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Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation

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CALIBAN AND THE WITCH is a history of the body in the transition to capitalism. Moving from the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages to the witch-hunts and the rise of mechanical philosophy, Federici investigates the capitalist rationalization of social reproduction. She shows how the battle against the rebel body and the conflict between body and mind are essential con CALIBAN AND THE WITCH is a history of the body in the transition to capitalism. Moving from the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages to the witch-hunts and the rise of mechanical philosophy, Federici investigates the capitalist rationalization of social reproduction. She shows how the battle against the rebel body and the conflict between body and mind are essential conditions for the development of labor power and self-ownership, two central principles of modern social organization. "It is both a passionate work of memory recovered and a hammer of humanity's agenda." Peter Linebaugh, author of The London Hanged"


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CALIBAN AND THE WITCH is a history of the body in the transition to capitalism. Moving from the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages to the witch-hunts and the rise of mechanical philosophy, Federici investigates the capitalist rationalization of social reproduction. She shows how the battle against the rebel body and the conflict between body and mind are essential con CALIBAN AND THE WITCH is a history of the body in the transition to capitalism. Moving from the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages to the witch-hunts and the rise of mechanical philosophy, Federici investigates the capitalist rationalization of social reproduction. She shows how the battle against the rebel body and the conflict between body and mind are essential conditions for the development of labor power and self-ownership, two central principles of modern social organization. "It is both a passionate work of memory recovered and a hammer of humanity's agenda." Peter Linebaugh, author of The London Hanged"

30 review for Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation

  1. 4 out of 5

    Aonarán

    It's pretty hard for me to give a book five stars and I'm tempted to give that to Caliban. I recently read this with some of my friends in a reading group and not only really enjoyed it, but it made me rethink a number of concepts (primarily feminist ones) that I had earlier written off, as well as introduced me entirely new ones. I had tried to read this five or six years ago but stopped since the language was too complicated for me. Reading it again now (with a few more years of academic-type re It's pretty hard for me to give a book five stars and I'm tempted to give that to Caliban. I recently read this with some of my friends in a reading group and not only really enjoyed it, but it made me rethink a number of concepts (primarily feminist ones) that I had earlier written off, as well as introduced me entirely new ones. I had tried to read this five or six years ago but stopped since the language was too complicated for me. Reading it again now (with a few more years of academic-type reading under my belt and with friends) it was a little easier. Themes and parts of the book that moved and impacted me the most: Capitalism was a reaction by those in power to the (failed) peasant revolts of the 1200 and 1300s. Mercantilism (and then capitalism) takes into consideration the demands of the enserfed peasants as a means of recuperation and offers waged based work. This new form of managing work/labor has it's benefits such as increased freedom of mobility, but leads to wage slavery and much more strict and fucked up social roles and ultimately is much more controlling. For example, women weren't allowed to live without men in their household, they couldn't be in public without men and in extreme example were not even allowed to look out the windows of their homes (now places of confinement). All of this is forced on women, it is not "natural", it wasn't happening for centuries. It's a concise era that can be pointed to, along with laws being passed and the views of rulers, philosophers, editors, etc. encouraging this new, extremist thinking. The depreciation and devaluing of women wasn't a problem of medieval thinking or fluke in the development of capitalism, but an intricate, vital part of it. With the enclosure of the commons, people in general lost a lot of autonomy, but women lost the only women-only place they were allowed to legally have. As a result women often lead the fiercest resistance to the enclosure - tearing down fences and hedges, the main signs of and means of enclosure. Men will eventually be offered women as a consolation prize for losing agency once had by the commons. Apparently enough of the bastards took the offer. "A new "sexual contract" . . . was forged, defining women in terms - mothers, wives, daughters, widows - that hid their status as workers, while giving men free access to women's bodies, their labor, and the bodies and labor of their children. According to this new social-sexual contract, proletarian women became for male workers the substitute for the land lost to the enclosures, their most basic means of reproduction, and a communal good anyone could appropriate and use at will. . . . But in the new organization of work *every woman . . . became a communal good*, for once women's activities were defined as non-work, women's labor began to appear as a natural resource, available to all, no less than the air we breathe or the water we drink. . . . For in pre-capitalist Europe women's subordination to men had been tempered by the fact that they had access to the commons and other communal assets, while in the new capitalist regime *women themselves became the commons*, as their work was defined as a natural resource, laying outside the sphere of market relations." In a similar way that dis-empowered, working men are told that if nothing else they can at least have control over their wives and children, through mechanical thinking (emerging as common philosophical, enlightment thinking that now dominates much of our take on our own bodies) we are all told that if nothing else we can at least control, rule over and be sovereigns of our own bodies. People are taught to think of each other as mere bodies to do work and even more that our bodies are only machines. Among other things, it appears that because of this (and extreme punishments dished out by the inquisition) we have the modern concept of our bodies being something separate from ourselves. That we have an intellect that needs to keep our bodies under control. All of this re-enforces and amplifies the ideas that have at times been held by a minority of reactionaries, such as the intrinsic evil and wretchedness of humanity and the filthiness of the body/nature. Finally, I had often heard a lot said, usually vaguely about how the witch-hunts were an era when powerful women and a lot of wisdom relating to things like health, the body, contraception was lost, but it was incredibly powerful and moving to hear the specifics of that. After a while, practicing contraception, infanticide, abortion, certain kinds of health treatment in general became capital offences, as well as resisting the implementation of those laws. This was made all the more clear to me when Federici talks about the execution and burnings as public events, and then I realized how seriously it must have been to watch your mother or sister or daughter or friend or grandmother being burned alive for using contraception. "Just as enclosures expropriated the peasantry from the communal land, so the witch-hunt expropriated women from their bodies, which were thus "liberated" from any impediment preventing them to function as machines for the production of labor. For the threat of the stake erected more formidable barriers around women's bodies than were ever erected by the fencing off of the commons." All of this is part of the disciplining of the social body in order to make it fit within the realm of work/production. Magic was and can be subversive as far as it teaches people they can get things without "working hard" and "making sacrifices." As I got towards the end of the book, I kept thinking, "When is Federici going to talk about examples of collective/mass resistance to the witch-burning / heretics hunts?" And then I sadly came across this section: "That [the witch-hunts] successfully divided women from men is suggested by the fact that, despite individual attempts by sons, husbands, or fathers to save their female relatives from the stake, with one exception, we have no record of any male organizations opposing the persecution." Federici then tells about a fleet of fishermen who got word that their mothers and wives were being tortured and executed. They rushed home and the inquisitor fled, never to return. It's infuriating that it would have initially been that easy to save hundreds of thousands of lives, but people were not able to organize themselves. But there must be other examples of resisting this holocaust and I want that history. Something I really appreciated about this text (that reminds me of books by Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh) is Federici's insistence that all these fucked up things were intricate and necessary for the development of the systems that now run our lives, and that many of these injustices still exist and are necessary in keeping capitalism running. An interested "sequel" to Caliban I think would be The Many Headed Hydra - it picks up right around the time that Caliban is leaving off. While Caliban focuses a lot on gender touching often on race in regards to class, The Many Headed Hydra talks a lot about the development of race touching often on gender in regards to class. 4.7 ---------------------------- Summer 2018 I've debated a fair amount whether I should add this update, but here it is. I carry Caliban and the Witch in my book distro, A Boulder on the Tracks, on a sliding scale of $12-20. My intention with the distro is not to turn a profit, and any money I make goes back into acquiring more titles or sending books to prisoners. $12 is what I pay for them, and as far as I know it's the cheapest one can get a new copy for. Pardon the self-promotion! http://aboulder.com/product/caliban-a...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    This book is really something else – I can’t recommend it too highly. In Capital, Marx needs to explain how capitalism got started. So, he talks about what he calls the primitive accumulation of capital – this involves the early capitalists effectively stealing wealth from those around them so they have the initial capital they needed to begin the process of capitalist production and therefore further accumulation of wealth that surplus value brings into being. Marx does this to show there is no This book is really something else – I can’t recommend it too highly. In Capital, Marx needs to explain how capitalism got started. So, he talks about what he calls the primitive accumulation of capital – this involves the early capitalists effectively stealing wealth from those around them so they have the initial capital they needed to begin the process of capitalist production and therefore further accumulation of wealth that surplus value brings into being. Marx does this to show there is no basis upon which capitalism can argue that a future working class revolution taking the means of production from capitalists is immoral, since capitalist wealth is, in all senses, stolen in the first place. The point of this book is, in part anyway, to show that the primitive accumulation argument Marx uses ignores the part played both by women and the native populations in the new world in providing capitalism with this initial capital impetus along the road to full capitalist development. And so this is the story of centuries of nightmares. The transition from feudalism to capitalism gets a pretty good rap as one of human progress – you know, the metaphors used are very much those of a new day dawning – we are moving from the ‘dark ages’ to the ‘enlightenment’. But for many people, and particularly for women and brown-skinned people who lived far away – the dawning of capitalism was to be plunged into utter darkness. One of the stories that is often told about why capitalism is better than other form of social organisation is the ‘tragedy of the commons’ – that is, if there is some land that is owned in common by everyone, then the self-interest of everyone means that this land, that in effect belongs to no one, will be over-exploited and quickly become worthless to everyone. This means that private ownership proves the best means of protecting property. And although this theory only became popular last century, versions of it were used in the transition from feudalism as the justification for the enclosure of common lands. The author explains that this was necessary because it was only by the peasants being deprived of all access to being able to sustain themselves that they would then be forced to sell their labour to the capitalists. The author points out that with the introduction of capitalism the share of production going to those at the bottom of society fell drastically and was not to raise again to the levels that had been enjoyed in late-feudalism for a couple of hundred years. Often it was women who worked on the commons, and what was effectively produced their sustained their families. And so enclosing these commons was a direct attack not only on peasant self-sufficiency, but also on female independent labour, both of which was necessary if working in the ‘dark satanic mills’ was to be seen as an option. The idea that Capitalism pays workers enough, but no more, than what is necessary for them to reproduction their labour power is a central idea of Marxist theory of surplus value – but reproduction (in all its senses) would be impossible without the unpaid labour of women. Effectively, this unpaid labour is all that allows the economy to operate – reproducing labour power by providing food to male workers as well as providing the next generation of workers from their wombs. And when women were employed doing the same work as men they were always paid significantly less – this was legally true up to the end of the last century and is de facto true even today. All of which sustained capitalist profits and therefore accelerated the process of primitive accumulation. The question she asks here that is probably most troubling is what role did the witch hunts play in the early years of capitalist development? Again, we like to think of feudalism as the irrational form of society that became obsessed with witches and witch-craft (think Monty Python’s Holy Grail) – but as is made horribly clear in this book, witch-craft became a terrible problem that needed to be addressed mostly under capitalism and with some estimating that as many as a million women murdered by the Inquisition and other pogroms (although, this seems to have been revised down to between 100,000 and half a million -still…these are terrifying figures). The Inquisition was not nearly as vicious as the protestant churches were in pursuing witches, and, as Weber makes clear, Protestant churches were quite closely linked to the development of capitalism, particularly around their ‘personal relationship with god’. The author stresses that there needed to be a new relationship within families to support the needs of capitalism, and one of these was a division of labour that included unpaid work in family reproduction performed by women (not just having babies, but also in other family maintenance tasks). This meant that all other activities women had previously done were either devalued or taken from them. This included midwifery – surely something that had always been a female occupation, but that then became a male one under early capitalism. The need for an increasing population meant forcing women to be compliant, not only to their husbands, but also to the needs of the society more generally. The link between witch burning and reproduction is discussed at length here – particularly around the use of contraceptives and other forms of birth control that were not only made illegal, but that their use and advice given on this were punishable by death. Many ‘witches’ were labelled as such and murdered due to the assistance they provided around birth control. Many more were old women past their ability to produce offspring or even work. The ‘cui bono’ vision of such processes would see the labelling of such women as witches as convenient, to say the least. Their murder simultaneously serving a range of objectives, not least in removing from the village a mouth to feed, but also in keeping others in their place. The tortures these women were subjected to would be guaranteed to ensure other women would think twice before stepping out of line. The murder of homosexuals was also related to this idea of prohibiting non-reproductive sex. Interestingly, this book provides the origins of two words used to describe homosexual men I’d always wondered about. One is faggot – which is linked here to the faggots of sticks used in preparing the fires to burn people, and the other is the Italian word for homosexual ‘finocchio’ (fennel). I’ve asked so many Italians why this might mean homosexual, and no one has been able to tell me, but it turns out that fennel was often placed on the fires used to burn people so as to help cover the stench of their burning flesh. Sometimes it is very hard to not actively dislike humans. The author compares the treatment of women with that of the subjugated peoples of the New World. In fact, the accusations of devil worship, cannibalism and so on, are nearly identical. I hadn’t realised that Caliban (the sprite like character from The Tempest) had become something of a third-world hero, in the sense of people saying ‘we are all Caliban’ as a means of identifying as oppressed. This is a fascinating book – and about a history I have known far too little about. It is highly readable, but also packed to overflowing with fascinating insights.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel Gaybraham

