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Bury Class Society Before It Buries Us All: Eleanor Burke Leacock’s Vision for a Marxist Feminist Anthropology

Eleanor Burke Leacock

Eleanor Burke Leacock. Credit: Christine Ward Gailey, “Eleanor Burke Leacock and Historical Transformations of Gender: Beyond Timeless Patriarchy,” May 24, 2021.

Ahmed Kanna is a Marxist anthropologist and activist based in Oakland, California. He wishes to thank Theresa Hammond for offering thoughtful feedback on an earlier draft of the article.

During my twenty-plus years of teaching undergraduate anthropology, mostly at an introductory level, one recurrent theme in student questions particularly stumped me. If, as anthropology taught, the current status quo of heteronormative patriarchy in the United States and most other societies was not part of human nature, that it was a historically contingent development, then what was its origin? Were and are there cultures that, unlike our own, were gender egalitarian? And how did we get here? My graduate school training during the early to middle aughts had not equipped me for such profound questions. We focused instead on what Michel Foucault would have called the “micropolitics” of gender and sexuality and, with Foucault and like-minded thinkers, we were taught to question and critique the naturalization of heteropatriarchy and, indeed, all categories of “human nature.” We were, rightly, taught to see the destructive effects of normalizing discourses—violence, otherizing, positioning the otherized as “deviant”—but we did not develop a coherent idea of what the material bases were for these practices. It is into all these areas that Eleanor Burke Leacock’s work intervenes. Her most well-known work, Myths of Male Dominance, which just celebrated forty years since its publication by Monthly Review Press, particularly provides a rigorous materialist account of the origins and historico-social development of modern heteropatriarchy.1

Leacock (1922–87) taught that transhistorical, universal male dominance is a myth, not a fact. Writing during the grimmest period of Cold War reaction, Leacock put forward a critique of mainstream U.S. ideology, which took for granted the idea that there were only two genders, in binary opposition to each other, and that these were the direct product of so-called male and female nature. Social scientists of the day, not least anthropologists, for the most part aimed to “prove” the scientific “truth” of these claims. It was no accident that the myth of male dominance, Leacock’s critical target, was also the reigning ideology of the Cold War U.S. state, which saw any progressive challenge to white, cisgender, heterosexual male domination as a communist plot.2

Leacock’s Myths, which collects and synthesizes a lifetime of feminist and Marxist intellectual and political work, is a broadside against this ideology. Compared to even the most politically engaged, critical anthropological writing of the succeeding decades, Myths is remarkably clear-eyed, invigorating, and radical. Its core insights and materialist method remain fresh and a source of inspiration for new paths in anthropological work. In particular, it is a life raft for anthropologists and other social scientists who struggle to reconcile scientific rigor with a commitment to revolutionary socialist politics.

A Committed Radical Anthropologist

Leacock’s understanding of the fallacy of universal male dominance and female passivity has a twofold basis: a personal basis and a scientific one.3 While a student at Radcliffe, a male anthropology professor told her and her fellow students that women would never get jobs in anthropology. As a graduate student at Barnard, she was unable to secure a teaching assistantship because her professor refused to hire women. Her 1952 Columbia dissertation, she was told, was “unpublishable”—no reason given—and it took her eleven more years to secure her first full-time job teaching anthropology.4

Despite the power of her contribution, Leacock has been surprisingly ignored in accounts of Marxist feminism and, perhaps less surprisingly, in the history and pedagogy of her chosen discipline of anthropology.5 For example, Susan Ferguson and David McNally’s thoughtful and important history of socialist and Marxist feminism, with which they introduce the new edition of Lise Vogel’s Marxism and the Oppression of Women, does not mention Leacock’s work.6 Vogel’s book, a pioneering text in social reproduction theory and perhaps the most important contribution to theory in contemporary Marxist feminism, likewise—with the exception of a single footnote—ignores Leacock.7

