Chapter

Epochal structures I: Reconstructing historical materialism

Donald L. Donham

in History, Power, Ideology

Published by University of California Press

Published in print June 1999 | ISBN: 9780520213371
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520920798 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520213371.003.0003
Epochal structures I: Reconstructing historical materialism

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How is one to understand Marxism? At the outset, it should be emphasized that any answer has to be constructed not only from Karl Marx's works, but from those of his critics. The notion of structure is an indispensable aspect of Marx's social theory. The level of productive powers “determines” the Produktionsverhältnisse, so-called relations of production. Produktionsverhältnisse are “productive inequalities,” which are relationships among groups that place some in materially superordinate positions in relation to others. We are forced to the conclusion that Marx's own reproduction schemata for capitalism include what he called the Überbau or superstructure, and more generally it is precisely the superstructure which allows for and that explains the reproduction of productive inequalities. Building on G. A. Cohen's work, this chapter presents proper interpretations of the key terms of historical materialism, Marx's concepts of “forces of production,” “relations of production,” and “determination.” It also describes the work of Claude Meillassoux. Cohen's distinction between rights and powers remains fundamental for historical materialism.

Keywords: Marxism; historical materialism; Karl Marx; social theory; productive powers; Produktionsverhältnisse; capitalism; superstructure; G. A. Cohen; Claude Meillassoux

Chapter.  16403 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Comparative and Historical Sociology

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