Capitalism: No. 1 Enemy of the Family - Economic Stress Breaks Up Families Struggling to Survive


from the New Unionist, March 1996, page 4

Capitalism: No. 1 Enemy of the Family

Economic Stress Breaks Up Families Struggling to Survive

By David Lazarus

The recent right-wing "family-values" chorus that began in the Reagan era is only the latest performance of an old reactionary song.

For centuries, liberals and radicals have been portrayed by the right as being not merely wrong, but morally corrupt, degenerate elements seeking to introduce chaos into the God-given order maintained by the ruling elites. In doing so, however, the right was simply projecting its own behavior onto that of its enemies; in modern times, the element that has been most destructive to the family has been capitalism itself.

While some radicals have advocated changes in the family unit, it was capital that carried out the abolition of the family as it had been known up to the Industrial Revolution. The early industrialists demolished the ancient extended family by forcing children, women and men into industrial servitude in factories, mines and mills, where they were treated worse than the machinery they served.

Workers were subjected to an iron control never seen during feudal times, when the rhythms of nature were still predominant and about every third day was a church holiday on which all were exempt from labor. In the new capitalist order, each member of the family was viewed as a mere tool to be used until worn out or broken, then discarded and replaced.

This destruction of family relations was part and parcel of capitalism's determination to conquer and exploit the natural world as a whole. Natural family relationships were ripped apart, just as the other human needs of the workers were sacrificed to the insatiable god of profit. English visionary poet William Blake wrote of the "dark Satanic mills" of his land that blasted the innocence of children and ate away the face of people's humanity.

The same process eventually took place in America. The proud independent farmer, settler, tradesman, mechanic, frontiersman and woman gave way to masses of cowed wage slaves facing a violent reaction from capital and its agents if they dared do anything to better their condition. Americans lost much of their individuality and learned that they were faceless tools of the industrial state, controlled and regimented instruments of the profit motive, whose role was to labor to enrich the lords of capital.

Slowly and painfully, against brutal and bloody opposition from capital, labor achieved some degree of organization and freedom. Yet the basic status of the worker as a wage slave, dependent on capital and exploited by it, remained.

The family represented a rival to the "totalism" of the capitalist state, in which nothing could be allowed to compete with the "commodi-fication" of society and culture, where everything and everyone became an article of commerce.

Under capitalism, compulsory schooling became increasingly a means of undermining family (and other) loyalties, gaining the "hearts and minds" of the younger generation to the service of capital.

We now see the trend to "privatizing" public schooling, featuring direct involvement by corporations in the education process. A new unity between capital and the state is being forged, which demands that all parochial factors -- family, local and regional cultures, other forms of economic, political and cultural activity-be more and more subordinated to the drive for unlimited profits. So despite the protests of the right-wingers who claim to be defending the family (along with the flag and religion), capitalism has since the beginning been the most ruthless and destructive enemy of the family. At the same time, it invokes a romanticized image of the family to cloak its crimes against it, just as it uses the flag and religion to the same end.

Today, after a 20-year-long decline of real wages, it is increasingly hard for working families to exist, much less thrive.

The increasing economic stress on families cause them to become dysfunctional or break up at an alarming rate. This family breakdown does, as the right-wingers say, set in motion a chain of serious social problems, punishing children especially. But rather than condemn the economic system that is the underlying cause of family destruction, the right reveals its true role as apologists for the system by blaming the victims for their plight, for fairing to have the right "values."

Like everything else under capitalism, the family is valued only to the extent that it supports and reinforces the profit system. Any relationship, loyalty or value which is at odds with this system must and will be demolished.

The Dan Quayle version of the family is essentially a myth, since- as most of us know-most women have always had to work outside the home (as well as inside) to make ends meet. Welfare, drugs, media images and the rest are scapegoats presented by the right wing to distract us from the fact that, not these, but capitalism itself is the primary cause of family breakdown and the destruction of positive social values.

What else could be the result of a belief system that teaches the supremacy of greed and the divinity of cash?

Tinkering with the capitalist system can never alter its fundamentally anti-social and anti-family character. The relationships and values involved in a humane life demand that we abolish this system and bring into being one that reflects the interests of the people.

The new system will be one that brings about the end of exploitation. The end of economic exploitation will involve creating new expressions of family that will help meet the emotional needs of people whose economic security will be guaranteed.