Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communists and the family

End the yoke of private ownership

First Published: Proletarian Unity No. 21 (vol 4 no 3), July-August-September 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Is the family disappearing? Is it still the foundation of contemporary social structures? We have been hearing these kinds of questions more and more over the past few years.

They are questions for people in all walks of life. Many observers have told us that the family is in crisis, a crisis that has been getting worse, especially in the last twenty years.

In the most reactionary and conservative circles, there is a steady stream of calls to preserve this sacred institution, the ultimate bulwark against the winds of protest sweeping capitalist society as a whole. The time has come to restore the authority of the father and reaffirm the glories of being the perfect homemaker. The ideal home is the family in which the mother does the dishes while the father reads his newspaper and the children grow and develop under the watchful eye of the school and parental authority.

Fortunately, this vision of the family has been profoundly challenged in recent years. The youth movements of the 1960s, the massive arrival of women on the job market, the widespread challenges to the old sexual morality – all this helped to show that the family was not really the oasis of peace and tranquillity that it once seemed to be. With this came a growing awareness that the family was not a permanent and unchanging institution. But concretely, what is actually happening to the family? What are the factors that influence its development?

These are the questions we will discuss and try to answer in this article. By seeking to understand the material conditions that have made the family what it is today, and that are already signalling changes in the institution of the family that will be even more fundamental than those in the past, we will gain a better understanding of how we can influence and shape these material factors.

The family in history

It is very much in the interests of the bourgeoisie to present the structures of capitalist society today as the natural order of things, as something eternal and unchanging. This is especially true for the family, which is presented as the natural cornerstone of all human society, above and beyond the course of economic development and political upheavals – in sum, an ahistorical category.

But throughout history, individuals have been divided into many different kinds of marriage groups, and the ideal, eternal family portrayed by the bourgeoisie is in actual fact only one specific, and relatively recent, form of kinship group. It is the monogamous, patriarchal family, based on conjugal marriage and governed by the authority of the father and husband. The origins of this specific family grouping are not to be found in the natural, biological order of things, in the relationship necessary between the sexes for the reproduction of the species. No, the origins of the family lie in the specifically economic relations that have shaped the evolution of human society up until today.

According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of immediate life. This, again, is of a twofold character: on the one side, the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social organization under which the people of a particular historical epoch and a particular country live is determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labour on the one hand and of the family on the other.[1]

Examining the reciprocal, historical development of the two aspects of the material bases of human society, work and the reproduction of the species, Engels points out:

The lower the development of labour and the more limited the amount of its products, and consequently, the more limited also the wealth of the society, the more the social order is found to be dominated by kinship groups.[2]

There is good reason to suppose that early man had to discover empirically things we take more or less for granted today, such as how children are made and the harmful biological consequences of inbreeding. He eked out a bare existence in conditions of extreme poverty. In these conditions, concepts like the ban on incest and the conjugal union of relatives developed slowly and gradually.

Before the emergence of social classes and of the State that ensured the domination of one class over another, various family structures developed that resulted in more and more restrictions on inbreeding, or marriage between blood relatives. As Engels said, “The urge toward the prevention of inbreeding asserts itself again and again, feeling its way, however, quite instinctively, without clear consciousness of its aim.”[3]

The first stage in this evolution was group marriage in its various forms, involving the “mutually common possession of husbands and wives within a definite family circle, from which, however, the brothers of the wives – first one’s own and later also collateral – and conversely also the sisters of the husbands, were excluded.”[4]

In all forms of group family, it is uncertain who is the father of this child; but it is certain who its mother is.... It is therefore clear that insofar as group marriage prevails, descent can only be proved on the mother’s side and that therefore only the female line is recognized.[5]

This is what has been referred to as “mother right”, although the term here has no legal connotations, since in these classless societies the State – and therefore the legal system – did not yet exist.

But as the rules designed to prevent marriage between blood relatives became more and more complex, group marriage became increasingly difficult. It was gradually supplanted by the pairing family, based on the couple.

