In preparing this article, we have drawn on just one source: Engels’ groundbreaking 1884 work,
The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
. To read
Origin of the Family
is to revolutionise one’s understanding of the world. For those of us brought up on a diet of eclectic, disconnected historical snippets, educated in a system where history is ‘explained’ as a series of random accidents in which the personalities and whims of various leaders and kings seem to be the decisive factor, Engels’ work is often the first chance we get to truly make sense of human history.
The book brilliantly sums up the stages in development that are common to all human societies, describing the economic and political imperatives that lead inevitably from one stage to the next, and, at a certain stage in the development of productive forces, to the formation of the state.
In laying bare these developments, Engels not only provides a framework for understanding and making sense of the whole of human history (no small feat in itself!) but, in doing so, he also provides an explanation for the division of society into classes and simultaneously reveals the basis of the oppression of women in class society. Finally, having revealed the conditions that brought these antagonisms into being, he points the way to their resolution in the future, clearly revealing that, just as the state and class society
came into being
at a certain stage in the development of human society and production, so will they
pass out of being
at a later stage, having outlived their usefulness and become redundant once more.
What is the state?
The state is a “
special coercive force
“, a repressive machinery of coercion wielded by one class (the ruling class) within human society in order to maintain its rule over the rest. (Engels,
Has the state always existed?
No. For many thousands of years, there were no class divisions in human society, and therefore no need for a special apparatus to maintain the rule of one class over any other.
How was society organised before the development of the state?
Primitive human societies were organised around units of
– various kinds of family unit. In many parts of the world, kinship-based societies at various stages of development persisted for millennia and were only undermined after coming into contact with modern imperialism. Before their break-up, the old Scottish clans were remnants of one form of this ancient type of organisation, while the tribal organisation found among the Native Americans, Polynesians and aboriginal Australians at the time of the arrival of the first European settlers are examples of others.
The groundbreaking American anthropologist Lewis H Morgan was the first to reveal the law of development governing
society. Just as Marx’s work on the law of development of production was greeted with plagiarism on the one hand and silence on the other by German economists, so Morgan’s work was treated by the English anthropologists both at the time and ever since.
Even as genetic science and natural history are bearing out many of the claims made by Morgan, and despite the dependence of archaeologists on such terms as ‘stone age’, ‘bronze age’ and ‘iron age’ to describe their finds (terms which do indeed assume an evolution of society based on technological innovation), the anthropological establishment (in line with predominating bourgeois philosophy) continues to denounce the idea that societies evolve and that productive forces are the driving force behind that evolution, as Morgan and Marx both concluded they were.
Development of prehistoric society
Morgan divided the prehistoric era into two main stages: savagery and barbarism, each further subdivided into a lower, a middle and an upper stage – the point of transition from one to the next always being a major revolution in the means of production enabling a qualitative leap forward in the level of existence that was achievable for humanity. (Note that the terms ‘savagery’ and ‘barbarism’ are not used here in a pejorative sense; they are merely labels for specific pre-class forms of human development.)
Through extensive researches, first into the native American Iroquois and later into many other still-existing tribal societies, Morgan was able to show that, corresponding to each stage of development of human society, there was a form of tribal or family organisation – and that these forms were universal to all human societies at corresponding stages of development.
These stages, their major characteristics in terms of production, and the corresponding forms of family organisation are outlined below.
During this period of development, the appropriation of natural products predominates. The organisation of human society throughout this period is characterised by group marriage.
of savagery represents the period where humanity was newly emerging as a species, still living in its original habitat and eating only fruit, nuts and roots. Since man was a herd animal, the form of sexual relations at this stage would have been that of the ‘promiscuous herd’, characterised by an “
absence of any restriction placed by custom on sexual intercourse
” – concepts such as incest, infidelity etc had not yet been invented, although this does not imply general mixed mating or preclude temporary pairings. (p66)
of savagery began with the utilisation of fish for food and of fire, which in turn enabled humanity to spread over most of the earth by following the coasts and rivers. New sources of food were opened up by fire and exposure to new habitats, and the first weapons (spears and clubs) meant that hunting also became a possibility, although food sources were still extremely uncertain, leading to cannibalism. Examples include the Australian and Polynesian aboriginal tribes at the time of colonial invasion.