With respect to anthropology, this lacuna is, arguably, more predictable. Until about thirty years ago, Leacock’s work was recognized by a radical current of feminist, antiracist, and left-wing scholars in the discipline.8 But by the mid–1990s, Marxist and other politically radical approaches began to fade and, with them, the memory of Leacock’s work. This not only shows that scholars with radical politics have always faced strong headwinds from the deeply heteropatriarchal and liberal mainstream of anthropology, but it also reflects the shadow of the “long Cold War” that continues to shape anthropological cultural theory today. As anthropologist David Price has written, the “specter of McCarthyism hung over American anthropologists as they formulated theories of culture and studied various peoples around the world. This specter limited the questions they asked and answered.”9 As Leacock wrote in 1985, “until the 1960s it was virtually impossible for an academic to discuss Marxism as such.”10 Although not officially a member of the Communist Party, Leacock was a committed antiracist, antifascist, and Marxist anthropologist, and published a heterodox (from the Communist Party’s perspective) but popular introduction to Frederick Engels’s Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State for the party press. As a result of her “suspicious” politics, the Office of War Information denied her a security clearance during the Second World War and the Federal Bureau of Investigation kept a file on her, which remained under lock and key up to the early 2000s. The shadow of the Cold War is a long one. “Even today,” writes Price, “there continues to be a hesitancy to acknowledge the impact of Socialism or Communism on the development of American anthropology.”11

Leacock wrote that the personal is also political, but not in the stereotyped, trivializing ways promoted by antifeminist ideology, both during and since her time. When Leacock refers to the political, she is talking about the mutually enriching relationship between scientific work and revolutionary socialist practice, in short, praxis. She describes her anger at doing the “triple duty” of motherhood, professional activity, and radical political work, at the practical logistical hindrances to this work and the “marginal income I can with reason attribute to my sex.”12 The work of the later Margaret Mead—an erstwhile teacher and mentor—theoretically justifying Cold War U.S. heteropatriarchy added to this sense of anger.

Leacock’s academic work was always closely tied to her political work. Most of the chapters in Myths, she noted, were composed in response to the heightened struggles for women’s liberation in the 1960s and ’70s and to attacks on Black and working-class youth under the rubric of the “culture of poverty.” Before that, she had worked on issues as wide ranging as the impacts of capitalist society on mental health, in support of antigentrification and antiracist community organizing in a New Jersey suburb, and on a comparative study of classroom dynamics in Black, white, and middle- and low-income neighborhoods. She describes this work as keeping her feet on the ground, “both theoretically and personally.” She wrote: “My involvement in battles for equal schooling would not let me forget, as academics tend to do (if they ever learned it in the first place), that oppression and exploitation by sex, race, and class are fundamental in the contemporary world, and that theories that ignore this reality are meaningless if not downright destructive.”13

Leacock’s retrospective of her women mentors makes up one of the more moving parts of Myths. The New York anthropology community, and the Columbia University department founded by Franz Boas in particular, counted significantly more women faculty than other institutions of the time, admittedly a low bar. This offered graduate students like Leacock the chance to work with some of the discipline’s early luminaries, scholars such as Ruth Benedict, Marian Smith, Gene Weltfish, Gladys Reichard, and Margaret Mead. Yet, initially, Leacock saw little connection between working with such scholars and her own emerging critique of theories justifying women’s subordination. For the most part, she was deeply skeptical of their “historical particularism,” a theory of culture they shared with most of their male colleagues, which disdained the social evolutionism of Lewis Henry Morgan and Engels.14 Leacock would, by contrast, find much value in the works of these nineteenth-century writers.

