The Door to the Flower and the Vegetable Garden (2002)

WTO Protests, Seat­tle 1999.

Editorial Introduction

The fol­low­ing talk by Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta was deliv­ered at the “Operais­mo a Con­veg­no” con­fer­ence, held in Rome at the Rial­to Occu­pa­ta social cen­ter on June 1-2, 2002. The con­fer­ence was part of a series of events held around Italy that sum­mer to cel­e­brate and dis­cuss the pub­li­ca­tion of Futuro ante­ri­ore, a sig­nif­i­cant study of the tra­jec­to­ries of Ital­ian work­erism authored by Gui­do Borio, Francesca Pozzi, and Gigi Rog­gero (DeriveAp­pro­di: Roma, 2002). An ambi­tious under­tak­ing, the book was con­ceived as a his­tor­i­cal prac­tice of “co-research.” In-depth inter­views with almost 60 par­tic­i­pants in the work­erist orbit formed the basis for the book, from the lead­ing the­o­rists (Anto­nio Negri, Mario Tron­ti, Romano Alquati) to those mil­i­tants from the inter­me­di­ate polit­i­cal lay­ers, who coor­di­nat­ed and relayed between the local and nation­al ini­tia­tives of orga­ni­za­tions like Potere Operaio. An accom­pa­ny­ing CD-ROM con­tained tran­scripts of these inter­views, an impor­tant bib­li­og­ra­phy, and a sur­vey of the rad­i­cal jour­nals which flour­ished in this peri­od.

Steve Wright has writ­ten exten­sive review essays of Futuro ante­ri­ore and its 2005 com­pan­ion vol­ume, Gli operaisti, an edit­ed book col­lec­tion of the orig­i­nal inter­views, while Enda Bro­phy has pro­vid­ed a valu­able account of the con­fer­ences and sem­i­nars around the book launch.1 A notable short­com­ing of Futuro ante­ri­ore was its rel­a­tive neglect of the fem­i­nist cur­rent with­in operais­mo. Of the 58 par­tic­i­pants, only five were women (includ­ing Sil­via Fed­eri­ci and Alisa del Re), a num­ber that is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pow­er­ful influ­ence the Ital­ian strand of Marx­ist fem­i­nism devel­oped dur­ing this peri­od con­tin­ues to have, both in terms of the­o­ret­i­cal inno­va­tions (the atten­tion paid to repro­duc­tive labor and gen­dered exploita­tion under cap­i­tal­ism) and polit­i­cal effects (the slo­gan and cam­paign around Wages for House­work, the strate­gic impli­ca­tions of a social repro­duc­tion per­spec­tive).

Indeed, Mari­arosa Dal­la Costa’s absence from the ini­tial Futuro ante­ri­ore inter­views due to oth­er com­mit­ments left a con­sid­er­able gap.2 In Brophy’s report of the Rome event, he describes her pre­sen­ta­tion, trans­lat­ed in full below, as “what the project had been miss­ing,” name­ly a “long dis­cus­sion of her per­son­al his­to­ry and path” as an inte­gral mem­ber of both Potere Operaio and founder of the impor­tant rad­i­cal fem­i­nist orga­ni­za­tion, Lot­ta Fem­min­ista. With a speci­fici­ty and urgency akin to Leopoldina’s Fortunati’s cru­cial nar­ra­tive pub­lished in View­point a few years ago, Dal­la Cos­ta recon­structs the polit­i­cal con­text for the fem­i­nist activists dur­ing the Ital­ian red years, that space she has called the “train­ing ground of mil­i­tan­cy, the are­na where many of us learnt to strug­gle and ana­lyze that per­verse thing that is cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment.3

Dal­la Cos­ta fur­ther recounts her efforts through­out the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s to broad­en the scope of autonomous fem­i­nism to the inter­na­tion­al lev­el: from the con­trol of women’s bod­ies and repro­duc­tive rights, to domes­tic labor, to move­ments over land, the com­mons, pri­va­ti­za­tion, and envi­ron­men­tal and agri­cul­tur­al poli­cies in the Glob­al South. She weaves these reflec­tions on the close rela­tion­ship between cap­i­tal­ist strate­gies of accu­mu­la­tion and the con­di­tions of repro­duc­tion togeth­er with con­sid­er­a­tions on the ebbs and flows of polit­i­cal action, and the simul­ta­ne­ous dif­fi­cul­ties and pos­si­bil­i­ties of link­ing social strug­gles across bor­ders. In many ways, the press­ing prob­lems of the con­junc­ture in which this text was writ­ten – at a cer­tain peak in activ­i­ty of the alter-glob­al­iza­tion move­ment – remain our own.

Excerpts of this talk have been pre­vi­ous­ly trans­lat­ed by Ari­an­na Bove and Pier Pao­lo Frassinel­li for The present trans­la­tor has ben­e­fit­ed from con­sult­ing this exist­ing trans­la­tion. A bib­li­og­ra­phy of Dal­la Costa’s major texts, and oth­ers by lead­ing Ital­ian Marx­ist fem­i­nists, is includ­ed as an appen­dix.

‒ Patrick King

The door to the gar­den creaked

And a foot­step rus­tled the sand…


It’s often said that the most typ­i­cal lan­guages of fem­i­nin­i­ty are silence and emo­tions. I will not use the first one because our polit­i­cal move­ment doesn’t yet have the tools to under­stand it. On the oth­er hand, you will have to put up with me using a bit of the sec­ond one. 

This said, I’m grate­ful to the authors of Futuro Ante­ri­ore for tak­ing on suc­cess­ful­ly the hard work of clear­ing the path of remem­brance for many thinkers com­ing from the tra­di­tion of work­erism, myself includ­ed. I did not con­tribute to the book, not for lack of inter­est but because at that moment I didn’t have the time to do so. I was, in fact, in the process of defin­ing a strat­e­gy for what I con­sid­er, after birth and abor­tion, to be the third big bat­tle­field between women’s bod­ies and the med­ical body: the overuse of hys­terec­to­my. I will lat­er briefly talk about this and give it prece­dence to the oth­er issues, because it is the one that most close­ly inter­fered with my pos­si­bil­i­ty to con­tribute to this book. It required, in fact, all my atten­tion and pre­vent­ed me from con­firm­ing my inten­tion to con­tribute in due time. 

First of all, though, I need to explain where I come from. By the way, I just fin­ished read­ing the book the oth­er day. It had been pre­sent­ed to me as a study of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty but obvi­ous­ly it end­ed up includ­ing, in the course of its devel­op­ment, oth­er impor­tant themes that I didn’t have the time to think about as much as I would have liked. I’m sor­ry then if my lec­ture will be out of focus regard­ing some of the issues that I find very impor­tant for the school of fem­i­nism that derived from work­erism.

How­ev­er, I’m very hap­py to par­tic­i­pate in this con­ver­sa­tion. How come I’m still here after 30 years? The answer is sim­ple: this is my home. I was born here. Here is where I was first politi­cized and, most impor­tant­ly, this is the expe­ri­ence I had been look­ing for, the one capa­ble of answer­ing my urge for under­stand­ing as well as for action. You can’t ever for­get your roots and I nev­er even want­ed to. This is where my think­ing fits. Here I find the peo­ple who speak my lan­guage, even though it is a lan­guage I had to mod­i­fy slight­ly, in order to be able to com­mu­ni­cate with dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple. After this, there was no oth­er home for me. After this, there was only a long road, along which I iden­ti­fied the few issues that I will present to you today and where I fought a few bat­tles.

