In capitalist society, the family structure is tied to the entire power structure controlling this society. This may be true of any social arrangement at any stage of its historical evolution, because (as Kwame Ture taught) societies evolve from smaller social aggregates to larger social aggregates: from the family, to the clan, to the village, to the nation, to the continent. However, here we will not attempt to trace the development of the bourgeois family structure back to its patriarchal roots, but focus instead on present conditions (while of course noting that the present is always connected to the past).
Capitalism inevitably leads to the creation of a dysfunctional society. Any society in which the few enjoy the fruits of the labor performed by the majority, gaining more riches and more power for themselves by imposing greater amounts of exploitation and violence on the many, is going to be dysfunctional. Obviously, in one sense, capitalist society is highly functional, if we think of its function as creating more profits through more oppression. A smoothly functioning capitalist society is a society which achieves its objectives of increasing profits by increasing its damage to the people whose labor and lives create these profits. At the same time, people who are repressed will always resist, and this resistance may have the effect of throwing a wrench into the capitalist machine, threatening its ability to grow richer off their repression– and so the machine malfunctions.
The contradictory nature of capitalist society which– like any society– is part of the natural world, and evolves according to the same universal laws, leads us to recognize that whenever this society becomes more dysfunctional, the family structure, as a basic unit of society, also becomes dysfunctional. The same logic can be applied to the destructive capacity of a nation and its ruling class: as the institutions under the control of the rulers (for example, the U.S. military, the police, the immigration agents) show greater levels of violence, their violence in the larger power structure of society will be reflected in more frequent and deadlier outbursts of violence in the smaller units (such as the violence of white cisgender men who are part of the colonizing classes). Consequently, you will recognize or directly experience more amounts of gun violence, mass shootings at schools and malls, violence against mosques, and the rise of white supremacist organizations and men’s rights activists (sometimes masquerading as scholars and experts on psychology and culture at the University of Toronto).
Capitalism is required to grow more and more violent because this type of system requires the masses to create greater and greater profits for the few at the top. And one of the effects of this increasing violence in the total structure of capitalist society is increasing dysfunction in the family structure: capitalism literally tears families apart. However, families are torn apart by capitalism in relation to their specific historical and cultural situation within its overall power structure. For example, African families– Black families– may be torn apart by globalization, “white flight” to the suburbs (destroying the tax revenue for urban centers), then re-gentrification (destroying their ability to pay higher property taxes), mass incarceration (punishment for being impoverished by neoliberal policies), “The War on Drugs,” and greater amounts of police violence. Latinx families may experience many of these same effects of increasing violence by the capitalist system, whose main objective is to increase profits for the white-controlled ruling class. Indigenous peoples trapped on reservations, in food deserts with poisoned water, have their own experiences of increasing dysfunction to their national or tribal structures, as these are destroyed by the volatility in the larger power structure’s ability to function.
European colonizers in North America and Hawaii (or whites) experience our own increasing dysfunction as units (class, family, individual) within the white colonial nation or identity. Even as we enjoy many of the benefits of colonial violence by the capitalist state, such as more access to education, jobs, housing and healthcare, while colonized Africans and Indigenous peoples are being wiped out by this white supremacist hierarchy of power, it’s also true that European colonizers face greater amounts of exploitation and marginalization, particularly if we are not wealthy, or cisgender, or men.
Part of the reason for the increasing volatility in the larger institutions and structures of capitalist society, whose effects are experienced right down to the level of the individual within their class, is that the people who face the greatest amount of imperialist violence– in a global system of power– are resisting more and more on a daily basis, just to survive, and to avert their own extinction. This increasing resistance from the powerless puts a massive strain on the entire international system of capitalist power. And this extra pressure on the overall system, which historically has benefited white colonizers, also negatively affects our family structure, because the white family is so closely connected to the colonial power structure, and it is through this connection that we gain access to resources. This access to resources– which means access to power, to status, to privilege– shapes our identity (as a nation, a class, a family) and our sense of stability that we enjoy as individual members of the traditional European family: the “nuclear family” of the white colonizer, once stable when colonized peoples were more thoroughly subjugated by the global capitalist system, is now threatened, its elements becoming anarchic, disjointed and out of alignment, disintegrating as capitalism faces disintegration through the very forces it unleashed for its own imposed order.
What happens next? Whites react, violently. It is through violence that we gained “law and order” for ourselves– greater wealth, greater power– and so we turn to the gun (figuratively or literally) yet again. An organized effort is made by reactionaries to “strengthen families” and to re-establish the “nuclear family” (Dad, Mom, boy, girl, dog, two car garage, evenly cut grass, morning paper). However, capitalist society has already evolved– through its internal contradictions– beyond the point where the old family structure can be renewed just by placing a politically organized and ideological “focus on the family”: there is no going back.
So now what happens? White people react again, except now we turn against each other: sibling versus sibling, parent versus child, as the white family structure (which is connected to the larger power structure of capitalist society experiencing greater volatility and reacting to this upheaval through its own violence) is ripped apart. Human connections are shredded. Trust dissolves. Soon, cisgender family members inflict damage on transgender family members, reflecting the expanding transphobic violence of the larger capitalist power structure (not that capitalism and the white family structure have ever been anything but transphobic and misogynistic). But the contradictions of capitalist society are exposed more and more on a daily basis, and these dividing lines go straight through families, workplaces, schools, churches (and mosques). The threads of a patriarchal, bourgeois and colonial society, held together by the oppressive and violent forces of reaction to resistance, are ripped out, one by one, torn to pieces, by these very same forces as the resistance gains strength.
The white family in the United States and Canada– two settler colonies of Europe whose wealth and power and ability to exist at all are based on genocide and capitalist exploitation– enjoys its sense of identity and structure only through its connection to the larger national and cultural identity and structure of these states. Whenever the power of these nation-states, and the power of the ruling class which created these states in their own interests for the purpose of repressing all classes below them, is under strain, and threatened by the resisting forces below, the fabric of the white family (as a political, economic and social unit of European colonial rule) is torn to shreds, disfigured, and mangled.
Soon it becomes “every man for himself”– or “every woman” or “every nonbinary person.” Individualism reigns. Unable to gain sustenance from the greater units of identity, status and power– as a people, a community, a family– the white colonizer goes deeper within, as far as their wealth can take them, initiating a journey of self-discovery, in a frantic attempt to experience some sort of spiritual or sensual rejuvenation of their excommunicated identity. However, what the individual white colonizer finds, at the end of the tunnel into the self, is that they cannot escape the chaotic conditions of bourgeois society which have given shape to their identity, even as they continue to dig and search, scratching at the ground occupied by colonial genocide.
What is the way out? Revolution. Socialism. Decolonization. And abolition of the white supremacist European nation-state, whose destructive power– in order to remain in power– has created chaos in every structure under its abusive control, from the class, to the family, to the one person: you.