Although she remained committed to Marxism, her views on her women professors’ influence changed and she began to see how transformative their pedagogy was. This included Benedict’s “warm humanism” and care for students, the way she and Reichard chose course materials that challenged sex-role stereotypes, and the way that, through her disregard for status, Mead contradicted the “hierarchical pattern that plagues the academic world.” But it was Weltfish to whom she felt closest. Weltfish was the most radical and politically engaged of the group. It was in her class on Africa that Leacock first heard colonialism “recognized as a basic historical reality in the lives of the people anthropologists study.” As a mentor and dissertation reader, she warned Leacock to avoid the trap of writing about the colonized as merely passive victims, encouraging her to see her interlocutors and their ancestors as agentive, as historical actors. Leacock’s remembrance of Weltfish must rank as one of the more poignant comments made by a student about a teacher. Weltfish, she writes, inspired students to “retain the attitude toward learning that many young people lose: that interesting as knowledge about society may be in its own right, it is meaningless if not made available as a tool, or a weapon, in the hands of people who are trying to wrest control over their lives from people in power, and to move toward a cooperative and peaceful world.”15

Settler Colonialism and Women’s Oppression

Leacock made critical interventions into theory, primarily against ahistorical theories of gender, including gender roles, “essential masculinity and femininity,” and the like, which she saw as ideological supports of capitalism and colonialism. Such ahistorical approaches were embodied, during her lifetime, in sociobiology, neo-Freudianism, and the structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss. While structuralism and neo-Freudianism have long passed out of fashion, newer iterations of sociobiology unfortunately continue to play a prominent role as ideological justifications not just for the political right wing, but also for capitalism more generally.16 Politically, Leacock continued to see Marxist social science as a weapon in the hands of workers and the oppressed, as evidenced by her writings and talks not only for academic audiences, but also for women’s movement activists and workers. An example is her scathing critique of Mead, published in the Communist Party’s Daily Worker during the height of postwar McCarthyism. The article is not only a clear-eyed debunking of biological essentialism and Cold War liberalism in anthropology, but also an act of courage, centering political principle over any considerations of career or respectability. Such theoretical and political interventions are, in turn, based on detailed empirical and literary research, both in the form of her own ethnographic work and of wide-ranging readings of ethnographic and historical documents on Indigenous peoples across the world.

Data from Leacock’s historical and ethnographic research with the Innu from Northeast Canada along with her vast survey of ethnographic literature on other Indigenous cultures strongly support the contention that women across many cultures once enjoyed great authority and equality with men, which were later lost. The changes in Innu society brought about by colonialism and capitalist primary accumulation are a case in point.

Prior to colonialism and its primary form of capitalist accumulation—the fur trade—Innu and other Indigenous peoples of Northern and Eastern Canada owned land collectively. Innu people of all genders were equal in status, of which French Jesuit missionaries strongly disapproved. Innu women’s equality and autonomy were based on the political economy of pre-colonial Innu society and continued well into the late nineteenth century: they retained the products of their own labor, such as clothing, shelter, and canoe coverings. These products were not “alienated.” Multifamily groups whose residence pattern tended to be matrilocal lived collectively as winter units and linked up with parallel groups with whom they allied during times of need. They hunted and foraged. In other words, their economic activities were organized around use value.17

Innu decision-making was not centralized. It was, to the contrary, dispersed, and Innu society was characterized by strong autonomy, generosity, and cooperation. “People made decisions about activities for which they were responsible.” At the same time, “total interdependence was inseparable from real autonomy.” The Innu people had no “leaders” and their culture was non-hierarchical. While colonial authorities imagined them to have “chiefs”—the missionary records refer to some men using this term—in fact, such men were people “of influence and rhetorical ability,” a status that many Innu women shared but was ignored by colonists.18

As colonialism imposed the logic of exchange on their hunting activities through the fur trade, the Innu became increasingly dependent on commodities. Individually owned traplines began to replace collective hunting for use. Fur trapping came to supersede all other economic activities and, in turn, became an increasingly male occupation. Men’s roles transformed into those of “breadwinners,” bringing hierarchy into the sexual division of labor (which always existed but was, before this, not unequal in terms of status). Flexible multifamily groups were broken up into smaller units resembling the nuclear family. Children, whose upbringing was always a collective responsibility—a practice of which the Jesuits again disapproved—became more and more the responsibility of nuclear families, which in turn became a means of maintaining and transmitting property. Having one’s “own” son inherit the trapline increasingly took a central place in Innu family life.19

