Social Reproduction Feminism on Worker Citizenship and Expropriation

“Once separated from the means of production and proletarianized, they are protected, at least in theory, from further expropriation.”–Nancy Fraser . 2018. “Roepke Lecture in Economic Geography–From Exploitation to Expropriation: Historic Geographies of Racialized Capitalism.”

In theory, but, yeah, no. Absolutely not. Exactly like masculinity, the Premium Economy status of “free”-individual metropolitan citizen-worker exploitables is always challenged, always has to be fought for, on pain of consignment to the larger class of expropriables subjected to regular state violence. (Knowing your gender theory, see Kimmel 2002, helps with political economic analysis.)

This is what nonelites organized by conservatives know that “progressive neoliberals” serving global capitalists discreetly overlook, in the conduct of their professional duties distancing from and disciplining the mob. Using the White Privilege that “the mob” knows it has fought for, to selflessly usher the Exceptional Deprived under the benevolent wing of protective or symbolic elite patronage, progressive neoliberals appeal to “fairness while extending expropriation” (Fraser 2018: 15). In this sense, are liberal-arts academics the public complement to private lawyers in capitalism–where private law quietly, massively secures oligarchy (Pistor 2019), while liberal arts academics piously, publicly attack unfair advantages accruing within pockets (other than the police) of the working class? Managerial sanctimony for some, little national flags for others.

fight club

Fraser understands that the legally-recognized (cosmopolitan–historically male, European, White, but shifting with the global mobilization of labour, see Fatah-Black & van Rossum 2014, and the rise of global capitalist metropoles) exploited worker has always been a hard-won, probationary status, though the function is required for capitalist value creation. Attaining state-recognized, exploited worker status is probationary because capital also needs a lot more expropriated work. For value to be accumulated by capitalists, exploited workers have to work upon the mass “raw material” of cheap nature and social reproduction, which is supplied by coerced, expropriated work (Fraser 2018; Moore 2015). Unlike capital assets (See Pistor 2019), the capitalists’ state will not protect–fully or durably–worker income achievements or other smallholdings without expensive private law securing it. Where one of Sweden’s innovations was to extend entitlements across the population, “leveling upward” (Barton 1986: 173), antisocialist societies keep the entitlements and rights markets scarce and expensive.

Though as early as the late 18th century, the impossibility of maintaining spatially-segregated expropriated v. exploited labour forces pushed the Dutch Republic to ban slavery (total racialized expropriation) in the European metropole (Fatah-Black & van Rossum 2014), the growth of hybrid exploitation-expropriation status has arisen with “financialized capitalism” (Fraser 2018: 12).

David Abraham (2010) has identified the political mechanism instituting hybrid exploitation-expropriation status: broadened but cheapened citizenship, the dismantling of social citizenship rights and institutions, along with the expansion and intensification of imperial disruption and population relocations, what in “progressive neoliberal” hands becomes the Dem Party’s Open Borders politics.

Like all progressive neoliberalism, Open Borders TM is a late-hour emergency reversal, a pious optical roll back from the deluge of neoliberal policies that have landed at grotesque expropriation visuals: ICE’s concentration camps for immigrant babies. The left hand of the conservatize-liberal Dem party suggests decriminalizing immigrants–great! But the more consistent, dominant right hand of the political party continues to follow Mises’ and Hayek’s Viennese Chamber of Commerce model, replacing national sovereignty with global capitalist sovereignty (Pistor  2019, Ch. 6; Slobodian 2018; Zevin 2019)–that is, diminishing citizenship rights, facilitating expropriation universally: criminalization of the rest of marginalized life (and in capitalism, marginalized life is a lot of life), for-profit slave-labour prisons throughout the Anglosphere, and disruptive, dislocating war abroad. There’s more than one way to skin the people alive. (That said, I wish the Justice Democrats well. May they slap down–and impale with a wooden cross–the dead right hand of the Slaver County-Wall St. Dem bloc.)

Why is N. Fraser so necessary and relevant today? After a three-year application process, I got citizenship in a country where to get citizenship (qualifying for legalized exploitation, as opposed to violent expropriation, but downgraded to hybrid exploitation-expropriation in the financialist restoration) you have to swear allegiance to the British monarchy. Canadian citizenship remains both colonial and Burkean:

Society is indeed a contract…between those who are living (and) those who are dead…So far is it from being true that we acquired a right by the Revolution to elect our kings that, if we had possessed it before, the English nation did at that time most solemnly renounce and abdicate it, for themselves and for all their posterity forever” (Burke, 1790).

Apparently, lots of new settlers aren’t down with this reactionary 1790 social contract, however symbolic (How does this even work in Quebec? Headscarf law, I guess.); so in the official ritual, the Canadian citizenship induction team makes a point of threatening the inductees and then monitoring them to ensure they swear fealty to the British monarchy, instead of mumbling The Internationale or La Marseillaise or even Elizabeth Bishop’s The Moose under their breath.

After a lot of official chit-chat about The Greatest Nation(-state) on Earth and how it requires unpaid labour (voluntarism), a citizenship inductee can volunteer to speak about what Canadian citizenship means to her. A young woman from Africa was introduced, got up, and gave a cheerful speech about how Canadian citizenship means that everyone in that room can now finally avoid Canadians expropriating them. She went over the varieties of expropriation line item by line item.

It was a super-instrumentalist account of what citizenship means, and, since no capitalist could object to it on ideological grounds, but it was a far cry from the conservative-liberal idealist bath we’d just been given, her assertion of imperial reality was kind of a subtly-subversive move. I appreciated the new citizen’s initiative.

On the other hand, it’s hard to be totally reassured: Canadian citizenship policy and Burkean discourse channel the real financialized-imperialism experience of unequal, inegalitarian, and predatory class and state relations into an “I got mine” discourse of individualist instrumentalism. Here’s hoping the liberal exhortations to volunteer and “be friends” with indigenous Canada somehow keep the back cellar door open for the internationalist-organization way out of this global rentier-capitalist, conservative-liberal Forever Home.

Naturally, the same citizenship team that had threatened and monitored us to swear loyalty to the British royalty was a bit nonplussed. “I expect you’ll take my job!” the exquisitely-cast, good-looking, Metis, pompadour-dyke-hair judge slipped out of character, as the new citizen wrapped up her oration and returned to her seat.

References

Abraham, David. 2010. “America, Germany, Israel: Three Modes of Citizenship and Incorporation.” International Labour and Working-class History 78: 123-128.

Barton, H.A. 1986. Scandinavia in the Revolutionary Era, 1760-1815. University of Minnesota.

Burke, Edmund. 1790. Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Fatah-Black, Karwan & Matthias van Rossum. 2014. “Slavery in a ‘Slave-free Enclave’?: Historical Links between the Dutch Republic Empire and Slavery, 1580s-1860s.” Werkstatt Geschichte 66-67: 55-73.

Federici, Silvia. 2019. “From Crisis to Commons,” pp. 175-187 in Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons. PM Press.

Fraser, Nancy. 2018. Roepke Lecture in Economic Geography–From Exploitation to Expropriation: Historic Geographies of Racialized Capitalism.” Economic Geography 94(1): 1-17.

Kimmel, Michael S. 2002. “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity.”

Meiksins-Wood, Ellen. 2014. “Capitalism’s Gravediggers,” Jacobin.

Pistor, Katharina. 2019. The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality. Princeton.

Slobodian, Quinn. 2018. Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism. Harvard.

Zevin, Alexander. 2019. “Every Penny a Vote.” Pp. 27-30 in the London Review of Books, 15 August. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n16/alexander-zevin/every-penny-a-vote.

 

 

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