Worst Conceivable Form

Race, Global Capital, and The Making of the English Working Class

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Author: Zach Sell1
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  • 1 University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign sell4@illinois.edu
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W. E. B. Du Bois noted that the nineteenth-century US slave plantation corresponded with the factory in its worst conceivable form. This article expands upon Du Bois's insight to consider the emergence of the English working class in correspondence with American settler slavery and colonial projects within the British Empire. From above, elites theorized about the exploitation of labor as a world historical project to compare the enslaved, the colonized, and the English worker against one another. From below, proletarian intellectuals imagined the freedom of English laborers through the condition of the enslaved in the American South and Jamaica and the colonized in South Asia. By placing these histories from above and below together, this article argues that it is impossible to conceive of the English working class making itself and being made at remove from the enslaving and colonizing projects of global capital.


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