Anthropology and the Work of Marx and Engels

111e area of study in the social sciences which has gone under the name of anthropology in English-speaking countries has traditionally concentrated on primitive peoples, Anthropology' ns on organized subject goes back to the mid-nineteenth century (Fortes H169:6, following Kroeber) and was closely associated with the study of evolution. Cultural and social anthropology was then concerned with the evolution of human society and culture. Inevitably the early history of anthropology became closely allied to the history of Darwinian evolutionary theory and many controversies which now seem obscure relate to the burning debates surrounding the concept of natural selection. None the less, anthropology soon became an independent academic study, first by amateurs, and later by university researchers. In time, academic anthropology became less directly associated with evolutionary ideas, and it tried to oslublish itself us u rospuctnble, if not conservative, branch of the social sciences. How then did this apolitical, academic subjoct come to ploy such an important part

. in the development of Marxism?

Marx was, as Engels stressed in his funeral oration, first and foremost a revolutionary, and so the importance which he attached to the study of pre-literate peoples, tho tradilional field of anthropology, might at first seem strunge. In fuct, his intense interest, an interest which he passed on to Engels and other revolutionary Marxists, is neither accidental nor peripheral: it is one indication of the difference between Marx's thought and that of other revolutionaries, whether his predecessors or his contemporaries. It is ono indication of why he has had such a unique influence on the history of mankind.

Marx was not the first to denounce tI10 wretched condition of

. the working class in capitalist countries, nor was he the first to point out tho apparent anomaly that those who produced the wealth, the workers, were the poorest while those who were apparently useless drones, the capitalists and their associutes,

Marxism and Anthropology

were the richest. However, he was the first who did not under estimate the power und tho complexity of the svstern which had produced such a stntn of offoirs. Because of this, Mnrx took ns one of his main tasks the undnrstundlng of how this system carne into being, and this WIlS in order to discover why this system hod such power over the minds of those who opera ted it, whether exploiters or exploited. This is what modo Marx so different from his socialist contemporaries. At the somo time as ho was engaged in moro political work, Murx nllompted to rewrite tho history of mankind for the use of the oppressed, so that thoy would be Able to understand the nature of the oppression to which they wero subjected, and how it hod come about. For Marx this historical work was also pnlitlcnl, because lie believed that understanding the workers' condition through tho study of history would enable them Lho bettor to fight it. Anthropology had 0 place in this scheme ~ because for Marx it was tho study of the early history of mankind.

This rewriting of history was not so much a matter of starting again, but of making use, for a new purpose, of knowledge which was already available, whether in the work of philosophers like Hegel, economists like Ricardo, biologists like Darwin, or anthropologists. This new use meant n severe criticism of the earlier knowledge, since Marx believed that tho studies he Was using hod originally been ~ade for exactly the opposite purpose to his; they had been modo m order to justify the oppression which Marx saw as the core of the capitalist systom. This was particularly true, Marx felt, of economists, but he was to show that it was also true

of somo anthropologists. r

Naturally Morx started by explaining the historical mechanism and innor working of tho social syslem which dominated tho condition of the working cluss at the time when ho wrote on capitalism. This is where he devoted most of his energies. However, in order to expose the nature of capitalism, Marx first had to show 018t capitalism is not based on some eternal immutable truth, as presented by economists, but is the product of 0 long history. Fer example, 010 law of supply and demand, us it opera ted in nineteenth-century England, he argues. was not simply a matler of et~rnallogic, nor were such rights as that of private property selfevident truths, but ruther they were the product of particular, historical circumstances. Those circumstunces had brought about the capitalist system and hod also created the concepts on which it was based. In showing capitalism and cnpitalist values 10 be 010

• I

Anthropology and the Work of Marx and Engels


creation of a moment of history Marx nngated the transcendental claim of cnpitalism to he t./ie only possiblo natural system for civilized man, arul in this way challenged the busio precepts of capitalism. Marx's challenge to capitalism therefore took the general form of drnnonslru ling the guncral forces which govern thn history of man, and demonstrating how historical processes produce syatems of institutions and idens of such complexity that their origin can only be disoovered with great theoretical effort and by examination of the historicnl evidence. That is what lod Marx to history and then to anthropology as, in the courso of his • work, ho pushed his Analyses ever further backwards in the evolution of human society. In part Marx sow this task as paralleling what hod been done by Darwin for biological evolution.

In this Mnrx was similar to many of his contempornries, such as Spencer or Comto, but he wns also very different from thorn, for he did not believe that the sarno lows apply to biological evolution as apply to human societies. Above all he differed from them because his purpose was always primarily political.

Because Marx and Engels saw the reanalysis of history and anthropology as on essential port of their political activity, they gave an ever-growing irnportunco to the study and understanding - of pre-capitalist societies. As this work proceeded they began to include discussions of ever-earlier periods, and therefore OlOY moved more and more into the field of anthropology. At first in The German Ideology and The Communist Manifesto, both relatively early works, their interest mainly concentrated on feudalism, the period in European history which comes immediutoly before capitalism. At this stage they hardly mention tribal society. By 1050, however, ten years after Tho Murujesto, their historical horizon had already been pushed further hack. Marx was then preparing 010 elaborate drafts for C(Jpital, which have been published in English under the tille Grundrisse (1973), or Foundations, An important port of which forms II separate book in English under the tillo Pre-Copitoiist Econonuc FOl'U1UtioClS. This contains

a much lengthier and more important consideralion of tribal .. social organization, as well us of classical and oriental societies. From than on, the references to pre-cnpitnlist systems becomo more and more numerous in the work of Marx and Engels, but it was really from 1880 on, when Marx was shown the work of the American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan that he And Engels , gave a major place to lhe study of tribal societies .

•. -- .• "'.~ .. , u .. u 'U1UUUl'UHi~y

" . .,

;:: Marx'. lost throo yoars. and milch of Engels's work from then . 00. almoet BOOm to be domlnatod by anthropological concerns. We . know in part of this Intonsivo study of the work of anthropologists from Marx's notos, published by L. Krader under the title The -. Ethnological Notobooks of Knrll\1ul"x (1972). This work, however .. :~:. cmly really came to fruition in Engels's famous book The Odgin oj

.j. the Fom11y, Privalo Property ami (hn Stute, a book which although .t written after Marx's death was extensively based on his notes.

. ;: . .' 'Ibis book, discussed in detail in the next chapter, follows in part

• the work of Lewis Henry Morgan. II incorporates information about pre-literate society inlo the wider theoretical edifice which Engols and Marx hod boon building all their lives. It is the first Marxist book in which anthropological data predominate. Anthropology thus played a central role in the development of

Marxism but it would be totally misleading to think of Marx and Engels as eorly anthropolugists. This is because the anthropology which they used and reinterpreted was part of a much wider work which wont beyond and across any disciplinary bounrlnrios. Thore is no barrier between Marx's and Engels's anthropology

and their history, nor is there a harrier between their history and anthropology taken together and their politics. In order to understand the significance of the anthropological work they used, therefore, we must ask, what was tho role of this work in the wider

• context of their writings and politics? Why were they interested in those topics which they chose to emphasize, and why did the w~rk of certain authors, especially that of Lewis Henry Morgan, gain such prominence in their thinking?

~n order to answer this lost queslion it is necessary to look briefly at the type of anthropological work available to Marx and Engels at tho lime they were writing.

Marx's and Engels's search for theories of the evolution of society was not dif~icult in the latter half of tho nineteenth contury. ~,. Anthropology had III fact developed as tho science of tha evolution :; of human society and many early anthropological works take the form of natural histories of mnnkind. These histories, it W[1S believed, could be constructed by looking at tho available infor-

.. motion on primitive peoples, PAst and present, whether from ar~IHleologlcal remuins, Irom classical accounts of early institutions, such as those given by Tacitus concerning the Corman tribes of Roman times, or early Greece and Rome themselves or most importantly, from the reports of travellers, explorurs.

Anthropology and the Work of Marx and Engels


colonists, and missionaries, describing contomporurv primitives . These reports amassed in Europo ill evor-incrensing numbers from tho sixteenth century 011. nile of tho first such histories was written by the French writer nud philosopher Montesquieu in the middle of tho eighteenth century limier the lille Tho Spirit of (he Laws. This was on attempt to explain the evolution of iaw in torms of the nature of government, which itself was explained by a variety of other fnclors, such as climate and populalion density . Montesquieu's own work was not entirely new sinco it was based on classical models, but it started a growing tradition boLh in France and in tho othor main centre of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Scotland. From the first, these universal histories represented both scientific advances oIHI political and religious challenges. That was because they tended to imply that beliefs, laws, and principles were not based on eternal unchanging principles but wore aspects of the type of society in which they occurred. Furthermore because these societlos change and evolve it was natura) thnl morals and laws should also change according to Lhe social and economic system. This tradition of writing natural histories of human societies continued to dovelop with individual and idiosyncratic additions throughout the nineteenth century ina number of di£ferent countries.

From 1060 on, however, u drnrnalic increase in tho number of such works occurred; a veritable explosion of major publications took place which owed a groat deal to the excitement aroused by The Origin of Species. It is in the light of these publications and the furore caused by Darwinian evolutionary theories in goneral that Marx's and Engels's historical work on pre-capitalist societies must be seen. Indeed, Marx sow his work vory much in this light and at one lime proposed to dedicate Capital to Darwin, who refused, horrified as he already wns by the religious and political repercussions of what he had written, For Marx, however, these political and roligious implications were what was central. Evolutionary theory gave u natural origin to human institutions instead of the supernntural origin which WIlS tho received and legally sanctioned view ill much of niuetecuth-century Europe, and if institutions and ldeus had 0 natural historical origin Lhey could be changed in changing conditions.

1118 theory of natural selection meant that natural species could be explained in terms of the conditions necessary for their survival, und it seemed 11 small further step to cxplaiuing human

.' ,"

; I

6 Marxism and Anthropoiogy

soclu,l syatarns in such terms; that is, in terms of the WFlyS by whlcn human beings gained their livelihood and reproduced, Thin was vory much the Implication which was drawn from Durwin's work l;~ ~hosg al1th~opoiogi8ls who published immediately aflor The OrJRIn of SPOCiCS, so that they enthusiastically talked of natural selection and the survival of the fittest ill their outlines of human history. Marx's attitude is more complex.

On ~e one hand Marx sow Darwinism as A materiullst explanation of rnan. and ho soughttheorins of tho evolution of human 8ocieti.os which similarly explained tho process in terms of the cha~ng nature of human production and reproduction. This evolution of human socioly could explain what mechanisms had pr~u?~d the ideas, principles, and processes which governed capitalism, why these hod come about. why they had strength and, ultimately, whore their weuknnss was. '

. O~ the other hand, if Marx, like most of the anthropologists of his time, saw the study of human socioty as tho cuntinuation of b!olog~cal evolulion, he did nol, as they did, beliove that human historical processes were the some as UlO processes of natural ~election. ~hroughout his work Marx stresses how different man IS f!om anirnals, b?ca~se ~e acts in terms of ideas and concepts w:hich oro !ormed 1Il his mind, BIId therefore human history is of a differ~nt kind to natural his lory. Murx pours scorn on eighteenthand nlll~tocnth-ceI~tury philosophers, such as the utilitarians, who believed that ideas and values hod lIO real significunon but were a me~e reflection of natural conditions. For Marx, as for I~ego.1 and Kant, the German philosophers who greatly influenced him, Ideas could not bo brushed uside and tho unique character of humans as thinking animals was central to 811" his work. This ?Isant that Marx lind 10 develop n theory which recognized the intellectual nature of man, but which - and in this he was different from Hegel find Kant, who did not believe that there could ullimate!r be. ~ material (~rigin to. ideas -scould account for tne pecwI~r history of mankind and ror the growth of Ideas and their power 10 natural terms.

. The answer which Marx gave to this problem resembles HInt gl~en late~ hy Durkhairn. Marx concludnd llml the purely ubalracl !)}lIlosophlcol deba tes which lind char actorized such discussions, ill Germany, at least, were Iruilless. Rather, Marx argued, tho n?lUre of man could only be revealed by seemg man in sociotv in history. and in politics, There war, IlO puiut in Imagining ~ltim

Anthropology and the Work of Man. and Engels 7

outside of his context, because out of this context 110 was not. in any 1180fu18en90, man.

Marx's altitude to the numerous unlhropologicul wor-ks which came out between 1060 and lUno was therefore in part one of shared enthusiasm for evolutionary theory, but also in part one of suspicion. This suspicion had two causes: he Iell Ihat many of the anthropologists underrated the significance of thought, and secondly he suspected the political motives of at least some of thorn.

In lOGi two hooks were published, both of which influenced Marx ami Engels. The first WLlS a study hy tho British lawyer Sir Henry Maine called Ancient Law. This examines the development of classical and early Indian law in terms of tho famous generalization that law and, by implication, society evolves from 'status to contract'. In early societies relationships between people are governed by such things as their gender, their age, and their family relationships [these Maino called status relations), whilo in more advanced societies they are governed by contractual arrangements which are not concerned with the status of U1OS0 involved, but only with the matter which brings the individuals together. Marx accepted this general point implicitly though ho nowhere discussed it in full (Krnder, 1972:3G) and it was to offer 0 framework to much of his Inter writing. Ile was Jnter to become suspicious of Maino's motives, however, us he was to see in the glorification of contract a subtle justlficu tion of tho legal instilu t ions of capi talisrn, and he was to see in Maine's insistence on the primacy of tile monogamous family on atlempl tn prove that this institution was beyond hislorical change.

In tho same year the Swiss scholar. ). J. Buchofcn, published Dus Mutterrocht, (Mother Right], u hook showing thot matriliny, the treeing oi descent through women, and matriarchy, the dominance of women in society, as wei! as the cult of female goddesses, preceded the pntrlorcbv lind the potriliny we find in Biblical and Classical societies. This idea was accepted with varying degrees of caution by ClInHY nineteenth-century anthropologists and ultimnlelv was wholly endorsed by Engels, who, in tho preface to Iho Fourth odiliou of TIt{) Origill oj tho Fnmily. Private Property and tho Stote, gnvo warm pruiso to Bucholen, Buchofen and Moine were soon followed lJY J. F. Mcl.ennan, a Scotsman whoso work in part coincided with that of Buchcfeu and Maine but which developed much more litH siudy of kinship systems.

Marxism and Anthropology

TIlls focus on kinship had all influence on both Marx om} Engels which culminated in their onthusinaru for Lewis Henry Morgan whose two principnl hooks had a decisive effect on their Inter work.

Morgan was nil American lawyer whose involvement in anthropologicnl llmury wns grrulunl, originnting in his political and ethnographic interest in American Indians. He realized the importance of kinship systems for the Indiana nnd how for them most social relationships were seen in terms of who wus tho child of whom nnrl who wns mnrriod to whom. His fascination with these systematic orderings of socinty by kinship wns such lhnl he undertook a masslve compnrisnn nIHI ulnsslflontion of as many systems of kinship terms as 110 could find from mound Ihe world, terms such as 'cousin', 'uncle', ole. This immense tnsk Iormnd the basis of his first major work: Systems of Consnnquinity nnd Affinity of tho Humnn Fnmily (1070) and WEIS incorpornled in his Inter and much more ambitious book Ancient Society (1077), which eslnblished 0 series of stnges through which mankind was supposed 10 have proceeded. These stages were based on productive technology. For example, hunters and gatherers were placed low while irrigating cull ivators were placed high, then these activities were linked directly with such lnstltutiuns as rules concerning properly, the status of women, tho type of government, nnd the kinship system. In this, Ancient Socinly resembled tho other evolutionary schemes for the history of mankind which we have just noted. However, Ancient Society also differed from earlier work because of the high quality of the scholarly work on which it was based, because of the sympathy of the writer for primitives, and because it not only defined stages but in many cases suggested mechanisms which explained why one stage should change to another.

This Iast clement.' perhaps more than any other, is crucial for understanding why Marx and Engels attached so much more importance to the work of Morgan Ihli)jl thoy did to the work of the other evolutionist anthropologists whom thoy read. Morgan seems to suggest, however tentatively, rousons why one stage should change into another. in the idea thut the processes of evolution themselves lead 10 the destruction of the stages they produced. This theory come close to some of tho centrnl ideas which Marx had developed for cnpitulism,

Marx's exposition of capitalism was not just nn attempt to


Anthropology and tbe Work of Marx and Engels

show its nature and its tompornry chaructnr, it also showed how cnpitalism hus on inlier dynnmic which brings about its developmont, its fruition, and ultimately its dcstructlon. 1.11 of Marx's and Engels's work attempts to isolate dynamic processes implied in the socinl forms which they were studying. Marx argues in many places, but most clearly in tim Preface 10 the Critique of Political Economy, thut the source of Ihe destruction of the capitalist system would come from tho filet thnt the social system which itself had been created in order 10 work the Iactoriea and mnrkels of capitalism would hecome increasingly incompatihle with the technologicnl rnquirnmnnls of these Inotnrios ow! mnrkuls; und thatultimatelylhis iJl(:oIHl'utihility would lead to revolution. This theory was olubornlod ot length by Marx for capitalism but ho also assumed that similar phonomoun would occur in noncnpilnlist systems.

Morgan wos the only one of the nineteenth-century anthropologists who, liko Marx, wns inlerusted in whnt led to tho transformotion of one social system into another, and in what led to the breakup of post systems. The reason Morgan sees for tho passage of society from one stnge to another - and this is what is most stressed by Engels in his restatement of Murgun's theory in The Origin - is 0 social brenk due to the Iuct that tho various subsystems slop working in genr, and como into conflict with ouch other, At such a point, tho system implied hy the tochnologv of production - tho kinship system, the systcrn of property allocation, the political system, and the State -come into contradiction with each other, and in this way lead to tho end of one stage and the appearance of another. For example, when discussing the passage from matriliny to patriliny, Engels (p. 11D) echoes Morgan's formulation in the following way: 'Thus, on the one hand, in proportion as wealth increased (as n result of tho domestication of animals] it mode the man's position in the family more important than the woman's, and on the other hand creotod en impulse to exploit this strengthened position in order to overthrow, in favour of his children, the trudilional order of lnheritance. This, however, was impossible so long as descent was reckoned according to mothor right. Mother right, therefore. had to be overthrown'. Here we have the notion that as the system of technology (the domestication of animals nIH! the Iorruution of herds) develops, it becomes incompatible with the social system, especially the system of i nheritauce and Iamil in} nut horit y. 'l'h is growi Jig iucourpat ibillty,


Marxism and Anthropology

TIlls focus on kinship hud all influence on both Murx and Engels which culminated in thoir oullruslnsm for Lewis Henry Morgan whose two principal hooks hat! a decisive effect on their loter work.

Morgan was IIIl American Inwycr whose involvement in anthropological theory WIIS grndunl, originnting in his polilical and ethnographic interest in American Indians. He realized the importance of kinship systems for the Indians nnd how for them most social relationshtps wore seen in terms of who wns tho child of whom lind who wns runrried 10 whom. His fascination with these systematic orderings of socinly hy kinship wns such lhn! ho undertook a massive comparison nnd clussiflontion of as many systems of kinship terms as ho could find from uround the world, torms such as 'cousin', 'uncle', etc. This immense tusk formed the basis of his Ii rsl major work: Systems of Cons<lllglliJlity nnd Affinity of tho HUlI10n Fumily (1070) nnd WIlS incorporated in his Inter and much more ambitious book Ancient Society (1077), which estnblished a series of stages through which mnnkind WHS supposed to have proceeded. These stages were based on productive technology. For example, hunters and gatherers were placed low while Irrigating cull ivators were placed high, then these activities were linked directly with such institutions as rules concerning property, the status of women, tho type of governmont, and tho kinship system. In this, Ancient Society resembled tho other evolutionary schemes for tho history of mankind which we have just noted. However, Ancient Society also differed from earlier work because of the high quality of the scholarly work on which it was based, because of the sympathy of the writer for primitives, and because it not only defined stages but in many cases suggested mechanisms which explained why one stage should change to another.

This lost elnmont,. perhups more thnn any other, is cruciol for understanding why Marx and Engels attached so much more importance to the work of Morgan th6J/l Ihey did to the work of the other evolutionist anthropologists whom thoy read. Morgan seems to suggest, however tentatively, reasons why one stage should change into another, in the idea thot the processes of evolution themselves lead to the destruction of the stnges they produced. This theory come close to some of the centrul klous which Morx hod developed for cnpitulism,

Marx's exposition of capitalism wns not jllst au attempt to


Anthropology and the Work of Marx and Engels

show its nature and its tompornry chaructnr, it also showed how cnpitolism has on inner dynamic which brings about its development, its fruition, omlullimntoly its destruction. 1.11 of Marx's and Engels's work attempts to isolnle dynamic processes implied in the sociol forms which they were studying. Mnrx argues in many places, but most clearlv in the Prejuce to Ihe Critique of Political Economy, thut the source of the destruction of the cnpitalist system would come from the Inct thnt the social system which itself hod been created in order to work Ihe fuclories und markets of capitalism would become increasingly incompatible with tho technologicnl rcqllirmnents of those factories lind mnrkuts; and that ultimutelyth is incompulihilily would load to revolution. This theory was olubornted ot length by Marx for capitalism hut he also assumed that similar phenomonn would occur in noncapitalist systems.

Morgan was the only one of tho nineteenth-century nnthropologists who, Iiko Marx. wns inlorustrul in whut led 10 tho transformation of one socinl svslem into another. and in what led to the breakup of post systems. The reason Morgan sees for the passage of society from one stage to another - and this is what is most stressed by Engels in his reslnlemcnl of Morgnu's theory in The Origin - is a social breuk duo to the fact that tho various subsystoms stop working in gear, and COllie into conflict with ouch other. At such a point. tho system implied hy the technology of production - the kinship system, the system of property allocation, the political system, and the State - come into contrudiction with each other, and in this way lead to the end of one stage and the appearance of another. For example, when discussing the passage from matriliny to patriliny, Engels [po llD} echoes Morgan's formulation in the following way: 'Thus, on the one hand, in proportion as wealth increased [us u result of tho domestication of animals) it made the man's position in the Iamily more important thon the woman's, and on the other hand created fin impulse to exploit this strengthened position in order to overthrow, in favour of his children, the trnditinnal order of inheritance. This, however, was impossible so long as descent was reckoned according to mothor right. Mother right, therefore, hud to be ovor-thrown'. Here we hove the notion that as the system of technology (the domestication of animnls nnd the formution of herds] dovnlups, it he comes incompatible with the social system, especially the system of inheritance ant] Iam il ia] authority. 'l'h is growi ng i ucumpat ilii lity,

t "


Marxism and Anthropology

or r.ontradiction, then leads to a revolulionnrv chnnge in tho soclal system, in this casu tho chango to luther right, a system which according tn Morgan and Engels wns better adapted to pastoralism.

Engols and Mnr x thorofore HOW in Morgnn's idnns about tho pnssngo from one stnge to another a cunlirrunllun of their gonernl theory of social chang». This is perhaps tho most illlportant reason why Marx and Engels concentroted so much 011 Morgan's work, and by lind largo accepted the main lines of his account of the early history of mankind. Morgan's work offered to Marx and Engels the early history of the processes which lod to lhn creation of capitalism. It nlso onoblod llmm to show llia t the sumo processes had governed history from the earliest time and that a science of history WAS therefore possible. Anthropulogy and the work of Morgan were harnessed to the polilionl tusk of rewriting history.

Thore was another politicnl task to which Hnthropology was put in tho work of Marx, and for this the writings of Morgan also proved particularly oppropriate. The lise of anthropology which we havo already noted con be called histurical. Mnrx and Engels were interested in primitive cultures because thoy wanted to construct u general history and theory of society in order to explain the coming to he of cnpitnIism. The second way in which they use anthropologicoi mn lerial we con coli . rhetorical'. They wanted examples and cases to show that tho institutions of capitalism are historically specific and therefore changeable. in order to demonstrate this they looked Iur examples of institutions which were as different from those of cnpitnlism as possible. In order to find examples of such 011 nntithcuoul stnto of af'lairs they naturally turned to primitive society, as they assumed, like many before and after thorn, thnt lhcso aociulie» would offer iilusimlionn of systems as totally different to thoso they knew as could be found anvwbero. For example, given the great omphosis on the family and monogamy in Victorian Englund they were delighted when they found in the work of nnthropologists a stntnment thnt there had been 80ci~{lics with sexual Iroedom nrul 110 notion of the family. This B8COlId and logicnllv distinct, rhetoricai use of nnlhlhropological material is never completely separate from UIP. historical use, and the mixture of tho two became, as we shall see, the source of many problems,

II 11:e rhotorical use of BnlhropoiGgy inovitnblv involved Marx

nnd Engols in II !WIi rch of lito 11111 hropulogicnl li imllltl!'o for ox-

Anthropology and the Work of Marx and Engels


arnples of oppositas to tho institutions of capilnlism. Siuco their work focused on certain topics it WAS na turnl that thoy particulnrlv looked for evidence rela ling to U18S8 topics, and u~ examples of tho rhotoricol URB of onthropulogy throe such contrnl topics COli bo noted here in 0 preliminnrv wny. 'I'huso urn the relationships existing between people engngod in tho pI'()C(~flS of production, 'the relations of production', property and the family.

