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(en) The Commoner N.6 - Winter 2003 - Mariarosa Dalla Costa - The Native In Us, the Earth We Belong To *1

From <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 26 Jan 2003 06:51:46 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

Educating the sentiments
The work I produced from the early 1970s and
part of the 1980s is probably  fairly well-
known and readily available in print. The material
emerged from a collective debate with other
women focussing on the analysis of  reproductive
labour and the question of the struggle for
wage/income, starting with wages for housework.
These days,  given the pervasiveness and
destructiveness of this most recent phase of
accumulation, I feel that a commitment revolving
exclusively round the wage/income *2 and the
reduction of labour time is inadequate unless it is
pursued in step with a series of other issues which
I will try to highlight.
In fact, I think that, from various viewpoints, the
problem of  human reproduction is
indissolubly linked to issues  - above all, land -
raised by the indigenous movements.  Women
continue to be primarily responsible for human
reproduction in all regions of the planet, and the
problem of their condition cannot ignore the
horizons that these issues outline,  whether in
families of the advanced areas or the village
communities of the 'developing' countries.
Before discussing this, however, I must say
something about my personal research in
the 1980s, a decade of political repression and the
'normalisation' of a movement which, in the
1970s, produced powerful struggles for which the
feminist movement I belonged to  -  Lotta
Femminista, or the Wages for Housework area -
paid a price in terms of repression, but, also
and as usually happens, of the erasure of its
history and work.  In the 1970s, we carried out
and published some studies*3 and, in the 1980s,
with great effort, given the circumstances, we
completed others. They included*4 Leopoldina
Fortunati's The Arcane of Reproduction (1981)
1 A first version of this article was produced for
the Conference "For Another Europe, a Europe of
Movements and
Class Autonomy" in Turin on March 30,1996 and
then further developed. This article has been
originally published
in Italian in Vis à Vis, n.5, 1997 and then in A.
Marucci (a cura di) Camminare domandando,
1997,Roma. It has also been published in English
in Common Sense, n.23, 1998. )
2 In this publication, I will use 'wage/income' to
mean money paid to both contract and
self-employed labour as well
as the so-called indirect wage which is being
progressively reduced by present policies on
health, education,
pensions, and housing, undermining what is
usually described as family or personal income.
So, with an
increasingly striking urgency in recent years, the
struggle for the wage/income also means a
struggle against
current taxation levels and the arbitrary way in
which public money is used.
3 For an analysis of the significance of violence in
the provision of domestic labour in the capitalist
mode of
production, I mention, first of all, Un lavoro
d'amore (Giovanna F.Dalla Costa, 1978). For an
analysis of the paths
followed by women's autonomy in Italy since
World War II and their intersections with the
processes of emigration, I
refer to the book I coauthored with Leopoldina
Fortunati, Brutto ciao (1977). Moreover, a
synthetic and reasoned
indication on more analytical publications or
materials more intended for  immediate use by
the movement can be
found in Note 5 of my Women's Studies e sapere
delle donne (1988). This contains no systematic
listing of what
has been produced by non-Italian feminist groups
in the same network.
4 Published in that period were La riproduzione
nel sottosviluppo (Giovanna F.Dalla Costa, 1980),
republished later with
some new material; and my Famiglia welfare e
Stato tra Progressismo e New Deal (1983),  which
analyses the
condition of the 'new woman' between nuclear
family, external employment and the emerging
welfare state.
and  Il grande Calibano, published by Fortunati
and Silvia Federici in 1984, two books
conceived as part of a larger project which
remains uncompleted. I am certain I am right in
saying that circulation of these works was actively
The climate was unfavourable, not least because
of  Marxism's 'hibernation'  when it
went out of fashion.  And since my own and my
comrades' approach was undoubtedly rooted in
Marxist analysis, it was difficult for me to find
talking partners, of either sex. Our efforts were
directed to using a Marxian analysis integrated
with our whole approach to housework. We
reformulated the concept of class to include
women as unwaged workers in that their main job
was the production and reproduction of
It was just as difficult to find anyone with whom to
give explicit expression to a certain
number of rather hirksome misgivings I always
felt  in the Marxist ambit from which I set out.
The first and major irritation was over the idea
that capitalist development seemed to be seen
as  ineluctable. However powerful the struggles
were, a new leap and a new level were just
round the corner, creating a tunnel vision in which
the tunnel's end was never in sight. The leap
to a new level of technology obliged the struggle
onto a new terrain which then became the
only significant portent for liberation.