The missionaries whom the French authorities sent to “civilize” the Innu strongly disapproved of male-female equality and Innu women’s independence and sexual freedom. They lectured the men about the importance of hierarchy, women’s “obedience,” and corporal punishment. Beginning in the first half of the seventeenth century, the French Jesuits began conceptualizing the “civilizing mission” as based on four elements: (1) permanent settlement on land and institutionalization of formal chiefly authority; (2) introduction of the principle of punishment; (3) “education” of Innu children, emphasizing corporal punishment and the removal of children from their communities for schooling; (4) introduction of a European family structure centered on “male authority, female fidelity, and the elimination of the right to divorce.” For the Jesuits, Innu values and practices of patience, collective care, and rejection of corporal punishment were inherently “uncivilized.” Leacock’s dissertation research on the Innu was in direct opposition to the Cold War and biological essentialist contemporary discourses on gender, themes that she would later develop in her sustained engagement with the proto-anthropologist Morgan.20

Morgan’s Evolutionism and the Critique of Academic and Cold War Liberalism

In Leacock’s introduction to the 1974 reissue of Morgan’s Ancient Society, there is an intriguing subtext that can help clarify both the political stakes of her intervention into anthropology and the recuperation of what she saw as useful aspects of social evolutionism, anticipating a debate that was reemerging in anthropological circles in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

It is worth taking a moment to summarize Morgan’s arguments here, arguments that would go on to deeply influence both Karl Marx and Engels. To put it simply, according to Morgan, humans invent “successively more efficient methods of production,” thereby moving through successive historical stages of development. In turn, major social, political, and economic institutions develop on the basis of this underlying process. To frame his theory, Morgan deployed the notion of the “unity of mankind,” by which he referred to the emergence in all human cultures of conscious control over nature. Categories of thought related to this are, according to him, universal.21

While rejecting Morgan’s terminology for these stages and the idealism implicit in the term “unity of mankind,” Leacock found value in his analysis of the emergence of the monogamous nuclear family as a historical and fundamentally economic (class) development. The evolution of property in cattle and land, Morgan showed, led to the practice by men of transmitting that property to “their own” children. Important for understanding this is the concept of the gens, central to Morgan, Engels, and Marx. This term is more commonly referred to as the clan, (generally) a type of social and political organization of societies that have adopted agriculture and settlement, but have eschewed the state as a form of political organization. It is, according to Morgan, within “gentilic societies” that patrilineality and, subsequently, monogamy, first develop. Leacock approvingly quotes Morgan here: “it is impossible to overestimate the influence of property in the civilization of mankind.”22

Here, Leacock cautions against a formalist approach in cross-cultural comparison, emphasizing, as always, the necessity of attending to the material, class context in which social institutions are situated. Specifically, patrilineal elements in clan societies differ from patrilineality in state-class societies. “In class structured societies, direct power of one individual over another becomes possible in a way that is foreign to collective society. The patriarchal family, in which an individual male could have complete control over the household of wives, children, and servants or slaves, who could be virtually isolated from the larger society, has no parallel in the prepolitical world.”23

By the early 1980s, some anthropologists, particularly those engaged with feminism, were beginning to rediscover both Morgan and Marx. What appealed to this new generation was the attempt to synthesize into one broad framework the vast diversity of human cultures and the reframing of the political stakes of scholarship implicit through “a theory of history which can enable humanity’s more rational control of its social life.” Leacock defends Morgan against critiques that his framework was mechanical and unilinear, taking aim at “today’s pragmatic climate” that is hostile to attempts to discover “social laws.” This climate “would lead one to assume that ‘laws’ should describe sequences of events in all their intricacy, that they should repeat reality in all its superficial expressions, rather than stating underlying processes that might appear to be contradicted by a thousand embroideries of history. To pass the test of validity, a law must cut through superficialities, and reveal underlying but hidden causal connectives. It must explain fundamental relationships that recur so consistently that they cannot be fortuitous.”24

