Base and Superstructure

  • Paul Wetherly


According to the theory of history, the character of the legal and political superstructure is explained by the nature of the economic structure.1 This is a claim of economic determination. But it is, according to Cohen, a restricted claim: the superstructure only includes those non-economic phenomena that are ‘economically relevant’ in the sense of being functional for the economic structure. This means, roughly, only those phenomena that are necessary to stabilise an otherwise unstable structure. Only these phenomena are functionally explained by the nature of the economic structure and so come within the ambit of the theory of history. In the Preface the superstructure is characterised by Marx as ‘legal and political’, and this suggests that the state looms large in its composition, although it does not follow that the entire state system is included in the superstructure. The theory of history in this restricted form is distinguished by Cohen from Marxist sociology which may make wider claims of economic determination, some of which might be functional in character.


Technical Change Productive Force Economic Structure Basic Interest Capitalist Relation 
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Copyright information

© Paul Wetherly 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Wetherly
    • 1
  1. 1.Leeds Metropolitan UniversityUK

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