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How Did Modern Society Develop?

Engels, Frederick, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. In the Light of the Researches of Lewis H Morgan. With an introduction and notes by Eleanor Burke Leacock, Professor of Anthropology, Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. International Publishers, New York, 1972. Reprinted 1985.

The great classics of Marxism include The Communist Manifesto, Capital, and Origin. The Manifesto may be thought of as a quick overview of modern capitalism, and Capital is a microscopic view of its internal workings. Origin, then, may be seen as a broad historical overview of class society, including its beginningss and insightful speculations about where it is going.

Engels applies the power of historical materialism to the field of anthropology and specifically to the works of Lewis H Morgan. Morgan's Ancient Society sets general stages of human development. Both he and Engels demonstrate that these general stages prevail in all geographical areas and in all that anthropologists had discovered. All of the Leacock's introduction and most of Engels' book detail anthropological findings to show that human social developments, though many and varied, are based on the methods of economic production in force during that stage of development.

A great deal of the evidence examined has to do with the roles of women, which has made this line of investigation even more interesting during these decades of female emancipation. In the first known societies, women were at least the equal of men in all decisions. All concepts of family were based on matriarchal lineage, because that was the only lineage that could be determined. People knew who mothered them, but not their fathers.

Today's progressives ask why how female subjugation came about and why. The answers are clear in this book of historical materialism. We also ask how women can be restored to their former esteemed place in society, and we find the answer here.

P 35 of introduction: "It soon became clear that matriarchy, in the sense of power held by women over men comparable to that later held by men over women, had never existed… it is clear that matrilineal systems gave way to patrilineal systems with the development of exploitative class relations."

Lewis Morgan divided anthropological developments into 2 stages, lower, middle, and upper, of savagery and barbarism. He concerned himself with the advent of the third known stage, civilization, but not with analyzing it. Engels, armed with notes from the then-deceased Karl Marx, clarifies Morgan's work and carries it forward.

In savagery, economic "production" consisted of hunting and gathering food already prepared by nature. There was no accumulation of wealth beyond what could be immediately consumed, and there was no surplus of wealth. Human societies formed gens, or clans, based on matrilineal descent. Group marriage was the common form of cohabitation.

The amazing leap forward that came with the domestication of animals began the stage of barbarism. It was quickly followed by the cultivation of plants. Wealth began to accumulate beyond the immediate needs of its producers. Pairing marriage between co-equal partners was, at first, the common relationship between mothers and fathers.

It was the existence of economic surpluses that brought about trade, extreme divisions of labor, alienation of the producer from his or her product, and their obvious consequences: class society and the subjugation of women. Men, "owners" of the surplus, forced women to become monogamous in order to be sure of their male lineage and make sure that their own heirs would "own" their "property." The old laws and rules governing human society could not withstand the onset of property, and the state became necessary.

Written history began during the upper stage of barbarism, and has made certain to declare its conventions and rules timeless. In fact, it was a stage of human development with both antecedent and replacement. This is the central secret that today's rulers hide: that human history has changed and can be understood; and that it will go on changing and that humanity's future may be studied and understood.

A part of the understanding that comes from Engels' great work is that women have not always been subjugated, and will not always be subjugated in future.

P 98: "The herd is the highest social group which we can observe among animals. It is composed, so it appears, of families, but from the start the family and the herd are in conflict with one another and develop in inverse proportion."

P 99 and throughout the book, Engels points out that many observers' moralistic pronouncements have obscured the simple truths of human development, "In my opinion any understanding of primitive society is impossible to people who only see it as a brothel."

P101 "…for incest is an invention, and a very valuable one, too…"

P103: The Punaluan family "If the first advance in organization consisted in the exclusion of parents and children from sexual intercourse with one another, the second was the exclusion of sister and brother." Engels and Morgan found the Punaluan family the best example to be compared with other forms of savage group marriages.

P103: These changes come about not for religious or thoughtful reasons, but by evolution: "There can be no question that the tribes among whom inbreeding was restricted by this advance were bound to develop more quickly and more fully than those among whom marriage between brothers and sisters remained therule and the law."

P110 Another thing that obscures anthropological knowledge is the effect of those who report new findings. In other words, savage or barbaric practices are obscured when "discoverers" condemn and immediately try to change them. "…and the only question is which will disappear first under European influence, group marriage or the Australian aborigines who practice it."

P113 "One of the most absurd notions taken over from 18th century enlightenment is that in the beginnings of society woman was the slave of man."

P117: This gets repeated quite a lot: "The pairing family is the form characteristic of barbarism, as group marriage is characteristic of savagery and monogamy of civilization."