Exemplary of the “pragmatic” approach were Boas and his followers, which is to say, the mainstream of anthropology in the United States. From this perspective, Morgan’s Ancient Society became a “model of what not to do.” Robert Lowie’s critique of Morgan is taken for granted even today, so much so that alternatives in practice are almost unthinkable. According to Lowie, the attempt to discover processes underlying the history of all societies was quixotic. Human cultures are far too diverse and their specificities far outweigh what may appear to unify them. “Further and more important, it was maintained that the economic adaptation of a society in no sense serves as a foundation for other institutions.” According to these “historical particularists,” all societies had “classes” and “any type of social or political superstructure could be related to any type of economy.”25

Importantly, other Marxist feminists, most prominently Vogel, have contested this positive reappraisal of Morgan and of Engels’s Origin. Vogel points to Morgan’s “crude materialism” and technological determinism as particularly lamentable. These were aspects of Ancient Society that Engels tended to uncritically adopt, and Vogel sees these as fatal flaws both of Ancient Society and Origin, considering the latter perhaps Engels’s weakest major text.26

With the benefit of hindsight with respect to developments in feminist, gender, and anthropological theory over the past three decades, it is easy to see that Vogel is on more solid theoretical ground here. But it is equally important to note that Leacock’s more positive reading both of Morgan and Engels at no point indicates an uncritical attitude to the flaws Vogel has identified. Leacock focuses instead on the two nineteenth-century writers’ attempts to discern patterns beneath the heterogeneity of cross-cultural social institutions as well as their insistence that there exists no “family as such,” only specific kinds of families, products of material and class histories. It was a necessary and progressive intervention in the earlier Cold War context in which Leacock was writing, one which scholars such as Vogel would go on to greatly nuance. Moreover, the deeply dialectical, intersectional socialist spirit that informs so much of Myths sits in interesting tension with the mechanical materialism both of Morgan and Engels’s Origin, and is the aspect of Myths that still profoundly resonates with developments in anthropology after Leacock’s time, as well as with present-day debates both in anthropology and in class and social struggles.

By the time Leacock’s introduction was published, what was at stake was the reemergence of a dialectical-materialist, or Marxist, analysis in cultural anthropology. This occurred after decades of Cold War repression, and it would be all too brief. In the years shortly following the publication of Myths, anthropological theory would fall under a seemingly new ideological hegemony, represented by postmodernist approaches. These were, in part, the very kind of “pragmatic” theories criticized by Leacock: hostile to any talk of “underlying processes” or social laws, bedazzled by the seeming incommensurable diversity of human cultures. Radical critiques of society, which of necessity must go to foundations, were marginalized. Postmodern approaches were thus exceedingly nonthreatening to the neoliberal juggernaut, but they were also, in part, a response to the mechanical and economic determinism that prevailed in much of the socialist movement of the time. By the 1990s, as Ferguson and McNally point out, both feminist academics and activists had again turned away from Marxism, as poststructuralism and identity politics of various kinds seemed more capable of addressing the movement’s conundrums and struggles.27

Dialectical Materialism

Leacock’s Marxism, which is thoroughly dialectical, rejects the separation of gender and racial oppression from class exploitation. Her approach is thus a rejection of economic determinism and the ethnocentrism of influential currents within the Marxism of her time and of the present day. Her thesis in Myths is thus in harmony with the emerging contemporary socialist-feminist current that in the 1970s began to take to task such economic determinism. In the introduction to Myths, Leacock wrote that the “theoretical separation of class exploitation from other forms of oppression contributed to the tragic undermining of a revolutionary socialist movement in the United States following World War II.… To pit national or racial oppression against class exploitation is a sophomoric sociological enterprise; it is not Marxist analysis.”28