Marx's work in Cupitnl is for-used on tho nature of tho social relationship which existed between workers and capitalists: tho CApitalist relations of production. Marx stressed the Apparently impersonal nature of this relation in cupi tulism. It is as iflubour is a thing which comes naturally on the marknt unci then inevitohly is bought unci sold according to the laws of supply find demand. In this way of looking at tho economy, wages seem to be determinod by forcos as inevilnhlo flR mnthomnucs, and if wages wero low this was no.doubt uuforlunntn, but there wns nothing onybody could do about it, Any more thun it would be possible to chnngo tho laws of grovity. Marx's whole work was un attempt to show that this image WBS false; that there was nothing inevitable nhout all this, but rather that this apparent powerlessness of the worker to determine the wage was the product of tho distribution of


property and especially of the distribution of tho ownership of tim

moans necessnry to produce: the ownership of such things as laud, machines. tools, etc. The capi talist system implied a monopoly of these 'means of production' in the bands of tho few, so that the workers hud 110 alternative but to work for the cnpilnlist und on his terms in order to survive. There was nothing inevitable or god given BOOUt this unequal distribution, and it is that which produced the impersonal Ireo labour 1II000ket und tho oxploitntion. The relations of capitalists and workers were Ihurulore lhn product of a specific state of affairs, the ownership of the means of production by the capitalists -8 stale of affairs which lind orison in history and WBS not inevitable, or given in lhe laws of logic.

On8 obvious way of demoIlstrnting lhn! this system WIlS U

I specific historical product W8S to slurw lhul it was not always 1)0, •

II and Marx and Engels turned to hislorv and anthropology to demnnstrntn this. Marx referred throughout his work to oLher

'systems than the capitalist system, especinlfv those which he know from the history of Europe to have preceded capitalism:

I systems such us feudalism, whorn the relnhnu of production WIIS

I churnclorizod by tho porsonnl rnlu Iicu of tlru felldul lord iuul his


Marxism and Anthropology


serf find Ii rnlution of suhordiunlion which camo from tho lord's control of lhn lruul. Similnrly Marx was interustod ill slnvorv lind ill tho classical Indinn lind Chinoso socinl systems, or ill those syslomn whurn tim tins of 1()(!111 conuuunilv 11m nil iIllPOI'IIIIIt. All these nxnmplns ennhhul Murx to show thnt the relalious between those involved ill tho process of prnductiuu cnn he extremely varied and nood not hn tho dnpnrsunullzed cupilulisl ones. Rather Murx mull Engels sought to show how socinl relations 01'0 themsolves the product of the social system ill which they occur, of the way the material conditions of existence ore organized and regulated. II system which is itself the product of history or of the particular stnge of evolution.

It is in this general perspective, aimed at demonstrating the link between the relnlions of prnduction and the naturo of the systems in which they wore loculed. thnt Mnrx and Engels turned to the nvnilnblo nntluopologicnl iufunuution on pre-lilerute people. They assumed thnt since those were the most distant from the capitalist system they would manifest the most different social relations of production. They found confirmation of this in the one Iact that nearly all nineteenth-century anthropologists were agreed upon, thnl whnt chumctcrtzud primitives (if not POI'IIlIps tho I1II1St prirnilive] wns the predominance of kinship tlos ns the organiaing principle of society. III those societies, urgucd tho unthrnpologists, people reln ted 10 ouch olhur lind obligntious to each other, solely because UIOY could t ruce links through parenthood 01' murriage. It is this conclusion, which, with many rnodifications. many nnlhropologists would still accept, which made kinship so important for Marx and Engels. Kinship, they believed, would conlrnst with the relations of production found ill cupilnlist systems. It seemed to Marx thnl nothing could he mnre different lhuu kinship relations ami relations in the labour market. This is because kinship links are strongly morully and socially charged, while those between worker and employer are impersonal. because kinship implies reciprocal rights and duties while the capitalist has all the rights and the worker nil the dillies, heCIIIIS(l kinship links cannot be broken at will while those of the labour market can, and because, as Marx and Engels wrongly helluvod, kinship links are ogalitariun and non-exploi tative; thnt is, they do 1101 involve one group of people living on tho hack of nnother.

This view of kinship as lin opposite 10 capitalist relations of production expluins the vivid interest wilh which Marx and

Anthropology and the Work of Marx and Engels


Engels oxnminnd tho work of such IIl1thl'opologists us Hnchofon. • Mcl.ennnu. and Mui lie, who wurc a II cOIlc(~i'IInd wit h th is topic; but above nil it explains (JII!:!! ngnin why M()I'~(t1i should have boon so important for them, si urn 110 uhnvo a II WIIS the ex port Oil ki nship.

Marx's nud Engels's first cnucern with nuthrupologlcal ruaterinl • WAS therefore to show the varlnlv thut exists in tho nature of sod II I rnlnlinns, nnd the hlsturioul puouliurity of n society where one group of people treat others only in respect of the labour they provide, labour which then cnn he bought and sold ns though it was any other useful nrIicle. The search for countor-oxnmplns led thorn to the history of the Inmily and of the primitive locul com- "I munity which they SAW as kinship based. There, they argued, 'the social structure is ... limited to an extension of the family'.

Hoving reached this ooncluslou Mnrx and Engels then realized lhut if kinship WIIS the system which orgnnized primitive societies, then, kinship in thnso societies hurl to he completely different from what It was in cnpilnlist society. This was because, throughout the work of the founders of Marxism, a contra! idea is that everytiling in capitalism is linked to tho capitalist relations of production, and that therefnre the Inmilv under cnpitulism is a cnpitnlist phenomenon. This WIIS to he demoustrutcd in the same wuy CIS the arbitrnriness of cnpilnl relations uf production hy showing Ihnt in talully dlffurenl svslmns lhu Inrnily WIIS tolnlly diffurnnt.

In the S81l1e way, thorefurn. ns thoy had turned to primitives for finding the opposite of oapitnllst relutious of production, they'" turned to them for a form of Iamily which was the opposite of the capitalist family. They thus found particularly oonguniul the work

of those anthropologists 3111!h us l1aclIof!H1, lind lignin Morgun, who SI1W primitive kinship as ulmost H Iulnl revnrsnl of the family as 1l1OY knew it. They therefore accepted views of early kinship which represented it as a system where women were superior to men, whom sex was uurestrictcd. and where the privacy and isolation of the group formed by parents ami children was replaced by the commonnlity of II much larger undivided group.

Tho third example of tho rhetorical lise of anthropology by Marx and Engels concems a topic linked to rela tions of production and the family: tho nnture of property. Marx's annlvsis of capitalism shows t hut t lin system of nxplni tat i()11 of workers 11Y Cil P itnlists appears inevitable beunuso of n previous cuncentrul iou of the means of production ill tho hlllld~ of thn capitalists, So, as they hod dono with tho rolulions of pruductiun, Murx lind Engels tried


Mnrxlsrn and Anthropology

.,' to ahow that this state of nffnirs was not Inevitable, but the product of 0 specific historionl development. They trior! to show lhnl tho very notion of private property, for from heing uu 'Inalionahlo right' us it was sluted to 1>0 in the American constitution, was, in Iact, itself fl product of cortaln unique economic, technical, and socinl conditions, niul it wus thorefore reasonable to oxpoct that this notion, like others, would be superseded when the assoclated relntions of production changed.

Marx's and Engels's work on pre-cnpilulist systems is largely taken up with showing the indissoluhle link between the type of property and the type of rein tious of production. The demonstration of the evolution and the transformations of types of property is as centro I to their work ns the demonstrntion of the evolution of relntions of production. In the first of their works wh!ch d~nls with this topic nt uny length, Tho Gonnun Ideology, written 1Il 1846, they state on page 43: 'The various stages of development in the division of lnbour ore just so many different forms of ownership, i.e. the existing stage in the division of Inbour determines also U1e relations of individuals to one another with reference to the material, instrument and product of labour.' However, equally importnnt for Mnrx wns tho demonstration of a correlation between privnte property and exploitation.

Exploi~otion for Mnrx is the process by which n group of pooplo nro deprived of tho full vnluo of their labour so that what they have lost becomes 0 surplus for another group who oblain this elemont. Capilulists exploit the workers by depriving thorn of this surplus VU!IW ond. tJ~ey do this because of the nature of property m capitalist societies, where the means of production are controlled by the cupitulisl. In such n situation tho worker is at the mercy of the capitnlist and is therefore exploited.

, This central 1'010 for privoto property has n long histnrv in European thought and goes back to the cightceuth-century notion of the social contract. Such writers as the English philosopher Locke had argued that the security of private property was an esseJ.ltiul pr?requisite for the evolutionary progress of society and mcreasmg huruan hnppiness. He, aud others like him, were answered by Roussenu, who argued that tho social contract which estnblished private property W[lS really the origin of exploits tion 011(1 had to he replaced lry 0 new social contract. Marx in mony woys was tho heir of the tradition which goes bock to Rousseau and much of his work is couceruocl with domonstratmg

Anthropology and the Work of Marx and Engels


why private property equals exploilntion. However, in order to answer those who hurl argued that without privuln property 1/ society WW:l impossible. Marx looked for exumples of n sociotv without private properly, again on opposite society, which would therefore nlso be without exploitatiou. 1'01' this he turned aguin to Morgan. Morgan's work was pnrticularly suitable for this demonstration. In fact, Mnrx and Engels did not have much choice among anthropologists because 1I10st of them wore heirs to the philosophical tradition which went Lock to Locke and which glorified private property. This was not the case with Morgan who seemed to hove been more influenced by tho Rousseauean trodition ond who viewed the institution of private property with some misgivings.

In any case Morgnu's work contained the statement that primitive society was totnlIy without privulo property, yet organized. It gave the best possible example that could be found for 0 rhetorical approach to the question of property. It is eosy, therefore, once ago in, to see why Marx and Engels greeted Morgan's work WiUI such enthusiasm, and in purticular why U18Y took his side in a major controversy that arose in anthropology between him and McLonnnn. Morgen asserted, und Mcl.onnnn deuied, the existence of a first singe of seciety when socinl life was undillerenliuted, whon mnrringo did not exist, and whou nbovo ull, privnto property did not occur. For Marx und Engels tho existence of such n stage, or something like it, seemed essential in ordor tu show fully the purely artlficial and relative nature of both relations of production and private property in capitalism. In other words, Morgan's theories in this field OIICO again fulfilled perfectly the rhetorical requirement for the demonstrntion of n totnlly opposite system to that of nineteenth-century Europe.

Marx and Engels therefore uskcd two things of nnlhropology ..... \· First they looked to it for some confirmulion that the general I princlples of history which they saw at work in capitalism hod always baon operative. Secondly, they looked to anthropology to supply them with examples of contrustive. oven opposite, systorns of institutions to those of niunteonth-ceutury capitnlism. They found material for both these purposes ill the work of many anthropologists, but 011 the wholo the writings of Morgnn seemed best suiled lo this twill tnsk.

Both those purposes are quite legitimate. It stands to renson that if one is claiming to huve discovered uuiversul lusturicul lnws


Marxism and Anthropology

these should apply to very different socioties.H is a sign of Marx's and Engels's iutellectunl courngo that they put these laws to tho lust by ~coillg whether thoy nccordod with what was then known about cody cullurns. I! is 111so porfnctlv valid to use dala nbout uthnr cnllurus to show that. bnCI111Se those cultures work on other principles lhnn tho prinniplns which govern our society. tl:e principles are historically specific und nut universal and unclmngenble.

Thoro is however n prohlum, if olin is trying to do bolh those things nl lhe same time. In tile Iirst caso one is trying In stress lhn unity of human history, in tho olhor, one is trying to show tho diversity and discontinuity of humnn history. This conflict led Marx, and especlnlly Engels, to a disastrous attempt to combine both approaches by nrguiug that there really had been an early stage in human history which wns n mirror Image of cnpltalism.

This er.rly slngo WBS not constructed from proper htstoricnl evidence of nny kind, Bncnuse of its incorporation into tho 'history' of mnnkind it led to tlltlllly fallacious idons which uvnn todny unwillingly mlsleud many Marxists. In this type of mistaken fabrication of early history, by tim construction of an opposite to the present, Marx and Engels wore following many other writers of their time hut, ns we shnll sno, hocnnso of 11111 nature of their theory, this WIlS pnrticulru-ly I III j'(11 Iu I ill their cnse, This curly stoge in the history of mnnkinrl uppouru in The Origi11 as characterized mainly by what it docs not have. In this time there were no individual Iumilies, there was 11(; private property, there WIlS 110 marriage, there W8S no exploilalicn, there was lIU inequality of any kind oven between men and womon, since, before the coming of private property women wuro, if nnythlng, superior. In pointing out Illil! the specific forms d murriugn, Iumily, prnperty, and gender rolntions which existed in their limn hnd nut ulwavs exiated.

. Marx nnd Engels woro completely right, but in arguing posltively that these things were totally absent in primitive society, they were, as we shall see, almost tOially wrong.

The problem with such 0 rnlsreprcscn!a lion wns much more significant thnn [1 mere historical mistake, A mistake could, afler nil, have beun fairly simply corroctud when knowlndgu about these societies improved. The difficulty lay in the fact that whnl characterized their view of primitivn society was that it wos classless and free of exploitntion, while tho Marxist theory of society is built urnuud 11J() itlun of class. As 11 rosull. Marx and

Anthropology and tho Work of Murx and Engels


Engels wore not only wrong about this eur ly stngo in lhu history of mnnkind, hut they nlso ion lhrunsulves uuuhle to doni with it thcoretlcall y.

Marx's theory about what CI1\ISIlS the historicul process has been very widely discussed und we shnll return to it again unci again in this book, hut oven at this stauc n simple uccount of it must be given. Marx believed Ihnt the history of human societies was to he explninerl first of nil hy thn unturo of man us un unirnal who hod lu ohluin n living Irrnn his gnngruphiclII environment, which meant not only staying nlivn, hut also heing nble to look alter one's offspring until they could look after themselves.

Marx, however, realized that tho need to make II living could never directly explain what human beings do, nor could it occount for the complexity of human history itself. This WaS because human beings worked things out in their minds in terms of concepts and mornl rilles, and these concepts find rules wore not things the individunl mode for himself 011 lhe spur of the moment. One con only understand how things arc in tOi'I11S of concepts in the first place, so in a sense the concepts came first since nnlurul conditions only gain signillcnnce in lurms of the wily one has learned to see them. Furthermore the wuy ono sees things, and tho values one holds, oro 110t 1111 iudividuulist mullor, hut something which is shnrod with other pouplo ill n society. Hecuuso of this Marx concluded lhut it WIlS wrong to son ideas und values simply as adaptations of the individual tu naturnl conditions, as some eighteenth- and nineleonth-coutury philosophers seemed to believe. Society always came before the individual nIHI determined what he thought he wanted. This did nnl mean that ideas and values caruu from SOITIO supornuturnl source. hui it did PWIIIl that they como from tho history of 30c:inly, nut tho history of the individual.

Society produces idens and vulues in IJ oomplux historical way which Marx and other Morxists have attempted to do fine. By and large Marx saw two different processes going on side by side. The first process is in pnrt an uspecl of lhe interaction of men grouped together in Ii society and ongllgod iii production. This process lends to concepts, idons, values. 111)(1 iustitulinna, which, ullhough they are nut tho direct result of individual production. are the indirect product of the process of production undertaken I1S a social tusk. Tho second process is nil nspocl of the fuct lhul history also involves the duvelopmenl of oxploilnliun, or Ihe dO!11-



., ,



Marxism and Anthropology

'ination of onn group hy nnother so lhn! the dominant group con approprinto to itself tho surplus vnlue ohtninod from the labour of the othnr, Tho relation of olussus in cupiluliat society is for Mnrx the most obvious axnmplo of this process. The development of exploitntion nlso lends to tho Iorrnntinn of ideas, concepts, values, nnd Institutions, but thoso, uulike those produced hy tim first process. urn goo rod to oporntiug exploitation, ond involvo giving the appou runcn of legitimacy to exploilo lion, as well as hiding its true nature Irom tho exploited. This second process Murx and Engels coli 'idoology'.

Marx ROOS tho process of production of concepts, values, and institutions, RS extremely complex. This complexity explains why tho system of concepts And of values has no direct relationship with the process of production: the two don't fit. This lack of fit is the product of the hiatorlcnl process of clnss Iormntion, unci it also has hisloricnl implications. Mn rx envisages nunuenls when the social system will accord with the technological system: but ut other times it will enter into contradiction with it, leading to revolutionary changes. This continually recurring disharmony Marx attributes to the no lure of class relations. and it is this which produces tho Iorwnrd mOV011l01lt of history.

The key to history and the key to tho way Marx sow the relntionship he tween ideas, vulues, uud the economic processes of production is, therefore, the exploilalivu nature of class rein tions.

As 0 result of the ceulrnl place of class ill Marxist theory, as soon as Marxists argue thnt primitive societies are without class they are left with very little to say about these societies which is in ony way distinctive. As we shnll sec, most of the writings of Marx concerning primitive socielles are of the historioal type and argue that those societies nro c1I1S8 societies. They therefore do not rUJI into this difficulty. For exnmnle, in The Communist Mnnijesto Murx und Engels had written: 'The history of nil hitherto existing society is the history of ChiSS struggles.' But Engels, in Inter editions, nddod a footnote to this sentence stating that this remark does not apply to nil humon history but only to written history.

This wns because hy then he had written The Origin where he hod argued that primitive society WHS clusslcss, on tho evidence he Imd obtninod from Mnrguu. This viuw was the product of the rhetorical use of anthrupolugy musqueruding as history, ami is in foct wrong.

Anthropology and the Work of Marx. and Engels


At 010 same time lhul Engnls argued that primitivu sociotios wore clnsslcss, ho inovitnhly nrgund thut tlte complux und subtle theory of history which ho nnd Mnrx hud developed just did not apply to these societies. He states this quito explicitly in several of his works and in pnrticulnr in The Origin .... This conclusion, ... based on tho fusion between rhetorical ruul historical use of anthropology in Marxism, loft Murxists with nlrnost no adequate analytical tools for dealing with primitive societies. Marx's thoory of chungo WIlS bRsod on the growing contrndictlon that nrose in society between tho Iechuologicnl side of production and tho social systom with which it was Associated. This contrridiclion was due to tile increasing tension between classes. caused by the development of the technology. If primitive societies were classless, this whole process could obvioualy not tnko pluco, and so tho theory of social chango did not apply to them. Similnrly, Marx's theory by which he explniued in purt the historical formation of concepts, ideas, values, and institutions ns 0 result of the legitimation of oxploitntlon, [that is, AS ideology), was iunpplicnblo to societies without exploitation. Again, by having imagined wrongly that primitive societies worn clnssloss, Engels denied Murxists tho US£! of tho gonora I sociologicn I tools w hnich hn d boon developed in Marx's work. As n result many Mnrxiats, including Engels himself, fell bock onto simplo utilitarian explnnntions when thoy wore dealing with those sociulins, ono of tho typos of nxplunution which Marx hod vigorously rejected.

This type of simplistic explonation of primitive societies has dogged Marxist anthropology since Eugels'u lime. III a sense, Marxists stopped being Marxist when thoy turned to primitive society. As a result mnny Marxists hove hod to look outside Marxism to explain primitive societies, so they often imported theories of history from tho untlu-opolugists whom they used us sources. In Inter chuplera 'NO shul] see Murxist writurs borrowing fundamontal theoretical notions, not just from Morgan. out also from others, such as lhe British anthropologist Tylor, and the German anthropologist Ralzel, and taking on these writers' simpleminded theories of history in spite of the Iuct that they were influenced by philosophical positions totally foreign to Marxism. 1110S0 theories seem naive when coiupnred with the nxplunutions Marxlsts reserve for capitalist societies. III Iact lhoy are no more adequate for primitive aociutios lhnn thoy would have heun for any athol's.

Tho hislory of Marxist anthropology siuce The Origin has, us U

';0 Marxlsm sud Anthropology 1 :mlllH, be on tho difficult, painlul, and incomplete recovery of I Mnrxism for pre-capitnlist social fnrrnations, and tho story of this process is whnt wo shuli conaklor in the second half of this bonk. This recovery has been made necessarv because, as we have Boon, the rhetorical nnd hlstoricnl use of authropology got so disastrously mixed up in the work of lhe founders and produced a false picture of the idyllic classless community which was later termed primitive communism and then gel Iurther confused with the type of soclety the Marxists were trying to construct in the future.

2. Marx and Engels on Anthropology

Having seen tho general pluce of anlhrupologicul motorial in Marx's and Engels's writing, we can now look in a little more detnil at parllcular works and their contents. Since the anlhropological material forms an organic whole with the writings of Marx and Engels, and is important for everything they wrote, 0 somewhat arbitrary selection needs to be made of what to examine in detnil. We shall therefore only look 01 some of the writings we could have considered, and concentrate on those works which contain a largo proportion of anthropological discussion.

Tho Gtlrman Ideology, Hl4()

I The Iirat book where Marx and Engels include in their polltical . writings s thorough analvsls of the evolution of socioty and of procapitalist social Inrrnatious is The Cormun Ideology, It WUH a IOIlg . hook which attempted to dorill;; Marx's liiHi Engols's position visI a-viti n wholo rollge of cunlumporurv sncinlist pl.ilosophors. It wns I not in fact published during Murx'u or Engels's lifetimo.

I Only the first part of this work is much wad nowadays and that ! is what is discussed bore. The Germon IdiJ()lugy is afton seen with i the Theses un Feuerbnch. which was written just before it, as I Iorming iiJg8thor tho first formulation of Mnrxism. in many ways i these books I:H'O Ihe continuation of bUlh Marx's and Engels's t oarlie r work. Most importnnt lUI' our CUI]COrll here is tho WHy The I Carman ideology is the oulminatlon of Marx's critical discussion f of tho place and significance uf rho Slate. Fur Hegel, tho philosopher I who up to that time had most influenced Marx, tho ideo of the

I·· State WHn n major Iorce in hislDry and the true source of justice. This view WAS then modified by tllO 'young l Iogelinus, a group of radical followers ami critics of Hegel who argued lhut it wus only HIfJ reformed or purifiud Stutu which could be tho source of u just society. Marx carried Ihn criticism of Hegel's position much , Iurther, and he is equally critical of the yuung Ileguliuus. He I argues lhul, fnr from tho ~)tni(l being tho prime tuovur of history, 1 tho Sluto ttscll ig 8impiy HH aspect of a purtioulur i)'pc: of sPcinly.



Marxism and Anthropology

What Marx moun! by n pnrtioular socioty Wf18 un orgnuizatlon of people making n living together. In this perspective polilicnl roform of tho Stutu W03 therefurn largely irrelevant since what had to Ln rulcrrned was the complex order of which the State and law wore only epiphunomenn. By arguing this, Marx therefore redefined tho lnsk of the revolutionary. There was no point in being A mere politicnl reformer intent on changing laws and state lnslltutions to make social conditions boiler. This would be pointless since Iha Stnlu WOg not thn cnuso of the unjust aocial systom but simply its eHect. What was uocussnry WAS ins tend to become 0 reformer of tho very inner basis of society. This fundamental differenco with tho position of earlier radicals required theoretical analysis in two areas. First of all 'society', as distinct from the Sta te, had to be isola ted and analysed, and secondly an attempt had to be mode at understanding the evolution of society, since only thon would it ho possiblo to umlnrslnnd under what circumslancos tho Sluln evolved nnr] whul its historical significance was. Those wore tho tasks Iirst nttempted ill Tho German Ideology.

Tho first tusk consisted of Iormuluting H view of society which was based 011 principles different from the lrurliliouul ones, according to which societies could be typified in terms of their ndmlnistmuve urgnnizntiun by using such terms as 'democracy' or 'monarchy'. If we tnlkod of socielv in tIIOS() terms, Marx argued, we could IICVO!' appreciate that the pheuomenu to which tho terms referred wure themselves only tho product of n more Iundnmental suoin! process. In order Io hypnss this trnditional way oi seeingsocioly, Marx turned nwny from udminlstrutive and political orgunizntiun and tried to sco society in different, mom fundamental terms. He argued that society is nt bottom u system of organization for producing tho goods on which people depend Iur Ulcil' life. For Marx and Engels society wns 10 be nnnlyaerl in terms of tho soolnl organization of production, which in The Cerrnun Ideology they called the division of labour. After litis had been analysed, they then, and ouly then, went 011 to consider 110w this basic process was linked with ideas and VAlues, such as justice and law, and with institutions, Stich as property and the State.

Tho new theoretical starling poin! which such 0 study implied become the basis of all their work, and it is tile central characterislic of their anthropology. It also implied, however, 11 further difference fro III lho unrlior studies or societies conceutruliug on po!iticul institutions uud lnwu.Peuple living in a particular society

Marx and Engels on Anthropology


must bo ownro of thoir lows lind institutions since they huvo to obey thorn. This mennl lhnt what tho socinl sciuutis! wus doing in building up a picture of the political society W'lS systematizing people's conscious perceptions into R system.

On the other hand, people do not have to he conscious of the system of production as such. They have to make tho system work, of course, but in order to do this, they do not hnvo to be conscious of its nature. Indeed, Mnrx argued that ill most cases. because the social system is bused on exploituuun, poople hnvo to ho consciously unaware of tho basis of society if they are to conlinue working it. Because of this, fl Marxist theoretical construction' of the social system implied that one should start by ignoring people's beliefs and ideas and by looking at who produces whut Gild who gets what is produced. This is completely different from what people might believe are tho contributions made to production by difforont groups in sooioty and what people lIIight huliovo 111'0 the principles of distribution.

Socioty viewed as 0 system for production and distr ihution, conceived of independently of tho actors' rnpresontutious or [usliIicntions of the system, is what wns lntnr culler! tho 'sociul formation'. DIlly nriol' lhu social lormntion IlIJd been constructed could tho uvnluulion of the role of inslilutious nud vulucs he undertaken in terms of tho pluco of these cousciously-rculizcd phenomena in its working.

The signiiicnnce of using this slut-ling point, outside of thn actors' consciousness, cannot he oxuggorn ted, bocuusc it sol Marx, Engels, and other Mnrxista on on uunlylicnl course which was Iundumontally different from other soclul unulysls of their time, and which to fI certain extent still distinguishes Marxist analyses from many others.

