Engels and indigenous peoples

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu May 3 10:34:37 MDT 2001

Greg Schofield:
>We have always to deal with the problems of anachronism when treating this
>material. "Kaffirs" was the accepted term for Bantu related peoples of
>Southern Africa, as was "Hottentots" for the !Kung people. Engels had no
>problem however, specifying particular tribal nations, you will find his
>praise of the Zulu in their victory at Ishwandal (I think my spelling is
>amiss) is nothing much to be embarrassed about.

It was not accepted by the people it was being used to describe. Nor was
Eskimo, nor Sioux, nor Blackfeet, nor Seminole, etc., ad nauseum.

>However, I do not believe I have ever read of him or Marx praising genocide.

No, that is not the problem. The problem is not even so much with Marx or
Engels. It is with Marxism of the Second International that superimposed a
social Darwinist interpretation on "Origins of the Family". Kautsky read
Spencer long before he read Marx. His Marxism was heavily weighted with
evolutionary prejudices.

>Contrary to the assert it is crap, I have found it of some little use in
>discussions with tribal people in my own country when I was living in
>Darwin - but this was not extensive and I do not pretend any expert
>knowledge, but it did enable me to better understand some of the things
>being said to me and I think you will find that the Morganist system makes
>some kinship relations much more understandable than modern anthropology
>has been able to do.

I have trouble with anthropology and archaeology period. When Inuit come to
Manhattan to ask yuppies how many times a week they fuck and in what
positions, then I'd have fewer problems. Anthropology and archaeology are
products of colonialism. Morgan reflected this in nearly everything he
wrote. Same with Boas.

>Morgan's rendition of the "class" marriage system in Australia, though
>short, is clear - Thomson makes it clearer still, none of the modern texts
>achieve so much.

I can't imagine this refers to Rupert Murdoch's divorces.

>Anachronistic arguments are not good ones, there was error, especially in
>too closely identifying biological and social evolution because of the
>state of knowledge at that time - may I ask on what basis you might argue
>if you had lived then and knew only what they knew.

Unfortunately we are not just dealing with anachronistic thinking. The
Sandinistas made mistakes based on racist, social Darwinist prejudices that
lost them the support of the Miskitu Indians. This is politics we are
dealing with, not just theoretical abstractions.

Louis Proyect
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