Several of the list's burning issues

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Thu Dec 28 10:55:12 MST 2000

The below is the concluding section of _The Origin of the Family, Private Property and
the State_ by Comrade Engels. I post it because it addresses several ongoing burning
issues on this list: The relationship among capitalist , feudalist and slave modes of
production ( "civilization"),  the dialectic of chance and necessity, and even Lewis
Henry Morgan's attitude to civilization in relation to ancient society ( in fact,
Morgan thought civilization inferior to ancient society in important ways)

Charles Brown

Civilization is, therefore, according to the above analysis, the stage of development
in society at which the division of labor, the exchange between individuals arising
from it, and the commodity production which combines them both, come to their full
growth and revolutionizes the whole of previous society.

At all earlier stages of society production was essentially collective, just as
consumption proceeded by direct distribution of the products within larger or smaller
communistic communities. This collective production was very limited; but inherent in
it was the producers' control over their process of production and their product. They
knew what became of their product: they consumed it; it did not leave their hands. And
so long as production remains on this basis, it cannot grow above the heads of the
producers nor raise up incorporeal alien powers against them, as in civilization is
always and inevitably the case.

But the division of labor slowly insinuates itself into this process of production. It
undermines the collectivity of production and appropriation, elevates appropriation by
individuals into the general rule, and thus creates exchange between individuals --
how it does so, we have examined above. Gradually commodity production becomes the
dominating form.

With commodity production, production no longer for use by the producers but for
exchange, the products necessarily change hands. In exchanging his product, the
producer surrenders it; he no longer knows what becomes of it. When money, and with
money the merchant, steps in as intermediary between the producers, the process of
exchange becomes still more complicated, the final fate of the products still more
uncertain. The merchants are numerous, and none of them knows what the other is doing.
The commodities already pass not only from hand to hand; they also pass from market to
market; the producers have lost control over the total production within their own
spheres, and the merchants have not gained it. Products and production become subjects
of chance.

But chance is only the one pole of a relation whose other pole is named "necessity."
In the world of nature, where chance also seems to rule, we have long since
demonstrated in each separate field the inner necessity and law asserting itself in
this chance. But what is true of the natural world is true also of society. The more a
social activity, a series of social processes, becomes too powerful for men's
conscious control and grows above their heads, and the more it appears a matter of
pure chance, then all the more surely within this chance the laws peculiar to it and
inherent in it assert themselves as if by natural necessity. Such laws also govern the
chances of commodity production and exchange. To the individuals producing or
exchanging, they appear as alien, at first often unrecognized, powers, whose nature
Must first be laboriously investigated and established. These economic laws of
commodity production are modified with the various stages of this form of production;!
 but in general the whole period of civilization is dominated by them. And still to
this day the product rules the producer; still to this day the total production of
society is regulated, not by a jointly devised plan, but by blind laws, which manifest
themselves with elemental violence, in the final instance in the storms of the
periodical trade crises.

We saw above how at a fairly early stage in the development of production, human
labor-power obtains the capacity of producing a considerably greater product than is
required for the maintenance of the producers, and how this stage of development was
in the main the same as that in which division of labor and exchange between
individuals arise. It was not long then before the great "truth" was discovered that
man also can be a commodity; that human energy can be exchanged and put to use by
making a man into a slave. Hardly had men begun to exchange than already they
themselves were being exchanged. The active became the passive, whether the men liked
it or not.

With slavery, which attained its fullest development under civilization, came the
first great cleavage of society into an exploiting and an exploited class. This
cleavage persisted during the whole civilized period. Slavery is the first form of
exploitation, the form peculiar to the ancient world; it is succeeded by serfdom in
the middle ages, and wage- labor in the more recent period. These are the three great
forms of servitude, characteristic of the three great epochs of civilization; open,
and in recent times disguised, slavery always accompanies them.

