The production of differential labor-powers: Accounting for racialization with Marx
Matan Kaminer (University of Michigan)
Paper short abstract:
For Marx, the value of labor-power is unitary and given. But what if variously valued labor-powers could coexist in a market? I suggest that by assigning workers to differently valued groups based on embodied and inheritable "characteristics", the labor market plays an active part in racialization.
Paper long abstract:
In Capital, Marx points out that "the number and extent of [the worker's] so-called necessary requirements, as also the manner in which they are satisfied … depend on the conditions in which" the proletariat has been formed and on its consequent "habits and expectations" (1982, 275). Nevertheless, Marx assumes that "in a given country, at a given period, the average quantity of the means of subsistence necessary for the labourer is practically known," and therefore treats the value of labor-power as constant. Wages above this value can be understood as returns on investment in training or bribes disbursed to a labor aristocracy, and those below it as super-exploitation, i.e. of a "surplus population". But what happens if we relax Marx's assumption and allow that in a given market varieties of labor-power with different values might coexist, each assigned to a different fraction of workers as an outcome of the conditions in which it was formed? We may find that, by assigning people to categories that are both embodied and inherited, the capitalist labor market does much of the work of racialization that is often seen as incompatible with a Marxist analysis. Based on ethnographic experience with citizen logistics workers and Thai migrant farmworkers in Israel, and building on the work of social reproduction theorists, I suggest that allowing the possibility of coeval but differential values of labor-power can help Marxists to make sense of a crucial political and analytical problem: the co-constitution of race and class in contemporary societies.
Marx @200: historical materialism for today's world [IUAES Commission on Global Transformations and Marxian Anthropology]