New Criticals

1. Feminist theorists have appropriated Marx’s key idea of primitive accumulation for the argument that women’s bodies, particularly in the global South, are some of the most exploited resources in global capitalism. Primitive accumulation refers to an inherently violent process of extracting resources and appropriating them for free or without adequate compensation. It is a theoretical tool for exposing the fact that capitalism has never managed to operate with just the mechanism of exploitation and the appropriation of surplus value; it has always relied heavily on outright plunder and theft. As Marx famously writes in the first volume of Capital, capital comes into the world “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt” (Marx 1976, 926).

According to Rosa Luxemburg’s later analysis, imperialism functioned as an effective political strategy for primitive accumulation: naturally produced use-values such as gold, ivory, and rubber were extracted from the colonies in order to enrich the imperialist centers. Marxist-feminist theorist such as Sylvia Federici and Maria Mies have developed this idea further in their influential work to argue that the violent expropriation of women’s bodies and their reproductive labor is structurally analogous to the plunder of natural resources. Mies, for example, makes a historical and theoretical link between colonialism and witch hunts. Colonies, nature and women were dominated and violently expropriated by white, capitalist men in a structurally similar way and as part of the same historical process. “The violent subordination of women under men and the process of capital accumulation was first acted out on a mass scale during the witch hunts in Europe… Women and colonial peoples were defined as property, as nature, not as free subjects, who could enter a contract. Both had to be subordinated by force and direct violence” (Mies 1997, 170). According to Mies, the same process still continues in the Third World. Women’s bodies and reproductive capacities have to be understood as mute nature and brought under patriarchal domination because such domination forms a necessary, structural condition for the capitalist accumulation process.