The stage of commodity production with which civilization begins is distinguished
economically by the introduction of (1) metal money, and with it money capital,
interest and usury; (2) merchants, as the class of intermediaries between the
producers; (3) private ownership of land, and the mortgage system; (4) slave labor as
the dominant form of production The form of family corresponding to civilization and
coming to definite supremacy with it is monogamy, the domination of the man over the
woman, and the single family as the economic unit of society. The central link in
civilized society is the state, which in all typical periods is without exception the
state of the ruling class, and in all cases continues to be essentially a machine for
holding down the oppressed, exploited class. Also characteristic of civilization is
the establishment of a permanent opposition between town and country as basis of the
whole social division of labor; and, further, the introduction of wills,!
 whereby the owner of property is still able to dispose over it even when he is dead.
This institution, which is a direct affront to the old gentile constitution, was
unknown in Athens until the time of Solon; in Rome it was introduced early, though we
do not know the date; [4] among the Germans it was the clerics who introduced it, in
order that there might be nothing to stop the pious German from leaving his legacy to
the Church.

With this as its basic constitution, civilization achieved things of which gentile
society was not even remotely capable. But it achieved them by setting in motion the
lowest instincts and passions in man and developing them at the expense of all his
other abilities. From its first day to this, sheer greed was the driving spirit of
civilization; wealth and again wealth and once more wealth, wealth, not of society,
but of the single scurvy individual -- here was its one and final aim. If at the same
time the progressive development of science and a repeated flowering of supreme art
dropped into its lap, it was only because without them modern wealth could not have
completely realized its achievements.

Since civilization is founded on the exploitation of one class by another class, its
whole development proceeds in a constant contradiction. Every step forward in
production is at the same time a step backwards in the position of the oppressed
class, that is, of the great majority. Whatever benefits some necessarily injures the
others; every fresh emancipation of one class is necessarily a new oppression for
another class. The most striking proof of this is provided by the introduction of
machinery, the effects of which are now known to the whole world. And if among the
barbarians, as we saw, the distinction between rights and duties could hardly be
drawn, civilization makes the difference and antagonism between them clear even to the
dullest intelligence by giving one class practically all the rights and the other
class practically all the duties.

But that should not be: what is good for the ruling class must also be good for the
whole of society, with which the ruling- class identifies itself. Therefore the more
civilization advances, the more it is compelled to cover the evils it necessarily
creates with the cloak of love and charity, to palliate them or to deny them -- in
short, to introduce a conventional hypocrisy which was unknown to earlier forms of
society and even to the first stages of civilization, and which culminates in the
pronouncement: the exploitation of the oppressed class is carried on by the exploiting
class simply and solely in the interests of the exploited class itself; and if the
exploited class cannot see it and even grows rebellious, that is the basest
ingratitude to its benefactors, the exploiters. [5]

And now, in conclusion, Morgan's judgment of civilization:

Since the advent of civilization, the outgrowth of property has been so immense, its
forms so diversified, its uses so expanding and its management so intelligent in the
interests of its owners, that it has become, on the part of the people, an
unmanageable power. The human mind stands bewildered in the presence of its own
creation. The time will come, nevertheless, when human intelligence will rise to the
mastery over property, and define the relations of the state to the property it
protects, as well as the obligations and the limits of the rights of its owners. The
interests of society are paramount to individual interests, and the two must be
brought into just and harmonious relations. A mere property career is not the final
destiny of mankind, if progress is to be the law of the future as it has been of the
past. The time which has passed away since civilization began is but a fragment of the
past duration of man's existence; and but a fragment of the ages yet to come. Th!
e dissolution of society bids fair to become the termination of a career of which
property is the end and aim; because such a career contains the elements of
self-destruction. Democracy in government, brotherhood in society, equality in rights
and privileges, and universal education, foreshadow the next higher plane of society
to which experience, intelligence and knowledge are steadily tending. It will be a
revival, in a higher form, of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient

[Morgan, op. cit., p. 562. -- Ed.]

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