    1) oops now all i want to talk about is the enclosures of the commons 2) funny how i really like marxist analysis now and again, mostly when applied to factors marxists (in my experience) seriously downplay. such as "slavery, without which capitalism would never have gotten off the ground, but like who cares right, blah blah wage labor blah" 3) it is so useful as history, as making the (western) world make sense. i want every leftist i know to read it for filling in the gaps in How Things Got To W 1) oops now all i want to talk about is the enclosures of the commons 2) funny how i really like marxist analysis now and again, mostly when applied to factors marxists (in my experience) seriously downplay. such as "slavery, without which capitalism would never have gotten off the ground, but like who cares right, blah blah wage labor blah" 3) it is so useful as history, as making the (western) world make sense. i want every leftist i know to read it for filling in the gaps in How Things Got To Where They Are according to marx and foucault who both really like to conveniently ignore stuff. i want every neopagan i know to read it because it simultaneously turns the myth of the burning times into an actual history with an actual impact, and blows holes in the revitalized/nostalgic contemporary practice of witchcraft--essentially, the reason you can cast yr spells in safety now is they no longer serve as an excuse for a campaign of terror necessary for building the social order nor constitute subversion of that social order 4) "roving band of medieval heretics who don't really believe in gender and do believe that the second coming of christ means burn shit down" is my politics

  4. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    Super interesting book about the transition from feudalism to capitalism and how capitalism intersected with the witch hunts to oppress and demonize women. As I read more about capitalism, I find it such an injustice that I did not learn more about it in high school or even college (though I recognize my own upper middle-class background shielded me from having to learn about it from life experience directly.) Silvia Federici references Marx and Foucault while also filling in the gender-related Super interesting book about the transition from feudalism to capitalism and how capitalism intersected with the witch hunts to oppress and demonize women. As I read more about capitalism, I find it such an injustice that I did not learn more about it in high school or even college (though I recognize my own upper middle-class background shielded me from having to learn about it from life experience directly.) Silvia Federici references Marx and Foucault while also filling in the gender-related gaps in their arguments. Namely, she conveys how the intersection of capitalism and sexism dismantled solidarity between workers through the subjugation of women to men. She draws parallels to slavery as well as other historic injustices and events to further cement her case. I think I can recognize the intelligence of this work, though the more academic writing style dulled it a bit for me, which is totally a subjective preference thing (as all ratings are, I suppose) as opposed to a quality thing. I’m glad to have learned more about the origins of capitalism and found her commentary on how capitalism separates workers from their bodies quite apt and insightful. It’s wild that as much as we touch on the witch hunts, we don’t learn about them in this particular feminist lens, though the anti-feminist underpinnings of the witch hunts become almost impossible to unsee once you see them. Recommended for those who are interested in the historical intersections of capitalism and sexism in relation to the witch hunts and the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    I'm kind of obsessed with this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sara Salem