What then, is the Marxist analysis that Leacock advances? Leacock’s Marxism was, as mentioned, rigorously dialectical, always insistent that social scientists and activists must attend to the totality of oppressions experienced by individuals under capitalism: classed, racialized, gendered, and so on. Indeed, different forms of oppression have distinct historical roots. For example, compared to racial oppression, gender oppression “goes further back, not just to the rise of capitalist class relations, but to the origins of class itself.”29 Leacock’s dialectical approach is clearest in her introduction, included in the final section of Myths, to the 1972 Communist Party press edition of Engels’s Origin.

Of particular interest to Leacock is Engels’s demystification of the role of the monogamous family in class society. In Origin, Engels agitated for the abolition of the monogamous family as the basic economic unit of society, which, he argued, would bring women into “public industry,” in turn propelling women’s liberation, the point being that the abolition of the family depends on the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production. Household work would be transformed into a “social industry” and the care and education of children would become a public function, with all of society caring for one another. Engels predicted that a new generation of liberated, autonomous women would then emerge. Leacock’s comment on this argument is telling and indicates her intersectional updating of Engels’s insight: It “must be added that the destruction of the family as an economic unit does not automatically follow with the establishment of socialism, but rather is one of the goals to be fought for as central to the transition to communism.”30

Engels’s insistence on the abolition of the monogamous family is still strategically central, wrote Leacock, and it clarifies who the historical agent is that will bring about socialism: the working class. For Leacock, childbearing in and of itself does not generate oppression, as is sometimes argued by influential contemporary feminist currents; rather, it is the monogamous family and its central economic role in class society. Understanding this can help clarify how working-class women’s struggles against economic exploitation and for increased social support in housing, schools, and welfare—what would soon be called struggles around social reproduction—are far more radical than the demands made by middle-class groups.31

Only a united front of struggles against oppression and working-class struggles against exploitation can, strategically, pose a revolutionary challenge to class society and bring about real transformation. “United front” means more than just “unite and fight,” a prominent slogan in the socialist movement even during the 1970s that tended to call for the decentering of particular forms of oppression in order to “unite” the working class. Quite the opposite: Leacock is in harmony with other pioneering socialists in the then emerging intersectional socialist tradition, such as her contemporaries in the Combahee River Collective.32 The united front strategy advanced by Leacock is one that takes seriously the totality of oppressions in capitalist society, that sees fighting working-class organizations as V. I. Lenin’s socialist tribunes of the people—“able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects.”33

Concluding Thoughts

“Today,” wrote Leacock in her introduction to Myths, “there are many who recognize that it is critical to sort out true and false oppositions in joining the struggle of the world’s people to bury class society before it buries us all.”34 This passage eloquently anticipates our own present-day project to emancipate ourselves from capitalism. Moreover, from my anthropological perspective, it is also striking for its political clarity. Since the rise of anthropological postmodernism, which is, as I have suggested, in many ways an updating of the pragmatic approach criticized by Leacock, statements of keen political commitment from within our discipline are rare.

For Leacock, the stakes of anthropological analysis were far more than academic: anthropology should be both scientifically rigorous and politically committed to human emancipation. There was no contradiction for her between being a scientist and a Marxist, a scholar and a revolutionary. This kind of emancipatory and class struggle politics would soon become deeply unfashionable in U.S. cultural anthropology, but the core issues and questions she raised remain unresolved. Leacock’s contributions to Marxist feminism still reverberate in questions with which we are still grappling, both in anthropology and in socialism: What is the relationship between oppression and exploitation, what are correct approaches to intersectionality, what is the relationship between surplus value production and social reproduction? Leacock showed that colonialism, as Indigenous scholars and activists have long indicated, is not a discrete event. It continues to unfold; its oppressions of nonwhite people and workers persist and are reinvented in new rounds of primary accumulation. Myths of Male Dominance opens paths to materially ground our thinking on these issues. By contrasting the egalitarian alternatives of Indigenous cultures with the hierarchical, violent European ones that colonized them, Myths also advanced critiques of what is now referred to as “white feminism.” Above all, while other Marxist feminists such as Margaret Benston, Silvia Federici, and Vogel have addressed women’s oppression under capitalism, Leacock offers a materialist response to the question that such work presupposes—namely, what are the origins of gender oppression?35

