Posts tagged silvia federici
chelle-shock-deactivated2011012 asked: asking out of genuine curiousity: what's with the witch pictures? I love 'em!
I’m really into witches at the moment because I’m reading Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation, by Italian Autonomist Marxist Silvia Federici.
To explain the title… in The Tempest, Caliban is a native of the island the European wizard Prospero has been banished to. He is essentially Prospero’s slave, and also the son of a powerful witch. He attempts to rebel against Prospero’s rule, but fails, and then all is right with the world. (Have I mentioned that I fucking hate Shakespeare? Hold your gasps.) Most theorists of the establishment of capitalism, left or right, begin with “primitive accumulation” — i.e. the process by which the owning class get their resources/capital. Pro-capitalists, like Adam Smith, theorise it as a simple and neutral snowball effect – some people worked more and got more value from their land (or whatever), and, well, you gotta have money to make money, so here we are. Anti-capitalist thinkers and historians have shown that it wasn’t like that at all – commonly held resources were (and continue to be) ripped from the people and given to a privileged elite with the aid of state terror. This happened in Europe with the enclosure of the commons and the Reformation, and it happened in the European colonies, and it continues to happen today.
Federici notes that a lot of anti-capitalist theorists have overlooked the ways women’s resources & labour were stolen. She looks at a whole bunch of ways this happened; the devaluation of women’s work during the shift to waged labour, the exclusion of women from most waged occupations, the forcible implementation of European heteropatriarchy in colonised lands, the destruction of gender egalitarian heretical sects, the pathologisation of women’s networks and friendships, and the implementation of pro-natalist policies. I mean rigidly pro-natalist – as in, in much of late-middle-ages Europe, pregnant women had to report to the government, there were harsh penalties for miscarriage or the death of a very young child because it was suspected these could be abortion or infanticide, etc. It was these pro-natalist policies that were directly behind many witch-burnings – women midwives and herbalists helped other women conceal pregnancies, access contraception, abort fetuses, and generally control their fertility. And where midwives, or even women with strong friendships, couldn’t be made into government spies, they were made into witches and punished accordingly.
I find this creepily relevant in light of the population debates happening at the moment. A “population” debate is always essentially a debate about women’s role in society and about race/nation. Australian politicians of all stripes have made it pretty fucking clear that they see white women as baby makers and women of colour as a demographic threat. Abbott has even come out and said that he wants more Australian (read: white) women to have children and less immigration. Time for Witches for Reproductive Justice?
So definitely check this one out if you’re interested in a historical take on population debates and the role of women in capitalism. You can buy it from Autonomedia; it’s very cheap for a history book. You can also download exerpts from the book on Federici’s Wikipedia entry, of all things.