The legal and social production of difference

In the chapters on primitive accumulation, Marx investigates how capital as a social relation becomes possible. Primitive accumulation can be considered as an ongoing process, as it has to “maintain itself and reproduce itself” (Marx 1865, 129 in Fuchs 2018). It is however important to consider that capital does not presuppose only free labor as a commodity, but labor that is subject to capital. The role in capitalist accumulation played by unfree, dependent and unwaged labour has nevertheless been undermined in Marxian and Marxist analysis. Moreover, recent debates on the persistent logics of expropriation and exploitation have suggested racializing and gendered processes to be inherent in capitalist societies. (Moulier Boutang 2005, Fraser 2016; Mezzadra 2011). Difference can thus be thought of as something neither external nor subsumed to capital, but as existing in intimate relationship to capital (Chakrabarty 2008).

In this paper I draw on research with workers in legally insecure migration statuses in Helsinki and demonstrate how the legal and social production of difference can offer perspectives for grasping the ongoing forms of primitive accumulation. Thus, social difference is constantly reproduced, which shapes the workers’ labour power. I furthermore connect this production of difference to the workers’ efforts of shaping their lives. I point to how due to insecure migration statuses workers develop their socially productive power in order to collectively not become replaceable, thus enchasing cooperation as a method that “costs nothing” Marx (1976: 451-453) and thereby simultaneously intensifying the exploitation of labour. In conclusion, the paper examines the transient laboring figures that the border regime both produces and captures, and which can be inscribed within the temporal and fragmented regimes of capital accumulation. Likewise, it is here the struggles among subjects in insecure legal statuses to challenge their positioning within the current social, economic and legal order arise as well as their battels for retaining the grip over their futures.