto that
‘conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form was the first condition
of existence of all earlier industrial classes’. The outcome of the clash between the new and the old did not have to
be the defeat of the old. It could be the stifling of the new. There could be
the ‘mutual destruction of the contending classes’.
‘Regression’ (from more advanced forms of
production to more backward) is far from being exceptional historically. Civilisation
after civilisation has collapsed back into ‘barbarism’ (i.e. agricultural production
without towns) – witness the dead ‘cities in the jungle’ to be found in Latin America,
south east Asia or central Africa; there are several instances of hunter-gatherer
peoples who show signs of once having been horticulturalists (eg some tribes of
the Amazon). It depends upon the particular, historically developed features of any
society whether the new forces of production can develop and the classes associated
with them break through. At one extreme, one can imagine societies which have become
so sclerotic that no innovation in production is possible (with, for instance,
closely circumscribed religious rites determining how every act of production is
performed). At the other extreme, there is modem capitalist society where the be
all and end all of life is meant to be increasing the productivity of labour.
In fact, most human societies have been
somewhere in between. Because human life is harsh, people have wanted to increase
the livelihood they can get for a certain amount of labour, even though certain
activities have been sanctified and others tabooed. Generally speaking, there has
been a very slow development of the forces of production until the point has been
reached where a new class begins to challenge the old. What has happened then has
depended on the balance of class forces on the one hand, and the leadership and
understanding available to the rival classes on the other.
However, even if the development of the
forces of production is the exception, not the norm, it does not invalidate Marx’s
argument. For those societies where the forces of production break through will
thrive and, eventually, reach the point of being able to dominate those societies
where the forces of production have been stifled. Very few societies moved on
from the stage of barbarism to that of civilisation; but many of those that did
not were enslaved by those that did. Again feudal barons and oriental despotic
gentry were usually able to beat back the challenge of urban tradesmen and merchants;
but this did not stop them all being overwhelmed by the wave of capitalism that
spread out from the western fringe of Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.
It did not matter, at the end of the day,
how grandiose or elaborate the superstructure of any society was. It rested on a
‘base’ in material production. If it prevented this base from developing, then
the superstructure itself was eventually doomed. In this sense Engels was right
to say that the ‘economic element finally asserts itself as dominant’.
As a matter of historical fact, the forces
of production did succeed in breaking down and transforming the totality of social
relations in which they grew up.
Base, superstructure and social change
Much of the confusion which has arisen among
Marxists over the interpretation of Marx’s Preface to A Critique of Political Economy
lies in the definition of the ‘base’ on which ‘the legal and political superstructure’
For some people the ‘base’ has, in effect,
been the material interaction of human beings and nature – the forces of production.
For others it has been the social relations within which this interaction occurs,
the social relations of production.
You can justify any one of these positions
if you take particular quotations from the Preface in isolation from the rest of
the passage and from Marx’s other writings. For at one point he talks of the ‘sum
total of these relations of production’ as ‘the real basis on which arises a political
and legal superstructure’. But he says earlier that ‘relations of production… correspond
to a definite form of development of their material productive forces’, and he
goes on to contrast ‘the material transformation of the material conditions of
production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science’ and
‘legal, political, religious, aesthetic, or philosophical forms’. It is the ‘material
productive forces’ which come into conflict with ‘the existing relations of production’.
In fact he is not making a single distinction
in the Critique between ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’. Two distinctions are involved.
There is the distinction between the ‘forces of production’ and the relations of
production. And then there is the distinction between the relations of production
and the remaining social relations.
The reason for the confusion is this. The
‘base’ is the combination of forces and relations of production. But one of the
elements in this combination is ‘more basic’ than the other. It is the ‘forces of
production’ that are dynamic, which go forward until they ‘come into conflict’
with the static ‘relations of production’. Relations of production ‘correspond’
to forces of production, not the other way round.
Of course, there is a certain sense in
which it is impossible to separate material production from the social relations
it involves. If new ways of working do involve new social relations, then obviously
they cannot come into existence until these new social relations do.
But, as we saw above, there are reasons
for assigning priority to the forces of production. Human groups who succeed in
changing the ways they work in order to develop the forces of production will be
more successful than those that don’t. Small, cumulative changes in the forces of
production can take place, encouraging changes in the relations between people
which are just as small but also just cumulative. People change their relations
with each other because they want to produce the means of livelihood more easily:
increasing the means of livelihood is the aim, changes in the social relations of
production the unintended consequence. The forces of production rebel against
the existing relations of production, not the other way round.
So, for instance, if hunter-gatherers decide
to change their social relations with each other so as to engage in horticulture,
this is not primarily a result of any belief that horticultural social relations
are superior to hunter-gatherer social relations; it is rather that they want access
to the increased material productivity of horticulture over hunting and gathering.
In the same way, it is not preference for
one set of relations around the production process rather than another that leads
the burghers to begin to challenge feudal society. It is rather that for this particular
grouping of people within feudalism, the only way to increase their own control
over the means of livelihood (to develop the forces of production under their control)
is to establish new production relations.
Even when the way one society is organised
changes, because of the pressure of another society on it (as when India was compelled
to adopt a European style land tenure system in the 19th century, or when hunter-gatherers
have been persuaded by colonial administrators and missionaries to accept a settled
agricultural life), the reason the pressure exists is that the other society disposes
of more advanced forces of production (which translate into more effective means
of waging war). And the ‘social relations of production’ will not endure unless
they are successful in organising material production – in finding a ‘base’ in
material production – in the society that is pressurised into adopting them. Where
they do not find such a ‘base’ (as with the Ik in Northern Uganda) the result can
even be the destruction of society.
Expansion of material production is the
cause, the social organisation of production the effect. The cause itself can be
blocked by the old form of organisation of society. There is no mechanical principle
which means that the expansion of material production – and with it the changes
in social relations – will automatically occur. But in any society there will be
pressures in this direction at some point or other. And these pressures will have
social consequences, even if they are successfully resisted by those committed
to the old social relations.
The distinction between forces and relations
of production is prior to the second distinction, between ‘economic base’ and
the superstructure. The development of the forces of production leads to certain
changes in the relations of production. These in turn result in changes in the other
relations of society being made, until a whole range of institutions of a non-economic
sort help reproduce existing economic relations (and so resist further economic
The point of these distinctions is to provide
an understanding of how society changes. If the forces of production are static,
then there is no reason why any society should undergo systematic change at all.
The existing social relations will simply tend to reproduce themselves, so that
at most there can be random, accidental changes in the relations of people to each
other. Neither the social relations of production nor the wider social relations
will provide any impetus to the revolutionary social changes that do occur (eg
from societies of small bands to those of settled villages, or from those of medieval
feudal manors to those of advanced industrial capitalist cities).
There is a further confusion in some of
the discussion on forces and relations of production. This concerns what the ‘relations
of production’ are.
At one point in the Preface Marx equates
the social relation of production with property relations. People like Cohen have
given this view a central place in their own accounts of historical materialism.
It seems to me to limit the notion of the
‘social relations c production’ far too much. Much of the power of Marx’s account
of history lies in the way in which it shows how small changes in the forces of
production lead to small, cumulative changes in the social relations arising directly
at the point of production, until these challenge the wider relations of society.
These small changes might involve new property relations, but in many, many important
cases do not.
For instance, an increase in the number of
journeymen working for the average master craftsman in a medieval city is not
change in property relations. But it does change the social relations in the town
in a way which may have very important implications. Similar considerations apply
with many other significant historical developments, from the first planting of
seed by hunter-gatherers to changes in production methods in capitalist countries
To sum up the argument so far. There is
not one distinction in Marx, but two. The forces of production exert pressure on
the existing relations of production. And those in turn come into conflict with
the existing superstructure.
Once this is grasped, it is possible to
deal with the questions which are sometimes raised as to whether particular institutions
belong to the base or the superstructure.
