Ferdinand Mount on the Marxist Attack on Marriage and the Family. Peter Myers, June 28, 2002; update May 7, 2006.  My comments in quoted text are shown {thus}; write to me at contact.html.

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Ferdinand Mount, The Subversive Family: An Alternative History of Love and Marriage, Jonathan Cape, London 1982.

{p. 34} The makers of Soviet Russia were in a somewhat different situation. Like the early Christians, many of the old Bolsheviks were hostile or indifferent to marriage, though of course for opposite reasons. They often believed in free love, which was regarded as a 'Gift of the Revolution'. Many nineteenth-century socialists had subscribed to the view that sex was or ought to be as simple and trivial a satisfaction of physical needs as drinking a glass of water. As for the family, at one time or another, Trotsky, Alexandra Kollontai, Lunacharski and Krylenko all subscribed to the view that it would wither away in due course. The radical view was summarised by A. Slepkov, an influential Leningrad party member:

{quote} Bourgeois ideologists think that the family is an eternal, not a transitory organization, that sexual relations are at the basis of the family, that these sexual relations will exist as long as the two sexes, and since man and woman will both live under socialism just as under capitalism, that therefore the existence of the family is inevitable. That is completely incorrect. Sexual relations, of course, have existed, exist, and will exist. However, this is in no way connected with the indispensability of the existence of the family. The best historians of culture definitely have established that in primitive times the family did not exist ... Similar to the way in which, together with the disappearance of classes, together with the annihilation of class contradictions, the state will disappear, similarly to that, together with the strengthening of the socialist economy, together with the growth of socialist relationships, together with the overcoming of earlier pre-socialist forms, the family will

{p. 35} also die out. The family is already setting out on the road to a merging with Socialist Society, to a dissolution into it. An openly negative attitude toward the family under present conditions does not have sufficient grounding, because pre-socialist relationships still exist, the state is still weak, the new social forms (public dining rooms, state rearing of children, and so forth) are as yet little developed, and until then the family cannot be abolished completely. However, the coordination of this family with the general organization of Soviet life is the task of every communist, of every Komsomolite [member of Communist Youth League]. One must not shut oneself off in the family, but rather, grow out of the family shell into the new Socialist Society. The contemporary Soviet family is the springboard from which we must leap into the future. Always seeking to carry the entire family over into the public organizations, always a more decisive overcoming of the elements of bourgeois family living - that is the difficult, but important task which stands before us. {endquote; Quoted, H. Kent Geiger, The Family in Soviet Russia, Cambridge, Mass., 1968, pp. 44-5}

Lunacharski, the Commissar of Education, wrote as late as the early 1930s:

{quote} Our problem now is to do away with the household and to free women from the care of children. It would be idiotic to separate children from their parents by force. But when, in our communal houses, we have well-organized quarters for children, connected by a heated gallery with the adults' quarters, to suit the requirements of the climate, there is no doubt the parents will, of their own free will, send their children to these quarters, where they will be supervised by trained pedagogical and medical personnel. There is no doubt that the terms 'my parents,' 'our children,' will gradually fall out of usage, being replaced by such conceptions as 'old people,' 'children,' and 'infants.' {endquote; Ibid., pp. 47-8}

This, according to Lunacharski, was to be an essential part of the transition to the new society - 'that broad public society which will replace the small philistine nook, that little philistine apartment, that domestic hearth, yes, that stagnant family unit which separates itself off from society.' {Ibid., p. 68} A genuine Communist would avoid such a permanent pairing marriage and would seek to satisfy his needs by ' . . . a freedom of the mutual relations of the husbands, the wives, fathers,

{p. 36} children, so that you can't tell who is related to whom and how closely. That is social construction.' {Ibid.} ...

The after-effects of civil war and the new sexual freedoms combined to produce social chaos, a great number of unwanted and abandoned children, venereal diseases and also - a factor not to be underestimated - millions of shocked and puzzled peasants, particularly women, who regarded the new freedoms as dangerous and unhealthy. The Communist Party began rapidly to change its tune.