    I haven't read a book this fascinating for a while. Federici looks at the hundreds of thousands of women who were murdered in Europe in the 16th century after being accused of being witches and shows how this was because of the transition to capitalism and the need to destroy the solidarity between workers through demonizing women and turning men against them. She also clearly connects this to imperialism. I especially liked how she used both Foucault and Marx and yet makes important criticisms I haven't read a book this fascinating for a while. Federici looks at the hundreds of thousands of women who were murdered in Europe in the 16th century after being accused of being witches and shows how this was because of the transition to capitalism and the need to destroy the solidarity between workers through demonizing women and turning men against them. She also clearly connects this to imperialism. I especially liked how she used both Foucault and Marx and yet makes important criticisms of both.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Vincent

    Look, I'm a communist and a feminist but I cannot in good conscience give this wildly... "imaginative" history more than one star. The history contained in this book from its inaccurate portrayals of Medieval views on contraception, to its spurious claims about the persecution of Midwives, to its belief that Ius Primae Noctis was actually a thing... this book is intellectually lazy poorly sourced garbage by someone whose grasp of history is tenuous at best. Also the claim that the Catholic Churc Look, I'm a communist and a feminist but I cannot in good conscience give this wildly... "imaginative" history more than one star. The history contained in this book from its inaccurate portrayals of Medieval views on contraception, to its spurious claims about the persecution of Midwives, to its belief that Ius Primae Noctis was actually a thing... this book is intellectually lazy poorly sourced garbage by someone whose grasp of history is tenuous at best. Also the claim that the Catholic Church adopted "women's clothing" is absurd, it was just Byzantine dress.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    Oh my. This book. I kept wanting to devour the whole thing, but I had to stop every few pages because it overwhelmed me so much. I haven't learned so much from one book in a very long time. Parts of this were quite emotional for me. It's not often that non-fiction gets me choked up. Looking back at the history of peasant subjugation, land privatization, witch-hunting, and the creation of capitalism from a historical perpsective made our human errors seem so brazen and clear. I just can't believe Oh my. This book. I kept wanting to devour the whole thing, but I had to stop every few pages because it overwhelmed me so much. I haven't learned so much from one book in a very long time. Parts of this were quite emotional for me. It's not often that non-fiction gets me choked up. Looking back at the history of peasant subjugation, land privatization, witch-hunting, and the creation of capitalism from a historical perpsective made our human errors seem so brazen and clear. I just can't believe we let this all happen! We spend so much time arguing about different things in our society (racism, sexism, inequality, poverty, the role of the state, etc.), but if we don't have an understanding of what gave rise to the status quo, there is no way we can realistically hope to change it. I am terrible at writing book reviews. But this is seriously one of the most incredible books I have ever read. Federici blew my mind. If this is what reading feminist Marxist works is always like, GIMME SOME MORE! In short, you simply must must must read it. ASAP.

  9. 5 out of 5

    tom bomp

    Fascinating and incredibly important book. Covers the history of the end of feudalism, the rise of capitalism, the rise of current patriarchal forms, colonialism, witch hunts and more. Makes it clear that capitalism was founded on the oppression of women and with massive resistance every step of the way. Shows the importance of reproductive control. Talks about the oppressive elements of philosophy from the time. Covers so much that it skips some historical detail but it doesn't matter. An essen Fascinating and incredibly important book. Covers the history of the end of feudalism, the rise of capitalism, the rise of current patriarchal forms, colonialism, witch hunts and more. Makes it clear that capitalism was founded on the oppression of women and with massive resistance every step of the way. Shows the importance of reproductive control. Talks about the oppressive elements of philosophy from the time. Covers so much that it skips some historical detail but it doesn't matter. An essential book for correcting the male centred perspectives of today as well as linking social rebellion of now to the past. Read this if you're at all interested in feminism or anti-capitalism. edit: i feel obliged to somewhat temper what i said above 18 months later. I've read fragments about problems with historiography in the book, particularly http://libcom.org/blog/witch-hunts-tr... and reading bits and pieces people who've immersed themselves in the witchhunt literature have said. from what i understand, much of the problem is that a lot more information and research has come out in the last 30-40 years that gives a very different understanding of the political, sociological and legal aspects of it - see http://www.kersplebedeb.com/mystuff/f.... the problem is this book focuses on older sources (and has the problem of not always citing properly) which means it uses some inaccurate information and has only a limited perspective simply because the information wasn't widely available or understood at the time the book was written (probably). as someone who's not read other witch hunt stuff i can't comment in detail and I've not seen a more comprehensive criticism, i just think it's important to note and to make sure you don't take all the history as gospel. that's not to smear the book and i still stand by it being a very interesting and important book politically and it's still full of useful history. just wanted to put up some new information