Thus the history of the family in primitive times consists in the progressive narrowing of the circle, originally embracing the whole tribe, within which the two sexes have a common conjugal relation. The continuous exclusion, first of nearer, then of more and more remote relatives, and at last even of relatives by marriage, ends by making any kind of group marriage practically impossible. Finally, there remains only the single, loosely linked pair...[6]

But the pairing family was still a far cry from the monogamous patriarchal family that emerged simultaneously with class society. The pairing family did not put an end to matrilineality (descent through the female line) or the public nature of the household economy.

These primitive forms of the family, based on the recognition of the female line of descent, satisfied the two decisive conditions defined by Engels:

– the natural result of man’s experience with the reproduction of the species was the establishment of matrilineality and, gradually, growing restrictions on inbreeding until the family came to be based on the couple;

– since the economic conditions of labour were simplified to the utmost, and since neither private property nor classes and the State existed, relations within the family were relations of equality, not oppression, and domestic work was still a valued part of social production.

As these latter factors evolved, they played an increasingly important role. The result was fundamental changes in the family with the emergence of class society.

The patriarchal family emerged with class society

The driving social forces that were to cause basic changes in the family can be traced back to the economic revolution that resulted in an unprecedented accumulation of wealth, as well as to the appropriation of this wealth as the private property of a class that controlled all of society through the State – an institution that was previously unknown.

For instance, the peoples that discovered livestock raising and built up herds were able to develop methods of food production that superseded the old methods of food-gathering. But a family does not reproduce itself as rapidly as livestock does, and eventually family labour could no longer keep up with the work of caring for herds that were getting larger and larger and more and more productive. This gave rise to the practice of using slaves, who were originally prisoners captured in wars against other tribes.

One it had passed into the private possession of families and there rapidly begun to augment, this wealth dealt a severe blow to the society founded on pairing marriage and the matriarchal gens (kin group or extended family defined through women – ed. note). Pairing marriages had brought a new element into the family. By the side of the natural mother it placed its natural and attested father.... According to the division of labour within the family at that time, it was the man’s part to obtain food and the instruments of labour necessary for the purpose. He therefore also owned the instruments of labour, and in the event of husband and wife separating, he took them with him, just as she retained her household goods. Therefore, according to the social custom of the time, the man was also the owner of the new source of subsistence, the cattle, and later of the new instruments of labour, the slaves. But according to the custom of the same society, his children could not inherit from him.[7]

Thus on the one hand, in proportion as wealth increased it made the man’s position in the family more important than the women’s, and on the other hand created an impulse to exploit this strengthened position in order to overthrow, in favour of his children, the traditional order of inheritance.[8]

The female line of descent (from mother to daughter) was replaced by the male line (from father to son) and paternal inheritance rights. As Engels so rightly pointed out, “The overthrow of mother right was the world historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command 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.”[9]

This was the origin of the patriarchal family, based on the domination of one sex over the other in order to guarantee the line of inheritance. This type of family is still the rule today.

With classes emerged a society in which the family system was completely dominated by the system of property. It was also the beginning of a double standard of morality. In theory, marriage was indissoluble and strictly monogamous. In practice, however, only women were bound to observe its monogamous nature. While an unfaithful husband might be formally held up for criticism, unfaithfulness – including prostitution, its most overt form – was commonly accepted and widespread behaviour.

Not only was the patriarchal family dominated by the system of property; as well, the household economy, which had been a public industry, became a private service provided by a slave – the woman – for her master – the man.

In the old communistic household, which comprised many couples and their children, the task entrusted to the women of managing the household was as much a public, a socially necessary industry as the producing of food by the men. With the patriarchal family and still more with the single monogamous family, a change came. Household management lost its public character. It no longer concerned society. It became a private service; the wife became the head servant, excluded from all participation in social production.[10]

Large-scale industry has attacked the economic foundation of the patriarchal family

The patriarchal family was an eminently suitable form of family for slaveowners. As a matter of fact, the very word “family” comes from Latin, the language of the Roman Empire – one of the greatest of the societies based on slavery in history. The Latin word “familia” was originally used to designate all the slaves belonging to one man.