{p. 37} In 1935, 1936 and 1944, new laws were introduced to compel divorced parents to contribute towards the maintenance of their children, to make abortion illegal and divorce itself more difficult and expensive. Homosexuality {I think only sodomy} became a criminal offence in 1934. In 1936, Pravda commented that, 'Marriage is the most serious affair in life.' {Geiger, Family in Soviet Russia, p. 94} Stalin had changed direction and everyone else had to change too. Entirely spurious interpretations were dredged up to prove that Marx and Engels had never been against the family. The new scapegoats came in handy here:

{quote} The enemies of the people, the vile fascist hirelings - Trotsky, Bukharin, Krylenko and their followers - covered the family in the USSR with filth, spreading the counter-revolutionary 'theory' of the dying out of the family, of disorderly sexual cohabitation in the USSR, in order to discredit the Soviet land. {endquote; Quoted, ibid., p. 104}

Why did Stalin turn? No doubt it was partly because the family had stubbornly refused to die out, and its official revival would be generally popular and help to deal with genuine social problems; but the main reason was surely that the regime had simply allowed too large an area of Soviet life to escape its control. It was not only that the

{p. 38} Soviet concept of 'free marriage' - involving divorce and abortion at will - had proved a social failure. It was rather that no fully articulated Soviet attitude towards marriage and the family existed at all. The only answer was, so to speak, to 'patriate' the family - to glorify it as a popular, essentially Russian institution.

In other words, on this question as on so many others, Stalin resorted to compromise between Marxism-Leninism and the Russian tradition. The family was good because it was created by the Russian people; hence it was good because it was socialist too.

{The West, however, did not learn from the Russian experience, because the Trotskyist & Fabian forces in the West regarded Stalin as a traitor}


Engels bases his history of the family on the findings of the latest nineteenth-century anthropologists, in particular those of the American, Lewis Morgan. Indeed, the subtitle of The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State is 'in the light of the researches of Lewis H. Morgan'. Like most of his contemporaries, Morgan was heavily Darwinian and took it for granted that the same type of evolutionary scheme must apply to the development of man's social arrangements as to his physical development. The family, according to Morgan, 'represents an active principle. It is never stationary, but advances from a lower to a higher form as society advances from a lower to a higher condition.'

The first stage in Morgan's scheme - enthusiastically adopted by Engels- is an era of communal promiscuity: 'unrestricted sexual freedom prevailed within the tribe, every woman belonging equally to every man and every man to every woman'. This is both the oldest and most idyllic form of family life, an emotional Garden of Eden:

{quote} And what, in fact, do we find to be the oldest and most primitive form of family whose historical existence we can indisputably prove and which in one or two parts of the world we can still study today? - group marriage, the form of family in which whole groups of men and women mutually possess one another, and which leaves little room for jealousy. {endquote; The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, London, 1972, p. 97}

{Did the authors never keep fowls (chickens)? Did they not notice how bulls fight one another? In fact, aboriginal peoples, despite sharing their property, have elaborate family structures. They at times have sex outside marriage, and more than one sexual partner, but their pairing is also strictly constrained}

{p. 45} In the mid-nineteenth century, polygamy was widely regarded among radicals and anarchists as the natural and habitual state of the great majority of primitive mankind. Charles Fourier, in his savage attacks on the hypocrisy and brutality of marriage in France, takes this for granted:

{quote} If polygamy merits the attacks levelled against it by the philosophers, how is it that they have  found no means of eliminating the barbarian societies which keep five hundred million men in a state of polygamy? How is it that among the three hundred million people who live in savagery and civilization, the former frequently practise polygamy and regard it as a virtue, while the people of civilization are clandestine polygamists despite the fact that they claim to regard adultery as a vice? {endquote; J Beecher and R. Bienvenu (eds.), The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier, Boston, 1971, p. 333}

The findings of the fledgling science of anthropology seemed to confirm the travellers' tales of the eighteenth century. The practice of free love in real places such as Tahiti was held to prove that monogamy was not natural.

{But Polygamy is structured, not anarchic}

That is why this first stage is valuable to Engels, not because it evokes a lost golden age of natural freedom, such as might appeal to Utopians and other romantic spirits, but because it purports to establish, right from the start of human history, that monogamy is not natural and that there is no continuous line of development to the human from the animal kingdom. Thus any evidence that most animals prefer monogamy may be ruled out as beside the point. This primitive promiscuity represented a break with the animal kingdom.

To establish this break is tactically crucial It is one of the main reasons why Marx remains so enduringly popular and why even today his admirers persist in repeating his most utterly exploded assertions about human history. For the charm of Marxism is that it liberates you from nature - and from the duties and restrictions of the family.

It is essential for the view of human development proposed by Marx and Engels that man should be freed from the legacy of any biological imperative. We are the makers of our own history; there is nothing in our physical or genetic make-up which could limit or direct the course of that history. Nothing 'comes naturally' to us. Indeed, the whole idea of 'human nature' as something fixed and enduring is to be dismissed as sentimental twaddle, like telling your future by the stars.

