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Nuclear family and capitalism

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spacious's picture
spacious
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Mar 1 2020 13:30
Nuclear family and capitalism

I was wondering if anyone has any pointers for reading about the "critique of the family", gender relations, the nuclear family as an economic unit, patriarchy, unpaid reproductive work etc. in the period before the Communist Manifesto in 1848.
Any history of working class movements or radical authors within social movements dealing with these questions before then? Or any feminist history of antipatriarchical aspects of social struggles in and social critiques of early capitalism/industrialization?

I'm wondering about the context in which these issues and positions were put forward in the Communist Manifesto - the discussion there is very defiant, in the face of "outrage" over communist calls to abolish the family. So I imagine this must at least have been a view receiving public attention, rooted in working class politics, and assume there must be some depth behind this to learn more about.

Cheers for any suggestions.

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Mar 3 2020 12:16

Thought I'd add two articles to suggest that this question is gaining some more attention with both mainstream and radical thought:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-nuclear-family-...

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qjdzwb/sophie-lewis-feminist-abolishi...

Still looking for any more situated history of such ideas in working class currents of the 19th century, if anyone has any clues.

I don't recall where I read this, but I recall that Proudhonian anarchism was somewhere mentioned as expressing a male breadwinner perspective within the workers' movement, as opposed to views towards women's liberation with an anticapitalist orientation. I'm not assuming this had any organizational expression, but am looking for anything that addresses these types of dynamics and questions in the early 19th century, basically.

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Mar 3 2020 14:37

If you're on reddit, you could try asking the scholar Shawn Wilbur (u/humanispherian) on his subreddit r/mutualism. He knows a fair bit about the early socialists and may be able to help

alb
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Mar 3 2020 15:38

Fourier and the Fourierists will have had a lot to say about this. After all, he is said to have coined the term “feminism”.

The Communist Manifesto in the section on “Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism” credits those like him with proposing as practical measures, among other things, “the abolition ... of the family.” I believe some of them had a go at doing this. Proudhon didn’t approve. Marx did but didn’t practise it. Engels was more consistent.

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Mar 4 2020 18:55

Thank you both.

alb, I'd like to check out the article that you linked to but the site's not available in Europe (increasingly common). If you could copy-paste some text that'd be great.

alb
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Mar 4 2020 20:46

I’m in Europe too or at least was till Brexit Day on 31 January. Here’s what it says. It’s not very substantial but it will give you a lead to follow up.

Quote:
Frenchmen Charles Fourier, who was sometimes described as a socialist utopian thinker, was the man behind the term very well-known today, "feminism."
Key Facts:
Feminism is the belief that women should not be treated in a subordinate or unequal way simply because they are women.
Women campaigning for different rights in the 1870-80s called themselves "womanists" before the word "feminist" caught on.
Women in France did not earn the right to vote until 1945.

It’s from the Chicago Tribune of 7 January 2016 under the heading “A Surprising Fact About Feminism. The word ‘feminism’ was coined by a man.”

Bonne chance.

alb
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Mar 4 2020 21:28

Just realised I missed out a further paragraph:

Quote:
He coined this word in 1837 because he saw the role of women in bourgeois marriage at the time in France as oppressive. However Fourier was not a true feminist in the way the word functions today. He believed 19th-century women were treated like property, but he did not rally for complete gender equality, seeing as that would not have been consistent with the sex differences he observed. Women in his home country of France were actually among the last to gain the right to vote in Europe. French women couldn't vote until 1945.

Incidentally, that last point means that both the Paris Commune of 1871 and the Popular Front government of 1936 were elected exclusively by men. Not a lot of people know that.

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Mar 5 2020 21:04

Thanks for that.

Will look into Fourier, though of course it's still far from a more situated history of such questions. Perhaps that doesn't exist. I don't really imagine family abolition was ever explicitly a working class demand as such, but more of a utopian coinage in response to real social and gender relations. Then also, perhaps, a vision expressing a more romantic anti-capitalism. I'm interested to see the confluence of those things and how they might have related to social struggles and larger movements around the time, if at all.

I was thinking, it may well be that the idea of family abolition is still fairly closely tied up with the remnants and still existent forms of extended family and pre-capitalist social relations, where the single family unit couldn't be thought separately from its embeddedness in a wider community, which was also a community of more or less organically shared work.

I think as a communist horizon, the future-making/utopian/emancipatory aspect is that creating such wider communities is also possible in a more freely assembled, non-totalizing, associated social mode of production, and not just in self-contained village communities. More of an associated web of overlapping tribes and connections for bringing together care, work and pleasure, than single all-embracing units where everything is shared (the so-called utopian communes of Fourier's day).

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Mar 9 2020 00:41

https://libcom.org/tags/charles-fourier