The second irritation I felt  was because of my
perhaps mistaken impression of cynicism
with which each new level of development was
awaited and greeted, which  apart from the
massacres it caused and in to which little research
was devoted, always because of the
struggles that would emerge, should have carried
new possibilities of liberation. Thus this new
level would represent our evil but also our good.
The debate dealt fundamentally with the
advanced areas and gave little attention to
Third World struggles; the assumption was in any
case that the best way of supporting the
latter was to struggle forcefully in the former. But
this link is not as automatic as it looks; it
needs a few more steps, which I shall try to
illustrate.  The decisions involved require that one
should know what Third World struggles are going
on and what they are, with a real knowledge
of the factors they are moving against. This also
requires knowing the relationship these factors
have with the new leaps in technology at the most
'advanced' points of development,  as well
as with the re-stratification of labour at the world
level. The most detailed knowledge possible is
also required of the direction in which the actors
in the struggles would like to see them move.
The idea that capitalist development could be
ineluctable chilled me to the bone and
froze my imagination. I wondered how many
people would in fact survive to be liberated in the
famous final stage of development since the fate
of an  increasingly large proportion of
mankind  seemed to be death by massacre, and I
wondered what sense there would be in the
liberation of the surviving few if most had
perished. Again, I wondered whether there was
sense in being liberated in a world where no blade
of grass would be seen and the population
consisted of monsters produced in laboratories. I
knew my questions were not original, but
they ate at me like woodworm eating wood.
In this debate, the focal points were labour and
capital. However all-embracing they may
be, I missed any reference to nature. By this, I
mean nothing more than plants, the sea, rivers,
animals. I lived in a kind of schizophrenia in
which I only re-discovered my sensations,
imagination, and life  in nature, but nature found
no place in the debate. I was unable to
transfer the life it gave me to the political
discourse I was involved with, and I felt unable to
indicate nature as a source of life for others,
except as a private and confidential observation.
As women, we had brought our labour to the
surface, but a black hole remained: the still
submerged role of nature.
Beyond any possibility or impossibility of a
theoretical debate on the problem, I took a
simple decision to try and communicate with
those who spoke the same language because
they shared what I felt. Finding the present level
of development intolerable, I had no intention
of appealing to the next level.
In this rather solitary research, I had two
fundamental meetings; with the movement of the
indigenous peoples; and with what ecologists  were
saying, especially the ecofeminists.
My first encounter with the indigenous peoples'
movement was Rigoberta Menchù's work
My Name is Rigoberta Menchù, in the Italian
edition by Burgos in 1991. I urge everyone to read
it. It speaks of the condition of Guatemala's
indigenous peoples. It consists of three books.
Book One describes Mayan civilisation, and the
great discovery for me was that it is a living
civilisation, not a dead one. I learned about the
traditions, rites, and other ways in which the
Mayans hand down their secrets in their villages,
or when they are no longer sure they will
return there because they are going into the
mountains to become guerillas. I also learned that
this civilisation still keeps some of its secrets.
This encouraged me to see capitalism's apparent
omnipotence, as something that destroys
everything or re-shapes it to its own purposes, in
more relative terms; there are things that
capitalism doesn't know. But I also  re-discovered
myself in the natives described by Rigoberta,
in their respect and love for the land and all living
things.  In the importance they give to their
relationship with animals, I re-discovered a piece
of my history and my identity, and I also re-
discovered my research:
Above all at sowing time, the animals came and
searched through the seeds, so
we took it in turns to guard the milpa...We took it
in turns, but we were happy
because we stayed out and slept under the trees.
We had fun laying traps...and
when we heard the poor animal crying out,we
would run to see. But since our
parents forbade us to kill animals, we let them go.
We just shouted at them, and
they never came back...(Burgos 1991 p. 67).
When we girls were together...when we already
had our pet animals and we
carried them around with us, we talked about our
dreams and what we wanted to
do with the animals we had. We talked about life
a bit, but only in very general
terms. (Burgos 1991 p.102).
They killed our animals. They killed many dogs.
For us natives, killing an animal is
like killing a person. Every being in nature comes
high in our consideration
(Burgos 1991 p.132).
