Friday, March 09, 2012

"The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State", a terrible book

Written by Engels, not Marx. It's terrible because Engels puts into it all of the crap floating around in the late 19th century about supposed patterns in the evolution of civilizations, and then tried to pretty up with a 'scientific basis'. The scheme it puts forward is racist, as well as demeaning to the cultures involved, from the terms themselves, i.e. the differences between Savagery and Barbarism, to the notion that the cultures of indigenous peoples are simplistic, inferior products done on the way to glorious European capitalist civilization.

Although I can't get into Marx's head, my intuition is that Marx himself would most likely have criticized Engels' methodology, in that it's not actually scientific. Engels fixates on the idea of stages of civilizations as interesting things in themselves, as opposed to viewing them as forms of social organization that happened to have happened, or changed into one another. Marx was much more careful about these things, as evidenced by some of his writings about pre-capitalist economic formations that analyzed these societies in a way that minimized the current fashions in ideology and instead looked at the economic/material structure of the societies themselves.

Engel's book has done much damage, not only because it reinforced the worst of what was floating around in his time, but because it gave the Soviet authorities a rationale to dominate indigenous and colonial peoples within the Soviet Union on the basis of them being representatives of more primitive civilizations.

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