Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 05:54PM
Dr. Harriet Fraad

First published in The Socialist Webzine 2012.

The family is like religion, a heartless haven in a heartless capitalist world. Family is America’s grand romance. US candidates sport their families as evidence that they are moral and upstanding. What they claim is family is a mother, father, and children who share a home. That kind of marriage and family are invoked by the religious right as the reason for crushing the rights of homosexuals and women. Those married political men caught with their literal and figurative pants down have extra work to do to qualify as “moral” men.

Looking closely at family in the US we have to face that family is a heartless haven indeed. Over the last 10 years, 20,000 US children have been killed by their families, and that is a conservative estimate. Three quarters of them are under four years old (Petit Oct. 11, 2011). Child abuse goes down dramatically at age 6 when children leave home and family to go to school for the day. Fully 85% of child abuse is perpetrated by and in the family (Fraad  2001, 2008, 2012).

What we thought of as family, mother, father, children, is disappearing fast. The majority of US marriages end in separation or divorce. For the first time in US history the majority of women are single. The majority of people from 18-34 years, who are considered in the prime years for marriage are now single. Fully 40% of children are born outside of a marriage and the numbers are rapidly rising (Fraad 2011). These erosions of what we thought of as family have been presented by the Right as moral decay. For socialists they present an opportunity for true democracy from childhood on.

The great Marxian philosopher, Louis Althusser wrote a crucial essay and a book on family ( Althusser 1977, 1992). Althusser was concerned about the forces that shaped people’s collusion with their own subordination. He wanted to explore the forces that kept people in submission as if by their own will. Althusser showed that in addition to the external forces of repression like the police, and the army, there are three forces that teach people to police themselves and keep themselves submissive to authority. They are the family, orthodox religion, and authoritarian education. These are forces that build relationships of dominance and subordination from birth onward (Althusser 1977).  Children grow up with the absolute authority of their parents. They transfer that authority to their priests and then the state. Children grow up in a literal dictatorship. Their lives are hostages to the arbitrary decisions of one or two people with absolute authority and control over them. The qualification for the job of total controller of infant destiny is biological conception. Let’s check the logic in which the biological process of conception qualifies people to be the guardians of a totally vulnerable infant life for 24 hours a day. That holds no matter who the “parents” are, what kind violence they practice and what state they were in when the child was conceived. Looking at that, we might decide that the current dissolution of what was “the family” may create room for vast improvements in the lives of both children and parents. The social ramifications could be amazing.
What would such socialist improvement look like?

The first step would be to share the costly and difficult responsibility for infant and child care. That would spare parents and children as well. That step is taken in every other of the 21 wealthy nations in the world (UNICEF, 2010) The US is currently the only nation in the Western world to have no universal, free supports for mothers, infants, and young children.

A first step we might take would be to adopt the French system of childcare. That would be a first step since France, like the US is a nation plagued by racism and inequality of income. The US is now the most unequal of the wealthy nations. US and France now have about one quarter of their children born into poverty or near poverty. Inequality of income is the biggest determinant of child abuse and maltreatment (Wilkinsen and Pickett 2009). In the French system, quality child care centers for children from zero to two years old cost $1.00 an hour. There, children are nurtured physically and psychologically by well educated, well paid, professionals. All medical care is free. Maternity medical care is free. If a child is born to a teen aged mother or parents with histories of child abuse, a social worker is assigned to the family for the first 5 years of the child’s life. Maternity helpers are provided for all new mothers to help them with both the infant and household chores. After 3 years of age education is free and full free pediatric care is provided at child care centers. Children’s problems are spotted and addressed whether they are physical or psychological (Fraad 2008). Naturally, child abuse and death in France is far lower, actually half of what it is the US even though child poverty rates are the same (UNICEF, 2003). Since child maltreatment and family violation decreases when parents are no longer exclusively responsible for children and when children are outside of the home, a child care system of the French kind, would be a beginning.

The next step would be to create alternative institutions so that when families fail which they so often do, there could be safe kind alternatives. Alternatives to the nuclear family have been successful in the Israeli Kibbutz cooperatives (Aviezer,  et. al. 1994) and the model infants children’s orphanages in Hungary and what was The Soviet Union after World War 2 (Swain 2008, Makarenko 1951). In the case of infants, a limited number of caring, trained child nurturers, 5 or less were assigned to each infant child in order to help him/her to bond and become empowered. In the case of older children, they lived in democratic empowering communities. The results were impressive. Children grew up to be independent kind highly productive people.

Eventually people may choose to create whatever hybrid between private family and public care works for them and their children. These suggestions open a door to endless creative possibilities.The kinds of families we have are not eternal or natural and of course, they can be changed. Family is still the place where children learn how to live before they have any idea of what is happening. Patterns of relationships to oneself and society form in the unconscious child and are hard to change. As socialists we believe that people need empowerment. They should learn lessons of equality and curiosity rather than blind obedience and submission. Lives should not be shaped in dictatorships. As socialists we believe that all people deserve to be nurtured and given kind and expert care. The family we have known is failing. Of course we can do better.

Althusser, Louis. “ 1977. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” In LENIN AND PHILOSOPHY. London: New Left Books.
_____________. 1992. THE FUTURE LASTS FOREVER. New York: The New Press.
Aviezer, M., Van Uzendoorn, A., Schuengel, S. & C. 1994. “Children of the Dream Revisited: 70 Years of Collective Early Child Care in Israeli Kibbutzim.”Psychological Bulletin.V.116, N.1. American Psychological Association.
Fraad, H. 2001. “Whither (wither) the Family.” The Journal of Psychohistory, V.      28, N. 3.
_______________. 2008. “American Children-Who Cares?” The Journal of Psychohistory, V.35, N 4.
_______________. 2009. “What Happened to America?” The Journal of Psychohistory, V.37, N2.
_______________. 2011. “A Marriage in Trouble.” The Journal of Psychohistory, V.38, N.3.
_______________. 2012. “Village Abuse:It Takes a Village.” The Journal of Psychohistory, V.39, N.3.
 ________. 2011. The Great Recession and Gender Marriage Transformation

Makarenko, A. S. 1951. THE ROAD TO LIFE. V.1-3. Moscow: Foreign Languages Press.
Michael Petit: BBC News - Why child abuse is so acute in the US

Swain, J. 2008. A Warm and Gentle Welcome: Nurturing Children from Birth to Age Three—a compilation of articles from the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America’s RIE/PIKLER Working Group.
UNICEF. 2010. “The Children Left Behind: A League Table of Inequality in Child Well-being in the World’s Rich Countries.” In the INNOCENTI REPORT CARD 9.  Florence, Italy: UNICEF Research Centre.
________. 2003. “A League Table of Child Maltreatment Deaths in Rich Nations.” In the INNOCENTI REPORT CARD 5.  Florence, Italy: UNICEF Research Centre.

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