December 10, 2017: Witches & Feminist Energy Transition
In The Caliban and the Witch: the Body and Primitive Accumulation Sylvia Federici writes that “The witch-hunt, then, was a war against women; it was a concerted attempt to degrade them, demonize them, and destroy their social power. At the same time, it was in the torture chambers and on the stakes on which the witches perished that the bourgeois ideals of womanhood and domesticity were forged” (186).
And “the witch” was many things, including the rebel woman and the woman who organized politically.
Federici explains that the rebel (or witch) “describes the female personality that had developed, especially among the peasantry, in the course of the struggle against feudal power, when women had been in the forefront of the heretical movements, often organizing in female associations,posing a growing challenge to male authority and the Church” (184).
At a time of incredible misogyny, when religion and politics divided men, they were united against women, moving to undermine their social and economic power, and to control reproduction to ensure a growing labour force. The “witch hunt was a major political initiative”(168). It was “one of the most important events in the development of capitalist society”, an “essential aspect of primitive accumulation and the ‘transition’ to capitalism” (165).
“[H]undreds of thousands of women were burned, hanged and tortured in less than two centuries . . . simultaneously with the colonization and extermination of the populations of the New World, the English enclosures, the beginning of the slave trade, the enactment of ‘bloody laws’ against vagabonds and beggars, and it [the persecution of witches] climaxed in that interregnum between the end of feudalism and the capitalist ‘take off’. . . However, this aspect of primitive accumulation has truly remained a secret”(164-165).
These histories of oppression and subjugation have everything to do with control of labour (and the people who perform labour) and the control of nature through private property and the exploitation of resources.
Feminist energy transition — thus understood — finds common cause with decolonial and alternative economics and the allies working to recalibrate social relations around those issues. For under capitalism, we are all colonized. “Just as the Enclosures expropriated the peasantry from the communal land, so the witch-hunt expropriated women from their bodies, which were thus ‘liberated’ from any impediment preventing them to function as machines for the production of labour. For the threat of the stake erected more formidable barriers around women’s bodies than were ever erected by fencing of the commons”(184).