Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Capitalism's Reserve Armies

So in my extended but sometimes surface level stint of reading Marx's Capital Vol. 1 the reading group and I encountered the concept that capitalism maintains reserve armies of labor which remain unemployed, not only in order to manage production in different ways, but more importantly to keep wages down and extract additional surplus from laborers. I incorrectly suggested that this didn't completely make sense because I have always thought that capitalism has an interest in the death of unemployed/underutilized (not surplus) populations (this may have something to do with biopolitics, but that is a subject I am so underread on that I don't want to venture anything). But after some discussion and a little poking around on the internet I am a little more convinced of this phenomenon.

I've been thinking about this because the United States, to some extent, maintains reserve armies abroad, particularly in Mexico and Central America. These armies are constantly struggling to enter the imperial center legally or illegally at much cost and danger to their lives. The video below, Why Braceros? from 1959, is an argument for the "bracero" program which was one of the earliest instantiation of importing labor to the United States.

The dangers faced by most of these reserve armies is now unprecedented as the militarized borders of the United States move further south, in terms of its enforcement of the war on terrorism. Apparently the Mexican government and former paramilitaries from the wars in Nicaragua, now mobilized as brutal gangs, are both involved in the violent control and murder of migrating workers, documented here in Wetback: the Undocumented Documentary by Arturo Perez Torres. I may have found a useful object for my dissertation.

1 comment:

Himself said...

Biopolitically speaking, what capitalism does is to allow surpluses to die, rather than to kill them. The notion of a population 'surplus' is of course in itself nonsensical – surplus to what? Capitalism's requirements are expansive, so it will always use any available population. I can't actually think of anyone ever – other than Jonathan Swift – who advocated the killing of a 'surplus'.