This first Insk of working Dutil' method whoruhy society COlI bo apprehended as (1 sociul system lor the orguuizu tion of production, rather than as 0 structure of consciously roulizod institutions. is only sketched out in Tho Cerrnun Ideology, but it was to be developed in all of Marx's later work, and it culminn led in the analysis of capitalism contained in the three volumes of C(Jpital.

The some prelimlnary chorocter is also found in UlO other task which Marx's redefinition of tho aim of socinl analysis required. Not only did Mnrx and Engels require tools Iur seeiug sociuty in n now way, they 0190 needed to undorstund under what circum!ltOl1CUS this newly defined syatoin produced the instiluliuns which

24 Marxism and Anthropology

other social scientists had studied. Neither could tho ovolution of those lnslitutlons in themselves explain anything, since, ill tho perspective outlined above, these were mere side effects of a more fundamental order. What had to be understood was the process which led to the evolution of society seen in this new light. In order to do this, Marx and Engels turned to historical and anthropological information about past societies. Here also their task was to understand history not ill terms of the evolution of institutions, but in terms of the evolution of society as they had redefined it. This meant that, although they could turn to the work of historians and anthropologists, they had to reinterpret that work in their own way. It is this task which began Marx's and Engels's study and analysis of anthropological works.

The evolutionary sequence for the his lory of mankind which is sketched out in The Cormun Ideology is patchy and in some respects inconsistent, but the main features emerge clearly.

The first slngn in the history of mnukind is one which is itself subdivided iutn three suhstngos. These correspond (l) to hunting and fishing, (2) to IIH! roaring of anhnnls and (:1) to simple agrlculture (p. 44). Till! uulhors are not pnrticulnrlv interested in this I<!chllology of prnducliou bUI ill how this progression implies an increusiug division of luhuur which alters tho nuluro uf social rclatiuus. At first, social organization is l nuiterl to the family, it is therefore doruinatnd by kinship, and property is conununal. The family, however, already couluius within itself the seeds of latent ex p loilat ion i II the nhil ity of t I ttl male head to control the labour of \VOIIWIl alld children (p. ~2). This inequality, argue Marx and Engnls. i mpl ies a Iorm of prlvato prupurl y, because exclusion fro III 1\11'. moans of production [pri vulo property] and r.ompulsion of I he I lIUUIII' of others, am om: und I he suuu: Ih i ng. This idea, that private property ami exploitation am just two sides of the same coin, is a central proposition of Marxist theory and is clearly expressed hero. Making the means uf production into private property leads to oxploitntiou, for if people have no access to the meaus of production they ure at tho mercy uf those who do.

The embryonic inequality nnd privute property in the family continues to develop through Iimn as the head of U10 family becomes more a pntriurchul family chieftain (the linoage elder of modern anthropology) controlling the labour of U18 oU18r members of the lineage. Finally, in u further stage of development, the inequulily within tim fnmily dcvnlopa iuto slnvury which is already

Marx and Engels on Anthropology 25

'Intent in the Iamily'. This stngo is reached not just us a rosult of tho incrnasing complexity of the productive technology, in this case the development of agriculture, but because agriculture implies a growth in population density, an intensification of social intercourse, and on increased division of luhour,

The division of labour hero is a notion used in part to express tho fact that with more complex technology one gets more specialization in socioty, however for Marx and Engels such differentiation also always implies inequality. In this idea Marx and Engels are different from earlier writers such as Adam Smith, or later writers such as Durkheim, who sow nothing necessarllylnegalitarian in the division of labour.

TIle tribal stage, with its three subdivisions, is itsolf followed hy • one of two alternatives: either by the singe of tho city state or by feudalism. Which of these two occurs seams 10 depend. for Marx Ami Engels, on population density. They thus cxplnin the rise of feudalism in Europe lind tho corruspnudiug ubsenco of city states as duo 10 the foci thut 'the different slur tlug point was detnrrnincd by the aporscness of the population at thnt time' [p, 45).

By conlrnst tho ancient 01' olnsslcnl stugo, which wns churuclurized by tho city stntos of nuliquity. Ill'0!40 us II result of sovorul tribes coming logulher to Iorm {I city. In tho city stnlo ullhough communal property continuos {IS tho rknninuul form of property. private property also takes a hold, because tho 'clnss relation between citizens and slaves which had appeared before, is now completely dovoloped'. As before, exploitation ond privato property oro seen as asponls of tho sumo thing. As Iho city state oontinuus to develop, privule ownur ship bocornos more nnd moro concontruted in the hands of SOIllO of tho citizens, hut the division this gives rise to dues not loud to the Iorrnnliou of classes among UIO freemen because they.remnin united against the slaves. The relation of slaves and Ireomen is, however, for Marx aud Engels a true class relation.

More important for them is tho othur nlternnlive which can follow tho first primitive slnge: Ieudalism. This is tho systom which thoy see as having replnced tho HOI1lHIl Empire in Europe. For Marx and Engels Iuudulism was based on n kind of dispersed slavery = serfdom c- and therefuro was reully not all lhut different from the social system of the ancient city states. The one big difference lies in the fundnmentnlly rurnl churnctor of Ioudalism. This meant that the cities which ultimnluly grew lip within this


! .r ~ I ~


j .1 1,1


26 Marxism and Anthropology

rural socioty were of a different character from the surrounding countryside. While with the ancient city state thero wns a unity between town and country, since country settloments wero really extensions of tho city both ill tho type of economic uetivity which took place there and in the principles of social organization in the two places, this was not so under Ioudulism. The difference led to an important conflict between town and country. At first the Freemen of hulh lown nnd country hnd fill orgunizullon nnd a typo of property which still rntuinod something of tho communal AS well as something of the private, but ill tim town a radical transformation was taking place.

This transformalion was due first to the influx of runaway serfs into the towns which mennt that labourers free from the personal ties of Inudnlisrn, hut having no access to tho moans of production, became a dopnndent and explollnble group which was to become tho proletnrint. The proletariat are 'free' labourers in the sense that they can sell their labour to whoever will omploy them, but are not Iroo to do anything hut soli their labour, since they have no access to the rneans of production: land, tools, workshops, raw nunerlnls.In a sense this 'freedom' is in Iact total dependence and subordination to those who do control the means of production. This depend once contrnsts with tho dependence of serfs or slaves ill being non-personal and non-permanent. The contrast between the total lml impersonul dependence of tho proletariat and the personal dependence of the slave was an idea which Marx was to continuo to develop in most of his later work. It is another of tho key elements of his social analysis, Later Marx was to argue that the slave is in a sense less badly uff than the 'free' labourer because the slave master has an interest in the health and welfare of tho slave, since he owns him, but the capitalist has no such interest in his workers,

Associated with the growth of tile proletariat in the towns of feudal times were other processes which together led to the concentration of the means of production in ever-fewer hands, a process which ultimately led to the capitalism of the nineteenth century. The important place of the analysis of the transition to capitalism in The Cerrnun Icioo/ogy reminds us once again of the primarily political purpose of the anthropological and historical analysis. Although the discussion of this process is beyond tho scope of this book we must not forget that tho whole outline of history is sketched in The German Ideology for two purposes and

Marx and Engels on Anthropology 27

not for itself. Tho first such purpose is to show how capitalism and its institutions have been produced by history nnd how it will therefore bo doslroyod by history. The aocoud purposo is to show how tho heliofs urul values which organize our society oro produced by tho history of tho social formation.

This second purpose is dealt with not only in the brief account

of evolution outlined Above hut by a philosophical discussion of tho production of idolls in history which it is oquully essential to understand for npprohonding the Mnrxist attitude to history and anthropology. The starting point of this phliosophical discussion is •. a rejection of the theories, such as those of lIegel and the young Hogelians, which saw ideas and institutions as the source of history, as though these existed aport from the natural processes

of human production And reproduction. Marx lind Engels argued that we must understand Ideas as products of people engaged in this natural process And sen the production of ideas as nn aspect

of the general enterprise of OInking A living from nature. This is tho position known as ruatoriulism: it is opposed to idealism which, in a broad sense, sees the basis of human existence AS abstract spiritual concepts whoso origin cunnot bo explained by na turul circumstances. Idealism hns a long history in philosophy, going back at least to tho Irish philosopher Berkeley, and it is somotimes attributed, as it was by Marx, to PIn to.

Marx's and Engels's rejection of ideulism. however, is qualified in that they also reject the crude mulerinlism which they sow manifested in tho work of such writers us the Germnn socialist Feuerbach. If it is natural conditions of existence which are the basis of human history, Otis doos not mean that human society and concepts are simply an automatic product or reflection of physical existence, as Feuerbach and other 'vulgar' materialists seem to imply. Marx's and Engels's position is always something of a balancing Act between idenlism and crudo or 'vulgar' mnlerialisrn and this is nowhere better illustrated thuu in The Cerrnun Iueology and the Theses OIl Fcuerbnch.

Human existence, for Marx and Engels, occurs in terms of people's concepts, which ArB incorporuted in their mode of life and their subjective experience, hut it is from mnu's iulornction with nature and from tho history of this interaction that these ideas, beliefs, and VAlues are created in the first place. The argument runs like this: at any particular time people apprehend natural material circumstances through their ideas, and they


Marxism and Anthropology

therefore oct in terms of these ideas, beliefs, und values. There-

, fore, in history it is not nature and technology which makes human society but it is rnun himself, who in terms of his already existing ideas and values, makes his own history, as ho encounters nature and the problems it poses. These already existing ideas and values urn. however. themselves tho product of previous oncountors antl unswers to the chnllnuge of nature. This moons that tho relntion of ideas and praclicul problems can only be understood as part of the process of history. Ideas and concepts held by people are not therefore simply a reflection of how nature is at any particulnr lime: thoy nre tho historical product of tho need to organize society so that human beings in society can produce and reproduce. Ideas and concepts may thus be in Iact misleading as to the real condition of existence; they are not the reflection of tho economic system but the product of B complex historical process of changing adaptation.

An illustration of the complex relationship, envisaged by Marx and Engels, he tween ideas and the process of production is offered by one of their central concerns: the representation of labour. According to them the capitalist representation of labour, the idea that labour is a thing which CUll be bought and sold, came about as a result of certain economic and technical developments in medieval towns. Later this representation wns adopted as the dominant Idea of whotlohour is, sinco such n concept makes the exploitation of people in CApitalism possible. 1110ugh this idea was ultimately caused by economic and technicul developments, and is in fact a misrepresentation of social relations, the idea is real enough to the people concerned. They see labour as something which can be bought and sold and, for them, that is all there is to it; when they use that idea of labour they are unaware of and unconcerned with what hns caused it. Because of this their octions oro in terms of their concept of labour and this idea of labour is therefore in itself an important causative factor in history. Sirnilarly the attempt to reveal the falsity of this representotion of labour by examining the history of its development is part of a revolutionary activity since it challenges lhe unquestionability of the dominant represenlntion.

Marx's and Engels's malerinlism is thus not tho denial of the importanco of ideas, concepts, and values for people, like the materialism of Feuerbach, but an assertion that ideas ultimately have a material origin in the real conditions of existence, a history



Marx and Engels on Anthropology


which consists in u complicn ted interplay and conflict of difforont factors, somo directly materiul, some mental (though rnnterinl in origin). This interplay And this conflict oro the driving forces of history; they ore a process which Marx referred to by the word 'dialectic'. 'Dialectic' is a term which hn borrows from Hegel but which he uses in a very difforent sense to Hegel's, Using tho term 'dlulectic' moans thnt the process of movement which characterizes human history is not a smooth development but a development caused by confllcts ond contradictions which lead to temporary resolutloua, like two people Arguing with euch other. It is hy this process of conflict nnd contradiction, caused by a multiplicity of factors all arising from the natural conditions of existence, that history proceeds to the human condition and human ideas current at a particular moment.

In this way Mnrx and Engels give us nn nllornntive to the idealist philosophles which they reject. Yot their Iheorv does not underestimate either the power of ideas or the complexity of the process of their historical production.

Indeed a great part of The German Ideology is concerned with this process, which Marx and Engels discuss under the label of the origin of 'consciousness'. Their use of the word 'consciousnesa'

.} refers to the systom of meuuing through which wo upprohend tho world, as well as tho ideas. opinions, and beliefs which wo are aware of holding. The two things urn not tho sumo, and, although Marx and Engols oro not vary clear. thny do allornpt to distinguish them. As we saw nhove, for thorn one of tho commonest mistakes of tile crude materialism which they criticize is to think that men deal with the world simply as it is; as it would be defined by

I physics or biology. This is not so, they argue, because we

, apprehend the world through 11 system of meaning which we have learned from others and of which language is on essential part. .... 1118t does not mean that ideas and lunguugo come first. 'Lifo is not determined by consciousness but consciousness by life'. (P. 47.)

, I Consciousness, which is indissolubly linked to language, is itself a

.\social product. It is moulded by the interaction of men together in history and by their dealing with nature, i.e. with plants, animals, their environment, and their own bodies. This process of internction is for Marx and Engols both n source of conceptualization and also of a sort of natural religion, at least in the earlier stages of evolution. However for the periods they are concerned with, this first process is not all; as the relation of man to nature becomes


Marxism and Anthropology

more complex through more advanced technology I they Bee another process coming into play.

Improved technology I according to Marx and Engels, leads to greater division of labour which leads to greater inequality and to private property and greater social differentiation. Now, since consciousness is adapted to the practical needs of society and that society divides into subsocieties which have a different type of existence, it follows that these different suhsocieties develop their own consciousness. In more complex societies and especially under capitalism these different sections of society - classes - dispose of different power, and bemuse of this the dominant class is able to impose its own consciousness on the whole of society. As a result there ceases to exist unalloyed the direct feedback, characteristic of primitive societies, between natural conditions and consciousness. The consciousness of the dominant class is adapted to the need of operating tho domination of this class. It is not an adaptation of society as a whole, and, Marx and Engels argue, it therefore has to hide the exploitolion on which the dominant class relies. In this sense this imposed consciousness is a false consciousness for those who are dominated, since it serves the purposes of Ole superiors but not of the inferiors. It hides from the inferiors 010 sources of domination and the process by which iliis has como about.

" False consciousness is usually referred to by Marx by Ole term 'ideology' and that is how the word will be used in this book. The word 'ideology' is, however, also sometimes used to simply mean the system of concepts and ideas in general. 111e muddle that these two uses of the word cause is in part Marx's and Engels's fault because when they are talking about society based on~unal property, that is, before false consciousness arises, they mean by ldeology lhe totalm.o~~~~_lliQgnitionjllcludiruUQ..ng\!~ge, political ideas, soci~s.._etc., but when they are talking of class society where false consciousness is present they seem to mean by ideology something much more restricted: ffiQI.Ql. poliUcal .... and religious ideas an hey do not discuss clearly whether in c ass society ey consider all aspects of cognition to be moulded by false consciousness or only certain aspects. They are, however, quite clear that the State and the apparatus of the State, especially law, are some of the tools of 010 dominant class, and are therefore prime examples of false consciousness. Because of this, political ideas in class societies, ideas such os the sovereignly of the State

Marx and Engels on Anthropology


and the particular idea of justice embodied in low, are all manifestations of the imposition of the consciousness of the dominant class, because they facilitate and hide class exploitation.

It is in this context that Marx and Engels finally turn the tables on the ideas of philosophers who, like Hegel, had argued about the primacy of ideas, especially the idea of the State, as though these ideas had formed 018 processes of history rather than the other way round. What Marx and Engels show is that since these ideas are examples of ideology, attributing to them causal primacy amounts to making them unquestionable, and to making the social order which they legitimate and organize - capitalism - free from possible challenge. The very philosophy of the Hegelians is therefore not a challenge to society but a way of making such a challenge unthinkable. It is not a theory of history but a product of history designed to serve the purposes of tho ruling class. It is a prime example of ideology.

The German Ideology is one of the main works where Marx and Engols developed au evolutionary theory for political ends, ami it raises a whole range of questions, somo of which, like that of Ole rise of false consciousness or ideology, they never treated systematically again. 1110 book in othor wnys also reflects how littlo 018Y had yet formulated a detailed evolutionary history of society. For the tribal stage, in particular, they base themselves only on the vaguest generalization as gathered probably from philosophical treatises. The German Ideology makes no detailed references to specific studies of primitive societies or to the work of anthropologists. Even Ole references to classical antiquity and feudalism remain vague and unspecific, although it is clear that, unlike their discussion of tribal society, those oro based on much greater knowledge, obtained largely from the classical education they both shared. The Cermun Ideology represents, therefore, a first foray into anthropology, which is important more because of its attempt to isolate such general problems as the relation between property and the State, the growth of consciousness, and tho way material circumstances produce mental concepts than for specific formulations about the nature of pre-capitalist systems or tim way 010 evolution of society hod taken place. 111is Marx and Engels were to attempt to do in more detail in their subsequent works.

Most generally, The German Ideology is important as a turning point. Here Marx and Engels decided thut the understanding of


Marxism and Anthropology

man depends on the understanding of men in society and history, not on understanding philosophical controversy.

Pre-Copitnlist Economic Formutions. 1EI57--l1

111e noxt work of Murx and Engels, uftor Tho GOI'IlHlII Idnology, to discuss tho history of human socinly wns Tho Communist MmliJosto of 1848. Of course this famous pamphlet was 0 much more practical political publication than The German Ideology and it was written at 0 time of tremendous politicnl fermont. It is not surprising that the references to the post it contains are very brief. Nevertheless, in the first port of The Manifesto there is renewed reference to the evolution of society. 11m central point of the system outlined in The Germnn Ideology is spelled out porticularly clearly: 'The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freemon and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmustor and journeyman, in a word oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on on uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary reconstruction of society at lorge, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.'

In contrast to The Cermun Ideology reference to the tribal stage has beon dropped but the centrality of class struggle remains. The emphasis on revolution as ending every stage is, also, much more definitely stated than in curlier works.

The most important aspect of these passing remarks in The Communist Manifesto however, have, olreody been discussed in the previous chnptor. That is, they make crystol door something which is implied in The Cermuu Ideology, that the history of mankind is governed by tho same processes in all times, and that tile main one of these processes is class conflict.

After The Communist Manifesto, the next elaboration of the overall evolutionary scheme of the history of pre-capitalist society comes in preliminary works by Morx, usually known ns Grundrisse, written in 1850, ten years afer The Manifesto. In the interval much had happened to Marx and he was by then on exile in London in a place and a situation where inevitably he was more remote from the centres of politico I action. As a result his writing becomes less concerned with immediate political concerns and he had much more time for reading and research. lie was thereforo

Marx and Engels on Anthropology


.. i

able to expand his studies in tim way that was ultimately to produce Cnpitul, his main theoretical work.

Grundrisse consists of a series of notebooks which wero never finally prepared for publication and nre therefore somewhat untidy and unaystornalic. They contuin much oxpuuslon, however, of the ideas found in tho morn finis hod work of that period: the lhrne volumes of Cupitol and tho short Prejuco to 0 Contribution to t110 Critique of Political Economy.

1118 most significont port of Grundrisse for our subject is that part which has boon published sopurutoly in English under the title Pre--Cnpitolist Economic Forrnutions together with' a very valuable Introduction by the historian E. Hobsbawm. Formon, as thoso notebooks oro often called, offers tho background to two of the most fomous remarks in the whole of Marx's work. The first is the remark in Volume I of Copitu] that 'commodity exchange (a ~eccssarr prerequisite _to capitalism] hegins where community life ends ', The second lS the statement of a clear evolutionary I sequence In tho Profllce to (J Contrihuuon to the Critique of Political Economy, the work where Marx expresses (p. 83) most coherently his theory of history: 'In brood outlines Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society'.

If UlO evolutionary scheme given in the Prefoco seems absolutely clear and definite, this is not the picturo which emerges from the less systematic Formen.

As in The Germon Ideology, wo seem to stort with a similar early evolutionary stage which is roughly described as 'tribal' and which in itself divided into three. The first subsl'oge of the tri.b~l B~age is h~nting, of which Marx tolls us practically nothing. It IS intimatalv linked to the second substage, pastorulism. which, Marx belioved, following the accepted view of the time - itself much influenced by Biblical sourcos -always preceded agriculture. Some sort of property already exists with pasturolism, Marx tells us, although he modifies this elsewhere (p. (9). This proporty is, however, not conceptualized as sourethlug in itself (0 kind of mystical link between people and things as it is with fully developed private property) because it remains only all aspect of the social relations of which the tribe consists. 'Proporty therefore means belonging to a tribe,' (p. 90) and oven then it is not land which is property with pastnrnliats. 'What is nppropri(Jted and reproduced is here only the herd and not the soil which is always


Marxism and Anthropology

used in temporary commonalty wherever the tribe breaks its wanderings.' (p. Og.)

With settled agriculture the situation is somewhat different in that land becomes communal property, especially because of the need to defend it from 'other tribes'. We nre not dealing any more with temporary commonality but with permanent commonality. However, what concerns Marx most is to show just how different this type of communal property is to private property under capitalism. While under capitalism the owning and accumulating of property is seen as the aim of life, in tribal conditions property is simply seen as a necessary pro-condition of life and social relations. Being a member of a tribe ami a kinsman to the other members of the tribe automatically implies having access to the means of production controlled by the community. The object of production under such circumstances is not to accumulate property but to make possible the continuation of the individual in society, since only as a member of society can one find meaning in human existence. '111is point is of course another criticism of the individualist philosophies of utiliturinns and of economists who saw early man as a kind of lonely Robinson Crusoe trying to interact with nature in isolation and according to ideas ami institutions which he hod created on the spot.

The central concern of Forman is to understand what social relations and institutions con be like when they ore not moulded by capitalism. Marx is continually facing a problem which is very familiar to anthropologists: how to express a different system with a vocabulary which is inevitably moulded to tile institutions of the society in which it is normally used. This can be seen throughout Forman in his struggles with the word 'property', but that is only a beginning. What Marx is trying to construct in his imagination is what it would be to exist in such a different type of society. Under capitalism the market and the desire to accumulate wealth appear to be a sufficient basis for social interaction ond for regulating communal life; things and impersonal economic mechanisms have replaced people's commitment to each other while 'the ancient conception in which man always appears (in however narrowly notional, religious or political a definition) as the aim of production, seems very much more exalted Ulan the modern world in which production is the aim of man and wealth the aim of production' (p. 04).

The attempt to grasp this difference and to put it into words is 0

Marx and Engels on Anthropology

recurr~nt theme of Formen, especially because the secondury theme IS to understand the contrndiction which arises when the two opposed conceptions of rnan occur in the some society in periods of transition. This is crucial because Marx was to go on to argue that capitalism grew out of one such combination in Feudalism. In Formen Marx is mainly concerned with other contrmlictory combinotions of incompatible sociol principles.

TIle first such combination to be considered is one which he calls the 'Germanic' mode of production, ('mode of production', in this work, meaning social evolutionary stage], It is not clear how it differs from the third trtbal substngo nssocioted with settled agriculture. TI18 Germanic mode of production is characterized .by a society made up of largely independent fomily groups, each of which forms 0 bnsic and complete productive unit. 1110se independent family groups come together in ussernblies for such things as war, religion, and the settlement of disputes, but they do not really form on organic whole. The Germonic tribe is therefore based on shored locolity rother than kinship, but it consists of a ?oll~c.tion of kinship units ouch with access to 0 territory.jlhus

individual landed property (of the different fnmilies) does not appear as a contradictory form to communullanded property, nor as mediated by the community hut the other woy round. The community exists only in tim mutual rclution of the individual landowners as such.' (P. 00 modifiorl.]

W1lOt Marx wants to stress here is thot olthough Germonic tribes form quite large groups of people they do not form any kind of community with communal property, as was the case in the ancient city states: they ore merely ad hoc ugglomernlns. This is particularly significant for Murx since it menus tho t the communal principle does not fully come into conflict with the interests of individuol constitutive families as it did in the ancient city, a contradiction which ultimately led to further developments. This Germanic organization remoins extremely vogue in Formen and the reason seems to come from the paucity and dubiousness of Marx's sources for the construction of this mode of production. In TI18 German Ideology Morx hod used Tucitus as his source for tribal Germon society, but by UlO time of Formen he become influenced by the nationalist and romantic nineteenth-century tradition of German historiography, a tradition which was to influence him even more later on, and which was to have 0 dramatic and harmful effect on Engels. This tradition stressed how true



Marxism and Anthropology

Cerrnanic society was still to be found in the organization of ancient local communltlns. It was ngnlilurinn and free from the weakening and divisive influence of tho Ruman world and of urban society. Within tho locnl community it had survived during Ole Middle Ages nrul even to 0 certain extent right up to tho nineteenth century. in spite of a foreign overlay of feudal institutions coming from western and southern Europe. This romantic view of 018 Germanir: commune luul nn unconscious effect on Marx and led him to follow those Cormun hlsturlnns who were trying to reconstruct nn old systmn which thoy SIlW as smothered hy a newer one. Whn lever the hisloricnl value of such R procedure. and it was slight. it inevitahly produced a rather shadowy typo of society owing more to nationnlist imngination than to recorded facts.

A similar romantic nationalist tradition was also developing in Russia and it too seems to have influenced Marx. As a result, as Hobsbawm points out. Marx seoms to half suggest the existonr:e of yet another mode of production - the Slavonic. On this Marx has almost nothing to say. The rather dubious sources for these two modes of production explains the fnct that the Corman and tho Slavonic (if there is one) are characterized by a name denoting an ethnic or linguistic group and not a relntion of production. as is the case for the capitalist mode of production. This procedure goes against Mnrx's general prnclice of chnrnctorizmg rnorlns of production lIS systoms irrespective of pluce and people. In nny case, neither the Germanic nor tho Slavonic mode of production was of much significonce for Marx's and Engels's later work, and the same is true for most Marxist studies.

