Three Faces of Capitalist Labor: Uncovering the Hidden Ties among Gender, Race and Class
Nancy Fraser’s 2022 Benjamin lectures are inspired by a striking claim made by W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1935 masterpiece, Black Reconstruction. Characterizing abolition as a labor movement, Du Bois held that US history would have been fundamentally altered had the anti-slavery forces been united with movements of free white wage workers. For Du Bois, the failure of these “two labor movements” to recognize one another squandered the chance to build a labor democracy and set the United States on the road to plutocracy. Fraser’s lectures extend Du Bois’s idea to the present and to the rest of the world. Given the persistence of dependent and expropriated labor, she asks: Can the anti-racist and anti-imperialist struggles of our era be usefully viewed as unrecognized labor struggles? And if so, why stop there? Can we view feminist movements, too, as unacknowledged struggles over work in systems built on a gendered separation of paid “productive labor” from unpaid carework? Elaborating these hypotheses, Fraser argues that capitalist societies rely on three analytically distinct but mutually imbricated forms of labor: exploited, expropriated, and domesticated. She further argues that the historically shifting relations among these three faces of labor constitute the hidden ties among gender, race, and class. Disclosing those hidden ties, finally, Fraser considers the relations among, not two, but three labor movements and evaluates the prospects for uniting them.