One of the corollaries of Marx & Engels's thesis is that with socialism not only the state will wither away, but the nuclear family will be done with also. Their understanding was that the existence of monogamous relationships, nuclear family, was based only on the needs of the "class" society to transfer wealth to their off spring and the family really does not have any useful function among the working people other than a mechanism for the reproduction of new workers to be exploited. The height of the influence of this idea was reflected in the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s in the West with varied consequences. Complications of the issue of the nuclear family is an ongoing discussion of our modern world, that whether a healthy and functioning nuclear family is indispensable for a socially responsible upbringing and what are the negative and positive influences of this cultural landslide.
Marx saw the nuclear family as merely another instrument of the exploitation in the capitalist society. While there is some rudimentary truth about this outlook but it misses the most important and enduring aspect of the family whether nuclear or other forms. The question is that why did it come to existence? All indications are that contrary to Marx's view, well before the original "deed" of Marx, that is the proliferation of the trade, and well before the dawn of Marx's "class" societies, family has been prevalent in almost all societies. Family was there in the tribal societies. With the establishment of this fact, the modern scientific outlook immediately poses this expectation that there must have been an evolutionary advantage to the emergence of the family within the tribal societies. If it is not the needs of the "class" society as Marx perceived, then what is it. Why did it emerge so much earlier?
I think probably the original role of the family, or maybe I should say at least one of its roles, was its capacity to challenge the views of the status quo through the ages. Family in all its different forms was a boundary to a new internal space. Family was a new space within the tribe and in this space variations to the dominant social ideology or myth could be generated. These "new" ideas were changes that could grow and be fostered from generation to generation. These changes could have been ever slightly different than the dominant blueprint of the social order and could slowly move between families hardly detectable from the controlling myths, or if you will somewhat outside the control of the watchful eyes of the social guardians. The family could have created the boundaries that made the creation of new ideas (variations to the prevailing myths) much easier and their transformation into new prevailing ideas much smoother. Could this be the founding reason for the coming to existence of the family prior to the market place and accumulation of the material wealth?
We know that different forms of family existed way before the disintegration of the tribal societies. But could its existence within the tribal society be because of this property that made change of perception easier and this in turn created stronger societies. Nuclear family, again it had its own variations, was even more advantageous because for its smaller size it created even more boundaries. Tribal forms that did not have this feature either changed because they were overrun by those stronger societies or gradually vanished altogether.
One conceptual parallel to this view of the family is the cells in our bodies. We know that there are constantly changes inside those cells which are variations to the blueprint that makes our body. Some of these changes move from generation to generation and at some point express themselves as new features or become part of the body's blueprint. The family played a similar role, it was a cell within the tribal body, a mechanism for the survival and the evolution of the society. Looking back from this perspective it seems that it must have been also the rudimentary source of democracy. Without the emergence of the nuclear family our democracies could not have come to exist. Primitive "egalitarian" societies were anathemas to democracy. Sitting around a fire after a good day of hunting or food gathering is not a symbol of primitive democracy but it was a gathering place to be nurtured by the prevailing social myth, where there is little room for deviation. If one wants to find examples of ideological programming the primitive societies are the perfect samples, and the family could have been the first crack in that social order. Emergence of democracy requires social complexities and the nuclear family seems to have been one of the building blocks of it.
If my concept of the origin of the family is correct how did it manifest its evolutionary advantage? Where could it have expressed itself? We cannot look for its advantages manifested now as the reason for its emergence. It must have some immediate benefits to the tribes then where the family originated.
The practical advantage of the family probably manifested itself more glaringly during tribal crises, whether from shortage of resources due to the growth of the tribe, natural calamity or setbacks in wars. These events rattled the tribe to its foundation which their belief system, the myths, could not provide an explanation for their predicament. One form of remedy to these crises was the breakup of the tribe into a more sustaining smaller groups. The family borderlines was the most natural boundary lines for this breakup versus the even more primitive tribes that lack of family structures could make the break up more chaotic.
These crises probably brought forth the family differences that were brewing gradually. The calamities could push these difference to flare up openly as challenges to the existing myth and order. Putting forward modification of the myths with a promise for the salvation of the new groups. Existence of these family boundaries made the breakups less chaotic and preserved the survival of a tribe, in a sense into tribes. One can think of it that family was a facilitating mechanism for the reproduction of the tribe. These new smaller tribes each with variations of their existential beliefs, myths, nevertheless had common roots and affiliations. The affiliations and common roots of their myth in the future when things settled down could help with the creation of federations and alliances for mutual security against more far distant alien tribes.
I think this perception of the evolutionary role of the family could also help to explain the erosion of our present day nuclear family. Those boundaries that the family once provided are not needed, or less needed, or they have a more transitory property, to create social complexity. This boundary seems to have been transferred to the individual itself. The individual is the ultimate generator of variations to the culture, our present myth.
Democracy in its essence is the recognition of this individual mental space and structurally it tries to give it as much room as possible and as much autonomy for this mental space to function, what we call freedom. There is no doubt that this also provides the foundation for the strength of the democratic societies. The societies where individuals have their own mental space are the stronger societies. In this context if one wants to see a central role for the nuclear family it has to be to nurture a strong individual, independent minded and socially functional.
