One of my favorite books in the last few years was "Caliban and the Witch" by Silvia Federici. As Federici herself wrote this work,
...is the argument that Marx’s analysis of capitalism has been hampered by his inability to conceive of value-producing work other than in the form of commodity production and his consequent blindness to the significance of women’s unpaid reproductive work in the process of capitalist accumulation. Ignoring this work has limited Marx’s understanding of the true extent of the capitalist exploitation of labor and the function of the wage in the creation of divisions within the working class, starting with the relation between women and men.
Federici takes the reader on a tour from the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages to the witch-hunts and beyond, for as Federici herself says,
The witch-hunt occurred simultaneously with the colonization and extermination of the population of the New World, the English enclosures, the beginning of the slave trade, the enactment of ‘bloody laws’ against vagabonds and beggars, and it climaxed in that interregnum between the end of feudalism and the capitalist ‘take off’ when the peasantry in Europe reached the peak of its power but, in time, consummated its historic defeat.
As described in its review of the book Autonomedia pens,
This is a book of remembrance, of a trauma burned into the body of women, which left a scar on humanity's memory as deep and painful as those caused by famine, slaughter and enslavement.
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.
Federici, unlike many other feminist writers makes the case that the witch hunts were a specific strategy developed by the Catholic Church with the happy support of nation states. As Ann Ferguson says in her review of the book, this strategy was designed to:
... maintain Church control in a time of change, to challenge peasant revolts against the enclosures of the commons, and to control women’s reproductive power so as to ensure sufficient labor power would be produced for the future capitalist labor force.
For women to be subordinated to the production and reproduction of labor-power, the repression of “witches” proved fundamental for the breaking the control that women exercised over their bodies and reproduction. Federici writes,
If we consider the historical context in which the witch-hunt occurred, the gender and class of the accused, and the effects of the persecution, then we must conclude that witch-hunting in Europe was an attack on women’s resistance to the spread of of capitalist relations and the power women had gained by virtue of their sexuality, their control over reproduction, and the ability to heal...
...Just as the 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.
Federici in this work carries out the task of reconceptualizing the feminist analysis of the body and placing it within a class struggle understanding of history.
It's Theoretical Monday at Scission and the following is from End of Capitalism.
AND YES, THIS IS THE SECOND TIME YOU HAVE READ ABOUT THIS BOOK ON SCISSION....