This is only a brief review, more of a recommendation to read the book, than an in–depth analysis of a very fine scholarly work. It is a formidable, but highly readable, history and enquiry into the roots of the oppression of woman and workers. There are hundreds of references cited and throughout the book Frederici refers to many events whose origins and results have been obscured and denied.
Frederici says that she wants in this volume to rethink not only women’s history from a feminist viewpoint, but a whole human history. Caliban, the Shakespearean slave, represents not only an anti–colonial rebel but is a symbol for the world proletariat. The witch, his mother, is the embodiment of a world of female subjects that capitalism had to destroy: the heretic, the healer, the disobedient wife, the woman who dared to live alone, the obeha woman who poisoned the master’s food and inspired the slaves to revolt.
Because women produce capital in the form of workers, she says, “the exploitation of women has played a central function in the process of capital accumulation: labour-power.” Women who did not, and in many cultures do not, accept this definition are subject to cruel treatment like “…one of most monstrous attacks on the body perpetrated in modern era: the witch-hunt.” She also shows how religion and government have united to ensure that women’s bodies are controlled tools of production. She writes that the precondition for capitalist development was “an attempt by state and church to transform the individual’s body into labour-power.”
Federici explains the enclosure of the commons – land that all could use – as a way to prevent any independence or sustainability of peasants and to create labour for the masters’ lands and factories. This enclosure of the commons goes on in our time – first Canada taught the world the utility of reservations for indigenous peoples, then, the NAFTA abolished the communal lands of indigenous people in Mexico, and at present, the bush people in Botswana are being forced off their traditional land. When she worked in Nigeria, Federici realized, “that the struggle against structural adjustment is part of a long struggle against land privatization and the enclosure not only of communal lands but of social relations that stretches back to the origin of capitalism….”
This reviewer researches the creation, expansion and sustaining of the global commons of resistance. Crucial to the success of a positive resistance that expresses possibilities for alternatives to the capitalist system is a basis of freely available and exchanged information, on our past history as well as our present and futures successes and achievements. That is why this book with its clear agenda of exposing the unbroken history of capitalism’s exploitation of workers, including women as many kinds of workers, but also as their special work of giving birth to life is so important.
Because women have the power to give life, they are feared by male rulers and patriarchy demands their subjugation. And also, Because women are so close to the preservation of life, they have throughout history in many cultures been the repositories of knowledge, inherited and acquired; this knowledge has also been feared, another reason for the massive witch hunts and murders of women who dared to be like Caliban’s mother, Sycorax, who was “a witch with great powers, and had a knowledge of ‘nature’s treasures.”
In her recent book, Wild Politics, Susan Hawthorne writes that we can develop a politics rooted like a wild plant that can break through the concrete of monolithic systems and in this way alternatives, rooted in the present and particular locale can flourish and serve as new ways of living, which in this time of global warming and resource depletion, we desperately need, everywhere.
But as Federici says, the reappearance of witch hunting in so many parts of the world “is a clear sign of a process of ‘primitive accumulation’ which means that the privatization of land and other communal resources, mass impoverishment, plunder, and the sowing of divisions are once again on the world agenda.”
The German writer, Christa Wolf says, “Many people believe that the less you know, the “freer” you are to invent, but that isn’t the case.” It certainly isn’t, we need all the historical explanation, analysis and resurgence of diversity based in experience, that we can find, if we are going to invent and create new human and ecological means of creating a better world. Frederici’s scholarship is an important contribution to our work. Save the commons, recognize the deathly powers that seek to obliterate alternatives, nurture creative new thinking and action, express solidarity with those whose creativity endangers their lives and livelihoods, crack the concrete, and respect and enjoy diversity.
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