Silvia Federici: All the World Needs a Jolt

Silvia Federici, “All the World Needs a Jolt” in Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. Autonomedia, 2004.

The experience of self-reliance which the peasants gained from having access to land also had a political and ideological potential. In time, the serfs began to look at the land they occupied as their own, and to view as intolerable the restrictions that the aristocracy imposed on their freedom. "Land to the tillers"—the demand that has echoed through the 20th century, from the Mexican and Russian revolutions to the contemporary struggles against land privatisation—is a battle cry which the medieval serfs would have certainly recognised as their own. But the strength of the "villeins" stemmed from the fact that access to land was a reality for them.
With the use of land also came the use of the "commons"—meadows, forests, lakes, wild pastures—that provided crucial resources for the peasant economy (wood for fuel, timber for building, fishponds, grazing grounds for animals) and fostered community cohesion and cooperation. In Northern Italy, control over these resources even provided the basis for the development of communal self-administrations. So important were the "commons" in the political economy and struggles of the medieval rural population that their memory still excites our imagination, projecting the vision of a world where goods can be shared and solidarity, rather than desire for self-aggrandisement, can be the substance of social relations.