This article considers Cohen’s claim that the economic structure or base can be conceived independently of the superstructure by adressing his attempt to identify “a rechtsfrei (moralitätsfrei, etc.) economic structure to explain law (morals, etc.)”. It examines his programme of presenting relations of production as a set of (non-normative) powers and constraints that ‘match’ the rights and obligations of property relations. It is argued that, first, Cohen does not carry through this programme rigorously but, second, he could not do so, since it cannot be carried out at all. Three arguments are advanced, the first two against the possibility of a determinate ‘objective’ account of such powers and constraints, the third against the possibility of abstracting norms (constitutive and regulative, formal and informal) from contractual relationships: it is argued that one cannot identify the powers and constraints embodied in norm-governed economic relationships independently of the norms which govern them. Alternative interpretations are considered of Cohen’s programme that might escape these objections, but these are rejected as untrue to his purpose, and in any case ineffective. It is concluded that Cohen fails to distinguish base from superstructure in the manner required.