Book One, then, is a book about love and respect
for the earth and its  inhabitants, about
communication and the society of all living
Book Two which I would describe as a book of
horrors, concerns capitalist development i.e. the
conditions under which the Maya are obliged to
work in the fincas, the large landowners'
plantations where export crops are grown and how
the Maya  are killed.  It is not just the story
of how the land is expropriated, but also how the
landowners and the army leave the natives no
more than a small plot of land, the milpa, which is
so small and unfertile that they are in any
case obliged to work in the fincas. There, the
conditions are inhuman not only because the pay
is so low that a day's wage leaves the
day-labourers hungry. There is also the security
terrorism,  and even the most elementary hygienic
facilities are lacking; the plantation workers
have nowhere to wash and no latrines. The tale I
tell here is a tale of what death looks like
when it comes to you at your place of work.
Rigoberta's family work on the banana plantation.
Her mother knows that Rigoberta's
two-year-old brother is dying of hunger and she
can do nothing to feed him because she earns
too little. He dies and is left unburied for several
days because she doesn't have the money to
rent a square meter of land in the plantation for
his grave. In the end, overcoming a number of
difficulties, among them, the difficulties of
communication between the different ethnic
minorities with different languages,  the labourers
manage to collect enough money to bury the
One of Rigoberta's friends, Donna Petrona Chona,
resists the sexual advances of the
owner's son and is hacked to pieces by the owner's
body guard with a machete, her baby son
in her arms. Her body is cut into 25 pieces and is
left to rot. No-one in authority comes to
investigate so the workers decided to break
regulations and gather her remains in a basket to
bury her.
Another of Rigoberta's little brothers and a friend
are allowed to stay in an area where
the cotton is being fumigated, and they die of the
poison they absorb.
Book Three concerns political organisation and
repression, the latter making it in this respect
another book of horrors. But in what is said about
political organisation, which means guerilla
warfare for some and the Peasant Unity
Committee for others, I was struck by one thing.
Rigoberta, who teaches the people of her aldea 5,
and later others as well,  how to defend
themselves from the soldiers' attacks, is
particularly good at setting traps, the same traps
five centuries earlier the natives used when they
defended themselves from the
conquistadores: a heritage of knowledge handed
down and preserved. The other origins of
capital, unlike those of the advanced Great
Britain, differently to what happens in the First
World, are very evident here in what has been
handed down, as a remembered presence of
what happened, of what has been suffered and
what defences have been used. But another
striking thing is the concern the Maya show for
the animals, which they avoid killing if it is not
necessary, and also their concern for talking to the
soldiers when they capture them. It is
striking how,  in defending themselves, they have
preserved the memory of the same weapons,
using them to organise effective forms of
resistance today. Conquest and capital; a question
that remains open. A weapon has remained close
to hand to throw the invader into the sea, no
longer a destiny interiorised as ineluctable, but
rather a 500-year wait, but then you are ready
for when the hidden weapons must be disinterred,
to build a new future.
The repression, as I noted, is another book of
horrors.  Rigoberta's third brother, 16, is
captured as a reprisal. He and the other prisoners
are tortured and then brought to the square
of a village.Here the  villagers among which is,
hidden, the family of Rigoberta,are then forced
to gather round and listen as the soldiers, pointing
to the wounds inflicted on each prisoner's
naked body, explain which torture each wound
corresponds to.  They are then  burned alive, in
front of the villagers.
5 A village which is not the seat of a town council
and may be scores of kilometers from the town
council that governs it.
Rigoberta's father  also died by fire, probably
burned alive by a phosphorus bomb thrown
into the Spanish Embassy in Ciudad de
Guatemala after he had led a march of farm
and peasants inside the building. The mother was
captured, tortured to death and her body left
to the wild animals. And the soldiers stood on
guard to stop the natives from burying remains.
I don't know how high development had reached
in the advanced countries in the 1970s
and 1980s, but I do know that this was the
underdevelopment it provoked and on which it
rested.  The Maya American natives paid, and
continue to pay, just as they did at the origins of
capital, with torture, death, forced labour, hunger
and the expropriation of the land and the
resources to be found in that land. They pay for
the continually renewed globalisation of the
economy, through the combined strategy of
development and underdevelopment on which it
In so far as her book of love and horror deals with
belonging to the land, beeing expropriated
from the land, I must say that, in my mind,
Rigoberta Menchù confirmed  the centrality of the
relationship with the land as a new starting point
for  a political analysis. She also gave
centrality to the native question, both because of
the indigenous peoples' fundamental role in
the social body of workers at the world level, and
because they represent the persistence in the
world of 'other civilisations', with other memories
and imaginary landscapes. They are peoples
who have refused to disappear with the 'lost
civilisations', keeping their daily lives, preserving
their secrets and maintaining  forms of knowledge
which represent an enormous potential for
founding another form of development, starting
above all from a different relationship with the
land and all living beings.
