BASE (Greek, βασις [basis]—foundation)—the economic structure of a society, constituting the whole of the historically formed and regular forms of production and the exchange of products (relations of production), which produce the economic system of the society in a diven historical period.
Besides the superstructure, the base is one of the two main theoretical categories that Marx introduced in his lecture on historical materialism, contained in Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie.
The base includes: (a) the relations of production (the right to make use of raw materials, tools, and products of work; (b) the social division of work (the differentiation of people according to whether they directly participate in production (they do physical work), or perform management or administrative functions (they do intellectual work); (c) the means of dividing produced goods and exchanging them among producers.
Marx expressed the main principle of historical materialism in the formula: “Men’s consciousness does not define their being, but on the contrary, their social being defines consciousness”. In keeping with this view, the means of producing goods that function in a given society condition the social, political, and spiritual development of that society. Interdependence so defined forces us to explain why at a similar level of development of productive powers there exist various, often completely opposite, superstructures. To explain this it was necessary to introduce the concept of the “base” as a link between the powers of production and the superstructure. Marx’s social theory states that the powers of production do not have a class character. Therefore at a given stage in their development they may constitute the foundation for different social superstructures. The base ultimately determines what superstructure will develop in a given society.
Marx employed these two categories and also argued for the inevitability of social revolutions. A change in the base occurs prior to a change in the superstructure. A contradiction between the old superstructure and the new base leads to conflict between social classes. Some of them defend the old superstructure, while others represent the new base. This leads to confrontation between antagonistic classes and, in effect, to revolution.
Critics point to the simplifications that Marx held in this conception as he tried to explain how people lived in a given epoch, including social-political institutions, and the functioning ideas, as he considered only the economic conditions. This was supposed to serve the purpose of justifying the thesis concerning the connection of theory with the practice of social life. In this way he wanted to show that the most important human problems can be resolved only by political action. The reductionistic schema Marx held, however, does not explain why the same changes in the base evoke very different changes in the consciousness of different social environments. The continuators of Marxist thought tried to explain this problem by making corrections to Marx’s view on the relation of base and superstructure. They emphasized that there is relative autonomy in the development of the superstructure. The Marxists ultimately had to admit that they could not clearly present how the base influences the superstructure.
K. Marx, Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, [no place of publication indicated] 1859 (Przyczynek to krytyki ekonomii politycznej, [Contribution to a critique of political economy], Wwa 1953, 19662); A. Schaff, Marksizm a jednostka ludzka [Marxism and the human individual], Wwa 1965; É. Gilson, T. Langan, A. Maurer, Recent Philosophy: Hegel to the Present, NY 1966 (Historia filozofii współczesnej [History of contemporary philosophy], Wwa 1979, 55–67); A. Szeptulin, Filozofiya marksizma-leninizma, Mwa 1970 (Filozofia marksizmu-leninizmu [Philosophy of Marxism-Leninism], Wwa 1973); S. Kozyr-Kowalski, J. Ładosz, Dialektyka a społeczeństwo. Wstęp to materializmu historycznego [Dialectics and society. Introduction to historical materialism], Wwa 1972; Z. Cackowski, Główne pojęcia materializmu historycznego [Main concepts of historical materialism], Wwa 1974; L. Kołakowski, Główne nurty marksizmu [Main currents of Marxism], I–III, P 1976–1978; Wobec filozofii marksistowskiej. Polskie doŶwiadczenia, R 1987, Lb 19902.
Robert T. Ptaszek