June 11, 2019: Presenting at the Political Theory Colloquium, Universität Bremen.

Socialism and Empire: Labor, Racial Capitalism, and the Global Regulation of Movement

Abstract

In this paper I sketch a genealogy of racial regulation of labor mobility within empire and theorize the entanglement between transnational imperial discourses and working class politics in the West. By juxtaposing diversely located thinkers that sought to understand or influence the imperial politics of mobility and working class politics, I argue that the question of imperial mobility shaped emergent notions of popular sovereignty and tied them to immigration control. While white working classes throughout the British empire and the metropole sought to oppose capitalist tactics of labor control, they did so while embracing imperial racial discourse. As a result, popular sovereignty emerged as a claim to free mobility, self-government, and enfranchisement for white European subjects, which comprised the denial of those rights to workers of color. This meaning of popular sovereignty displaced more radical contestations of the racial and transnational character of capitalism. Thus, rules and mechanisms of immigration control among nation-states should be properly considered imperial remnants rather than legitimate attributes of sovereignty, an insight that disrupts predominant political theory frameworks used to theorize immigration today.