Because of its context, the explosion of the
Zapatista movement on January 1, 1994,
was  certainly the most important event in
attracting world attention to the rebellion of the
indigenous peoples, and it gave further
confirmation to the centrality of the above
approach. In
fact, starting from  the claim to land as common,
Chiapas has increasingly become a political
laboratory which movements in all parts of the
planet look to and create links with.
Another important encounter for me was Vandana
Shiva's Sopravvivere allo sviluppo
(1990), as a kind of introduction to eco-feminism.
Various authors write in this vein of analysis,
above all, Maria Mies (1986).   I may disagree with
some of the main points in these authors'
approach, for example, when they  look at the
First World primarily as a source of consumption,
neglecting the class struggle and conflict that
impregnates it,  and the poverty that increasingly
invades it. Even though many of our conclusions
are convergent, our analytical categories are
very different. Vandana, for example, uses the
female principle as the starting-point for her
critique of male reductionist science, while I use
the categories of class and capital in which the
fundamental division between productive and
reproductive, waged and non-waged labour is
one of the common threads traversing them
But, on the whole, one of the assumptions
underlying all these works  is one I share: that
any political proposal whatsoever, for
development or non-development - one can also
time;  there is no ineluctable obligation to
develop and develop again - should start from
for, and the determination to preserve nature's
fundamental equilibria, above all, its self-
regenerative/reproductive powers; from respect
and love for all living creatures. In this sense,
we were on shared ground, in any case and always.
And also for the  continual appreciation
shown by these writers for the knowledge used by
indigenous women in extracting
nourishment, resources, and abundance from
nature, while allowing the regeneration of its
resources by using them in moderation and
returning what has been taken.  For me, an
extremely innovative and significant political
approach  could be seen at work in the decision of
the Chipko women to turn down an offer from the
lumber companies of jobs in the saw mills in
exchange for felling the forests, arguing that they
did not only not need the jobs, but that their
children would never suffer hunger if the forest
was nearby.  Their struggle meant a rejection of
development in so far as development means
being enslaved to the wage economy's total
uncertainty. Not only does the wage have its uses,
but also the non-wage. The love in Shiva's
book (1990) lies in how it describes, almost thanks
and caresses the water, the land, the plants,
the seeds and animals in their infinite
possibilities for satisfying needs that are also
provided capitalist rules are not imposed on
them. The horrors concern the systematic
destruction of the diversity of the various species,
their standardisation and distortion into
laboratory hybrids, genetic manipulation, patents,
monopolies, forbidden access, and the
resulting creation of hunger and denial of survival
for an increasingly large proportion of
It is no coincidence if these two books were
written by women from the world's South,
and I have mentioned them because they were
important milestones in my identification with
the cause of the land and of the indigenous
peoples, while also revitalising me by reuniting
my heart's  quest with what my mind was  searching
for.  Today, the struggle against the capitalist
system of social relations must focus on how to
construct a new relationship with the land. In
this sense,  in its affirmation of and claim to a
different form of knowledge and volition towards
the earth and all living creatures, the indigenous
peoples' rebellion represents a moment of
strength and a crucial indication for all mankind.
Structural Adjustment Policies and the Land
Seen from a much more 'rational' viewpoint,  the
land question, seen here negatively as
privatisation/expropriation, became central to the
collective work I have pursued with American
comrades of both sexes since the early 1970s,
when we started examining policies for
managing the so-called debt crisis, broadly
speaking the structural adjustment policies applied
with an increasingly heavy hand since the 1980s in
both 'developing' and 'advanced' countries.