Marxists manage this argument by making a cunning shift in the

{p. 46} way they define 'natural'. What we normally mean by 'doing what comes naturally' is nothing so instinctive and automatic as a knee-jerk or the physical functions of breathing, sweating and excreting, but an action which can be placed rather nearer the instinctive end than the voluntary end of the range of human actions. We do not suppose that such actions and feelings are the same as purely physical reflexes. 'Doing what comes naturally' can be avoided; a person can be denalured by physical or psychological pressures. Rats in cages do funny things which they do not do in the wild. Not all males in any species are sexually attracted to females. Not all mothers love their babies.

The knowledge of such deviations from natural behaviour does not prevent us from saying that 'it is natural for rats to do such-and-such' or that 'it is natural for males to be sexually attracted to females'. Whatever the language we use to explain natural behaviour - we may talk of instinctual drives, or of biological programming - the purpose of invoking the idea of nature is to contrast it with unnatural behaviour resulting from untoward or abnormal outside forces. If we always behaved naturally, and could behave in no other way, the idea would be much less useful; we would simply say 'Human beings/rats do x or y; it would be like talking about a blink or a knee-jerk.

The Marxist trick is to shift the definition of nature along the range until it means virtually the same as instinct. At that point, the Marxist can say 'nature is an illusion' - because people can and do behave unnaturally, often violently so and in great numbers. Because some mothers are cruel or indifferent to their children, the idea of a maternal instinct as being natural to women must be rejected. Because in most societies a percentage of men and women are homosexual, we must reject the idea that heterosexual behaviour is natural. Therefore, we are triumphantly informed, nothing we do is natural; everything is the product of environment.

But the commonsense idea of nature is in no way damaged by the argument that so-called natural human behaviour needs, at least in part, to be learnt by example or precept. So does much natural animal behaviour. It is easier to be an affectionate mother if you knew affection as a child; happy marriages breed happy marriages. To say this is to do no more than observe that water prefers to run downhill The fact that a natural tendency may be either blocked or helped along by outslde mterference does not prevent it from being natural.

{p. 47} Curiously enough, the Roman Catholic Church also relies upon the notion of an historical break with nature and biology, although the Church's intention is somewhat different. The Catholic tradition is based upon the assumption that primitive societies became promiscuous, and that marriage had to be rescued by Christianity. This rescue was both a spiritual advance and a restoration of the natural institution laid down by God in the Garden of Eden. Pope Leo XIII in Arcanum (I880) described the pre-Christian history of marriage thus:

{quote} The corruption and change which overtook marriage among the Gentiles seem almost incredible, inasmuch as it was exposed in every land to floods of error and of the most shameful lusts. All nations seem, more or less, to have forgotten the true notion and origi4 of marriage .. . plurality of wives and husbands, the abounding sources of divorces, brought about an exceeding relaxation in the nuptial bond. {endquote; A Werth and C. S. Mihanovich (eds), Papal Pronouncements on Marriage and the Family, Milwaukee, 1955, pp. 2-4}

While the Church's version of history is designed to prove the specifically Christian character of marriage as we know it, Engels has to demonstrate that marriage was continuously developing under the influence of social and economic change. Each stage of human society must be reflected by some dramatic change in the institution of marriage.

The group marriage of primitive society was accordingly succeeded in Engels's scheme by 'pairing marriage'. This was the feature of 'the age of barbarism':

{quote} In this stage, one man lives with one woman, but the relationship is such that polygamy and occasional infidelity remain the right of the men, even though for economic reasons polygamy is rare, while from the woman the strictest fidelity is generally demanded throughout the time she lives with the man and adultery on her part is cruelly punished. The marriage tie can, however, be easily dissolved by either partner; after separation, the children still belong as before to the mother alone. {endquote; Engels, Origin of the Family, p. 111}

This pairing marriage is sharply distinguished from modern monogamy.

{quote} The pairing family, itself too weak and unstable to make an independent household necessary or even desirable, in no wise

{p. 48} destroys the communistic household inherited from earlier times. Communistic housekeeping, however, means the supremacy of women in the house; just as the exclusive recognition of the female parent, owing to the impossibility of recognizing the male parent with certainty, means that the women - the mothers - are held in high respect.

The transition from the pairing marriage to modern monogamy is produced by the most dramatic event of all - the one which has guaranteed the continued popularity of Engels and Morgan:

{quote} The overthrow of mother right was the world historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude; she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children ...  The establishment of the exclusive supremacy of the man shows its effects first in the patriarchal family, which now emerges as an intermediate form. Its essential characteristic is not polygyny ... but 'the organization of a number of persons, bond and free, into a family under paternal power for the purpose of holding lands and for the care of flocks and herds ... Those held to servitude and those employed as servants lived in the marriage relation.' {endquote; Engels, Origin of the Family, pp. 120-1}

With the patriarchal family, we reach the second great stage in the historical critique. The patriarchal family is what is also commonly called 'the extended family', which is widely imagined to have filled the world until the coming of the industrial world and modern times. In the patriarchal family, several generations of the descendants of a single father, together with their wives, live in one homestead and work in the same fields.
So far love does not come into it. Engels refers repeatedly to the 'small part individual sex love, in the modern sense of the word, played in the rise of monogamy'. {p. 112}  And even when monogamy in our modern sense did emerge, 'It was not in any way the fruit of individual sex love, with which it had nothing whatever to do; marriages remained as before marriages of convenience. It was the first form of the family to be based not on natural but on economic conditions.' {p. 128}  And its purpose was brutally economic, to secure the supremacy of the man.

