Works of Frederick Engels 1884

The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

Written: March-May, 1884;
First Published: October 1884, in Hottingen-Zurich;
Source: Marx/Engels Selected Works, Volume Three;
Translation: The text is essentially the English translation by Alick West published in 1942, but it has been revised against the German text as it appeared in MEW [Marx-Engels Werke] Volume 21, Dietz Verlag 1962, and the spelling of names and other terms has been modernised;
Transcription/Markup: Zodiac/Brian Baggins;
Online Version: Marx/Engels Internet Archive ( 1993, 1999, 2000.
Proofed and corrected: Mark Harris 2010

engels in his study

Table of Contents:

Preface to the First Edition
Preface to the Fourth Edition
Stages of Prehistoric Culture
The Family
The Consanguine Family (The First Stage of the Family)
The Punaluan Family
The Pairing Family
The Monogamous Family
The Iroquois Gens
The Greek Gens [The Rise of Private Property]
The Rise of the Athenian State
The Gens and the State in Rome
The Gens Among Celts and Germans
The Formation of the State Among the Germans
Barbarism and Civilization
Appendix: A Recently Discovered Case of Group Marriage


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 Hottingen-Zurich.

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 society.

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.”