At this stage, various forms of ‘group marriage’ prevailed. The first rule prohibiting sexual freedom at some stage appeared, prohibiting intercourse between different generations. Brothers and sisters and various degrees of cousin within the same generation would have viewed each other equally as brothers and sisters and simultaneously as husbands and wives. This first form of the family is known as the
family. No examples of this type of family have ever been documented, but traces of it were found in the
of family relationships still existing among Polynesian tribes in the mid-19th century.
Further development of group marriage, developing gradually towards the
family, in which sexual intercourse is prohibited between children of the same mother, gradually widening to extend to children of sisters and of female cousins on the mother’s side. (Since maternal parentage was the only one that could be proven, maternal lineage was the basis for judging all family relationships.)
This type of family was the basis for the formation of the gens – the family-based unit that formed the nucleus of organisation for all barbarian societies. The original gens is described by Engels as
“a firm circle of blood relations in the female line between whom marriage was prohibited”.
This widening of the concept of incest was a very important development for the progress of human societies and undoubtedly those that adopted it were more successful than those that did not since inbreeding was drastically reduced – natural selection at work!
of savagery began with the invention of the bow and arrow, so that game became a regular source of food and hunting a normal form of work. Such societies were starting to gain control over other means of subsistence too: wooden vessels, finger weaving with bark and leaves to make baskets, sharpened stone tools, dugout canoes etc. The beginnings of village settlements were appearing and wooden beams and planks were sometimes used to build houses. The natives of northwest America are an example of this stage.
The stable pairing family gradually emerged towards the end of this period as the gens developed and the classes of ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ between whom relations were forbidden became more numerous.
This period is characterised by the domestication of animals and the establishment of agriculture. The organisation of human society in this period is characterised by the pairing marriage within the gentile constitution.
of barbarism starts with the introduction of pottery, accompanied in the western hemisphere (Americas) by the beginnings of cultivation of plants for food. The natives of northeastern America (eg, Iroquois) are an example of this stage.
The family form at the lower stage of barbarism was the pairing marriage, and communistic housekeeping still prevailed, leading to the supremacy of the women in the home and reinforcing their generally high status in society as the only formally recognised parents. Defeated enemies at this time were still either killed or adopted into the tribe of the victors, while women were either taken as wives or otherwise adopted with their surviving children.
The general characteristics of gentile society have been found to be common to tribes from all over the world, including those that presaged the Greek and Roman civilisations. Since there were no antagonistic social classes, there was no need for a state to maintain order between the classes. Each gens managed itself via an assembly of all male and female adult members, all with equal votes, with sovereign power in the gens to elect and depose leaders and priests, to decide on matters of blood revenge or payment of atonement, to ratify adoptions etc. War was carried on by volunteers from among the whole armed population – there was no special, separate body of armed men.
Engels described the effects of this form of society on its members among the Iroquois of northeast America: “
No soldiers, no gendarmes or police, no nobles, kings, regents, prefects, or judges, no prisons, or lawsuits – and everything takes its orderly course. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole of the community affected … There cannot be any poor or needy – the communal household and the gens know their responsibilities towards the old, the sick, and those disabled in war. All are equal and free – the women included. There is no place yet for slaves … And what men and women such a society breeds is proved by the admiration inspired in all white people who have come into contact with unspoiled Indians, by the personal dignity, uprightness, strength of character, and courage of these barbarians.”
in the western hemisphere (the Americas) with irrigation of crops and the use of adobe (sun-dried) bricks for building. In the eastern hemisphere, the period started with the domestication of animals for food and dairy products, but no real horticulture until much later in the period, when tribes pushed to the far corners of the plains started to grow grain as fodder for their animals. Cannibalism was now gradually dying out. Examples at this stage include, in the western hemisphere, the natives of Mexico (Aztecs), Peru (Incas) and Central America (Maya, Aztecs), and in the eastern hemisphere, the Aryan and Semitic pastoral tribes of Asia and Europe.
No American societies developed past this stage before the arrival of the Europeans, probably due to the great difference in the types of natural resources available – there were no animals suitable for domestication except the llama in any part of the Americas and only one good grain: maize.
