Mies, Maria & Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen. The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalized Economy. ZED BOOKS, London, UK & New York, USA.

(Original German edition: Eine Kuh für Hillary: Die Subsistenzperspektive. München: Frauenoffensive, 1997.)

“The third phase of global restructuring began with the recession around 1990. It is characterized by an unprecedented penetration of all regions of the globe and all areas of life by the logic and practice of capital accumulation.” p.35

“The rise of the global market has exacerbated the plight of women.” p. 225

Maria Mies has had a profound affect on research and activism in many countries in our globalized world. The distinguished author, teacher and activist with her colleague, Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, has produced a clear, concise, often humorous, detailed account of a radical alternative to globalization. When this book was published, there appeared to be no alternative: TINA, as Margaret Thatcher insisted. Since that time, no doubt helped by Mies’ work, cracks have occurred in the face of globalization; it is not working everywhere, and as these authors explain capitalist growth is based on the unpaid labour of women and peasants and the exploitation of nature.

We have realized in the last few years the finite limits of nature. Women and peasants are in the lead in the ant-globalization movement which spread from the majority world to the minority world as comfortable citizens in Europe and north America saw their livelihoods and security eroded by the latest stages of the global market; the privatization of the commons.

Maria Mies with Theresa Wolfwood

Maria Mies with Theresa Wolfwood

Many of the examples of the subsistence alternative are inspiring and provocative in their challenge to contemporary popular notions of wealth. Particularity amusing and enlightening is the story of the title in German: A Cow for Hilary; the story of how peasant women pity the wife of the US president because she lacks the security of a large family, ducks and a cow. This is a new perspective: the subsistence perspective from women who feel more empowered than a wealthy famous US woman!

The authors believe and present convincing reasons why an alternative to globalization based on self-reliance, access to food security, community, respect for nature and others is te best way to resist the greedy disempowering forces of globalization and capital.

Their important contribution to our limited definition of “feminism” is a state of “ecofeminism” where women accept the concept of ´subsistence´ by respecting their own (mainly unpaid) labour, the strength of community and the power to seek and implement ideas and solutions created in that community. Mies says, “It is my thesis that this general production of life, or subsistence production – mainly performed through the non–wage labour of women and other non–wage labourers as slaves, contract workers and peasants in the colonies – constitutes the perennial basis upon which ´capitalist productive labour´ can be built up and exploited”.

This book makes it clear that freedom from this oppression from above is the basis for a sustainable life and happy fulfilled life. Reading it is a great antidote to the gloom and despair mongering that mainstream thought uses to discourage and disempower us all.

Mies’ books, especially those on “Ecofeminism” and “Patriarchy and the Accumulation of Capital” are excellent reading also.

Filed under Book Reviews, Maria Mies, Veronika Bennholdt-Thomson