Besides its suc­cess­es and its fail­ures (per­son­al­ly I par­tic­i­pat­ed in Potere Operaio Vene­to), work­erism has had the con­sid­er­able pow­er to deter­mine my life jour­ney and not only mine, it seems, since many of us are gath­ered here today. It would be there­fore use­ful to inves­ti­gate fur­ther this pro­found sense of belong­ing that work­erism orig­i­nat­ed in so many of us. I have the feel­ing, in fact, that we would have at our dis­pos­al more tools than we think, if we only took into con­sid­er­a­tion the effi­ca­cy of the polit­i­cal dis­course of the past. 

First of all, work­erism gave us a method, togeth­er with the deter­mi­na­tion and the pas­sion to act so as to engen­der a trans­for­ma­tion into the exist­ing struc­ture. These are only three of the foun­da­tion­al ele­ments I can iden­ti­fy in that expe­ri­ence, but I relied on all of them when tra­vers­ing oth­er ter­ri­to­ries in the fol­low­ing years. From 1967 to 1971, I was active in Potere Operaio and then in the Fem­i­nist Move­ment. The area of the Fem­i­nist Move­ment that I con­tributed to pro­mot­ing and orga­niz­ing, Lot­ta Fem­min­ista or Wages for House­work, is no doubt, there­fore, the child of Potere Operaio.

Mix­ing togeth­er my mem­o­ries with the cur­rent con­ver­sa­tion, I would like to call your atten­tion to three top­ics, all per­tain­ing to the sphere of repro­duc­tion:

  • the overuse of hys­terec­to­my, which I con­sid­er a form of dev­as­ta­tion of the flower and veg­etable gar­den of repro­duc­tion, inside women’s bod­ies: the destruc­tion of the places for life and plea­sure;
  • the work of repro­duc­tion meant as that work capa­ble to pro­duce and main­tain life: a prob­lem that was left with no answer;
  • the exploita­tion of the land and the destruc­tion of its repro­duc­tive pow­ers, seen as the dev­as­ta­tion of the flower and veg­etable gar­den of repro­duc­tion out­side our bod­ies, because the land is not only our source of nour­ish­ment, but from the land bod­ies gath­er mean­ing, sen­sa­tions, col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tion: here too, then, exploita­tion and destruc­tion of the land are equiv­a­lent to the dev­as­ta­tion of the places for the cre­ation of life and its plea­sures. This issue becomes cen­tral in the rad­i­cal fringes of the polit­i­cal debate dur­ing the ‘90s and has its ori­gins in the strug­gles that were orga­nized in Third World coun­tries dur­ing the ‘80s. Of course those strug­gles have a sto­ry that spans across five cen­turies of cap­i­tal­ism. It is an ancient sto­ry.

Let’s start then with the dev­as­ta­tion of the flower and the veg­etable gar­den inside the female body through the abuse of hys­terec­to­my, tra­di­tion­al­ly per­formed togeth­er with the ovariec­to­my of healthy ovaries. It has been not easy at all to deal with this issue, since I had to dig through it alone and build for myself a knowl­edge of the rel­a­tive patholo­gies, togeth­er with their pos­si­ble reme­dies, the plau­si­ble as well as the implau­si­ble ones. How­ev­er, I have an incli­na­tion for the act of soli­tary intro­spec­tion and for the full con­tact fight with what­ev­er mon­ster comes out. A con­fronta­tion with doc­tors short­ly fol­lowed.

Delv­ing into an issue, even by them­selves, if there’s nobody else avail­able at that moment, uncov­er it and build new knowl­edge to then cir­cu­late it and inform the pub­lic: this, I think, is the method that more and more Vit­tat­tivisti,4 those who oper­ate in the sphere of the pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of life, will have to under­take. At stake is the abil­i­ty to stand up against the mul­ti­ply­ing attacks that, in the grip of a press­ing siege, are jeop­ar­diz­ing the integri­ty and the well-being of our bod­ies, by under­min­ing the pow­ers and the inner work­ings that reg­u­late the repro­duc­tion of life. Of course I’m avail­able to dis­cuss this issue more deeply, to which I have been com­mit­ted for years, togeth­er with women and doc­tors, if the occa­sion aris­es. I decid­ed to pro­vide today at least a few num­bers, con­sid­er­ing the extreme seri­ous­ness of the abuse, one that both women and men should be aware of. When a man needs surgery, in fact, there are usu­al­ly women to help him gath­er infor­ma­tion, advise him and assist him. In the case of this pro­ce­dure, on the oth­er hand, women are often left alone to decide togeth­er with the doc­tor. When their part­ners give them an advice, it is often, due to mis­in­for­ma­tion or in the attempt to appease them, the wrong one: “Come on, get rid of that uterus. You don’t need it any­more any­way!”

In Italy the rise of hys­terec­tomies goes from 38,000 in 1994 to 68,000 in 1997, so that one every five women, one in every four in some regions like Vene­to, are at risk of being sub­ject­ed to it. Not even the black plague had so many fatal­i­ties. In 1998 and 1999 we are almost at 70,000.

This pro­ce­dure has seri­ous neg­a­tive con­se­quences on the phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al and rela­tion­al lev­el. In 50% of the cas­es there are com­pli­ca­tions that can be fatal to one or two women (depend­ing on the pro­ce­dure) out of every 1000 (a con­sid­er­able risk there­fore). For these rea­sons, it should be tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion only for those few patholo­gies that do not allow an alter­na­tive heal­ing approach. It is also very impor­tant to have full knowl­edge of the dif­fer­ent pro­ce­dures avail­able today, because the safe­guard­ing of a woman’s body and her future qual­i­ty of life might depend on that rel­a­tive choice. If we com­pare the sta­tis­tics on the use of hys­terec­to­my in Italy with that of our neigh­bor France, and ana­lyze close­ly the instances in which this pro­ce­dure is used, even for those patholo­gies that present the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an alter­nate route, 80% of them, as I report­ed to the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health, seem to be unfound­ed. In France one woman out of every twen­ty is at risk of being sub­ject­ed to an hys­terec­to­my, one out of every twen­ty-five in Paris and its sur­round­ings, and the ten­den­cy is toward a fur­ther decrease of its use. There­fore in Italy and oth­er coun­tries, the USA first of all, we are wit­ness­ing a gra­tu­itous and mas­sive ampu­ta­tion of women’s bod­ies. It is essen­tial to defend the integri­ty of our bod­ies (many rela­tion­ships, inside the fam­i­ly or the cou­ple, are dam­aged or even destroyed as a con­se­quence of this pro­ce­dure), and cam­paign­ing, with­in our move­ment as well, could con­tribute to cre­at­ing aware­ness, knowl­edge, and a sup­port net­work. What is at stake is the sci­en­tif­ic ide­ol­o­gy we embrace, the inter­ests of the med­ical asso­ci­a­tions, the fur­ther defor­ma­tions pro­duced in the field of pub­lic health by the pres­sure of big finan­cial cor­po­ra­tions that, in align­ment with the neolib­er­al par­a­digm, com­mod­i­fy our life and the phys­i­cal and social body that con­tains it. Reclaim­ing basic med­ical knowl­edge is essen­tial in order to resist and oppose, not only this par­tic­u­lar pro­ce­dure, but an array of aggres­sive med­ical prac­tices that gen­er­ate mor­bid­i­ty, dis­abil­i­ty, and unhap­pi­ness, as well as pover­ty, as a result of the increas­ing depen­den­cy on the mar­ket-lab­o­ra­to­ry and to the detri­ment of our vital cre­ative ener­gies and eco­nom­i­cal resources. Hence the scarci­ty of health and the pri­va­ti­za­tion of the mech­a­nisms that repro­duce it, oper­at­ed as they are by our med­ical sys­tem.