With the help of the Church, the patriarchal family survived feudalism intact.

With the dawn of the capitalist era, the rising bourgeoisie still needed a solid, indestructible family unit in which the father was the authority figure. The family was an important locus for the accumulation of wealth, first through trade and then through the exploitation of workers in manufacturing workshops.

The introduction of large-scale industry, however, gradually undermined this family structure by undermining the economic foundations of the patriarchal family. First of all, the domestic economy as a system of private production lost considerable ground with the growth of the mass production of basic necessities. Our grandmothers made their own soap and did the laundry with a washboard; today, we buy our soap at the supermarket and do the laundry in an automatic washer. Furthermore, the development of capitalism, and in particular large-scale industry, was accompanied by a parallel growth of women’s participation in productive wage work. For the bourgeoisie, this was and still is a way of using the traditional debasement of the situation of women to hire women for less than they pay to men and to do jobs that are often seen as an extension of women’s work in the home. After all, when the boss’s wife serves him his morning coffee at home, it is surely only natural for him to require his secretary to perform the same service during the afternoon coffee-break?

With the development of capitalism, the bourgeoisie needed a labour force that was increasingly well educated to do jobs that were becoming steadily more technologically complex. As a result, the education of children tended more and more to become a public service. The State gradually but thoroughly took charge of the entire school system.

Last but not least, although the family was the emerging bourgeoisie’s preferred institution for the preservation of its wealth, with the growth of monopoly capitalism it was replaced by the banks and the other financial institutions as the collective steward and general manager of the financial interests of the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, the patriarchal family remained the bourgeoisie’s preferred channel of inheritance, providing it with a direct line of transmission for its acquired wealth.

So capitalism has had contradictory effects on the patriarchal family. On the one hand, it is in the process of completely undermining its economic foundations, while on the other hand it seeks to preserve this family structure so necessary for passing on its wealth to its inheritors and more especially for enabling and guaranteeing the superexploitation of women.

These are the material factors that are the basis of the crisis of the family in today’s society.

The contemporary crisis of the family

The contemporary family reflects a whole series of social contradictions. Its very survival as an institution, at a time when economic necessity works in favour of its disintegration, often seems to be due more to external constraints than anything else. There are a number of indications of these opposing tendencies.

To start with, the number of women on the labour market in Canada has grown from 2.5 million to 4.2 million in the last ten years. For the majority of families, a second income has become an absolute necessity to make ends meet. In 1976, both the mother and the father worked in 54% of Canadian families. In January 1979, 48.8% of the workers in Canada were women. At the same time, however, the gap between the average wages of women and men has widened steadily.

One of the results of women’s struggles has been a sharp rise in the divorce rate, despite the legal obstacles to divorce. Today, one couple out of four eventually divorces, and one family out of ten is a single-parent family. In Ontario, more and more single mothers are keeping their children: 30% did so in 1968, and 88% in 1977. In British Columbia, there are now 33.6 abortions for every 100 births.

The old sexual morality has also been seriously challenged. It is estimated that in 1980, 55% of adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 will have sexual relations. One thousand teen-age girls become pregnant every week in Canada.

In a survey of 5,000 men and 6,000 women in the United States, the sexologist Alfred Kinsey found that already in the late 1940s and early 1950s 37% of the men surveyed had reached orgasm at least once in a homosexual experience, while another 13% admitted having had homosexual desires to varying degrees. In contrast, however, only 4% of the men were exclusively homosexual throughout their entire lives. Significant findings were also obtained for women, although the proportions were lower.

But the effects of the crisis in the family have not always been liberating. Violence is present in the family to a surprising extent. According to a study done in the United States, in 1977, more than one-sixth of the couples had quarrelled and come to blows in the year preceding the inquiry. In Canada, one women out of ten is beaten by her husband every year – 500,000 battered women in the country as a whole. In France, 8,000 children are killed by their parents every year, and another 18,000 are seriously injured. In Canada, the rate of juvenile delinquency almost doubled in the space of two years, and youth are rebelling in increasingly violent ways.