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Who Were the Witches? – Patriarchal Terror and the Creation of Capitalism Alex Knight November 5, 2009 This Halloween season, there is no book I could recommend more highly than Silvia Federici’s brilliant Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation, which tells the dark saga of the Witch Hunt that consumed Europe for more than 200 years. In uncovering this forgotten history, Federici exposes the origins of capitalism in the heightened oppression of workers (represented by Sh Who Were the Witches? – Patriarchal Terror and the Creation of Capitalism Alex Knight November 5, 2009 This Halloween season, there is no book I could recommend more highly than Silvia Federici’s brilliant Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation, which tells the dark saga of the Witch Hunt that consumed Europe for more than 200 years. In uncovering this forgotten history, Federici exposes the origins of capitalism in the heightened oppression of workers (represented by Shakespeare’s character Caliban), and most strikingly, in the brutal subjugation of women. She also brings to light the enormous and colorful European peasant movements that fought against the injustices of their time, connecting their defeat to the imposition of a new patriarchal order that divided male from female workers. Today, as more and more people question the usefulness of a capitalist system that has thrown the world into crisis, Caliban and the Witch stands out as essential reading for unmasking the shocking violence and inequality that capitalism has relied upon from its very creation. Who Were the Witches? Parents putting a pointed hat on their young son or daughter before Trick-or-Treating might never pause to wonder this question, seeing witches as just another cartoonish Halloween icon like Frankenstein’s monster or Dracula. But deep within our ritual lies a hidden history that can tell us important truths about our world, as the legacy of past events continues to affect us 500 years later. In this book, Silvia Federici takes us back in time to show how the mysterious figure of the witch is key to understanding the creation of capitalism, the profit-motivated economic system that now reigns over the entire planet. During the 15th – 17th centuries the fear of witches was ever-present in Europe and Colonial America, so much so that if a woman was accused of witchcraft she could face the cruellest of torture until confession was given, or even be executed based on suspicion alone. There was often no evidence whatsoever. The author recounts, “for more than two centuries, in several European countries, hundreds of thousands of women were tried, tortured, burned alive or hanged, accused of having sold body and soul to the devil and, by magical means, murdered scores of children, sucked their blood, made potions with their flesh, caused the death of their neighbors, destroyed cattle and crops, raised storms, and performed many other abominations” (169). In other words, just about anything bad that might or might not have happened was blamed on witches during that time. So where did this tidal wave of hysteria come from that took the lives so many poor women, most of whom had almost certainly never flown on broomsticks or stirred eye-of-newt into large black cauldrons? Caliban underscores that the persecution of witches was not just some error of ignorant peasants, but in fact the deliberate policy of Church and State, the very ruling class of society. To put this in perspective, today witchcraft would be a far-fetched cause for alarm, but the fear of hidden terrorists who could strike at any moment because they “hate our freedom” is widespread. Not surprising, since politicians and the media have been drilling this frightening message into people’s heads for years, even though terrorism is a much less likely cause of death than, say, lack of health care.1 And just as the panic over terrorism has enabled today’s powers-that-be to attempt to remake the Middle East, this book makes the case that the powers-that-were of Medieval Europe exploited or invented the fear of witches to remake European society towards a social paradigm that met their interests. Interestingly, a major component of both of these crusades was the use of so-called “shock and awe” tactics to astound the population with “spectacular displays of force,” which help to soften up resistance to drastic or unpopular reforms.2 In the case of the Witch Hunt, shock therapy was applied through the witch burnings – spectacles of such stupefying violence that they apparently paralyzed whole villages and regions into accepting fundamental restructuring of medieval society.3 Federici describes a typical witch burning as, “an important public event, which all the members of the community had to attend, including the children of the witches, especially their daughters who, in some cases, would be whipped in front of the stake on which they could see their mother burning alive” (186). The book argues that these gruesome executions not only punished “witches” but graphically demonstrated the repercussions for any kind of disobedience to the clergy or nobility. In particular, the witch burnings were meant to terrify women into accepting “a new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources” (170). Federici puts forward that up until the 16th century, though living in a sexist society, European women retained significant economic independence from men that they typically do not under capitalism, where gender roles are more distinguished. She goes on, “If we also take into account that in medieval society collective relations prevailed over familial ones, and most of the tasks that female serfs performed (washing, spinning, harvesting, and tending to animals on the commons) were done in cooperation with other women, we then realize… [this:] was a source of power and protection for women. It was the basis for an intense female sociality and solidarity that enabled women to stand up to men.” But the Witch Hunt initiated a period where women were forced to become what she calls “servants of the male work force” (115) – excluded from receiving a wage, they were confined to the unpaid labor of raising children, caring for the elderly and sick, nurturing their husbands or partners, and maintaining the home. In Federici’s words, this was the “housewifization of women,” the reduction to a second-class status where women became totally dependent on the income of men (27). Federici goes on to show how female sexuality, which was seen as a source of women’s potential power over men, became an object of suspicion and came under sharp attack by the authorities. The assault manifested in new laws that took away women’s control over the reproductive process, such as the banning of birth control measures, the replacement of midwives with male doctors, and the outlawing of abortion and infanticide.4 Federici calls this an attempt to turn the female body into “a machine for the reproduction of labor,” such that women’s only purpose in life was supposedly to produce children (144). But we also learn that this was just one component of a broader move by Church and State to ban all forms of sexuality that were considered “non-productive.” For example, “homosexuality, sex between young and old, sex between people of different classes, anal coitus, coitus from behind, nudity, and dances. Also proscribed was the public, collective sexuality that had prevailed in the Middle Ages, as in the Spring festivals of pagan origins that, in the 16th-century, were still celebrated all over Europe” (194). To this end, the Witch Hunt targeted not only female sexuality but homosexuality and gender non-conformity as well, helping to craft the patriarchal sexual boundaries that define our society to this day. Capitalism - Born in Flames What separates Caliban from other works exploring the “witch” phenomenon is that this book puts the persecution of witches into the context of the development of capitalism. For Silvia Federici, it’s no accident that “the witch-hunt occurred simultaneously with the colonization and extermination of the populations of the New World, the English enclosures, [or:] the beginning of the slave trade” (164). She instructs that all of these seemingly unrelated tragedies were initiated by the same European ruling elite at the very moment that capitalism was in formation, the late 15th through 17th centuries. Contrary to “laissez-faire” orthodoxy which holds that capitalism functions best without state intervention, Federici posits that it was precisely the state violence of these campaigns that laid the foundation for capitalist economics. Thankfully for the reader, who may not be very familiar with the history of this era, Federici outlines these events in clear and accessible language. She focuses on the Land Enclosures in particular because their significance has been largely lost in time. Many of us will not remember that during Europe’s Middle Ages even the lowliest of serfs had their own plot of land with which they could use for just about any purpose. Federici adds, “With the use of land also came the use of the ‘commons’ – meadows, forests, lakes, wild pastures – that provided crucial resources for the peasant economy (wood for fuel, timber for building, fishponds, grazing grounds for animals) and fostered community cohesion and cooperation” (24). This access to land acted as a buffer, providing security for peasants who otherwise were mostly subject to the whim of their “Lord.” Not only could they grow their own food, or hunt in the relatively plentiful forests which were still standing in that era, but connection to the commons also gave peasants territory with which to organize resistance movements and alternative economies outside the control of their masters. The Enclosures were a process by which this land was taken away – closed off by the State and typically handed over to entrepreneurs to pursue a profit in sheep or cow herding, or large-scale agriculture. Instead of being used for subsistence as it had been, the land’s bounty was sold off to fledgling national and international markets. A new class of profit-motivated landowners emerged, known as “gentry,” but the underside of this development was the trauma experienced by the evicted peasants. In the author’s words, “As soon as they lost access to land, all workers were plunged into a dependence unknown in medieval times, as their landless condition gave employers the power to cut their pay and lengthen the working-day” (72). For Federici, then, the chief creation of the Enclosures was a property-less, landless working class, a “proletariat” who were left with little option but to work for a wage in order to survive; wage labor being one of the defining features of capitalism. Cut off from their traditional soil, many communities scattered across the countryside to find new homesteads. But the State countered with the so-called “Bloody Laws”, which made it legal to capture wandering “vagabonds” and force them to work for a wage, or put them to death. Federici tells the result: “What followed was the absolute impoverishment of the European working class… Evidence is the change that occurred in the workers’ diets. Meat disappeared from their tables, except for a few scraps of lard, and so did beer and wine, salt and olive oil” (77). Although European workers typically labored for longer hours under their new capitalist employers, living standards were reduced sharply throughout the 16th century, and it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that earnings returned to the level they had been before the Enclosures.5 According to Federici, the witch hunts played a key role in facilitating this process by driving a sexist wedge into the working class that “undermined class solidarity,” making it more difficult for communities to resist displacement (48). And while women were faced with the threat of horrific torture and death if they did not conform to new submissive gender roles, men were in effect bribed with the promise of obedient wives and new access to women’s bodies. The author cites that “Another aspect of the divisive sexual politics to diffuse workers’ protest was the institutionalization of prostitution, implemented through the opening of municipal brothels soon proliferating throughout Europe” (49). And in addition to prostitution, a legalization of sexual violence provided further sanction for the exploitation of women’s bodies. She explains, “In France, the municipal authorities practically decriminalized rape, provided the victims were women of the lower class” (47). The witch trials were the final assault, which all but obliterated the integrity of peasant communities by fostering mutual suspicion and fear. Amidst deteriorating conditions, neighbors were encouraged to turn against one another, so that any insult or annoyance became grounds for an accusation of witchcraft. As the terror spread, a new era was forged in the flames of the witch burnings. Surveying the damage, Silvia Federici concludes that “the persecution of the witches, in Europe as in the New World, was as important as colonization and the expropriation of the European peasantry from its land were for the development of capitalism” (12). A Forgotten Revolution Federici maintains that it didn’t have to turn out this way. “Capitalism was not the only possible response to the crisis of feudal power. Throughout Europe, vast communalistic social movements and rebellions against feudalism had offered the promise of a new egalitarian society built on social equality and cooperation” (61). Caliban’s most inspiring chapters make visible an enormous continent-wide series of poor people’s movements that nearly toppled Church and State at the end of the Middle Ages. Continue review at http://endofcapitalism.com/2009/11/05...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kate Savage