It is impor­tant that I take advan­tage of this venue in order to raise aware­ness around what is hap­pen­ing to women’s bod­ies. Let’s look at what’s going on with the prac­tice, which is also wide­spread Italy, of pro­phy­lac­tic surgery, the pre­ven­tive ampu­ta­tion of both healthy breasts and the removal of healthy ovaries, per­formed on those women who, as car­ri­ers of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 chro­mo­somes, are con­sid­ered at high risk of devel­op­ing breast and/or ovar­i­an can­cer: even doc­tors rec­og­nize that there is no cer­tain­ty that these women would indeed devel­op those forms of can­cer or that they won’t any­way, in spite of such muti­la­tions.

The sec­ond top­ic con­cerns the work of repro­duc­tion, also referred to as domes­tic work, even though repro­duc­tive work includes a lot more than what we com­mon­ly think of as domes­tic. On the sub­ject, I’d like to call atten­tion to thir­ty years of lit­er­a­ture pro­duced by work­erist fem­i­nists or derived from their work. It is worth­while here to recall a few key points. Dur­ing the 1970s in Italy there were two dif­fer­ent schools of fem­i­nism: the fem­i­nism of self-aware­ness and the work­erist fem­i­nism of Lot­ta Fem­min­ista, which lat­er evolved into the groups and com­mit­tees of Wages for House­work. Lot­ta Fem­min­ista spread nation­al­ly, espe­cial­ly in the regions of Vene­to and Emil­ia, while less so in cities like Milan, where self-aware­ness fem­i­nism was pre­dom­i­nant, or Rome, where we had two groups any­way. We were even present as far south as Gela, in Sici­ly, where we had one group. Most impor­tant­ly, start­ing in 1972, when we found­ed the Col­let­ti­vo Inter­nazionale Fem­min­ista in order to pro­mote both debate and actions in oth­er coun­tries, we cre­at­ed a large inter­na­tion­al net­work, espe­cial­ly in the USA and Cana­da, were also present in a few Euro­pean coun­tries, par­tic­u­lar­ly Britain, Ger­many, and Switzer­land. We often held inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ences so that we could orga­nize actions in con­cert. Afro-amer­i­can women were also part of our cir­cuit. They would say that the pres­ence of Ital­ian women made it con­ceiv­able for them to join the net­work because Ital­ian women have lit­tle pow­er (sort of like women from the Third World in their eyes). Had there been only Amer­i­can or Eng­lish white women, they would not have par­tic­i­pat­ed. I remem­ber trav­el­ing, start­ing at the begin­ning of the 70s, a few times through the Unit­ed States and through some major cities in Cana­da, to spread our view on house­work from the Atlantic to the Pacif­ic coasts (I was even robbed of the lit­tle mon­ey I had in El Paso). My trav­el bud­get, either by plane but also, often, by bus, was made up of one dol­lar con­tri­bu­tions giv­en by our Amer­i­can com­rades. At the same time, var­i­ous uni­ver­si­ties, many of which would then adopt Potere fem­minile e Sovver­sione Sociale [Pow­er of Women and the Sub­ver­sion of the Com­mu­ni­ty] as a fem­i­nist clas­sic, invit­ed me to talk. In this way I was able to make some more mon­ey to trav­el. One par­tic­u­lar uni­ver­si­ty in New York offered me a teach­ing posi­tion and I even had an inter­view with a board of pro­fes­sors so that I could start teach­ing right away at the begin­ning of the new semes­ter. Once back in Italy though, I wrote them turn­ing down the offer. I could not pos­si­bly give up my polit­i­cal work (Lot­ta Fem­min­ista was still small and I couldn’t aban­don it). They did not under­stand my posi­tion and got real­ly angry. To this work and polit­i­cal research I sub­or­di­nat­ed all my oth­er life choic­es. In this also I bore the mark of Potere Operaio: I have always been a mil­i­tant.

How was it that some women left Potere Operaio to form Lot­ta Fem­min­ista?

When I joined Potere Operaio, an old­er com­rade, Tere­sa Ram­paz­zo, asked me “What made you join Potere Operaio?” and then answered her own ques­tion: “You also had an urge for jus­tice, right?” “Yes,” I said. She had guessed. The answer seemed obvi­ous to me as well. 

If, on the oth­er end, I had to say why I left Potere Operaio, putting togeth­er in June 1971 that group of women who would then form the first core of Lot­ta Fem­min­ista, I would have to say: “An urge for dig­ni­ty.” The rela­tion­ship between men and women at that time, espe­cial­ly among our intel­lec­tu­al com­rades, was on a lev­el that I did not con­sid­er suf­fi­cient­ly dig­ni­fied. So I wrote and cir­cu­lat­ed a pam­phlet that lat­er, with a few revi­sions, would become Potere Fem­minile e Sovver­sione Sociale, the lit­tle book that the inter­na­tion­al fem­i­nist move­ment basi­cal­ly adopt­ed right away and trans­lat­ed into six lan­guages.

Thus I start­ed the first chap­ter of an autonomous orga­ni­za­tion with women com­ing from the tra­di­tion of work­erism. Soon, oth­ers with dif­fer­ent back­grounds joined us, some with no polit­i­cal back­ground, evi­dent­ly because things between men and women were not going well at any lev­el.

Anoth­er rea­son had to do with what was then called the need for self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Women were start­ing to define them­selves through a process of the con­struc­tion of their own iden­ti­ty, and no longer through the eyes and expec­ta­tions of men. I remem­ber a doc­u­ment com­ing from the US with an odd title, “Woman iden­ti­fied by woman,” and many more with the same tone. After we saved our dig­ni­ty and our iden­ti­ty (in more of an emo­tion­al rather than a tem­po­ral sequence), we start­ed rea­son­ing and won­der­ing about the evil ori­gin of our dis­com­fort, of our con­di­tion, the ori­gin of the exploita­tion and oppres­sion of women. We found it in the work of repro­duc­tion, the unpaid domes­tic work that was ascribed to women dur­ing the cap­i­tal­is­tic divi­sion of labor. This doesn’t mean that some of us, dri­ven by the need to go fur­ther back and track the ancient ori­gins of the mis­for­tunes of women, didn’t also study the rela­tion­ship between men and women in pre­his­to­ry, focus­ing on matri­ar­chal vs. patri­ar­chal soci­eties, and these stud­ies are still around. The urgency, how­ev­er, to pro­vide an analy­sis that would be use­ful for imme­di­ate action (in per­fect work­erist tra­di­tion) made us focus almost exclu­sive­ly on the cap­i­tal­ist era. We unveiled the mys­tery of repro­duc­tion, inves­ti­gat­ing how the pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of the labor force con­sti­tut­ed the hid­den phase of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion. We unveiled the mys­tery but not the secret. In fact, I must say, all respect­ful repro­duc­tion hides a secret. We expand­ed the con­cept of class so that it would include women, as pro­duc­er and repro­duc­er of labor force. We were most­ly inter­est­ed in work­ing class pro­le­tar­i­an women. 