{p. 49} Love, according to Engels and to many other popular historians, was invented by the troubadours of Provence and celebrated not married love but adulterous passion. It was the rise of the bourgeoisie, with all its hypocrisies and contradictions, which brought sex love into marriage.

This, then, is the Engels pattern: first of all, promiscuous group marriage, then matriarchal pairing marriage, then the patriarchal extended family, then bourgeois monogamy and then and only then the integration of sex love and marriage {i.e. under Communism}

Now the historical truth of this pattern is disputed not once but from start to finish, and by a variety of observers. To start with, anthropologists have firmly denied that group marriage was the rule in primitive society. On the contrary, they argue again and again that this deduction by Morgan and his Victorian contemporaries, Bachofen and Sir John Lubbock, was based on a total misunderstand- ing of tribal customs and institutions. Westermarck in his History of Marriage (1891) asserts that, on the contrary, monogamy is the rule almost everywhere; even where polygamy or any other variant of sexual, parental and social relations is found, monogamy continues to be the normal rule of life. Westermarck's counter-attack began in Engels's lifetime; the Origin of the Family, indeed, contains replies to some of Westermarck's early assertions about monogamy in animals. Nor does Westermarck accept that these lifelong marriages were without affection; he lists a string of cases of devotion in tribal society - lovelorn fiancees, griefstricken widows and widowers and so on.

Among the instances cited, I cannot resist quoting:

{quote} Among the Indians of Western Washington and North-Western Oregon, says Dr. Gibbs, 'a strong sensual attachment undoubtedly often exists, which leads to marriage, as instances are not rare of young women destroying themselves on the death of a lover.' The like is said of other Indian tribes, in which suicide from unsuccessful love has sometimes occurred even among men. Colonel Dalton represents the Paharia lads and lasses as forming very romantic attachments; 'if separated only for an hour,' he says, 'they are miserable.' Davis tells us of a negro who, after vain attempts to redeem his sweetheart from slavery, became a slave himself rather than be separated from her. In Tahiti, unsuccessful suitors have

{p. 50} been known to commit suicide; and even the rude Australian girl sings in a strain of romantic affliction -    'I never shall see my darling again.' {endquote; E. Westermarck, History of Marriage, London, 1891, 3 vols, Vol. I, p. 503}

The intensity with which Westermarck argued against the hypothesis (in Volume I, chapters IV-VII in particular) may perhaps be partly attributed to the moral shock of Morgan's claim upon Victorian susceptibilities, but his argument has been sustained with increasing firmness by the great masters of modern anthropology - Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown and many others. In fact, Malinowski admired Westermarck for having so promptly demolished the myth of group marriage. {Meyer Fortes, Kinship and the Social Order, London, 1969, p.5} Robert H. Lowie, too, received Malinowski's respect for refuting Morgan. Indeed, Lowie's summary of the case against Morgan, deployed in Primitive Society (I929), remains the accepted view of anthropologists:

{quote} When evolutionary principles, having gained general acceptance in biology, had begun to affect all philosophical thinking, it was natural to extend them to the sphere of social phenomena ... For the mid-Victorian thinker it was a foregone conclusion requiring only statement, not proof, that monogamy is the highest form of marriage in the best conceivable universes; and it was equally axiomatic that early man must have lived under conditions infin- itely removed from that ideal goal. So Morgan made no pretense at producing empirical proof of pristine promiscuity, which in fact he assigned to the period when man was still hovering near the border line between humanity and a lower organic stage. He advanced promiscuity as a logical postulate precisely as some evolutionary philosophers advance the axiom of spontaneous generation; and thereby placed it beyond the range of scientific discussion. {endquote; Robert H. Lowie, Primitive Society, London, 1929, pp. 52-3}

Lowie's conclusions are uncompromising. He asserts that, contrary to Morgan, the family came first, before tribe or clan:

{quote} The reversal of the traditional sequence is one of the safest conclusions of modern ethnology ... Sexual communism as a condition taking the place of the individual family exists nowhere at the present time; and the arguments for its former existence must be rejected as unsatisfactory ... we are justified in concluding that regardless of all other social arrangements the individual family is an omnipresent social unit. It does not matter whether marital