Leacock’s Marxism also represents, at least in anthropology, a path briefly taken but ultimately abandoned. It would be feminists in other disciplines, such as history, sociology, and philosophy, who would attempt a synthesis of Marxism and feminism that avoided the pitfalls both of particularism and economic determinism.36 By and large, for mainstream anthropology, while Marxism is no longer as stigmatized as it was during the Cold War, it represents, at best, one thread of many that scholars might weave into their eclectic methodology. At worst, Marxism is seen as either unfashionable or a crude form of economic reductionism. The legacy of the Cold War and the erasure of socialism and communism as important sources for anthropological inquiry persist.

The crisis tendencies of capitalism have become more and more obvious over the past decade, expressing themselves in financial crises, intensified environmental despoliation, racist police violence, accelerating hunger and devastation of communal economies across the globe, and the global COVID-19 pandemic. This has reignited an interest in the intersections between Marxist analysis and the roots and daily social articulations of oppression, and has inspired fresh, new social scientific and humanist attempts to synthesize the two. Leacock’s work brilliantly points toward paths for such a synthesis. It would not be surprising if her work is soon rediscovered by other anthropologists, a heartening prospect in dark times.


  1. Eleanor Burke Leacock, Myths of Male Dominance: Collected Essays on Women Cross-Culturally (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1981).
  2. Kristen Ghodsee, Second World, Second Sex: Socialist Women’s Activism and Global Solidarity during the Cold War (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018).
  3. Leacock, Myths, 1.
  4. Juli McLoone, “Eleanor Burke Leacock, Feminist Anthropologist,” Beyond the Reading Room (blog), University of Michigan Library, March 30, 2015.
  5. For example, while Marshall Sahlins’s critique of sociobiology is still widely acknowledged and studied in graduate programs, Leacock’s contemporary, equally trenchant critiques of the same have been ignored. Sahlins’s book on sociobiology is justly considered a classic of radical politics and critique within anthropology, but is missing the powerful feminist framework provided by Leacock’s work. Marshall Sahlins, The Use and Abuse of Biology: An Anthropological Critique of Sociobiology (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1976). A notable recent exception to the marginalization of Leacock is Christine Ward Gailey’s “Eleanor Burke Leacock and Transformations of Gender: Beyond Timeless Patriarchy,” American Ethnologist, May 24, 2021.
  6. Susan Ferguson and David McNally, “Capital, Labour-Power, and Gender-Relations: Introduction to the Historical Materialism Edition of Marxism and the Oppression of Women,” in Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Toward a Unitary Theory, by Lise Vogel (Chicago: Haymarket, 2013), xvii–xl.
  7. It also ignores Alexandra Kollontai, Bolshevik theoretician of women’s oppression and one of the most important Marxist feminists in history. Leacock’s work likewise goes unmentioned in a recent and important contribution, Tithi Bhattacharya, ed., Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression (London: Pluto, 2017).
  8. Constance R. Sutton, ed., From Labrador to Samoa: The Theory and Practice of Eleanor Burke Leacock (New York: Association for Feminist Anthropology/American Anthropological Association, 1993); Leith P. Mullings, “Race, Inequality and Transformation: Building on the Work of Eleanor Leacock,” Identities 1, no. 1 (1994): 123–29.
  9. David H. Price, Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 29.
  10. For example, Leacock has noted how, when discussing the impact of the fur trade and commodity production on Indigenous cultures in Canada, she “cited, not Marx as I should have, but a chance statement of the far-from-Marxist Herskovits.” Price, Threatening Anthropology, 30–31.