Behind the closed doors of their hous­es, women work with­out any com­pen­sa­tion, a sched­ule, or time off, at a job that occu­pies all of their time. It is a job made up of mate­r­i­al and imma­te­r­i­al tasks and it con­di­tions all their choic­es. We defined the fam­i­ly as one of the places of pro­duc­tion, because of its dai­ly pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of labor force. Up until then, oth­ers had main­tained or con­tin­ued main­tain­ing that the fam­i­ly was exclu­sive­ly a place for con­sump­tion and the pro­duc­tion of use val­ue or a mere reser­voir of labor pow­er. We declared that a job out­side the house can­not elim­i­nate or sub­stan­tial­ly trans­form domes­tic work; that it mere­ly adds a new mas­ter to the exist­ing one: the job the hus­band already has. For this rea­son, enter­ing the job mar­ket was nev­er our goal. Nei­ther was equal­i­ty with men. To whom are we to be equal, bur­dened as we are with work men do not have to do? Besides, in a moment when the con­ver­sa­tion around the refusal of work took cen­ter stage, why should we have aimed for some­thing that men were reject­ing? From with­in the Fordist soci­ety of those years, we revealed that pro­duc­tion sprang essen­tial­ly from two sources, the fac­to­ry and the house, and that women, pre­cise­ly because their work pro­duces the most impor­tant mer­chan­dise for cap­i­tal­ism, labor pow­er, had at their dis­pos­al a key fac­tor to lever­age social pow­er: they could refuse to con­tin­ue pro­duc­ing. Because of this, women are a cen­tral fig­ure in the process of “social sub­ver­sion,” as we called it back then, a strug­gle that could poten­tial­ly end in the rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of soci­ety.

Despite the pro­found trans­for­ma­tion in pro­duc­tion, the core of women’s respon­si­bil­i­ty of women for repro­duc­tion and the imper­vi­ous nature of the work of repro­duc­tion remain unsolved prob­lems, bring­ing back the per­sis­tence of a fun­da­men­tal duplic­i­ty. This duplic­i­ty how­ev­er, espe­cial­ly between the mas­cu­line and the fem­i­nine, is, I think, inscribed in the uni­verse. Maybe we should observe it in order to under­stand it bet­ter, rather than con­sid­er­ing it as a phe­nom­e­non that is dying out, while, at the same time, we invest our­selves in try­ing to fix its inner injus­tice.

We recruit­ed work­ing class pro­le­tar­i­an women, as I was say­ing, but the work of repro­duc­tion is the foun­da­tion­al aspect of the female con­di­tion in gen­er­al. Fight­ing against this con­di­tion required first of all the refusal of this work, as unpaid and as pri­mar­i­ly ascribed to women. It also meant open­ing up a nego­ti­a­tion with the state, in order to obtain part of the wealth pro­duced, both in the form of finan­cial ret­ri­bu­tion and ser­vices made avail­able. It meant demand­ing that the work of repro­duc­tion be des­tined to a spe­cif­ic space and time, instead of pre­tend­ing that it was an option, that it could be eas­i­ly com­bined with a job out­side the house. The refusal, of course, con­cerned both the mate­r­i­al and the imma­te­r­i­al work of repro­duc­tion. Essen­tial­ly women were replac­ing a fem­i­nin­i­ty char­ac­ter­ized by the care of oth­ers, by the enor­mous will­ing­ness to live in the ser­vice of oth­ers, with a fem­i­nin­i­ty in which all of this took sec­ond place and made room for the repro­duc­tion of one­self. Besides, the issue of domes­tic work was close­ly con­nect­ed to that of a sex­u­al­i­ty that had been dis­tort­ed by the func­tion of procreating/reproducing. Strug­gles around work, sex­u­al­i­ty, health, and vio­lence were then close­ly inter­twined. Some of our com­rades com­plet­ed very inci­sive works of research about this, which, of course, are still around. Bod­ies are in ques­tion in the work of repro­duc­tion and there­fore rela­tion­ships and emo­tions.

We took our strug­gle to the neigh­bor­hoods (a beau­ti­ful cam­paign for hous­ing, our first one and the only one that was not doc­u­ment­ed), to hos­pi­tals, schools, and fac­to­ries. In Pad­ua on June 5, 1973, we start­ed a cam­paign for abor­tion rights, jump-start­ing a polit­i­cal mobi­liza­tion out of a tri­al against a woman for hav­ing an abor­tion. After years of mobi­liza­tion, in 1978 we obtained, along with the entire Fem­i­nist Move­ment, the approval of Law 194, a law that rec­og­nized women’s right to ter­mi­nate any preg­nan­cy and to do so in prop­er med­ical facil­i­ties. Again in Pad­ua, in 1974, we orga­nized the Cen­ter for Women’s Health, a self-man­aged fem­i­nist clin­ic, the first in Italy, fol­lowed by many more sim­i­lar ones in oth­er cities. This expe­ri­ence was meant to set an exam­ple and, at the same time, to gain momen­tum for the rede­f­i­n­i­tion of the rela­tion­ship between women and med­i­cine, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the field of gyne­col­o­gy, con­sid­er­ing also that the law for the insti­tu­tion of fam­i­ly clin­ics, Law 405, was about to be approved and went into effect in 1975. We led impor­tant cam­paigns inside hos­pi­tals, in many ob-gyn units, the so called “mater­ni­ty lagers” (I remem­ber most­ly Pad­ua, Milan and Fer­rara).

Among the cam­paigns orga­nized inside the fac­to­ries, an exem­plary one was that at Solari (which then became a mod­el for the strug­gle in oth­er fac­to­ries), where the women work­ers demand­ed paid time off and med­ical cov­er­age for rou­tine gyne­co­log­i­cal care, so that they did not have to choose between los­ing work days and tak­ing care of them­selves. We even orga­nized an impor­tant cam­paign in a town in Vene­to against a fac­to­ry that released ter­ri­ble fumes and pol­lut­ed the water.

As I was say­ing, we had a nation­al and an inter­na­tion­al net­work, but the amaz­ing thing was that we could do all of it with such an extreme­ly small bud­get. Our means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion were basi­cal­ly fly­ers and a news­pa­per that was called, in true work­erist fash­ion, “Le Operaie del­la Casa” [“House­hold Work­ers”]. The rhythms of so much activism were so intense and total­iz­ing that there was no room left for any­thing else in our lives. Our atti­tude towards mil­i­tan­cy cer­tain­ly derived from the expe­ri­ence of mil­i­tan­cy in Potere Operaio, but, I sus­pect, in oth­er groups the sit­u­a­tion was very sim­i­lar and even more extreme for those of us who had a lead­ing role.

At the end of that decade we were worn-out. All our repro­duc­tion mar­gins had been erased and they were already noto­ri­ous­ly much small­er than those that men nor­mal­ly enjoyed, includ­ing our com­rades. After so many strug­gles and so much time spent orga­niz­ing, we couldn’t detect even the out­line of a trans­for­ma­tion of our soci­ety. Not one rad­i­cal enough to meet the demands for which we had strug­gled, or able to con­tain the sweep­ing change of female indi­vid­u­al­i­ty that our polit­i­cal jour­ney had induced. We could no longer fit into the mold for rela­tion­ships and in the orga­ni­za­tion of soci­ety offered by cap­i­tal­ism.

