(December 7, 2012)
A social formation refers to a society (a social structure at any level such as a nation, city, business, university, or even a family) with all its complexities, as it is historically constituted. It includes all the internal contradictions that exist in a society, all emerging and disappearing tendencies in the economy and superstructure, in the social relationships that comprise these.
One defining element of a social formation is the emerging tendency of mode of production (what is arising vs. what is declining).
It includes all the contradictions between different modes of production, as well as inside specific modes of production, and in new modes of production that attempt to appear or do appear (such as the drug business establishing its own social formation: its own state, military, superstructure, production, distribution) – even when these may be intertwined, to various degrees, with the larger social formation within which it exists.
The concept also refers to all the social classes and the intricate contradictory unity of their relations, which constitute the structure of class struggle and which are detectable by class struggle. This includes the way classes express (politically and ideologically) their concepts for reproduction. Each class has a resistance to its own disappearance and struggles to continue to exist, to reproduce itself.
The reproduction of the relations of production is the key to the historical correspondence between base and superstructure (and the determinant role of production). The forms of reproduction of a social formation influence how the superstructure takes shape—in that the dominant modes of production interact with and affect the superstructure in ways that facilitate their own reproduction. A social formation materially manifested as the totality of the relations of classes at all levels: the relations of production and circulation (including those which are not directly economic but produce an economic effect), and of the superstructure (political, judicial, and ideological relations).
One social formation has a pertinent (external) effect on another, but this impacts the internal dynamic (i.e.: imperialism from outside causes deformed capitalism internally).
There is no general theory that can guide us to understand any particular social formation in itself. It is a very theoretical abstract concept. We need to break away from any approach that tries to define social formation through models or quotations, which is not possible.
Each social formation only exists historically in a concrete form. It must be defined as it is, in its particularity. So far, most analysis is too general, very empirical and abstract. We don’t have any thorough or even adequate analysis of specific social formations.
We can use the methods of historical materialism and dialectics to analyze a social formation. This theory and analysis will necessarily be in a constant mode of production/reproduction, to correspond to the constant development of the social formation it is describing.
These methods will help us understand the historical mode and tendency of a social formation and the historical tendency of classes within it. For example, the national bourgeoisie has a tendency of nationalism; the bureaucratic bourgeoisie has a tendency of nationalism which is different (reactionary)—these need to be understood within their own dynamics.
To define a social formation, we have to understand/appropriate the superstructure—the mode it takes historically at each moment, as it takes shape and reproduces itself (as determined by the mode of production), and how it is affected by class struggle. For example, in understanding the judicial system historically, as it uses legality to reproduce the mode of production, we can see that all laws in the U.S. are against the working class and repress the petit bourgeoisie, in order to guarantee the dominance of the bourgeoisie over the working class.
The above is the definition of a concept. This is not the same as using the concept as a tool to define a particular social formation. That is the next step.
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To define a social formation is, in fact, to define a theory and political line of the working class. It is for the objective of developing a strategic political line and a tactical political line (which will be constantly rectified) of the working class, for the sole purpose of winning political power.
To form a political line, we must understand the U.S. social formation: the classes, class vision, class transfer, superstructure, surplus value creation, forms of exploitation—the tendencies that emerge from the inner and inter-class struggles. In studying these elements, we must be objective and scientific, as they are constantly changing.
The dynamics of a social formation can only be analyzed and appropriated at the revolutionary level.