File spoon-archives/marxism-general.archive/marxism-general_1997/marxism-general.9707, message 213

Date: Sun, 20 Jul 1997 22:07:57 +0200 (MET DST)
Subject: M-G: Reply to Sabina on Engels etc

Reply to Sabina on Engels etc
[Posted: 20.07.97]

Hello again Sabina,

In a posting on 11.07, subject "Criticism of J.C.Martiat", you
wrote i.a.: 

>It is important then to understand the central point of a 
>historian argument within the context of his studies and not 
>take statements as absolute. I remember F. Engels when 
>refering to societies in the Americas (before the conquest) 
>as being primitive and described them as being societies 
>without history (quite an arrogant European statement to my 
>taste). I have to dig the quotes. But I can not deduce from 
>it that Engels was not a marxist because he is denying us 
>(those of us coming from those "primitive societies") our 
>history especially when history is the core of marxist 
>thinking. But Engels (being a product of his own time) wrote 
>that at a time when history had a limited definition among 
>historians, both marxist and non-marxist. 

I've *never* seen a statement in any of Engels' writings that
could be interpreted as having the least of any "arrogant Euro-
pean" touch about it. Are you certain that you haven't misun-
derstood something?

There *is* one very important work by Engels where he writes
quite a lot about ancient American societies, not least, and
far from "criticizing" the really old ones, those which, in
contrast to the (*in its way* more advanced) Incan society, for
instance, actually were *classless*, communist, he has some 
very positive things to say about the kind of people that they
gave rise to, for instance in America.

That's his "Origin of the Family, Private Property and the
State", written in 1884. You can find it on the Net, in the
excellent Marx-Engels archives at

I'd like to show you some quotes.

First (from file Ch03 on that work by Engels in the archives, 
towards the end of the chapter):

Engels writes about what was commonly called "primitive" so-
cieties, those in particular of the North American Indians
very long ago.

"And a wonderful constitution it is, this gentile constitution,
in all its childlike simplicity!  No soldiers, no gendarmes or 
police, no nobles, kings, regents, prefects, or judges, no 
prisons, no lawsuits - and everything takes its orderly 


"The decisions are taken by those concerned, and in most
cases everything has been already settled by the custom of 
centuries. There cannot be any poor or needy - the communal 
household and the gens know their responsibilities towards the 
old, the sick, and those disabled in war.  All are equal and 
free - the women included.  There is no place yet for slaves, 
nor, as a rule, for the subjugation of other tribes.  

When, about the year 1651, the Iroquois had conquered the Eries 
and the "Neutral Nation," they offered to accept them into the 
confederacy on equal terms; it was only after the defeated 
tribes had refused that they were driven from their territory.  

And what men and women such a society breeds is proved by the 
admiration inspired in all white people who have come into 
contact with unspoiled Indians, by the personal dignity, 
uprightness, strength of character, and courage of these 

And here's one thing about South America, having to do with
that older system of relationship between the sexes which
existed, everywhere on earth, before the rise of the family
system. Its from file Ch02c in the archives:

"Among other peoples the religious disguise is absent.  In some 
cases --among the Thracians, Celts, and others, in classical  
times, many of the original inhabitants of India, and to this 
day among the Malayan peoples, the South Sea Islanders and many
American Indians -- the girls enjoy the greatest sexual freedom
up to the time of their marriage. This is especially the case 
almost everywhere in South America, as everyone who has gone any
distance into the interior can testify. 

Thus Agassiz (A Journey in Brazil, Boston and New York, 1868, 
p. 266) tells this story of a rich family of Indian extraction:
when he was introduced to the daughter, he asked after her 
father, presuming him to be her mother's husband, who was 
fighting as an officer in the war against Paraguay; but the 
mother answered with a smile: "Nao tem pai, e filha da fortuna"
(She has no father.  She is a child of chance):      

It is the way the Indian or half-breed women here always speak 
of their illegitimate children . . . without an intonation of 
sadness or of blame.... So far is this from being an unusual 
case, that... the opposite seems the exception.  Children are 
frequently quite ignorant of their parentage.  They know about 
their mother, for all the care and responsibility falls upon 
her, but they have no knowledge of their father; nor does it 
seem to occur to the  woman that she or her children have any 
claim upon him. 

What seems strange here to civilized people is simply the rule
according to mother-right and in group marriage."

Not a trace of "European arrogance" here, for instance, is

Engels points out the fact that the women, in those ancient
("primitive") societies, before the family system was intro-
duced, were not suppressed but had at least as much "prestige"
in society as the men.

The whole question of the family is a very big one and I shall
not try to discuss it any more here. Just a short note about
a certain other important book on the subject of the ancient
history of this, and about a discussion I had with some of
my then comrades of the KPD/ML(NEUE EINHEIT) about it, now that
I've already written something on the NE in another posting.

That book is Evelyn Reed: The Development of Woman, USA 1974.

I found it very interesting when I read it in the early 80s.
Evelyn Reed does accept Engels' work as very important (which
a certain bourgeois school of thought absolutely is very much
against admitting). She points out however a certain mistake
of his that could be seen in the light of later research.

In connection with a NE party conference at Christmas / New Year
1986-87 I pointed out to one of the then comrades, Phoebe, when
we were all having dinner, the existence of that book and why
I found it to contain an important development of Engels book
in certain respects, well worth studying. Klaus Sender followed
that conversation too. (Phoebe, btw, was one of those who
later, in 1994, got kicked out of the then already degenerated
"NE", together i.a. with Dietrich J., as I later read. - See 
part 1/2 of my reply to you on the NE. - I don't know what was 
really behind that conflict.)

Yet some years later (than 1987), Klaus in an article wrote 
that after Engels' "Origin", there had been "no" further works 
of any interest on the subject. He obviously had not cared even 
to take a look at that book I had recommended, and perhaps when 
he wrote had already forgotten about it, despite the fact that 
it came up in some later NE discussions too. That, I later 
found, was one sign of Klaus' ceasing to be the very important
Marxist that he once was. It IMO showed a certain narrowness in
his thinking in those later years.

To those interested in the "family" or "woman" questions, I
very much recommend both of the works mentioned above, by Fried-
rich Engels and (much later) Evelyn Reed.

Sabina, if you can find that quote where you thought Engels
was "being narrowly and arrogantly European", please post it,
so that this can be discussed!

Rolf M.

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