    I went into this book knowing that Federici has been criticized for exaggerating the extent of the witch hunt in Europe. So I was enheartened to find this book is about so much more than that. The witch hunt is one example of a war against women, which itself ultimately served as a way to break the strength of poor and working class people. Misogyny destroys resistance in a way analogous to how white supremacy and the invention of race-based chattel slavery broke solidarity between white and bla I went into this book knowing that Federici has been criticized for exaggerating the extent of the witch hunt in Europe. So I was enheartened to find this book is about so much more than that. The witch hunt is one example of a war against women, which itself ultimately served as a way to break the strength of poor and working class people. Misogyny destroys resistance in a way analogous to how white supremacy and the invention of race-based chattel slavery broke solidarity between white and black poor people in the colonies. The peasant class had their land stolen, but men were bought off with patriarchy, as women became the new 'commons.' The most fascinating part for me was Federici's argument that the birth of capitalism required a cultural shift in our ideas about bodies. Capitalism can't function while bodies are sacred and their pleasure and care are prioritized. Bodies have to be neutralized, divided into inert parts that can be controlled by the needs of industry. That chapter alone made the book 5 stars for me.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    Interesting, but overall unconvincing in its central conceit. The portion of the book reviewing the history of capitalism and witch hunts was fascinating (pun unintended), but its link of the two was more correlation without showing the causation. In a number of places, the author makes claims that the reader is supposed to agree with at face value with only a limited amount of reasoning to back the claims up, probably with the assumption that the evil of capitalism in of itself is self-evident. Interesting, but overall unconvincing in its central conceit. The portion of the book reviewing the history of capitalism and witch hunts was fascinating (pun unintended), but its link of the two was more correlation without showing the causation. In a number of places, the author makes claims that the reader is supposed to agree with at face value with only a limited amount of reasoning to back the claims up, probably with the assumption that the evil of capitalism in of itself is self-evident. For brief moments, was almost like reading a partisan blog. Regardless, I learned quite a bit about economics of post-Columbian Europe and gained perspective on the role of women in capitalistic society, so, I would recommend the book, despite it missing its goal.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nadxieli Mannello

    Some good ideas but ignores alternate readings and cherry-picks examples that fit her thesis, to the detriment of her overall project.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Az

    Federici is a feminist philosopher working within the Italian post-autonomist marxist tradition. In Caliban and the Witch she addresses primitive accumulation, or a marxist analysis of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Capitalism's beginnings, she argues, were not only about coercing bodies into becoming self-disciplining workers but also dividing the proletariat along identitarian lines in order to discipline and displace resistance to capitalism itself. So, women were constituted as Federici is a feminist philosopher working within the Italian post-autonomist marxist tradition. In Caliban and the Witch she addresses primitive accumulation, or a marxist analysis of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Capitalism's beginnings, she argues, were not only about coercing bodies into becoming self-disciplining workers but also dividing the proletariat along identitarian lines in order to discipline and displace resistance to capitalism itself. So, women were constituted as reproductive labourers: not only having children but invisibly (and without pay) reproducing the conditions that enabled men to go to work. The witch hunts, Federici argues, disciplined socially and intellectually powerful heretic women, women who did not imagine themselves as merely wives or invisible cogs in the emerging capitalist machine. Witch hunts were effective because they set the proletariat against one another; violence came from within, not only from above. In a similar way, non-Europeans were racialised as subhuman and demonised as 'dumb brutes' who were only useful as the expendable labour force needed to colonise the new world -- hence the Caliban figure. These were the beginnings of the subjectivation of difference, Federici argues. A lot of marxist theory subsumes difference and problems of sexism, racism, etc under an all-encompassing theory of class or economy. The programmatic solution posed by such theories always reflects that subsumption: once class is abolished, gender and race politics (and sexuality and the rest) will fall into line. But Federici does not begin from this premise. She begins from a premise that capitalism arrogates difference in order to function and spread, and although that difference is reproduced by capitalism, it is not reducible to a logic of class. Her focus is the body: female bodies, Black bodies, gender non-conforming bodies; bodies that do not conform to the violences of work, structured time, self-controlled sexuality. I have been finding this book incredibly useful for working on connections between bodies and capitalism. It's also a rollicking good read, lots of exciting illustrations, pirate history of a kind. Read it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    David Anderson

    "Caliban and the Witch" is, without a doubt, the best work of socialist feminist analysis I've read to date. Reviewer Peter Linebaugh gave one the best synopses: "Federici shows that the birth of the proletariat required a war against women, inaugurating a new sexual pact and a new patriarchal era: the patriarchy of the wage. Firmly rooted in the history of the persecution of the witches and the disciplining of the body, her arguments explain why the subjugation of women was as crucial for the f "Caliban and the Witch" is, without a doubt, the best work of socialist feminist analysis I've read to date. Reviewer Peter Linebaugh gave one the best synopses: "Federici shows that the birth of the proletariat required a war against women, inaugurating a new sexual pact and a new patriarchal era: the patriarchy of the wage. Firmly rooted in the history of the persecution of the witches and the disciplining of the body, her arguments explain why the subjugation of women was as crucial for the formation of the world proletariat as the enclosures of the land, the conquest and colonization of the 'New World,' and the slave trade." Perhaps the most intriguing part of her argument is that instead of seeing the transition to capitalism as being a natural result of defeat of feudalism and an advance in socio-economic development, Federici interprets the rise of capitalism as a reactionary move to subvert the rising tide of communalism and to retain the basic social contract. Capitalism was a strategy devised in reaction to a time of unprecedented workers' power and mass uprisings against the elite (the various peasant wars, the rise of multiple egalitarian heretic sects, etc.). This is a major departure from marxian theory and I'm not sure yet if I can totally embrace it. However, even if that point is disputable, I think her case about crucial role of the subjugation of women in the development of capitalism and her analysis of the historical unfolding of that dynamic is rock solid. Most highly recommended reading for all feminists, all marxists, and all left progressives of any stripe.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Hinckley

    This really is some of the best historiography I've read. 'Caliban and the Witch' places the institutionalised persecution of the 'Witch' as a key component of a broader process of primitive accumulation (colonisation of the Americas, destruction of enclosures and introduction of scientific rationalism), the expropriation of labour and capital which paved the way for International Capitalism. Central to the thesis is the criticism of Marx's historical materialism, which she challenges in that it This really is some of the best historiography I've read. 'Caliban and the Witch' places the institutionalised persecution of the 'Witch' as a key component of a broader process of primitive accumulation (colonisation of the Americas, destruction of enclosures and introduction of scientific rationalism), the expropriation of labour and capital which paved the way for International Capitalism. Central to the thesis is the criticism of Marx's historical materialism, which she challenges in that it frames the development of Capitalism as a necessary step in the historical process, and consequently a means of liberation (at least in comparison to Feudalism). Rather, Federici sees Capitalism as the victory of the counterrevolutionaries, a begrudging alliance between the old and new ruling classes to stamp out the initial waves of proletarian resistance, community and organisation: to this end she outlines a number of radically transgressive social movements such as the Cathars, Diggers and Waldensians and mass action often organised overwhelmingly by women (also she challenges the political dormancy of the Feudal era, calling it "perpetual class war"). The text successfully, and fascinatingly, problematises the ''Enlightenment'' periods, and though it centralises the witchhunts (which she rightly identifies as massively marginalised from the modern historical record) in their colonisation of the female body in the service of procreation, Federici shines light on the wider ideological implications of early capitalism in Europe in the new world in its reassessment of the body, magic and community. I cant overstate how valuable this book is and i think its essential in humanising huge swathes of history often reduced by theory to historical mechanisms.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Operaista

