Silvia Federici – Caliban and the Witch
The Anarchist Library
Title: Caliban and the Witch
Subtitle: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation
Date: April 2004
Notes: This version of the text does not correspond to any particular edition. It is mostly based on the first edition, with some improvements and corrections (typographical, formatting, and references—not content). It does not use the normal footnotes feature available on this site for the endnotes, instead manually linking to them for each chapter, as the endnotes for this text contain too much formatting for footnotes. Images have been replaced with a best effort of finding scans/photos of the original sources, rather than the versions in the book. Secondary footnotes give the original source of the depicted image (frequently omitted, abridged, or erroneous in the text itself).
To the many witches I have met in the Women’s Movement, and to the other witches whose stories have accompanied me for more than twenty-five years, nevertheless leaving an inexhaustible desire to tell, to let people know, to make sure that they will not be forgotten.
To our brother Jonathan Cohen whose love, courage and uncompromising resistance to injustice have helped me not lose faith in the possibility of changing the world and in men’s ability to make the struggle for women’s liberation their own.
To the people who have helped me to produce this volume. I thank George Caffentzis with whom I have discussed every aspect of this book; Mitchel Cohen for his excellent comments, his editing of parts of the manuscript, and his enthusiastic support for this project; Ousseina Alidou and Maria Sari for introducing me to the work of Maryse Condé; Ferruccio Gambino for making me aware of the existence of slavery in 16th– and 17th-century Italy; David Goldstein for the materials he has given me on the witches’ “pharmakopeia”; Conrad Herold, for contributing to my research on witch hunting in Peru; Massimo de Angelis, for giving me his writings on primitive accumulation and for the important debate on this topic which he organized in The Commoner; Willy Mutunga for the materials he has given me on the legal aspects of witchcraft in East Africa. I thank Michaela Brennan and Veena Viswanatha for reading the manuscript and giving me advice and support. I also thank Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Nicholas Faraclas, Leopolda Fortunati, Everet Green, Peter Linebaugh, Bene Madunagu, Maria Mies, Ariel Salleh, Hakim Bey. Their works have been a reference point for the perspective that shapes Caliban and the Witch, though they may not agree with all that I have written here.
Special thanks to Jim Fleming, Sue Ann Harkey, Ben Meyers and Erika Biddle, who have given many hours of their time to this book and, with their patience and assistance, have given me the possibility of finishing it, despite my endless procrastination. —New York, April 2004
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Text anti-copyright @ 2004 Silvia Federici This text may be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes. Please inform the author and publisher at the address above of any such use.
Designed by Sue Ann Harkey
First edition, 2004. Third printing, 2009 ISBN 1-57027-059-7
Printed in the United States of America
Caliban and the Witch presents the main themes of a research project on women in the “transition” from feudalism to capitalism that I began in the mid-1970s, in collaboration with an Italian feminist, Leopoldina Fortunati. Its first results appeared in a book that we published in Italy in 1984: Il Grande Calibano. Storial del corpo social ribelle nella prima fase del capitale (Milano: Franco Angeli) [The Great Caliban. History of the Rebel Body in the First Phase of Capitalism].
My interest in this research was originally motivated by the debates that accompanied the development of the Feminist Movement in the United States concerning the roots of women’s “oppression,” and the political strategies which the movement should adopt in the struggle for women’s liberation. At the time, the leading theoretical and political perspectives from which the reality of sexual discrimination was analyzed were those proposed by the two main branches of the women’s movement: the Radical Feminists and the Socialist Feminists. In my view, however, neither provided a satisfactory explanation of the roots of the social and economic exploitation of women. I objected to the Radical Feminists because of their tendency to account for sexual discrimination and patriarchal rule on the basis of transhistorical cultural structures, presumably operating independently of relations of production and class. Socialist Feminists, by contrast, recognized that the history of women cannot be separated from the history of specific systems of exploitation and, in their analyses, gave priority to women as workers in capitalist society. But the limit of their position, in my understanding of it at the time, was that it failed to acknowledge the sphere of reproduction as a source of value-creation and exploitation, and thus traced the roots of the power differential between women and men to women’s exclusion from capitalist development—a stand which again compelled us to rely on cultural schemes to account for the survival of sexism within the universe of capitalist relations.
It was in this context that the idea of tracing the history of women in the transition from feudalism to capitalism took form. The thesis which inspired this research was first articulated by Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, as well as other activists in the Wages For Housework Movement, in a set of documents that in the 1970s were very controversial, but eventually reshaped the discourse on women, reproduction, and capitalism. The most influential among them were Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s Women and the Subversion of the Community (1971), and Selma James’ Sex, Race and Class (1975).