As does The Cermon Ideology. Forman makes ample reference to the ancient or classical type of society based on the city stnte. Here again the main focus is the contradiction between communal property and the growth of individual property. This includes a discussion of slnve labour which both echoes The Cerman Ideology nnd Iornshnclows tho discussion to be found in Capit(J/. Again us in Tho GOI'llHIII Ideology we hove on olubornle consideration of the growth of classes in ancient Rome and the differentiation between plohoiuus and patricians. Marx ill this seelion was strongly influenced by the great German historian Niebuhr. whom he quotes, hut there is little more development of the ideas outlined in Tho Cermnn Ideology.

The one clear innovalion in Formon, however, is the introduction

Marx and Engels on Anthropology


of another type of social system variously roforred to as Ole Asiatic, or orion to I mode of production. This slugn is also mentioned in severul othor works by Marx, above all in Capital. This innovation is especially siguifioant as it suggests that Marx did not believe there was necessarily one set scheme of evolution whichappliedforthe whole of mankind, the view which was held implicitly by most of Marx's contemporaries. Thoy believed that peoples had to go from ono stnge to another with mechanical regularity and in predictable order. Whother Marx hold such a view or not hUB hod gront importonco for Intor Marxist polomics, and we shall roturn to this question. The introduction of the Asialic mode of production in Forrnen shows woll that Marx remained f1exiblo throughout his work when he came across new inlorrnatlon. Not only was Marx willing to accept that historical development might have followed several different lines in different places but it also shows that he was olways revising his ideas. In particular the reader of Marx's works must get tho feeling that he gradually became aware of tho overly Eurocentric character of 018 earlier schemos he had espoused in such works as The Cerman Ideology. As his work progressed he read more and more about non-European societies and modified his general historical vie~s occo~ding~y. What he considere~l essential was the systematic relationshlpjhatwann .the organization of production, Ole development of claases, and the typo of property which he was sketching out in Forrnen. not any pnrticular vorsion of human history.

In the coso of the Asiatic mode of production tho source of the information which led him to introduce this new type of society is well documented. In the period between the writing of TIle German Id.eolo.gy and. Capital. Marx mode a living in great part by contributing. arhr;les to a radical American news pa per, The New York Daily Tribune, These articles were commentaries on world affoirs and, given the events of the lime, they often concerned Ole colonial activities of European powers. principally Britain. Marx ~hore~ore concerned himself extensively with what wns happening in Chma, Indonesia, and India. Writing these articles increased Marx's interest in the nature of those societies and it is clear 018t he ~ead widely: especially about Indio. This interest is something ~hlch ~e continued to the end of his life. as witnessed by his mcrensing knowledge of India unci to u lesser extent of China. By UlO lime Marx wrote Forman he had 110t yet rend Moine and

38 Marxism and Anthropology

Phear, who were to influence him later, but he hod read descriptive accounts of Indian ond Indonesian village lifo ond history, especially in Sir Thomas Ruffles, History of /UVCl (11317), M. Wilks, Historicnl Sketches of the South of IndiCl (1010-17). and G. Campbell. Modern Indin (1B52). oil of which are quoted in Cupitul. (See the discussion of Marx's sources in L. Krnder, The Asintic Mode of Production (HI75}.) To this inlormution about Asia Marx added knowledge of the Inca which he hod gothered from Prescott's fomous study, Tlw Conquest of Peru, 0 remarkable book which come out in 1!l47 and whose inslnnt Iume hod a dromotic impact on nineteenth-century thought. Marx. like his conlernporuries, seems to have been much struck by tho doscripllon of n huge empire run wilhou t the aid of Ii terucy but held together by a mixture of ruthless military power and religion. Generally he seoms to have synthosizod the Inca to the oriental datu, and he uses information from Prescott to exploin the working of the 'Asiatic' mode of production.

The Asiatic modo of production is chnrncterlzod by the importance of the Stoto and the place of the State in the conceptualization of property. The Asiatic system consists of separate units; local communities which hold land communally in much the some way as tribal communities or the constituent units of the classical and feudal systems were believed by Marx to do. Whot differentiates the Asiatic system is that while in the ancient or feudal systems the community sees itself as 11 fundamental unit ond as the holder of its common property. in the oriental case it does not. The individual communities consider the Statu as the true owner of the land they cultivate in common. This means that although the State is an ex tornal, exploitotive body it is not seen as such by the people who, on the contrary, see it as a kind of beneficent organism which 'gives' them the land on which they depend. In such circumstances it is not surprising thot the State is actually worshipped either in the person of u ruler or in a god which it incarnates. The ruler appears' as the father of all the numerous and other lesser communities' (p. m.l). Because the ruler takes on such on exalted role, his power is unchallengeable and he is therefore a despot. In this way tho locnl communities can continue as collective organic wholes yet their continuing existence does not challenge, as it would in other systems, tho external dictutoriul force of the State.

What Marx was trying to do in constructing the Asiatic system

" "


Marx ond Engels on Anthropology 39

was to reconcile, on the one hond the reports of the strength of the village communities which characterized many of the occounts of Asion villages and which wns manifested in their apparenl obility to oct organicnlly, Ior example in the dose co-opern tion ond mu tual reosonobleness required in irrigoted agriculture, ond, on the other hand, a lraditionnl viow of the despotism of oriental rulers, a view which dominnted European pictures of the Orient, at least since the time of Montesquieu. Marx's theory is on ottempt to accept both types of accounts of the Orient und to explain the apparent unity of states ofton mode up of previously independent units which nevertheless co-opernled in grellt communul works such as road building (among the Incn] and lnrge-scale irrigation (in Asia).

According to Marx's theory the many different units were willing to unite ond contribute their labour to work for the despot bocauso this appeared, not as working for him. but as working for 'the higher unity', which, they wrongly believed. wos the source of their continued existence. In this way, bocauso the despot has taken onto himself the attributes of the community, work -which was in fact done for him - appeared as work by tum, and he appeared as Ole creotor of wealth for the community. This theory

of the Asiotic mode of production is complicated and subtle; it is hardly elaborated in Formen but it is fascinating in that it foroshadows 0 control concept in Capitulo In CClpitul Murx argues thot

as a result of the peculiar history of capitalism, the capitalist, who

is reallya parasite on the workers. is represented as though he were the opposite; as tho source of production find the benefnctor

of the workors. This is becuuse, in the imago of the world created

by capitalism, the ability to supply capital is seen as enabling production to toke placo and as giving 0 wage to workers who would otherwise starve, while in fact it is really the capitalist who depends on the worker. This 'inverted causation'[ as it has been' called, which is a major element of Mnrxist theory, is to be found '. ': in the theory of Asiatic production, ill that the subjects of the .. Asiotic despot oro modo to beliovo thut they con live because of' the blessing of the god-king, the true guardian and shepherd of the community, while really it is he who is living off them.

Another importont aspect of Marx's notion of the Asiatic mode of production is that it offers on explunalion of whot he saw as the surprising stability of Asinn states. In his writings Oil the colonial situation in Chino and Indin, Marx was puzzled by the Iact thot, although both these countries seemed to have reached a




Marxism and Anthropology

higher state of civilization than Europe in earlier times, they were in his time being overtaken by Europe, as the colonial conquests showed, Why had these Asiatic societies stopped developing and allowed these couqucsts to take pin co?

'111e idea of the unchnnging east was widesprend in eighteenthand nlneleenth-centurv thought and it seems that Marx nccflpt~d this view, although it has subsequently been show.n to be rmsleading, This unchangeability was partir:uIE~rly puzzling for Marx since the basis of his writing on pre-capitnlist SOCIety was, a,s we have seen, the contradiction bot ween commlllH~1 flI~d PflVO~O property and between the social systems those implied, In his discussion of the ancient city states, as in his discussion of feudalism the contradiction between these two systems had been idcntlfind as the driving force of chnnge. How then was it possible that a similar contradiction in the socinl formations of Indio, China, and Peru hod not led to similar development? The problem raised by this theoretical paradox was of significance not ,only for these particular instances, however important they we,re in tI~~mselves' it was in fact a challenge to the whole theoretical edifice which' Marx and Engels were constructing. Marx found the answer to this problem in his belief thnt, in tho Asintic system, the community is not broken up by the growth of privnte property B1~d internal differentiation, as happens in clnssical city states or In feudalism, because the integrity of the community is maintained centrally by the State itself. Because the State represents the essence of the community, in people's minds, it is in the interests of the State to maintain the communities, and not to destroy them, as is the case in the feudal system, This means that the State helps the community in resisting the amassing of wealth in the hands of a few members, because of the disruptive implications ~f such a process, This maintains UIO stability of Ul~ loc,al cornmuruties since the disruptivo process of class formation IS halted - a stability which contrasts sharply with the political flux. ~nd intrigue of the court. This point Marx made much more explicl,tly in Capitol. Book 1 (370-9): 'The simplicity of t,he pro~uchve organism in these self-sufficient communities =which continually reproduce their kind, and, if destroyed by chauce, reconstru?t themselves in the same loculi ty and under the same name - tIus simplicity unlocks for us the mystery of the ul1C~langeabloness of Asiatic society, which conlrnsts so strongly with the perpetual dissolutions nnd reconstrucliuns of Asiulio states.' llocnuse tho communities arc so stable in relation to n centre which is largely

Marx and Engels on Anthropology


in their imagination, it matters little whether in fact tho real centre is itself actually in turmoil. 'Thus tho struclurn of tho economic elements of tho socioty (t he locnl communi tios] remains ul1nffocted hy the ups and downs in the polilicnl weu tlier.' (P, 392.)

Forman contains many of tho nlemnn!s of Marx's evolutionary theory concerning prc-cnpitnlist systems, lind it nlso contains much about the more immediutn origins of capitalism, None the less the overall evolutionary picture rernnins vogue, IIobsbawm sees the main theme as n mnpping of various IIltnrnntive ovolutionnry routes in the history of mankind, Other writers see it in a milch moro systemntic uuilinonl sequence. I personnllv doubt whether any clear evolutionary picture would emerge if we were to bose ourselves simply 01\ Fortnnn. Tho reason is not simply the preliminary nnturn of the manuscrIp]. Rnthnr, the reason is that, ill Forrnen, Morx wns not principally concerned with estoblishing an evolutionary snquencn, as Engels was to do later on, and as he himself briefly ntlornptnd in the Pieiace to a Critique of tlIe Political Economy, The notebooks from which Formon comes form the part of Grundrisse conr:orned with the understanding of capitalism. The central core of Fornwll is really on attempt to nnswer fundamental pmliminnI'Y questions for M!II'x's Iheory of cnpitnl. what is property when it is not property as visualized in the pnrticular formulntion of cnpitnlism? JIow are social relations visualized and operated when they are not moulded by the imporsonul ideology of capitalism?

In The Gonn(J1l Idcology. Marx had hypothesized that the concepts with which, in capitalist sor:iety, we understand such things as the Slate. low, anrl properly are moulded for the purpose of domination, Once this had been ostabltshod, the uim of Marx's work was to break through this veil of ideology, Then, in C(Jpital, Marx attempts to break through and out of the veil of economic ideology, and ho does this by showing that the woy the economy is usually tolked about hides the real basis of society and serves to maintain the exploitotion on which it rests, In order to show this Marx explains the simultnnoous growth of holh the ideology and the socinl system of capitalism, C(Jpilul is thus 1I0t only a political critique of society but it is also u criticism ulthe terms in which the economy was discussed at the time when he wrote, and a demonstration that these terms oro moulded to the purposes of the system they pretend 10 annlvsn. This is dono in purt by an annlysis of history and this is the technique lhul Murx is tIsing in Formo».

In the case of Fo 1'111 01 I, Marx is trying 10 hrnak through tho

42 Marxism and Anthropology

capitalist concept of property. In many ways he is only portly successful. We huvo noted some contradictions in his attempt and wo sholl return 10 others. The problem seems to bo in part thul the sheer imoginotive effort of thinking nb~utt?lolly differe~~ sysloms on the bosis of very skelchy informohon IS too g~~nt. I he other problem is terminological and is n problem Iatuilinr to on thropologists. It is tho problem of talking in our own terms about systems based on other rationnles than our own, adopted as tl~ese terms aro to our own system. Marx tries to get nway from the Ideo of privote property when discussing pre-copil,olist ~ocin~ systems by using the phrase 'uppropriation of nature but I1l doing so he uses a word wilh the some root as 'property'.

Marx's concern in Forrnen with defining two types of existence and two types of properly is, however, not limited to eslob.lishing a contrast. This is not the Incus of these notebooks, f~nd 111. that they are very different from The Origin of the ~(lInily, Pnva~e Property and the Stute. Marx is concerned here with the dynumic implicotion of tho contradiction of combin.ing Iw? systems. Already in The German Ideology, ond even more I1l Copitul, Marx saw UlO forward movement of history as due to the conflict between private property ond communal property .. In Fon~len. Marx is. also considering under what circumstances this confhct IS mode 1I1?Peralive, hence his considerntion of tho Asiatic mode uf production and the Germanic modo of production. In many ways theso oro constructed simply as a qualiflcntion to his general theory of historv.

If this anthropological effort is what emerges most clearly from the Formen, we must not forget that it is here, as in all Marx's work, for a political purpose. First of all, it is, as wo h~ve. seen, part of tho lheoreticnl study of the em.ergence of capltahsn~, .0 historlcal study which serves 10 reveal Its nntur? Secon~lly, l~ IS an attempt to understand hisloricnlly the formative relatlonships between class structure, political institutions, and property, as they operate in time. This is not just an academic conc~rn .but pa~t of the work of understanding how and when cnpitalisru Will

change and be overcome. .

There is a third poli tical aim which emerges from Formen, and which is clearer hero than in any other of Marx's writings. Marx seems to be answering unnamed conservative critics who would argue tho t if you do not hnve private proporty B~}(I tho politicolegal framowork to ensure its enjoyment you will have chaos;

Marx and Engels on Anthropology 43

people would loso all incenlivn to produce, there would ho no law oxcept tho Inw of thn strongnsl, tho economy could not ho organized, there would be no individunl security, murder and theft would be the order of the duy. This point of view was of ?ourse almost universally ucceptorl in tho nlnotoenth century, and IS repeated endlessly. It is R point of view which is still provo lent. By contrast, Marx shows lhnt other systems, working on different assumptions, con exist. nnd this for him implies that future chonge to 0 radically differenl social system is thereforo also possible. If society in all its aspects has always been in a ~Iole of ~ux, it is highly unliknly thal lhis process will end at any particular lime. Here we return to property ugnin, since whot Marx seems to he atrnssing above nil, in his discuasinn of other systems, is that without tho particular Iormulnuon of private properly which dominates capitulist institutions, on ordered life is still possible. Production does not stop when it slops being nn end in itself. People do work without tho insliluliOlllll system of capilulism and the~ oro oss\~red ~)f n rensonuhlo livelihood. This conclusion, very obvIOUS to IllstorlOns and anthropologists, was a dromotic and difficult point to put over in a society which rejected this possibility as ono of the first principles.

The Origin uf tlte FUlUily, Privute Property unr] tlte Stulo, lU114 Formen is the most detailed discussion of pro-cnpitolist society in Morx's mature work nnd it really cuunot be understood except as a port of the backgrollnd for the more fully compleled works Marx was ~ither planning or did write, especiolly Capitulo Capital refers again and agam to the themes of Formen. Tho famous Chapter 5 uf tho first hook, which denls with the tronsformation of labour from a stnge where it is n 'pnrt of life' to n sInge under copitalism when it Iakes on the imnginarv form of n Ihing separate from UlO labourar, when it can be bought and sold, is worked out in Formen, in the discussion of trihol, orientul, and ancient societies which it contnins.

Nono the less it is clear thnt Marx felt lhut hefore ho could complete R hook on pre-capitalist socioties, ho hud 10 find out much more about theso societies and their transformotions. The last years of his lifo seem to have been largely given over to this tosk. During this lost period, Mnrx mode detailed studies of tho work of hlstorlnns and lawyers who discussed lruditionnl pousnnt communities, whuthnr ill Enropn or ill Asia, and nhuvu nil he


Marxism and Anthropology

studied the work of contemporory anthropologists who discussed

primitive socielies. .

One reoson for this incrnnse in interest on tho port of Morx IS the wealth of new publications and theories which followed the assimilation by nnllu-opolngists of Durwin's discoveries. The oth~r reason is more political. From uhout 113G4 on, much of Marx s lime and energy was spent in connection with Ih.e selling lip ?f tho internotional association of working men, the first I~ternotlonal. As on indirect result of this ussociatlon's stormy Ills tory, Marx came across socialist revolutionaries from ports of the world about which he knew relntively little. One of these areas wos Russin, especinlly because the interest thnl his work hod ~~o.usod there made him consider tho previously unthinknble posSI,bll!ly of a communist revolution occurring in that c~untry. Marx s ~deas about Russin have for obvious reasons been (hscu~sed extensl~p;ly, but this has significance for Marx's anthropology III two ways. I he first is that the possibility of a revolution occurr.ing in 0 country where copitolism wos poorly developed mode him owore of .the problem of selling up too rigid 0 sequence for huma.n evolution. Clearly, if a communist revolution was to take pl.ace. in a count~y like Russia, the historicnl stage marked by capitalism ~oul~ in greot part havo been skipped. Did this mean that the historical sequence so for sot up hnd to he modified to uccommodato much more voriety, and was the specifically European focus of tho

scheme in some way too parochial? . . . ..

11le second way in which Ihe discussion of Russ~o IS slgmflc.o~t for Ute relation of Marxism lind anthropology IS that Mn~x s interest in tradilional peasant communities become less theorotl?al and moro prncticnl, as hu considered thu possibility or tho. Rnss.lO.n peosant corrunune becoming a bnse for a fut~ro revolution. This concern was linked with Marx's anthropologicnl work, as. made clear in a famous letter to the Hussion socialist Vera .Zosuhch .. In tho second draft of this letter Mnrx says: 'the Ol:chOlC formah.on of society revenls a number of different types which chnroclerl.so different and successive epochs. The Russian village community belongs to the youngest type in this chain,' lHobs~awm, 14~-3), and in the same letter Morx goes on to refer to on all ~merlcan author' as one of his authorities for such a statement. .Th~s author was Lewis Henry Morgan, and Marx's reference to him in SUC~I a letter shows how his concern with anthropology was becoming central.

Marx and Engels on Anthropology


Marx's concern with anthropology towards Iho end of his life thus. blended, us nlwnys,. t~te poli licul and tho scholarly. His ?etUlled study of Ihe wriling of anlhropologisls was c1eorly mtended to be the basis of 0 future publication. In foct his death mod? this unrenliznhls, although Engels's book, The Origin of tho Fumily, Privutn Property unr] the Stuto, bused ns it is on Marx's notes, was intended to he the one thnl MArX was unable to write. Be~ousu Marx never did write this oUlhropologicnl work. it is futtle to speculntn too much on how his position would hove been different from lhnl of Engels.

We do know whnl come from Marx in The Origin because we possess Marx's notes on some of the nnthropologicol works he ?xamined, ,and the~? notes contniu passages later incorporated into Engels s book. I he notes are mainly exlrocls and comments o~ Morgan's Ancient Society, H. S. Moine's Lectures on the E(JrIy HIstory of Instilutions. which deals in large pori with Irish hislory, J. B. ~~I?ar'.s The A'.'YCIIl Village in Indio und Ceylon. and The Origin of ClVlllzntlOll hy SIr John Lubbock. It is also clear from the notebooks that Marx had read much more widely than that. These notes are largely extrncts and only contain a limited amount of comment. They hove been admirably edited hy L. Krnder. In spite of their inevitably unsotisfoctory charnctnr IllOY reveal 0 number of points of irnportonce.

First of ull, one of tho most slriking aspects of the notes is UIO interest Marx shows in delailod ethnographic description. It is remarkable how this interest extends even to topics which do not seem related to tho mnin themes of his studios. Secondly, tho notes sho,w Morx:s enthllsimun for the work of Morgan. This is especially nolJceabJo m thot Mnrx is highly criticnl uf Maine, Phear, and Lubbock wherever any of these three express ideos which c?nflict with Morgon' views. He is especially critical of their views about the historical primacy of group mnrringa and the gens (see below), because they were all three in differont ways followe~s of Mo~gon's rival, Mcl.ennnn, Thoy rnfusud to occept Morgan s assertion thnl the gens and group marriage were char. acteristic of the earlier humon socielies. The gens was the communal group which Marx, following Morgan, considered as ante-d.aling all known hislory. II is clear Ihot for Marx the 'discovery' of the gens was probably the most importont of Morgan's contribntion 10 ollthropology. The gens for Morgan is a grouping within which nmrriugo is commullnJund whero children


Marxism and Anthropology

and wives oro pooled. It is 0 group based on matrilineal descent, which means thot one belongs to the group because one's mother belonged to it and not because of the identity of the father, since this cannot be known. The gens for Morgan is the source from which both later kinship systems and later political systems evolved. For Marx, what was most important in the gens is that it was a group based totally on conununol principles, :-vhore indlviduality and selfishness did not exist and where private property

had not begun 10 appear. .

Whilo Morgan is especially interested in the gens ns a stage in the history of kinship which predates the appearance of th~ family, and which shows that rnatrllineal descent preceded patrilineal descent, Marx stresses rather its significance as proof of the existence of orgnnizing principles (especially as regards proporty) which wore opposite to those of cnpitnlism. Marx seems to suggest that the gens con actually ~o-exi.st with de-jncto fom~l~al groupings and stable sexual relntionships, but. these ~aml.hal groupings are not the basis of political nnrl economic orgomZil~lO~, and so the 'constitution' of tho tribe remains communal. Tins IS what matters for Marx, and he seems cautious about the primitive promiscuity hypothesized by Morgan. It is a position which, interestingly enough, is much more accepluble to modern anlhropology thnn to thnt of Morgan and Engels, who both stress em-

phatically the sexual aspect of lhu gens. ..

Marx's main quarrel with writers such us Maine IS that they see the communal aspect of the descent group us growing out of the expansion of the family. For Maine, as the Iamily ~x.pands in~o B descent group, the property it held before on an individual bas~s becomes cornrnunnl property simply because the descent group IS a 'larger family'. Marx therefore sees Maine as arguing that private property is the original form of appropriation and that communal proporty is a later development. Murx sees. SUC~I an argument as 0 subtle legitimation of private property 8S It eXls~ed in his time because it makes it basic to human nature. In arguing against the notion Ihot the family is the origin of society, Marx and Engels reverse what they had argued h~ the.ir pre~io~s writing, but Moine's version of this orgument, ",,:luch gives Prl.o~lty to private property, is even more opposed to their general position, and so it is not surprising that they reject Moine in favour of Morgan. By doing this Marx committed, if not himself, at loost Engels and many Marxists, to a pnrticulur view of tho evolution of

Marx and Engels on Anthropology


kinship which was disastrously wrong. Howovor, he may well have made tho wrong choico for tho right reason. Thot is because even though Maino might have been a better guide than Morgan concerning the evolution of kinship, Morgen was a much better ~de than Maine concerning the evolution of property. As Marx rightly co~unonts in his notebook, Maino seems unable to imagine property In terms other than the legal terms which his training had given him.

This discussion of the primacy of communal property is a point cent~al to. M~rx's wholo work, and the pleasure he found in its confirma tion In the work of Morgan seems to me to be tho only roally clnar element to emorge from lhe notebooks. I would, however, refer the reader who wants to know more to Krader's excellent introduction.

Engels'.s The .Origin of tho Family, Private Property und the State was published 111 1~84, tI~e. year a.fter Marx's death, and (on p.71) the prefacn to the first edition begins thus: 'The following chapters are, I~l a sense, tho execution of a buquest'. Engols sow tho book as being ~hat Marx would have written had he lived, and where?v?r possible he uses quotations from Marx's notebooks. Tile book IS ill great part a 'presentation' of Morgan's Ancient Society, but ~s Engols P01l1ts out Ihoro is much in it which goos beyond Morgun, II! t?~ms both of docul11ontlllion Gull iutcrprotnuon. Ono vory slglllflCunt change from Morgan wo can attribute to Marx Morgan's work is divided into four parts: (1) The growth of Intelligence. through inventions and discoveries, which deals in great part With agricultural teclmology; (2) the growth of tile idea of government, .which is !I1ainly a discussion of descent groups and how thoy ulhmotely give way to stuto organization, porticularly tI~e Ro~on state; (3) the growth of the ideo of tile family, largely a discu~slOn o! types of marrtaga and types of kinship terminology; and finally (4) th? growth of the idea of property. Marx in Ius notes ch~nges tlus. order and brings the discussion of property ror":,,ard m~o the discussion ~f descent groups and family organization, .whIle he keeps lhe diSCUSSion of the rise of tile State till last. This ,new .o~der accords with the logic of Marx's thinking, as we have seen. It 111 oil tho works we have discussed so for. It also forms the baSIS of the organization of Engels's book.

If Enge)s's ,book seems in many important ways 10 follow the lead o.~ Marx s later works there are also somo differences. One such lhfferonco is lorgely 0 mailer of emphnsis but it seems to me

--------- ------

-, '"

'_: "''1


Marxism and Anthropology

of significance In the notebooks Morx explains tho difference in nature between tho descent group, (tho gens] and tho fumily. '1118 family in early times for Morx belongs to tho privo~e domain. rather than to the public and political. Only after 0 lime do the principles on which the family is hosed -pr.ivate p~operty and slovery -come into conflict with the community and Its commonality; this occurs only when the fomily bagi.ns. to ~nov~ into the political domain. Marx focuses on tho dynamic Il.nphcallons of the conflicting principles which tho simult?n8(~us eXI~tence ?f the t~o institutions, family and descent group, nnphes.lIe_'s lnss interested in the evolutionary sequence of Morgan, winch stresses the matrilineal gens and the nuclear famil~ as t:vo different stages. What matters for him is the conflict which arises from their combination. Engels, by contrast, follows Morgan much ~ore closely, not only in terms of Morgun's schemes but also in terms of Morgan's ornphasls.