{p. 51} relations are permanent or temporary; whether there is polygyny or polyandry or sexual license; whether conditions are complicated by the addition of members not included in our family circle: the one fact stands out beyond all others that everywhere the husband, wife and immature children constitute a unit apart from the remainder of the community. {endquote; Robert H. Lowie, Primitive Society, London, 1929, pp. 148, 59, 63}

Modern students of Engels almost all accept that Morgan and his contemporaries are not the securest foundation upon which to build a history of marriage. David McLellan says that, as Morgan's ideas on primitive sexual promiscuity, group marriage and the priority of the matrimonial family are 'extremely dubious', it is not surprising that the section on the family is the weakest part of Engels's book.' {David McLellan, Engels, London, 1977, p. 37}

All the same, Marxists and particularly Marxist feminists are inclined to let Engels off the hook by saying: 'Even if he didn't get it quite right - because the historical material available to him was so inadequate - he and Marx were right about the way history works.'

For example, Sheila Rowbotham writes of Engels and his theories about the origin of the family:

{quote} The fact that his anthropological data is inadequate does not mean that the ideas he expresses and the attempt to integrate his Marxism with an anthropological study of the family should be ignored. To dismiss his anthropology as simply outdated is comparable to the complacency which says of Marx's Capital that the economics are old-fashioned. Having understood the limits of The Origin of the Family, the most important question, that of method, remains. The arguments against Engels very quickly become arguments against any attempt to discover historical pattern and factors for change.' {endquote; Sheila Rowbotham, Women, Resistance and Revolution, Pelican, 1974, p. 69}

But surely it does matter whether Engels's anthropology and Marx's economics are correct ('old-fashioned' is a rather evasive word). And if they are not correct and if the generality of evidence suggests either that there is no straight-line pattern of development to be found or that there is a pattern but that it is an entirely different one, or that there is no useful steady connection between economic development and family structure, then we surely ought to think again.

With all unsatisfactory theories of history, there must eventually come a stage at which the general line can no longer be sustained because it cannot be sustained at enough of its individual supporting

{p. 52} points.

{p. 83} In the Canterbury Tales, the Host too suffers from being henpecked, and so presumably did the Wife of Bath's five husbands, all of whom she boasts of having kept well in hand, except the last one who beat her up:

But in our bed he was so fresh and gay,
So coaxing, so persuasive ... Heaven knows
Whenever he wanted it - my belle chose -
Though he had beaten me in every bone
He still could wheedle me to love, I own.
I think I loved him best, I'll tell no lie.
He was disdainful in his love, that's why.
We women have a curious fantasy
In such affairs, or so it seems to me.
When something's difficult, or can't be had,
We crave and cry for it all day like mad.
{Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Penguin tr. Neville Coghill, 1971, p. 290}

When this violent husband spends the whole time reading out stories about the awful treacheries of women, the Wife of Bath grabs his book, tears out three pages and hits him so hard that he falls into the fireplace; he hits her back even harder, so that she lies unconscious; he is distraught.

He came up close and kneeling gently down
He said, 'My love, my dearest Alison,
So help me God, I never again will hit
You, love; and if I did, you asked for it.
Forgive me!' But for all he was so meek,
I up at once and smote him on the cheek
And said, 'Take that to level up the score!
Now let me die, I can't speak any more.'
{ibid, p. 298}

After that, they made it up and he conceded her the mastery of house and land and, from that day on, there was no argument. The Wife of Bath is one of the most vivid figures in all fiction. Neither her tale nor the rest of the Canterbury Tales suggests for one moment that women were unable to speak up for themselves or to assert certain rights over property, household management or the giving and withholding of sexual favours. Indeed, the first impression is the

{p. 84} opposite one: that in most households women were felt to be too powerful.

But it would be equally ludicrous to suggest that Chaucer is on the side of the grasping Merchant and the henpecked Host. If the author's view is presented at all, it is unmistakably through the benign, generous, practical figure of the Franklin who concludes the whole discussion.

According to the system of courtly love, marriage was supposed to be incompatible with true love, because marriage involves mastery on the husband's part and mastery inevitably drives out love.

The Franklin rejects this theory utterly. In true marriage, neither side can assert sovereignty. Love depends on equality and forbearance, and marriage depends on love.

