Capitalism and Misogyny (part review up to p.90)

Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation - Silvia Federici

This book looks at the rise of Capitalism from Mercantilism and Feudalism during the Middle Ages. It provides a background to the witch trials that will likely be covered in the later pages.


So far I have learned -


That in the 14th century in response to greater labour power following labour scarcity after the Great Plague (which wiped out 30 - 40% of the European population) a number of steps were taken to crush peasant solidarity and deal with the population decline. Both affected women to a greater degree than any other social group. Regulations of sexual practises included criminalising homosexuality. Decriminalisation of rape and state funded brothels were introduced, degrading the status of women in communities.


Land enclosure (privatisation) in the 15th - 16th centuries eradicated common land and prevented the poor from being self-sufficient. This was followed by social enclosure in the 16th century, proscribing festivals and gathering of workers for any reason in a deliberate move to destroy solidarity.


Reading this I fast-forwarded to the present day where much of the racism we suffer from in Europe stems from jealousy of community cohesion.


More women were executed for infanticide in 16th - 17th century Europe than for any other crime except witch-craft, a charge that also centred around the killing of children - contraception and abortion. The population crisis in the 16th century, due to disease, starvation and poverty, was second only to the Black Death and threatened the future of the work force, leading to state interest in reproduction. During this time there was a shift from mid-wifery to male doctors at births. Mid-wifes in France and Germany had to become spies for the state if they wanted to continue their practice, and in the case of medical emergency the life of the fetus was prioritised over that of the mother.


A lot of this stuff vindicates my personal feelings on the relationship between bigotry of all shades and oppression of the poor, but I didn't have the facts and figures before. This book is hard going, painful at times but essential reading for someone looking at the history of female oppression in Europe and worldwide. The fact that we aren't taught this stuff in school is unsurprising considering the mass slaughter of the poor during land clearances and the effect on class consciousness of that knowledge. It does shake the idea that our current economic system is natural and inevitable. In fact it was brought about by killing those who tried to resist.