[OPE-L:4259] David Smiths Response to "Marx's Unpublished Writing"

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 27 Feb 1997 09:51:36 -0800 (PST)

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I forwarded Kevin Anderson's essay that appeared in [4255] to
another list, marxism-thaxis. The following is a response by David
Smith, which was forwarded from the Progressive Sociologists
Newwork./In solidarity Jerry

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <mkarim@moses.culver.edu>
Subject: M-TH: David Smiths Response to "Marx's Unpublished Writing" (fwd)

I am forwarding the following response by David Smith, the editor and
translator of Marx's "Ethnology Notebook"

----- Forwarded message begins
here -----From: David N. Smith <emerald@lark.cc.ukans.edu>
Wed, 26 Feb 1997 17:15:50 -0600 (CS
To: <mkarim@moses.culver.edu>
Subject: Re: Uncovering Marx's Unpublished Writings


You've raised some very interesting questions about the implications
of Marx's analysis in his late ethnological writings. There are many
different kinds of points to be made in this respect, and I imagine that
Kevin Anderson will offer some perspectives of his own, but here, briefly,
are a few thoughts.

You ask, first, how Marx's reading of Morgan differs from the one Engels
made world-famous in the Origin of the Family, etc. A couple of points
appear increasingly significant to me. First, Engels tends to focus on
far-distant antiquity, treating the rise of class relations and the
'world-historical defeat of the female sex' as if they had been
definitively accomplished, once and for all, in ancient Greece.
Following from this is the famous Eurocentric sequence of class
societies: slavery, feudalism, capitalism. Marx, in striking contrast,
is primarily concerned with the present (i.e., his present, capitalism in
its colonial phase). His reading of Morgan focuses mainly on structural
and cultural dimensions of non-Western cultures THAT WERE STILL ALIVE AND
KICKING in 1880. In many parts of the world, class relations had NOT YET
prevailed over clan dynamics, and gender equality of the kind that tends
to accompany matrilineal clan culture had not yet been eclipsed
everywhere. It is, in fact, precisely to grasp the contemporary
encounter between class and clan society that Marx devoted so much time
and effort to understanding clan society. And his motive for studying the
gender relations in non-class cultures was, similarly, to better
understand the genuinely global defeat of the female sex that was

Engels, with his antiquarian orientation, tends to obscure this aspect of
Marx's ethnology. (And Engels gives disprportionate attention to Morgan's
theory of the evolutionary sequence of family forms -- punaluan,
syndyasmian, etc. -- while Marx focuses much more centrally on essential
cultural and structural questions concerning the nature of clan society.)

Your second question, meanwhile, concerns the degree to which Marx's late
ethnology marks a departure from a Eurocentric reading of history. My
feeling is that the degree to which this is true is considerable. In
Marx's earliest writings on non-Western themes (e.g., his 1853 articles
on India), Marx does take a more-or-less Eurocentric position, arguing
-- with palpable complacency -- that much of what capitalism destroys
simply deserves to be destroyed. As Marx grew older and wiser, however,
he also grew visibly more radical. His hostility towards capitalism and
the colonial powers was sharper in the final years of his life than ever
before, and this is reflected (in his ethnological notes) in Marx's ever
harsher critique of capital's colonial recklessness. As his late letter
to Vera Zasulich shows, Marx had grown increasingly sympathetic to
indigenous non-Western communal property relations, and even hoped that
the Russian obshchina might bypass capitalism altogether.

Also, Marx's focus on property relations and interactions on a world scale
led to a sharply different schema of historical "evolution." Rather than
the simple slavery-feudalism-capitalism framework, which is only (loosely)
applicable to Western Europe, we find that in many parts of the world clan
relations prevailed undisturbed until capitalism intruded as an unwelcome
guest in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. And (in China, and
elsewhere), class relations prior to capitalism certainly did not fit
neatly into a simple Engelsian slavery-feudalism-capitalism schema.

Engels' Origin has value, but (appearing barely months after Marx's
death), it constituted a step back from the advances Marx had been making
in the final few years of his life.

I'll look forward to hearing other people's thoughts on all this. All the
best, David

David N. Smith
Department of Sociology
University of Kansas
Lawrence KS 66045
------ Forwarded message ends here ------
Manjur Karim

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