Engels on the Origins of Class Society

The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

By Friedrich Engels (1884)

Free PDF: Origin of the Family

Book review

Relying on the pioneering work of Lewis Morgan and other early anthropologists, Engels traces the origins of class society back to the agricultural revolution (around 10,000 BC when our hunter gatherer ancestors transformed themselves into farmers). The advent of agriculture resulted in a “surplus” of food, which became the responsibility of an elite (kings and priests) to safeguard for the winter and hard times.

The production of an agricultural surplus also enables the accumulation of wealth and the desire to bequeath one’s riches to descendants. This can only happen if men can trace the paternity of their offspring. Men’s desire to pass on wealth resulted in the introduction of the marriage contract to bind all women to a single man (while men were allowed unlimited partners)  and the replacement of matriarchal society with patriarchy.

Engels goes on to trace how this early wealth creation led to the concept of private property and the feudalistic state. To have a state you have to have a king or supreme leader. He maintains power via a standing army and rewards “knights” in his army with gifts of private property. And because property is no longer owned communally, peasants are forced off the land that provides their subsistence and forced to go to work for knights and lords who have expropriated their land.

The book contains a fascinating section about the way the Iroquois Nation governed themselves – including their use of consensus in decision making, inheritance through the female line and their collective ownership of property. He also outlines how various Iroquois tribes were united in a Confederacy governed by a Federal Council (which formed the basis for state-federal structure the colonists adopted in the Articles of Confederation).

There is also a section about democracy in ancient Athens and the coalescence of Latin tribes into a single Roman government. The final chapter concerns the amalgamation of the various Germanic tribes into the states of Germany and France.

Genocide American Style

Red Cry

Lakota Solidarity Project (2013)

Film Review

 Red Cry is about past and present genocide of the Lakota nation.

The first third of the film concerns the ugly history of legalized genocide of Native American peoples. Some of the highlights include

• Columbus’s slaughter of 8 million Arouac in Hispaniola
• The 1823 Supreme Court ruling that the “divine right of discovery” took precedence over the land rights of indigenous peoples.
•  The mass slaughter of 1.5 million buffalo by the US army and settlers between 1871 and 1910 with the deliberate intent of destroying the primary Sioux source of food.
• The 1871 Indian Appropriation Act which invalidated the right of Native American tribes to be recognized as sovereign nations and invalidated all prior treaties.
• The criminalization of Native American culture, starting from the 1880s, and forced attendance of Native Americans at “Indian” boarding schools.
• The conscious federal desecration of sacred sites on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the ravaging of native lands with more than 3,000 uranium mines, leading to radioactive contamination of the air, water and food chain.
• The forced sterilization of Native American women by the Indian Health Service in the sixties and seventies.
• The 1973 appointment and arming (by the US government) of half-breed goon squads to terrorize and assassinate tribal elders.

The remainder of the film consists of interviews with tribal leaders describing present day genocidal conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where life expectancy is 44 years for men and 52 years for women (in contrast to 76 years for men and 81 years for women in the general population).

Pine Ridge is plagued with miscarriages, birth defects and the highest cancer rate in the country due to radium, lead, mercury and arsenic contamination of the land and water by the mining industry.

Rape is four times the national average, with only one-third of the perpetrators facing prosecution.

Youth suicide is 1 ½ times the national average.

Eight out of ten families are affected by alcoholism.

One-third of the homes on the reservation lack running water and 40% have no electricity. Eighty percent of families live below the poverty line.

Traditional Lakota governance is matriarchal. For more than a century the US government has deliberately undermined matriarchal rule by only appointing men to positions of tribal authority.