ENGELS REVISITED: NEW FEMINIST ESSAYS.
Edited by Janet Sayers. Mary Evans and Nanneke RedclifL
(Tavistock Publications 1987. Price: Â£7.95)
It is very interesting that Engels's The Origin of the Family, Private Property and
the State is taken so seriously by the feminist movement that a conference was
held to commemorate the centenary of its publication in 1884.
The seven essays are written from differing points of view. psychology.
anthropology, economics and politics, social and economic history and sociology.
They cover a wide spectrum of academic study and offer an insight into current
thinking in each field. One or two are written in such obscure jargon that they are
only accessible to a fellow expert. but the majority are readable and cogent, even
In the introduction. the editors point out that. although written in three months
partly in reply to Bebel's Woman In The Past, Present and Future, the Origin
immediately became part of the accepted socialist reading list and has "always been
regarded as an important contribution to Marxist theory." However, they accept
that there has frequently been criticism and reservation about the implications of
the analysis particularly in the way that Engels made monogamy the central pivot
with participation in production the means to emancipation. Several of the essays
discuss this contentious issue and. although there are arguments -against accepting
it. there are no alternatives offered.
Possibly the most interesting essay is the fmal one which looks at the position of
women in today's China. where the policy of one child to a family has led to a
number of female babies being killed. Delia Davin looks at the implications for
women of the reversion to family based production in which the male is considered
the head of the unit. She comments that collectivisation did not transform the
peasant family as much as had been hoped. Although the worst abuses of women
were removed and women were able to exercise their rights to education, property.
divorce and custody of children. they were not able to make an inroad into the
influential political and managerial jobs. She makes the point that. as long as the
State recognises the male as head of the family. women remain in a position of
These essays are most interesting and well worth reading. They offer an insight
both into the positive aspects of analysis of the classic Marxist texts with a view
to using them to develop theory and into the negative aspects which seek to
undermine the authority of Marx and Engels by nit-picking.