There is a sense in which the questions
themselves are misframed. The distinction between base and superstructure is not
distinction between one set of institutions and another, with economic institutions
on one side and political, judicial, ideological, etc institutions on the other.
It is a distinction between relations that are directly connected with production
and those that are not. Many particular institutions include both.
So, for instance, the medieval church was
a superstructural institution, defending ideologically existing forms of feudal
exploitation. But it acquired such large landholdings of its own that no account
of the economic structure of medieval society can ignore it. In the same way, modern
capitalist states arose out of the need for ‘bodies of armed men’ to protect particular
capitalist ruling classes. But such protection has rarely been possible without
the state intervening directly in production.
In pre-capitalist societies, even the question
of the class people belong to comes to depend upon superstructural factors. The
attempt to preserve existing relations of production and exploitation leads to elaborate
codes assigning every individual to one or other caste or estate. This, in turn,
determines the productive activity (if any at all) open to them. As Marx put it:
‘… when a certain degree of development is reached the hereditary nature of castes
is decreed as a social law’. And ‘in the estate… a nobleman always remains a nobleman, a commoner
a commoner, apart from his other relations, a quality inseparable from his individuality’.
There is a sense in which it is true to
say that only in bourgeois society do there exist ‘pure’ classes – social groupings
whose membership depends entirely upon relations to exploitation in the productive
process, as opposed to privileges embodied in judicial or religious codes. Of course,
these codes had their origin in material exploitation, but centuries of frozen
social development have obscured that fact.
The situation with the capitalist family
is somewhat similar to that of the medieval church or the modem state. It grew up
to preserve and reproduce already existing relations of production. But it cannot
do this without playing a very important economic role (in the case of the working
class family, organising the vast amount of domestic labour that goes into the
physical reproduction of labour power, in the case of the capitalist family defining
the way in which property is passed from one generation to the next).
This has led to attempts to assign it to
the ‘base’ because of its economic role. But the distinction between base and superstructure is a distinction
between social relations which are subject to immediate changes with changes in
the productive forces, and those which are relatively static and resistant to
change. The capitalist family belongs to the latter rather than the former category,
even in its ‘economic’ function of reproducing the labour force.
Changes in the way reproduction is organised
in general follow changes in the way production takes place. The simple fact is
that the ‘forces of reproduction’ do not have the tendency to cumulative change
that the forces of production do. The possible ways of restricting the number of
births hardly changed from the hunter-gatherer societies of 30,000 years ago until
the 20th century – whether these means were used depended not on the sphere of
reproduction at all, but on the sphere of production. (For instance, while a hunter-gatherer
society is forced to restrict the number of births, many agricultural societies
have an interest in as many births as possible.) The material conditions under
which children are reared do change – but as a by-product of material changes taking
place elsewhere in society.
Finally, these considerations also enable
us to dispose of another argument that is sometimes raised – the claim that all
social relations are ‘relations of production’.
All parts of any social structure owe their
ultimate genesis to the realm of production. But what Marx quite rightly emphasised
by talk of the ‘superstructure’ was that, once generated, some parts of the social
structure have the effect of constraining the development of others. The old stand
in contradiction to the new. The old form of organisation of the state, for instance,
rose out of the needs of exploitation at a certain point in history and has continuing
effects on production. But it stands in contradiction to the new relationships
that are continually being thrown up by further developments of production. To
say that all social relations are ‘relations of production’ is to paint a picture
of social development which ignores this important element of contradiction.
Base and superstructure under capitalism
So far this article has been about the relationship
of base and superstructure in general. But there are certain peculiarities about
their relation under capitalism that deserve a brief mention.
First is the peculiar effect of relations
of production on the forces of production. Marx stresses that, for pre-capitalist
societies, the established relations of production tend to retard the forces of
production. Under capitalism, by contrast, the survival of each individual capital
depends upon expanding the forces of production at its disposal more rapidly than
‘The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly
revolutionising the instruments of production and thereby the relations of production
and with them the whole relations of society… Constant revolutionising of production,
uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and
agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.’
Marx holds that the contradiction between
the forces of production and the relations of production still comes to the fore
eventually, but in a quite specific way.
The growth of the social productive forces
of humanity – increased productivity – involves combining ever greater amounts of
past labour to each unit of present labour. Under capitalism this takes the form
of an increase in the ratio of investment to the workforce. Investment grows more
rapidly than the source of all potential profit, living labour. Yet the mainspring
of production in this system is the rate of profit, i.e. the ratio of profit to
The contradiction between the drive to invest
and the low level of profit to sustain investment finds expression, for Marx, in
a growing tendency to stagnation in the system, ever greater disproportions between
the different elements of the economy, and ever deeper economic crises. For those
of us who live in the 20th century, it also means an ever present tendency for economic
competition to turn into military conflict, with the threat of the forces of production
turning into full fledged forces of destruction.
A second difference lies in the way in
which under capitalism there is not only a conflict between the development of economic
relations and non-economic constraints on them, but also a conflict between different
elements of the economy, some of which are seen by Marx as ‘more basic’ than others.
The source of surplus value lies in the realm of production. But growing out of
the realm of production are a whole range of activities to do with the distribution
of this surplus between different elements of the capitalist class – the buying
and selling of commodities, the credit system, the stock market, and so on. These
take on a life of their own in a similar way to the different elements in the political
and ideological superstructure, and that life affects what happens in the realm
of production. Yet, at the end of the day, they cannot escape the fundamental fact
that the surplus they dispose of comes from exploitation at the point of production
– something which expresses itself in the sudden occurrence of cyclical crises.
None of this means that the distinction
between base and superstructure is redundant under capitalism. What it does mean
is that there are even more elements of contradiction in this system than previously.
Analysing these concretely is a precondition for knowing the way the system is
moving and the possibilities of building a determined revolutionary opposition
Superstructure and ideology
What is the relationship of ideas and ideology
to the dichotomy of base and superstructure?
Marx is insistent that ideas cannot be divorced
from the social context in which they arise. He says: ‘Definite forms of social
consciousness correspond to…the economic structure, the real basis’, ‘the mode of
production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life
process in general’, ‘social being… determines… consciousness’ [my emphases].
To understand these strong assertions you
have to understand how Marx sees ideas and language as developing.
Ideas arise, for him, out of the material
interaction of human beings with the world and each other:
‘The production of ideas of conceptions of
consciousness is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the
material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking,
the material intercourse of men appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their
material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language
of politics, laws, morality, religions, metaphysics, etc of a people. Men are
the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc – real active men, as they are conditioned
by the development of their productive forces and the forms of intercourse corresponding
to these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than
conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life process.’
Every idea can be shown to have its origin
in the material activity of humans:
‘We set out from real active men and on
the basis of this we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and
echoes of this life process. The phantoms of the human brain are necessarily sublimates
of men’s material life process, which can be empirically established and which is
bound to material preconditions.’
He implies there are a number of stages in
the development of consciousness. Animals do not possess consciousness; at most
they are immediately aware of fleeting impressions around them. Humans begin to
move beyond this stage of immediate awareness only as they begin to interact socially
with each other on a regular basis, in acting collectively to control their environment.
So he argues that it is only when humans have developed to the stage of ‘primary
historical relations do we find that man also possesses “consciousness”.’
In the process of acting together to get
a livelihood, humans create for the first time a material medium that enables
them to fix fleeting impressions as permanent concepts:
‘From the start the ‘spirit’ is afflicted
with the curse of being ‘burdened’ with matter, which here makes its appearance
in the form of agitated layers of air, sounds, in short in language. Language is
as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness that exits for other
men and for that reason alone it really exists for me personally as well; language
like consciousness only arises from the need, the necessity of intercourse with
Or, as he puts it elsewhere, ‘language is
the immediate actuality of thought’.
Knowledge, then, is a social product. It
arises out of the need for communication, which in turn is a product of the need
to carry out social production. Consciousness is the subjective expression of objectively
existing relations. It originates as consciousness of participation in those relationships.