An overall difference of impression between Marx's notes and Engels's book is that in the case of the notebooks Morgan's fr.am~ work is totally subordinntod to Marx's wider concerns, while II1 Engels's book we get the impression that Morgan, for great chunks of the book, actually tokes over Engels. This leads Engels to enthuslastlcally participnle in ruther technlcal dobntes such. as the significancn of kinship terminology, or the details of Austrnlinn Aboriginal society, details which Marx hod lurgel.y .Ieft alan? This is somewhat ironical in that, as we shall see, It IS Engels s anthropological enthusiasm a III I his tr~lst ~n Morgan .which has been tho source of many of the points in his work which appear now as unacceptable to anthropologists and which have been the cause of some of the most damaging objections to his theories,

Overall Engels seems to go much further in his enthusiasm for Morgan than the' generally vogue impression we get ~rom ~~rx. Marx uses Morgan principally as R source about exotic societies. He does note, in tile letter to Zosulich, Morgan's hope for a future society, which would abandon the obsession with pr.ivato property, but at the some timo he makes it clear that he rightly does not consider Morgan a socialist or a revolutionary. Engels, on .U~o other hand states in the preface to the first edition of The Ongm that 'Morgan in his own way lind discovered afresh in America the materialistic conception of history, discovered by Marx forty years ago, and in his comparison of hnrhnrism and. civilization i~ hod led him, in the main points, 10 the same conclusions as Murx

Marx and Engels on Anthropology


(p. 71). This is high praise indeed from Engels but thoro is no hint in any of Marx's own writing of thut degree of endorsement for Morgan's theoretical position.

The Origin falls. into three parts. The first, represented by Chapter 1, deals With technological evolution. The second, repreSOIl ted by Chapter 2, the longest chnpter in Ihe book, deals with th? development of the family and kinship systems, while the third, Chapters 3-4, denls with the evolution of the Stute. It is the first and second ports which follow Morgun most closely.

1118 first pnrt lists three stages of human evolution from tile earliest to the most recent: savagery, bnrbnrism, and civilization. In this classification Morgan, and Engels after him, were following a very Widely accepted schema of their time which, as we have soon, had alren~ly boon used, nlbnit somowhat differently, by ~arx. Savagery Itself was ugnin subdivided into three substages. First, there was a lower substage of savagery characterized by til? gatil8ring of wild plants and honey. Secondly, there was a middle substage characterized hy fishing nml the inlroduction of ~ire, and thirdly on upper substage characterized by hunting and Improved tools. ilarbnrism, similarly, is divided into three substages but in this case the stages are not seen as universal, since according 10 Engola, they differed in tho old und the now world. 'l~le lower suhslaga of barharism is (;0111111011 and is marked by the dIScovery of pottery, but the middle substage is marked by agriculture ~nd the domestication of plants in the new world, and by pastorallsm and tho dOl1lestication of nnimnls in the old. Tho upp~r sub.stage is marked by the discovery of iron smelting and the mvenhon of alphabetic writing. It is the suiJstuge to which the Homeric poems belong.

This first part of the book, although it follows Morgan closely, also reflects Marx's and Engels's earlier schemes, npurt from the distinction between tho evolution in the Eastern and Western henli~pher~s. The next chapter, dealing with the history of marriage, IS, however, totally now. There is nothing like it in either Tile Cermun Idcology or Formon.

In this second part Engels not only follows Morgan's sequenon, he follows Morgnn's method concerning three key points.

The first method is one which Morgnn shored with all of his contemporaries. lIo thought that if people such as the Iroquois of North America prnctised a particulur type of ngriculturo it could be assumed that their inslitutions were Iho slime as those of long


Morxism ond Anthropology

dead prehistoric peoples who hod a similar level of technology." This meant that although the Iroquois might be observed contemporaneously with nineteenth-century European so.dety, U~ey could, none the less, be considered as a source of mformalton about European society several thousand years before.

'The second method was more peculiar to Morgan aud was to be the source of many controversies in his time. Morgan's interest in anthropology hod begun whon he noticed tho systematic pattern created by the totality of the terms used to refer to relatives and kinsmen. '111Ose patterns varied from language to language, but only a limited number of such patterns seemed to occur, so that tile some pattern of kinship terminology was found among totally unrelated peoples speaking totally unrelated languages. Morgan WAS not interosted in the terms for themselves but in the principles which they seemed to reveal when they wore put together. For example, he would have been interested in the fact that the English word 'uncle' can bo used in speaking both of ono's mother's brother and one's father's brother while in Swedish, for instance, two different words are used. Furthermore, Morgan was interested in tho patterns which kinship terms create, not just for themselves but because ho believed they reflected tl~o system of marriage with which they had originally been usod.1f 111 a particular language 0 woman reforred to a large number of mon other than her husband by tile same term as the one she used for her husband, this impliod, for Morgan and Engels, that in an earlier stage of this systom, a woman would have been wife to all of these men. Similarly if in a language a woman referred to her son by the same term as she used for the son of her sister, this showed that the system of terms developed at a timo when the two sisters would have been co-wives of the same man or men. This combination of system of kin torms and mnrriago is referrod 10 in Engels's book as the system of 'consonguinity'. ForEngels, ~h~r6- fore, the study of systems of kin terms revealed previously existing systems of consanguinity and could be used as evidence for the history of kinship and social organization.

The third method Engels accepted from Morgan concerned the ideo that, although systems of kinship terms were first moulded by systems of marriage, the kin terms did not chung.e as easily as tho system of marriage. This meant that systems of kin terms often rofloctod, not tho present state of uffnirs, but tho previous one. By looking at the kinship terms of u society one could therefore know

Morx and Engels on Anthropology


by this means what hod been tho previous kinship systom practised in the post by tho people concorno(l. '

By the use of thoso three methods Morgan believed he had the means with which to discovor the history of marriage in human societies. Aftor studying large numhers of systems of kinship terms and ~Iacillg them in an evolutionory sequence, portly in terms of their characteristics, partly in terms of the technological level ron.chad hy tho societies from which they originated, Morgan f~lt confident that he had discovered n governing tendency in the history of human marriage: as social evolution progressed the numbor of legitimate sexual pnrlnors n man or II woman could havo diminish~d progressivoly, finally producing monogamy -the permanent uruon of ono man and one woman. This also meant that at tho opposite pole of this evolutionary scquenco thero hod existed a stage which was the exact opposite, a sluge when men ?r womc~ paired freely with whoever they took a fancy to, Irrespechvo of any rulos or regulations. Even the rule of incest, ~org8n and Engels argued, was a subsequent innovation. The first stage became of central importance for the work of both Morgan and Engels.

Neither Morgan nor Engels denied that he had no direct evidence at all for this first primnvnl stnge of total promiscuity. Engels discusses certain objections to Morgun's scheme, especially the presence ?f long-term pairing among animals, but he argues that such evidence from non-human animals is irrelevant to human systems. (Actually his dismissal of this typo of evidence as not being relevant to institutions is one many anthropologists would agree with.) The first stage however romnins nothing more than an extrapolation Irorn the overall pattern of evolution Morgan believed ho hod discovered,

1118 evidence for the next higher stage is not entirely absent but, in this ~ase, it is indirect. This stage, According to Morgan and Engels, IS marked by tile limiting of pairing to one generation only. Sexual relations between generations become incestuous, but se~ual relation~ ~ithin the same generation arc totally free. 111e ev~denc~ for this IS the system of kinship terms which Morgan found in vanous ports of the world. Ono such examplo given is P?lyn~sia, an.d the evidence depends on the Iuct tho t in Polynesian kinship termmology, only differences of generation and sox are rec?gnizod, so that all moles of tho gC~lOrl1tion (lireclly preceding ono s own oro referred to by one and the same word, which was


,1 i


Marxism and Anthropology

glossed by Morgan as 'father'; similarly, all females of this same generation are referred to by one term, which can be glossed as 'mother', It was on tho basis of this kind of observation that Morgan decided that there once existed in Polynesia a social order when sexual relations within one generation were so unspecific UU1t all men of the ascending generation were 'fathers' ami all women of the ascending generation woro 'mothers'. This was because no-one could be sure who exactly within this group begot him.

According to the theory, the people who used such a system of terms did not themselves, however, practise such a typo of marriage but actually practised U10 next stage. This was because according to Morgan kin terms lag behind. As a result, tile evidence for this second stage in the history of marriage depends entirely on the two nssumptions which we have already noted. Ono that patterns of kin terms indicate types of marriage, and second, that the presence of such a pattern is a guide to a previous state of affairs.

The Polynesians, according to this way of seeing things, had a system of kinship terms which indicated, not the marriage system which they practised, but the marriage system which thoy hod

practisod in tho post. .

111e system of marrlnge which the Polynesians uctuolly pructised was, Morgan, and therefore Engels, believed, more advanced or, in other words, more restrictive, and represented the third stage in the evolution of marriogo. This was a system in which, not only were members of one's own generation the only legitimate sexual partners, but not even ali of these, since people who were descendants of UlO some ancestors could not marry. These co-descendants of one's ancestors considered themselves as brothers and sisters and would not marry each other but only members of another similar group of co-descendants. As a result 011 tho mon of one group would marry all the women of another. Group marriages would therefore occur when one group married another. Ono of the results of group marriage was that people shored amongst themselves a large number of spouses. Even though one was a long way from primitive promiscuity, binding individual marriage had not yot appeared,

The evidonco for this stngo, Morgnn und Engels believed, was stronger than for the first two stages. First, and as be foro, there was evidence of this stage from kinship terminologies. The tor-

Marx and Engels on Anthropology


minologies which demonstrated the existenco of this stage, again did not come from those people who were bolivod to proctise tho associotod form of rnarrtuge. Once more it was the terms used by people such as the Iroquois, who were believed to have moved on from this stago, who provided the evidence for its previous existence, Secondly, this third stnge, W(]S nlso vouched for by much moro direct evidence. Morgan and Engels believed that there wero sevorol peoplos who still practised group marriage. Engels, especially in subsequent editions of The Origin, was keen to incorporote new evidence for contempornry practises of what he believed was group marriage. For example, he did this by quoting two anthropologists, Fison and Howitt, who wrote about Australian Aborigines in terms which could be construed as meaning that large groups of men married largo groups of women.

This third stage in the history of rnnrringn WAS of cruciol importance for The Origin. This is because the group of people descended from a common ancestor, which married. as a group another group, was tho famous gens. For Morx and Engels the gens was the typical communal unit containing no internal differentiation as regards property or wives. It was the community in its purest form, U10 anlllhesis to the divisive lndlviduullsm of CApitalism. Its existenco demonslrntnd for Engels that Mnrx had been right in arguing thnt commonality was the oldest form of social existence. TIle fact that, for Morgan at least, this commonality extended to spouses only added spice to tho wholo plcturo.

TI18 absence of individual marriages led Morgan to the view that in such a society a person must belong to tho gens of the mother, not the gens of the Ialher, because with such a system of marriage you could never be sure who your Inther was. The gens had therefore to be a matrilineal group; that is, a group to which you belong by claiming descent in tho female line. Furthermore, Engels and Morgan believed that matriliny hod another, more iinportant, implication; that is, it implied motriarchy or rule by women. In stressing this. Engels was clearly strongly influenced not only by Morgan but olso by Bnchofon whom ho praised in his preface to the book. Both Bachofen and Morgan believed that, since you belonged to the group by virtue of being your mother's son, women in such a systom must hnvo n plll'ticularly high status. Engels, howovel', does not completely follow Bncholan in tho belief that at this stago women were actually superior to men. What Engels stresses is that women were not inferior.







54 Marxism and Anthropology

The assertion of tho existenco of the totally communal gens at an early stage in the history of mankind was what drew Marx and Engels to Morgan. They wero so enthusiastic in the demonstration of the primacy of communal property and equality that they had no difficulty in tnking in from Morgan much baggage which seems pretty unrelated to their previous concern; for example, such Ideas as rnntrlliuy or the significnnce of kinship termmology. More important, however, is the contrnl fact that in tho elovntion of the place of the gens in their system, they ~onsumm?ted tho foh~l union between what we hove called their rhetoI'lcul ond their

historical use of anthropology.

In the previous chapter we sow how anthropology was sometimes used hy them to show the historical particularity of institutions which under capitalism were represented as eternal. Thus, quite justifiably, Marx and Engels used anthropological examples to show that private property or the State is not

a necessary institution for humnn beings. For this purpose Marx and Engels had to show just how different primitive societies were from the type of society their readers knew. However, when they were discussing tho historical development which led to capitalism, as they do in The Gorman Ideology and Furmen, they stress, by conlraal, the continuity in structure between different stages and the universality of the historical process. On U10 other hand, the stage represented by the gens in The Origin, a stage which owes something to Morgan and something to Engels, represents the coming together of the rhetorical and the historical. The gens is there to demonstrate the possibility of a totally communal classless stage based on totally different principles to those of capitalis.m, but which, Engels claims, actually represents a state of affairs which had existed, and for which there is historical evidence. In fact, as we shall see, this evidence has proved largely illusory, but the presentation of the gens stage as a real historical one presents Engels right from the first with the theoretical difficulties which were to plague Marxist anthropology afterwards.

The problem is that, as we have seen, the Marxist theory of society depends on a contrmliction between conflicting principles and on a conflict between different classes. This means that when Engels postulated a pre-class stage when there were no conflicting principles and everything was sweetness and light, he had no Marxist Wfly by which to explain historical change. This had not been so with the earliest stages as drawn in The German Ideology

Marx and Engels on Anthropology 55

or Forman because oven here Marx talks of 'slavery being inherent in the family' and of the universality of class relntions.

When Engels therefore tries to explain the passage from the second stage to the gens slnge he has no theoretical tools to deal with this, and he lamely has to echo Morgan and to explain the passage in Darwinian terms dealing with nnturnl selection. According to this theory the earlier geuerntional pairing was abandoned because it led to so much inbreeding that people who practised tho gens system wero gunetlcnllv more fit for natural sel~ction and ther~fore survived better. Such on explanation, ~U1te aport from being completely wrong, is extraordinary in the light of the Inct that both Murx and Engels warn throughout their work U18t biological models are inappropriate to human societies. What it does show, is just how much of a theoretical problem Engels had made for himself in creating this highly problematical gens stage of history where thero were no class divisions of any kind.

The stage of the matrilineal gons was ussociated by Morgan and Engels with the higher stage of savagery. The pnssage to the next stages was, however, to bo governed by totully different principles. In fuct it is the pnssugo out of the gens stugo which is U18 subject matter of the book. This is the origin of tho fumily private property and the State. '

The first factor to bring about the overthrow of the gens and all it stood for was tho appearnnce within tho 'gentile constitution' (the gens stage] of the pairing family. This occurred during the lower stages of barbarism. The pairing family was an uninslilutionalized de facto long-term association of a man and a woman, At first ~e pairing family co-existed fairly oasily with the gens, because It was not a formal organized institution as was the gens, and so the implications of the gens for such things as property and politics remained unchallenged. The pairing family differed from ~le .mo~ogamy of later states in that it was not a legally binding instltutlon. It could be, and often was, ended at will by either party. The pairing family had been brought about, so Engels and Morgan believed, by women wishing for a little permanence in their domestic arrangements. Because of this, if it involved binding, it was more a case of binding the man rather than tim woman. In this respect it contrasted with tho institution of monogamy. Because it was an impermanent unofficial arrangement, the pairing family held no property and at first presented no

,.,: .,i. "'1 . \ .... '-~.


Marxism and Anthropology

threat to the communally held property of the gens. The pairing family us such was of little organizalionnl importance: it was a I temporury, privnle nrrnngemnnt, For Engels its significnnce lies

in the fact that it WIlS seen as the basis of what was io be the most drama tic chango in tho history of mankind. This was the simultaneous introduction of several indissolubly linked institutions: monogamy (which loter gave rise to polyandry and polygamy), the nuclear family, private property (the property of the nucleor family), the chonge in the rule of descent from the female line to the mole line, the subordinution and humiliation of women, and the State.

111is dramotic change WAS caused both by the presence of the pairing family and by the introduction of herding and agriculture. These new techniques brought about on increase in the things which people needed to control for production, especially land, herds, tools, and even tho sloves who become of importance ot this stage. These things, therefore, hecurnn little by little private property. This new, privuln property would be, according to Engels and Morgon, in the hands of men, unlike the communal property of the gens, which was controlled by women, since they controlled the gens; this was because Engels believed since men would be responsible for production At this stage it was noturol that they would control whul was nocnssury for production.

Men were therefore the first people with private property and soon they wonted to pass on this property to their children. This was impossible, Engels tells us. so long as descent was reckoned in the female line, because he believed inheritance and group membership always went hand in hondo Descent was traced in the female line because when pniring wos temporary and informal, it was not possible to reckon it in any other woy, as one could only be sure of the identity of the mother of the child, not that of the father. The whole gentile constitution mode the j runsforunce of private property from fother to son impossible. In order to succeed in their desire to pass on their property to their children, men first introduced the rule of monogamy find thus brought about tho first great change. Through monogomy, men obtained a sexual monopoly over individual women by which they ensured that the children of these women were their own. Hoving done thot, the men were then able to change the system of descent from matriliny to patriliny. Sons were able to inherit their Inther's private property. The result of this drumulic chnnge was tho nuclear family.

-_---------_._ .. ".- .. _--

Marx and Engels on Anthropology


The second major effect of the introduction of private property occurred, according to Engels, as on indirect resul t of the change to pnlriliny, n stnto which he did not clearly distinguish from patriarchy. This was that women became subordinated economically because the men gained control of the means of production, and so 'while the husband became the bourgeois the wife represents the proletariat' (p. 137). As a Iurther result women were subordinated sexually, because the chauga to patriliny and monogamy restricted the sexual freedom of tho woman, in that it was essential for the man to know he WIIS the Iu thor of her children. Monogamy did not, however, simullnneously restrict the' sexual freedom of tho men, in spite of a pretence otherwise, sinco men hod nothing to lose through philondering.

1118 origin of the family is therefore the same as the origin of private property, and the origin of tho family is the same as the origin of tho subordination and exploitation of women. This origin is monogamy. The overthrow of the gentile constitution, which occurred as a result of technological chunges, and us a rosult of the presence of the pairing family, is, according to Engels, the beginning of history as understood by Marx: the exploitation of one class by another and the resulting class struggles.

At this point in the history of tho ovolution of mankind T118 Origin rejoins The Carmon l(leology and Formen, nit hough it continues to consider the themes of the fomily und the position of women in a way that had not been done before.

Having shown how the advent to monogamy leads to the subjugation of women, Engels follows their increasing humiliation either as prisoners, as in ancient Athens, or as prostitutes. Prostitutes become necessary us a result of monogamy since, as we noted, monogamy both forbids sexual freedom in wives and encourages it in husbands.

Monogamy also lends to mnrriugus being purl of property deals among the ruling classes since marriage becomes port of the process of securing heirs to private property, and once marriage IS seen as a mnller of passing on propertv, it rapidly tokes on that form exclusively among the propertied classes. Among them, argues Engels, women's wishes and happiness become subjugated to the needs of mointoining the ownership of the means of production within the dominant cluss. III these ruling classes the destiny of women is thus supremely unhnppv. MarriAge is one of the elements which lends to the Iormation ami the muinlcuance uf the inequality between classes and it does this at the expense of


Marxism and Anthropology

women. Institutions such as polygamy oro seen hy Engels as mere variants on tho institution of rnonogumy, They nro simply CHSOS of men accumulating several women who themselves are in the same situation as monogamous wives. (It is interesting that in arguing that polygamy grows out of monogamy Engels was reversing the evolulionnry scquenco as most anthropologists of his time saw il.]

Finally Engels turns to tho futuro of marriage and this is seen in terms of its post evolution. The depraved state of women in monogamy, associ a ted as it is with privo te property and capitalism, will, according to him, be replaced when capitalism is overthrown. 111el1 a now kind of family will arise, one which is not based on the exploitation of one sex by another. This exploilation will disappear since, as wo hnvo soon. i Is bnsis is priva to property which itself will be abolished. Monogamy as n legal tio, tying women, will die, and both sexes will be equally free to establish long-lasting bonds and, if these prove unsuitable, to break them.

In this way Engels shows, through this complex history of human marriage, the historical basis of the present state of affairs. He shows how the treatment of sex is linked to wider political and economic considerations and therefore how changes in tho poJilicnl economic svslnm will chnngo oven thnt uppnrontiy most privoto of institutions, mnrriuge. Tho Origill shows that the position of women and tho family, as it existed in Engels's time, is not an unchallengeable datum, based on eternal principles, but the temporary product of u period, a product which will and must be overthrown. The second half of the book shows that this is also so for the State, a concept which for many, especially Hegel, was no less holy and fundumental than the family. 'Tho state', says Engels, ' ... has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies which have managed without a notion of the state and state power.' (P. 232.)

Engels's discussion of the State in The Origin divides into three parts. The first part consists of an evolu tionary analysis describing under what conditions tho State arises. This is mainly to be found in the last chapter of U18 book. The second port is an attempt to debunk the then generally accepted view that there was somethlng unique, mysterious, almost aupornntural in the rise of the European notions of politics. This Engels does by showing that the Greek and Roman states, the 'sacred' sources of the European ideal, were based on principles which can also be seen in embryo among

Marx and Engels on Anthropology


much 10SB prestigious peoples, tho American Indiana. This is dealt with in Chapters 3, 4, 5, uud G. Tho third pnrt of Engels's discussion explains why, in spite of the presence of the State in medieval Europe, some islands of communal organization could and did remain. This is explained in terms of the nature of the Germanic invasions which brought about the destruction of the Roman Empire and is dealt with in Chapters 7 and O.

1110 outline of tho evolutionary theory of tho Stale in The Origin is one we are already familiar with from the earlier writings of Marx and Engels, but it is expanded here with new information from Morgan. Tho main point of Engels's and Morgun's argument is that, once ngain, the State hAS the some origin as the family, private proporty, and class division, or in other words tho overthrow of tho gens. Engels stresses tile contrast between tile political nature of the gens and the State. The gens is a group of people who act together on an egnlitnrian and communal basis. 'All are equal and free - the women included.' (P. 159.) Its leaders are temporary And subject to the will of the people. Individual gens are linked with one another, in that their ancestors are thought of as roloted, thereby creating on obligation between the members of those gens. These links are moral and involve no suhordination. Groups of gons related in this wny Iorm phrntrios nnrl phrutrios may be linked 0110 to another in 0 similar Iushion to Iorrn tribes. Furthermore gens and phrutries are linked to other gens and phratries through ties of marriage. This is a rosult of the rule which forbids marriage within the gens and so forces tile creation of marriage lies between gens. Because of the presence of all these links, there is order in such a syslem, even though it is a type of 'society which still "has" no state' (p.100) and 110 classos. This conclusion enables Engels to make again one of the most important points in The Cermnn Ideology. The two terms 'society' and 'State' are not, as many political philosophers had assumed, synonymous. Order can exist without the State. '1118 political implications of this oro ohvious: the Slate is £101 necessury for pence, whoso basis must be found elsowhere.

There is for Engels, however, an intermediary stnge between the State and the gens, This was the situntion which Morgan described for the Iroquois when several tribes got together, not any more on the basis of kinship or mnrrtuge, but on the basis of confederacy. This was exempli find hy the league of the Iroquois which Morgan had studied in detail. For both Engels and Morgan


...--,..,..·.M'-~: ...._" .. '"""~,--.-


Marxism and Anthropology

the league typified a general political stage, and Engels argued that it could be found elsewhere in many parts of the world.

By then, however, the stage WAS set for the rise of the true Stntn. 1110 equality of the gentile constitution WIIS threatened Ly private property, exploitation, mouogumy, and the nucleur fnmily. Thls process as we hove seen, leads III the brenk lip of cornmunitv and 010 formation of classes. The Stuto then becomes necessary because in The Origin as in the other works it is revealed as being one of the mechanisms for ensuring the continuing domination of tho higher classes. In lliis way 'Ilu: Origin demonstrates a complete tie-up between politics, economics, kinship, and gender roles, and this view of all the different aspects of society us an essential whole is what gives The Origin its power. Perhaps the most significant fact about Engels's book is that tho word 'origin' is in tho singular. For him there is one origin to phenomena we tend to think of as distinct: private property, the Family, and 010 State.

111e State is the result of the disorder brought about by inequality and private property ond it is the means by which this inequality and private property is maintained. Engels re-echoes The Cermun Ideology in showing that far from the State being the repository of justice, it is tho repository of exploitution, but here he does this by use of genuine unlhropologicul muturiuls. According to Engels the State only develops with the full elaboration of classes, lind it is the tool of the ruling class enforcing its will on those whom it oppresses. This is 0 crucial proposition which we have already noted and which will be discussed uguin lnter in this book. It is by means of this idea that the State is linked with the earlier part of the origin of kinship and marriage. Classes nnd private property grow out of the fnmily and togethor these various factors lead to 018 break-up of the gens. This destruction is, therefore, 1I0t only the origin of private- property, not only the origin of tho family, monogamy, and the oppression of women, it is also the origin of Ole State.