    First off, this book is incredible, and probably not only the most significant Marxist feminist work I've read in a while, but the most significant feminist work I've read in ages. As Marx noted, capital "comes into the world dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt." Silvia Federici's contribution is not only detailing how much blood the birth of capitalism involved, and the continued blood-letting (new rounds of primitive accumulation, as we're seeing in Africa, for inst First off, this book is incredible, and probably not only the most significant Marxist feminist work I've read in a while, but the most significant feminist work I've read in ages. As Marx noted, capital "comes into the world dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt." Silvia Federici's contribution is not only detailing how much blood the birth of capitalism involved, and the continued blood-letting (new rounds of primitive accumulation, as we're seeing in Africa, for instance), but the hows and whys of the process. Her primary concern is with the bloody repression, immiseration, and mass killings necessary to bring about capitalism in Europe, and how that tied into the bloody colonization of the Americas and Africa. It's long been accepted that the development of racism and colonialism was part of the birth of capitalism; Federici ties this in with the change of character and incredible intensification of patriarchy necessary to bring about capitalism in Europe, through the enclosure of the commons, the dispossession of peasants of their land so that they could serve as wage labor, and the breaking of women into workers whose purpose was to produce more labor. Her method of viewing racism and patriarchy as stratifications built into the working class, and more importantly, this having been an essential and major component of the process of primitive accumulation will hopefully lead to better anti-racist and anti-patriarchal praxis within anti-capitalist movements. Finally, she ties the gendered nature of the witch hunts in both Europe and the Americas with the central, leading role that women have always played in resistance to capitalism. The women most targeted were old and/or poor, and the ways in which they were targeted plays into their central, organizing, and leading role in resistance to the rising bourgeoisie and the developing modern state. Seen through this lens, it is obvious that the process of colonization (and the capital it generated for developing European states and the rising bourgeois) was not only a brutal process of repression and genocide against the colonized, but also supplied the capital necessary to carry out the process of the proletarianization of the European peasantry. Thus, from its very beginning, racism has always been counter to the interests of all workers. Perhaps her most controversial idea is that, given the level of struggle of the peasantry in Europe in the late feudal era, that capitalism itself can be seen as a bourgeois counter-revolution against a powerful peasant class that had survived the plague and was ready to tear down the feudal state and class relations. While only the most vulgar of Marxists would argue for a literal stagist model of history, capitalism is commonly seen as a necessary mode of production to develop the means of production such that they can support communism; her arguments around the quality of life of the peasantry in the late 14th century (a quality of life that would not be regained by working people in Western Europe until well into the 19th century) and the communitarian nature of late Medieval peasant life, as well as her extensive documentation of late Medieval peasant revolutionary movements (whose views and slogans sound just as communist today!) provides ample support for this view. This book is well worth a read for all anti-capitalists and feminists; it succeeds at being a solid, well-researched, Marxist feminist account without requiring one to be a student of Marxism to understand it. However, for those who read it who aren't already Marxists, I see their future reading lists quite possibly including the works of Marx and Engels, autonomists, other left communists, and Marxist feminists.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tiarnan

    Some decent ideas marred by consistent empirical and theoretical sloppiness.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Aneta

    This book made me so angry! You see, I've never felt a need to divie into feminism or women history at all. I'm a tomboy and never encountered injustice treatment because being a woman. But it is really easy to live in our own bubble and I'm trying to fix it. At school they rarely teach WHY something happened. This book focuses mainly on that, looking at 15-17th centuries through raising capitalism. And it's terrifying brutal history of "primitive accumulation" where the goal is production. Now i This book made me so angry! You see, I've never felt a need to divie into feminism or women history at all. I'm a tomboy and never encountered injustice treatment because being a woman. But it is really easy to live in our own bubble and I'm trying to fix it. At school they rarely teach WHY something happened. This book focuses mainly on that, looking at 15-17th centuries through raising capitalism. And it's terrifying brutal history of "primitive accumulation" where the goal is production. Now imagine sociaty where only wealthy have land and peasants starve, can't find food because all lands are being fenced, decide not to procrete because how to feed a kid where you starve. Then there is less people to work - so wealth decide to stripe women from their rights and force them to give birth. They remove all women rights and punish everything with death. Witch hunts are being organised to kill all the knowledge of abortion and contraception. They banned homoseksualizm because it wasn't ending up in pregnancies! Also there were not many people in general, because of black death. What really shocked me, was when the author noticed that peasants were revolting because they had nothing, no land, nothing. Giving them power over women gave them this "something". Work of women was marginalised - they were like animals, made to breed and work for free at home. Violence against women continued though ages and made women obidient. This book is simply amazing. Its a must read to understand women history and basics of capitalism primitive accumulation.

  20. 5 out of 5

    mis fit

    i took a reeeally long time with this book, and then just went back and re-read all of my highlights and notes. it's been a while since i've read something that i loved this much. this book is an excellent example of history attuned to power relations, which is so important, because this type of work is necessary to understand what's going on right now. and federici emphasizes this-- looking at historical processes of primitive accumulation help to shed light on the same (or similar) processes t i took a reeeally long time with this book, and then just went back and re-read all of my highlights and notes. it's been a while since i've read something that i loved this much. this book is an excellent example of history attuned to power relations, which is so important, because this type of work is necessary to understand what's going on right now. and federici emphasizes this-- looking at historical processes of primitive accumulation help to shed light on the same (or similar) processes that are going on today that get chalked up to "globalization." ok first of all, the idea that early capitalism was a counter-revolution against anti-feudal struggles. yes, this makes so much sense when you actually know the extent to which peasants were rebelling against landlords in the 14th century (this is a minor part of the argument, but important for me). federici describes this era as "relentless class struggle." who knew?! this gap in my knowledge frustrates me a little bit, because i took a graduate-level class on classical social theory and we discussed primitive accumulation.... but... i dunno. the whole idea is that sociology comes out of this work that was trying to understand capitalism and modernity, and it's remarkable that it's not like 101 to look back before capitalism (um maybe i didn't take the right class..). but i can still say sociologists NEEEED history books. go get them. please. (but what the hell, academic sociologists continually make themselves irrelevant so i dont care what they read anyway). the Black Death and demographic catastrophe and "need" for labor power - damn. good point. early capitalism was not just about expropriating european workers from the land (enclosure) and colonizing the "New World" (enclosure, slave trade, and so on). it was ALSO about changing the body into a machine for work, about subjugating women to the reproduction of the workforce, it required an enormous and horrific attack on the power of women (hundreds of thousands of European women, and lets just say numerous (which is a disgusting understatement) women subject to the violence of colonialism elsewhere). when you think about the "witch hunt" and the way it gets written off as this weird anomaly about magic and things from long ago that are irrelevant to us rational beings now, it's unbelievable and infuriating! how can something like that be largely written out of history. i guess i could really ramble on about this book, because basically at every turn it makes connections that are so important but are largely missing from the history and social theory i have read beforehand. i dont know if this makes me not-well-read or makes this book really amazing. what i love about this theory is that it seems like it STARTS from power relations and then teases things out from there. what i mean is that it doesn't start from capitalism and add on patriarchy and racism. or it doesn't start with patriarchy and then throw in capitalism and racism. these "systems" (? hate that word) of oppression are interconnected. (like yeah, intersectionality, but even something more than that). rather, power relations have first of all developed historically, out of real, concrete situations. and then, basically, those in power will use whatever tools they can get their hands on to expropriate and accumulate wealth. it's this weird soup of what gets coined capitalism and patriarchy and colonialism and imperialism and racism and exploitation of animals and "natural resources" that is basically just like a hand sweeping across the world, causing destruction for the benefit of a small minority. that's obviously a simplification (yikes it is a terrible sentence), but the point is that it doesn't matter what it is-- capitalism or patriarchy or whatever-- these things work together and they're all about maintaining power. i'm getting inarticulate and conspiracy-theory-y. and i don't mean to say that racism or patriarchy are not important in their own right, they are. it's just that to understand them, i think it's important to understand power relations more generally and see their connections. anyway, i love this book, and it's obviously something that i'm still chewing over. i guess it's just neat to see someone looking at history and power relations with fresh eyes (compared to some of the boring ass stuff i usually find myself reading). it comes off as extremely critical and feminist, but still encompassing a larger view of power relations that i think is so necessary if you really want to get to the heart of oppression (and to be able to effectively resist it).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Broadsnark

