Revisiting White Labourism: New Debates on Working-Class Whiteness in Twentieth-Century Southern Africa

This article is a contribution to and reassessment of the debate about the concept of ‘white labourism’ hosted in this journal in 2010. White labourism is a concept formulated by Jonathan Hyslop to describe an ideology combining an anti-capitalist critique with racial segregation that he argued was dominant in a transnational white working class in the British Empire in the early twentieth century. The debate about this concept has focused on the appeal and extent of this ideology in South Africa during the early twentieth century. In light of recent scholarship on Southern Africa, we take a longer-term perspective to critically examine the concept and the debate. Specifically, we make three interventions into this debate: we consider the role of white workers outside British imperial networks; we examine how radical and revolutionary ideas disappeared from white-working class politics in the mid-twentieth century; and we reassess the connection between transnational flows of people and ideas. Racial divisions in the working class and labour movement in Southern Africa were persistent and enduring. We argue that racial segregation had an enduring appeal to white workers in Southern Africa, and the sources of this appeal were more varied and locally rooted than simply transnational migration to the region.

This article was published Open Access in International Review of Social History, First View, pp. 1 - 23. DOI: Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis.

Author(s) / editor(s)

Duncan Money and Danelle van Zyl-Hermann

About the author(s) / editor(s)

Duncan Money is a researcher at the African Studies Centre Leiden. He is a historian of Southern Africa whose research focuses on the mining industry.

Danelle van Zyl-Hermann is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of History, University of Basel, Switzerland, and a fellow member of the ASCL Community.

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