Confronting White Labourism: Socialism, Syndicalism, and the Role of the Scottish Radical Left in South Africa before 1914

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    Abstract

    Dominated by the ideas of the "communist school", the early history of the socialist and revolutionary syndicalist movement in South Africa has (until relatively recently) been largely overlooked by labour historians. From this approach emerged the view that the dominant voice of white workers in South Africa was British, and to a lesser extent Australian, and that their blend of class and racial consciousness resulted in the widespread support for the common ideology of white labourism. Indeed, support for this system of industrial and racial segregation was prevalent across the British Empire, was widely supported by the imperial working class, and in South Africa was never seriously challenged or confronted before 1914. Over recent years, however, South African labour historians have made efforts to rethink their national labour history by examining the early labour movement and the ideology of white labourism in a global context. This article adopts a similar approach and argues that the politics of white labourism was not uniformly embraced by the imperial working class, and that in South Africa there was a vocal and active non-racialist movement which sought to confront racism and segregation, dispute the operation of the "colour bar", and challenge the white protectionist policies of the labour and trade-union movement. In conclusion, it will be argued that the campaign to confront white labourism was disproportionately influenced by radical left Scottish migrants who adhered firmly to the colour-blind principles of international socialism and revolutionary syndicalism.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)29-62
    Number of pages34
    JournalInternational Review of Social History
    Volume55
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010

    Keywords

    • IMPERIAL WORKING-CLASS

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