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Under communism... Will families exist? What will parenting be like?

2022-07-16 | Foundations
Under communism... Will families exist? What will parenting be like?

Since the first half of the 19th century, the class movement was repeatedly accused of wanting to "abolish the family" by a petty bourgeoisie obsessed by the "respectability" and "sacredness" of its family model.

But from the 1970s onwards within the same petty bourgeoisie, there is a succession of movements for the reform of customs that seek to broaden "respectability", exploring the relationship between the body and gender roles in an inevitably idealistic way.

From then until today, the communist perspective on the future of the family will be assailed by ideologues of this class coming from both sides, for one thing and its opposite, and in both cases from the most raving ahistorical subjectivism.

The question

In communism... Will the family and the couple exist as such? What will parenting be like? Will abortion be normalized? Will motherhood and fatherhood mean the same as they do today?

The "family models"

Children collectivity

"Family models" are not alternative products available in a supermarket of ideas from which individuals could freely choose in the absence of ideological repression of one kind or another.

Even within a given society, they evolve and differentiate within a certain range among the different social classes and according to the specific needs of each class.

During the last two hundred and some years, for instance, the models of "externalization of upbringing" among the ruling classes had little to do with the recurrent exaltations of domestic education among the petty bourgeoisie.

For its part, the proletariat, driven by the need to care for children during long work shifts, soon tried out systems of community childcare organized on a rotating basis, such as the "migas," which still exist in quite a few countries and trades. And as soon as the class gained a minimum of autonomy, as we have seen from Icarian communism to the collectivities of the Spanish Revolution, passing through the Russian Revolution, it tried out forms of collective upbringing that horrified the self-righteous moralists of the time.

But let us not fool ourselves, there are no hard borders between the classes either. The dominant ideology permeates every nook and cranny in the absence of an organized class, putting in check the established relations of production.

During the long periods when struggles recede, workers are reduced to atomization and moral declines. Then, the most alienating models of petty bourgeois upbringing, which see children as careers to invest into or as consumers to be satisfied, permeate deeply into working families.

And this is by no means the only change in the ideology of child-rearing and family that we have seen in recent decades spreading among working people. In countries like Greece, Italy or Spain, where the development of precarization over the last 35 years made housing almost impossible for young workers, domestic authoritarianism was ironed out and the sexual morality of working families was transformed to house multigenerational families under the same roof.

The approval, which became dominant in Spanish opinion polls around the year 2000, of same-sex marriage, and the consequent extension of the "respectability" of hitherto condemned family models, owes more to this transformation of labor relations than to gay activism.

The eminently conservative discourse of the extension of the state-regulated institution of marriage was useful to make more palatable the defensive retreat around home ownership to which not only workers but also a significant part of the petty bourgeoisie had been driven.

Institutions such as family models or marriage are no more "natural" nor do they vary historically less than gender roles because, like them, they depend on the prevailing social organization of labor and its concrete needs at a given historical moment.

The fact that the legal recognition of same-sex couples took the form of an extension of civil marriage and ultimately revitalized an old, declining state institution and reaffirmed a new, "more diverse" version of the same existing family types may seem like a paradox. Yet, it is not. It is yet another example of how, although which family institutions are "acceptable" in each society ultimately depends on the prevailing social relations of production, so that they tend to be relatively stable as long as the social order endures, the range of normative (="respectable") variants and reinterpretations at any given time can be relatively wide.

This is something we cannot overlook when trying to understand what the social forms of intimate affection, reproduction, and nurturance in a society of abundance consciously organized for the satisfaction of universal human needs may be - and above all what they will not be - like.

Intimate Affections and Social Relationships

Young mother.

The permanent ideological bombardment through series and films, with their mixed message of idealization and individualistic commodification, often makes us forget to what extent current couple relationships are limited for workers by the scarcity imposed on them by their class condition.

Not only is family economic evolution the main indicator of divorce risk in countries such as the USA; across data from different countries there is a clear correlation between variables such as the number of hours worked by an average couple, or the size of the shared house and the total number of breakups. As is to be expected, the more conditions typical of the working class situation a couple suffers from - difficulties in making ends meet, long working hours, small house, etc. - the lower their hope of survival.

And if the couple's economic constraints are overwhelming, those of parenting are no less so. The elephant in the room is that the typical working-class family does not have enough hours to care for its children on its own. This is also true in the most capitalized countries. The spontaneous and common response is through precarious forms of communitarization. Even before the pandemic, more than half of the Spanish grandparents took care of their grandchildren every day.

