“To me, the struggle is a healing process. If the struggle itself is not a healing process, it’s not worth it! There’s something wrong with it. You struggle because you need to liberate yourself. If the struggle does not liberate you, if it doesnt carry that hope, why bother?”
On March 3 and 4, 2011, acclaimed radical feminist theorist Silvia Federici gave two talks in Philadelphia. On the 3rd, she spoke at the Wooden Shoe anarchist bookstore about her book, Caliban and the Witch, on “The True Nature of Capitalism.” That event literally overflowed with an audience eager to connect the pieces of the historical violence against women, and the ongoing crisis of capitalism.
The next night, on March 4, Silvia spoke at Studio 34 Yoga in West Philly to another packed crowd, on the subject of “Our Struggles, Ourselves: Rethinking Healing Work.” This was a more personal, and in many ways a much deeper talk, which touched on a multitude of subjects from capitalism’s attacks on humanity and the Earth, to how to build self-reproducing movements that avoid the mistakes of past generations.
Today I am posting the audio recording from that amazing event!
One of Silvia’s most powerful insights that continues to work its way through my brain was the distinction between “suffering,” which may be necessary in movement work, and “sacrifice,” which ultimately harms the movement because it harms us as individuals. She makes it clear that there should be no place for sacrifice in a movement for our liberation:
“What do we mean when we say sacrifice? Because, it’s very true, in many ways, when we say, ‘I’m not going to go into this career, and instead I’ll do the struggle. I’ll be poor, but eh!’ It may sound like sacrifice. But I would like to say that it’s not!
[Sacrifice] means that I’m taking away something vital from my life, something that I need, and then give it up for the struggle…
It doesn’t mean that the struggle does not make you suffer. But suffering is not sacrifice. It’s really different. There may be pain that comes too. But maybe it’s a pain that is better than the pain you would have if you didn’t struggle.
Maybe it’s a pain that prevents you from dying. Because we can die from numbness, irrelevance, wasting your life in triviality, despair, inertia, passivity, from giving up whatever creativity you have in yourself. So, sometimes it’s worth suffering not to see that in yourself. But i wouldn’t call that sacrifice.”
I am very proud to post this inspiring discussion, including the Question and Answer period, which we recorded in audio format. There are 2 video recordings which were also made, 1 of each of the talks, and I look forward to making those videos available in the near future. For now, please enjoy the audio!
This is a 2-hour recording, so you might want to download it and put it on your mp3 player or computer. There is a LOT here, so it may not be possible to get through it all in one sitting!
Also, here I’ll post some notes I’ve taken while re-listening to Silvia’s talk:
At 4 minutes – How can we build movements of resistance without destroying ourselves? How can we build self-reproducing movements?
5:15 – Thesis: We cannot liberate our individual selves without changing the world. At the same time, we cannot change the world without liberating ourselves.
6:30 – Capitalism has not asserted its hegemony simply through economic and military violence, but also by a massive process of disempowerment, by destroying many of our historical, social and natural powers.
Capitalism’s two-fold process of disempowerment:
- Separation of humanity from nature, “de-naturalization” of the body.
- Destruction of human communities and relationships with one another, “de-socialization” of society.
Capitalism has destroyed a vast range of knowledges, resistances, needs, desires, in a far more severe way than any other system that preceded it.
13:30 – Our bodies need to encounter the wind, sun, seas, land, plants, etc.
16:00 – Capitalism has broken the patterns of the sun and seasons, and trapped us working indoors in artificial light all year round, without even windows. This is “a daily torture that is part of a whole sea of unhappiness.”
20:30 – Pre-capitalist society: “most activities were collective activities.” Talks about women giving birth, surrounded by other women. A very social experience, in which women were empowered and in control of the process.
21:30 – “There is no returning to the past, there is no idealizing of the past, because in many cases those collective structures were not egalitarian structures.” Nevertheless, it is important to be aware that humans have lived drastically different ways throughout history. We can learn from the past.
27:00 – Most of the important experiences in our lives we now confront alone – birth, death, disease – the situations where we most need to feel connected to other people, are now isolated individual experiences.
31:10 – Many people are even coming to the conclusion that they should be ashamed for experiencing pain and loss.
32:40 – We are losing our sense of ourselves as part of a collective body, a broader community. Along with the loss of connection with the natural world, this helps explain why there is so much unhappiness and anxiety in today’s world.
