In one form or another and in varying degrees, Marxists have generally adopted modes of analysis which, explicitly or implicitly, treat the economic ‘base’ and the legal, political, and ideological ‘superstructures’ that ‘reflect’ or ‘correspond’ to it as qualitatively different, more or less enclosed and ‘regionally’ separated sphere.
This is most obviously true of orthodox base-superstructure theories. It is also true of their variants which speak of economic, political and ideological ‘factors,’ ‘levels’ or ‘instances’, no matter how insistent they may be about the interaction of factors or instances, or about the remoteness of the ‘last instance’ in which the economic sphere finally determines the rest. If anything, these formulations merely reinforce the spatial separation of spheres.
Other schools of Marxism have maintained the abstraction and enclosure of spheres in other ways – for example, by abstracting the economy or the circuit of capital in order to construct a technically sophisticated alternative to bourgeois economics, meeting it on its own ground (and going significantly further than Marx himself in this respect, without grounding the economic abstractions in historical and sociological analysis as he did). The social relations in which this economic mechanism is embedded – which indeed constitute it – are treated as somehow external. At best, a spatially separate political power may intervene in the economy, but the economy itself is evacuated of social content and depoliticized. In these respects, Marxist theory has perpetuated the very ideological practices that Marx was attacking, those practices that confirmed to the bourgeoisie the naturalness and eternity of capitalist production relations.
Bourgeois political economy, according to Marx, universalizes capitalist relations of production by analysing production in abstraction from its specific social determinations. Marx’s approach differs from theirs in his insistence that a productive system is made up of its specific social determinations – specific social relations, modes of property and domination, legal and political forms. This does not mean simply that the economic ‘base’ is reflected in and maintained by certain ‘superstructural’ institutions, but that the productive base itself exists in the shape of social, juridical and political forms […]