According to the statistics of Quebec’s Regie de l’assurance-maladie (health insurance plan) for 1972, general practitioners diagnosed women’s illnesses as anxiety more than anything else except the flu. Other sources indicate that nervous symptoms are three times more common among married women than among single women. In 1976, the number of women in Quebec who consulted psychotherapists was twice as high as the number of men.

These are only a few, very partial raw statistics, but they are nevertheless very indicative of the scope of family problems in our society. Women are the chief victims of these problems. The bourgeoisie tries to disguise the fact, but it is obvious that one of the manifestations of the crisis of imperialism is the crisis in the family as we know it. This family is the product of centuries of capitalism and thousands of years of class society.

What are the living conditions of working people, and in particular working-class women, as capitalism wears away at the economic foundation of the patriarchal family?

On the one hand, capitalism opens up the possibility of new family relations based on love instead of the sense of ownership. This is especially true in proletarian families, where there is the least objective basis for such a proprietary attitude. Capitalism has by and large deprived the family of any role in handing on an inheritance. Workers do not have much to leave to their children except their debts. As well, capitalism puts an end to the basis for male supremacy inasmuch as it encourages women to become economically independent by joining the labour market.

On the other hand, however, these changes occur against a background of violence and poverty for ordinary working people, and especially women. For capitalism also perpetuates a whole series of economic and cultural barriers to any genuine liberation in relations between men and women.

To end the yoke of private ownership

The question is sometimes raised of what socialism and communism will mean for the family. It is often suggested that communists are in favour of a puritan morality in which individuals and love between human beings have no place whatsoever. This is utterly false, as we will see.

What will be the influence of the communist order of society on the family?

It will make the relations between the sexes a purely private matter which concerns only the persons involved, and in which society must not intervene. It can do this since it does away with private property and educates children on a communal basis, and in this way removes the two bases of marriage up to now – the dependence of the wife on the husband and of the children on their parents resulting from private property. And here is the answer to the outcry of the highly moralistic philistines against the communistic “community of women.” Community of women is a condition which belongs entirely to bourgeois society and which today finds it complete expression in prostitution. But prostitution is based on private property and falls with it. Thus communist society, instead of introducing community of women, in fact abolishes it.[11]

This is how Engels described the future of the family in communist, classless society. In doing so, he also showed up the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, which claims to champion the individual against the communist ogre that is reputed to eat children, share women and do away with all private relations. But who in fact tears the child from the arms of the working-class mother? Who else but capitalism, which with its hopeless shortage of day care services and the right to maternity leave denied more often than not in practice, has made motherhood in many ways a burden for women? This situation means that most women with young children are obliged to stop working. They are thus deprived of an income they need and confined to the home. And it is much worse in underdeveloped countries dominated by imperialism, where the children born are condemned to a life of poverty and misery, and often an early death.

To make relations between the sexes a “purely private matter”, as Engels puts it, it is necessary to break with centuries of history since the emergence of the patriarchal family during which economic relations have had precedence over relations between individuals in the family.

More fundamentally, it implies putting an end to a situation in which marriage and love have always been two separate matters. In the early days of history, each group of individuals was automatically married with another group right from birth. Later, with the emergence of the pairing family, it was customary for the mothers to arrange their children’s marriages. With the rise of capitalism, inheritance became the governing factor in the union of individuals and cemented the permanency of the marriage bond. In establishing formal equality between individuals, capitalism made possible the first, hesitant steps towards freely-consented marriage founded on love. But at the same time it blocked any real progress in this direction by perpetuating the decisive role of economic factors and the submission of women to domestic work. It is thus hardly surprising that true love has always been seen as something outside marriage, usually found in adulterous relations and in violation of social conventions.

Socialism will be built on the social foundations inherited from capitalism. By abolishing relations based on private ownership, it will enable humanity to pursue the goal to which men and women have always aspired – union based on true love. After thousands of years of evolution, after the trial and error of prehistorical man and the oppression of class society, humanity will learn to build new relations between the sexes, based exclusively on mutual love.

