Feminist critique: a little deeper (part II)

Mon, 09 Mar 1998 12:04:17 -0500
Charles Brown (charlesb@CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us)

By the Manifesto every Marxist knows the A,B,C's of historical materialism or the materialist conception of history. The history of all hitherto existing society, since the breaking up of the ancient communes, is a history of class struggles between oppressor and oppressed. Classes are groups that associate in a division of labor to produce their material means of existence.
In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels asserted an elementary anthropological or "human nature" rationale for this conception. In a section titled "History: Fundamental Condtions" they say:
... life involves before everything else eating and drinking, a habitation ,
clothing and many other things. The first historical act is thus the production
of material life itself. And indeed this is an historical act. a fundamental
condition of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, must
daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life.

Production and economic classes are the starting point of Marxist analysis of human society, including in the Manifesto, because human life, like all plant and animal life must fulfill biological needs to exist as life at all. It is an appeal to biologic ( which I support, all anti-vulgar materialist critiques to the contrary notwithstanding, but that's another leter). Whatever, humans do that is "higher" than plants and animals, we cannot do if we do not first fulfill our plant/animal like needs. Therefore, the "higher" (cultural, semiotic etc.) human activities are limited by the productive activities. This means that historical materialism starts with human nature, our natural species qualities.
Yet, it is fundamental in biology that the basic life sustaining processes of a species are twofold. There is obtaining the material means of life and subsistence or success of survival of the liviing generation, for existence ("production"). But just as fundamentally there is reproduction or success in creating a next generation of the species that is fertile, and survives until it too reproduces viable offspring. Whoever heard of a one genearation species ? In fact, one test of two individual animals being of the same species is their ability to mate and produce viable offspring. We can imagine a group of living beings with the ultimate success in eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things. But if they do not reproduce, they are either not a species or they are an extinct species (unless the individuals are immortal).
Thus, having premised their theory in part on human biology, our "species-being", Marx and Engels were obligated to develop historical materialism, the theory of the Manifesto, based not only on the logic of subsistence production, but also on the logic of next generation reproduction.
In The German Ideology , they do recognize reproduction as a "fundamental condition of history" along with production. However, they give reproduction, or at least, "the family" a subordinate "fundamental" status to production when they say:
the third circumstance which from the very outset, enters into historical
development, is that men, who daily remake their own life begin to make
other men, to propagate their kind: the relation between man and woman'
parents and children, the family. The family, which to begin with is the
only social relationship, becomes later, when increased needs create a
new social relations and the increased population new needs, a
subordinate one...
My thesis in this comradely critique ( I really do love Big Daddy Karl and Uncle Fred overall) is that the mode of reproduction (in the broad sense, including, but not limited to social institutions called "the" family) of human beings remains throughout human history even when classes arise equally fundamental with the mode of production in shaping society, even with the "new social relations" that come with "increased population." For there to be history in the sense of many generations of men and women all of the way up to Marx, Engels and us today, men had to do more than "begin to make other men." Women and men had to complete making next generations by sexually uniting and rearing them for thousands of years. Otherwise history would have ended long ago. We would be an extinct species. An essential characteristic of historyis its existence in the "medium" of multiple generations. Thus, with respect to historical materialism, reproduction is as necessary as production.
The upshot is women's liberation must be put on the same footing with workers's liberation in the Marxist project.

Not only that (to be continued)