1118 second part of this second half of Tho Origin deals with Greece and Home nnd in rnnny wuys again follows whnl Marx and Engels had written previously. What is new however is the suggestion, which at the time of writing must huvo appeared as the height of impertinence, that the Creek and Roman stales originated in much the some kind of confuderntion &S the Iroquois. In this way Engels asserts the gouerulity of tho principles discussed, but also he explains the importuuce of what he believed were

Marx and Engels on Anthropology


remains of gentile principles in the organization of Greece and Rome. (He does admit however that these remains were -in historical times at least -linked to patrilineal groups; rather odd inheritors of the prlnciples of Ihn rnuh-ilinoul gons.]

Two other gonornl points also emerge from the discussion of Greece and Rome. The first is that it shows well the distinction Engels makes between general principles - in this cnse the dissolution of communal orguniznlion and the rise of class -and specific cases. Engels does not pretend that the historios of Greece, Rome, and the Iroquois are identical. What he states is that Ole same general principles govern their development, although conditions were so different that these principles had considernbly different effects in the different cases.

1118 second general point is that the discussion on Greece and Ramo shows that Engels thought that the general scheme of social causation developed by Marx for cnpitulism applied to precapitalist Iorrnntions, so long as these were past the gens stages. This is the scheme nccorrling to which malerinl conditions give rise to class relations which at first develop in direct response to U18se material conditions. 11lOn the logic of the social system and the antagonism of classes continues to develop so that ultinwtely it destroys itself and the rna Ierial condi tiuns which brought it about. Rome (111(1 Croccn, for Engels, develop classes (slaves) in response to tho development of agricultural techniques and tho growth of manufncturing, both of which cnuso un increase in tho division of labour. The division of classes, however, goes on incrensing and it finally undermines the society in which it had arisen. Engels says of the Greeks: 'The downlnll of Athens was not caused by domocrucy AS the Europoalllickspit tie hislorinns assert to flatter their princes, but by slavery, which banned the labour of freo citizens.' (P. 1U 1.)

Thus for the period after 'the origin' Engels returns to Marxist orthodoxy: 'Here we shall need Marx's Cnpitul as much as Morgan's book.' (P. 217.) This is because the demise of capitalism which Murx prophnsios in C(lpitu/ takes tho snmo form as the demise of Greece and Horne, according to Engels. The class system created to operate the new economy in hoth the case of capitalism and ancient society leads to such opposition, exploitation, and contrndictlon that the system for which it was created collapses. 11li8 downfall opens the way for n now sucial systom in Loth cases.

62 Marxism and Anthropology

The third part of the second half of the hook mainly concerns the Germanic tribes which invaded and finally overthrew the Roman empire. Engels here, as elsewhere, is clearly influenced by the romantic nationalist tradition of nineteenth-century historians, and the praise which he lavishes on these groups, as well as the labelling of them as 'German', is probably misplaced. On page 215 he does, however, try to put some distance he tween himself and the racist overtones of this tradition: 'But what was the mysterious magic by which tho Germans breathed new life into a dying Europe? Was it some miraculous power innate in the Gorman race, such as our chnuvinist historians romance about? Not a bit of it. The Germans, especially at that time, were a highly gifted Aryan tribe in tim full vigour of development. It was not however their specific national qualities which rejuvenated Europe, but simply their barbarism, their gentile constitution.' Engels's argument is clear: the Germans wore able to vanquish the Romans because their society was not so internally corrupted by clnss. At tho some time it shows thot Engels did nut always believe that 'higher' stages always followed upon lower ones.

The main point, however, of the section on the Germanic tribes is a discussion of the nature of feudalism, and this is little different from that found in The German Ideology. Engels, like Marx, was particularly interosted in tile historicul significance of traditional communities which might have retained, in much later historical periods, something of their 'gentile' constitution. In that he was much influenced by contemporary historians: Kovalesky and Maurer. This interest ultimately led him to writo a soparate work on the topic, Die Murk. This side of his work we cannot discuss here since it would best be denlt with in a book concerned WiUI history and Marxism. We have enough to do in evaluating Marx's and Engels's use of anthropology and this is tile task of the next chapter.

3. The Present-Day Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology


Before continuing with tho history of Marx's and Engels's ideas in our field until the present, wo must first oxamino how these ideas sta?d in tho light of modern developments in anthropolugy. Since tilOl.r ~ork co~ered ~\lch a vast range of subjects, it is necessary to limit the discussion to topics which have arisen within the traditional limits of anthropology, and to leave to other studies on examination of Marx's and Engels's views of such periods as feudalism or ancient Greeco and Rome, since these fall more undor tho orbit of historical studies. Somo other topics, such as the discussion of the Asiatic mode of production and tho notion of ideology, will also be left to other ports of the book.

We must first consider one of Marx's and Engels's fundamental notions, the ideo that human history goes through certain ordered stages. Marx and Engels and, for thnt motter, Morgan and their other sourc~s, woro in no way peculiar in this hellef: they were representatives of a current of opinion that was almost universally accepted by the end uf the nineteenth-century. Since then, however, this fundamental premise has come under attack in a variety of woys and it is true to suy that 'evolutionism' is c?nsidered un.occ~pta~Jle by ~ost. modern Western anthropologists. What this rejection consists 111, howovor, is less than clear. It may consist in a rejection of the specific schemes or lines of evol~lio~ propounded by nineteenth-century authors, It may consist m a rejection of tile notion that there are identifiable stages, or that talking of stages is a useful way of visualizing evolution. It may involve a rejection of tho ideo of evolution altogether. Unfortunately many modern anthropologists are very vague as to which of theso different objections they ore making whon thoy object to 'evolutionism' in general.

The most fundamental objection consists in the view that human history is nut governed by any generul laws at all or at least by any universal lows, and that tho attempt to construct on all-embracing history of mankind is thurefore futile. Among the




,.: ~ :

. I



Marxism and Anthropology

Present-Day Standing of Marx's und Engels' Anthropology


doubtful bordorllno cases lhun typicn! ones, hocuuso uf the great variation of social systems in hiHlory in different parts of the world.

Most modern Western unthropologists, therefore, reject both the nineteenth-century evolutionary sequences and the notion of stages, but this of course is not a rejection of evolution itself. None the less many writers seem to imply thal it is, and as a result their position is unclonr. They do nul for the most part take a position like thnl of Dons unrl Evnns-Pr+tchurd which rejects tho vory notion Ihnt thoro oro gcnornl lnws guvoruiug huruun history; and if they do not, it would 800ln lhul they too are driving, howover cautiously, towards An understanding of human history in general, in other words toward a theory of human evolution. Because this is so, 1 do not boliuvo lha I thoir position is as different from that of ninuleonth-centurv nnlhropologists and Marx ond Engels as they would like \IS to believe, if we were to take their rejection of 'evolutionism' at its lace value. It must be said however, thnt they are infinitely more cautious LImn their predecessors, and on the whole with good reason. We shall return to this largely neg a live and vnguo tlreorotical at ti tilde on the part of modern West~rn anthropologists, hut it is nccompnnieti by milch more definite nnd of len more valuable criticism of earlier schemes, such as those used by Marx and Engels. It is with these criticisms that we shall denl now.

In The Origin, and already AS for back as The German Ideology, Marx and Engels followed their contemporaries in believing that the history of mankind usually went through the some sequence of technological improvement. The sequence, hy And largo, went like this: first gathering of plants And small aniruuls, second fishing, third hunting, fourth pottery, fifth pnslorulism, sixth Agriculture, seventh metalworking. There ore now several elements of this sequence which are clearly unacceptable.

First, gathering, hunting, and fishing do not represent clearly different technological stages but always occur together so long as the environment permits this combinntion. The nrchaeological records of man shuw those throe activities normally co-existing (Lee and DeVore, 1904). On the other hand nil modern anlhropologists rind archueologisls would agree wilh tho view that for a very long period of history mankind has existed solely hy hunting, fishing, and gathering, and that such a technologicnl stage always pro cedes domoatlontion of plants and auimuls,

Tile next stage in the snquenco is nlso nrnhlnrnntlr- Mn!'" ,,,,,1

writers who have advocated such a view are the grent American anthropologist Buns and souio of his pupils, and also. for somewhat different masons, tho British anthropologist EvansPritchard. These authors stress tho uniqueness of each and every different culture and the unuxpucteduess of hislory. Their position will be considered in Chapters 5 and G. II is in Iac! only rarely openly acknowledged hy other anthropologists, though the blanket rejection of evolution which is 10 he found in the work of mnny seems to imply it. Rather. modern nnlhropolouisls loud to attack the specilic evolutionnrv suquuncos in tho work of the earlier writers - often, as wo shnll soo, wilh good ron son - nnd they also criticize the notion of stngns,

To tnlk of humnn history ns going through stages implies that there is nn unavoiclnhle link-up between ledmologicnl systems, political systems, economic syslnms, kinship systems, otc, In fnet recent findings make this kind of view untenable, as we will soe below. In any case, as nnthropologists have learned more and more about different societies, they have found ever-greater difficulty in pushing into anyone list of slages the variety of forms of human society which modern research has revealed. The kinds of stages which we have found ill the work of Marx and Engels seem now to most anthropologists much too moulded to European history, even laking into account tho modifications which, as we saw, were gradually incorporated in their work to handle their growing knowledge of non-European societies. This Eurocentrism was inevitable at n time when ill Europe only European history was at all well known, and Marx's und Engels's 'general' slages often read like little more than 11 generalized history of western Europe. Eurocen Irisrn seems however milch less excusable in the work of modern hiatorinns who, following in Marx's and Engels's footsteps, still seem to consider lhe examples they used sufficient to generalize about human history (Anderson, 1974). When these 'stages' have been used to identify societies outside Europe the result has often been misleading. For example. Goody and others have argued that the labelling of pre-colonial West African states as 'feudal' has obscured the ull-importuut fact thal tho control of the ruling clnss did not opernto through lhe control of lund, and that therefore Marx's idous cnnnot bo used directly for these societies. (Goody, 1971, eh. Il.) This is one example among many. AnoU18r objection to the notion of 'stages' is due to the same 1\ problem. It consists in pointing out the Inct that, as soon as we use tho stages as a type of classilicnuon, we find we have more ~ "

~~----.-.-- _.-


ivrarxrsm and Anthropology

Engels, as well AS many of their contemporaries, believed that pastoralism predated agriculture. They apparently originally got tho idea from n book hy W. Cooku Taylor. Tho Nuluruillistol"}' of Society iii t111~ Bllr!JlIl'!JlIS nnd Civiliwd SI(JIH, W40, which Mnrx read in H151 [Kruder, 1 !J72:~)O). This is clenrly WI'()[)g: if anything, the evidence is nil thn other way (llcko nnd Dimhlnbv, 1!Jml): ill most cnses ngriculturu preceded herding. IIow far Marx and Engels were wedded to the idea is not clear and Engels did note that this sequence did not apply to the Nnw World. Their idou of tile origin of private property was, however, intimately linked with the importance of the ownership of herds. In The Origin the development of herding was n major turning point. By cnulrnst, most modern prehistorians would stress, ns the major turning point, the dramatic importance of the domestication of plants and animals, the 'neolithic revolution'. This is still seen us ono of tho most important events in the history of mankind.

Modern prehlstorlnns do not any more attach Stich importance to the introduction of poltery, which cannot be clearly correlated with such things as Agriculture. The importance which Engels attributed to this came entirely from his nnthropulogicnl sources and really reflects on old-fashioned type of urchueology obsessed with rnuterial remains rather than with tho generul way of life. This altitude, on the port of their sources, is basically foreign to Marx's and Engels's overall work, and one feels they would have been more at home with the work of more modern prehistorians. Indeed they seem to have Ioroshndowod Intel' work by uttaching such prirnury imporlnnce to domoslioatinn.

Another more lrnportant criticism of Marx's and Engels's technological sequences comes from the Inct that they give tho impression that progression through these technological stages was an inevitable progression from lower to higher. Although overall this view is still widely hold, it is possible to point to several cases of reversul WhOJl, for example, ngricullurulists reverted to hunting nud gnlheriug. lt cnn ho orgllod, huwover. that Engels nnrl Marx did Hot rule out such fI possihility themselves, as is suggested by tho discussion of the success of the Germanic tribes in overthrowing Homo, u case when people with a lower technology replaced H society based on a higher stage.

There is however an important general point a t issue here. It is possible to road some of tho writings of Marx uml Engols us suggesting n mochnnicnl sucoessiou 01 slnges, following one alter

Present-Day Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology


the other, or it is possible to see in their work, concentrating on othor passages. n loss dnlorminist vi ow of progress. I boliovo that both vlows of thuir writing urn justified ill tlmtthoy seem to have oscillated between these two poles and such uscillalions are notod in sovornl places in this bonk. Nona tho less, irrespoctivn of what their position might bo, modern onthropolugy would reject the view that the progress of technology is totally irreversible. although tho sequence of technolugloal progress Marx and Engels took OVAI' from their anthropological sources is still, by and large, acceptable. The problem with their evolutionary sequence does not lin 80 much with what they soy about technology as what they saw this technology as implying.

Before we examine these problems one important question of method must be noted. Marx and Engels, liko all their contemporaries, including anthropologists nnd archaeologists and Morgan in particular, felt that information gained about contemporary peoples whose life depended on a simple technology was valid for understanding tho social institutions of prehistoric populations who had relied on a similar technology. For example, if tho Bushmen of tho Kalnhnri, who livo by hunting and gathering, accord n high status to women this. it was assumed, must also have been true of tho hunters and gatherers of prehistoric limes. This way of reasoning is, however, problematic for a number of reasons. The first is that the history of Lho Kalahari Bushmen is just us long as Ihoso of technologically moro advanced people of today. and so they are not representative of an 'narlior period' ill the history of mankind. Their society may have, and most probably has, changed rudically and often since the time when hunters and gatherers roamed Europe. The second difficulty is that. nlthough the Kalahari Bushmen may have a similar technology to European prehistoric hunters and gatherers, their economic situation is very different. The Bushmen have Loon pushed back from milch richer regions into tho most lnhospitablu Brons of Africn l)y other more technologically advanced peoples with whose enmity they still have continually to reckon. I3y contrast the prehistoric men uf Europe were settled in tile most fertile and advantageous areas of the country and did not hove to fear more technologically advanced enemies. Their lives were thurofore presumably very much eusier and different from that of Bushmen. Bucnuse of this Iundnmentul differonco it is difficult to know whether wo con rely Oil information about


rvrarxrsui and Anthropulogy

Engels, as well as many of their contemporaries, believed that pastorulism preda ted agriculture. They apparently originally got tho idon from u book by W. Cooke Taylor. Tho Nuturul Ilistory of Society iii t/If~ Bmhll('olls unci Civiliwd Stut!!, W40, which Mnrx rend in 1B51 (Krudor, 1 \172:00). This is clearly wrong: if anything, the ovidence is nil the other wav [Unkn nnrl l Jimhlehv, l!)(HI); in most cases ugriculturo prucoderl herding. How far Marx and Engels were wedded to the ideo is not clear and Engels did note Iha t this sequnnco did 1I0t npply to tho Nnw World. Their ideu of the origin of private property was, however, intimately linked with the importnnoe of the ownership of herds. In The Origin the development of herding was u major turning point. By conlrnsl. most modern prehistorians would stress, I)S the major turning point, the dromatic importance of the domestication of plants and animals, the 'neolithic revolution'. This is still seen [IS ono of tho most important events ill the history of munkinrl,

Modern prehistorians do not Any more Attach such importance to the introduction of pottery, which cannot he dearly correlated with such things as Agriculture. The importance which Engels attributed to this come entirely from his anthropological sources and really reflects [III old-fashioned typo of nrchuuology obsessed with material remains rather than with the general way of life, This attitude. on the port of their sources, is basically foreign to Marx's and Engels's overall work, and one feels they would have been more at home with the work of more modern prehistorians. Indeed they seem to have Iurushatlownd In tel' work hy !I Iluching such primary importance to dumostication.

Another more importunt criticism of Marx's und Engels's technological sequences comes from the fact that they give U18 impression that progression through these technological stages was an inevitable progression from lower to higher. Although overall this view is still widely held, it is possible to point to several cnsos of reversal when, fur example, ngriculturnlists reverted to huutiug nnrl gnthoring. II can he Ilrgllod, however, that Engels und Murx did not rule out such n possihility themselves, as is suggested by tho discussion of tho success of the Germanic tribes in overthrowing Home, a case when people with s lower technology replaced n society based on u higher stage.

There is however an important general point at issue here. It is possibln to rourl some of the writings of Marx and Engels us suggesting n mcr.huuicnl succession of singes, following 0110 alter

:' ,: , ,~

' .. ''''''~:~ ... , .. ,

Present-Day Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology


the other, or it is possible to see in their work, concentrating on other passnges, a loss dotorminist viow of progress. I bellovo that both views of thoir writing oro justified in thnt they seem to have oscillated between these two poles and such oscillations are nolod ill sevorul places in this honk. Nono tho less, irrespective of what their position might be, modern onthropology would reject the view that the progress of technology is totally irreversibla, although tho sequence of teohnologicul progress Marx and Engels took over from their anthropologlcnl sources is still, by and large, acceptable. The problem with their evolutionary sequence does not lio so much with what they soy about technology as what they sow this technology as implying.

Before we examine theso problems one important question of method must be noted. Marx and Engels, Iiko all their conternporarles, including anthropologists nnd archaeologists and Morgan in particular, felt that information gained about contemporary peoples whose life depended on a simple technology was valid for understanding tho social institutions of prehistoric populations who had relied on 0 similur technology, For example, if tho Bushmen of tho Kulahari, who livo by hunting and gutherlng, accord n high status to women this, it was assumed, must also have been true of the hunters unci gatherers of prehistoric times. This way of reasoning is, however, problematic for A number of reasons. The first is that the history of the Knlahnri Bushmen is just us long ns thoso of technologically mora advanced people of toduy, lind so they are not representatlve of an 'mulier period' in the history of mankind. Their society may hove, and most probably has, chnnged rndically and often since the time when hunters and gatherers roomed Europe. The second difficulty is that, although the Kalahari Bushmen may have 8 similar technology to European prehistoric hunters and gatherers, their economic situation is very different. The Bushmen have boon pushed buck Irnrn much richer regions into tho most inhospitable arcus of Africn liy other more teclmologicnlly advanced peoples with whose enmity they still have continually to reckon. I3y contrast the prehistoric men of Europe were settled in tile most fertile and advantageous areas of the country and did not hove to Iear more technologically advanced enemies, Their lives were therefore prusumuhly very much ensier And different from that of Bushmen. Because of this Iundnmnnlul differonco it is difficult to know whether we cnn rely Oil information about


Marxism and Anthropology

contemporaries to tell us nhoul prehistoric peoples in the way that is often dono still loduy lind WIIS donn universally in Mnrx's and Engels's limo.

The significance of the obiections we have just noted is much more important than might at first appear. These objections imply tl1I11 tnchuologv cnnnot hn II gllidn to olhur aspects of society, or in other words thnt lhern is no iuevitnhle association between technology and other aspects of society. This qualificalion applies as much to the work of writers such as Morgan as to his critics. They all believed tha t severn] currespondlng processes could be identified, especially in the field of kinship, which went automaticnlly in parnllel with technologicnl evolution.

We are now ready to examine in detail tho nssumptions in Marx's and Engels's work concerning the evolution of social aspects of liumnu society. First we shnll look lit the theories in their work concerning the evolution of kinship and marriage. This means that we should pny special attention to The Origin, since this is where the mailer is discussed extensively.

The evolution of kinship, marriage, and the status of women is a particularly revealing theme of this work. That is because it is an area where Marx and Engels, misled by Morgnn, went most wrong, yet where at the same time they mndo the best use of anthropology. Tho oxplnnntion behind thnt pnrndox is onco nguiu UlO problem of tho two uses of anthropology in their work. Tho rhetorical use they made of anthropologists' ideas as 0 source for a criticism of the society of their time, especially as 0 criticism of the way institutions such as the family, marriage, and the status of women were seen as unchangeable and eternally fixed, is one which seems totally justified to present-day anthropologists. However as nn account of the nclunl historical evolution of kinship, their use of anthropology was disastrous, thanks largely to Morgan. We shall first have A look at this 'historical' side of things before turning to the positive 'rhetorical' side of their work.

First we must once again concern ourselves with method and examine two assumptions which Engels took over from Morgan concerning the significance of kinship terms. The first such assumption is the belief that the pattern of kinship terms reveals the marriage system. As we have seen, this was n key point for Morgan becnuse all his evidence nhnul kinship carne from kinship torms. In tho tcudoncy of cnrtuin svsloms of kinship terms to group large uumbers of people under words which he translated

Present-Day Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology


as 'father' or 'mother' loy his proof for tho existence of the communal mnrringos on which his lheurv of tho evolution of the family, ill gonornl, nnd of tho gOIlS, ill pnrtinulnr. rested. This idea of Morgan's is far from ridiculous. It ultimately relies on the notion that wo order our world through the categorical distinctions of our Illllgnngn. According to such a theory, if we, in English, cull both our mother's brother und our Iather's brother by the same term - 'uncle' - it is bocnuse these two relatives are to us, the some 'kind' of rolulivo, uud that probably the foct that wo use tho one word onuses us to soo them in that way. In another language where mother's brothers and fn ther's brothers are referred to by different words we would see them as different kinds of relatives. This genernl view is still often held by anthropologists and has been repeatedly advocated by, among others, the British anthropologist E. H. Lunch, for example, in his article 'Concerning Trobrinnd Clans and the Kinship Category Tapu' (Leach, 195B). The opposite view, thut of Morgan's contemporary, McLennan-a view derided by Morgan, Marx, and Engels -sees kinship terms as having no social significance at all. It is a view which, by controst with thnt of Morgan and Engels, is, as far as I know, totnlly alnuulouod. Tho general consensus now would be that, even if systems of kinship terms are closely linkod to social systnms. 11m link is not ns simple lIS Morgnn mudo out. Tho foct thnt sovel'llitypos of rulnlivns cun ho culled by tho sarno term does not mean that they cannot he distinguished. The fact that we cull both our mother's brother and father's brother by the some term does not mean that we are unaware of the fact ihal we are related to them in different wnys or that we cannot express this difference by using such phrases as 'my uncle on my mother's si.de'. This is just the some for systems Iiko the Polynesian one, discussed by Engels, where large numbers of people can be referred to by the same term as one's father. III such H system one can say 'my own' or 'my true father' and this is uften done. In this way people using such a terminology may distinguish tho role of fnther from that of fnther's brother. There is therefore 110 reason to believe thnt in such u system those two relatives are equally my molher's husband or that limy hoth have similar sexual rights over my mother. The pnttorn rovenlerl by kinship limns cannot therefore be used ns evidence of marriage systems in the woy that Morgan believed. This crucinl olomont ill Morglln's evidence is on Illusion nnd there is not the slightest shred of evidence thu t those


Marxism and Anthropology

societies where huge numbers of people can he referred lo by llie terms for parent are societies whore rnarriage is either more or less individualistic. There is no correlation at nil between the number of types of relatives that nro called hy the same word and the numher of legitimate sexual partners in rnarrtnge,

Equally problematic is Morgan's other assurnptirm: that systems of kinship terms chnnge less easily than marriage systems, and that kinship terms can serve as an indication of what the marriage system was like in the past. In some ways this principle is conlrndlctory to the assumption, discussed above, that there is a match between terminology and marriage systems.

The ideo that there is something of a lag between terminology and social system is intorosting find thoro does indeed sometimes seem to be this type of gap. For example, a group of people I studied in Mndngnscar changed their marrlage system in response to changing economic circumstances but did not adjust their kinship terminology (Bloch, \ 975). This time lag, however, does not always occur, as I show in the SAme study, and we are not in a situation to make tho kind of general assumption mode by Morgan Ami Engels. We can sny ihnl the relationship between morrioge system and terminology is itself highly variable find so too is the way they interact on each other. Because of this, the system of kinship terms is not valid evidence of what the marriage system was in the post, and Morgan's and Engels's assumptions, which rely on such on Inference, cunnul be accepted.

As a result much of the evidence for the evolution of kinship in The Origin is irrelovunl. So. leaving aside Ior a moment tho difficull question of whether to accept tho kind of associutlon between kinship system and teclmologlcnl iove! postulated by Morgan, Marx, and Engels, it is not surprising Ihnt modern anthropology reveals 110 such nssocinlion between leolurulogv and kinship terms. For exurnpln, the Eskimos, who IlS hunters and fishermen are right ut 11m holtnm of Murx's and Engels's teclmological scnle, hnvo a kinship tnrrninologv which dons not classifv relatives nny more than llu: Elig(h:;h svstcm does - u sign for Morgan of the presence of monogamy -while the Malays, who hove possessed for a vory long time highly ndvnnced agriculturul techniques, use a kinship terminology which Morgan and Engels associated with the earliest slngns of evolution.

Engels does introduce into The Origin some types of evidence for early Iumilv forms other tliun Iorminology. FOI' cxumple, in tho

Present-Day Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology


fourth edition of The Origin he introduced evidence of group marrlages occurring among tho Australian Aborigines. Unfortunately this type of evidence is also misleading, for two reasons. First, Engels believed that his source, the writers Fison And Howitt, provided independent evidence of group marriage, while in fact they too worn enlhuaiustic supporters of Morgan's theories. Secondly, even though group weddings do occur, for example among people like tile Samburu of East Africa, where traditionally all the young men of the same age group married on the same day B group of girls, this does not mean that the marriages are any less individunl affairs for having boon celebrated All at Ihe some time. The young man who hAS been married at tho snrnn time AS his peers does not shore his wife with them nor do the wives shore the husbands. This is the type of evidence which misled Engels inlo believing that communal marriage actually survived (Spencer, 1965).

Having dealt with the methodological preliminaries, we can now turn to the evolutionary scheme for kinship systems presented in The Origin.

