Witchcraft has become a buzzword of late. In fashion, movies, TV, and on social media, women have begun to reexamine its meanings, and how it can be adopted as an archetype against patriarchy. But long before #witchesofinstagram was a hashtag, feminist and leftist writer Silvia Federici examined the hardly superficial ties between the witch trials, patriarchy, and the creation of capitalism.
Her landmark book on the subject, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, is twenty years old this year. The book is an investigation into the roots of capitalism, and its genesis through the great witch trials of Europe alongside European colonization of the New World. The work remains a scathing indictment of the patriarchal violence inherent to capitalism and places the figure of the witch at the center of the fight against capital.
Federici argues that the great witch trials of Europe were borne out of the process of accumulation by which capitalism came to be formed. While coming from the Marxist tradition, she breaks here with Marx, arguing that the violence of the witch trials is an integral part of capitalism, one that is inflicted upon Indigenous populations, the poor, women, and anyone outside centers of power within the capitalist system every time the economy expands. She argues—again, counter to Marx—that capitalism has never been a “progressive system” and definitely was not a necessary historical condition for the development of a non-exploitative society.
Witches, Witch-hunting, And Women - Silvia Federici
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