Marx & anthropology
uburoi at panix.com
Fri Nov 3 20:23:53 MST 1995
Johann Bachofen was a Swiss jurist, historian, archeologist, and whatnot
who in 1861 wrote an influential book titled *Das Mutterrecht* ("Mother
Right") which was the first (?) study of matrilineality among primitive
peoples and the promiscuity of the 'primal horde.' He had an idealist,
not a materialist view of the development of patriarchy (e.g., it was a
movement of spirit, the female deities were deposed in favor of gods
during the heroic period of Greek antiquity, etc.). The transition to male
dominance and monogamy involved transgression of ancient religious law.
Bachofen is cited by Engels in *Origin of the Family...*
Lewis H. Morgan was from Rochester, New York (explaining his
special interest in the Iroquois confederation). His book *Ancient
Society*, which discussed family relations among the Iroquois, as well as
in early Greece and Rome, appeared in 1877. Marx latched onto it with
great enthusiasm, using Morgan as his authority against England's royal
ethnologists, Sir Henry Maine, Sir John Phear, and Sir John Lubbock,
whose racism and Victorian values he savaged. Marx referred to these men
as "civilized asses" and "blockheads" in his notebooks on ethnology.
Morgan was a Yankee republican and believer in democracy, so Marx
credited him as the closest thing to a genuine rebel among the
ethnologists of that time.
But Marx was also critical of Morgan, pointing out that Morgan was not a
revolutionary and that his work was subsidized by the U.S. government.
The main theme of Morgan's work is that primitive society was
organized into "gentes" (clans) before the rise of the patriarchal family
system, corresponding to the institution of communal property and its
dissolution through an uneven accumulation of wealth and the evolvement
of privileged castes thereby. I haven't read *Ancient Society*, only the
Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (F. Engels)
Introduction to The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx (Lawrence Krader)
Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of
Revolution (Raya Dunayevskaya)
Karl Marx and the Iroquois (Franklin Rosemont)
Based on my so far very limited researches in anthropology, Morgan has
historically been given short shrift in American anthropology,
particularly by the Boas school. Someone recently posted about Kroeber
being part of this tendency, along with Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead.
I think this is mistaken, though. Kroeber was an organicist (like Marx),
not a positivist and mechanicist like Boas. But what his views of Morgan
were I haven't discovered yet.
Perhaps it's time for Lisa to shed more light.
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