Its embodiment, language, is a material process which is one of the constituents
of these relationships. ‘Ideas and thoughts of people, then, are ideas and thoughts
about themselves and of people in general…for it [is] the consciousness not merely
of a single individual but of the individual in his interconnection with the whole
Marx’s materialism amounts to this. Mind
is developed upon the basis of matter. It depends for its functioning upon the
satisfaction of the needs of the human body. It depends for the form of its consciousness
upon the real relationships between individuals. The content of the individual
mind depends upon the individual’s material interaction with the world and other
But the human mind cannot simply be reduced
to matter. The individual human being who thinks has the ability to act. The subjective
develops out of the objective, but is still real.
As Marx put it in the first of the Theses
on Feuerbach: ‘The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism is that the
thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of an object of contemplation,
but not as human sensuous activity, not subjectively … Feuerbach does not conceive
human activity itself as objective activity.’
However, if Marx asserts the reality of individual
thought and activity, he also emphasises their limits. Thought arises from activity.
And as soon as the link with activity is broken, thought is seen to lose some of
its content: ‘Man must prove the truth, i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness
of his thinking, in practice.’
So thinking is only ‘real’ in so far as it
has practical application, insofar as it alters the world. There is an objective
reality apart from human awareness. But it is only through their activity that
humans can make contact with this reality, link their consciousness to it ‘The
question of whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a
question of theory but is a practical question… the dispute over the reality or
non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question’.
It is in the coming together of humanity
and the world in activity that both the reality of the world and the truth of
thought are determined.
Marx’s historical materialism does not hold
that will, consciousness and intention play no part in history. Human action is
continually changing the world in which human beings find themselves, and their
relationships with each other.
The mechanical materialist Kautskyite interpretation
of Marxism makes the very mistake Marx himself ascribes to Feuerbach. It fails
to see that history is the history of human activity. But social activity involves
It is human beings with particular ideas
who invent new tools, challenge existing ways of living, organise revolutionary
movements or fight to defend the status quo. The contradictions between the forces
of production and the relations of production, between the base and the superstructure,
find expression in arguments, organised disagreements and bitter struggles between
people. These are part of the real development of society. To deny that is to
present a picture of society in which explosive antagonisms no longer exist.
But consciousness never arises in a void.
It is a subjective link between objective processes. The ideas of any individual
or group develop on the basis of material reality and feed back into that reality.
They cannot be reduced to that reality, but neither can they be divorced from it.
It is this link which enables us to make
sense of Marx’s notions of ‘false consciousness’ and ‘ideology’.
When people are engaged in material practice
they have an immediate awareness of their action and of the part of the world it
impinges on which is unlikely to be false. Unless they are blind or deranged they
know they are digging into the ground or aiming rifles at other people, or whatnot.
At this level their activity and their consciousness coincide. But the content of
this consciousness is minimal. In fact it hardly deserves the name ‘consciousness’
But alongside such immediate awareness
there is always a more general consciousness. This attempts to go beyond that
which people immediately know and to provide some overall conception of the context
they find themselves in. It tells them, for instance, that they are not simply
digging, but are providing themselves with a future livelihood, or that they are
not simply aiming their rifles, but are defending their ‘fatherland’.
There is no guarantee of the ‘truth’ or
‘reality’ of this general consciousness. An economic crisis can mean that, however
hard you dig, you won’t be able to sell the crop you grow and gain a livelihood;
your rifle may be defending the profits of a multinational, not some alleged ‘fatherland’.
Whereas immediate consciousness is part and
parcel of your activity and therefore must be ‘real’ in certain very limited senses,
general consciousness can be no more than a blind accompaniment to activity. In
this sense it finds no expression in the world. It has, in Marx’s words, no ‘this-sidedness’
and no ‘reality’. Or the outcome of the activity it guides is different to what
is expected. Its objective content is different to its subjective content. It is
at best partially ‘real’.
Yet Marx is insistent that even ‘false’
general consciousness originates in real activity. So in criticising one particular
form of ‘unreal’ consciousness, the ‘German’ ideology of idealist philosophy, he
‘The philosophers would only have to dissolve
their language into the ordinary language from which it is abstracted to recognise
it as the distorted language of the actual world and to realise that neither thought
nor language in themselves form a reality of their own, that they are only manifestations
of actual life…
For philosophers one of the most difficult
tasks is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is
the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent
existence, so they had to make language into an independent realm. This is the
secret of philosophical language in which thoughts in the form of words have their
own context. The problem of descending from the world of thoughts to the actual
world is turned into the problem of descending from language to life.’
‘We have seen that the whole problem of
the transition from thought to reality, hence from language to life, exists only
in philosophical illusion.’
Such a view of abstract philosophical thought
leads straight to the contempt for it expressed in the Theses on Feuerbach: ‘Social
life is essentially practical. All the mysteries which mislead theory into mysticism
find their rational solution in human practice and in the contemplation of this
On the face of it, the view he puts forward
is very close to that of philosophers who have denied any possibility of general
philosophical, social or historical notions. Thus the linguistic philosophy of
Wittgenstein claims that all the traditional problems of philosophy arise because
philosophers have taken the concepts of ordinary life and used them out of context.
In a somewhat similar way ‘historicist’
thinkers have insisted that no idea or social practice can be understood outside
the particular historical and cultural context in which it is found; any attempt
at a wider explanation must be false.
But Marx’s view is very different to these.
They see false notions as arising as a result of the strange desire of philosophers
to generalise, of a weird ‘mental cramp’ which afflicts people. And they conclude
that all generalisation is wrong.
Marx, by contrast, sees false generalisation,
the result of the divorce of theory from practice, as itself having material roots.
Only in a society without classes can the general notions develop straight out of
the immediate experiences of people, without distortion. For everyone in society
is then involved in a single, shared cooperative activity.
Ideology and class society
Once there is a division between exploiting
and exploited classes, and, based on that, a growing division between mental and
manual labour, the single practice disintegrates and with it, the possibility of
a single view of the world.
In a class society the social whole is continually
rent asunder by the clash between the development of the forces of production and
the existing relations of production, a clash which finds expression in the struggle
between different social groups.
Different groups will have different practical
aims, some in the preservation of existing social relations, some in their overthrow
so as to allow the development of new social relations based upon new forces of
production. The result is that different sections of society have different experiences
of social reality. Each will tend to develop its own overall view of society,
which will be markedly different to that developed by the others.
Such views are not only accounts of what
society is like. They also serve to bind people together for the practical task
of preserving or transforming society, for each prioritises some sorts of practical
social activity to the detriment of others.
It is only in the minds of certain empiricist
philosophers that description and prescription, fact and value are distinct. What
is ‘good’ or ‘valuable’ from the point of view of one social group and its activity
will be ‘bad’ for another social group. What one section of society sees as essential
to the preservation of social life, because it preserves the existing relations
of production, will be seen as bad by another because it obstructs the development
of new forces of production. Categories which were previously unproblematic, simply
descriptions of what was necessary to maintain society and human life, become
prescriptions expressing the desires of different, opposed groups.
The struggle for social domination between
the different groups is, in part, a struggle by each to impose its view of society,
its way of organising social activity, upon the others. It has to assert that its
notions are ‘true’ and the others ‘false’; or at least to show that the meaning
given by other social groups to their activities can be subordinated to its own
overall visions of the world.
The attempt of philosophers to measure rival
conceptions of the world against a single lodestone of ‘truth’ is pan of this
struggle. They attempt to generalise the experience of a particular class in such
a way as to enable it to dominate the thinking of other classes. But because of
the real contradictions between the experiences and interests of different classes,
this is an endless quest. Any philosophical view can always be countered by another,
since each has roots in the contradictory experiences of material life. That is
why every great philosophy eventually slides into mysticism.
But this does not mean, for Marx, that different
views of the world are equally valid (or equally false). For some provide a more
comprehensive view of society and its development than others.
