The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
Published by Resistance Books
2004, 184pp, ISBN 1876646357, Paperback
Frederick Engels’ classic work was first published in 1884. In it he sets out a materialist explanation for the oppression of women. He shows that women’s subjugation is inextricably bound up with the dissolution of the egalitarian “primitive” commune and the emergence of class society — characterised by private property, the family and the state.
Engels’ analysis gives the lie to any claims that women’s oppression is eternal, a function of their biology or the supposed natural order of things. In the earliest human societies, despite their material poverty, women were not oppressed — oppression came only with class society. Likewise, only the overthrow of capitalism will lay the basis for women’s full and final emancipation.
Today, women’s rights are under attack — across the globe and on all fronts. In their various ways, neoliberal ideology, religious fundamentalism and crude genetic determinism all suggest that women’s second-class status is somehow natural, rather than being the product of a rotten social system.
The struggle for women’s rights needs to be informed by a scientific analysis of how women became the oppressed sex. Pat Brewer provides an introduction to Engels’ pioneering study, updating it in the light of contemporary evidence. This is essential reading for feminists today.
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