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Posts tagged ‘witch’

Witchy Witchy Woman: Witch Hunts and Capitalism

I came across mention of Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch in Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of this World, and was taken with the notion that the character of the devil and the character of the witch can be understood through a genealogical method that shows how these characters were invoked, who was empowered by them, who invoked them and who was accused of these things. The question for Federici (as for Kotsko) is not was this person really a witch or a devil, but how did accusing someone of being a witch achieve certain ends in certain contexts?  Federici argues that the accusation of being a witch was used to strip women of power during the transition to capitalism from feudalism, a process which was necessary for the success of capitalism.

Against the view that the persecution of witches was the last gasp of the superstition that accompanied feudalism, Federici argues that the charge of witchcraft was used to limit women’s power and to control the reproduction of labor so necessary for the success of capitalism.  This persecution involved a steady indoctrination of the threat of witches and the characteristics of witches, a process which produced the notion of the strong independent woman as a supernatural threatening force antagonistic to the interests of even working class men.  Federici argues that the targets of witchcraft were not crimes but previously accepted practices and individuals that needed to be eliminated for capitalism to become possible and to thrive.  Evidence of this is that those who were accused were poor peasant women and those who accused them were wealthy members of the community, often their employers or their landlords.

Federici offers evidence that in the transition to capitalism, women lose economic, social and political power, rather than, as many people commonly suppose, that capitalism is a necessary stage toward the liberation for women. She argues that prior to the process of enclosure that privatized common lands women helped the family develop independence from the lord through their work on the common land.  The transition to capital takes the common land away and thus takes this power away.  Federici argues that enclosure made it more difficult for women to support themselves and to consider production in terms of use.  This process was resisted by women (Montpollier revolt in 1645, Cordoba in 1652) who needed then to be controlled and to have their power reduced for capitalism to become possible.  Read more