A social group identified with the continuation
of the old relations of production and the old institutions of the superstructure
necessarily only has a partial view (or a series of partial views) of society as
a whole. Its practice is concerned with the perpetuation of what already exists,
with ‘sanctifying’ the accomplished fact. Anything else can only be conceived as
a disruption or destruction of a valuable, harmonious arrangement. Therefore even
at times of immense social crisis, its picture of society is one of a natural, eternally
recurring harmony somehow under attack from incomprehensible, irrational forces.
Ideology and science
A rising social group, associated with an
advance of the productive forces, has a quite different approach. At first, at
least, has no fear of new forms of social activity which disrupt the old relations
of production and their superstructure along with it. It identifies with and understands
these new forms of activity. Yet at the same time, because it is also in collision
with the old order, it has practical experiences of that as well. It can develop
some sort of view of society which sees how all the different elements fit together,
the forces of production and the relations of production, the base and the superstructure,
the oppressed class and the oppressing class.
Because it has a practical interest in
transforming society, its general ideas do not have to be either a blind commentary
on events or a mysticism aimed simply at preserving the status quo. They can be
a source of real knowledge about society. They can act not just as a banner to
rally people behind, but as a guide to effective action. They can be scientific,
despite their origin in the practice of one social group.
Marx certainly thought this was the case
with classical political economy. Again and again he refers to the ‘scientific’
merit of the writings of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and even of some of the
mercantilist and physiocratic economists who preceded them.
They were ‘scientific’ because they tried
to cut through the superficial appearances of society to grasp the ‘inner connections
between the economic categories – or the hidden structure of the bourgeois economic
system’, ‘to attempt to penetrate the inner physiology of bourgeois society…’
This ‘esoteric’ approach, which looks to
the underlying social reality, is in marked contrast with a simply ‘exoteric’ approach
which takes for granted the existing external social forms. The classical political
economists never succeed fully in breaking with the ‘exoteric’ method, but they
begin to move in that direction, and in doing so lay the basis for a scientific
understanding of the inner structure of capitalism.
Their ability to develop a scientific understanding
is related to the class they identify with – the rising industrial capitalists.
Marx described Smith, for instance, as ‘the interpreter of the frankly bourgeois
upstart’, ‘writing in ‘the language of the still revolutionary bourgeoisie,
which has not yet subjected to itself the whole of society, the state, etc’.
Because the industrial capitalists do not
yet control society, they have to adopt a critical view of its external features,
to seek an objective analysis of the extent to which these features fit in with
the drive to capital accumulation. This leads to the attempt to locate the production
of wealth in the labour process, and to contrast ‘productive’ labour which creates
surplus value with the parasitic functions of the old state, church and so on.
Ideology and the superstructure
The situation changes radically when the
rising class has consolidated its hold. Then it no longer has any use for a revolutionary
critical attitude towards society as a whole. The only practical activity it is
interested in is that which reproduces existing economic and social relations. And
so its ‘theory’ degenerates into attempts to take different superficial aspects
of existing society and present them as if they provided general laws about what
all societies must be like.
For Marx, ‘ideology’ is a product of this
situation. The dominant social class controls the means by which a distinct layer
of people can be freed from physical labour so as to engage in intellectual production.
But, dependent upon the ruling class for their sustenance, these ‘intellectuals’
will tend to identify with it – the ruling class establishes all sorts of mechanisms
to ensure that.
Identifying with the ruling class means
stopping short of any total critique of existing social relations and taking for
granted the form in which they present themselves. The particular aspects of existing
society are then seen as self-sustaining, as lacking any common root in social
So you get a series of separate, self-contained
disciplines: ‘politics’, ‘neo-classical economics’, ‘psychology’, ‘sociology’ and
so on. Each of these treats aspects of a unitary social development as if they occurred
independently of each other. ‘History’ becomes a more or less arbitrary linking
together of events and personages. And philosophy becomes the attempt to overcome
the separation of these disciplines through looking at the concepts they use at
ever greater degrees of remoteness from the world of material production and intercourse.
Such ways of looking at the world are ‘ideological’,
not because they are necessarily conscious apologetics for the existing ruling
class, but because the very way in which they are structured prevents them seeing
beyond the activities and ideas which reproduce existing society – and therefore
also the ruling class – to the material processes in which these are grounded.
They sanctify the status quo because they take the concepts it uses at face value,
instead of-seeing them as transitory products of social development.
‘Ideology’ in this sense is linked to the
superstructure. It plays about with concepts which arise in the superstructure,
seeking to link and derive one from the other, without ever cutting through surface
appearances to look at the real process of social production in which the superstructure
and its concepts arise.
It is the contradictions of such ‘ideological’
arguments that can only ‘be resolved by the descent from language to life’.
But this descent can only be made by thinkers
who identify with a rising class. For they alone are identified with a practice
which puts into question all existing social relations, seeking to criticise what
happens on the surface of society, linking it to underlying relations of material
production and exploitation.
While the thinkers of an established ruling
class are confined to continual elaboration in the realm of ideology, the thinkers
of a rising class can begin to develop a scientific understanding of social development.
Our theory and theirs
A rising class’ thinkers cannot simply
proclaim that they have the truth. They have to prove it.
First, they have to show that they can take
up and develop the insights which the thinkers of earlier rising classes made.
So, for instance, Marx set out in his economic writings not simply to give his explanation
of the workings of capitalism, but also to show how he could complete the work of
classical political economy by solving problems it had set itself without success.
Second, it has to be able to show how the
superficial social features which ideology deals with can be derived from the underlying
social processes it describes. As Marx puts it, it has to be able to derive the
‘exoteric’ from the ‘esoteric’. So a scientific Marxist analysis of any society
has to be able to provide an understanding of the various ideological currents of
that society, showing how they arise out of the real world, expressing certain aspects
of it, but in a distorted way.
Finally, at the end of the day, there is
only one real test of any science: its ability to guide practice. And so arguments
within Marxism itself can only be finally resolved in the course of revolutionary
working class struggle.
A very important point underlies all this
discussion. Not all ideas about society are ‘ideological’. The scientific understanding
which the thinkers of a rising class develop is not. Nor is the immediate awareness
which people have of their actions. This only becomes ‘ideological’ when it is interpreted
through a framework of general ideas provided by an established ruling class. By
contrast, if it is interpreted through the theory of a rising class, it is on its
way to becoming the true self-consciousness of a society.
‘Ideology’ is part of the superstructure
in the sense that it is a passive element in the social process, helping to reproduce
old relations of production. But revolutionary self-consciousness is not. It is
an active element, arising out of people’s material circumstances, but feeding
back into them to change them.
In the real world there are all sorts of
hybrid sets of ideas which lie somewhere in between science and ideology, between
true and false consciousness. People’s experience can be of partial challenges
to the existing society. They gain partial insights into the real structure of
society, but seek to interpret them through piecemeal adjustments to old ideological
Even the output of the ideologies of the
existing order cannot be dismissed out of hand. The worst of them cannot completely
ignore those experiences of the mass of people which challenge the ruling class’s
view of the world: their ideological function means they have, somehow, to try
to prove that those experiences are compatible with the ruling class’s view. So
the worst hack journalists or TV commentators have to recognise that there is opposition
to the ruling class, reporting on strikes, demonstrations and so on, if only to
condemn such struggles and to isolate those involved in them. The worst pulp novelists
have to start from some image of ordinary people’s lives, however distorted, if
they are to find a mass audience. The most reactionary priests are only effective
insofar as they can provide illusory relief to the real problems of their parishioners.
This leads to all sorts of contradictions
within the ruling ideology. Some of its most prominent proponents can be those
who make most efforts to relate to people’s lived experiences. The ideology itself
encourages ‘social scientists’, historians, writers, artists and even theologians
to make enormous efforts to fit empirical observation and experience into their
accounts of reality. But this inevitably leads to contradictory accounts, with
some of the ideologues beginning to question some of the tenets of the established
ideology. Marx recognised that a great writer or artist is able to reflect all
the contradictory experiences that beset people who live in his or her society,
and, in the process to begin to go beyond the limits set by his or her class position.
