[Marxism] Precapitalist property relations?

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Thu Nov 10 16:23:07 MST 2005

"I also found his 
delving into the Grundrisse useful, especially his reference to Marx's
statement that capitalism could have arisen anywhere--not just in Great


CB: Not sure whether Marx is exaggerating when he says "anywhere" , but
capitalism could not have arisen in most places in the world. 

At the time he discussed precapitalist formations here, Marx had very little
ethnography to use. He didn't have _Ancient Society_ by Morgan, even. Engels
has much more ethnography and precapitalist property relations and
pre-private property when he writes _The Origin of ...Private Property_.

Works of Frederick Engels 1884

The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State



After Marx's death, in rumaging through Marx's manuscripts, Engels came upon
Marx's precis of Ancient Society - a book by progressive US scholar Lewis
Henry Morgan and published in London 1877. The precis was written between
1880-81 and contained Marx's numerous remarks on Morgan as well as passages
from other sources. 

After reading the precis, Engels set out to write a special treatise - which
he saw as fulfilling Marx's will. Working on the book, he used Marx's
precis, and some of Morgan's factual material and conclusions. He also made
use of many and diverse data gleaned in his own studies of the history of
Greece, Rome, Old Ireland, and the Ancient Germans. 

It would, of course, become The Origin of the Family, Private Property and
the State - the first edition of which was published October 1884 in

Engels wrote The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State in
just two months - beginning toward the end of March 1884 and completing it
by the end of May. It focuses on early human history, following the
disintegration of the primitive community and the emergence of a class
society based on private property. Engels looks into the origin and essence
of the state, and concludes it is bound to wither away leaving a classless

Engels: "Along with [the classes] the state will inevitably fall. Society,
which will reorganise production on the basis of a free and equal
association of the producers, will put the whole machinery of state where it
will then belong: into the museum of antiquity, by the side of the
spinning-wheel and the bronze axe." 

In 1890, having gathered new material on the history of primitive society,
Engels set about preparing a new edition of his book. He studied the latest
books on the subject - including those of Russian historian Maxim
Kovalevsky. (The fourth edition, Stuttgart, 1892, was dedicated to
Kovalevsky.) As a result, he introduced a number of changes in his original
text and also considerable insertions. 

In 1894, Engels's book appeared in Russian translation. It was the first of
Engels's works published legally in Russia. Lenin would later describe it as
"one of the fundamental works of modern socialism." 



Marx. Conspectus of Lewis Morgan's Ancient Society

The beginnings of Mythology and Epos


From: Karl Marx, Conspectus of Lewis Morgan's Ancient Society. 
Written in German and English;
Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Moscow 1976;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden;
Image of Marx's Manuscript.


I. and II. Status of Savagery and Lower Status of Barbarism, these two
ethnical Periods cover at least fourfifths of mankind's entire existence on

In the Lower Status, the higher attributes of mankind begin to develop:
personal dignity, eloquence, religious sensibility, rectitude, manliness and
courage, now common traits of character; but there was also cruelty,
treachery and fanaticism. Element worship in religion, with a dim conception
of personal gods, and of a Great Spirit, rude verse-making, joint tenement
houses, and bread from maize belong to this period. It produced also
syndiasmian family and confederacy of tribes, organised into phratries and
gentes. The imagination, that great faculty so largely contributing to the
elevation of mankind, was now producing an unwritten literature of myths,
legends and traditions, already become a powerful stimulus upon the race.



Greek Tragedy


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