It’s impor­tant to also keep in mind that the women who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Fem­i­nist Move­ment at the begin­ning were not young girls. Often in their thir­ties or even old­er, they were women who had left crip­pling mar­riages in order to reclaim the right to feel again (I remem­ber many of them telling me that what they were most­ly miss­ing with their hus­bands and pre-school chil­dren was not so much sex­u­al free­dom but rather the pos­si­bil­i­ty of falling in love. Think­ing back I real­ize that the pre­mar­i­tal youth of those women had prob­a­bly been too mis­er­able). Real­ly, at that point, we would have need­ed to come up with a strat­e­gy capa­ble of gen­er­at­ing an effec­tive trans­for­ma­tion of our soci­ety, as well as the resources nec­es­sary to car­ry it out, since it would have been impos­si­ble for us to do so on our own. How­ev­er this had always been the most fee­ble part of our dis­course, the one we couldn’t even pin­point, because the strat­e­gy was to be deter­mined by the pow­er of our strug­gle in itself. In the end, it didn’t hap­pen that way and we didn’t have the strength to fight any­more. I remem­ber, how­ev­er, that the prob­lem of iden­ti­fy­ing an out­let, “the Tran­si­tion,” had been on my mind for years, since Potere Operaio, but when I men­tioned it to one of my com­rades, Gui­do Borio, his answer had been vague, as if it were impos­si­ble to even out­line a solu­tion. I just thought that maybe I didn’t have enough expe­ri­ence, that I wasn’t yet ready to tack­le such an impor­tant prob­lem. The rea­son I posed the ques­tion in the first place was, how­ev­er, that I couldn’t even imag­ine spend­ing the rest of my life get­ting up at 4:00 in the morn­ing to can­vass Por­to Marghera or the Monte­di­son in Cro­tone, in the attempt to gen­er­al­ize the strug­gle. Until when, until where? And then what? I would, of course, encounter the same dilem­ma in the Fem­i­nist Move­ment, again unable to find any­body to share it with. 

After about ten years, the bio­log­i­cal clock in our bod­ies, even mil­i­tants have a body, as negat­ed as it often is, start­ed click­ing. There were women who want­ed a child and felt that it was already late. They had to decide with whom they want­ed it and in what kind of con­text they want­ed to raise it. 

In the absence of a trans­for­ma­tion of our soci­ety rad­i­cal enough to inte­grate the new sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of women, we start­ed giv­ing up. Many had to capit­u­late. To what extent depend­ed on how much mon­ey these women had at their dis­pos­al, on how much free time they could count on, and on what kind of job they were able to find. The old prob­lem of the lack of finan­cial means, around which we had orga­nized so much, came to light in all its grav­i­ty.

Right then the repres­sion start­ed and, with it, the total era­sure, accom­plished most­ly by left­ist women in the fields of soci­ol­o­gy and his­to­ry, of our fem­i­nist cur­rent, its strug­gles and its accom­plish­ments. Pol­da [Leopold­ina For­tu­nati] and I, how­ev­er, doc­u­ment­ed all the strug­gles and all the cam­paigns, as well as the issues that came to light dur­ing our debates, in book­lets meant for activists, in pam­phlets, and in the news­pa­per, sac­ri­fic­ing Sat­ur­days, Sun­days, and many hol­i­days. All that mate­r­i­al is still around. Dur­ing the 1980s, years of repres­sion and nor­mal­iza­tion, the fem­i­nism of the great strug­gles was replaced by a fun­da­men­tal­ly cul­tur­al cur­rent of fem­i­nism, with the func­tion of con­trol­ling and fil­ter­ing demands and voic­es. We were black­list­ed. With great dif­fi­cul­ty, con­sid­er­ing the cir­cum­stances, some of our com­rades com­plet­ed works of the­o­ry or his­tor­i­cal research. These works had been con­ceived in the 70s as parts of an over­all project that was nev­er real­ized. Their cir­cu­la­tion was ostra­cized, to use an euphemism. They basi­cal­ly dis­ap­peared (except for when I used them in my teach­ing), sub­merged by a hos­tile polit­i­cal cli­mate and by the pro­lif­er­a­tion of stud­ies on the female con­di­tion with a dif­fer­ent approach. What we had pro­duced was also co-opt­ed and domes­ti­cat­ed. Insti­tu­tions turned up to be very sup­port­ive of the study of the female con­di­tion, invest­ing mon­ey, cre­at­ing net­works and research grants, which were all care­ful­ly man­aged. They cre­at­ed sham foun­da­tions and projects. The prob­lem of the work of repro­duc­tion remained unan­swered. The dis­course on wages for house­work black­list­ed as well. The issue would even­tu­al­ly find a par­tial and false solu­tion with the intro­duc­tion of migrant work­ers who would them­selves leave behind tragedies of repro­duc­tion (for instance young chil­dren who, left with their grand­par­ents, don’t want to go back to live with par­ents who they don’t rec­og­nize any­more, and grand­par­ents who go crazy with grief when, left to raise their grand­chil­dren, see their chil­dren come back and take them away for­ev­er).

At a cer­tain point in the 80s, dur­ing which, by the way, I had some per­son­al prob­lems (even activists have a life, although removed), I felt the need to reeval­u­ate the pre­vi­ous years and test them through the infal­li­ble fil­ter of emo­tions. I had to rec­og­nize that dur­ing my activism first in Potere Operaio and then in the Fem­i­nist Move­ment I didn’t expe­ri­ence even a sin­gle moment of joy. I remem­ber just a big sense of fatigue. A fatigue that was neces­si­tat­ed in Potere Operaio by a need for jus­tice and in the Fem­i­nist Move­ment by a sense of dig­ni­ty and by the urge to acquire an iden­ti­ty. Of course, through the expe­ri­ence of Potere Operaio I acquired some impor­tant tools for the inter­pre­ta­tion of real­i­ty, while the Fem­i­nist Move­ment gave me and many oth­er women, along with oth­er inter­pre­ta­tive tools, a strength, a solid­i­ty, and an equi­lib­ri­um that no man could ever shat­ter again. It put the the land under our feet. I remem­ber many com­rades say­ing that the Fem­i­nist Move­ment had saved them from insan­i­ty. Yet I couldn’t remem­ber a sin­gle moment of joy. A lot of suf­fer­ing, in both expe­ri­ences. How come? Regard­ing the Fem­i­nist Move­ment, I tried to take every­thing into account, even the melan­choly caused by the shat­ter­ing of a sense of belong­ing; after all, as I was say­ing, I was born and raised in Potere Operaio and the com­plete sep­a­ra­tion hurt me. The male com­rades, who didn’t know any­thing about the issues that were cen­tral to the the­o­ries we were devel­op­ing, were left behind and, every time we crossed paths with them, could artic­u­late only very prim­i­tive answers. At the same time, we were left in the dark about their inter­nal debate, while we should have joined the dis­cus­sion on themes that were of increas­ing­ly press­ing impor­tance. At least I had this need. It would have been impor­tant, while main­tain­ing our auton­o­my, to have some lev­el of com­mon dis­cus­sion. I don’t know how and to what extent it would have been pos­si­ble in those years in Italy, while I nev­er had any prob­lems com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the Amer­i­can com­rades, those of Mid­night Notes for exam­ple. That group had formed after the emer­gence of Wages for House­work in the US and had redi­rect­ed the debate and the under­stand­ing of the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism in the world on the basis of the cen­tral­i­ty giv­en to the issue of the work of repro­duc­tion. They had already there­fore been exposed to our fem­i­nist analy­sis and knew it very well. These com­rades are still doing com­pelling research and orga­niz­ing sig­nif­i­cant polit­i­cal actions.