But before a communist society, free of both classes and the State, can be achieved, workers must first seize State power. Even then, an arduous and protracted struggle will be necessary to eliminate all vestiges of class society. This is the task of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is “a persistent struggle – bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative – against the forces and traditions of the old society”.[12] Socialism must be seen as a transitional society on the path to full communism.

Socialism, an all-out struggle against private ownership

In particular, the full equality of men and women will at last be recognized in more than words. With the socialization of domestic work and the participation of women in social production, the total realization of full equality will finally be under way. [13]

This excerpt from article 6 of IN STRUGGLE!’s Programme outlines a number of tasks that must be carried out under socialism if women are to be freed and the relations of domination inherited from the patriarchal family abolished.

By carrying out these tasks, Soviet power did more to liberate women in one of the most backward countries of Europe than bourgeois society had ever managed to do. In the years right after the Russian revolution, the revolutionary government abolished the old discriminatory legislation on divorce and “children born out of wedlock”; guaranteed the right to legal recourse to compel a father to provide for his children’s needs; got rid of laws against abortion and homosexuality; and so on. But as Lenin himself emphasized, all this was only a first and relatively simple, straightforward step – simple, that is, if State power was held by the working class.

The second and most important step is the abolition of the private ownership of land and the factories. This and this alone opens up the way towards a complete and actual emancipation of woman, her liberation from ’household bondage’ through transition from petty individual housekeeping to large-scale socialized domestic services. This transition is a difficult one... [14]

In abolishing private ownership of the means of production, socialism did more than attack the economic basis of capitalist exploitation; it also attacked the economic foundation of the patriarchal family. But this alone did not put an end to the traditional family structures. It was also necessary to combat the private nature of the household economy, which had always been the objective foundation of women’s debased status. For, although the household economy has always been a social necessity because it contributed directly to the reproduction and maintenance of labour-power, its value has always been underestimated and denigrated by society because it is not part of public production. This has been all the more true in capitalist society, where the value of all objects and services is evaluated in terms of their price or monetary value (i.e. what they can be exchanged for).

Consequently, to destroy the patriarchal family – the most specific locus of oppression of women – socialism has to do more than decree the legal equality of the sexes in law and enforce those laws in practice. It also has to socialize household work and eliminate the last economic basis of woman’s inferior status. Socialism must make it possible for each cook, each housewife, to take part in State affairs and productive work. But it must do more.

Socialism must work to make housework itself a public matter, to make it collective and productive work.

The destruction of the economic foundations of the patriarchal family will make it possible to eliminate the distinction between men’s work and women’s work and put an end to the sexual division of labour, thereby undermining once and for all the objective bases for the antagonism between the sexes that has historically been associated with class society.

The abolition of private ownership is also an ideological struggle

Human psychology is impregnated with the sense of ownership through and through. As Marx pointed out, “all physical and moral sentiments were replaced, through a simple deterioration of all these sentiments, by the sense of ownership.” [15]

It is important to realize that, under socialism, the old ideas of ownership – a legacy of centuries of class society – are an obstacle to furthering revolution; more than that, they objectively encourage a return to the past. That is why private ownership cannot be fully abolished without a protracted struggle against old ideas. With respect to the family, the sense of ownership is a corrosive agent that leaves the imprint of domination, selfishness and jealousy on relations between men and women, parents and children.

In the words of Enver Hoxha, head of the Party of Labour of Albania, “The bourgeois world outlook, based on private property, carries with it also the idea of maintaining the rule of parents over their children, of depriving the latter of rights and freedom... Economic interest gives birth to the ’superiority of the male over the female, to the patriarchal authority over children, to loveless marriages authorized by parents and impermissible without their consent. This leads towards placing sentiments in the service of private property, instead of abolishing private property…” [16]

Applying his approach to family problems more generally, Hoxha comments:

At times there is no harmony in the family. I will not analyse all the causes but, if I am not mistaken, the real reasons may be found only in property interests. [17]

Hoxha brings psychology back to earth, revealing the corrosive effects of hundreds and thousands of years of class society that underlie interpersonal conflicts. The struggle to build the new man, free of the traces of the old society, is a long-term task.

