Revolution or War n°14

(Semestrial - February 2020)

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The Family According to the Marxist Conception (Prometeo #1, 1924)

We have translated below a 1924 article by the so-called Italian Left on the family which, indirectly, also deals with the question of feminism today. Indeed, the feminist and environmentalist campaigns - which we addressed in the previous issue with the reproduction of our leaflet of 20 September 2019 [1] - are among the main vectors of bourgeois ideology to divert the attention of proletarians from the class struggle and bring them back to the ’people’’s terrain, all classes mixed and united, and behind the capitalist democratic state. That is to say, behind the main expression and the main actor of the destruction of the planet as well as divisions of gender, sex, colour, etc. within society. And that only the collective and class struggle of the proletariat can reverse and eventually extinguish insofar as it confronts this state and capitalism.

We draw the reader’s attention to the method, the method of historical materialism, or ’Marxism’, which Prometeo uses to raise the question of the family and, indirectly, of the differences between men and women in history according to class relationships. And how it opposes the vulgar materialism that the defenders, already won over by the opportunism that was seizing the Communist International in 1924, use to show the supposed superiority of ’socialism’ in the then USSR over capitalism…

Revolution or War.

The Family According to the Marxist Conception

For all those who have waited impatiently for the publication, announced in the Communist Party newspapers, of La donna nella società comunista [Woman in Communist Society] by T. Luneidi and A. Faraggiana [2], reading the pamphlet was a disappointment.

The bibliography that served as a guide for the authors: Engels, Kant, Schopenhauer, Mantegazza, Vachter, Albert, Kollontai and especially Bebel, with the exception of Engels and Kollontai, does not inspire too much confidence. And ’especially Bebel’, as guarantor of the Marxist interpretation of the problem, leaves us immediately perplexed and in fear that the book will be marked more by ideological concessions of a reformist and petty bourgeois order than by rigorous study and historical-materialist criticism. Nor are we satisfied with the preface by Professor Giovanni Sanna, who has wanted to endorse the book.

And let us say that although we believe that the technical presentation of the case, its subdivision and proportion are well thought out, the treatment itself does not seem to us to be satisfactory, especially with regard to ’Women in the Future’.

We will also say, for the reader’s understanding, that the book, which we deal with in these brief notes, has three essential parts: ’Woman in the past, woman in the present, woman in the future’. The first part on the condition of women in Antiquity, during the advent of Christianity and in the Middle Ages is briefly approached from a historical point of view - of course - but not from a critical-historical point of view. The second part sets out very well and convincingly the criticisms of the current institution of matrimony, the inferior position of women in bourgeois society and their right to fight for equality with men in their condition as individuals and citizens. Finally, the third part, the one on which there are the greatest expectations, endeavours to show what the status of women will be in the society of the future and what the family of the future will be like. Taking as a starting point some achievements in the Russia of the soviets and comparisons, which are undoubtedly advantageous for our theses, between the bourgeois family in the capitalist countries and the family in the Russian proletarian state, it presents almost as our finality what the family institution in Russia is at present.

"To those who say that we want to destroy the family, we say: We don’t want to destroy the family, but we want the hypocrisy, incomprehension and spirit of interest that dominate most bourgeois families on the one hand, and the misery and delinquency that are above all the scourge of proletarian families on the other hand, to disappear". And further on: "... Consequently, unions based on free love naturally lead to monogamy, which will mark the greatest progress of love in the course of time". This is how Luneidi and Faraggiana express themselves, in whom we can see the concern to demonstrate that the present family is a heap of lies and interests, but that the future family will be in relation to the present what communist society will be in relation to the present bourgeois society; and, therefore, that the very interest that drives us to fight for the realisation of the communist regime must also drive us to fight for the realisation of a family based on free love; or in other words the present family with the inherent variant of the absence of civil and religious ties and the other one of the new environment.

However, we would have expected the authors to have replied "to those who say that we want to destroy the family" that it is not we who want to destroy it, but that, as a contemporary institution dependent on the private property regime, its raison d’être will cease to exist once its cause has disappeared.

First of all, let us remember that the family is based on a physiological and economic substrate and not on indestructible and eternal ethical principles. To say the opposite would be to accept the thesis of the bourgeois philosophers and would represent the reversal of our principles, to admit that the materialistic entity and relations depend on idealistic relations and not the opposite: it would be to admit that pre-existing ethical reasons have created an institution that has its own essence in the physiological and economic reality. The essential necessity of the perpetuation of the species has been and will be the essential motive of the couple, the economic form of the society has given and will give the form of this union.