Those who persist in asserting that Chaucer subscribed wholeheartedly to the rules of courtly love and that he did not believe in the possibility of love-in-marriage must reckon with the Franklin's lines. And those who still believe that the notion of love-in-marriage was unknown to the Middle Ages should tiptoe quietly away:

Lovers must each be ready to obey
The other, if they would long keep company.
Love will not be constrained by mastery;
When mastery comes the god of love anon
Stretches his wings and farewell! he is gone.
Love is a thing as any spirit free;
Women by nature long for liberty
And not to be constrained or made a thrall,
And so do men, if I may speak for all.
Whoever's the most patient under love
Has the advantage and will rise above
The other; patience is a conquering virtue.
The learned say that, if it not desert you,
It vanquishes what force can never reach;
Why answer back at every angry speech?
No, learn forbearance or, I'll tell you what,
{ibid, p. 428}

Taking up the tale of the devoted married couple, Arveragus and Dorigen, the Franklin explicitly answers the courtly-love argument

{p. 85} that love depends on serving your lady-love and so you cannot love your wife:

She took a servant when she took a lord,
A lord in marriage in a love renewed
By service, lordship set in servitude;
In servitude? Why no, but far above
Since he had both his lady and his love.
His lady certainly, his wife no less,
To which the law of love will answer 'yes'.
So in the happiness that they had planned
He took his wife home to his native land
With joyful ease and reached his castle there
By Penmarch Point, not far from Finisterre,
And there they lived in amity unharried.
Who can recount, unless he has been married,
The ease, the prosperous joys of man and wife?
{ibid, p. 428-9}

It is no discourtesy to Professor Coghill's translation to repeat those last three lines in the original:

Who coude telle, but he hadde wedded be,
The ioye, the ese and the prosperitee
That is bitwixe an housbonde and his wyf?

Can there be much doubt what Chaucer really thought? And can we doubt either that his audience understood him? It is sometimes argued that writers even as great as Chaucer might be presenting a heightened, romanticised picture of a reality which was much more brutal and commercial. Yet there is little romance in, say, the Wife of Bath's marital adventures. Chaucer certainly never pretends that all or even most marriages are happy and bound to last for ever.

{p. 127} Mediaeval colleges had been, for the most part, licentious, chaotic places. The teaching often took place in the street. Often the schools had only one room and one master teaching a rabble of children, adolescents and young men with no separation by age or educational attainment. Etienne Pasquier in the sixteenth century described in tones of horror the University of Paris in the old days of a hundred years earlier: 'Studies were in a jumble ... the rooms on one side were leased to students and on the other to whores, so that under the same roof there was a school of learning together with a school of whoring.'

Students were drunk and violent; duels were frequent; rebellions against authority were often terrifying; at English public schools particularly, the great mutinies went on breaking out until well into the nineteenth century.

But the point is that in the end the authorities, both religious and secular, did manage to impose order and discipline upon the schools, just as absolutist monarchs managed to impose order and discipline upon their whole realms by means of standing armies and standing bureaucracies. The mediaeval chaos was subdued and ordered; students were split up into classes and ages; the pox-ridden lodgings were turned into respectable boarding houses and eventually became either schools in their own right or 'houses' belonging to colleges and controlled by housemasters.

Yet the process had a bitter irony, at least from the point of view of the Church. This successful culmination of a campaign lasting six or seven centuries to impose discipline upon schools coincided with the final collapse of the Church's power to control the curriculum that was to be taught in those schools.

{p. 158} In earlier times, many literary men were celibates in holy orders; more recently, many have been homosexuals.

Whether people are enabled to become great writers by the accident of a celibate nature or an unhappy marriage, or whether their ambition to create great works helps to make them celibate or unhappily married does not matter much for our purposes. What has to be admitted is that, in modern times at least, the creation of great art and happy families do not often seem to go together.

Besides, artists have before them two daunting races of celibates, rivals for public reverence: on the one hand, the religious - hermits, priests, missionaries, monks and nuns; on the other hand, philosophers, mathematicians and physicists, dwellers in the purest realms of speculation. Newton, Descartes, Locke, Pascal, Spinoza, Kant, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, all were unhampered by family ties. 'Perhaps', as Dr Anthony Storr suggests, 'the capacity for the higher flights of abstract thought only occurs in those who find continuing intimate relationships difficult of attainment. Perhaps, also, intense concentration upon difficult problems is easily interrupted by emotional demands and the patter of tiny feet.'

Whatever the precise mixture of psychological and practical pressures, artists cannot afford to let their vocation seem less vital, less demanding of time and concentration than these rival priesthoods. They must be as lonely as priests, as totally absorbed in creation as a philosopher is absorbed in thought.

But the attack on the family does not stop there. Perhaps we could not expect artists to leave the family alone, to regard it as merely another form of human enterprise and one for which they do not happen to be suited. After all, what draws us to them in the first place, what excites our praise, is their huge capacity for absorbing common human experience and transforming it into works of art. We admire them precisely because they will not leave things alone. That is what gives them licence to intrude, to wander through our lives and our homes, and to dissect them and condemn them as hypocritical, humdrum and second-rate.