In a few cases this even leads them to a break with their own class and to identify
with the revolutionary opposition to it.
A scientific understanding of social development
demands a complete break with the whole method of the pseudo-social sciences of
those who defend the existing social order. But that does not mean that we can
neglect the elements of truth that those who practise these disciplines stumble
across. Still less can we ignore the often quite profound grasp of the social
process to be found in certain non-Marxist historians or in great novelists like
Balzac or Walter Scott.
Marxism shows its superiority over bourgeois
thought not by simply treating all bourgeois thinkers with contempt, but rather
by showing that it can encapsulate the advances made by bourgeois thinkers into
its own total view of reality – something which no bourgeois ‘social scientist’
can do and which no bourgeois thinker has attempted since Hegel.
The central role of class struggle
The Marxist approach begins, then, by pointing
to the contradictory ways in which the forces of production and the relations of
production, the base and the superstructure, material reality and people’s ideas,
develop. But none of these contradictions simply resolve themselves, as the mechanical
materialists assert. Their resolution only takes place on the basis of the struggles
of human beings, of class struggles.
Once you have societies divided between
those who produce directly and those who live off a surplus product, any growth
of the productive forces, however slow and piecemeal, leads to a corresponding
change in the objective weight of the different classes in society. And some ways
of developing the productive forces lead to qualitative changes, to new ways of
extracting a surplus, to the embryos of new exploiting and exploited classes (and,
eventually, to the formation of a class that can run society without exploiting
But the new ways of producing always face
resistance from at least some of those whose interests lie in preservation of
the old ways. The advance of every new mode of production is always marked by bitter
class wars (even if, as with the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries,
these ways do not always involve clean breaks between classes, but often complicated,
cross-cutting alliances between the most dynamic section of the rising class and
certain interest groups within the old order). Whether the new ways of producing
break through depends on who wins these struggles. Economic developments are very
important in this. They determine the size of the different classes, their geographical
concentration (and therefore the ease with which they can be organised), their
degree of homogeneity, the physical resources at their disposal.
Such direct economic factors can certainly
create a situation in which the rising class cannot gain a victory, whatever it
does. The objective balance of forces is too powerfully weighted the other way.
But when the objective factors create a situation of near equality of forces for
the rival classes, what come to matter are other factors – the ideological homogeneity,
the organisation and the leadership of the rival classes.
For the mechanical materialist, ideas are
simply an automatic reflection of material being. But in real historical processes
of social transformation it is never that simple.
The institutions of the old ruling class
are continually trying to define the ways in which people throughout society see
themselves and their relations with others. The members of the rising class at
first accept these definitions as the only ones available to them: so for instance,
the early medieval burghers accepted the precepts of medieval Catholicism in their
But the members of a rising class get involved
in practical activity which cannot easily be encompassed by the old definitions.
People begin to do things which the old world view says they should not. The institutions
that enforce the old worldview then threaten punitive action against them.
At this point two options are open. Those
involved in the new forms of activity concede to the pressures on them from the
old order, and the new forms of activity cease. Or they generalise their clash
with the old ideology, developing out of elements of it a new total worldview,
behind which they attempt to rally all those in a similar objective situation to
A new system of ideas is not just a passive
reflection of economic changes. It is rather a key link in the process of social
transformation, mobilising those affected by cumulative small-scale changes in
production into a force whose aim is to change social relations in their entirety.
Take, for instance, the classic debate on
Protestantism and the rise of capitalism. According to opponents of Marxism, like
Max Weber, it was the autonomous ‘non-economic’ development of a new religious ideology
which alone provided the ground in which new capitalist ways of producing could
take root. Puritanism caused capitalism.
According to the mechanical materialists,
it was the other way round. Protestantism was simply a mechanical reflection of
the development of capitalist relations. Capitalism was the cause, Protestantism
was the effect.
Each missed out a vital link in the chain
of historical development. Protestantism developed because some people in a feudal
society began to work and live in ways that are not easily reconcilable with the
dominant ideology of medieval Catholicism. They began to reinterpret some of its
tenets so as to make sense of their new forms of behaviour. But this led to clashes
with the ideological guardians of the old order (the church hierarchy). At this
point a series of figures emerged who tried to generalise the challenge to the old
ideology – Luther, Calvin, etc. Where the challenge was unsuccessful or where
those who made it were forced to compromise (as in Germany, France and Italy),
the new ways of working and living became no more than marginal elements in a continuing
feudal society. But where the challenge was successful (in Britain and the Netherlands)
it liberated the new ways of working and living from the old constraints – it generalised
bourgeois forms of production.
The same relationship holds between the
workers’ struggle under capitalism and the ideas of revolutionary socialism.
Initially, workers try to fit their experience
of fighting back against aspects of capitalism into ideological frameworks that
are bequeathed to them from the past. These frameworks shape the form their struggles
take, so that the struggles are never a simple reflection of material interests.
‘The deadweight of the past hangs like a nightmare on the brain of the living’,
as Marx put it. But the process of trying to interpret their new experiences through
old frameworks creates a tension within the old frameworks, which is only resolved
as people try to change the frameworks.
As Antonio Gramsci put it, ‘The active man
of the masses works practically, but he does not have a clear, theoretical consciousness
of his actions, which is also a knowledge of the world insofar as he changes it.’
So there are ‘two sorts of consciousness’, that ‘implicit in his actions’, and
that ‘superficially explicit, which he has inherited from the past and which he
accepts without criticism’:
“This ‘verbal’ conception is not without
consequences; it binds him to a certain social group, influences his moral behaviour
and the direction of his will in a more or less powerful way, and it can reach
the point where the contradiction of consciousness will not permit any action…
[Therefore] the unity of theory and practice is not a given mechanical fact, but
a historical process of becoming.”
Thus the Chartists of the 1830s and
1840s attempted to come to terms with new experiences through older, radical democratic
notions. But this created all sorts of contradictory ideological formulations.
That was why some of the most popular orators and writers were people like Bronterre
O’Brien, Julian Harvey and Ernest Jones who began to articulate people’s experience
in newer, more explicitly socialist ways.
Marxism itself was not a set of ideas that
emerged fully formed out of the heads of Marx and Engels and then magically took
a grip of the working class movement. The birth of the theory was dependent on a
distillation by Marx and Engels of the experiences of the young workers’ movement
in the years prior to 1848. It has been accepted by workers since then, insofar
as it has fitted in with what struggles were already beginning to teach them. But
its acceptance has then fed back into the struggles to influence their outcome.
The theory does not simply reflect workers’
experience under capitalism; it generalises some elements of that experience
(those of struggling against capitalism) into a consciousness of the system as a
whole. In doing so, it gives new insights into how to wage the struggle and a new
determination to fight.
Theory develops on the basis of practice,
but feeds back into practice to influence its effectiveness.
The point is important because theory is
not always correct theory. There have historically been very important workers’
struggles waged under the influence of incorrect theories:
Proudhonism and Blanquism in France in
the second half of the 19th century; Lassallianism in Germany; Narodnism and even
Russian Orthodoxism in Russia in the years before 1905;
Peronism in Argentina; Catholicism and nationalism
in Poland; and, of course, the terrible twins, social democracy and Stalinism.
In all of these cases workers have gone into
struggle influenced by ‘hybrid’ views of the world – views which combine a certain
immediate understanding of the needs of class struggle with a more general set of
ideas accepting key elements of existing society. Such a false understanding of
society in its totality leads to enormous blunders – blunders which again and again
have led to massive defeats.
In the face of such confusion and such defeats,
nothing is more dangerous than to say that ideas inevitably catch up with reality,
that victory is certain. For this invariably leads to a downplaying of the importance
of combining the practical and the ideological struggle.
