Social Form, Social Reproduction and Social Policy: Basic Income, Basic Services, Basic Infrastructure

Lombardozzi, Lorena and Pitts, Frederick Harry (2020). Social Form, Social Reproduction and Social Policy: Basic Income, Basic Services, Basic Infrastructure. Capital and Class, 44(4) pp. 573–594.



Proponents recommend Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a solution to a trifold crisis of work, wage and social democracy. Synthesising Marxian form analysis with Marxist-feminist social reproduction theory, this paper suggests that these crises relate to historically-specific capitalist social forms: labour, money, and the state. These separate but interlocking crises of social form are temporary and contingent expressions of an underlying, permanent crisis of social reproduction. Mistaking the pervasive crisis of social reproduction in its totality for a temporary or contingent trifold crisis of work, wage or social democracy, UBI proposals seek to solve it by moving through the same social forms through which they take effect, rather than confronting the social relations that constitute their antagonistic undertow and generate the crisis of social reproduction. The paper considers two other solutions proposed to handle the deeper-rooted crisis with which UBI grapples: Universal Basic Services (UBS) and Universal Basic Infrastructure (UBIS) Both propose non-monetary ways past the impasses of the UBI, addressing much more directly the constrained basis of individual and collective reproduction that characterises capitalist social relations. But they retain a link with capitalist social forms of money and state that may serve to close rather than open the path to real alternatives. The paper concludes that the contradictions these ‘abstract universals’ touch upon are best mediated through more bottom-up and struggle-based ‘concrete universals’ that address the manifold crises of work, wage and social democracy that undergird them. Such alternatives would leave open dynamic tensions around work and welfare in contemporary capitalism without promise of their incomplete resolution in the name of a false universality unattainable in a world characterised by antagonism, domination and crisis.

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