Published the same month, April 2004, that Fallujah first turned back the American onslaught and that the photographs of American tortures in Abu Ghraib prison were displayed to the world, Silvia Federici's book, Caliban and the Witch, although describing a time and place remote from the lawless atrocities in Mesopotamia, being as it is a study of the witch-hunt, of medieval heretical movements, and of European mechanical and materialist philosophy from the 'Age of Reason,' nevertheless, it is essential for understanding either. At the same time, the paradox of the hideous pun of the Structural Adjustment Program and the Special Access Program as the SAP, or the grotesque contradiction found between chapter 39 of Magna Carta and order 39 of the Iraq occupation are explicated.
Nothing can so clearly help us understand the torture and the project of neo-liberalism as this, for Federici describes a foundational process creating the structural conditions for the existence of capitalism. This is the fundamental relationship of capitalist accumulation, or (as it is called in decades of technical literature) 'primitive accumulation.' This mystery perplexed (however coyly) Adam Smith. It was the 'original sin' of the political economists, and for Karl Marx it was written in "letters of blood and fire."
The birth of the proletariat required war against women. This was the witch-hunt when tens of thousands of women in Europe were tortured and burnt at the stake, in massive state-sponsored terror against the European peasantry destroying communal relations and communal property. It was coeval with the enclosures of the land, the destruction of popular culture, the genocide in the New World, and the start of the African slave trade. The 16th century price inflation, the 17th century crisis, the centralized state, the transition to capitalism, the Age of Reason come to life, if the blood-curdling cries at the stake, the crackling of kindling as the faggots suddenly catch fire, the clanging of iron shackles of the imprisoned vagabonds, or the spine-shivering abstractions of the mechanical philosophies can indeed be called "life."
Federici explains why the age of plunder required the patriarchy of the wage. Gender became not only a biological condition or cultural reality but a determining specification of class relations. The devaluation of reproductive labor inevitably devalues its product, labor power. The burning of the witches and the vivisection of the body enforced a new sexual pact, the conjuratio of unpaid labor. It was essential to capitalist work-discipline. This is what Marx called the alienation of the body, what Max Weber called the reform of the body, what Norman O. Brown called the repression of the body, and what Foucault calls the discipline of the body. Yet, these social theorists of deep modernization overlooked the witch-hunt!
The historic demonization of women is on the face of page after page in profuse and magnificent illustration. The book contains many and beautiful illustrations, such as Vegetable Man, the Land of Cockaigne, the Fountain of Youth, and the Witch's Herbary. It contains powerful images, many are woodcuts (one of the first uses of the printing press). One shows witches conjuring a rain shower, others show a 15th century brothel, Dürer's depiction of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the common land, Jacques Callot's Horrors of War, Dürer's woman's bath-house, The Parliament of Women, and the Anabaptist's communistic sharing of goods.
If one image from Abu Ghraib gave us a crucifixion, another as surely gave us a pyramid: these fundamental forms of graphic design, known to every art student. Hans Grien's Witches Sabbath (1510) or the title page of Andreas Vasalius' De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543). All its magic has gone: the human body has become a factory, or a mechanism of circulating blood, connecting tissues, little cells, obedient to commands of science. The mechanical body is depicted: to crown all, the hideous gathering in a Corinthian-style rotunda of the Renaissance mob of bourgeois at the anatomical theater where a pregnant woman's corpse lies naked in the middle, on a table, her womb gashed open as the assembly leers, gazes, peers, points, spies, shoves, elbows each other, scrutinizes, assesses.
Product of intense debates within the international women's movement, with a perspective on European history made possible by three years' residence in the mid-80s in Nigeria where a campaign of miscogyny accompanied the attack on communal lands under the direction of the 'structural adjustment plan' enabled her to understand the adjusting structures of European capitalism at its violent beginnings. Drawing on the non-conformity of British social history, on the lucid periodization of French scholarship, on Mediterranean openness to Asia and Africa, on the cultural endurance of indigenous people of the Americas, on the power of the women of west Africa, her scope is authentic and broad, from the Saracens in the east to the Incas in the west, with Europe in the north and the Caribbean in the south. Its zones of interest are west Africa, England, France, Germany, Mediterranean, Yucatan, Oaxaca, eastern Europe, and the Caribbean. The global perspective is one of a multiplicity of locales: not an envisioned totality but a manifold of villages, neighborhoods, common lands.