Quoting Evelyn Reed from this Website:

Sex and Labor in Primitive Society

"Of the myths today, probably the one least questioned is that the capitalist rulers are indispensable to the continued existence and functioning of society. The truth is just the opposite. There is only one class that is indispensable for human survival, and that is the working class, the class of labor.

Labor of modern times grew out of primitive labor, and primitive labor grew out of primeval labor. Capitalism is less than 500 years old and already dying, whereas labor is as ancient as humanity itself – probably a million or more years old – and is today the mightiest power the world has ever seen.

Far from being necessary to society, capitalism in this atomic epoch has created a social jungle that threatens to destroy all the great achievements of labor over the millenniums. It is therefore up to labor to remove this threat to itself and its social achievements.

This is, of course, a colossal task. But it is not the first time labor has been called upon to perform tasks of colossal magnitude. An even greater conquest was made in the ancient past – the conquest of the first labor collective over nature’s jungle. The story of that conquest, which represents the birth of humanity itself, should serve as a guide and inspiration to modern labor."

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Quoting Evelyn Reed from her article:



One of the conspicuous features of capitalism, and of class society in general, is the inequality of the sexes. Men are the masters in economic, cultural, political and intellectual life, while women play a subordinate and even submissive role. Only in recent years have women come out of the kitchens and nurseries to challenge men’s monopoly. But the essential inequality still remains.

This inequality of the sexes has marked class society from its very inception several thousand years ago, and has persisted throughout its three main stages: chattel slavery, feudalism and capitalism. For this reason class society is aptly characterized as male-dominated. This domination has been upheld and perpetuated by the system of private property, the state, the church and the form of family that served men’s interests.

On the basis of this historical situation, certain false claims regarding the social superiority of the male sex have been propagated. It is often set forth as an immutable axiom that men are socially superior because they are naturally superior. Male supremacy, according to this myth, is not a social phenomenon at a particular stage of history, but a natural law. Men, it is claimed, are endowed by nature with superior physical and mental attributes.

An equivalent myth about women has been propagated to support this claim. It is set forth as an equally immutable axiom that women are socially inferior because they are naturally inferior to men. And what is the proof? They are the mothers! Nature, it is claimed, has condemned the female sex to an inferior status.

This is a falsification of natural and social history. It is not nature, but class society, which lowered women and elevated men. Men won their social supremacy in struggle against and conquest over the women. But this sexual struggle was part and parcel of a great social struggle – the overturn of primitive society and the institution of class society. Women’s inferiority is the product of a social system which has produced and fostered innumerable other inequalities, inferiorities, discriminations and degradations. But this social history has been concealed behind the myth that women are naturally inferior to man.

It is not nature, but class society, which robbed women of their right to participate in the higher functions of society and placed the primary emphasis upon their animal functions of maternity. And this robbery was perpetrated through a two-fold myth. On the one side, motherhood is represented as a biological affliction arising out of the maternal organs of women. Alongside this vulgar materialism, motherhood is represented as being something almost mystical. To console women for their status as second-class citizens, mothers are sanctified, endowed with halos and blessed with special “instincts,” feelings and knowledge forever beyond the comprehension of men. Sanctity and degradation are simply two sides of the same coin of the social robbery of women under class society.

But class society did not always exist; it is only a few thousand years old. Men were not always the superior sex, for they were not always the industrial, intellectual and cultural leaders. Quite the contrary. In primitive society, where women were neither sanctified nor degraded, it was the women who were the social and cultural leaders.

Primitive society was organized as a matriarchy which, as indicated by its very name, was a system where women, not men, were the leaders and organizers. But the distinction between the two social systems goes beyond this reversal of the leadership role of the two sexes. The leadership of women in primitive society was not founded upon the dispossession of the men. On the contrary, primitive society knew no social inequalities, inferiorities or discriminations of any kind. Primitive society was completely equalitarian. In fact, it was through the leadership of the women that the men were brought forward out of a more backward condition into a higher social and cultural role.

In this early society maternity, far from being an affliction or a badge of inferiority, was regarded as a great natural endowment. Motherhood invested women with power and prestige – and there were very good reasons for this.

Humanity arose out of the animal kingdom. Nature had endowed only one of the sexes – the female sex – with the organs and functions of maternity. This biological endowment provided the natural bridge to humanity, as Robert Briffault has amply demonstrated in his work The Mothers. [Robert Briffault, The Mothers: A Study of The Origins of Sentiments and Institutions, New York: The Macmillan, 1927, 3 vols.] It was the female of the species who had the care and responsibility of feeding, tending and protecting the young.