While I was look­ing for the rea­sons behind my lack of joy, I was forced to admit that the field of my strug­gles dur­ing the 70s, be it in front of fac­to­ries or inside women’s hous­es, failed to move me deeply and let my vital ener­gy flow. They were all, in fact, strug­gles around the pair time/money, even when com­bined with the issue of the harm done by fac­to­ries in them­selves or, with­in the Fem­i­nist Move­ment, with cam­paigns around repro­duc­tive rights, sex work, vio­lence, and much more. That’s why I didn’t expe­ri­ence joy (and I’m not feel­ing it even now, while strug­gling against the med­ical abuse of women’s bod­ies). What I was miss­ing was some­thing capa­ble of mov­ing me in a pos­i­tive way, to inspire a strong imag­i­na­tion, capa­ble of dis­clos­ing dif­fer­ent land­scapes. I need­ed to encounter dif­fer­ent ques­tions and new actors, long­ing and effec­tive­ly able to imag­ine a dif­fer­ent world. So for part of the 80s I went on migrat­ing from room to room in the house of repro­duc­tion. Then final­ly I found the door that opened into the flower and veg­etable gar­den: I real­ized the impor­tance of the ques­tion of the land. That door was thrown open for me by the new actors I was look­ing for, the pro­tag­o­nists of indige­nous rebel­lions, the farm­ers, fish­er­men, the peo­ple fight­ing against dams or defor­esta­tion, the women of the Glob­al South (but luck­i­ly also more and more men and women of indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries). They were all treat­ing the issue of land as cen­tral. They were all fight­ing against its pri­va­ti­za­tion and exploita­tion, and the destruc­tion of its repro­duc­tive pow­ers rep­re­sent­ed by the Green Rev­o­lu­tion (of which GMOs rep­re­sent the last phase), The White Rev­o­lu­tion and the Blue Rev­o­lu­tion; ini­tia­tives that all take on the destruc­tion of the flower and the veg­etable gar­den of repro­duc­tion out­side our bod­ies.

These were the peo­ple I was look­ing for. They con­verged with my research and my feel­ings, moved me and gave me joy because they let me have a glimpse of a dif­fer­ent world, start­ing from the ways in which life is pro­duced and repro­duced, the life of plants, ani­mals and humans. The land is not only our source of nour­ish­ment, but it is from the land that bod­ies gath­er mean­ing, sen­sa­tions, col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tion. Here I crossed path with the voic­es and actions of Rigob­er­ta Menchù, Van­dana Shi­va, Mar­cos. Togeth­er with Van­dana Shi­va, Maria Mies, Fari­da Akter and many oth­ers, and togeth­er with the Net­work of La Via Campesina, already in 1996 here in Rome, we orga­nized an alter­na­tive con­fer­ence to that of the FAO on food. It was our first counter-sum­mit, which will be fol­lowed by a sec­ond one in just a few days. 

The third ques­tion there­fore, that of the land, final­ly gave me some joy, emo­tions, and inspi­ra­tion. In those years I often trav­eled to var­i­ous Third World coun­tries, many times to Africa, so that I under­stood direct­ly what it meant to live there, not only in terms of the harsh­ness of the liv­ing con­di­tions but also in the pres­ence of a pow­er capa­ble of evok­ing a dif­fer­ent world. I found that world because I need­ed it, I was look­ing for it.

The ques­tion of the land over­whelm­ing­ly forced us to rethink that of repro­duc­tion: the repro­duc­tion of human­i­ty as a whole, if we want to think in glob­al terms. In indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries repro­duc­tion hap­pens essen­tial­ly through the work of man­ag­ing mon­ey, not the mon­ey of its own ret­ri­bu­tion, which was nev­er grant­ed, but the mon­ey com­ing from the husband’s pay­check or, in more post-Fordist terms, from the two pre­car­i­ous pay­checks of his and her jobs out­side of the home. In Third World coun­tries, on the oth­er hand (and they remain Third World even when they enter the First World or vice ver­sa), repro­duc­tion hap­pens first of all through the work in the fields. In oth­er words, through farm­ing for sus­te­nance or local con­sump­tion, accord­ing to a sys­tem of col­lec­tive own­er­ship or small prop­er­ty.

In order to appre­ci­ate this issue in all its seri­ous­ness, both regard­ing the pri­va­ti­za­tion and the exploita­tion and destruc­tion of the repro­duc­tive pow­ers of land, we need to recon­sid­er what hap­pened dur­ing the 80s. While there’s no doubt that those were years of repres­sion and nor­mal­iza­tion in Italy, in Third World coun­tries those were the years of the dra­con­ian adjust­ment dic­tat­ed by the IMF. The adjust­ment involved all coun­tries, Italy includ­ed, but in Third World coun­tries, it called for par­tic­u­lar­ly dra­con­ian mea­sures. For instance the cuts to sub­si­dized sta­ple foods, and most impor­tant­ly, the strong rec­om­men­da­tion to put a price on land, thus pri­va­tiz­ing it wher­ev­er it was still a com­mons (as it was for most of Africa), basi­cal­ly mak­ing sub­sis­tence agri­cul­ture impos­si­ble. This mea­sure (made even more dra­mat­ic in those years in the con­text of oth­er typ­i­cal IMF adjust­ments) rep­re­sents, in my opin­ion, the major cause of world hunger, and it cre­ates the illu­sion of over­pop­u­la­tion, while the real prob­lem is that of land­less­ness. As the imple­men­ta­tion of the adjust­ment poli­cies of the 80s became more severe, repro­duc­tion regressed at a glob­al lev­el. This was the prepara­to­ry phase of neolib­er­al­ism. In fact, cre­at­ing poor­er liv­ing con­di­tions and few­er life expec­ta­tions and a lev­el of pover­ty with­out prece­dent, it pro­vid­ed the pre­req­ui­sites for the launch of the new glob­al­ized econ­o­my: for the deploy­ment of neolib­er­al­ism world­wide, requir­ing work­ers to sac­ri­fice so that cor­po­ra­tions can com­pete on the glob­al mar­ket; for the endorse­ment of new mod­els of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty with small­er salaries and dereg­u­lat­ed work­ing con­di­tions; for the sta­bi­liza­tion of an inter­na­tion­al hier­ar­chy of work­ers with an ever larg­er and more dra­mat­ic gap, both in the fields of pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion. Start­ing in the 80s, the wave of sui­cides among farm­ers in India reached 20,000 cas­es in the last three years. All of them couldn’t pay back the debts they had incurred to buy seeds and pes­ti­cides. A geno­cide!

