Two sides to the story

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In her powerful two-part series on the family Susan Rosenthal does an excellent job of showing how the family under capitalism is central to women’s oppression and how it puts everyone — women, men and children — under pressure.

She also shows convincingly how all the negative aspects of the family are caused by the capitalist system, and how the oppressive burdens of the family could be lifted under a socialist society.

However, I do feel that her articles are in places rather one-sided. A more dialectical view of the contradictory nature of the family under capitalism was outlined by Tony Cliff in his book, Class Struggle and Women’s Liberation. Cliff writes that “the family is both protective and oppressive, both a haven from an alienating world, and a prison.” The examples that Cliff gives of the dark side of the family are just as powerful as Rosenthal’s.

But he also writes that, given the limited alternatives, “To be outside the nuclear family, an orphan, widow or widower with no close relatives, or a middle-aged or old single man or woman, is lonelier and worse.”

I also feel that Rosenthal is over-simplifying when she talks about children having “absolutely no power and no choices”. Of course, the family structure is partially a reflection of the hierarchical nature of capitalism. But some of the rules of behaviour are for their own safety and well-being.

The contradictory nature of the family also explains why in so many families, despite the terrible pressures of life, rays of humanity and love still manage to shine through.