In the eastern hemisphere, the development of large herds led to the gradual accumulation of wealth, initially by the gens, but increasingly by individuals. Since the wealth was in the form of animals and then slaves (who now became useful to tend the animals), this property belonged by custom to the men, since the division of labour had always been that women ran the households while men were responsible for acquiring food.
The increase in productivity of labour that came about through the domestication of cattle and settled agriculture, with the result that a person could produce more than he consumed, furnished the material basis and the motivation for the enslavement of one person by another.
Alongside the production of a certain surplus arose also the establishment of commodity exchange between pastoral and non-pastoral tribes.
Pairing marriage had made it much easier to know who a child’s father was, but traditional mother right meant that children could not inherit from their father, who belonged to a different gens from them. A man’s property was inherited by the gens generally or by his sister’s children specifically, but never his own. This provided the impetus for the overthrow of mother right and the transformation of the gentes from organisations based on
descent to ones based on
descent. From a certain point onwards, children were assigned to their father’s rather than their mother’s gens and the paternal law of inheritance thereby came into being.
According to Engels, “
The overthrow of mother right was the world historic defeat of the female sex. The man took control in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude; she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children. This degraded position of the woman, especially conspicuous among the Greeks of the heroic period and still more of the classical age, has gradually been palliated and glossed over, and sometimes clothed in a milder form; in no sense has it been abolished.”
This development in turn led to the establishment of the extended patriarchal family, whereby a number of persons, both slaves and free, were organised “
into a family under paternal power for the purpose of holding lands and for the care of flocks and herds
“. (Morgan, quoted in Engels,
This form of the family still made use of gentile forms of organisation: the free members of the household shared household duties, cultivated the land in common, fed and clothed themselves from a common stock and shared the surplus from their labour. The senior man of the house was elected, and the supreme authority of the house rested with the family council, in which both men and women took part, and by which all important decisions were taken.
of barbarism began with the smelting of iron ore and ended with the invention of alphabetic writing, which heralded the beginning of the era of civilisation and written history. The iron ploughshare made large-scale agriculture possible, while the iron axe and spade made possible the mass clearance of forest land for tillage and pasture, the combination of which created a massively enlarged food supply and a rapid increase in population. Other tools included bellows, the hand mill and the potter’s wheel. Commodity production advanced, first on a collective basis, between sections of the tribe, and later between individuals, as individual wealth grew. The great division of labour between agriculture and handicrafts was established.
Side by side with the growth of commodity production came the advance of both trade and money, mixing with and undermining the former natural economy. Heavily fortified towns appeared and wars for plunder became commonplace. Examples of this stage include the Greeks of the heroic age, the tribes of Italy that preceded Rome, the Germans of Tacitus and the Norsemen of the Viking age.
Family form: The monogamous family developed out of the pairing family at some time during this stage and, according to Engels,
“its decisive victory is one of the signs that civilisation is beginning. It is based on the supremacy of the man, the express purpose being to produce children of undisputed paternity; such paternity is demanded because these children are later to come into their father’s property as his natural heirs.”
Meanwhile, denser population and the quest for further riches led to the fusing of tribal territories into single nations for mutual protection, and the evolution of the occasional war leader into a permanent fixture as wars for plunder became a feature of everyday life. The gentile organisation was transformed from a mechanism for the free ordering of tribal affairs into an organisation for the oppression of the tribe’s neighbours; its organs changing “
from instruments of the will of the people into independent organs for the domination and oppression of the people
The era of civilisation covers all of documented history up to and including monopoly capitalism. It began with the ancient slave-owning societies, which in turn developed first into feudalism and, later, into capitalist society.
The whole era of civilisation has been distinguished by the division of society into classes; the dawn of civilisation was signalled by the complete and final overthrow of the old, communistic gentile society and with its replacement by class society. The old, unwritten gentile constitution was replaced by the structures and laws of the newly-established state and enforced monogamy (on the part of women) completely replaced the pairing marriage.
“The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male. Monogamous marriage was a great historical step forward; nevertheless, together with slavery and private wealth, it opens the period that has lasted until today in which every step forward is also relatively a step backward, in which prosperity and development for some is won through the misery and frustration of others. It is the cellular form of civilised society in which the nature of the oppositions and contradictions fully active in that society can be already studied.”
