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Biography of a Blunder

Base and Superstructure in Marx and Later

Author(s): Dileep Edara

Book Description

Engaging with a critical analysis of the base and superstructure thesis, regarding which a surprising number of reputed Marxist thinkers betray a perpetual ambivalence – by frequently deploying it in a variety of contexts, but simultaneously airing various reservations about it – this book proposes a radical departure from the presently predominant understanding of it. The popular view of the base as comprising economics, and superstructure as encompassing almost all other spheres of social life, is criticised as “panoramic”, or “panoptic”, or the “extended” version, to which Marx’s rigorously defined base of production relations and superstructure of politico-legal spheres is juxtaposed.

Revisiting Marx’s formulations in his famous 1859 Preface, described here as his purloined letters, the study rehabilitates his restricted version, and upholds its conceptual superiority over its extended avatar that is currently ubiquitous. The substitution of Marx’s restricted version with the widely believed extended version of the thesis is characterised here as a blunder, and this book traces the biography of this blunder, through the intricate and tortuous theoretical developments that traverse a transnational and multidisciplinary territory, constituting the history of Marxism.

The last chapter argues for a paradigm shift, in favour of the mode of production thesis, in order to redeem the holistic vision of Marx. This shift is necessitated by the extenuation of the status of the base and superstructure thesis that results from the restoration of Marx’s restricted version. This chapter grapples with the issues involved in preparing the ground for that shift. It also contends that, although these theoretical shifts are never formulated in a conscious and conclusive manner – as is done here – the best practices in Marxist analyses are always inspired by the methodological implications of the mode of production thesis, and, for this reason, the thesis is claimed to be the “conceptual unconscious of Marxism”.


ISBN-13: 978-1-4438-8810-3
ISBN-10: 1-4438-8810-9
Date of Publication: 25/01/2016
Pages / Size: 375 / A5
Price: £52.99


Dr Dileep Edara currently teaches at Dravidian University, Andhra Pradesh, India, as an Assistant Professor of English. His teaching and research interests include literary theory in general and Marxist literary theories in particular. He holds a BA degree in Philosophy, Economics, and Politics, and received his MA in English Literature from Acharya Nagarjuna University. Having cleared the UGC NET in 2003, he obtained his PhD in 2012 from the Department of English at Hyderabad Central University, for his research on the concepts of base and superstructure. His PhD thesis, on which this book is based, was awarded the Meenkshi Mukherjee Prize for the year 2012–13.