Reshuffling of the World Proletariat

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 6:45 PM
Room: 419
Oral Presentation
Beverly SILVER , Sociology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
A Reshuffling of the World Proletariat

 The transformation of historical capitalism over the past several decades has resulted in a "reshuffling" of  the proletariat and proletarian movements on a world-scale.  In my previous writings, I  focused, among other things, on how the rapid industrialization of parts of the global South has led to the emergence of large new (and militant) working classes.   The escalating waves of labor unrest in China are the latest manifestation of this dynamic process of capital mobility and new working class formation.  These writings focused on the "active industrial army".  Another important dynamic underlying the contemporary reshuffling of the proletariat is the secular trend toward increasing capital intensity, and thus the growing mismatch between global labor supply and demand. As such, a deep re-theorization of the concept of the reserve army is imperative--a concept which is both critical to but distressingly unelaborated in volume 1 of Capital.  This paper seeks to contribute to this task by theorizing (1) the distinction between, and the relative historical weight of, exploitation and exclusion in the development of capitalism; (2) the ways in which capitalist accumulation has depended historically on the externalization of the costs of reproduction of labor and nature, and therefore some of the ambiguities of 'exclusion'; (3) the unevenness of  these processes in time and space, and the resulting deep divisions within the world proletariat along lines of gender, race and citizenship;  (4) the ways in which this unevenness is reflected in the patterning of world labor unrest in recent years; and (5) the implications of all this for moving toward a post-capitalist world system which guarantees a decent and secure livelihood for all.