Thursday, September 23, 2010

MacIntyre on Base/Superstructure

MacIntyre's approach to the notorious base/superstructure metaphor in Marx from the 1859 Preface: it's discussed here (part 1) and here (part 2) in his wonderful essay "Notes from the Moral Wilderness". Usually, I am rather ambivalent about the metaphor, since it typically yields more confusion than anything else. It has been seized upon by both "vulgar Marxists" and Stalinists who aimed to ossify and distort Marx, as well as those entirely hostile to Marxism who have no other aim than to refute it (e.g. Popper).

MacIntyre clears the confusion out of the way and present a straight-forward reading of the metaphor that seems dead on:

"... Stalinism rested on a mechanical relation between base and superstructure. But as Marx depicts it the relation between basis and superstructure is fundamentally not only not mechanical, it is not even causal. What may be misleading here is Marx's Hegelian vocabulary. Marx certainly talks of the basis as "determining" the superstructure and of a "correspondence" between them.... What the economic basis, the mode of production, does is to provide a framework within which the superstructure arises, a set of relations around which the human relations can entwine themselves, a kernel of human relations from which all else grows. The economic basis of a society is not its tools, but the people co-operating using these particular tools in the manner necessary to their use, and the superstructure consists of the social consciousness molded by the shape of this co-operation."


Mel said...

just a heads up: the links to MacIntyre's pieces seem to have stopped working

t said...

Thanks, Mel. I think I've fixed the links- they should work now. Let me know if not.