Nor can they help taking their own lives as models of the sort of life that ought to be attempted. When they say, as they may say now and then, as Auden and Eliot used to say, that art is ultimately inferior to

{p. 159} life, we do not really believe that they believe it. Nor do we expect them to act as if they believed it; on the contrary, we expect them to sacrifice their lives to their art, if need be. And we are certainly not surprised to find them criticising marriage and the family as comfortable evasions of the real challenges that life offers, any more than we would be surprised to hear a sailor talk pityingly of landlubbers.

To become an artist is to join a company of separated brethren, like monks or sailors. It can sometimes be a cold and cheerless life, lonely and unconnected, deprived of biological narrative by the absence or refusal of children and grandchildren. Artists have no given duties, no programme defined by age. They do not become parents and then grandparents. They have only before them at all times the same duty, which is the duty to go on creating masterpieces, as Connolly put it, although he himself was much married and in middle age became a fond papa.

This isolation gives a curious tone to much high art of the past century: cold, even a little clammy, suspicious of sentiment, solitary. We do our best to find excuses for the artist's personality as revealed by the eager biographer, but undeniably there is something repulsive about it. Indeed, as soon as we do find some genial, warm characteristic, we begin to suspect that the artist's work may not be quite first-rate, after all, and that there may lurk within him or her some soft patch.

The male artist, even when in fact surrounded by wife and children, writes as if he was on his own, as if he remained quite indifferent to his biological luggage. He conducts a public dialogue, with other artists, with the public. He talks in large, cold terms of Sex, and Violence, and Death. He prefers to set himself and his characters in public places: bars, cafes, hotels, campuses, parties, bullfights, demonstrations, meetings. He does not write much of what daily and most nearly surrounds him: his family.

There is in all this an element of bad faith. For serious artists, the family has taken the place of sex as the great not-to-be-spoken-of.

The result is that, just as we used to be bullied by unmarried priests, now we are bullied by artists who pretend to be unmarried or pretend to think that being married is not important. High culture, like high religion, like ideologies of all kinds, always tries to monopolise the high ground so that it can look down with contempt on the smoky shacks of the lower orders, with their smell of cooking fat and nappies.

{p. 193} In The Children of the Dream, his trenchant study of communal child-rearing in an Israeli kibbutz, Bruno Bettelheim records the agonisingly split attitude of kibbutz mothers towards their children. On the one hand,

{quote} The founding generation knew they had no wish to replicate the family as they knew it, and of this they were entirely conscious ... part of the ghetto existence to which kibbutz founders reacted, and possibly over-reacted, was a closeness in family life that to them seemed devoid of freedom. {endquote; The Children of the Dream, Paladin, 1971, p. 31}

Private emotions, no less than private dining arrangements or private property, threatened to destroy the comradeship of the group and to re-impose the ancient tyranny of the family. They wanted the best for their children but not if it cost them their freedom.

From the practical point of view, conveniently enough, their freedom and their children's freedom were interrelated. The children live in a separate children's house, looked after by trained nurses and teachers. The parents are not bothered by screaming babies in the middle of the night; at the same time, the children are free from the jealous interference and control of parental authority. Nor are the parents supplanted in their children's affections by anybody else. The turnover of nurses and teachers is rapid; and within the peer group of children, as within the peer group of adults, close friendships between two persons are severely discouraged 'as something alien, as an effort to escape from the group'. All this is part, an indispensable part, of

{p. 194} any conscious plan to build a society whose emotional satisfactions are founded on solidarity alone.

The trouble is that in such a society, however highly praised intimacy may be in theory, in practice it has to be fearfully avoided. As Dr Bettelheim says:

{quote} Kibbutz founders hoped that by removing all external impediments to human relations they would flower most fully. What they did not recognise was that it was the shared worries about those impediments, and all the fighting in the ghetto family, that revealed its members to each other and eventually to themselves.

Intimacy thrived because people depended on each other, not only for security, but also for being the only ones on whom they could safely discharge their aggressions and frustrations ... Only inside the family - both the immediate, and the larger ghetto family - did their crying meet with empathy and compassion. Only there could one safely get rid of one's negative feelings without risking steadfast relations ...