  11. Price, Threatening Anthropology, 30, 363n1. See also Gailey, “Eleanor Burke Leacock.”
  12. Leacock, Myths, 1.
  13. Leacock, Myths, 5–6. As anthropologist Susan D. Greenbaum has more recently shown, the ideology of the culture of poverty would continue to legitimate attacks on the poor, Black and Indigenous people, and other people of color well into the second decade of the twenty-first century. Susan D. Greenbaum, Blaming the Poor: The Long Shadow of the Moynihan Report on Cruel Images about Poverty (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015).
  14. Leacock, Myths, 8–9.
  15. Leacock, Myths, 11–12.
  16. See the following incisive critiques of contemporary iterations of sociobiology: Pankaj Mehta, “There’s a Gene for That,” Jacobin, January 2, 2014; Tina Sikka, “Against Twenty-First-Century Race Science,” Jacobin, June 25, 2019.
  17. Leacock, Myths, 31, 60.
  18. Leacock, Myths, 21, 34.
  19. Leacock, Myths, 37–38.
  20. Leacock, Myths, 46–47.
  21. Leacock, Myths, 89–91.
  22. Leacock, Myths, 119. This notion of property, which Leacock tends to uncritically borrow from Engels, has been criticized by Vogel. Vogel points out that Engels, surprisingly given the appearance of Origin of the Family so late in his oeuvre, saw property as objects—for example, wealth equals cattle or land—rather than as a social relation, specifically of exploitation. Vogel, Marxism and the Oppression of Women, 86.
  23. Leacock, Myths, 120. Emphasis in original.
  24. Leacock, Myths, 83–84, 86, 99.
  25. Leacock, Myths, 101.
  26. Vogel, Marxism and the Oppression of Women, 88–91, 92–93.
  27. Vogel, Marxism and the Oppression of Women, 16–17; Ferguson and McNally, “Capital, Labour-Power, and Gender-Relations,” xii.
  28. Tatiana Cozzarelli, “Class Reductionism Is Real, and It’s Coming from the Jacobin Wing of the DSA,” Left Voice, June 16, 2020; Leacock, Myths, 14–15.
  29. Leacock, Myths, 16.
  30. Leacock, Myths, 305–6. Emphasis in original.
  31. Leacock, Myths, 306–7. Leacock added that some demands being made by more middle-class groups can be productively linked to the demands of working-class women.
  32. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, ed., How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective (Chicago: Haymarket, 2017). Asad Haider has gained recognition for recently warning that the socialist approach to intersectionality advocated by the Combahee River Collective in the 1970s should not be confused with the later, neoliberal appropriation of the term. Asad Haider, Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump (New York: Verso, 2018). Welcome as Haider’s intervention is, it was Black and feminist Marxists such as Angela Davis, Leith Mullings, Martha E. Giménez, as well as Leacock and others who pioneered the later development of the Combahee River Collective’s socialist, as opposed to liberal, approach to intersectionality well before Haider.
  33. I. Lenin, What Is to Be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement (1902; repr. New York: International Publishers, 1969), 80.
  34. Leacock, Myths, 16.
  35. The Red Nation, The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth (Brooklyn: Common Notions, 2021); Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014), 25–27. See also Rafia Zakaria, Against White Feminism: Notes on Disruption (New York: Norton, 2021).
  36. For example, the contributors to the important recent Social Reproduction Theory, edited by Tithi Bhattacharya, include philosophers, political scientists, sociologists, and activists, but no anthropologists. This is, obviously, not a critique of the book, but rather an observation on Marxism’s virtual disappearance from anthropology.
2022, Volume 73, Number 09 (February 2022)
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