Marx & anthropology

Alex Trotter 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 
following commentaries:
	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.

--AT



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