Examine the Marxist contribution to our understanding of the family The Marxists society view family through the eyes of capitalism and that the proletariat (the working class) solely benefit the bourgeoisie (the ruling class), whereas a functionalists perspective of family is that they should benefit both society and individual members of the family, however, Marists argue family is simply an instrument of the ruling class.
Marxists believe family in today’s society perform key ideological functions for capitalism, a set of ideas/beliefs that justify inequality, a system that persuades the public into accepting this is a fair and natural way to act in society. Capitalism is an economic system in which private ownership controls all of the means of production for profit and exploits the proletariat class, selling their products for more money than paying the working class for their labour.
Benefits that the family provide through capitalism include the inheritance of private property, socialisation into acceptance of inequality and a source of profits – all of these which do not benefit the members of the family. Capitalism leads to family playing a major role in profits as they are the market for the sale of consumer goods. Family fulfil this role by persuading families to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ by consuming the latest products, ‘pester power’ which persuades parents to spend more on their children, especially if their child do not have the latest gadgets, clothes etc. nd being mocked because of this.
The capitalist system requires nuclear monogamous relationships as it is needed for private ownership, as said by Friedrich Engels. A sociologist, Friedrich Engels, alongside Karl Marx, studied family from a Marxist perspective and traced the changes of family to the mode of production. Engels explains that society has not always been exploited by the bourgeoisie, in fact, the means of production were collectively owned. Engels theorized that as society changed, more restrictions of norms and values in a family were placed on sexual relationships and the production of children.
Primitive communism was described as a large promiscuous horde; however, family and marriage have evolved through stages which included polygyny evolving into the monogamous nuclear family. This form of family is believed to have developed to solve the problem of inheritance of private property because there would be no confusion about the paternity of their offspring, whereas a promiscuous horde would have difficulty defining who the father of their offspring was.
Gough approves of Engel’s views claiming they have a ‘sound basis’ agreeing that when the means of production is shared tend to be have larger units, however, as the means of production moves towards private ownership, the family size decreases. Nevertheless, criticisms against Engels’ theory by Lewis Henry Morgan claimed Engels’ studies are a ‘figment of his imagination’, due to the fact Morgan found out that monogamous marriages and the nuclear family existed.
However, Eli Zaretsky’s view on family is linked to the Marxist view, that they are just a unit of consumption – the ‘major consumer of capitalist products’ – and that the ‘modern capitalist society creates an illusion’ of private family life as the family cannot meet its family’s needs. Zaretsky sees that the family is an apparent ‘safe haven’ due to the fact individuals were alienated at work which built up stress, however, families were unable to provide for the personal needs of its members.
Family basically provided satisfactions which were unavailable out in public. Zaretsky argues that the ideology of the private family life is separate from the economy as he also feels the bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat for their own gains. Marxists feel that there are many institutions that the capitalist system are maintaining within society such as education – which provides secondary socialisation which prepares children for adult life, working for the bourgeoisie, and institution of healthcare from the NHS who provides free healthcare.
This is also seen to benefit the bourgeoisie as free medical care for patients mean they will recover quicker in order to go back to work and serve interests of capitalism. However, these perspectives from a Marxists view of family are highly criticized for being too deterministic, not giving enough credit to individuals, overly emphasizing the importance of the economic system’s effect on family structures.
Critics also suggest Marxists are too negative on family, ignoring realistic benefits of the family such as intimacy and mutual support rather than reproduction just to provide the next generation. Also, this perspective on family is proved to be very outdated as the rise of alternative family and types of household have changed within society over the years and the fact that Marxism blame capitalism for lack of responsibility in individuals, even in non-capitalist countries such as Cuba, where do the problems come from there if they do not suffer capitalism?
Other opposing perspectives of the Marxist view on family come from Feminists who argue that Marxists emphasize on social class, underestimating the importance of gender inequalities within the family and Functionalists such as Parsons believe that family are not present to serve capitalism. Talcott Parsons believes the family is like a ‘warm bath’ in which family life helps individuals relieves their stresses from work at home.
To conclude, the Marxist view of family proves to be quite negative on the concept of family, stating that the proletariat are being exploited by the bourgeoisie as a unit of consumption (said by Zaretsky), and other than that, serve no other purpose but to reproduce for the inheritance of property (said by Engels). Edmund Leach, although not a Marxist, has a consensus view of family, pointing out problems found within the nuclear family, presenting a pessimistic view of the family.
Leach says that today’s domestic household is isolated with large amounts of emotional stress in individuals which results into the nuclear family becoming ‘like an overloaded electrical circuit’ causing ‘fuses to blow due to high demands’. Because of this, conflict is present – parents begin to fight and children rebel. Leach’s view is diametrically opposed to the Functionalists as Parsons feels that the nuclear family makes up a supportive unit, whereas Zaretsky thinks that this view is too positive and this ‘happy family’ is an illusion and is a fake impression of reality.
However, Engels believe that the nuclear family did not exist in pre-industrial society, but promiscuous hordes did – now in today’s society, that has changed due to serial monogamy being seen as a set norm and inheritance can function for capitalism. Feminists disagree saying that this perspective ignores gender, Morgan stating that Engels has imagined this theory and Functionalists claiming the nuclear family is in fact a natural process, not deliberately changed for the bourgeoisie.