P118: Engels includes the Old Testament among his examinations of social relations

P119: "Thus on the one hand, in proportion as wealth increased it made the man's position in the family more important than the woman's, and on the other hand created an impulse to exploit this strengthened position in order to overthrow, in favor of his children, the traditional order of inheritance. This, however, was impossible so long as descent was reckoned according to mother right. Mother right, therefore, had to be overthrown, and over thrown it was. This was by no means so difficult as it looks to us today. For this revolution - one of the most decisive ever experienced by humanity-could take place without disturbing a single one of the living members of a gens. A simple decree sufficed that in the future the offspring of the male members should remain within the gens, but that of the female should be excluded by being transferred to the gens of their father. The reckoning of descent in the female line and the matriarchal law of inheritance were thereby overthrown, and the male line of descent and the paternal law of inheritance were substituted for them."

P120 "The overthrow of mother right was the world historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude; she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children."

P121 Slavery was an early product of the division of labor and class society. In many cases, slaves became the largest class in population. Ruling those slaves, of course, became a matter for police, prisons, and other instruments of a state.

P127: "It is the existence of slavery side by side with monogamy, the presence of young, beautiful slaves belonging unreservedly to the man, that stamps monogamy from the very beginning with its specific character of monogamy for the woman only, but not for the man. And that is the character it still has today."

P128 …"this degradation of the women was avenged on the men and degraded them also till they fell into the abominable practice of sodomy and degraded alike their gods and themselves with the myth of Ganymede." As I don't know who Ganymede was, I can't assess whether or not this is a little homophobia in Engels' work.

P128 "…monogamous marriage comes on the scene as the subjugation of the one sex by the other…"

P129 quoting Marx "The first division of labor is that between man and woman for the propagation of children" Engels goes on "And today I an add: The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male. Monogamous marriage was a great historical step forward; nevertheless, together with slavery and private wealth, it opens the period that has lasted until today in which every step forward is also relatively a step backward, in which prosperity and development for some is won through the misery and frustration of others."

P 137 and throughout most of the book. Engels gets down on marriage within class society, "The modern individual family is founded on the open or concealed domestic slavery of the wife, and modern society is a mass composed of thee individual families as its molecules."

P137-8 "Then it will be plain that the first condition for the liberation of the wife is to bring the whole female sex back into public industry, and that this in turn demands that the characteristic of the monogamous family as the economic unit of society be abolished."

Do we not, in 2006, see this process in motion?

P138: "We are now approaching a social revolution in which the economic foundations of monogamy as they have existed hitherto will disappear just as surely as those of its complement --prostitution."

P144: says women caused the advance from group marriage to individual "pairing" marriage. Men caused monogamy.

P146: Morgan predicts further changes in family structure as society progresses.

P174: lamenting some of the equality during barbarism, Engels says: "Production was limited in the extreme, but - the producers controlled their product. That was the immense advantage of barbarian production which was lost with the coming of civilization; to reconquer it, but on the basis of the gigantic control of nature now achieved by man and of the free association now made possible, will be the task of the next generations."

P176 "All revolutions hitherto have been revolutions to protect one kind of property against another kind of property.'

P177: "The plain truth is that for 2,500 years it has been possible to preserve private property only by violating property rights."

P210 in discussion of German evolution: "Slavery no longer paid; it was for that reason it died out."

The fall of these early Greek, Roman, and Germanic societies, Engels affirms, was that slavery reached an end to its productive power, but left behind a legacy in which freedmen felt that hard work was beneath them. Thus, all productive power was lost until, eventually, serfdom came to be the main kind of production.

P219: first kind of money was cattle. He talks a lot about the effects of money.

If someone wanted to skip all the discussions and arguments, they might begin on page 217 and read the last chapter, only 20 pages, for a succinct summary. In fact, most of the conclusions of the entire book are in the following paragraph:

P220 "The increase in production in all branches - cattle raising, agriculture, domestic handicrafts - gave human labor power the capacity to produce a larger product than was necessary for its maintenance. At the same time it increased the daily amount of work to be done by each member of the gens, household community or single family. It was now desirable to bring in new labor forces. War provided them; prisoners of war were turned into slaves. With its increase of the productivity of labor and therefore of wealth, and its extension of the field of production, the first great social division of labor was bound, in the general historical conditions prevailing, to bring slavery in its train. From the first greats social division of labor arose the first great cleavage of society into two classes: masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited."

P221 as for the future: "The emancipation of woman will only be possible when woman can take part in production on a large, social scale, and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time. And only now has that become possible through modern large-scale industry…"

In other words, economic conditions for the emancipation of women have arrived. Only capitalists, who want to pay women less, stand in the way.

P229 "The state is distinguished firstly by the grouping of its members on a territorial basis…. The second distinguishing characteristic is the institution of a public force which is no longer immediately identical with the people's own organization of themselves as an armed power…. In order to maintain this public power, contributions from the citizens are necessary - taxes. These were completely unknown to gentile society.'