Marxists have always considered that relations between men and women reflect the development of human society. A nation that oppresses another nation cannot itself be free, and in the same vein one could undoubtedly say that a sex that oppresses the other sex cannot itself be free. This underlines why it is so important that socialism tackle the job of totally transforming family relations and enabling women to participate fully and completely in all aspects of social life.

As for free love...

Communism will transform relations between the sexes, making them strictly private relations. Does that mean that marriage as a legal institution will disappear and be replaced by what some have, under capitalism, already termed “free love”? By the disappearance of marriage, we mean the absence of any form of State-imposed rules concerning the responsibilities of the members of the couple, and in particular the man’s responsibilities towards the woman and children.

This issue was raised and discussed in the communist movement at the turn of the century. If the question is posed in relation to the eventual classless, communist society that will only exist after all traces of private ownership of the means of production have been eliminated from the face of the earth, it is doubtless quite true to say that the State will no longer play any role in governing relations and responsibilities within the couple, for the State will no longer exist.

Where the question is meaningful is in relation to the transition from class society to communist society, namely the whole period of socialism characterized by the continuation of the class struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Under capitalism, the slogan of “free love” is an expression of the legitimate desire to break down the social and economic barriers to the free union of men and women. It is also a way of rejecting the old sexual morality imposed by years and years of religious obscurantism. But where confusion and error creep in is when “free love” refers to the path of individual liberation.

Alexandra Kollontai, a Soviet revolutionary, explained why communists oppose this slogan:

In this individualist world, the rules and legislation governing marriage are women’s only guarantee that the full burden of motherhood is not left solely in their hands. So can we do away with these rules at the present time without making women suffer?... In today’s class society, concentrating on making “free love” a reality instead of trying to free women from the old family structures amounts to adding a new burden for her: the care and concern of children.[18]

In fact, adds Kollontai,

Marriage will no longer be a burning issue for most women when, and only when, society frees them of the petty details and problems of the household, problems that are today inevitable, given the system of individualized and dispersed household economy. It will only be a thing of the past when and if society takes responsibility for the care of the young generation, when and if it is in a position to protect motherhood and give each child a mother, at least for the first month of his or her life.[19]

’Free love’! ’Free marriage’! Before these slogans can become reality, there must be a radical transformation of all man’s social relations. More especially, there must he profound, basic changes in all the standards of sexual morality and consequently human psychology in general.[20]

In tackling the system of ownership head-on, the proletarian revolution begins to reform radically all social relations. But it is only the beginning, although an absolutely essential beginning. The new man, the communist man, cannot be built overnight. The transformation of family relations must be an on-going process, a determined struggle against the old notions of ownership. Therefore, State regulation of family relations is still required as a means of guaranteeing women’s and children’s rights and combatting the traditional forms and expressions of oppression.

This is an important factor to keep in mind in evaluating some of the criticisms made of relations between men and women in socialist countries – criticisms which often ignore all historical considerations. It is all too common to hear people criticize sexual morality in Albania as being still too severe. People also frequently criticized the way China encouraged late marriages before the restoration of capitalism in that country. In both cases, the criticisms are based on current conditions in Canada or Europe. But these criticisms ignore the history of the peoples in these countries. In countries where not so very long ago women were still treated as beasts of burden, it is hardly surprising that sexual relations before marriage are banned. When a country has taken up the task of transforming all aspects of its social life, the morality in that country cannot be judged on the basis of conditions elsewhere, in North America or Europe; it must be judged in the light of its historical development. In Albania, for example, women have in the space of barely 25 years won their independence and now participate fully in social life. So there is every reason to have confidence in the Albanians to make the changes that will be necessary in their sexual morality.

This is not the case, however, with other, formerly socialist countries where it is already becoming clear that women have suffered definite setbacks. One may be unable to change everything all at once, or one may not progress as quickly as might be hoped, but this is quite different from sliding backwards in all respects.