Above all, because they have extended the
poverty they were supposed to cure, these policies
have been the vehicle for the new international
division of labour, which has re-stratified the
corpus of the world's workers in increasingly heavy
ways, in production, but also in reproduction
(Federici 1996), for the neoliberalism that asks
workers to make further sacrifices so that firms
can compete better in the world economy; for the
new terms of production that are designed to
lower the wage and encourage the de-regulation of
This set of coordinates was the response to the
international cycle of struggles in the 1960s
and 1970s, but in the 1980s and the present
decade these same structural adjustment policies
have already stirred a growing rebellion
throughout the world. In Italy, in the 1990s, similar
measures took giant steps towards acceptance as
the necessary corollary to recent major
financial and economic agreements, including the
Maastricht Treaty, all of which are inspired by
the free-market approach.
In the crisis of the nation-state, the International
Monetary Fund and, in an emerging
role, the World Bank have come to form a
government without frontiers and international
capital's institutional summit. By imposing
adjustment policies, the IMF has continually lowered
the conditions for human reproduction, while the
World Bank has launched complementary
development projects in which profit
maximisation rests on the further massive
demolition of the
factors on which social reproduction is based.  As
more than a few analysts have said (George
1989; McCully 1996), these projects represent a
hymn of praise to environmental devastation,
waste, senselessness, and the annihilation of
peoples. A few examples must suffice.
World Bank finance was used to build a nuclear
power-station in a seismic zone in the
Philippines; the station was never brought on
stream because of the seismic risk.
The same source of funding ensured construction
of the Tucurui dam in Brazilian
Amazonia; rather than felling 2.8 million trees for
a total of 13.4 million tons of wood, they were
left to rot under the water.  The forest was
sprayed with the defoliant, dioxyn, whose
devastating effects became widely known during
the Vietnam war. Some barrels of dioxyn went
missing and are still lying down under the water.
Because of the pressure, they could explode
at any moment and pollute the lake created by
the dam. The lake is the water source supplying
the state capital of Belem; the effects on its
population of 1.2 million can perhaps be imagined
(George 1989, p. 205).
Another project resting on World Bank funds is
the Yacyretà dam, a structure 87 meters
high and 67 meters long  on the Paranà river at
the frontier between Paraguay and Argentina.
The project promised low-cost electrical energy,
but the electricity it produces will in fact cost
three times the current market price. Energy
needs were overestimated at the design stage and
could be covered at a lower cost by using
Argentinian natural gas. When the project is
complete, 50,000 persons will have been obliged to
leave the flooded land. Those who have
done so already have received no compensation
and have finished up in decrepit shanties.
Local fishing has been ruined, and so have the
local ceramics craftworkers since the clay the
craftsmen need is under water. The damage to the
ecosystem has caused the spread of
various diseases and sicknesses (Il Manifesto,
November 29, 1996). The bank's money has
also been used to launch the largest and most
terrible transmigrasi, a transfer of population I
shall mention below (George 1989).
Returning to the adjustment polices to which
these so-called plans are complementary, a
cursory look at them shows that they are
substantially identical in all the countries they
applied to. Officially to pay their debts, and in
obedience to the IMF's directives whose primary
objectives include  encouraging the growth of
international trade, these countries work out their
policies along lines supposed to promote
economic growth. The main ones are: devaluation to
encourage exports; the liberalisation of trade and
imports; the reorganisation of production for
export; rationalisation of the public sector through
expenditure cuts, firings and privatisation;
wage reductions; investments cuts, especially in
health, education and pensions; the
suppression of subsidies for prime necessities;
and, where as in more or less vast areas of
Africa and Latin America as well as elsewhere
land is still managed collectively, the imposition
of a price on land with privatisation, on the one
hand, and expropriation on the other. This is
very important factor in weakening the villagers'
bargaining power since, in villages enjoying a
reasonable level of reproduction, the inhabitants
have always been able to refuse the most
obnoxious jobs and wages that are too low.
The major financial agencies, led by the World
Bank, match the expropriation/enclosure
of the land and other 'commons' or collective
goods needed for survival (for example,  water
supplies  and the forest) with encouragement for
population policies which discourage
collective forms of social reproduction in favour of
models of reproduction typical of the areas of
advanced capitalism. This means,  first of all, the
nuclear family, even though the percentage of
waged heads of family is by no means as high as in
the advanced countries in the era of mass
industrial production - and  the nuclear family
also lies  in complete contrast with the rooted
habits of  collective management of  the rights
and duties in human reproduction.