However, as Marx and Engels have demonstrated, all societies both past and present are founded upon labor. Thus, it was not simply the capacity of women to give birth that played the decisive role, for all female animals also give birth. What was decisive for the human species was the fact that maternity led to labor – and it was in the fusion of maternity and labor that the first human social system was founded.

It was the mothers who first took the road of labor, and by the same token blazed the trail toward humanity. It was the mothers who became the chief producers; the workers and farmers: the leaders in scientific, intellectual and cultural life. And they became all this precisely because they were the mothers, and in the beginning maternity was fused with labor. This fusion still remains in the languages of primitive peoples, where the term for “mother” is identical with “producer-procreatrix.”

We do not draw the conclusion from this that women are thereby naturally the superior sex. Each sex arose out of natural evolution, and each played its specific and indispensable role. However, if we use the same yardstick for women of the past as is used for men today – social leadership – then we must say that women were the leaders in society long before men, and for a far longer stretch of time.

Our aim in this presentation is to destroy once and for all the myth perpetuated by class society that women are naturally or innately inferior. The most effective way to demonstrate this is to first of all set down in detail the labor record of primitive women.

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This a review by Evelyn Reed written 1967 about the theories byClaude Lévi Strauss´ presented in

The Savage Mind

Source: International Socialist Review, Vol. 29, No. 4, July-August 1967, pp. 58-59;
Transcribed: by Daniel Gaido;
Proofed: and corrected by Chris Clayton;
Public Domain: this text is free of copyright.

The Savage Mind, by Claude Levi-Strauss. University of Chicago Press, 290 pp., $5.95.

The erudite French professor, Claude Levi-Strauss, is today the most prestigious figure in the field of anthropology. The Savage Mind is a companion volume to his book Totemism, both originally published in 1962.

The nineteenth-century founders of anthropology who discovered totemism regarded it as a central institution of the epoch of savagery. Levi-Strauss, on the other hand, sets forth the thesis that totemism never existed. “Heterogeneous beliefs and customs have been arbitrarily collected together under the heading of totemism.”

Thus the several generations of scholars who have tried to decipher the secrets of its origin, evolution and significance were victims of a “totemic illusion.” Frazer’s four-volume study of Totemism and Exogamy is to Levi-Strauss more a monument to fiction than a reliable accumulation of data on the subject, as a guide to prehistoric theory.

Levi-Strauss sides with the anti-totemic school of anthropologists led by Boas, Goldenweiser, Lowie and others who have sought to dispose of the riddle of totemism by denying that it was a social and historical reality. This position corresponds to their denial that a primitive collectivist society, with fundamentally different relations, preceded the advent of civilization with its class-divided formations. For example, Levi-Strauss equates the castes of an aristocratic society with the kinship clans of equalitarian tribal society.

Apart from its other features, totemism is inseparable from the classificatory system of kinship. Historically, totemic classifications, in which social relations were expressed through animals, plants and other things, were the earliest, most rudimentary from of the classificatory system. Later, with the casting off of this original shell, social relations came to be expressed in exclusively human kinship terms. But this is not the view of Levi-Strauss, who deals with both phenomena in The Savage Mind.

Unlike the evolutionary thinkers, Levi-Strauss rejects any overall continuity of development in history. He belongs with the piece-meal anthropologists who sever history into fragments. A “total” history of mankind is impossible and would lead to “chaos,” he says. “Insofar as history aspires to meaning, it is doomed to select regions, periods, groups of men and individuals in these groups and to make them stand out as discontinuous figures, against a continuity barely good enough to be used as a backdrop... It inevitably remains partial - that is, incomplete.”

From such a standpoint the totemic period is not the most ancient stage in social history, nor are totemic classifications the earliest from of social relations. These represent, he says, only one arbitrary mode of classification among others, “namely that constituted by reference to natural species.” It was part of the remarkable capacity of the savage mind that they could make precise and even subtle distinctions among natural species, naming up to 2,000 specimens of plants and animals.

According to Levi-Strauss, totemism is simply an exercise in logic of the savage mind, not the mark of the colossal achievement of our savage ancestors in constituting the first form of social organization. This accords with his conception that “ethnology is first of all psychology.”

Curiously, Levi-Strauss claims that Marxism is the “point of departure” of his thought and that he aspires to a “theory of superstructures, scarcely touched on by Marx.” Actually, his non-historical and non-materialist approach is far removed from the Marxist method.