The revisionist step backwards

After even such a summary examination of communist positions on the question of the family, one thing must be clear: none of the many political programmes put forward in our society proposes as radical a transformation of all social relations, including family relations, as does the Marxist-Leninist point of view.

Nevertheless, for a number of decades now, this point of view on the family has not been defended as staunchly as it should have been. This weakness is a direct result of the setback suffered by the international communist movement with the revisionist betrayal. In the U.S.S.R., for instance, a recent public opinion survey indicated that a majority of men there considered that it was the role of women to stay at home and look after the housework and the children. This is a telling example of what the return to power of the bourgeoisie in the Soviet Union has meant.

Propaganda reflecting traditional ideas about the patriarchal family and the role of women has the upper hand once again in the revisionist countries. The bourgeoisie has brought back fundamental aspects of the old family legislation. Fashion magazines portray women as play-dolls, and film stars are the favourite models of “emancipated” women. Meanwhile, the radical transformation of family relations has given way to the restoration of values tied to ownership. In these conditions, it is no wonder that social evils like alcoholism continue to spread and that the divorce rate – the confirmation of the failure of the couple – is rising. These countries have little to offer in the way of inspiration or models for the people in Western countries who are looking for solutions to the crisis in the family that is the inevitable side effect of the general crisis of capitalism.

But the revisionist countries’ out-and-out betrayal of the socialist tasks concerning the family must be put into historical perspective. When this is done, it becomes evident that the international communist movement was faced with serious problems on this issue long before Khrushchev took power in the Soviet Union. The appraisal of communist work in the past fifty years is a task that remains to be done. Nonetheless, it seems obvious that the revolutionary tasks and political debate on the question of the family were seriously narrowed down in scope. Parallel to this, there was the development of political stands and legislation that contradicted the positions taken previously by the international communist movement. This is illustrated clearly and convincingly in the evolution of the communist movement’s attitude towards homosexuality.

“There is already a slogan in Germany, ’Eradicate the homosexuals and fascism will disappear’.” [21] This sentence from the pen of the famous Soviet writer Maxim Gorky – a phrase that the Nazis were to implement in their own way – illustrates the tragic scope of the communist movement’s error of judgement. In the Soviet Union, this error eventually led to the re-establishment of backward laws that the Bolshevik Revolution had done away with. Gorky went on to say,

In the fascist countries, homosexuality, which ruins youth, flourishes without punishment; in the country where the proletariat has audaciously achieved power, homosexuality has been declared a social crime and is heavily punished. [22]

In March 1934, a new law came into effect in the U.S.S.R. providing for sentences of up to five years in jail to punish simple homosexual relations between consenting persons. Yet only four years earlier, the 1930 edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia was still explaining:

It is already obvious that the Soviet evaluation of the features and characteristics of homosexuals is completely different from the West’s evaluation. While understanding the wrongness of the development of homosexuality, society does not place and cannot place blame for it on those who exhibit it. This breaks down to a significant degree the wall which actually arises between the homosexual and society and forces the former to delve deeply into himself. [23]

And eleven years before the new Soviet legislation, the Mental Health Institute of Moscow stated that all forms of sexual relations that did not infringe the rights of another person were to be considered as “private matters”. So the 1934 legislation was a marked departure from the point of view held previously in the Soviet Union, as was the suppression of abortion in that country in 1936.

These about-faces were not justified by anthropological or other scientific studies that, as Engels pointed out, can alone situate mankind’s ideas, including their sexual morality, it terms of what is fundamental – namely, the struggle against private ownership and for a classless society. In this connection, Engels warned against the pernicious effects of prejudices inherited from thousands of years of class society and laid the materialist, scientific foundations for the communist movement’s attitude to sexual morality:

What we can now conjecture about the way in which sexual relations will be ordered after the impending overthrow of capitalist production is mainly of a negative character, limited for the most part to what will disappear.... When these people (born and raised in the new society – ed. note) are in the world, they will care precious little what anybody today thinks they ought to do; they will make their own practice and their corresponding public opinion about the practice of each individual – and that will be the end of it. [24]

The family is too important to leave to the academics alone

The question of radical change in family relations, the destruction of the patriarchal family and the building of a new man and a new woman free of the old ideas of domination and ownership – this question is much too important to leave to a handful of academics. It is a fundamental issue of communism.