But as we said above, the social organization of work affects not only the limits of what is considered socially acceptable within a given set of institutions but, above all, defines those institutions.

This is not only about how long couples last, nor how they share work, assets and needs, what they expect and aspire to in an intimate relationship, nor even whether they share space with previous generations or roommates. It is about the very definition of what a family institution is, who participates in it, in what context and how responsibility for offspring and upbringing is defined.

Humanity has known all kinds of such institutions, from the age-group marriage with whose description early anthropologists shocked nineteenth-century sexual morality, to the more or less nuclear family of today. All of them reflected the needs of the social organization of labor and the forms of property associated with them through the existence or not of the sexual division of labor, the forms of it when it existed, and the relations and responsibilities between generations and members of those generations - filiation and filial relations.

Of course, throughout this history, which is, broadly speaking, the history of the modes of production, the sentiments that articulated and idealized the intimate relations between people within the family organization and with the outside world also changed radically.

One does not need to go very far to see it: the lovers of Renaissance and Baroque literature have little or nothing to do with those of 19th century romanticism and we will find little of either in a walk through Netflix; filial love in classical Greek literature has nothing to do with the domesticity of the great French realist authors and even less with that of Hollywod movies; and fraternity, one of the most exalted sentiments throughout the history of literature, barely exists anymore in today's culture, when practically not even academics know how to differentiate it from friendship or go beyond vaguely remarking on its kinship with equality.

Upbringing, kinship and sentimentality in Communism

Throughout this series of articles we have highlighted two fundamental tendencies for understanding the horizon of the overcoming of capitalism: the development of the physical productivity of labor and socialization. And we have also argued why the overcoming of capitalism is inseparable from the disappearance of the sexual division of labor. Lets now bring these elements together to draw a perimeter around all these intertwined institutions that converge in what is called "the family".

We can easily intuit that upbringing will be socialized in some way. The tendency not only defines in a general way every dimension of the overcoming of capitalism, it is present again and again whenever the conditions of the family, as they are defined today, are denied to the working class. We see it in the day laborer "migas," in the de facto communitarization that today involves including grandparents in parenting, and in a more developed form in the "children's republic" of workers' collectivities in different times and places.

They are expressions of a trend towards socialization in which all adults in the community are actively responsible for the welfare and upbringing of children. Obviously we cannot know what concrete forms this will take in a society that is consciously shaping itself. But we do know that it is on the horizon.

On the other hand, in a world in which private property has ceased to exist in any of the forms that have characterized class-divided societies, the concept of inheritance and with it the importance of filiation and lineage must necessarily blur into disappearance.

Inheritance, socialized in a society without classes or privileged groups, is nothing other than the conscious effort of each generation to ensure in time the free development of social capacities. Capacities that, under communism, as we have seen in this series of articles, merge with the possibilities of personal development of each individual.

Therefore, in a society in which society as a whole, directly, that is, each and every one, is responsible for the upbringing of the next generation, pregnancy and parenthood take on a very different meaning. It ceases to be that momentous event that perpetually burdens the parents of a particular individual with perpetual responsibility for that individual and that individual alone.

With socialized parenting and the material and cultural well-being of each new member of society assured by the social whole, reproduction loses the dramatic sense of our splintered societies. Abortion will surely become less and less common and will end up being an infrequent medical procedure, when pregnancy is lived as just another physical experience, without the accompanying social costs, overwhelming responsibilities and economic and emotional burdens.

The other side of the socialization of parenting is the naturalization of fraternity as the defining feeling of intra-generational relationships. The responsibility of each for the others and the security provided by the others will probably be the basis of personal relationships between generations raised in community.

And that will then be the likely starting point for intimate and loving relationships, whatever intimacy and love mean in the context of a liberated human culture that we can barely glimpse.


Answering directly the questions we started from, the answer is that if there is such a thing as "family" it will bear little resemblance to the institution we know today.

The key element is that upbringing will be socialized or communitarized in one way or another. The consequences will be projected throughout life. For example, the conditioning factors that lead to the massiveness of abortion will most likely disappear. For the same reason, pregnancy, maternity and fatherhood will take on a meaning as different as the dominant one today would have for a primitive community.

Finally, we cannot anticipate the sentimental world of the humans who will live in a reunified society. We can only recall that communism is characterized by a social organization of labor capable of producing abundance, which is intrinsically egalitarian and with a high degree of socialization.

Therefore, people raised under socialized upbringing will develop emotionally on a feeling of security and fraternity, at the antipodes of fear and the permanent threat of "every man for himself" that the logic of wage labor imposes on the lives of the present generations.