Dusk Somewhere

Theorem on co-option

Posted at — Jan 12, 2023 by Izzy Meckler

This is just a short note on the idea of “base vs superstructure”. The distinction is often made in Marxism between the economic base and the “superstructure”, which are the “non-economic” forms of life. Now personally I find this model overly simplistic, and prefer the 7 coordinates model where we can talk about the ways that different aspects of society are in relation with each other.

But I think what people usually actually use the model for is an important conclusion, which is valid also in the 7 coordinates perspective. The conclusion is this:

Any institution or social practice created under capitalism which exists long enough, if it does not succeed in eliminating class rule, it will morph in order to be compatible with class rule.

This is almost a tautology. If an institution or social practice remained fundamentally incompatible with class rule, but was still embedded in a class society like capitalism, it would die out eventually. This is what it means to be incompatible.

Any real movement toward communism or working class organization generally will tend to be in conflict with the structures that sustain class rule. Our theorem above therefore explains why, for instance, unions in the US which were perhaps historically a real force capable of meaningful challenge to the system have over time been reduced to a device that helps ensure the smooth functioning of the system itself.