The role of the party in history
The other side of the coin to the mechanical
materialists’ downgrading of the ideological struggle has been a tendency for certain
socialist academics to treat the ideological struggle as something quite separate
from practical conflicts. This is especially true of the reformists of the now
defunct Marxism Today and of the Labour left.
But the struggle of ideas always grows out
of struggle in the world of material practice, where ideas have their root, and
always culminates in further such material struggles. It was the everyday activity
of craftsmen and merchants under feudalism which gave rise to heretical, Protestant,
religious formulations. And it was the all too real activity of armies which fought
across the length and breadth of Europe which, at the end of the day, determined
the success or failure of the new ideology.
The new idealists often claim their theoretical
inspiration from Antonio Gramsci, but he was insistent on the connection between
theoretical and practical struggle:
‘When the problem of the relation of theory
and practice arises, it does so in this sense: to construct on a determined practice
a theory that, coinciding and being identified with the decisive elements of the
same practice, accelerates the historical process in act, makes the practice more
homogeneous, coherent and efficacious in all its elements, that is, giving it
the maximum force; or else, given a certain theoretical problem, to organise the
essential practical elements to put it into operation.’
If you want to challenge capitalism’s ideological
hold today, you cannot do so unless you relate to people whose everyday struggles
lead them to begin to challenge certain of its tenets. And if you want to carry
the challenge through to the end, you have to understand that the ideological
struggle transforms itself into practical struggle.
The transformation of practice into theory
and theory into practice does not take place of its own accord. “A human mass does
not ‘distinguish’ itself and does not become independent ‘by itself’ without organising
itself, and there is no organisation without intellectuals, that is, without organisers
A rising class develops a clear set of ideas
insofar as a polarisation takes place within it, and what is, at first, a minority
of the class carrying the challenge to the old ideology through to its logical
At a certain stage in the ideological and
practical struggle that minority crystallises out as a separate ‘party’ (whether
it calls itself that or not). It is through the struggle of such parties that
the development of the forces and relations of production find expression in new
ideas, and that the new ideas are used to mobilise people to tear the old superstructure
apart. In a famous passage in What is to be Done?, Lenin said that ‘political ideas’
are brought to the working class from outside. If he meant that workers played
no part in the elaboration of the revolutionary socialist world view he was wrong. If he meant
that practical experience did not open workers up to socialist ideas he was wrong. But if
he meant to stress that socialist ideas do not conquer the class without the separation
off of a distinct socialist organisation, which is built through a long process
of ideological and practical struggle, he was absolutely right.
The famous discussions of the mechanical
materialists were about the ‘role of the individual in history’. But it
was not the individual, but the party, which became central for the non-mechanical,
non-voluntaristic materialism of the revolutionary years after 1917.
Trotsky explains in his masterpiece, the
History of the Russian Revolution, that revolutions occur precisely because the
superstructure does not change mechanically with every change in the economic base:
‘Society does not change its institutions
as the need arises the way a mechanic changes his instruments. On the contrary,
society actually takes the institutions which hang upon it as given once and for
all. For decades the oppositional criticism is nothing more than a safety valve
for mass dissatisfaction, a condition of the stability of the social structure.’
The ‘radical turns which take place in
the course of a revolution’ are not simply the result of ‘episodic economic disturbances’.
‘It would be the crudest mistake to assume that the second revolution [of 1917]
was accomplished eight months after the first owing to the fact that the bread
ration was lowered from one and a half pounds to three quarters of a pound.’ An
attempt to explain things in these terms ‘exposes to perfection the worthlessness
of that vulgarly economic interpretation of history which is frequently given out
What become decisive are ‘swift, intense
and passionate changes in the psychology of classes which have already been formed
before the revolution’. ‘Revolutions are accomplished through people, although they be nameless.
Materialism does not ignore the feeling, thinking, acting man, but explains him’.
Parties are an integral part of the revolutionary
‘They constitute not an independent, but
nevertheless a very important element in the process.
Without the guiding organisation, the energy
of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston box. But nevertheless,
what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam.’
But parties always involve a subjective element
in the way that economic forces and the formation of classes do not. Parties have
to be organised around certain ideological postulates, and that requires the effort,
activity and argument of individuals.
In Russia in 1917 the contradictions in
material reality could not be resolved without the working class seizing power.
But the working class could not become conscious of that need without a minority
in the class separating itself off from the ideas of the majority. There needed
to be ‘the break of the proletarian vanguard with the petty bourgeois bloc’. Many workers
began to move, under the pressure of events, to make this break. But they were
held back at first from consummating the break because of their own confused ideas:
‘They did not know how to refuse the premise about the bourgeois character of
the revolution and the danger of the isolation of the proletariat’. ‘The dictatorship
of the proletariat was to be inferred from the whole situation, but it had still
to be established. It could not be established without a party’.
The fact that the human material existed
to build a party before 1917 was a result of objective historical developments.
But these developments had to find expression in the activity and ideas of individuals.
And once the revolution started, the activity of the party was not a blind reflection
of reality. True, ‘The party could fulfil its mission only by understanding it’, but that
depended on the ability of different individuals to articulate ideas about the objective
situation and to win party members to them.
This was where, for Trotsky, one individual,
Lenin, did play an unparalleled role. He was ‘needed’ for the party to understand
events and act effectively. ‘Until his arrival, not one of the Bolshevik leaders
dared to make a diagnosis of the revolution.’
He was not a ‘demiurge of the revolutionary
process’, acting on it as an arbitrary element from outside. ‘He merely entered
into the chain of objective historical forces. But he was a great link in that
chain.’ Without Lenin many workers were beginning to grope towards a knowledge of
what needed to be done. But their groping needed to be generalised, to become part
of a new total view of the revolution. ‘Lenin did not impose a plan on the masses:
he helped the masses to recognise and realise their own plan’.
The arguments would have taken place without
him. But there is no guarantee they would have been resolved in a way which would
have enabled the party to act decisively:
‘Inner struggle in the Bolshevik Party was
absolutely unavoidable. Lenin’s arrival merely hastened the process. His personal
influence shortened the crisis.
Is it possible, however, to say confidently
that the party without him would have found its road? We would by no means make
bold to say that. The factor of time is decisive here, and it is difficult in retrospect
to tell time historically.
Dialectical materialism at any rate has
nothing in common with fatalism. Without Lenin the crisis, which the opportunist
leadership was inevitably bound to produce, would have assumed an extraordinarily
sharp and protracted character. The conditions of war and revolution, however,
would not allow the party a long period for fulfilling its mission. Thus it is
by no means excluded that a disoriented and split party may have let slip the revolutionary
opportunity for many years.’
The individual plays a role in history,
but only insofar as the individual is part of the process by which a party enables
the class to become conscious of itself.
An individual personality is a product of
objective history (experience of the class relations of the society in which he
or she grows up, previous attempts at rebellion, the prevailing culture, and so
on). But if he or she plays a role in the way a section of the class becomes conscious
of itself and organises itself as a party, he or she feeds back into the historical
process, becoming ‘a link in the historical chain’.
For revolutionaries to deny this is to fall
into a fatalism which tries to shrug off all responsibility for the outcome of any
struggle. It can be just as dangerous as the opposed error of believing that the
activity of revolutionaries is the only thing that matters.
The point is absolutely relevant today. In
modem capitalism there are continual pressures on revolutionary Marxists to succumb
to the pressures of mechanical materialism on the one hand and of voluntaristic
idealism on the other.
Mechanical materialism fits the life of
the bureaucracies of the Labour movement. Their positions rest upon the slow accretion
of influence within existing society. They believe the future will always be a
result of gradual organic growth out of the present, without the leaps and bounds
of qualitative change. That is why a Marxism which is adjusted to their work (like
that of the former Militant tendency or the pro-Russian wing of the old Communist
Party) tends to be a Kautskyite Marxism.
The voluntarism of the new idealism fits
in with the aspirations of the new middle class and of reformist intellectuals.