111e first stage in the scheme wus Ihnl of totnl primitive promiscuity. It is 0118 for which, as we have seen, neither Morgan nor Engels presented any evidence. This is still tho situation today. "We now know much more about surviving hunters and gatherers than was known in Morgun's day and, although sexual unions among them mny in some cases be very unstnble, in others thoy oro not. Furthermore, the high instability of marriage which does occur is not in any Wfly unique to them.

A further- stage in the scheme is 11111ch more interesting; this is U10 stage of the communal gens. The mnin lisped of the gens which interested Engels and Marx was its communal character, the WHy ii was internally undifferentintcd ond tho woy it held property as well 8S people and children in common. In stressing this aspect, Marx find Engels wore busing themselves in great part on the excellent description (hal Morgan hnd supplied for tho matrilinenl descent groups of the Iroquois, anrl, in his stress on the community aspect of descent groups, Murgan has been in many ways supported by Inter work. Anthropologists such as Fortes, the foremost authority on the subject, (Fortes, 1953; 1963) hove stressed the extraordinary unity of some descent groups and their communnl control of property, us the key element of social organizution uf tho peoples among which they ocelli'. 'Whon wu

HIUl A1:?Hl anu Antnropology

turn to Morgan's discussion of this aspect of the gens we must admit thot it brilliantly anlicipales modern accounts.' Fortes slatos. Morgan. Marx. nnd Engels were thnrnlure right in stressing the corporate. non-uulividualistlo aspect of gens. This was the evidence which MArx and Engels required in order to show that society has not always been hosed on private property held by isolated nur.lenr Inmllios, This was their coutrnl point nud they found evidence to support it which hus stood tho tost of time. Unfortunntely both Marx ami Engels, in their enthusiasm for this confirmation of their theory, olso took over from Morgan's work on the gens several totnlly unsupportable assumptions which are in Inct quito unnecossury for whnt tlmy were trying to argue.

The first point thnt one would wnnt to make in criticism of the gens theory is lhnl, oven if descent groups such as the Iroquois gens appear as undifferentiated communities from the point of view of on outsider, this is not so from the point of view of the member of a gens, The land of 0 dnsceut group is snid lo belong to the group as a whole and un outsider to the group does not have a right to cullivnlion inside the group territory when a member of the gens does so already. This, however, does not mean that there are no further levels of distinction inside the group or that an individual member or u particular Iarnily within the gens may not have priviloged nccess to 0 part of the gens torritory. There is 0 lot of evidence tim t such intornnl restrictions occur in all the accounts of descent groups nmnssed bv anthropologists. Admittedly if the component fnmily abnndons its claim to the lund this will revert to the commonality but lhat does not mean that there are no such claims in normal circumstances. In other words, a declaration of common ownership of the land of the gens does not imply free and equal access to all within the gens.

Marx, in pnrtioulur, hnd nlrondv noted this Iuct ill sovornl places, but ho expluiuod the phouomonon of internal division as n transitionul one; ns evidence of H sluge in which privnte properly and individual families were coming in and undermining the communal descent group. A problem with this point of view is that there is in fact no evidence of descent groups having ever existed without these two levels and it seems difficult to treut all documented cases as transitions from R stnge Ior which thoro is no evidence. In any coso, the conlrudinliou which Mnrx stresses very largely disappears when we realize that it is n matter of the context in which claim to lund is expressed. From 1110 point of

Present-nay Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology


view of the outsider the descent group appears as undillerentiatcd [mel this will be expressed by slntumonts of tho commonality of tho resources of claim while, Irom the point of view of tho insider dealing with other insiders tho descent group appears highly differentia ted.

There is however nn impliud point in thn discussion of the gens which,l boliovn, is jllslifiod in nil societius principully organized by descent group (though not necessarily all socioties where descent groups merely occur as one among many other social institutions). In such societies one does not find internal differentintion bused on difforontiul wonllh, and if such differnntlation appears to develop, it is resisted. This means thot in a very general way there is a contradiction between class organization and descent groups, and that this contradiction is actually perceived, though not in theoretical terms, by the members of societies based on descent groups.

The exaggeration or over-simplificalion of lhe notion of commonality within the gens as regards ownership of property is also apparent in the discussion of kinship and this led equally to a fundamental misunderstanding. In part Morgan believed that, in systems based on descent groups, spouses were held in common because, in such a society, people of ton lulk of wives or husbands as 'having been mnrried to such and such a gens'. There are indeed certain aspects of the murriage system of such societies which support this point of view. For example, a woman married to a man of R particular descent group moy well he passed on to another man of her husband's descent group ut his death. This, however, does not mean that she is the wife of oil the men of the descent group at the some time. Again one must distinguish the point of view of tho outsider and the insider. From tho outsido people uuiy say slio !Jus nuu-ricd into such null such 0 descent group but this dnos not iucuu that she h; also not at tho same timo the wifo of n pnrticulnr mun. The cornmunal uud tho familial am not necessarily in opposition -they are mailers of levels, and although at cortnin times Marx seems to see this, at others he does not and Engels never does. This is because of their legitimate keenness to stress the presence of a communal principle in the historv of mankiud. None lho less tho filet romulus that the presence of descent groups tells us nothing directly about domestic orgunization.

There is, however, yet another way in which modern anthropolo-


Marxism and Anthropology

gists could agree with Marx, Engels, and Morgan concerning the 'group' aspect of marriage. All would stress thnt our view of marriage AS A private alliance concerning almost exclusively two people is totally inappropriate for most non-capitalist societies, especially those based on descent groups. In these societies marriages involve alliances between groups, often of a political character, and as such they are lnitiated and organized by the leaders of the groups concerned rather thun by the future couple. Similarly, in these societies A large number of people on both the bride's and the groom's side are involved in on obligatory exchange of proporty of major significance. In this sense all anthropologists would agree that such marriages are primarily group concerns.

Marx in the notobooks is opposed to McLennan, Moine, Phear, and others who disagreed with Morgan over the commonality of tho gens, principally because they saw sodety growing out of the individual monogamous family with its private property. As a result, because they saw descont groups as enlarged families, something which Marx and Engels had themselves done in The Germun Ideology, but which they later emphatically rejected, Marx saw writers such as Moine arguing that monogamy, the subjugation of women, tho nuclear family, and private property were ineluctable basic principles in the nature of man. Marx saw this point of view as legitimizing the institutions on which nineteenth-century capitalist society was built. By contrast, Marx saw in Morgan's emphasis on the primacy of tho matrilineal gens a challenge to these principles. In this mailer of the nature of the gens (descent group) further research has actually proved both sides of the controversy right. As we saw, most modern anthropologists would, like Morgan, stress the corporate character of descent groups And would agree that these groups cannot be understood £IS large families (fortes, 1953), but they would also stress thnt some kind of individual domestic unit seems to normally exist in societies with descent groups.

In certain other ways Morgan misled Marx and Engels moro irredeemably. Morgan believed that the only true descent groups were matrilineal, and that matrilineal descent groups - gens - were fundamentally different in organization from systems where descent was reckoned in the male line. In patrilineal doscont groups, he argued, tho individual family and


Present-Day Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology


private property were prorninent lind the communal principle already moribund. In Iuct, there seems no difference between patrlllncal and mntrilinenl groups in this respect. Whal matters, as Morgan, Marx, and Engels rightly stress, is the corporate organization of descent groups, but these descent groups are just as corporate whether descent is reckoned palrilineallv or mntrilineallv. Tho reason Morgnn gnvo to explain why corpornte descent groups were organized mnlrilinenllv was that since there were no individual unions within such groups one could never be ~ure of the i~enti~y of one's lather. This slate of gens promiscuity IS, however, irnagmary and so the reasoning is irrelevant

Similarly, there is no reason to believe that matriliny preceded patriliny. This idea was very widespread in the nineteenth century for a varinty of rensons. Morgan found conlirrnntion of it in the fact that the people he had studied in most detoil-Um Iroquois - happened to be rna trilinoal. There is no evidence, however, for thinking thot, in genernl, people who reckon descent in the male line reckoned it in the female line before. This hypothesis was for a long lime a subject of much contention in anthropology and is not even now entirely laid to rest, but tho meagre hisloricnl record wo possess cannot possibly support such on nssertion.

The pre-existence of matriliny was important for Engels because he wrongly believed that matriliny, as opposed to patriliny, was associated with communal corporate descent groups. It was also important for him because he believed that matriliny, the reckoning of group membership in terms of who one's mother was, WAS associated with n high status for women. This whole question is of importance not only because it was so central to Engels's book but also because The Origin has rightly been considered a major contribution to the feminist tradition.

. Two. aspects of Morgan's discussion of this question, a diSCUSSIOn that was almost 08 radical ns that of Engels, musl be distlnguished, first the proposition that people with simple teclmology accord a high stntus to women, and second, that matriliny implies a high status for women.

Tho first assumption originates in the Iuct that because Morgan had made a special study of the Iroquois, where the status of women is comparatively high, he assumed uncritically that this high stntus would be found among other people nt a similar level of tochnologicnl advanoomonl. This is just not 80. For oxrnuple, lind


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Marxism and Anthropology


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Morgan worked Among the peoples of New Guinoo, whoso technologicol level he would hove considered similar. he would

have reached a totally different conclusion. .

Secondly, Morgan gives the impression that there wa~ a direct link between reckoning descent in the female line and high status for women. This association hns become further emphasized by writers who have muddled the words 'motriliny' -descent through the female line - and 'matriarchy' - rule by women. Tn Iact there is no direct link between the status of women and the reckoning of descent in one line or another. Even if one belongs to a group because of who one's mother was and not because of ,,:",ho one's father wus, this in no woy implies that women have par-lieularly high (or low) status in that group. It is not difficult to give many examples of societies where membership of descent grou~s is gained through women and where the slnlus of women IS compnrntively low. Again this would, hy and largo, be true of most of the mntrilinenl societies of New Guinea where, by most reckoning, the status of women would be considered lower than in many of the patrilineal societies of Wesl Africa. Descent and the status of women may nol be entirely independent but they do not co-vary in the simple way suggcsted by Morgan.

We must now turn to another gnnornl assumptiou modo in The

Origin, the nssumption that there is B correlation b~tween technology and kinship system. One of the key. ~ssumplIon.s. of Morgan and Engels was thal the shi.ft from ~atrIhny to ~atfllmy was in some ways linked with the introduction of herding and, subsequently, agriculture, If they had been right, matrilineal society would tend to have a lower level of te~lmological development while patrilineal societies would have 0 higher l~vel. In fact modern anthropologicnl research shows that there IS no such correlation. The kind of situation which we find in most of West Africa, where side by side there are patrilineal peoples and matrilineal with identical technological achievements, occurs agoin and again in mony other parts of the world. In any case, many of the peoples with the Simplest. technology, such ~~ the hunters nnd gatherers of Africn nrul ASIO, are neither palrllineal nor matrilineal, and do not form descent groups of any type.

There is also no obvious correlntiou between level of technology and type of marriago. MOllognmy, to loke a case particularly important to Engels, is equally found among hunters and gatherers such as the Eskimos, primitive cultivators such as

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Present-Day Standing of Marx' 8 and Engels' Anthropology


UlO Dayaks of Borneo, or among tho lndustrlalizod North Americans.

Finally, since there is no simple correlotion between high status for women and matriliny and since there is no simple connection between matriliny and type of technology, it follows that there is no simple connection he tween primitive technology and high status for women. Among living hunters and gatherers, women may havo a cornparnlively high status as amongst the Mbuli of Africa, or a comporotively low status as among most Australian Aborigines.

The issue is far more complicated nnd it is only Iulr to note that we have not reached a stage of knowledge when we can easily say what explains the status of women among the different peoples of the world. The stotus of women has several aspects which themselves do not go simply together. By and large the evidence which Engels and his contemporories saw as significant of the high status of women in primitive societies is often wrong or does not signify whot it wos believed to mean.

As Engels noted, women contribute differentially to the processes of production in different types of society but the contribution of women in tho production of tho most important goods of tho society does nol nocessnrtly give them 0 high stotus as he thought. Among the pastorullsts of East Africo women produce most of the foodstuffs through agriculture, but only cattle, cared for by men, are defined as the really important and noble product, and in Iact women's dominant productive contrlbulion is given as an excuse for their social devaluation as low creatures unconcerned with the aesthetic and political value of pastoralism. Again in the New Guinea Highlands, women are the main agents in producing both agricultural products and U18 most valuable possession - pigs -1m t then, in the view of these people, what really matters is not production, but large-scale, ceremonial exchanges and the significanco of women's role in production is once more ideologically denied.

Another feature which Engels, following Buchnlen, believed was indicative of Ihe high status of women in societies with simple technology was the fact thot somo such people worship female gods. This, however, is no indication that they have a particularly high opinion of the spiritual contribution of women. In any case the worship of female goddesses is neither chnrncteristic nor common among hunters and gatherers.

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Marxism and Anthropology

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There is also a certain problem in taking women's freedom to dispose of their own sexuolity us on indicator of their influence and power in general. as is tacitly suggested by both Morgan and Engels. Although this freedom offers a better indicator than such things as matriliny or the worship of female goddesses, it also is not a clear indicator of their political and economic power, in spite of Engels's belief to the contrary. For example, the women among some of the peoples of the west of Madagascar have great freedom in choosing their sexual partners, yet they ore totally insignificant in the administering of political and economic matters.

Overall most anthropologists would probably see indirect connection between all the factors which Engels considered, but these interrelations must remain much more problematic and ambiguous than they might seem at first, and the general conclusions which Engels sought in the work of Morgan are not possible.

111e specific history of the evolution of kinship, rnnrringo, and the status of women outlined ofter Morgan is thus almost altogether untenable. The Iault clearly lies with Morgan, but Marx and especially Engels seem on the whole to hnva been surprisingly uncritical of their source. The reoson lies once agoin in the central fael that the mnin concern of The Origin was political, not historical. We must never forget that the history of kinship presented there is primnrily n cri ticisrn of cnpitnlist society and that Marx and Engels were not attempting to set themselves up as anthropologists, As such, as a rhetorical critique of capitalist society, their account serves admirably and this use of anthropology in The Origin echoes many recent anthropologists.

First let us consider the issue of marriage and the family.

Engels argued, and this is a Iumlumental aspect of his work that has become obscured in lhe discussion over whether there ever were such things as primitive promiscuity or group marriage, against those who asserted that monogamous marriage and the type of family that was associated with it was a universally valid ideal of man, irrespective of social or cultural context. The family and marriage, in the particular form that it took in Victorian times, was, for the great majority of Engels's conlemporaries a sacred, eternal, 011(1 unchalleugeahle institution. By contrnst Engels's position was that tho family, as it was known in his time,


~ .


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Present-Day Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology 79

hod not alway~ existed in that form, that marriage as it was kno~n at that time hnd also not alwuys existed. Morriage and U10 fam~ly were there~ora not unquostlunnhln institutions, independent of 11lst~ry and SOCIety, they were linked to the economic system, to th~ political system, to the class system. This central "rhetorical" point IS one that would be wholeheortedly endorsed by most modern anthropologists.

Anthro~olo.gist,s have been at pains to stress the variety of accepted mshtuhonal arrangements which regulate the relations ~t~een the sexes in different societios. How for unions are bmdm?, how far they are exclusive, how long they lost, whether they. bind men and women equally, whether sexual unions are public ?r. me~ely pr~vate matters, whether the recognition of uruons IS mevi ta bl y linked with the legi lima lion of children _ all these ques~ons and many more are so variable that many an!hropologls!s. ~ould argue that it is not possible to give a valid unfversal d~flIllhon of marriage (Leach, 1961). Furthermore, all anthropologists would agree with Engels that the typo of marriage an~ ~le type of family are linked directly to a whole range of other pohhca~ a~d e~onomic institutions, which explain and correlate the variation. For modern anthl'opologists, quite as much as for Marx and Engels, forms of family and mnrriage are integral parts of the social system and co-vary with the overall system. This therefore mean~ that when the social system changes so will U10 nature of mar nnge und the fnrnily. An implication, of course, is not only that marriage uud. t~lC fumily hovo token 0 great variety ?f forms, but that when political and economic conditions change in the. future they will continue to change. This Engels emphatically asserted in The Origin when ho argued that COI~uruS~ would mean the end of the family as we know it and the hb~ratlOn of women, It was, at the lime, a most dromotically revolutionary and shocking argument.

Even though lhe specific predictions of Engels might not be endors~d by modern anthropologists they would nearly all subs~~lbe to the general thesis that as political and economic co.nditions change, so will marriage and the family change, and this conclusion IS npparently still seen as shocking. When in 1967 E. ~. Leach made exnctly the some point on the BBC, there was a ?ahonal uproar with bishops and pundits of all kinds fulminating III UIO newspnpers against the impioty of the ideo, in much tho some way that they hod done aguinst Engels almost a hundred


Marxism and Anthropology

years before, This is the central point of the, chapter on t,he family in The Origin, Engels is saying thnt the Inmily ~nd ,ma~rUlge have not always been as they nrc IIOW, These two IIIshtuhollS, hnve n history, Ami they nre therefore specific to ? particular time ?nd type of society and, as limo pusses and soointy goes ~m changing, as it always hns, these institutions will chnngo, hlrthormo,re, Engels argues, mnrrlage awl the, Iamily ~ the~u ide~ls which Victorians thought of as pnculinrlv linked with pl'I~ote, lifo and ~s having nothing to do with politicnl nnd OCOnOI11IC lifo --:-£11'0 111 reality inlimalnly assoctatnd with it. '~'he ~ype of lnmily and marriage which they operntod was not given 111 the nature o,f man or in other supernatural And supra historical sources, but III the economic and political circumstances of their limo, in tl~is case by capitalism, The long history of marrlage and the Inrnily we a,re given in The Origin is first nnrl forornost to show that th~famlly and marriage do have a history, This wns the point which wos most politically explosive, and this was the point which h~s been the cause of the greatest revilement of the book to this ?ay, Interestingly enough, it is also A point wilh which all senous anthropologists and historians would now agree, although they would perhaps hesitate to spell out, as Engels unrl Leach have

done, its irnplicn lion, " ,

Engels's general argument concormng marnugo and lhe f,aml~y applies to his discussion of the stn Ius of ,wo,men, and agmn his position seems very much in ndvnnce of his time. Aport from .'he specific history of tim s tn Ius of WOIIIOI1 thn t Engels w ns I~roposlllg, he was ognin stressing thnt the status of women IS n~t on independent fact, perhaps explained by transcendental Ide~s concerning the nature of men and women, but rather that men s and women's ideas about women were all aspects of a mu~h wider system which included the whole pol,it~cal eC,ono?IY and I~S internal logic, This Engels demonstrated brilliantly 111 his analysis of the position of women in cnpitnlist society, The I~oint that the position of women is not an independent factor, 0 SImple enough point in itself, but one often explicitly refused a!ld. more commonly, implicitly ignored, IS agam one which most anthropologists would now entirely support, even though they rnrely ncknowledge Engels's work, Tho slntus of WOI,Il0nlS I~nrt of an organic totality and is linked, as Engels argued It was linked, with the nature of labour, the nature of property, even the notur~ of descenl.llowever it is linked to these things because they and It

Prcsent-nny Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology


am par,t of H complex whole, and this rules out tho simple correln lions bo tween two nlCHnenls which Engels sought to uslnblish in his' his tOI'icul' discussion,

The second point r,oncel'l1ing tho position of women which onth~opolngists would almost universally endorse follows from the First. Be~a,l1so the stn,hls of WOIlHm is iJlextricahly linked to a c(~mp,lox poltllc~)-econonlIr, svslom, it, lind the ideas connected ~Ith It, <:I~nngo 111 response to chnngos in the system as a whole, lite POSltU)JJ of women ,thnt Engels found when ho wns writing ,~IIS th(J~:-forn seon by hl111IIS tho product of n moment in history. I he ~osllIon of women hAS changnd radically And would therefore continue to change, This revolu tiona ry conclusion which is !Jerhaps tl~e most importnnt for the gonern] reader of :rlte Origin, IS,one ~HSlly sUPJ,)()rt~d by modern nnthl'opologists although they might dlsngree WIth 111m alxiut what exactly will happen whon tho change comes 01' even whether this kind of change can be predicted.

, In the previous secli,on we have exnmined Marx's and Engels's views about the evolulion of the fnmily, This section deals with on ?xomin~1 lion of thnir views of en rly poli ticnl evolu tion, principally III 1110 lIght of tho thoOI'y iII T/IO Origiu, hut also in their other writings, The mnin element of this discussion again comes from MOl'g,an ~1I1l~ c~ll~e~ns the description of what ho calls tho 'gentile conslItu!J~m , ~ his IS a politicnl system bused on descent groups and the kll1sh~p and marringn tins thntlink tholll, In Ihis, Morgan forfJsh~lllows 111 n most umnzlng way tho undorstanding of what l~ave smoo been coiled 'ucephalolls Iinenge systems', The description and d;.monstratio,n of the working of such systems has always been conSidered a major advntwe in nnthropologicul theory and is ususally traced to the publication in 1940 of African Political Systems by M, Fortes and E, E. Evans-Pritchard with their respective discussions of the Tallensl of West Africa and the Nuer of East Africn. Fortes, howevor, when lntnr reviewing the work of Morgan, handsomely acknowledges the extent to which he had b~en foreshadowed by Morgan (Fortes, 1969), first in terms of Ius a~al~sis of the wny these ncephnlolls systems work, on~l secondly 1Il,1~IS lIndor~tnlIdilIg of tho wily Ihnt the cuntinuing oXlstence of pohltcnlly nctive descent groups poses 0 threat to the organ~zalion and stability of the State, This last point is politically most Important for Engels since he uses it to show how the development of the Stnto implies tho destruction of the egalitarian


Marxism and Anthropology

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and communally-based gens: a proof of the Marxist view of the State as fundamentally a class institution, a view first developed

in The German Ideology. .

Engels stresses another pOi.nt als~ later t~ ?e emphasized by Fortes and Evans-Pritchard m Ajricnn Politicnl Systems. T~le existence of 'the gentile constitution' shows U18t order.can exist without the State. This possibility ran counter to much nineteenthcentury political theory, which stressed that the State was the only guarantor of personal sofely. Yel the. fact H.lat ma~y primitive peoples regulate interpersonal relations WIth a fair degree of predictability and humanity, without the help o~ a centralized political system, is one that most anUlr?pol?glsts would now endorse: however, unlike Engels, they do this Without pointing out the political implications of such all obsel'v?tion. Fo~ Engels, by contrast, the possibility revealed by t~le gentile constltution was a major guarantee that the Marxist vision of the withering away of the State in a future communist society was not a recipe for chaos, as was argued by his opponents.

The correlation which Morgan and Engels make between very simple agriculture and herding and the gentile constitution i~ a rare example of a proposition of this kind which has hel~ ?p f?lrly well in the light of recent research. With several modiflcations, such varied anthropologists as D. Forde (1948), M. Fort~s (1953), and M. Sahlins (1961) have given support to the ~lew that segmentary systems, the modern anthro~ologi~a~ equ,lval~n~ of Morgan's 'gentile systems', seom to occur m SOCIeties With slmll~r technologies and they are by and large of the typo postulated in

The Origin. .,' . . ,

There is therefore very much in Engels s discusaion of existing

political organization which is still accepta.ble; how~ver, .recent anthropological work makes it clear that :f s?metlung like the notion of U18 gentile constitution is to be retained, the c~ncept would hove to be broadened to include a much greater variety of such systems than was. or could have been, envisaged ,by the founders of Marxism, First of 011, Fortes and Evans-Pritchard pointed out that the descent groups of.segment~~y society may be either matrilineal or patrilineal, not Just matrilineal as Morgan believed. With some modification, this view, expressed in African Political Systems, is generally accepted. Recent .research would broaden even further the category and also include systems where descent groups oro linked ono to another by marriage,



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Present-Day Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology 83

rather than by believed common descent. Such systems can be illustrated by the case of the Kachins of Burmo, examinod in 8 famous study by Leach (1954). Thore also exist cases where the constituent groups of gentile constitutions are not really based either on patrilineal or matrilineal descent, but on a mixture of kinship and locality, The various 'Dayak' societies of Borneo are an example.

This greater variety than that envisaged by Morgan or Engels ?OOS certainly modify the picture. On the whole, however, their Ide~s concerning the political organization of descent-group SOCIety, what they call the 'gentile constitution', are surprisingly modern and helpful and seem supported by more recent findings.

The next stage in Morgan's and Engels's scheme for the evoluti?n of poli,tical systems is charncterized by confederations of diff?ren~ tribes. M~rgan, ~hom Engels followed, was once again basing himself on Ius studies of the Iroquois. Morgan still remains the main authority on the Iroquois, but the real problem for the genera) theory is that confederations of the Iroquois type are not found in many places. Making the confederacy a 'stage' is therefore highly misleading since this gives the impression that we are dealing with a recurrent phenomonon. It is also unquestionably misleading to ussumo, us Engols does, that such a stage must have occurred as a precursor to the emergence of the State in Greece or Rome.

The discuss!on of the gentilo constitution and of UlO confederacy are. however mtend~d. by Marx and Engels as a preliminary to their theory of the orrgrn of the Stale, and for this again they made much use of Morgan's work. The State for Engels and Marx was as we saw, a too) by which the dominant class maintained its position. According to this U180ry the State therefore arises with the appearance of classes. This is an extremely bold theory, but in the present stage of historical and anthropological knowledge it is not possible to say whether Marx and Engels were clearly wrong, as they were over primitive promiscuity, or by and large right, as they were over the gentile constilulion.