As productive forces developed and wealth began to be accumulated, the gentile constitution and forms of government were unable to adapt, having no conception either of private property or of slavery in any form. Within the old gentile society, the amassing of private property created not only the patriarchal family but also the seeds of the first hereditary nobility, as accumulation of wealth by individual families (passed down from a father to his children) made them a power against the gens, while the enslavement of captured enemies paved the way for the later enslavement of fellow members of the tribe and even the gens.
“Only one thing was wanting: an institution which not only secured the newly acquired riches of individuals against the communistic traditions of the gentile order, which not only sanctified the private property formerly so little valued and declared this sanctification to be the highest purpose of all human society; but, an institution which set the seal of general social recognition on each new method of acquiring property and thus amassing wealth at continually increasing speed; an institution which perpetuated not only this growing cleavage of society into classes but also the right of the possessing class to exploit the non-possessing, and the rule of the former over the latter.
“And this institution came. The state was invented.”
The rise of the state
Using the example of the development of the Athenian state, Engels shows how the old gentile order was gradually and inevitably undermined by the development of classes within society. While still in the upper stages of barbarism, the four Athenian tribes had divided up the land on a permanent basis between families. They were producing goods such as grain, wine and oil as commodities for exchange and had succeeded in monopolising the sea trade in the Aegean Sea.
“Through the sale and purchase of land and the progressive division of labour between agriculture, handicrafts, trade and shipping, it was inevitable that the members of the different gentes, phratries, and tribes soon became intermixed.”
Thus, members of different tribes settled in regions where they found themselves excluded from public affairs and denied the rights of members of the local gens, phratry or tribe. Remedy was sought first when some of the affairs that had previously been decided by individual tribes were declared to be common to all and entrusted to a council sitting in Athens. The first nation state was formed, and with it a common Athenian civil law that stood above the traditional customs of the tribes and gentes.
Alongside this was a second innovation – the division of all members of society, no matter what their gens or tribe, into three classes: nobles, farmers and artisans, with the right to hold office vested exclusively in the nobility. This formalised what had been developing for some time – the customary appointment of members of certain families to the offices of the gens had already grown into an almost uncontested right of these families to hereditary office.
With the rise of commodity production and concentration of wealth into the hands of the rising nobility came also the spread of the money economy, which undermined everywhere the old natural economy as usury gradually deprived most of the free peasants first of their land and then of their freedom. The old gentile constitution knew nothing of debts or of money, so the new money rule of the aristocracy demanded new laws to secure the creditor against the debtor and to sanction the exploitation of the small peasant by the possessor of money. Fields were first mortgaged to and then appropriated wholesale by the noble usurers, while peasants often found themselves living as tenant farmers and paying five sixths of the product of their labour to their new masters in rent. If the sale of the land did not cover the debt, the debtor was forced to sell his children into slavery abroad.
“And if the bloodsucker was still not satisfied, he could sell the debtor himself as a slave. Thus the pleasant dawn of civilisation began for the Athenian people.”
Meanwhile, there were increasing numbers of slaves, as well as of foreigners living among the tribes, none of whom the old gentile constitution made any provision for. On the other hand, the growing division of labour within society meant that the interests of the different groups called for the setting up of all sorts of official posts. Gradually, organisation of people according to their
place of residence
, rather than by their tribal kinship group, became prevalent, culminating in the setting up of special armed forces by regional groups, at first required for sea defence, but later also for the suppression of the growing slave population.
The new state went through several transformations, but eventually all the traces of organisation based on gentes and phratries was replaced with a completely new organisation that divided citizens according to their place of residence, giving them representation in the local councils and assigning them military duties according to the size of their property in land. Many of the formerly dispossessed peasants, off whose backs the nobility had grown wealthy, were protected and restored to their lands, as the new society cemented the division not between nobility and the free peasants, but between protected, free persons of all classes and
. In Rome, the new public body consisted of all those citizens liable to military service, excluding not only slaves, but also the poorest class, the proletarians, who were excluded from military service and from taxes, and therefore also denied voting and civilian rights.