The Marxist-Leninist programme indicates a clear, materialist and thoroughly radical path for putting an end to class society and the system of ownership that has dominated the family and relations between the sexes ever since it emerged. When one sex oppresses the other, it cannot itself be free; and the emancipation of humanity is impossible without the full emancipation of women. Thus the family system that made the woman the “domestic slave” of man must be thoroughly and utterly destroyed by socialist revolution and by the ensuing lengthy, conscious and tenacious struggle to root out all traces of the old world.

The international communist movement has acquired considerable experience in this matter, and it should not hesitate to make this experience widely known. At the same time, it must confront in a frank and materialist way the problems raised by the history of the communist movement; for these problems are certainly related to the subsequent triumph of revisionism in the majority of formerly socialist countries.

The question of the family is a complex issue. It is of concern to everyone. The bourgeoisie is well aware of this, and it is no coincidence that it is a favourite topic for newspapers, television, novels and the film industry, all of which play up the same perspective: the status quo accompanied by all the shades and nuances of the bourgeois double standard.

Marxist-Leninists have acted as if they had nothing to say on the question and have given the bourgeoisie free rein in this area for long enough. We hope this article will help change this situation. If it does, we will have accomplished what we set out to do.


For readers who want to explore the question of the family in more depth, we have a few suggested readings. Needless to say, we strongly encourage our readers to write to the journal PROLETARIAN UNITY and the newspaper IN STRUGGLE! to express their points of view on any of the questions dealt with in this article.

1. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, International Publishers, New York, 1972. Chapter 2, on the family, is of particular interest.

2. Lenin, “A great beginning”, in Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, vol. 29, pp. 409-434.

3. Lenin, “The tasks of the working women’s movement in the Soviet Republic”, in Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, vol. 30, pp. 40-46.

4. Enver Hoxha, “On Some Aspects of the Problem of the Albanian Woman”, (a speech given at the Second Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania, June 1967) in Speeches, 1967-1968, November 8 Publishing House, Tirana, 1974.

5. Lauritsen and Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935), Times Change Press, New York, 1974


[1] Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Properly and the State, International Publishers, New York, 1972, pp. 71-72, 1972

[2] Ibid., p. 72

[3] Ibid., p. 109

[4] Ibid., p. 104

[5] Ibid., p. 106

[6] Ibid., pp. 111-112

[7] Ibid., p. 119

[8] Ibid., p. 120

[9] Ibid., pp. 120-121

[10] Ibid. p 137

[11] Engels, Principles of Communism, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1977

[12] Lenin, Left-wing communism – an infantile disorder, in Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, vol. 31, p. 44.

[13] Article 6 of IN STRUGGLE!’s Programme, published in PROLETARIAN UNITY, no. 17-18, p. 123

[14] Lenin, “International Working Women's Day”, in Collected Works, vol. 32, p. 162

[15] Marx, Political Economy and Philosophy (1844 Manuscript), quoted in Enver Hoxha, “On Some Aspects of the Problem of the Albanian Woman”, in Speeches. 1967-1968, November 8 Publishing House, Tirana, 1974, p. 152

[16] Ibid., pp. 159-160

[17] Ibid., p. 160

[18] Alexandra Kollontai, Les bases sociales de la question feminine – 1909, excerpts published in Marxisme et revolution sexuelle, Maspero, Paris, 1973, p. 83; our translation.

[19] Ibid, p. 85.

[20] Ibid., p. 86-87

[21] Maxim Gorky, Proletarian Humanism, quoted in Lauritsen and Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935), Times Change Press, New York, 1974, p. 69

[22] Ibid.

[23] Lauritsen and Thorstad, op. cit., p. 65

[24] Engels, op. cit., p. 145