the state

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Fri Apr 20 07:16:22 MDT 2001

Philip Ferguson wrote:
> Well, one of the chief characteristics of capitalism *is* the formal
> separation of economic and political power.  Ellen Meiksins Wood deals with
> this quite well, albeit fairly briefly, in 'The Retreat from Class'.

She deals with this "separation" at length in _Democracy against

Chap. 1. The separation of the 'economic' and the 'political' in
Chap. 2. Rethinking Base and Superstructure
Chap. 3. Class as process and relationship
Chap. 4. History or technological determinism?
Chap. 5. History or teleology? Marx versus Weber

Actually, most Marxists have used the base/superstructure metaphor with
reasonable flexibility. It is the bourgeois critics of marxism whose
version of marxism is usually the most dogmatic and inflexible. It is
much easier to refute a mechanical reduction than a living tradition.

And no one should try to interpret State and Revolution without both
putting it in the context of the ongoing political practice in Russia at
the time _and_ against the background of the volume of the collected
works that includes Lenin's commentary on Hegel.

It is also a very serious mistake to confine one's study of the metaphor
only to those texts in which it is explicitly invoked. I strongly urge
Amanda to read carefully Barbara Field's "Slavery, Race and Ideology in
the United States of America" and Strephanie Coontz, _The Social Origins
of Private Life_. Both are essentially studies in "base" and
"superstructure" and neither makes any specific reference to that
metaphor at all.

And of course it has always been difficult, even under capitalism, to
say precisely wher the state ends and the economy begins. Was the
British East India Company part of the economy or part of the State?
Both of course. For some purposes one studies it as an 'economic'
player; for other purposes it is an arm of the British state.


More information about the Marxism mailing list