What was overlooked [in the kibbutz system] was that one cannot really cry with some thirty people. One cannot fight with them and avoid getting badly bruised, because it is hard to make up with so many when the fighting is over, however close one's relationship with them. Two or three dozen people can sing and dance together, can laugh together, and this they did in early kibbutz days. But to satisfy the good feelings is not enough to bring about true intimacy. For that one must also feel free to vent one's anger and fear and disappointment without its having bad effects. {endquote; The Children of the Dream, Paladin, 1971, p. 31}
Yet to acknowledge this difficulty would be to undermine the whole basis of the kibbutz - for it would involve nothing less than the admission that a vast scheme of social engineering designed to promote freedom and openness in human relationships had in practice tended to develop new forms of constraint and repression. Any disappointment with the degree of emotional intensity experienced in kibbutz relations cannot be admitted, even to oneself. As a result, the fraternal community often throws up in diffused form all the familiar hypocrisies of bourgeois marriage.

{p. 242} A more endearing, less mechanistic version of this utopia is to be found in The Female Eunuch: musing on the problems of persuading 'brilliant women' to 'reproduce', Germaine Greer writes:

{quote} No child ought to grow up alone with a single resentful girl who is struggling to work hard enough to provide for herself and him. I thought again of the children I knew in Calabria and hit upon the plan to buy, with the help of some friends with similar problems, a farmhouse in Italy where we could stay when circumstances permit-

{p. 243} ted, and where our children would be born. Their fathers and other people would also visit the house as often as they could, to rest and enjoy the children and even work a bit. Perhaps some of us might live there for quite long periods, as long as we wanted to. The house and garden would be worked by a local family who lived in the house. The children would have a region to explore and dominate, and different skills to learn from all of us. It would not be paradise, but it would be a little community with a chance of survival, with parents of both sexes and a multitude of roles to choose from. {endquote; The Female Eunuch, Granada, 1971, p. 235}

Within this relaxed community the possessive aspects of motherhood would melt away: 'If necessary the child need not even know that I was his womb-mother and I could have relationships with the other children as well. If my child expressed a wish to try London and New York or go to formal school somewhere, that could also be tried without committal.' {The Female Eunuch, Granada, 1971, p. 235}

This exactly mirrors the goals and methods of the male utopias of all preceding centuries: responsibility is abolished by being spread throughout the community; 'mine' and 'thine' are abolished; no person is tied more to one person than to another; relationships are thinned and diffused; the children have no ties, to people or place; when they are bored, they simply move on. At the same time, work is turned into play; scarcity is no longer an insistent pressure; jobs are softened into 'roles' which can be chosen and discarded at will; by implication, it is clear that any unpleasant work will be mopped up by the 'local family' - a remnant of the slave class which is to be found in many utopias but which is often supposed to wither away as technology increasingly performs the boring or unpleasant tasks for us. These communities are naturally to be located in idyllic surroundings. This is only logical, for if struggle, conflict and effort have disappeared and no longer preoccupy us, this liberation which grants us the time and the serenity to enjoy, perceive and absorb must also demand that we have pleasant and beautiful objects around us: cypress trees, sunburnt children, limitless flasks of Chianti.

This is true utopian anarchism, unfamiliar to past generations only because it includes pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing among the painful drudgeries which are to be swept away. Bliss is to be eternal, unconstrained, sexless. Women, and men too, are to become winged,

{p. 244} irresponsible, undifferentiated beings ... like, well, like angels.

'... There is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.' {Galatians 3:28} In the end, all enemies of the family turn out to be the same enemy. And every liberation turns out to be the same liberation, the same attempt to jump out of your skin and soar. And all heavens are the same heaven, in which the interests of the individual miraculously and naturally coincide with those of the larger society.

And every return to earth is the same return, to skin and blood and bone - and the same recall to singularity and the same recognition of specific duty and particular love.

Utopian feminism needs Marxism. Without the underlying theory that economic conditions ultimately and basically determine social existence, feminism runs up against biology. The family has to be entirely created and thoroughly penetrated by the economic process; otherwise, we shall have to concede that it has a life of its own, that in some sense the family is natural. Hence the tremendous emphasis on 'the nuclear family' as something fleeting, artificial and accidental; hence, too, the insistence on the necessary and sufficient connection between the supposed rise of the nuclear family and the rise of 'capitalism'. There has to be some impersonal, inhuman force which is responsible for the imprisonment and oppression of women. This connection has to be desperately maintained against all new pieces of historical ammunition.
{end of quotes}

Sex in the Soviet Union: sex-soviet.html.

We need a new Engagement between Men and Women: engagement.html.

Trotsky explicitly promoted Radical Feminism, Youth Rebellion, Communal Childrearing and the Destruction of the Family, in his book The Revolution Betrayed. He describes the attack on all tradition launched by the Bolsheviks, and Stalin's reversal of its extremes. Radical Feminism is Trotskyist ... See the real Trotsky: trotsky.html.

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