It is interesting to note that many of the old gentile attitudes remained in force for a long time. For instance, the first police forces were comprised of slaves, since, although they were a necessary part of the new state machinery, it was considered degrading work for any free man to take part in.
Conversely, however, as slave labour grew prevalent,
labour came gradually to be regarded as slave labour and thereby as inherently degrading by free men: this was the root of the long-running contempt for productive labour that survives right up until today, and will no doubt continue to exist in the minds of many until the last vestiges of class prejudice have been eradicated from men’s thinking.
Purpose and features of the state
Having shown the social and productive developments that led to the formation of the state, Engels concludes that
“The state is therefore by no means a power imposed on society from without; just as little is it ‘the reality of the moral idea’, ‘the image and reality of reason’ as Hegel maintains. Rather, it is the product of society at a particular stage of development; it is the admission that this society has involved itself in insoluble self-contradiction and is cleft into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to exorcise. But in order that these antagonisms, classes with conflicting economic interest, shall not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, a power, apparently standing above society, has become necessary to moderate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of ‘order’; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it and increasingly alienating itself from it, is the state.”
(Our emphasis, p208)
Common features of all states are:
Organisation of people according to their place of domicile, on a territorial basis.
The institution of a special public force that is no longer identical with the people’s own organisation of themselves as an armed power, something that is made impossible by the split of society into classes.
The public force consists not only of army and police, but also of prisons and coercive institutions of all kinds.
This coercive machinery becomes stronger as class antagonisms become sharper within society, and as neighbouring states become bigger and more populous.
In order to maintain this public power, contributions in the form of taxes are collected from the citizens. With the advance in civilisation, even taxes are not enough and governments contract loans, running up state debts.
Representatives of state power are given prestige by means of special decrees, “which invest him with a peculiar sanctity and inviolability. The lowest police officer of the civilised state has more ‘authority’ than all the organs of gentile society put together; but the mightiest prince and the greatest statesman or general of civilisation might envy the humblest of gentile chiefs the unforced and unquestioned respect accorded to him. For one stands in the midst of society; the other is forced to pose as something outside and above it.” (pp209-10)
The state is generally a weapon in the hands of the most powerful, politically dominant class – a means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class. Thus, the ancient state was the state of the slave owners for holding down the slaves, while the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and bondsmen and the modern capitalist state is an instrument for holding down the exploited wage labourers by the capitalist class.
In most historical states, the rights conceded to citizens are graded on a property basis, thus laying bare the reality that the state exists for the protection of the propertied class against the dispossessed. The Athenian and Roman states were based on property rights, the rights accorded under the feudal system were determined by the extent of land ownership and, until recently, electoral qualification under capitalism was also based on property ownership. However, this is by no means a necessity, as can be seen from the latest development of the state into the democratic republic as seen in America and much of western Europe. In these cases,
“wealth employs its power indirectly but all the more surely. It does this in two ways: by plain corruption of officials, of which America is the classic example; and by an alliance between the government and the stock exchange
[today read: domination of the financial oligarchy],
which is effected all the more easily the higher the state debt mounts and the more the joint-stock companies concentrate in their hands not only transport but also production itself … As long as the oppressed class – in our case, therefore, the proletariat – is not yet ripe for its self-liberation, so long will its majority recognise the existing order of society as the only possible one and remain politically the tail of the capitalist class, its extreme left wing. But in the measure in which it matures toward its self-emancipation, in the same measure it constitutes itself as its own party and votes for its own representatives, not those of the capitalists. Universal suffrage is thus the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It cannot and never will be anything more in the modern state …”
Features common to all stages of civilisation are:
The use of metal money and with it the existence of money capital, interest and usury.
The existence of a class of merchants as a class of intermediaries between the producers.
The private ownership of land, the mortgage system and the existence of wills, which allow men to dispose of their property even after death.
Mass exploitation of the majority labouring class – first via open slave labour, then through the feudal serf system and later through wage slavery. Open or disguised slavery is common to all three great epochs of civilisation.
The dominant form of the family is monogamy, the domination of the man over the woman, and the single family forms the basic economic unit of society.
The central link in society is the state, which is in all typical periods the state of the ruling class and essentially a machine for holding down the oppressed, exploited class.
A permanent opposition is established between the town and the country as the primary basis for the whole social division of labour.