36:00 – Two pitfalls in organizing:
1) The idea of political work as a form of self-sacrifice, when you subordinate your own desires, needs, energies, creativity, to the realization of a goal that is outside of you. This is what much of political work has traditionally been.
2) When you separate political work from your own day-to-day reproduction. This tends to exclude people from the movement who have illnesses, disabilities, or various traumas, who feel that they can’t keep up.
40:30 – Discussion of the amazing success of ACT UP in combating homophobia and AIDS.
43:00 – “We need to rethink what it means to do political work. We cannot do political work, unless, at the same time, as part of it, we also begin to provide, to take into account the very basic reproductive needs that we have individually, collectively, in our communities.”
46:15 – Q+A begins
50:30 – On self-sacrificing organizing: “The worst thing you can do to yourself is to be alienated in the very process that is supposed to liberate you.”
55:15 – Discussion of the “reproductive commons” – the home, how do we create a different way of reproduction that does not turn us into atomized family units, like a kind of prison? Historically, the home has been the prison where women have been enclosed.
1:01:30 – We need to challenge the dominant ideology that “you have to be self-reliant”, and this whole notion that you cannot depend on others to survive, and to need others is something that degrades you.
1:04:45 – There’s been a growing attack on care work. Cuts to nursing, aides, etc. by the state. Most care workers don’t even have time to have a short conversation with the people they are serving – cannot have a human relationship with them, “even though they are probably desperately alone and needing that more than anything else.”
1:07:15 – “The general devaluation of reproductive work”: Reproductive work is supposed to be strictly functional, subordinate to the process of production for the market, functional of making people capable to market-oriented work and cutting the cost of labor.
1:11:30 – Each of us has to understand where we can contribute best – where you’re most drawn to because of the experiences you have. There is a broad range of struggle. What we are missing today is the connection between different struggles – to go beyond the Enclosures that separate us into different segments of single-issue politics. This is the challenge!
1:17:45 – Discussion of the amazing work of Mujeres Creando, in Bolivia.
1:22:30 – “The scam that is microcredits.” Instead of being an instrument to lift women out of poverty, its an instrument of enslavement because it traps women in debt, and many have committed suicide. Banks humiliate women publicly if they fall into debt.
1:27:00 – “What do we mean when we say sacrifice? Because, it’s very true, in many ways, when we say, ‘I’m not going to go into this career, and instead I’ll do the struggle. I’ll be poor, but eh!’ It may sound like sacrifice. But I would like to say that it’s not! [Sacrifice] means that I’m taking away something vital from my life, something that I need, and then give it up for the struggle.
To me, the struggle is a healing process. If the struggle itself is not a healing process, it’s not worth it! There’s something wrong with it. You struggle because you need to liberate yourself. If the struggle does not liberate you, if it doesnt carry that hope, why bother?
It doesn’t mean that the struggle does not make you suffer. But suffering is not sacrifice. It’s really different. There may be pain that comes too. But maybe it’s a pain that is better than the pain you would have if you didn’t struggle. Maybe it’s a pain that prevents you from dying. Because we can die from numbness, irrelevance, wasting your life in triviality, despair, inertia, passivity, from giving up whatever creativity you have in yourself. So, sometimes it’s worth suffering not to see that in yourself. But i wouldn’t call that sacrifice.”
1:29:30 – As a rule, the struggle must be in itself a reward. Otherwise you need to rethink it. Maybe you’re doing something wrong. I’ve gone through periods in my life where one more meeting and i would have cried. And i paid a price for it.
1:35:30 – Many younger women now are rethinking feminism, which they first rejected because it was institutionalized and for what it has become. Many are now discovering in their own lives some dynamics of sexism, but without the broad networks of support and discussion that existed in the 70s. What does feminism mean today?
1:43:40 – The struggle around student debt, education, teaching – the closing of schools, funding, the attack on teachers, is a “major attack on reproduction”. This is an attack on the future. Student debt is a form of slavery, a tremendous discipline that shapes the decisions people make about their careers and lives.
1:48:00 – Discussion of the accomplishments of the anti-globalization movement of the early 2000s.
1:50:45 – On electoral politics: The movement periodically gives up its power to electoral campaigns, to the state. We have a continuous ritual of disaccumulation of knowledge, energies, possibilities, and revolutionary potential every time an election comes around. We had a lot of energy in the end of the Bush era, which seems to have dissipated now.
1:51:55 – On historical memory: It’s absolutely necessary for us to hand down our stories to the next generations of organizers.
Thanks for listening / reading! Thanks to scott for uploading, and sarah for recording.