A brief history of ‘marriage,’ part 29

The human capacity for love

Although the main focus of this series has been on the institution of marriage, there’s been little mention of love. On the contrary, as has been noted over and over again, with the appearance of private property and the consequent introduction of economic inequality many millennia ago, economic motives became the dominant force in the institution of marriage.

In Part 18 of this series, we noted Frederick Engels’ observation in “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”: “That the mutual affection of the people concerned should be the one paramount reason for marriage, outweighing everything else, was and always had been absolutely unheard of in the practice of the ruling classes; that sort of thing only happened in romance — or among the oppressed classes, who did not count.” (New York: International Publishers, 1972, p. 142)

A little further along in that section of “Origins,” Engels writes: “Full freedom of marriage can … only be generally established when the abolition of capitalist production and of the property relations created by it has removed all the accompanying economic considerations which still exert such a powerful influence on the choice of a marriage partner. For then there is no other motive left except mutual inclination.” (p. 144)

Still further along, he writes: “What will quite certainly disappear from monogamy are all the features stamped upon it through its origin in property relations; these are, in the first place, supremacy of the man and secondly, the indissolubility of marriage. The supremacy of man in marriage is the simple consequence of his economic supremacy, and with the abolition of the latter will disappear of itself. The indissolubility of marriage is partly a consequence of the economic situation in which monogamy arose, partly tradition from the period when the connection between this economic situation and monogamy was not yet fully understood and was carried to extremes under a religious form.

“Today it is already broken through at a thousand points. If only the marriage based on love is moral, then also only the marriage is moral in which love continues. But the intense emotion of individual sex love varies very much in duration from one individual to another, especially among men, and if affection definitely comes to an end or is supplanted by a new passionate love, separation is a benefit for both partners as well as for society — only people will then be spared having to wade through the useless mire of a divorce case.” (p. 145)

In “Feminism and Marxism,” the brilliant treatise of Workers World Party founder and leader Dorothy Ballan, she raises the issue of sexual love as she analyzes the social significance of the important technological breakthrough represented by the development of the contraceptive pill: “Like many previous inventions and discoveries, [the Pill] has brought about a virtual revolution in the social relations of many women, particularly as it affects the younger generation. …

The significant fact is that its simplicity of use has enabled the woman to control to a large degree her procreative function, and with little or no effort or discomfort.

“It is in fact, for her, a technically revolutionary development in her centuries-old struggle to achieve release from the slavery imposed upon her by her inability to control this vital body function. … For women, the accessibility of the Pill is in the nature of winning a civil right in the struggle for the rights of women. It obviously does not end oppression and discrimination against women, nor does it put an end to the ideology of male supremacy, but it helps clear some of the ground for the further development of the struggle. …

“Promiscuity for men has existed as part and parcel of the monogamous family since its inception and has never been considered as affecting the so-called sanctity of the bourgeois family to any substantial degree. What enrages the bourgeoisie about ‘free love’ is nothing more than the ability of women to participate in sex, and like men, without fear of pregnancy.”

The revolutionary task is to set love free

Ballan continues: “On the question of love, Marxists seek to focus not on ‘free love’ but on how to set love free, that is, to emancipate love from the outmoded, artificial, social restraints which are the heritage of social systems based on class domination and class oppression. … Love, which implies full freedom in human relations — whether with a marriage contract or not — cannot be the result of a mere relaxation of sex relations. Sex relations will always remain distorted as long as class oppression throttles human relations in general and relations between the sexes in particular.” (New York: World View Publishers, 1971, pp. 20-22)

What has developed on an almost global basis since these words were written is widespread social awareness of the prevalence of sexual love between women, between men and between differently gendered people. In the U.S., the struggle for the right of same-sex couples to marry has assumed the form of a mass, grassroots movement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, with many allies among the heterosexual population.

An April 2, 2013, editorial in Workers World newspaper titled “Why same-sex marriage matters” was in response to the arguments concerning same-sex marriage being heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in the previous week. Addressing the solidarity of Workers World Party with this struggle, the editorial explained: “It is not because we’ve forgotten the history and meaning of marriage, rooted in patriarchy and male supremacy, based on the subjugation of women, devised to maintain class divisions. We have not suddenly become proponents of a historically oppressive institution. Nor do we care what the state thinks of anyone’s relationships.

“But marriage in today’s advanced capitalist state comprises many legal rights and privileges, and there is a material basis to the fight to open it up. There are major income tax advantages from which couples not permitted to marry are barred. Social Security survivor payments go only to heterosexual spouses. Bosses that provide medical benefits to straight employees’ spouses do not have to provide them to same-sex partners. …

“This is a class issue. This is about workers winning some rights. And, although it should go without saying, we’ll say it: When any workers win an advance in their rights, it strengthens the whole struggle of the working class and the oppressed. It builds unity, breaks down artificial barriers within the class, leaves the bosses with one less tool with which to leverage divisions among workers. At the same time, it signals that advances can be won. That even at a time like this, when the bosses and politicians are bulldozing rights and cutting programs, even now we can wring some concessions out of them.”

Love as the basis of human solidarity

Among the nonsexual expressions of human love, unarguably the most important is the love that adults feel for children. Fidel Castro was once challenged by an arrogant bourgeois journalist about the existence of specially privileged people within revolutionary Cuban society. Fidel’s response was immediate and constituted an ideological body blow to the dumbfounded representative of U.S. imperialism: “Yes, we have a specially privileged group here. Our children!”

Decadent, late-stage capitalism is incapable of even approximating the situation in socialist Cuba, where the needs of children are the number one priority, where every child has a safe and secure home, is cared for, loved and offered every opportunity for personal growth and development.

Any Marxist commentary on love as a basic human emotion would be incomplete without a mention of its role in the context of the global struggle for a more just and humane world. What is the profound human solidarity shown by socialist and communist revolutionaries if not a supreme expression of the human capacity for feeling and expressing love?

In the book “Fidel and Religion: Fidel Castro in Conversation with Frei Betto on Marxism and Liberation Theology,” Brazilian liberation theologist Betto asks, “Comandante, is love a revolutionary requirement?”

Castro replies: “If we go back to the first great social revolution — not the first socialist revolution, but the first great social revolution in the last few centuries: the French revolution — it had a three-word slogan: liberty, equality, fraternity. Liberty … was interpreted in a restricted way. It meant liberty for the bourgeoisie, for the whites; it didn’t mean liberty for the African slaves. After they’d spread their ideas throughout the world, the French revolutionaries even sent armies to Haiti to crush the rebellion of the slaves who wanted liberty. After the independence of the United States, which had taken place before that, the slavery of Africans continued, as did the extermination of the Native Americans and all the other atrocities.

“Therefore, the French revolution confined itself to liberty for the bourgeoisie and whites, and there was no equality at all, no matter how much philosophizing or talk there was about alleged equality in a society that was divided into classes. … I believe that only now, with socialism, can the concept of true liberty — full liberty — equality, and fraternity exist. I think that the precept of loving thy neighbor, of which the church speaks, is very concretely applied and implemented in the human equality, fraternity and solidarity upheld by socialism and in the internationalist spirit.

“I believe that the fact that Cubans go to work in other lands as teachers, doctors, engineers, technicians and skilled workers and that tens of thousands — hundreds of thousands — are ready to do this under the most difficult conditions and at times at the cost of their lives, thus showing a supreme spirit of solidarity in loyalty to their principles, expresses the practical application of their respect, consideration and love for their fellow human beings.” (Melbourne, Australia: Ocean Press,2006, pp. 256-257)