To verify this, it is sufficient to examine the various historical periods and we will find a constant element of sexual union which, in accordance with the evolution of the economic form of private society, undergoes changes, particularly in the relationship between the spouses, but remains almost unchanged as a whole, as remains unchanged the fundamental basis of the society based on the principle of individual private property. One economic principle was the main reason for this; that of the division of labour: for men, work outside home, for women, housework; the two jobs are integrated, and as long as this integration continues, the family will also rest on its foundations. But when the family’s economic motivation weakens, it too loses its cohesion. In fact, we see before our eyes that in those strata of the population where the economic foundation of the family has remained more homogeneous, only the family continues in its traditional forms of conjugal fidelity and holiness in the relations between its members. Among the peasants for whom the bell tower and the small house are the heritage of life and work without any real changes, there the division of labour is well defined and constant: for the father to plough or prune the sacred olive tree, for the mother with a full breast to feed the infant, then to lead the sheeps singing the villanella [3] ; there the family has not undergone too many changes over the centuries. In the petty bourgeoisie, where the family economy is based on the wage or on the more or less constant income of the husband or on the interest or fruits of the more or less scarce goods of the wife, the division of labour is well defined and cannot be changed; the family therefore remains unchanged in its traditional forms of feelings, honour and aspirations. If, on the other hand, we enter into the study of the family as it is in those strata of the population which have undergone the most profound changes since the advent and consolidation of capitalism, we observe that the family exists almost only in name among the tycoons of capital and the proletarians. Indeed, in the case of the former, for whom marriage is a contract initiated and perfected outside the will of the parties, the family life of both spouses is a free exposition of individual needs, and the education of the children is entrusted to maids or governesses, then to colleges. Here the family exists only for the legitimate passage of the name, property and possibly the blazon. Within the proletariat, even if we exclude those strata of the proletariat where delinquency and prostitution are daily life, among the workers who, without distinction of sex, are recruited for exploitation in the big workshops, factories or mines, the family is reduced to the cohabitation of its members, and still not always. Here we are not talking about the family nest, the upbringing of children, etc. Some incredulous readers wonder, or are concerned to observe, what the sacred bonds of a family are reduced to when the father is abroad, wandering from workshop to workshop, the mother tormented by the thousand needs of life and the children abandoned to themselves.

The social form taken by the sexual union depends on the economic forms in force, and the current form of the family is closely linked to the private property regime.

Thus, without fear of going off the beaten track or being prophets of doom, it seems legitimate to us to affirm that with the abolition of private property, the family will finally disappear. In a society where the means of production will be collectivized and where production will satisfy the needs of all, where women will have acquired full equality of rights and duties with men, and where maintaining the home will no longer be the work of one sex, but of a category of persons of both sexes, the family will no longer have any reason to exist. Nor will it be the painful abandonment of a conquest, a heritage of family affections and traditions, but it will happen naturally because it will be the greatest convenience of all. Communism is not - as stupidly or maliciously insinuated by adversaries and friends - a reduction of human individuality through the formation of individuals and consciences of a single mould; on the contrary, it represents the liberation from all the present chains imposed on the expression of the individuality of the majority of men and the maximum realisation of the personality of each one compatible with the needs of others. It follows, therefore, that if the family and its existence prove - by hypothesis - to depend on the will of men, rather than on the economic needs of society, then men in their totality or even partially will be able to keep it alive if it suits them.

So we do not want to destroy the family, but we only say that it will die out because its causes will disappear and therefore individuals will no longer feel the need for it because they’ll have adopted other forms of relationships. What these forms will be, how the physiological needs will be satisfied and how they will fit into the modified standard of living of the communist society, what will be the final aspects and what will be the final solutions to the problem of child rearing, do not seem to us to be things we have to answer in order to be able to support our thesis.

We want to make a final observation for those for whom it may even seem cynical to consider the greatest family feelings, for which a thousand sacrifices are made in silence every day, as economic needs, which are often sacrificed to them. Family feelings and attachments are certainly inescapable realities of the human psyche, and as such they are also decisive factors in our actions. However, it should be considered that serene scientific research, free of rhetoric and sophistry, undeniably highlights the primacy and therefore the causal function of materialist elements over idealistic elements. The latter, in their turn, can be the reasons for materialistic variations as derived realities, and appear even more important than their cause; but by distinguishing all the causes of the effects and their multiple interferences, we can always trace back to a primary cause of materialistic essence, and by far stronger and more important than the materialistic element which has been modified by an ideal motive which, taken in itself and as a primary cause, can also appear less strong and less important. We will therefore also have a transitional period, during which the institution of the family will remain alive by tradition and inertia, even if the material economic causes have in fact disappeared, until their living strength, precisely family feelings and attachments, finally die out. In other words, we will have a period in which elements of an idealistic order will support states of fact, thus appearing even more important and stronger than their cause; but it is essentially the persistence of the force and the importance of the primary cause, of a materialistic nature through causal elements, but derived from them.

In conclusion, it does not seem to us that, even for the purposes of propaganda, it is a question of opposing in itself - often in a not very happy way. An exact version of reality must be given; the truth must always be told without veil or distortion, it imposes itself easier.

On the part of Luneidi and Faraggiana, one would have expected not the affirmation that the future family will be infinitely better than the present one, just as communist society will be infinitely better than capitalist society; but purely and simply the demonstration of the concordance of the family institution with private property and the inevitable decline of the former with the disappearance of the latter

They would have reached this conclusion if they had taken Marx, Bukarin, Pokrowski, etc. as a guide in approaching this question, since ’Kant, Schopenhauer Mantegazza, Vachter, Albert and especially Bebel’, if I am not mistaken, are not the happiest interpreters of Marxist doctrine.

Ugo Girone (Prometeo #1, January1924, translated by Revolution or War)
The Social Basis of the Woman Question
(Alexandra Kollontaï, 1909)

While for the feminists the achievement of equal rights with men in the framework of the contemporary capitalist world represents a sufficiently concrete end in itself, equal rights at the present time are, for the proletarian women, only a means of advancing the struggle against the economic slavery of the working class. The feminists see men as the main enemy, for men have unjustly seized all rights and privileges for themselves, leaving women only chains and duties. For them a victory is won when a prerogative previously enjoyed exclusively by the male sex is conceded to the “fair sex”. Proletarian women have a different attitude. They do not see men as the enemy and the oppressor; on the contrary, they think of men as their comrades, who share with them the drudgery of the daily round and fight with them for a better future. The woman and her male comrade are enslaved by the same social conditions; the same hated chains of capitalism oppress their will and deprive them of the joys and charms of life.




[2. We found no reference or mention of this book and its authors on the web (note from RorW).

[3. The Villanella is a pastoral poetry of Italian origin, translator’s note.