As mass sui­cides give us the mea­sure of the amount of hunger and death brought upon peo­ple by the Green Rev­o­lu­tion and by IMF poli­cies, the 80s were also the years that saw the rise of strug­gles against these poli­cies (from South Amer­i­ca to Africa and Asia), against the expro­pri­a­tion and poi­son­ing of the land, against the dis­tor­tion and the destruc­tion of its repro­duc­tive pow­ers. The pro­tag­o­nists of these strug­gles cre­at­ed net­works, orga­ni­za­tions, and move­ments that we found again in the 90s as com­po­nents of the big anti-glob­al­iza­tion move­ment, which was called, not acci­den­tal­ly “the move­ment of move­ments.” The first moment of uni­fi­ca­tion of these dif­fer­ent enti­ties, and with it, the launch of the anti-glob­al­iza­tion move­ment, hap­pened at the end of July and begin­ning of August ‘96 in Chi­a­pas, when the Zap­atis­tas called for an Inter­con­ti­nen­tal meet­ing for “human­i­ty against neolib­er­al­ism.” The cen­tral demand in the Zap­atis­tas’ insur­rec­tion was that of land. There was also the issue of the revi­sion of the arti­cle 27 of the Mex­i­can Con­sti­tu­tion, along with all that was includ­ed in NAFTA. I always say that Marcos’s mere appear­ance in ‘94 freed the hors­es and opened the fence that kept the west­ern debate con­fined and unable to see or take into con­sid­er­a­tion the ques­tion of the land. Activists from all over the world went to Chi­a­pas to offer their coop­er­a­tion because Mar­cos had freed their imag­i­na­tion: he was a man on a horse, with a ski mask the col­or of the earth and grass under his feet. Besides, he could talk about poet­ry. The land, humans, and ani­mals, sep­a­rat­ed and coun­ter­posed in the cap­i­tal­is­tic scheme of nature, in the indus­tri­al­iza­tion of agri­cul­ture and ani­mal farm­ing, were reunit­ed, thus dis­clos­ing a dif­fer­ent land­scape.


These brief con­sid­er­a­tions about the cen­tral­i­ty of the ques­tion of land with­in the con­ver­sa­tion about repro­duc­tion have impli­ca­tions for the issues that we are return­ing to today. First of all, any dis­course about so-called “polit­i­cal recom­po­si­tion,” if it wants to be up to the chal­lenge of the new glob­al econ­o­my, needs to rec­og­nize the cen­tral­i­ty of this prob­lem and to find a way to relate to exist­ing strug­gles, because the expul­sion of great mass­es of peo­ple from their land is what makes the con­tin­u­ous refound­ing and the re-estab­lish­ment of a hier­ar­chy inside the glob­al econ­o­my pos­si­ble. Evi­dent­ly, in fact, only a small por­tion of these expro­pri­at­ed peo­ple will be able to find a job, more or less under the table and for a min­i­mal com­pen­sa­tion. The vast major­i­ty is des­tined to be wiped out by wars, harsh eco­nom­ic con­di­tions, star­va­tion, the spread­ing of con­ta­gious dis­eases, police and mil­i­tary repres­sion. It is almost like all the polit­i­cal work done all over the world were con­tin­u­ous­ly thrown inside a bot­tom­less pit. We need to start won­der­ing about how to close that pit. 

I start­ed dream­ing about the change in the strat­i­fi­ca­tion of work that would take place if a con­sid­er­able por­tion of the expro­pri­at­ed mul­ti­tudes were to reclaim their land, and about what would hap­pen to cap­i­tal­ism then. After all, cap­i­tal­ism start­ed there, with the expro­pri­a­tion of land. That’s why I don’t under­stand the accu­sa­tion of Third World­ism or of Third World­ist tourism. I always tell my stu­dents that they should trav­el to Third World coun­tries, even just for tourism. Tourism is bet­ter than noth­ing. It is an essen­tial step, if we want to under­stand the rela­tion­ship between devel­op­ment and under­de­vel­op­ment in cap­i­tal­ism. When it comes to mil­i­tan­cy, on the oth­er hand, it is very impor­tant that we start projects of seri­ous polit­i­cal coop­er­a­tion, “vitat­tivi­ta,”5 (there are enough projects for coop­er­a­tion in Third World coun­tries that are not seri­ous). Those projects car­ried out in Chi­a­pas, for instance, the con­struc­tion of an elec­tric tur­bine and of var­i­ous hos­pi­tals. It’s true, in fact, that you need to stay alive in order to fight and not die or be weak­ened by dis­eases that would be cur­able with the prop­er med­ical struc­ture. Seri­ous­ness also means show­ing the locals how to main­tain these struc­tures in an uncom­pli­cat­ed and time­ly man­ner, so that, once the com­rades leave, the struc­ture doesn’t become unus­able, as reg­u­lar­ly occurs with less seri­ous projects of coop­er­a­tion. Dur­ing this work, knowl­edge is trans­mit­ted and hybridized but most impor­tant­ly rela­tion­ships are cre­at­ed and go beyond any sin­gle project. It’s a part of that polit­i­cal recom­po­si­tion that, in dif­fer­ent ways, is cre­at­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for orga­ni­za­tion, net­works of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and coop­er­a­tion. These are the build­ing blocks of a project, of a clus­ter of projects that could effec­tive­ly make a dif­fer­ent world pos­si­ble. It is pos­si­ble that this is noth­ing but a glimpse of light com­ing in, but at least it’s some­thing.

Anoth­er myth that we need to bust is that “we should nev­er look back,” which is like brand­ing as inad­e­quate or back­ward every­thing that has been pro­duced, thought, and planned before the most recent evil deeds of cap­i­tal­ism. It is like play­ing the game of the evil­do­ers: they do the deed and we are left ambiva­lent. Par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to the ques­tion of land and water, this strat­e­gy doesn’t hold. The strug­gle of Cochabam­ba in Bolivia, stand­ing up and forc­ing the oppo­si­tion to give back the ill-got­ten gains, is exem­plary of the oppo­site tac­tic: against the pri­va­ti­za­tion of water approved by the gov­ern­ment to the ben­e­fit of a com­pa­ny that was going to have an exclu­sive monop­oly. The city’s Coor­di­nado­ra in Defense of Water and Life fought hard and won: not only was the water rein­stat­ed as a com­mons, but also as col­lec­tive­ly man­aged, restor­ing that orga­ni­za­tion the Incas had per­fect­ly devised and that had been main­tained up until the attempt at pri­va­ti­za­tion. In the same way, the orga­ni­za­tion of farm­ers in Colom­bia was able to take back a great amount of land and to recov­er many species of beans and edi­ble plants, the mem­o­ry of which had almost been lost. They reac­ti­vat­ed ancient farm­ing and culi­nary tra­di­tions, going back to recu­per­ate spir­it and life and oppos­ing the destruc­tive log­ics of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. There is an ever big­ger net­work of farm­ers across the con­ti­nents going in the same direc­tion. These are the strong pro­tag­o­nists who decid­ed to change the world start­ing from that essen­tial and too often ignored ques­tion: how to live?

One ini­tia­tive was able to meet these demands bet­ter than oth­ers, even though it came from offi­cial insti­tu­tions this time: the resti­tu­tion of the for­est to its com­mu­ni­ty in Nepal, through a sys­tem of state con­ces­sions. It turned out to be the best solu­tion to the prob­lem of pover­ty because it rein­stat­ed that rela­tion­ship between humans and land that guar­an­tees the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a sus­tain­able life for both. Dur­ing the 80s there were many actions orga­nized with the pur­pose of reclaim­ing the for­est as a source of liveli­hood. Even before then, there was the Green Belt Move­ment (which recon­sti­tut­ed stretch­es of for­est around cities, wher­ev­er before there were only emp­ty open spaces). It was start­ed in ‘77 by the Kenyan Wan­gari Maathai with the idea of “refor­esta­tion for life.” 