It was not too long ago that the family was ruled by a patriarch, ruling like a semi lord until his death. That form of the family in our modern societies is nearly completely eroded and the role of the parents has a transitory function. Parents much easier and earlier in the life of their offspring lose control. I will try to return to this subject at some point. It is fascinating, but let me get back to Marx.
These days Engels's thesis about family and private property is rarely referenced and it is fading away under the barrage of new findings in history and anthropology but its influence has not vanished. There are yet anthropologists who see a matriarchal past, "egalitarian" societies. And then there are others who reject a matriarchal period, but they concede that an "egalitarian" period existed and borrow the same Marxian concepts of relating the family structure and state with the growth of the "class society" and hint about the prospect of another coming of an "egalitarian" society. They generally do the same as Marx has done, projecting back their present perceived moral principles. In this regard categories of exploitation, plunder and class do not have concrete historical meaning. They are the same moral principles in the form of mechanical categories that Marx used to model his historical outlook.
All the anthropological and other scientific findings point away from an "egalitarian" past. What we find is that deeper we peer into our past we find more "violence". Steven Pinker has a good exposition of this concept if you like to read on this. I have "violence" in quotation marks because violence among us has a different meaning. Violence among the civilized western societies means a criminal act which is against the law or goes severely against the moral grain of our societies. Even when it is used against another contending society, as in a war, the principal drive is to see the other society more or less as equal which at some point we have to cease hostilities and reconcile with. The primitive "violence" did not have such a context at all. On the contrary either it was very natural, closer to the animal kingdom where fear was the dominant factor, or it was sanctioned by custom and tradition, it was a pillar of moral strength, openly displayed.
It is in this respect, reverence of violence and its open display, that we could understand the tribal cannibalism. I believe cannibalism was not merely an incidental and "immoral" aspect of our past but was part of our social evolution with its own evolutionary advantages and benefits. In another word we are here because our ancestors lived through a cannibalistic phase. We are descendants of cannibals as horrific as it might sound today, who their acts were their badge of honor. At some point I have to bring together what seems as some disparate assertions in a more cohesive view of our evolutionary past. For now let me stick to the category of the family.
I think that the social complexity created by family within a tribe was evolutionarily beneficial in creating a stronger tribe, first and foremost this strength is the capacity for endurance. But obviously this cannot describe how the family came to existence, its initial introduction. As all evolutionary processes go it could be by chance, trial and error of each tribe dealing with its internal hierarchical structure. Other intermediary structures could have come to existence prior to the creation of the family, secret societies for example. One could think of specific circumstances that aided this process but for one thing from an evolutionary perspective there was enough time, the main ingredient of all evolutionary outcomes, for this specific form to evolve within tribal structures over time. It seems that some hundreds of thousands of years or maybe a million or more years is long enough for a preferred social relationship to evolve.
Whether I am correct or not is another issue but one thing is clear, Marxists notion of tying the family primarily to the need for transfer of wealth and as the reason for its emergence is baseless. This will not deny the fact that family at a later stage was also used for transfer of material wealth as well as it played other functions and it also changed because of these acquired functions.
In any case the nuclear family yet plays an important role in the upbringing of our children and it probably will for the foreseeable future and exploitation is part and parcel of it as it is the case for all of our past social organizations and relations.
The new scientific findings reveal that the primitive tribal hunter gatherer societies are a lot more complex and hierarchical than previously perceived and it is far away from Marxist "primitive communist" concepts. They are not free association of individual hunter-gatherers who get up in the morning, collectively looking for food and then assemble around the camp fire in their compound to consume the fruits of their labor. They are rigid societies with strict rules and customs that one could not diverge from. They are societies that could not tolerate anything beyond the narrow perception of themselves. To emulate those supposedly "egalitarian" societies, or as Marx anticipated the creation of "egalitarian" societies on a higher level of economic productivity, as communism, one only gets societies like the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and North Korea, with shamans of the Marxist varieties at its summit. Any excuses blaming the failure of this experiment on the social and economic context or lack of good leadership only finds its parallel with the excuses of other religions which postpones its success to the coming of their next Messiah or Mahdi.
This is not a fanciful historical parallel. In the traditional religions exploitation is part of our sinful existence and for Marxists it is incidental due to the proliferation of trade. Both tell us of a promise land that this exploitation would cease. Reflection of the same set of belief system, which we know as religion, in a thought process, Marxism, which claimed to be scientific tells us how deeply ingrained these beliefs are. While the left and the right in the U.S. and in the other parts of the world contest each other's belief systems, it is amusing to observe they are simply cousins. They are just split up cousins of the same tribe.
When one takes a distance from the tribal war of the left and the right the facts presents themselves differently. The fact of the matter is that "exploitation" is a fundamental and inseparable part of our existence. As far back as we extend our investigation or as close as we look in ourselves we will find exploitation. To deny that, as Marx did spending his whole life on it, realization of that denial will only make the "exploitation" that much more crude and "plunderous". This denial is the essence of the communist experiment. It is like jumping off a cliff trying an experiment in the denial of the gravity.
Marx was against religion and he called it the "opium of the masses" but his historical perceptions took on a religiosity which turned into an opium of his apostles. It soothed them against the darkness that they see in every evolutionary aspect of our social progress, as any religion does.
The above piece is part of a book that I am developing. If you would like to follow, please read the blogs titled "Perspective..." and then read all the blogs which the title name ends with " -- Book". As you might have guessed, you have to read from the earlier posts moving to the present.