In her classic book "Caliban and the Witch", Silvia Federici uncovers the roots of capitalism in the 14th to 16th century. Capitalism has not evolved organically, as it is often claimed, as a liberation from the chains of feudalism, but rather as a counter-revolution against the massive social movements that swept all over Europe in these days - from the heretic movements of the late Middle Ages to the Refomration and the Peasant's Wars. Thomas Muentzer's motto "Omnia sund communia" - "everything belongs to everybody" - was emblematic for these egalitarian movements and relinks them to the modern Commons movement.
Silvia Federici, professor emerita for Political Philosophy at Hofstra University, Long Island, NY; political activist and author of several books, including "Caliban and the Witch"
Kontext TV: One of the most striking theses in your book „Caliban and the Witch" is the idea, that capitalism has historically evolved not as a way to overcome the bonds and chains of feudalism as it is often portrayed, but as a way to defeat the massive egalitarian movements that spread all over Europe from the 14th to the 16th century. Can you talk about these egalitarian movements and how capitalism evolved to subdue them?
Federici: Oh, that's a long discussion, but yes, first of all my research work brought me to rediscover the antifeudal struggle. The struggle against the feudal lords, against the early form of a commercialization of life, the merchant being the figure expressing that and the church of course, which were part of one power structure. Even though with conflicts within them, but fundamentally they were always united. I'd say by the 13th or 14th century they were already united, they were confronting the peasant or the artisan in struggle. And I also looked at the heretic movement that in a way provided a broader vision to those struggles. Because the heretic movement in different ways projected a vision built on egalitarian relations. They said, Jesus had no property. They said the commercialization of the church is making a commerce of all sacraments. This is not what we want, that's not what god wants. So they used the word, the language of religion but actually to deal with very concrete social issues. And in the heretic movement, for instance, women had a much more egalitarian relation to man. Women were allowed to practice the sacraments, which was very important. And then, by the 15th Century, you also have this incredible peasant war, in which all those elements came together. For example the so called German peasant war, which was not only peasant, because miners were involved, artisans were involved, artist were involved, for example many many important German artists were involved in these wars and lost their lives, died atrociously. I'm actually wearing this shirt that was made by this group traficantes de sueños in Madrid and these are the works of Thomas Muentzer, the leader of the German peasant war in Germany. Who before dying said "omnia sunt communia", everything has to be in common. And it was very important because I realized that the transition from feudalism to capitalism was not an evolutionary process and certainly it was not the move to a higher type of society but I call capitalism a counterrevolution. It was born out of a set of strategies that the feudal lords, the merchants, the church put in practice in order to regain the command over labor, the command over the exploitation of a whole population of artisans and peasants who by the 15th century were refusing and were organizing against their power.