I was glad to find in the intro­duc­tion to the sem­i­nar the idea that we need to imag­ine an alter­na­tive sci­ence, dif­fer­ent machines. I’ve been think­ing the same thing for a while. The ones we use are such car­ri­ers of death that it’s impos­si­ble to be “against them from with­in.” At this moment, of course, I’m think­ing a lot about farm­ing tech­nol­o­gy. Right here in Vene­to, farm­ers of the Stein­er tra­di­tion were able to obtain, through bio­dy­nam­ics and inter­breed­ing, a species of wheat that pro­duces taller sheafs with more grains; which demon­strates yet again that it’s pos­si­ble to cre­ate great agri­cul­tur­al progress with­out resort­ing to genet­ic manip­u­la­tion and thus endan­ger­ing pub­lic health. Many farms are fol­low­ing suit and find­ing it even finan­cial­ly sounder.

I empha­sized many times how the prob­lem of land also has to do with the destruc­tion of its repro­duc­tive pow­ers. This is a cru­cial prob­lem for Third World coun­tries as well as for us. We must reopen and rede­fine the con­ver­sa­tion about repro­duc­tion. What are we going to do with a pay­check if all we can buy is tox­ic? What will guar­an­tee the con­tin­u­a­tion of life on Earth, mon­ey or the via­bil­i­ty and salubri­ty, and there­fore the repro­duc­tive capa­bil­i­ty, of the land? It’s such a lev­el of extor­tion and lack of free­dom for human­i­ty to have to depend only and exclu­sive­ly on mon­ey for sur­vival. Are times ripe enough to start mak­ing a con­nec­tion between a guar­an­teed salary, the avail­abil­i­ty of land, and the pro­tec­tion of its repro­duc­tive pow­ers?

A great process of orga­ni­za­tion has start­ed all over the world, a process in which many ques­tions (like those relat­ed to the Green, the White, and the Blue Rev­o­lu­tions, to the expro­pri­a­tion of land and the way it’s used), require the demo­li­tion of the false and the expla­na­tion of the truth about the new and con­tin­u­ous mon­strosi­ties-mir­a­cles. These ques­tions require group work or on tar­get soli­tary work in order to dri­ve out the mon­sters, expose them and get rid of them. At the same time, they require the will­ing­ness to dis­cov­er or recov­er alter­na­tive knowl­edge and a dif­fer­ent kind of tech­nol­o­gy. The big change, in my opin­ion, is set in motion by the strong pro­tag­o­nists who are fig­ur­ing out how life is pro­duced and repro­duced: by these move­ments of farm­ers, of fish­er peo­ple, of indige­nous peo­ple; by net­works of women who pose the prob­lem of the rela­tion­ship with the land as cen­tral; by new inven­tors. We are not deal­ing with iso­lat­ed cam­paigns any­more, peo­ple strug­gling to con­nect and be heard, as it used to be sev­er­al years ago, also because of a cer­tain deaf­ness or of a stale default way of deal­ing with these issues on the part of the left and the mil­i­tants of indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries. On the con­trary, inter­con­ti­nen­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion and inter­con­nec­tion between indus­tri­al­ized and non-indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries were estab­lished with an effi­ca­cy and a con­ver­gence of themes that involves the entire plan­et. Against the expro­pri­a­tion and dev­as­ta­tion of the land, the rivers, the oceans, the new pro­tag­o­nists said ya bas­ta and are devis­ing key points for an alter­na­tive project, for the estab­lish­ment of a dif­fer­ent kind of rela­tion­ship with the flower and veg­etable gar­dens of Earth.

– Trans­lat­ed by Ful­via Ser­ra


Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta:

and Sel­ma James, The Pow­er of Women and the Sub­ver­sion of the Com­mu­ni­ty, Falling Wall Press, Bris­tol, 1972.

 Fam­i­ly Wel­fare and the State between Pro­gres­sivism and the New Deal, Com­mon Notions, New York, 2015.

and Gio­van­na Fran­ca Dal­la Cos­ta (edi­tors) Pay­ing the Price. Women and the Pol­i­tics of Inter­na­tion­al Eco­nom­ic Strat­e­gy, Zed Books, Lon­don, 1995.

and Gio­van­na Fran­ca Dal­la Cos­ta (edi­tors) Women Devel­op­ment and Labor of Repro­duc­tion: Strug­gles and Move­ments, Africa World Press, Tren­ton, NJ and Asmara, Eritrea, 1999.

(edit­ed by) Gyno­cide. Hys­terec­to­my, Cap­i­tal­ist Patri­archy and the Med­ical Abuse of Women, Autono­me­dia, New York, 2007.

The Native in Us, the Land We Belong To,” in Com­mon Sense no. 23, 1998 and in The Com­mon­er No. 6 (Win­ter 2003). 

Women’s Auton­o­my and Remu­ner­a­tion for Care Work in the New Emer­gen­cies,” The Com­mon­er, No. 15 (Win­ter 2012). 

and Dario De Bor­toli, “For Anoth­er Agri­cul­ture and Anoth­er Food Pol­i­cy,” in The Com­mon­er, No.10, (Spring/Summer 2005).

and Mon­i­ca Chilese, Our Moth­er Ocean. Enclo­sures, Com­mons and the Glob­al Fishermen’s Move­ment, Com­mon Notions, New York, 2014.

Gio­van­na Fran­ca Dal­la Cos­ta:

The Work of Love: Unpaid House­work, Pover­ty and Sex­u­al Vio­lence at the Dawn of the 21st Cen­tu­ry, Autono­me­dia, New York, 2008.

Leopold­ina For­tu­nati

The Arcane of Repro­duc­tion. House­work, Pros­ti­tu­tion, Labor and Cap­i­tal, Autono­me­dia, New York, 1995.

Sil­via Fed­eri­ci

Cal­iban and the Witch. Women the Body and Prim­i­tive Accu­mu­la­tion, New York, 2004.

  1. Editor’s Note: See Steve Wright, “Chil­dren of a Less­er Marx­ism?,” His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism 12.4 (2004): 261-76, and his “Back to the Future: Ital­ian Work­erists Reflect Upon the Operaista Project,” ephemera 7.1 (2007): 270-81; Enda Bro­phy, “Ital­ian Operais­mo Face to Face A Report on the ‘Operais­mo a Con­veg­no’ Con­fer­ence 1–2 June 2002 – Rial­to Occu­pa­to, Rome, Italy,” His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism 12.4 (2004): 277-98. 

  2. Editor’s Note: Dal­la Cos­ta did par­tic­i­pate in the Gli operaisti project: see “Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta,” in Gli Operaisti, eds. Gui­do Borio, Francesca Pozzi, Gigi Rog­gero (Rome: Derive/Approdi, 2005), 121-22. 

  3. Editor’s Note: See Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta, Women’s Auton­o­my and Remu­ner­a­tion for Care Work in the New Emer­gen­cies,” The Com­mon­er, No. 15 (Win­ter 2012). This arti­cle is includ­ed in the bib­li­og­ra­phy. 

  4. Translator’s Note: I have decid­ed to leave this term into the orig­i­nal Ital­ian, because in Eng­lish it would sound some­thing like Life-activistsin the spe­cif­ic North Amer­i­can con­text, this sounds like a ref­er­ence to the pro-life move­ment. The word is instead used, as explained by Dal­la Cos­ta her­self with­in the text, to describe activists “who oper­ate in the sphere of the pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of life.” 

  5. Translator’s Note: Again, “life-bring­ing activ­i­ties.” 

Author of the article

is an Italian feminist, a former member of Lotta Femminista, and cofounder of the International Feminist Collective. She is an associate professor emerita at the Faculty of Political Science, University of Padua, and devotes her theoretical and practical activity to understanding the condition of women through an updated reading of capitalist development. Among many other works, she is the author of The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, with Selma James.