P236 "Every step forward in production is at the same time a step backward in the position of the oppressed class…"

He lets Morgan close it out on pg 237, "Democracy in government, brotherhood in society, equality in rights and privileges, and universal education, foreshadow the next higher plane of society to which experience, intelligence and knowledge are steadily tending. It will be a revival, in a higher form, of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes."


Some discussion questions and suggested answers.

Earnest readers take up ORIGIN for which reason(s)?

To the uninquiring mind, Marxism is usually boxed in as a way of condemning present society. But did Marx and Engels actually write much broader scientific works?

1. To condemn capitalism
2. To gather evidence against the ruling class
3. To try to justify women's liberation
4. To try to understand the evolution of human society

Engels did little or no original research in anthropology. How does ORIGIN add anything to our knowledge?

Engels gives credit to many anthropologists, especially Lewis H Morgan, for the original material contained in his work. He also credits notes from Karl Marx. But what did Engels add?

1. He listed all the other work and gave credit fairly
2. He used historical materialism to show that the changes listed had come about for physical reasons
3. He put the other anthropologists' work into the framework that Morgan provided
4. He was the only one to speculate on the future of society

What great motor force drove the changes in society and made them virtually inevitable?

1. Changes in the way goods and services were produced
2. A growing understanding of true religion
3. Rising technology
4. Accumulation of the wisdom of the ages
5. The pressure of growing populations created needs that had to be met

How do the works of Marx and Engels correlate with the theories of Charles Darwin?

How is Engels' attitude toward Darwinism reflected in his statement that "…incest is an invention, and a very valuable one, too…" ?

1. They scientifically debunked and disproved Darwin because he hadn't spoken of incest
2. They confirmed the truth of Darwinism with his theories on incest
3. They ignored Darwin because his theories had nothing to do with their works in economics
4. They said that humanity advanced because some societies made changes that made them stronger than others

Why does Engels focus so much on the status of women in different societies?

A great deal of ORIGIN is about the status of women in previous, present, and future societies. Does Engels have some basic reason, or is it just a matter of his own preferences?

1. Engels clearly likes women better than men
2. Engels is investigating changes, and changes were caused intentionally by women
3. Nearly all of the changes benefited women more than men
4. It all has to do with inheritances from mothers and fathers in different societies

Engels does seem kind of partial to women. At least, he looks forward to their emancipation.

Engels says that the transition from group marriage to pairing marriage was brought about primarily by women, but the transition to modern marriage was men's alone

In the societies examined, women went from high place to almost total subjugation

Right! Children inherited from their mothers when only the matriarchal line was known. Inheritance from fathers was forced on women after the advent of private property.

The three main stages of human development are:

Morgan developed the main stages with subdivisions, and Engels endorsed and used his findings

1. Ignorance, Practical knowledge, and Sublime edification
2. Small group, Growing masses, and Overpopulation
3. Savagery, Barbarism, and Civilization
4. Basic, Industrial, and Technical
5. Stone, Bronze, and Steel

I made these up

If you think population drives improvements, you might have picked this

Right! The stages are based on the prevalent forms of production

If one believes that technology is the main force behind change, this would be a tempting framework.

These categories of tool making are used in some history books, but aren't adequate descriptions of means of production

Why didn't early savages subjugate their women?

In popular cartoons, women are hit over the head and dragged to caves. Does this version make sense? Why would it be so prevalent?

1. Groups of people were barely able to stay alive, every hand was needed
2. Women had no wealth to take over
3. People knew their mothers but not their fathers
4. Women were better at some things than men were
5. All the above

What single development can be said to have brought about the state?

One might also ask what brought about the subjugation of women and the subjugation of some categories of people by others

1. Surplus product
2. The invention of the wheel
3. Overthrow of false gods by the one true God
4. The realization that people can't be trusted to run their own affairs

What characterizes a state?

Simpler societies governed themselves. States arose with the need for governing a society stratified into different classes.

1. A state governs a population within a fixed territory, rather than nomadic wanderers, as some savages were
2. A state has its own public force, such as a police force and/or an army
3. A state taxes its population to pay for its non-producing coercive forces
4. A state tends to rise above the society that produced it
5. All of these

Why is it that most people aren't taught about the advancing stages of human society?

1. Written language began about the same time as class society
2. States, which control education, have a vested interest in claiming to have always been the same
3. Each state is controlled by a ruling class, that controls what people are told
4. All of these

Will women ever be emancipated?

Since the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment in America, many people have begun to refer to "the women's movement" in the past tense. Are we moving away from or toward better treatment of women?

1. Just as changes in production subjugated women, changes in production will free them
2. Women had a better deal than men in antiquity, and men are just now catching up
3. If women keep fighting, they will eventually overcome men and subjugate them
4. Natural differences created the different roles of men and women in society, which will continue as they have been and as they are today

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