Base and superstructure

Base and superstructure
   In describing his materialist conception of history Karl Marx suggests that a society is like a building consisting of a foundation on which is erected the more visible structure. The foundation is the economic mode of production, that is the organization and process of economic production. On top of this sits the social and political system. Marx labels these two elements the economic base and the superstructure. The economic base consists of the forces and relations of production and Marx’s theory of historical materialism identifies these as being crucial in conditioning the superstructure. The superstructure consists of the noneconomic aspects of society and includes laws, political and legal institutions, philosophy, religion, morals, culture, and the dominant or prevailing ideas more generally which Marx calls the “social consciousness.” The exact relation between the base and superstructure is unclear and has been disputed by Marxists, some taking a more deterministic or reductionist viewpoint, where the superstructure is seen as secondary and derivative and the economic base as primary and determining, while others have stressed the interaction between the two.
   The imprecision of the metaphor allows for a range of different and conflicting constructions to be placed upon it.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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  • Superstructure —    See Base and superstructure …   Historical dictionary of Marxism

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