    I can't believe it took me this long to read this. Everybody should. There is far too much here to even wrap my head around, much less write about. But suffice it to say that understanding how the white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist patriarchy began will help us to undo it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    We all pretty much collectively ignore the history of witch hunts, unless it's to other them and dismiss them as the practice of ignorant superstition, which we've now overcome thanks to modern medicine and a more materialist worldview that makes no room for witchcraft. If we're at all thoughtful we might acknowledge the obvious misogyny involved in the almost-exclusively female victims of these hunts, but it's generally treated as a "see how far we've come!" moment if anything. And yet, Federic We all pretty much collectively ignore the history of witch hunts, unless it's to other them and dismiss them as the practice of ignorant superstition, which we've now overcome thanks to modern medicine and a more materialist worldview that makes no room for witchcraft. If we're at all thoughtful we might acknowledge the obvious misogyny involved in the almost-exclusively female victims of these hunts, but it's generally treated as a "see how far we've come!" moment if anything. And yet, Federici convincingly argues that these witch hunts were used politically as a way of breaking the power of the female body, a requirement of the "transition to capitalism" that was accompanied by violence and subjugation, and a loss of a lot of the power and options these women had under feudalism. While a liberal view of history often imagines society evolving and moving closer and closer to some ideal, the interplay of forces that led to the demise of feudalism and the ascension of capitalism show a picture that's anything but straightforward. As workers demanded better treatment and more liberty, and even began to show signs of a movement from feudalism to a more communal life around the medieval commons, an unholy trinity of capital power, religion, and the budding concept of the State hit back, driving workers into the "freedom" of wage labor by privatizing previously common land, levelling lethal force against any reprisals, and creating then criminalizing the working poor. Capital power through the alienation of labor from their ownership of the land, religion through the enforcement of anathemas against the popular heresies that sprung up all to often in direct response to the abuse of power, and the State through a monopoly on violence that provided an institution to force people into specific arrangements they otherwise had little to no interest in. As a result of this reduction of the human body into a unit of aggregate labor, the existing power divisions between men and women in medieval life were reified and deepened, casting women down from powers and options they had enjoyed in previous eras and inventing the idea of the housewife. Their labor now seen both as indispensable and as free for the taking, effectively valueless but nevertheless constantly coerced and demanded, the female body becoming a new commons to replace the privatized land, and female sexual morality and childbirth becoming a matter of tremendous preoccupation both in legal and religious life to a degree previously unseen. Within this, we see the developing institution of the witch hunt focus a lot on the powers of women, specifically around their abilities to exercise any sexual agency and especially around lurid accusations of infanticide. As men were aggregated into undifferentiated units of manual labor, women were aggregated into undifferentiated units of reproduction to grow the working class, and their own self-regulation and agency even over this facet reduced, as female friendship was cast into suspicion, as institutional power and membership in the crafts was stripped from them, and as midwives were treated with suspicion and removed in favor of male doctors. The transition to capitalism is a story of an unprecedented step backwards in female power. And then there is the witch hunt. The simple fact is that European powers used "devil worship" pretty consistently as a diagnosis of the beliefs of the Other, and a justification for their subjugation. This occurred with women directly in the tying of their reproductive capacities to morality and the lurid tales of witchcraft where the unknown cunning woman cavorted with evil spirits to control the sexuality of men and destroy their offspring, and it was repeated as a tool for the subjugation of other cultures as well, as "whiteness" was invented and the resulting "non-white" peoples were increasingly lumped together with charges of primitive and diabolical beliefs that allowed for their wholesale subjugation and conversion into capitalist labor products. The witch hunt carried over from Europe to the American settler colonial states, where it was used to break the backs of power and networking among the suppressed peoples, and to reify the new racial boundaries on which these American nations would be built. As Federici notes, when these practices were suspended in the 20th century, it was not because the powers had overcome superstition (indeed, many did continue to believe in the powers they sought to banish), but because they felt secure enough in their systems that all had internalized to degree that they no longer needed to fear insurgent powers or networks. Pick this up and leaf through it if you want to look directly at something we've collectively Occulted.

  23. 5 out of 5

    xDEAD ENDx

    I bumped this up from three to four stars on this read. Part of me still wonders what it is about this book that so many anarchists/feminists (anarcha-feminists?) adore. I don't really find much enjoyment in reading history, so the abundance of historical examples is almost overwhelming (read: boring) to me. The Marxian analysis is somewhat more interesting. Federici seems to have a heavily implied (though unfortunately never explicitly acknowledged) perspective that we do not need to go through a I bumped this up from three to four stars on this read. Part of me still wonders what it is about this book that so many anarchists/feminists (anarcha-feminists?) adore. I don't really find much enjoyment in reading history, so the abundance of historical examples is almost overwhelming (read: boring) to me. The Marxian analysis is somewhat more interesting. Federici seems to have a heavily implied (though unfortunately never explicitly acknowledged) perspective that we do not need to go through a capitalist stage of production/sociality in order to achieve communism. She appears to be saying that the commons existing during feudal times only needed to be pushed in a certain direction for the capitalist stage to be unnecessary. (or rather, feudal society could have been maneuvered to not morph into capitalism). If this is the case, then there arises a questions as to whether a similar sort of parallel can be drawn with patriarchy. Is it possible for us to delineate stages of patriarchy so that the pre-capitalist stage could go directly to communism (little "c," which would include a negation of patriarchy) without passing through capitalist-patriarchy? My reading of Federici does not lend itself to this argument. The way in which she talks about patriarchy roots it within capitalism as a mode of life that was formed by capitalism. However, if we are to think about patriarchy as arising from capital, concomitant with civilization, then the argument around skipping capitalist forms of patriarchy becomes much more plausible. I feel that her argument about primitive accumulation always reoccurring and needing to find new outlets to manifest itself (the autonomist perspective) holds much more ground than the idea that "patriarchy" intentionally modifies perspectives of the body through atrocities like witch-hunts and persecutions. The book often jumps around spatially and temporally. This seems to relate to the lack of actual actors in Federici's historical readings. "Capitalism" and "patriarchy" are not actors, and I remain unconvinced that all the oppressive accounts discussed were actually to further capitalism or patriarchy, rather than people just acting terribly toward one another. This is not to say I dismiss or diminish anything that occurred, but rather that I do not see the intentions of the actors (papal authorities, capitalist managers, the bourgeoisie, etc) being that they want to form or further capitalism or patriarchy. The effects may possibly remain the same, but Federici is attempting to create a causal argument, and without the resolution of these intentions, I am hesitant to agree with her.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Part of my response paper: I found this book fascinating, as until the last chapter it covered what was largely new ground to me. The resistance of the serfs to feudalism and early capitalism was inspiring and the thesis that the witch-hunt was a mechanism to regiment and subordinate women to the requirements of capitalism, in particular primitive accumulation, was compelling. At the same time, something felt off to me about the book. Perhaps it was because this paradigm-shifting argument fit toge Part of my response paper: I found this book fascinating, as until the last chapter it covered what was largely new ground to me. The resistance of the serfs to feudalism and early capitalism was inspiring and the thesis that the witch-hunt was a mechanism to regiment and subordinate women to the requirements of capitalism, in particular primitive accumulation, was compelling. At the same time, something felt off to me about the book. Perhaps it was because this paradigm-shifting argument fit together so neatly (Marxists do love their teleology), but often without primary sources or the use of single examples extrapolated to apply to a broad setting. Or perhaps it’s because I’ve understood patriarchy as a pre-capitalist phenomenon, which Federici doesn’t deny, but the weight she gives to capital in the creation of patriarchal oppression of proletarian women is obvious. Whereas capitalism constructed racism, it seems to have modified patriarchy. And as capitalism requires racism and patriarchy, it makes sense we need to destroy capitalism. We can do this already equipped with an ontological understanding of racism. Is there an ontological understanding of patriarchy? Does resistance to capitalism require it? Is Federici’s proposal enough? Finally, in the introduction, Federici touches briefly on “’women’ as a category,” arguing that “’women’s history’ is ‘class history’” and “’women’ is a legitimate category of analysis” (14). I don’t disagree, but am hesitant about embracing a sharp “biological” (undefined) definition of “women.” I think there are important postmodernist contributions, in particular Butler’s critique of the gender/sex distinction and normative gender performativity, that can add to our understanding of patriarchy and offer ways to subvert it. I wonder how Federici’s account would be different if it at times included some postmodern reflections on gender. Overall I think it would have been beneficial.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    You know the quote about fish not knowing that they live in water? I can’t remember how it goes; memory isn’t my strong point. Anyway, Caliban and the Witch was filled with moments of realization that we are indeed fish in water, except our water is capitalism, and as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “there is no alternative”. Except there was, and at least one hundred thousand women were killed in the process of erasing it. Probably more—who knows? The lack of study on the subject says a lot ab You know the quote about fish not knowing that they live in water? I can’t remember how it goes; memory isn’t my strong point. Anyway, Caliban and the Witch was filled with moments of realization that we are indeed fish in water, except our water is capitalism, and as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “there is no alternative”. Except there was, and at least one hundred thousand women were killed in the process of erasing it. Probably more—who knows? The lack of study on the subject says a lot about how our society regards women, but it also speaks to the danger in allowing us to recall a time when we truly threatened the capitalist structures of power. I haven’t read much history, and I don’t do well with academic writing. That was a hurdle I had to overcome to read this book, but it got easier as I went. Now I need to go back and reconsider every book I’ve rated, because this is far and away the best one so far.