The problem here is not so much  one of fitting
the form of the family and social
reproduction to the forms in which production is
organised, but rather to make reproduction a
terrain for strong behavioural discipline according
to the 'Western model'. Above all, it is a
question of weakening    collective reproductive
structures in order to lower the population's
bargaining power on work conditions, Individuals
are thus deprived of both the material
resources available independently of the money
economy and the support deriving from the
community and the extended family.
As Silvia Federici (1993) has shown, Nigeria is a
significant example.  Polygamy is the
rule in much of Africa and taking care of the
children a responsibility of the village, yet the
population propaganda campaign started in 1984
demands 'one man, one wife' and 'one
couple, one child'. As Federici notes,  for the most
part, these targets have remained empty
propaganda since the cuts in social expenditure
mean that, in practice, there is no access to
the means of birth control. Thus, the reduction in
population that the governments are hoping
for is achieved, instead, by the lethal
consequences of the adjustment policies.
In the early 1980s, the social damage caused by
these policies was claimed to be a
transitory accident. Later, as the systematic
damage they caused became more obvious the
more persistently they were applied, the damage
was said to represent a necessary social cost.
A whole literature developed on how to alleviate
the more aberrant forms of harm, for a form of
'adjustment with a human face'.  Another, more
recent approach admits that these policies
were directly aimed at transforming, above all, the
sphere of social reproduction, from family
structure to nutrition,  hygiene, health, education
and pensions, but argues that this gives
governments a big chance to convert their
country's social reproduction to greater efficiency.
Looking at these approaches, I and the scholars I
have worked with agree that these
policies are in fact designed to reshape social
reproduction, but what is there defined in terms
of efficiency, we see as an attack on the
population's conditions of reproduction and on the
women's labour and struggles, as a prerequisite for
take-off in the new phase of accumulation
(Dalla Costa M. and Dalla Costa G.F., 1993, 1996;
Midnight Notes 1988, 1990; Cafa 1990-96).
More precisely, I think these policies are the
point at which neoliberalism emerges as a planned
strategy; in other words, they form the programme
for an overall strategy of underdevelopment
in social reproduction, which  reflects an
increasingly pervasive world-wide level of
proletarisation,  involving a deeper stratification
of labour. The aim is to lower the bargaining
power of the working body of society so that, in
conformity with the conditions needed for
neoliberalism fuller extension, new modes of
labour are accepted such that guarantees and
acquired rights are progressively dismantled and a
return is made to conditions of slavery on an
increasingly wide scale.
In New York, a few months ago, I happened to
hear a phone call from a trade-unionist to
a local radio station in which he denounced a US
company for employing children at a plant in
Central America from 7 in the morning to 10 at
night. Their shoes were removed so they
wouldn't run away. The labour official was about
to start touring the country to ask the
Americans if they agree that this is the way the
goods they buy should be made.
But, as a strategy for the underdevelopment of
reproduction, structural adjustment
policies are something more than an attack on
women's labour and their struggles in defence of
a decent level of reproduction in the family or the
community.  These are struggles designed to
obtain and defend income where survival depends
on money; and defend resources and goods
such as the land, water, the forest, animals, small
trading and craftwork where survival does not
rest predominantly on money, but may involve it.
Apart from their attack on all this, these policies
also undermine the autonomy won by
the women, economically and socially, in civil as
well as political terms, especially as regards
'reproductive rights'.  Communities are not
immobile in their traditions as is patently clear
from the Eritrean women's Charter of Rights and the
revolutionary law of the Maya women in
Chiapas. In no situation today can women be
easily reduced to silence and obedience, as is
shown by the Algerian crisis and the protest which
burst out in the great demonstration in
Afghanistan in October.
Another aspect that needs highlighting (Dalla
Costa M. 1995) is that this overall strategy
of underdevelopment in social reproduction
involves social macro-operations very similar to
those which characterized primitive accumulation
at the birth of the capitalist system: not just
the expropriation of the land, but also the
dissolution of family and community relations today
provoked above all by the uprooting and transfer
of populations in order to create a mass of
impoverished and isolated individuals who have
nothing but their labour-power. Now, as then,
women are expelled from the preceding means of
reproduction and, since waged jobs in
plantations and on dams are offered primarily to
men, they are in large part denied access to
new means; they emerge as the poorest of the
poor. If the individual proletarian woman's
emergence  in capitalism is fundamentally in
poverty and as a prostitute (Fortunati 1981), for
that is when prostitution first became a mass
profession for women, the launching of structural
adjustment policies on an increasingly ample
scale results in prostitution appearing as an
international profession for women on an
increasingly mass scale.  Another point to note is that,
even if it was ignored by Marx,  witch-hunting was
a fundamental process during primitive
accumulation (Federici 1981) since it served to
forge a new female proletarian identity,  whose
defining features were isolation and subordination
in which women are deprived of their power
and knowledge as regards sexuality and
procreation. In the same way, today, we see the
application of increasingly authoritarian
population policies  of which China's are anything
but an isolated example  - policies which are
completely subordinate to capitalist interests
and continue down this same path of denying women
material possibilities, autonomy, power and
knowledge as regards sexuality and procreation.