Greed, the desire for accumulation of wealth and more wealth, is the prime motivating force throughout the period of civilisation,
“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 realised its achievements.”
Since civilisation is founded on the exploitation of one class by another, its development proceeds in constant contradiction. Every step forward in production is at the same time a step backward and a further degradation in the position of the great majority of the oppressed.
In prehistoric societies, production was collective and consumption was carried out by the direct distribution of the products. It may have been limited, but at no time was it possible for the producers to lose control of the process of production or of their products. Throughout the period of civilisation, on the other hand, commodity production gradually became the dominant form of production, which was carried on less and less for use and more and more for exchange. As middle men and merchants stepped in and markets became ever larger, all control or even sight of the products was lost, not only to the producers but also to the merchants, as commodities passed from hand to hand and from market to market.
What does all this tell us about the future?
We have seen that the state was brought into being at a certain stage in the development of the productive forces, when society split into antagonistic, opposing classes; into possessors and dispossessed, oppressors and oppressed.
This division into classes, while disadvantageous to the vast majority, nevertheless has played an objectively progressive role in the history of humanity. Without the creation of that minority parasitic layer, freed from the constraints of production, art and science and the great strides made in human understanding and mastery over nature would not have taken place. The whole era of civilisation, of class society, has made possible a
massively accelerating concentration of knowledge and constant revolutionising of the means of production
, until we have arrived at the point where the technical capability now exists for providing a decent, educated and fulfilling existence not only for a small minority but for all of humankind.
All that stands in the way of society fulfilling this potential is the current organisation of production for capitalist profit rather than to meet human need. This is because the need to sell for profit curtails the amounts and types of goods that are produced and stops humanity from providing adequately for itself, or from equitably distributing what is produced, despite the massive productive forces and advanced technologies now at its disposal.
This was already true in 1884, when Engels was able to conclude that
“We are now rapidly approaching a stage in the development of production at which the existence of these classes has not only ceased to be a necessity but becomes a positive hindrance to production. They will fall as inevitably as they once rose. The state inevitably falls with them. The society which organises production anew on the basis of free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong – into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze axe.”
Meanwhile, having shown how the primitive division of labour between men and women, with men procuring the necessaries of life through hunting and gathering and women taking responsibility for the household – cooking, cleaning, weaving, sewing etc – was the basis on which men became the owners of society’s wealth as it arose in the form of herds and then of slaves, Engels concludes that:
The same cause which had ensured to the woman her previous supremacy in the house – that her activity was confined to domestic labour – this same cause now ensured the man’s supremacy in the house. The domestic labour of the woman no longer counted beside the acquisition of the necessities of life by the man; the latter was everything, the former an unimportant extra. We can already see from this that to emancipate woman and make her the equal of the man is and remains an impossibility so long as the woman is shut out from social productive labour and restricted to private domestic labour. The emancipation of woman will be possible only when woman can take part in production on a large, social scale, and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time.”
In other words, the work that women have for centuries undertaken as a private service to their husbands needs to be socialised in order that they can be freed up to take an equal part in social production and administration. In the USSR, giant strides in this direction were made by the provision of free crÃ¨ches and laundries in workplaces, subsidised restaurants, after-school childcare provision etc, as well as free care homes for the elderly and disabled. Even in the tiny DPRK and tiny Cuba today, these facilities – so far beyond the means of imperialism, even in its heartlands – are universally provided and, consequently, women are able to play a prominent role in production and administration on an equal footing with men, without having to fund expensive nannies and home helps and without having to worry that their families are suffering as a result.
It is to the very great credit of Lewis Morgan, whose researches formed the basis of Engels’ work, that he, in 1877, without any background in either economics or philosophy, was able, through his own researches, to come to the same conclusions as Marx about the temporary nature of both class society and the prominence of private property. Engels concluded
Origin of the Family
with the following judgement on civilisation and prediction for the future from Morgan’s
Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery, through Barbarism to Civilisation
“Since the advent of civilisation, 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 civilisation began is but a fragment of the ages yet to come. The 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 gentes.” (Morgan, cited in Engels, pp216-7, Engels’ emphasis. All citations in this article taken from the Penguin Classics edition, London, 1985)