They live lives cut off from the real process of production and exploitation, and
easily fall into believing that ideological conviction and commitment alone can
remove from the world the spectres of crisis, famine and war.
Revolutionary Marxism can only survive
these pressures if it can group fighting minorities into parties. These cannot
jump outside material history, but the contradictions of history cannot be resolved
without their own, conscious activity.
 Kàrl Màrx ànd Frådår³ck
Ångåls, Cîllåctåd Wîrks, Prîgråss Publ³shårs, Mîscîw, 1975, Vîl. 6, p. 166.
 Kàrl Kàutsky, Thå
Åcînîm³c Dîctr³nås îf Kàrl Màrx, Lîndîn, 1925, p. 365.
 Kàrl Kàutsky, Vîrläufår
dår nåurån Sîz³àl³smus, Årstår Bànd:Kîmmun³st³schå Båwågungån ³n M³ttålàltår, Bårl³n,
1923, p. 365. Àn Ångl³sh trànslàt³în îf pàrt îf th³s wîrk wàs prîducåd
³n thå 1890s, but ³s v³rtuàlly unîbtà³nàblå tîdày. Th³s ³s unfîrtunàtå, s³ncå
thå wåàknåss ³n Kàutsky’s måthîd d³d nît pråvånt h³m prîduc³ng ³ntåråst³ng
 Kàrl Kàutsky, Åth³cs ànd
thå Màtår³àl³st³c Cîncåpt³în îf H³stîry, Lîndîn, 1906, p. 81.
 L³kå mîst îthår
måchàn³càl màtår³àl³sts, Kàutsky cîuld nît st³ck r³g³dly tî h³s îwn måthîd. Àt
pî³nts hå dîås suggåst thàt humàn àct³v³ty hàs àn ³mpîrtànt rîlå tî plày, às
whån hå suggåsts ³n h³s ³ntrîduct³în tî thå Årfurt Prîgràmmå thàt unlåss
‘sîc³åty shàkås îff thå burdån’ îf ‘thå syståm îf pr³vàtå îwnårsh³p îf thå
måàns îf prîduct³în’ ³n thå wày thàt thå ‘åvîlut³înàry làw’ dåcråås, thå syståm
w³ll ‘pull sîc³åty dîwn w³th ³t ³ntî thå àbyss’. Thå Clàss Strugglå, Ch³càgî,
1910, p. 87.
 Gåîrg³ Plåkhànîv, “Thå
Rîlå îf thå ²nd³v³duàl ³n H³stîry”, ³n Åssàys ³n H³stîr³càl Màtår³àl³sm, Nåw Yîrk,
1940, p. 41.
 Gåîrg³ Plåkhànîv, Fundàmåntàl
Prîblåms îf Màrx³sm, Mîscîw, nd, p. 83.
 ³b³d., p. 80.
 Plåkhànîv, Thå Rîlå îf
thå ²nd³v³duàl ³n H³stîry, îp. c³t., p. 44.
 Wh³ch ³s nît àt àll tî
blàmå Plåkhànîv, whî wàs îftån qu³tå sîph³st³càtåd thåîråt³càlly, fîr thå
crudånåss îf thå Stàl³n³st uså îf h³s wr³t³ngs.
 Låttår îf 25th
 Låttår îf 21/22
Såptåmbår, 1890. Cf. àlsî h³s låttårs tî Schm³dt îf 5th Àugust 1890
ànd 27th Îctîbår 1890, ànd h³s låttår tî Måhr³ng îf 14th
 Såå, fîr ³nstàncå, Å.P.
Thîmpsîn’s v³gîrîus pîlåm³c àgà³nst thå Àlthussår³àns, Thå Pîvårty îf Thåîry,
 ²n Nåw Låft Råv³åw. Nî
3, Mày 1960.
 Såå Thå Pîvårty îf
Thåîry, îp c³t., pp. 251-252.
 Såå, fîr ³nstàncå, h³s
åssày, ‘Råth³nk³ng Chàrt³sm’, ³n Lànguàgå îf Clàss (Càmbr³dgå, 1983).
 Såå, fîr ³nstàncå, Nîràh
Càrl³n’s råmàrk thàt ‘thå d³st³nct³în båtwåån bàså ànd supårstructurå ³s
m³slåàd³ng mîrå îftån thàn ³t ³s usåful’, ³n “²s thå Fàm³ly Pàrt îf thå
Supårstructurå?” ³n ²ntårnàt³înàl Sîc³àl³sm, Vîl. 26; ànd Àlåx Càll³n³cîs’
suggåst³în thàt thå Màrx³st måthîd ³nvîlvås ‘stàrt³ng frîm rålàt³îns îf
prîduct³în ànd tråàt³ng thåm, nît fîrcås îf prîduct³în, às thå ³ndåpåndånt’, Màrx³sm
ànd Ph³lîsîphy, Lîndîn, 1983, p. 12.
 G.À. Cîhån, Kàrl Màrx’s
Thåîry îf H³stîry: à Dåfåncå, Îxfîrd, 1978.
 Såå À. Làbr³îlà, Åssàys
în thå Màtår³àl³st Cîncåpt³în îf H³stîry ànd Sîc³àl³sm ànd Ph³lîsîphy, Ch³càgî,
 V.². Lån³n, Cîllåctåd
Wîrks, Prîgråss Publ³shårs, Mîscîw, Vîl. 38, p. 276.
 Såå thå cr³t³c³sm îf
Trîtsky’s pîs³t³în ³n ²sààc Dåutschår, Thå Prîphåt Îutcàst, pp. 240-247.
 Thå Gårmàn ²dåîlîgy ³n
Màrx ànd Ångåls, Cîllåctåd Wîrks, vîl 5, pp. 31, 41-42. Th³s àrt³clå wàs
wr³ttån us³ng àn îldår trànslàt³în wh³ch ³s màrg³nàlly d³ffårånt ³n plàcås frîm
thàt ³n thå Cîllåctåd Wîrks.
 ³b³d., p. 31.
 Làbr³îlà îp. c³t., p.
 Thå Gårmàn ²dåîlîgy, îp.
c³t., p. 31.
 ³b³d., p. 32.
 ³b³d., p. 35.
 Thåîr³ås îf Surplus
Vàluå, Pàrt ², Mîscîw, nd, p. 280.
 Quîtåd åàrl³år.
 Thå Pîvårty îf
Ph³lîsîphy, îp. c³t., p. 166.
 Thå Cîmmun³st Màn³fåstî
³n Màrx, Ångåls, Lån³n, Thå Åssånt³àl Låft, Lîndîn, 1960, p. 7.
 ³b³d., p. 15.
 Fîr àn åxcållånt àccîunt
îf hîw succåss³vå Brînzå Àgå c³v³l³sàt³îns cîllàpsåd ³ntî ‘dàrk àgås’, såå V.
Gîrdîn Ch³ldå, Whàt Hàppånåd ³n H³stîry, Hàrmîndswîrth, 1948, pp. l34, 135-136,
165. Fîr ‘rågråss³în’ ³n thå Àmàzîn, såå C. Låv³ Stràuss, “Thå Cîncåpt îf
Àrchà³sm ³n Ànthrîpîlîgy” ³n Structuràl Ànthrîpîlîgy, Hàrmîndswîrth, 1968, pp.
 Cf. C Turnbull, Thå
Mîuntà³n Påîplå, Lîndîn, 1974.
 Càp³tàl, Vîl. 1, pp.
 Thå Gårmàn ²dåîlîgy, îp.
c³t., p. 93.
 Th³s ³s thå pî³nt Gåîrg
Lukács màkås ³n H³stîry ànd Clàss Cînsc³îusnåss, Lîndîn, 1971, pp.
 Såå thå br³åf îutl³nå îf
th³s prîcåss ³n L³ndsåy Gårmàn, “Thåîr³ås îf Pàtr³àrchy” ³n ²ntårnàt³înàl
Sîc³àl³sm, Nî. 12.