At the same time, in precisely these same
territories, and especially in the more advanced
areas, they are progressively overrun by
technologies of reproduction which make them
increasingly sought-after for male domination
and capitalist profit, as well as in the
mystification and destruction of social relations.
In this
connection, it is significant to find so much
emphasis laid in so many debates on indifference to
the  biological father, who has been replaced so
nonchalantly by the sperm bank.
In my view, the trend towards making  the
individual increasingly into a laboratory
product rather than the child of biological and
social parents is matched by   the tendency
towards uprooting populations. Whether you
uproot  plants, individuals or populations, there is
undoubtedly a weakening effect and, for humans,
prejudice for  an identity which is also defined
by knowledge and memories handed down through
the generations.  Faced by this technology
of reproduction, my hope is that,  in view of times
when plastic and metal are less predominant,
the Mayan women will succeed in maintaining and
handing on their secret knowledge of wild
herbs which enables them to control how many
children to have and when to have them
(Burgos 1991).
Adjustment Policies and  Restructurisation in
Social Reproduction
Some observations are now needed on the
restructurisation of social reproduction set in
motion  by  structural adjustment policies.  The
IMF and the World Bank are the institutional
summit and the main driving  power behind
capitalist restructurisation in the new global
economy and, precisely  through the massive
poverty they cause,  their adjustment policies are
the conduit for the new international division of
labour, above all reproductive labour (Federici
1996).  Adjustment policies and neoliberalism are
the two pillars on which the new mode of
capitalist accumulation rests.
In fact, the impoverishment caused by the
separation of increasingly large masses of
individuals from their means of  reproduction -
land, above all, but also all those individual and
collective rights that contribute to guaranteeing
survival - is the root cause of the massive
migratory flows providing low-cost, even slave
labour, to Italy and other countries, while also
helping to compress domestic labour costs.
Poverty generated elsewhere may explain why
Chinese work day and night  behind the
closed doors of textile factories in some parts of
Italy, but the poverty caused by Italian
adjustment policies and the Italian model of
economic development and aid to the South
explains why Italian, and especially southern
Italian  women and children are often recruited
illegally to work 12-14 hours day for as little as
$45,  and rarely more than  $350 a month6.  At
the same time, in recent years, the reproductive
labour  expressed in prostitution has
increasingly found its outlet in forms of slavery
and a trafficking in women from eastern Europe
and Africa. To coercion is added a lowering of  the
prostitute's earnings and hygienic
Other levers which act jointly with adjustment
policies to send new contingents of
emigrants on their way include the falling market
price of farm products and the withdrawal of
agricultural subsidies. Both ruin the small
farmers and separate them from their means of
production and reproduction.
The Third World's monstrous impoverishment
lies behind the aggravation of-reproductive
labour among the women who have stayed behind
in the village (Michel 1993), the other
terminal of the emigrants' reproductive path. But
is also the channel for a major restructurisation
of social reproduction on a global scale whereby
Third World women, either by staying in their
countries of origins or emigrating to the more
advanced zones, supply a growing proportion of
low-cost reproductive labour for the First World
(Federici 1996). The labour in question may be
related to sexual tourism or prostitution,
house-work, child care or caring for old people and
the sick. But  it also involves supplying children to
advanced areas. The figures are spine-chilling.
In the early 1990s, 5,000 South Korean children
were being exported to the United States each
year (Chira 1988), while at the end of the 1980s an
adopted child was reckoned to arrive in the
US every 48 minutes (Raymond 1994). The
existence of 'baby farms' where children are
specifically raised for export has been confirmed
(Raymond 1994), like the widespread practice
6 Italy's public television broadcast a number of
services on this issue in 1996. See also Il
Manifesto, November 16,
1996, p.16.

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