  26. 5 out of 5

    David

    Unbelievably good, fascinating. Provocative history / analysis of the role of the witch-hunts in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. This is just a wondrous piece of work. Federici keeps things just humming along and her prose is clear, tight, engaging. Best of all, it's one of those books that clicks quite a few things into place. This world, this messed-up and troubling world, well it's still messed-up but you can see a bit more of the path that brought us to this place. And, surely, t Unbelievably good, fascinating. Provocative history / analysis of the role of the witch-hunts in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. This is just a wondrous piece of work. Federici keeps things just humming along and her prose is clear, tight, engaging. Best of all, it's one of those books that clicks quite a few things into place. This world, this messed-up and troubling world, well it's still messed-up but you can see a bit more of the path that brought us to this place. And, surely, that kind of a re-orientation can at least offer a little hope for change from here. Maybe?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Brandy Cross

    The pure volume of research that went into the formation and writing this book is phenomenal. It's rare to see a work that is so meticulously written, researched, annotated, and otherwise beautifully presented with the intent of helping the reader to understand, without ever talking down to that reader or assuming their abilities. Overall, this book is a wonderful example of research and academic text that I feel you would have difficulty rivaling in terms of research, author's knowledge of the The pure volume of research that went into the formation and writing this book is phenomenal. It's rare to see a work that is so meticulously written, researched, annotated, and otherwise beautifully presented with the intent of helping the reader to understand, without ever talking down to that reader or assuming their abilities. Overall, this book is a wonderful example of research and academic text that I feel you would have difficulty rivaling in terms of research, author's knowledge of the subject, author's understanding of the social and economic events contributing to the rise of capitalism and the necessary shift of moving women to the home to account for the increased labor required of men. However, there are some facts and statements which I feel are very much up for debate in regards to research listed as fact rather than subjective. The author does an excellent job of backing up many of her claims, but some of them no, and they are often the more spurious ones. This does not terribly detract from the rest of the book, providing you are willing to do your own research and find resources alongside this one. E.g. Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, The Witches, Moon, Sun, and Witches: Gender Ideologies and Class in Inca and Colonial Peru, etc. This is a feminist work but it is – for the most part – not focused on women or their bodies. Rather, Federici paints a picture – in broad strokes – of an environment in which capitalism was able to come into being, often at the expense of women, bodily autonomy, and personal freedom. I read Ellen Meiksins Wood's The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View quite by accident, first and I feel the two go well together, tackling the same issues, point in history, and subjects - albeit with markedly different themes. Origin is focused, sharp, and maintains context in the telling of a story. Caliban is broad, often loses context, and instead shares the social and economic situations resulting in capitalism. I like both approaches. The final two chapters are very much about women, about feminism, and about persecution. They are very much intersectional and inclusionary and beautifully done. They do, however, make the same broad claims that demarcate many feminist and leftist works and that is the claim of a strategy or intent without naming a perpetrator or a real motivation. For example, it’s perfectly possible to suppose that the events leading to the witch trials and the advent of capitalism were not a purposeful strategy to strip women of their rights and silence them to the home and reproduction, but rather a series of fear-driven responses to events, social order, and life. Of course, I haven’t the credentials nor the research to back up this supposition, but it appears to be a valid one considering humanity rarely does anything on purpose on such a grand scale. This sort of “problem = result” is much more evident and outlined in the final chapter in regards to South American, where the witch hunts and their ramifications are much better documented. Here, it’s clearly listed that women were persecuted for specific results and in specific ways relating to (labor in mines) (removing source of dissension) (introduction of Spanish culture) (fulfilling power fantasy) In addition, most of the information in the book supports and even claims this hypothesis, outlining scenario after scenario to which rulers and the general public might react to with fear and repression without having a specific strategy in mind. E.g. a series of events and social needs/beliefs resulted in an environment in which actions were taken under the belief that women were the perpetrators. I would not call this strategy but rather systemic. The growing political climate in which women were feared, women's magic was feared, and the threat of both sexuality and falling populations pushed countries to take drastic measures is more than enough to politically result in extermination as a political strategy in regards to witches without there being a specific strategy in place with the specific intent to dehumanize and debase women and their rights - despite that being the eventual result. That aside, this book is thoughtful, interesting, well-written, well-researched, and thought provoking, in both its opinions and those it fails to state. Especially in regards to directly linking Protestant reforms to capitalism and in linking several specific acts of female power resulting in fear and persecution. Some thoughts: - Correct usage of the m dash - Opinions - I’ll just finish my chapt– what? 50 more pages in this chapter? - The authors writing style (or translation) is not entirely cohesive (there is a LOT of information but it sometimes feels disjointed and not at all linear or even part of what was introduced before, despite relevance - There are chapters. I feel it doesn’t always matter in which order you read them. I will definitely be reading it again.

  28. 5 out of 5

    hima ☾

    ok silvia just take me out i guess

  29. 5 out of 5

    Julia Clark-Riddell

    "Caliban and the Witch" has fundamentally reshaped my understanding of the world and the body. I want to write a review once I've had more time to consider the full effects this book has had on me.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joaquín

    Probably one of the best books I read this year

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