 Th³s ³s whàt sîmå
pàtr³àrchy thåîr³sts dî, ànd sî dîås Nîràh Càrl³n ³n “²s thå Fàm³ly Pàrt îf thå
Supårstructurå?” ³n ²ntårnàt³înàl Sîc³àl³sm, Nî. 26.
 Nîràh Càrl³n g³vås à lît
îf àttånt³în tî thåså chàngås, but dîås nît cîns³dår whårå thåy îr³g³nàtå. Hår
råfusàl tî tàkå thå càtågîr³ås îf bàså ànd supårstructurå sår³îusly pråvånts
hår frîm dî³ng sî.
 Th³s ³s thå àrgumånt îf
S³mîn Clàrkå, “Àlthussår’s Màrx³sm”, ³n S³mîn Clàrkå åt. àl., Înå D³måns³înàl
Màrx³sm, Lîndîn, 1980, p. 20: ‘Sîc³àl rålàt³îns îf prîduct³în àppåàr ³n
spåc³f³c åcînîm³c, ³dåîlîg³càl ànd pîl³t³càl fîrms.’
 S³mîn Clàrkå ånds up
try³ng tî rålàtå tî such cîntràd³ct³îns by tàlk³ng îf thå ‘åxtånt thàt àny
sîc³àl rålàt³în ³s subsumåd undår thå càp³tàl³st rålàt³îns’. Thå phràs³ng ³s
much mîrå cumbårsîmå thàn Màrx’s îwn ‘bàså’ ànd ‘supårstructurå’, ànd dîås nît
åàs³ly ånàblå înå tî d³st³ngu³sh båtwåån thå cîntràd³ct³îns îf thå càp³tàl³st
åcînîmy ànd îthår ålåmånts îf cîntràd³ct³în thàt åmårgå àt pî³nts ³n thå
cîncråtå h³stîry îf thå syståm. Àll cînfl³cts prîducåd by thå syståm àrå såån
às bå³ng îf åquàl ³mpîrtàncå. Pîl³t³càlly th³s låàds tî à vîluntàr³sm våry
s³m³làr tî thàt îf pîst-Àlthussår³àn³sm.
 Màrx & Ångåls, Thå
Cîmmun³st Màn³fåstî ³n Sålåctåd Wîrks, Mîscîw, 1962, Vîl. 1, p. 37.
 Fîr à much fullår
dåvålîpmånt îf thåså ³dåàs såå my Åxplà³n³ng thå Cr³s³s, Bîîkmàrks, Lîndîn,
 Thå Gårmàn ²dåîlîgy, îp.
c³t., p. 36.
 ³b³d., p. 36.
 ³b³d., p. 43.
 ³b³d., pp. 43-44.
 ³b³d., p. 446.
 ³b³d., p. 83.
 Màrx & Ångåls, Cîllåctåd
Wîrks, Vîl. 5, pp. 3-5.
 Thå d³st³nct³în båtwåån
d³ffårånt fîrms îf cînsc³îusnåss wàs înå îf thå fru³ts îf Gårmàn ph³lîsîphy ànd
³s tî bå fîund ³n thå åàrl³år pàrt îf Hågål, Phånîmånîlîgy îf M³nd. Màrx, îf
cîurså, g³vås à d³ffårånt s³gn³f³càncå tî th³s d³st³nct³în thàn dîås
Hågål. Thå prîblåm îf hîw ³t ³s pîss³blå tî mîvå frîm ‘³mmåd³àtå’ cînsc³îusnåss
tî à truå gånåràl îr ‘måd³àtåd’ cînsc³îusnåss ³s thå cîncårn îf Lukács’
màjîr ph³lîsîph³càl åssày, “Rå³f³càt³în ànd thå Cînsc³îusnåss îf thå
Prîlåtàr³àt” ³n H³stîry ànd Clàss Cînsc³îusnåss, îp. c³t., p. 446.
 Thå Gårmàn ²dåîlîgy, îp.
c³t., p. 446.
 ²b³d, p449.
 Fîr à cîmpàr³sîn båtwåån
Màrx ànd W³ttgånstå³n, såå À. Màc²ntyrå, ‘Bråàk³ng thå Chà³ns îf Råàsîn”, ³n
Å.P. Thîmpsîn (åd.), Îut îf Àpàthy, Lîndîn, 1960, p. 234.
 ² uså ‘h³stîr³c³st’ hårå
³n thå tràd³t³înàl sånså îf à rålàt³v³sm wh³ch sàys thàt thårå àrå nî gånåràl
cr³tår³à îf truth îr fàls³ty, but thàt thå cîrråctnåss îf ³dåàs dåpånds în thå
cîncråtå h³stîr³càl s³tuàt³în ³n wh³ch thåy àrå put fîrwàrd. Th³s ³s, fîr
³nstàncå, thå sånså ³n wh³ch thå tårm ³s usåd by Gràmsc³. ²t ³s nît tî bå
cînfusåd w³th Kàrl Pîppår’s uså îf ³t ³n Thå Pîvårty îf H³stîr³c³sm às à tårm
îf àbuså tî råfår tî v³rtuàlly àny gånåràl àccîunt îf h³stîry.
 Thåîr³ås îf Surplus
Vàluå, Lîndîn, 1951, p. 202.
 Thåîr³ås îf Surplus
Vàluå, Vîl. 1, Mîscîw nd, p. 279.
 ³b³d, p. 291.
 Thå Å³ghtåånth Brumà³rå îf Lîu³s Bînàpàrtå ³n Cîllåctåd Wîrks, Vîl. 11, p. 103.
²t ³s nînsånså fîr pîst-Àlthussår³àns l³kå Gàråth Stådmàn Jînås tî clà³m thàt à
Màrx³st àpprîàch ³nvîlvås àn àttåmpt tî ‘dåcîdå… pîl³t³càl lànguàgå tî råàd à
pr³màl ànd màtår³àl åxpråss³în îf ³ntåråst’, Lànguàgå îf Clàss, îp. c³t., p.
 Àntîn³î Gràmsc³, “Àvr³àmåntî àllî Stud³î dållà F³lîsîf³à dål Màtår³àl³smî Stîr³cî”
³n Màtår³àl³smî Stîr³cî (Tur³n, 1948), trànslàtåd ³n Thå
Mîdårn Pr³ncå, Lîndîn, 1957, pp. 66-67.
Stîr³cî, îp. c³t., p. 38.
 ³b³d., trànslàtåd ³n Thå
Mîdårn Pr³ncå, îp. c³t., p. 67.
 Às hå h³msålf làtår
àdm³ttåd. V.². Lån³n, Cîllåctåd Wîrks, Vîl. 6, p. 491.
 Nîtå h³s cîmmånt ³n
1905, ‘Thå wîrk³ng clàss ³s ³nst³nct³våly, spîntànåîusly, sîc³àl dåmîcràt³c…’,
quîtåd ³n Chr³s Hàrmàn, “Pàrty ànd Clàss” ³n Tîny Cl³ff åt. àl., Pàrty ànd
Clàss, Bîîkmàrks, Lîndîn, 1996.
 Gåîrg³ Plåkhànîv, Thå
Rîlå îf thå ²nd³v³duàl ³n H³stîry, îp. c³t.
 Låîn Trîtsky, H³stîry îf
thå Russ³àn Råvîlut³în, Lîndîn 1965, Pråfàcå tî Vîl. 1, p. 18.
 ³b³d., ²ntrîduct³în tî
Vîls. 2 & 3, p. 510.
 ³b³d., Pråfàcå, p. 8.
 ³b³d., ²ntrîduct³în, p.
 ³b³d., p. 9.
 ³b³d., Vîl. 1, p. 334.
 ³b³d., p. 302.
 ³b³d., p. 343.
 ³b³d, p. 343.
 ³b³d, p. 339.
 ³b³d, p. 343.