Base Superstructure Relationship

Following are some of the notes that I took while studying ‘Marx and Engels on Law’ (a selection of the writings of Marx and Engels on Law) that are related with the subject. Forgive me for disorderly language and vague referencing:


Chapter 2: Law in Historical Materialism

‘base/superstructure’ relationship: “guiding thread for my studies”

“Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the young people sometimes law more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to experience the main principle against our adversaries, who denied it”-Engels

Law: “the official recognition of fact”, or “the reflex of the real economic relations”… “Revolutions are not made by law”.


Engels, Letter to J. Bloch: According to materialist conception of history, production and reproduction of real life is the ultimate determining factor, but not the only factors in the development of history. Elements of superstructure also play an instrumental role in historical struggles and determine the particular form in many cases.


Engels, Letter to Conrad Schmidt: Political power can have its effects shown at economic development. Law, a product of production and trade, also has the capacity to react upon these spheres. Law does not only have to be a mere reflection of economic conditions, but must also be coherent expression, which does not contradict itself. The faithful representation by suffers increasingly. Law is rarely a blunt expression of class rule. The ideal to achieve harmony forms an ideological outlook, which in turn influences the economic basis and may, with certain limits, modify it.


Engels, Letter to W. Borgius (Starkenburg): the interaction between base and superstructure “takes place on the basis of economic necessity, which ultimately asserts itself.”


The German Ideology: The impression of legal relations as mysterious and independent is the necessary result of the fact that the real relations, of whom they are the expression, have acquired independent existence over against the individuals, forming of cult of legal concepts (or, legal fetishism) which tend to obstruct the view of the relations of production, the true basis of all real property relations.


Some notes from Chapter 3: Law and Ideology


Engels, Letter to Mehring: False consciousness: ignorance of actual motives: confinement in pure theoretical sphere of thought. “The gentlemen often almost deliberately forget that once a historical element has been brought into the work by other elements, ultimately by economic facts, it also reacts in its turn and may react on its environment and even its own causes.”


Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach: Every ideology, one it has arisen from its economic foundation, develops further, subject to their own laws. “The material life conditions of the persons inside whose heads this though process goes on in the last resort determines the course of this process”—important point.


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