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Frederick Engels and Male Violence (english)
18 Oct 2002
The latest in a series of essays on male domination

This is the eighth in a series of essays concerned with male domination.
The first seven are:

Frederick Engels and Male Violence
By emma goldwoman

One of the most influential books of the past 150 years is THE ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY, PRIVATE PROPERTY AND THE STATE, by Frederick Engels. (All quotes are from the edition published by International Publishers in 1985 with an introduction by anthropologist Eleanor Burke Leacock.)

In the opening pages of this book Engels asserts: “…the determining factor in history is…the production and reproduction of immediate life…” He includes in these two categories the means of existence (food etc), and the reproduction of human beings.

Alas, Engels’ own words prove Engels wrong. The determining factor in human history for the past ten thousand years is not production but destruction, carried out by men, which I call male violence.

Clarification: I define human violence as 1) Individual violence 2) the organized violence concerned with laws, prisons, and police; that is to say, the legal system and 3) the organized violence of war. If we analyze this statistically (see ‘A Statistical Analysis of Violent Male Domination’ ), we observe that human violence is currently around 90% male, for individual violence, and rises to around 99.9% male for the most destructive form of violence, war. For this reason I feel completely justified in describing human violence as male violence.

Engels’ book is a brilliant attempt to show how the egalitarian societies of hunter-gatherers transformed into the systems of oppression we call civilization. This transformation occurred, he says, because of changes in the division of labor. But how did the division of labor itself change? Engels himself makes it clear that male violence caused the repressive division of labor:

Engels: “It was now desirable to bring in new labor forces. War provided them; prisoners of war were turned into slaves.”

And, I ask, who were the warriors? Men. What forced people into slavery? Male violence.

Engels: “War, formerly waged only in revenge for injuries or to extend territory that had grown too small, is now [i.e. at the dawn of civilization] waged simply for plunder and becomes a regular industry.”

And, I ask, who waged the war and owned the plunder? Men.

Engels: “The gentile [ Engels’ word for ‘clan’] constitution was finished. It had been shattered by the division of labor and its result, the cleavage of society into classes. It was replaced by the STATE [ Engels’ emphasis].”

And, I ask, how can division of labor shatter anything? Think about it! Male violence was necessary in order to force the division of labor and to create the state.

Engels: “The second distinguishing characteristic [of the State] is the institution of a PUBLIC FORCE [Engels’ emphasis]…This public force exists in every state.”

And, I ask, who staffs this public force? And who directs it? Historically both have been 99.9% male. Currently they may be a few percentage points less.

Engels: “The ancient state was, above all, the state of the slave owners, just as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and the bondsmen, and the modern representative state is an instrument for exploiting wage labor by capital.”

And, I ask, how were the slaves and the peasants held down? How is wage labor exploited? Only through the means of male violence.

The obvious conclusion, after reading Engels’ book, is this: The STATE equals MALE VIOLENCE.

Why didn’t Engels see this? He tells us why himself:

Engels: “In the world of nature where chance also seems to rule, we have long since demonstrated in each separate field the inner necessity and law asserting itself in this chance. But what is true of the natural world is true also of society. The more a social activity, a series of social processes, becomes too powerful for men’s conscious control and grows above their heads, and the more it appears a matter of pure chance, then all the more surely within this chance the laws peculiar to it and inherent in it assert themselves as if by natural necessity.”

Engels implicitly treats male violence as a ‘natural necessity’, something ‘too powerful for men’s conscious control’. And so he is able to ignore it, explicitly, while implicitly showing that male violence, rather than the division of labor, is the motor of repression.

Why didn’t Engels and Marx and their legionary and legendary followers take the same approach to male violence that they took to economic matters? Why has the study of male violence been such a taboo for left intellectuals? Why is a class analysis considered ‘more comprehensive’ than a feminist analysis which targets the specifically male character of war and legal oppression?

My answer: men have been the main proponents of a class analysis because a class analysis ignores that part of human life that men want to ignore. The class analysis ignores the specifically male character of human violence.

How has one group dominated another? It is always through male violence. A class system must be maintained through male violence. Slavery must be maintained by male violence. Wage slavery must be maintained by male violence.

However male violence, just like the economy and the weather, can be understood if we put energy into understanding it. And by understanding it we can transcend it, and create a world where conflict is resolved not through male violence, but through communication.

I’m not advocating pacifism. I’m advocating a focused study of the process of male violence.

As Eleanor Burke Leacock says in her excellent introduction to Engels’ book: “Any thoughtful scientist today recognizes that it is not things or states that are interacting, but processes.”

Male violence is a process that can be understood. It has a typical cycle. It has typical thought patterns which justify it. It has typical assumptions which can be named, and by naming these assumptions we can question them. It can be studied historically, or in contemporary society. It can be analyzed statistically. If we do not study it, and learn how it works, we can never hope to transcend it.

As Michael Schwalbe says in his recent essay ‘The Costs of American Privilege’ ( “…women often know more about men than men know about themselves…”

For this reason it is women who must lead the way in the study of the process of male violence. And men who truly want a different world must support them and contribute to the study themselves.

Already there are seeds everywhere of this new approach. These seeds are called ‘conflict resolution’ and ‘consensus decision-making’ and ‘civil disobedience’.

But in order for conflict resolution through communication to work we must have an accurate understanding of conflict. For consensus decision-making to work we need to understand what prevents consensus. For civil disobedience to work we must understand the process of violent male obedience (see ‘The Problem of Male Obedience’ ).

For all you indymedia fans, I suggest that we create a new analytical paradigm to replace class analysis. The foundation of this paradigm is the fact that male violence is the most important factor leading to the destruction of our species, and other species. We must refine the details of this paradigm with all the skill and energy with which people have analyzed class divisions for 150 years.

And for all you die-hard Marxist dialecticians, here is the new dialectic: the thesis is male violence, the antithesis is the female resolution of conflict without violence, and the synthesis will be a new society with a completely different legal system and a completely different method for resolving conflict between individuals and between groups of people.

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