One problem is a matter of definition. Some Marxist anthro, pologists havo argued that units which cIo not contain classes are not true states, and of course, in these cases, by definition there cannot be classless states. If, on the other hand, any centralized system with a single hood, controlling a defined toni tory, is culled a state, it is then possible to givo examples of 'slates' where no

84 Marxism and Anthropology

. Is Of course in such cases, rulers obvious dominant dos.s eXlsl,· f 'their 'subjects but what is at

tend to have different life-sly es rom. '1 ged access to property, issue is that they do not hfAve al Ptr!vnl ea~ ess~ntial clement of

. II t tl means o prot uc 10 , f I

especia y 0 ie ".. . f class Examples 0 sue 1

Marx's and Engnls'sll(~efTII:O~o~e ~f Iho ~~ntral African states 'classless' stoles wou ( me U( e s he Bomba of Zambia. Some

of the nineteenth century, s~leh trS ~ eX8~ples by arguing that anthropologists wou~d e~~t ~~he~~~ena in such states (Terray, there actually nre C oss- I e. . access to the means of

1975), by pointing out the dlrrf~e;~~er;:nd ~~~ and women, but production between eld?rs am It 1 it gives little support 10 the even if this argument IS n7ep f( I, differences also occur in

general theory in ~h~t sue I c ass ,

clearly stntoloas sociutlos. Il tl ry of the origin of the State

Equally damaging to the overa 1 xum iles of stateless societies is the Iucl that there seOl~ to be e lexam ile of such a system with much less problemall~lc~~s~~ ~~ere a ;uling class controls would be the Tuareg of Nor b1 t rlflere no centralized authority large numbers of slaves u w

existed tradition~l1y. . in J the question, under which

The present situation rrise.Js tl g t in all honesty most anthrocircumstances do s~ates arrse, IS l~a The few examples of state

pologists would hesitate to ge~e~~ ~~~ detail are all significantly formation which have been s ur 10 1 r of different theories different in important respects. A. ~~m )f~r the State have been concerning the necessary ~r~req~~~ es stress such things as proposed by anthropologists. ron i~ a small area, conquest by population denslly: clr?umsfc r;p I. I a of divine kingship. None is outsiders or the diffusion 0 t ie J( e d to Morgan's Engels's

b . tone renlly correspon s presented

satisfactory un. I tl ible exception of that presente

and Marx's theory, ~It 1 ie poss 1 . t who argues that stratifi-

by M. Fried, on Ame~lcon ant~roPr:~~:I~(iiliOn' of the State (Fried, ca tion, is a t lens I, a neCflSSOI y p ,

1967). , dE Is's hypothesis concerning the origin of the

If Marx s on I_lge . bl their theory seems more

State must remain ques.hona e, existing states actually

important for un.ders~an~mg. thet ~:~ in anthropology was that work. For B long lime .t ~e ( .oml.n(H~ ven Morgan took this view.

the State was a bene~I~lal mShtU\~~~'n~rodllction of the State than

Ho is much more positive ?bout t 1 I s that tho State brought .,:~

Engels. Whot aulhrupologisls stressec wo .1

Present-Day Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology 85

safety for tho individunl, pencn, nnd Ihe rule of law. This is a major U1Omo in the work of the American nnthropologist Lowie and the Brilish anthropologisl, Hndcliffe-Drown. A similor, proStale position is implied in the wny several anthropologists have stressed the potential of slate organization for bringing about large-scale public works, such as irrigation or communications nelworks. Though there is Ii We doubt tha t all these aspects of the State are valw'lhle and importAnt, it has also become clear that they can form the basis of a very one-sided picture. Recent work by several anthropologists has stressed, by contrast. the State's previously over-looked role as on exploitative mechanism, and this work has in most cases been influenced by Marxism [e.g. Terray, 1977; Bloch 1977). For exomple, J. Goody has argued that West Africon states grew up as a result of lIlollopoly control, by a small group of people, of militnry tnclll1ology, which ho terms the 'means of destruction'. He argues that Ihis control enables a group of conquerors to subdue and dominate those who do not have access to such technology. Such a view is easily reconciled with Marxist theory, as has been pointed out by E. Terray [ferray, 19770). In H similar vein there has recenLly been a whole range of studies of pre-induslrinl stntes by anlhropologists, largely in terms of class anAlYSis. One of the first examples is the study of the Inca slute by Metruux (1909).

It is therefore rather more as a tool for the analysis of the nature and funclioning of slates than as a theory of the emergence of the State that Marx's and Engels's views are still acceptable to present-day anUlropologists.

We now turn to two aspecls of Marx's and Engels's anthropological Uleory which are more direclly central to their critique of capitalism than those topics discussed so for: the evolution of labour and property. The discussion of these two topics is not limited to The Origin but is 8 major themo in all of Marx's and Engels's work.

The history of the evolution of labour is, from The German Ideology on, linked with a discussion of the increased division of labour, which itself is linked with increasing technological complexity. Increased division of labour, it is sin ted, leads to a change in the nalure of produclion, from produclion for use to production for exchange. The division of labour, Marx and Engels argue in The Gennun Ideology, is Ihe husis of this Ironsformation in the natur~ of Iabour and property which ultimaloly





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86 Marxism and Anthropology

ilali 1'1 division of labour is closely

lays the foundatio,ns ~)f c~Plt~II~:;' w~~ks considered here, and its

linked with c~pIOltah~n in a , ~tl with the growth of slavery, development IS uS~lOl y nfssl OCIa i~ seen as an intermediary step

hi h together with ser (om, , I'

w c , I 1 'I 'I bour of capita Ism,

towards tho devolopmnnt of t lul roo n .herne which Marx and

Many aspects of tho ovo 1l1I01~~~~e~\able to anthropologists.

Engels present, would no,":" be UI '1 sim lie societies technology

First ?f all ~h81r nS~lunt\~!I~I~Vit~~~~ :~f iah~ur is untenable. Among explains sntisfnctorl y I tI rs we commonly Ilnd on many groups of huntcr~ ?~( go ierers, inll between men

elaborate and unequal division ofJla?our~ ~~eccau~es, In fact, in and women, whi~h, t~le tcnlJ~ologys~~~s to t1e the product of the these cases the dIVISIO~ 0 a J~~~her than its CAuse, Thus, among exploitation of women y men, women are actively

South Amoricnn huntcrls ruul ~nthl~re~~, nccnsionnl but highly

I ded from hunting nrgn nmnuus, ' , t d to

exc u , , tl o other hand, they are expec e

valued activity, ,but, o~, 'II tonance through gathering of

supply the basis of d\Y ,;m~l~i~h men affect to despise, but vegetable products" an ac IVI Y, d infinitely more important which is fur more tnne, consnrmng, ,U1~ho nature of tho technology for subsistence, Therci IS no re~s~m ;~Ilils' borries, und roots, nnd itself why men shouk no\ g~h;~,r sholll~i spend so milch less time consequently no r?~s,on w iY ,y son for this is that women are in productive activities, T I? rea I tive activity by themselves

d ton tho mom prO{ lIC I , ,

force 0 carr,y , , A final twist is given to this situation: because of their sub1cctilOn'll f this work is often given as on the fact that women [0, a, 0

explanation of their,infeno~~tr- Marx throughout his work is that

Another assumption mar e )y isure time available, This

higher technology increases ~!Ie total le~~~ until recently by

assumption was universa y a~~~)1BS been refuted in recent prehistorians and anthropologists, " ork surprisingly shows

studies of hunters nnrl glJl1l thol:ro,rs:1 1 hSIS 'l~ pro~lucliv~ technology

I . ti e actua y uirnuus ie <

that eisure im I" b ause of population increases or advances; whet~er t lIS IS e~ live doss is not clonr, None the because of the rise of on, oxplOIln, :',' ~nn modifications to

less, this ullexl~ect(Jd fTdmg r~,ql~I:~;ernin/t1lU implications of assumptions which arc 0 ten m?(; co , 1 dod in Marx's and improved technology, and whic are mc u

Engels's work. f lotion of their theory of labour is i

Equally important or our eva u,~~ I~



I i










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t.: -,

1;; , r.~, ,

Present-Day Standing of Morx's and Engels' Anthropology


tho different viow of exchnnge held by modorn nnthropology and by Marx and Engels, For them increasing mn terinl exchange Was seen, as it was by other economists of their time, as arising from improved technology and greater specialization, There is in fact no doubt that specialization does lead to greater exchnngo, but anthropologists have hocomn aware of the importanco of a different type of material exchange, which is in no way related to technology or specialization, This typo of exchange is often called by anthropologists gift oxchnnge. Such exchanges toke place not because people need to obtain what they do not produce but in order to demonstmte and maintain social links, often of an egalitarian kind. In this way, people such as the Trobrianders of the Pacific, made famous by Malinowski, spend a great deal of their energy producing goods of no practical value, mainly elaborato piecos of jowellery, for no otItor purpose than to exchangn them with neighbours, nnd t1wreoy maintain peaceful social relations. In many ways societies such as the Trobrianders' are obsessed with exchange, but with a form of exchange of a totally different nature to that envisaged by Mnrx and most economists. The prcsenco of this impruclical Oxcllllllge means that modern anthropologists sun exchange as morc fundlImontlIl to sociul rolntiolls than Marx and Engels did. Tho fundamental Marxist contrast between production for use and production for exchange, as well as the assumption that increaSing exchange is correlated with technologicul specinlizntion, needs fundamental reworking, This rethinking is even more necessary for the assumption that tho growth of exchnnge implies greater inequality. Indeed the type of ceremonial gift exchungo to which we have referred seems to be based on egalitarian notions of reCiprOcity and sharing. Furthermore even exchange resulting from economic specialization does not, in itself, seem to be necessarily correlated with inequnlities, as Marx and Engels boliovod. Thero are mnny exumples of inslilulionCllized exchunges of goods between peoples, who speciulize ill different t11ings, which seem to have no hierarchical implications, This would be true, for instnnce. of tho trnding thnt took plnco in pro-coloninl limes hotween different tribes of Austrulinn Aborigines, and thern are many other examples,

None the less the geneml point which underlies Marx's concopt of prodllction for use, as opposed to production for cxchungn, seems, in spite of the objections just considered, a fundamental


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Marxism and Anthropology

advance which has yet to be fully appreciuted. Marx was pointing out that the capilnlist nssurnplion thut what motivates man everywhere and for all lime is the search for profit, is totally misleading and is itself a product of CApitalism.

In other sociefics tho nccumulntiou of wealth and profit may be much less relevant. People might nim 10 he remembered as oncoslors by lim continuutiou of their descent gl'OIIP, 10 hnvo freedom from domination hy others, or 10 have power for themselves, not profit. In this Marx has been proved by subsequent anthropology to be quite right, and many anthropologists would argue that the attribution of the profit motive to people who do not have it has been the greatest himlranc.e. to an understanding of pro-cnpitulist societies. Marx's recognition of U10 spocilicity of motives under cnpilulism should hnvo alerted liS to this problem.

Marx's and Engels's views about slavery should also be modified in the light of more recent work. These views were very strongly influenced by the case of Greece and Home. Like most of their contemporaries, Marx and Engels assumed that there was srunething inovituhln about the concurrmu.e of slavery and a particular type of economy or toohunology. Recent work mukes us much less confident thnt nny such clear correlution is possible. For example, some hunting and gathering peoples, who according to their scheme would not be expected to have slavery, seem to have had large numbers of slaves. This is the case for some of the North American Indians of tho West Coast. By contrast, on the other side of the equator, there are societies, such as some of the traditional pre-colonial Southern African slates which though they have pastoralism and agriculture, do nol seem to have hod slavery. We are not yet in a position, therefore, to replace Marx's and Engels's view with a clear alternative specifying under what conditions a society based on slavery is likely to occur, but similarly we cannot accept Marx's and Engels's theory fully. ThB evidence is too complex and 100 little work has been done. Perhaps the only Incts Ihnt SCOIll 10 1Ie emerging on this topic are the following two: firsl, slavery is rare among hunters and ga therers, and, secondly, i I ocelli's mils t often among pas Ioralists (Goody, 19UO). Even those Iwo conclusions need to be treated with great caution.

By contrast, some of Marx's and Engels's views on slavery, views which owed much to the classical historians whom they

Present-Day Stonrling of Mon's and Engels' Anthropology


~sod us thoir sourcos, still seem 10 hold up extremely well. Their link-up of alavery .with f(~r~ns of domination within tho family is well documented III tra£illtollal systems of slavery such as are found m many ports of Africa. There, AS Marx had noted, slaves are ~flen classed together with women and r:hildron and are often obl~lIIwd m.order 10 bn ndoptnd hy pnopln without dosr:endnnls.

hlJunlly nnportunt is the dislillcli(JJI Murx rnpeatedly draws between I.lle. occurrenm, of snuill-scnh, 'domestic' slavery and whole soclettes bused OIl the exploi tation of slaves, such as was tim case for Greece and Home, and the insistenoo that these two cases should be kept separate. This fruitful distinction is possible because here as elsewhere Marx and Engels are not bound in their analysis simply by.legal forms; Ihey look at tho social system us n wholo. If limy lUH~ lnst luoknd nt tho lnws govorning slavery, as. hn~J done bolh their conlempol'llries nnd more recent social sClenhsts, the~ would have been unable 10 distinguish between slaver~ as a nlln?r and rare f~ll·m of exploilation, on tho one hand, supplying .occaslOnal domestic and sexual luxuries, and slavery as the baSIS of whole economies, on the olher hand, where most of pr~)(luctiOl~ is cnrrind out by sluvn luhour. This is hccnuso it is qu!lo pnssihlo that the luws in both cusos mny be much the snrno, It is hecausn Marx unrl Engels look nul [ust nt tho laws hut at tho natura of rolations of production within a whole system that this fundamental an? anal~tically fruitful difference shows up with such great prOllllnence m their work. This difference between the two types of slavery and Ihe passngn from 0110 stage 10 the other is one which l~ns h(~en stressed nguin IIl1d lignin ill recent work by antl!ropologlslS (Cfolldy, 1 nuo; Bloch, I !JI10).

r:mally, the difforenoo in tho nature of slavery und wngo labour wlll~h Marx and Engels discussed in many places has formed the baSIS of all, re;.ent discussion on tho subject. Marx argued throughout Coplinl that although slaves might be more at the mercy Of. the whims o~1[1 faI~cies of their owners than wage w?r.kers, II was al lenst In the Interest of the owner to ensure the mllllfllUIll welfnre of his slaves, since Ihoy were his property. The employer (~f wnge labour, hy coulrust, did not need 10 have this concern with thn welfare of his workers, This menus that where labour is plentiful slavery is Ullllucussnrily 'uxpeusiva'. Marx is therefore able 10 explain the end of slavery as being due to the fo~tlhat wnge workers actually were cheaper to use than slaves. This bold hypothesis would still be accepted by many anthropolo-

90 Marxism and Anthropology

gists and historians, and even those who have tried to refute it are still working within its fromework.

The discussion of the evolution of labour given by Marx and Engels is, as we have seen, open to Question on several general and specific points. Overall, however, it lias stood the test of time surprisingly well when we consider how little information on precapitalist systems they disposed of.

The reason for their success seems to me to be less due to their perceptiveness concerning pre-capitalist conditions then due to the depth of their analysis of the nature of labour under capitalism. A very large part of Marx's work was intended to show how the particular form and representation of labour under capitalism was an extrnordinnrv fontasy. Labour appeared to have a separate existence from the life of the labourer and thus appeared as an alien object. This, Marx pointed out, wns as unfounded as A belief ill fairies. Yet people acted as though there was such a thing and this illusion was essential both for the working of capitalism and for the acceptability of the exploitation on which capitalism was based. Marx in his early writing was much interested in how the illusion of religion comes about, but in his later wr·iting ho seems to have lost interest in religion. The reason is thot he began to see the economic concepts on which the society of his time was based, such concepts as value, price, property, and above all, labour, as the nineteenth-century equivalent of religion. Concepts like labour organized life in much U18 same way as the notion of God had done in the Middle Ages, and it had as little material reference.

Capital is a work almost entirely dedicated to understanding the fantastic nature of such concepts of labour, and to understanding what conditions this type of concept comes about. For the purposes of this second task, Marx uses information on how the concepts are visualized in other systems, hence his use of anthropology and history. lie also tries to reconstruct the history of representations in 0 completely different way. He tries to imagine the process by demyslifying himself, in other words, by ridding himself of the fantnstic in the notion of labour, and by trying to son whnl it would be like without the strnnge construction of the system of his time. In tho case of labour. Marx was extrnordinnrily successful.

He imagined labour as it would be, had it not been formulated by capitalism, and saw that it would then be merely an aspect of


Present-Day Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology


the total business of living, unseparn ted from such activities as recreation, consumption, family life: that it would be just part of existence. This in fact seems to be very much the situation which anthropologists have found in pre-capitulist systems, and this was the case with the Malagasy people I studied. In such societies labour is so little thought of as a special separate type of activity that there is no word which in any way corresponds to what we with our language, moulded by the history of capitalism, mean by labour. The life of a subsistence farmer simply does not accord with our notion of labour. For example, we cannot answer such questions as at what time does a rural Malagasy begin WOrk and at what time does he or she end it? There is no break between getting up, washing, husking rice for breakfast, eating the breakfast, making basket work, stopping to chat, going out to cultivate the kitchen garden, mending household objects and tools,going to the field, fishing for crayfish in a nearby stream, swimming there, herding the cattle, playing a musical instrument, etc. All these are port of living, all these activities are totally intertwined, and there is no possibility of separating them into work and leisure. This point has been shown again and again; it is clear from the excellent descriptions of production activities which we have of peoples such as tho Tikopia of Polynesia described by Firth (1939) or of the Bemba of Africa by Audrey Richards (1939). These societies and many others support completely Marx's central point: that the conceptualization of productive activity is totally integrated with other social relations in pre-capitalist societies and that the sharp boundary we draw between labour and other activities is absent. In this respect, Marx's anthropology seems amazingly ahead of his time, The full theoretical signilicanco of this idea has only been demonstrated recently by anthropologists who have turned again to Marx in order to find a framework in which to place their observations (Godelier, 1977).

Much of the same sorts of observations as apply to Marx's and Engels's notion concerning labour also apply to their discussions of property. Although throughout Marx's and Engels's work reference to property is so exlnnsiva thnt it is impossible to tako them all into account, B general pnttern emerges. They believed that there had been a stage when there was no individual property; that is, when no ownership continued beyond UlO time of use. This stage was followed by the introduction of individual





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Marxism and Anthropology

ownership and this WAS followed hy A fow people gmd\lally monopolizing the ownership of the means of production. Of course, Marx and Engels focussed most on this late stage, since they saw it as the cause of the rise of capitalism. However, in order to show the 'historical' nature of this state of affairs they had to stress the existence of previous stages when private property was absent. This idcu has olton been ridiculed by anthropologists who point out that there is no record or suggestion that there ever was, or ever could he, a stage of total sharing and total freedom of access by everybody at any time to anything. Indeed it is difficult to imagine such a state of affairs, but in fact Marx, especially in Formen makes it quite clear that this is not what he meant at all; it is only under the influence of Morgan in Tho Origill thnt Engels might possibly bo construed to have implied something so unlikely. Throughout Marx's work he stresses, as he had done for labour, the fantastic nature of the capitalist concept of property, the fantastic notion that there is something of our personality in tho things or places we own. Having pointed out the peculiarity find arbitrariness of this notion he then assumes that, in other systems, the relation of mall to his material environment is visualized differently. In that he has been thoroughly supported by the anthropological evidence, although the nature of these other systems has proved often much more complex than he had imagined.

The general consensus among modern anthropologists is that we too should get AWAY Irom tho notion of private property as we know it, when we analyse the economic system of pre-literate peoples, but instead talk of a multiplicity of rights of different types. Thus, in such societies, people may have rights of temporary usc, rights to exclude foreigners, rights to claim something if they particularly need it. Nevertheless, all U18se types of rights eontrnst fundnmentnlly with the 'once-and-for-all' rights vested in an individual that we think of as private property. This difference is All the more complete in that different rights in the same tiling or place may be unci usually are held by different people or different groups of people in those societies. Marx was therefore quito right in stressing the historical peculiarity of private property. He also comes very dose to descrlhing what anthropologists have actually found is the case as regards property in pre-capitalist systems. Above nil he was right in arguing, us he did ill Forrnen thul the absence of 'private


, "



"'f"\(~~~~M t #':.J .;i~~~~,)~t~)·4:71

Present-Day Standing of Marx's and Engels' Anthropology 93 .,'

property' in no way implies 'tho law or tho [unglo'. In all this work, Marx, and to R lesser extent, Engels, foreshadow later anthropology And even run into the SAme technical difficulties concerning what term to use Ior pre-CApitalist property systems, thereby showing how close they are to modern scholars. The attempt to understand ami to find suitable words for these different types of property is one that is still going on in anthropology And is proving extremely difficult (Goodenough, 1951; Goody, 1962; Cluokman, 1965; Bloch, 1975).

In another fundamental respect, MArx's general view is also well borne out. The complete ownership by individuals of the means of production, especially land, is, as he predicted, totally unknown in the traditional societies that Anthropologists have studied, It only OCCIII'S us n result of tho incorporation of these societies into capitalist systems. Tho difference to which he was drawing our attention, therefore, remains a fundamental one between the types of society Marx was distinguishing by this means.

We have seen how Marx's and Engels's ideas about precapitalist societies have been either supported or invalidated by subsequent knowledge. As is to he expected, tho story is a mixed one. If their ideas about the evolution of kinship seom almost .elltirely obsolete tho same is not true of their ideas About property or the evolution of tho Stale although, in these areas too, many modifications are necessary. In one way, however, it is misleading to evaluate the slgullicnuce of their work on those subjects by how right or how wrong is the evolutionary sequence they describe. Their purpose was quite clear and was quite different. Neither Marx nor Engels considered himself to be a historian or anthropologist. They used tho work of anthropologists and hlstorians which was available, and on the whole they used this work very judiciously. Inevitably, however, they took over many factual and theorelinal shortcomings from the anthropologists on whom they relied and most of tho problems we have seen in their work they inherited from their sources.

The reason why they turned to Anthropology And history hod more to do with their anulysis of cnpilulisrn than with a concern with pre-capitalist sociolios for themselves. They were seeking throughout their work to show that the concepts on which the edifice of capitalism was built, tho concepts of the State, of property. of the nature of men and women, of marriage, of tile

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94 Marxism and Anthropology

family, of labour, of trade, and of capitol itself, were not unshakeable givens based on such ahistorical phenomena as the nature of man. or logic, or god. Rather, they argued, these concepts. which appeared as eternal. were really the produc~ of the history of the system they maintained. The anthropologlcal excursion which they undertook was there to show the arbitrariness, tim contextual, relative nature of these concepts. Only when these concepts and their false permanence had been penetrated could on ncceptnblo analysis of politics bo possible.

What mattered to Marx and Engels was therefore not so much

the specific history which had produced these concepts. but the fact that they had a history at all, that the concepts were dependent on the type of society and economy in which they occurred. This idea was totally foreign and repugnant to the accepted view of their time and this is. probably st~ll largely so today. In spite of this the idea that marnage. the family, property, tile State etc. are merely tClllpOra\. transitory institutions. the product of a particular social system, ~s on idea which all ~odern anthropologists would accept even If many would hesitate to broadcast it. Indeed the conclusion that such diverse aspects of society as religion, kinship, politics, und economics form a linked whole has been one of the touchstones of modern nnthropology. Marx und Engels were probably the first to dnmonstrule this so emphatically. It was by demonstrating this wholeness that ti18Y were able to show that when one side of tills whole changes, so will the other. This central point in Marx's and Engels's work has been on the whole supported by later anthropological work.

No modern anthropologist doubts the uncomfortably revolutionary conclusion that 01\ aspects of society form a whole and that none is independent of the moment of history characterized by this transitory, all-embracing system. They might not, however, follow Marx and Engels in their conclusion that the system on which their own society is based will therefo.re also be . overthrown, but it is difficult to see how such a conclUSIon can be ..


4. The Direct Successors to Marx and Engels

Looking back at the works of Marx ami Engels so for examined wo .can sen thot.these leove.a f.airly clenr picture concerning some tOPICS, and major uncer-tainties concerning others. First, all of these works follow the perspective outlined in The' German Ideolog~ and look at human societies as systems organizing production a~d. reproduction rather than as institutional stru~tures. T~lS IS the fundamental slnrting point of all Marxist studies of society.

The onth~opologicnl concerns with which Marx's and Engels's work ?eal In the clearest fnshion concern such mallors as the evolution of property, the evolution of forms of labour, and the grow~ of the St~te. In these thr~e areo~ there is a clear development l~ lhe. v~rlOus wo~ks co.nsldered m the previous chapters, ?nd these dlffere.llt studios builrl Oil ouch other. Property changes 111 nature us private property is introducod, und this type of property bocornos the. Iouudut ion of cupi talist exploila lion. Lab~ur ~h~nges from. being at a stage where it has not yet become a thing m Itself ~nd IS merely on aspect of social life, to a stage ~hen although still on aspect of social life it involves exploitation, 1.0. sla~ery and serfdom, to a third stage when labour has become ~ysterlOusly ~ep~esented as a thing and is used for a different ~d of ~x~lOJt.alIon. The State is seen as developing as class dlffe.renhahon increases. becnuse it is ono of the tools by which a dominant class maintains itself. On these three topics the various works are all agreed apart from minor variations. There are however, otl~er questions to which Ihe different works giv~ apparently different answers.

. The. first such question arises over the specific status of the 'I evolutionary sequenc~ which is being put forward. Although in all .. the three books considered there is some evolutionary scheme , when ~e.take them. together il is clear tho t Marx and Engels wer~

very ~lllmg to. mod}~y.the overall picture whenever they obtained •. now inlormntion. l'his new, information wns, not surprisingly, '. usually about non-western Europouu societies, about which they

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