Family Abolition:
Capitalism and
the Communizing of Care

Book cover for Family Abolition

For some of us, the family is a source of love and support. But for many others, the family is a place of private horror, coercion and personal domination. In capitalist society, the private family carries the impossible demands of interpersonal care and social reproduc- tive labor. Can we imagine a different future?

In Family Abolition, author M.E. O’Brien uncovers the history of struggles to create radical alternatives to the private family. O’Brien traces the changing family politics of racial capitalism in the industrial cities of Europe and in the slave plantations and settler frontier of North America, explaining the rise and fall of the housewife-based family form. From early Marxists to Black and queer insurrectionists to today’s mass protest movements, O’Brien finds revolutionaries seeking better ways of loving, caring, and living. Family Abolition takes us through the past and present of family politics into a speculative future of the commune, imagining how care could be organized in a free society.

M.E. O’Brien writes on gender and communist theory. She co-edits two magazines, Pinko, on gay communism, and Parapraxis, on psychoanalytic theory and politics. She is co-author of the novel Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052–2072, and tweets @genderhorizon.


‘An accessibly written distillation of two centuries worth of reproductive class struggle; a revived vision of revolutionary ‘beloved community’ for an age of climate catastrophe and permanent pandemics. Spread this book around, and start communizing care!’
– Sophie Lewis, author of ‘Abolish the Family’

‘Bringing impressive erudition to a vast subject, O’Brien takes a debate to new frontiers. From Oaxaca to Minneapolis, Family Abolitionshows ‘insurgent reproduction’ preparing a world of ‘red love’.’- Peter Drucker, author of ‘Warped: Gay Normality and Queer Anticapitalism’

‘A bracing account of the crisis of the family and an important history of struggles to transcend it. O’Brien is a sensitive and astute guide to the material realities and the impossible ideal of the family–that site of dependency and love, intimacy and violence, coercion and care. This is an essential guide to the critique of the family form and a radical vision of care beyond it.’
– Katrina Forrester, Associate Professor of Social Sciences, Harvard University

‘M. E. O’Brien has gifted us a stunningly urgent and timely book that not only sustains our “freedom dreaming”, but also, our concrete efforts at enacting a world where the concept and mechanism of family does not have to be complicated by coercion, domination, and the privatization that creates untenable labor conditions. Through an exhilaratingly accessible narrative, O’Brien moves effortlessly between history, current sociopolitical specificities, and future possibilities to show that communized care is not a far-off fantasy, but rather, a vibrant necessity for current day life-making.’
– Lara Sheehi, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology, George Washington University

‘An important work of queer theory which examines family abolition from a generative – not punitive – mindset, asking how can we create a future where we all receive the essential care that is currently doled out only to some of us by the crapshoot lottery of birth?’
– Hugh Ryan, author of ‘When Brooklyn Was Queer’

‘Incisively traces the warps and strictures of our embattled history and culture, unleashing a searing yet hopeful paean towards a different set of possibilities. A precious book for anyone trying to understand our current crises and how to transform ourselves and our communities towards justice and wholeness for all.’
– Hannah Baer, author of ‘Trans Girl Suicide Museum’

‘Compact but expansive, ‘Family Abolition’ is an incisive work of history, theory, and imagination. O’Brien locates family abolition as an insurgent tradition deep within revolutionary movements around the world. It is an inspired call to action and a call to community: Come, let us abolish the family–together.’
– Dan Berger, author of ‘Stayed on Freedom: The Long History of Black Power Through One Family’s Journey’

‘An immensely useful book that will help us not just understand the violence of gender and family relations, but also take action to establish new methods of caring for one another and building survivable social relations… A tool for transformation, skillfully drawing on insurgent histories and contemporary struggles to increase our capacity to build new ways of being together.’
– Dean Spade, author of ‘Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next)’

‘A vision for the future that draws on insights from both the history of the workers’ and black liberation movements, and contemporary struggles worldwide. Both meticulous in its historical account of insurrectionary moments (that unsettled our assumptions about how to care for one another). And daring in providing a strategy for replacing private households with “beloved community”, founded around Red Love. Highly recommended to anyone committed to both care and revolt, or bored of household chores.’
– Jules Gleeson, writer, comedian, historian, co-editor of ‘Transgender Marxism’

‘An incisive case for the transformative power of collective freeing ourselves from the invasion of kinship and care by capitalist social relations, state-mandated gender and sexuality, and racist hierarchies.’
– Jules Gill-Peterson, author of ‘Histories of the Transgender Child’

‘The family as we know it is a limitation to emancipation and imagination. ‘Family Abolition’ invites us to think about how community and care could be organized otherwise. It draws together the lessons from centuries of struggle to free the needs of life from the necessities imposed by state and capital.’
– McKenzie Wark, Professor of Media and Culture, Eugene Lang College

‘Shedding light on carceral, fascist logics that rule the institution of the nuclear family, this is a profound excavation of the family abolition debates of the 20th century. O’Brien’s approach is urgently necessary in our political moment.’
– Rosie Stockton, Gender Studies, University of California

Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052-2072

By M. E. O’Brien & Eman Abdelhadi — Common Notions — August 2022

See More

Family Abolition: Capitalism and the Communizing of Care

By M. E. O’Brien — Pluto Press — June 2023