Karl Marx and Historical Materialism Essay

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Engels & Historical Materialism

The Materialist Perspective: Women, Labor and Class Struggle
- Materialist conception of history (historical materialism) o Materialism’s first premises: “real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live…verified in a purely empirical way” (Marx and
Engels, The German Ideology, 1845) o “Being is not determined by consciousness but consciousness by being”
- Mode of production – key variable and cornerstone of Marxist theory o Not just how goods are produced, but a form of social activity: “a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life” o Mode of production determines the “nature” of individuals: “What they are, therefore coincides with their production, both what they produce and how they produce” - Engels’s Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884) outlines roles and position of women and men, varying according to the mode of production o Communal societies – women’s position high
 Patriline obscured so descent is matrilineal
 Women esteemed for roles – “mother-right” societies
 Equal part in socialized production o Private property emerges – as wealth increases, property emerges and men’s importance increases
 Men establish “father-right,” patrilineality and monogamy to ensure wealth and property handed down
 Movement towards property and patriarchy constituted “the world historical defeat of the female sex” (Engels, 1884)
 From productive labor to dependent status, women and their tasks lose value and, therefore, women lose political equality
 “the first class oppression is that of the female sex by the male” o Development of the state from class society
 The state is subservient to bourgeoisie through both force and ideology
 The state supports economic, political, and social enslavement of women
- Highly influential in anthropology is a de-Marxified materialism that focuses on how different subsistence strategies affect sexual division of labor and hence status of women o Foraging society – women’s position high o Horticultural society – women still have active role but kinship now becomes more important variable, specifically in the presence or absence of matrilineality
 Type of residence: matrilocal or avunculocal o Pastoral society – almost always patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal o Agricultural – plow or other intensive cultivation technique shuts women out because of reliance on strength and absence from home/children
- The case against “universal female subordination” – interesting to note that scholars who argue against it tend to focus on what women and men do (i.e., material relations) rather than on symbolic constructs – they look at gender as a social relationship o Eleanor Leacock is critical of universal subordination argument, particularly in terms of its claim that: 1) women’s status is directly related to the functions of