Satnam Virdee’s (pictured) ‘racialized outsider’ thesis seeks to ‘stretch’ , in the Fanonian sense, Marxist accounts of capitalism and class, while also addressing the ‘Europe centric presuppositions that underpin many areas of historical sociology, class analysis as well as social and labour history’ (Virdee, 2014: 2).
On a theoretical level, Virdee lays out the epistemological foundations of his thesis in ‘The second sight of racialised outsiders in the imperialist core’, contending that both racism and imperialism had all too often been ‘blind spots’ for the European socialist movement over the course of the first half of the twentieth century. Virdee critically draws on the work of W. E. B Du Bois, Stuart Hall and Isaac Deutscher to explain that socialist racialized outsiders had acquired a ‘second sight’ through a ‘combination of collective memories of colonial subjugation’ and ‘their own racialized experiences in the imperialist core’ (Virdee, 2017: 2398).
Drawing on social movement theory, while extending Omi and Winant’s (1994) conceptualisation of racial formations through the concept of ‘anti-racist racial formation’, Virdee’s ‘second sight’ of racialized outsider lays the foundations for the creation of a political and epistemological standpoint that would lead to racialized outsiders playing a ‘catalytic role in building solidarity between the different ethnic stratum within the imperialist core and beyond’ (Virdee, 2017: 2398).
In contrast to the type of conjunctural analysis offered by Stuart Hall, Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider charts both the interplay between racism and class in Britain over the longue durée. Core to Virdee’s endeavour is an attempt to map the role that racism and racialization plays in structuring capitalism in Britain, drawing attention to the different ways in which the histories of racialization and capitalism are inextricably linked. This is perhaps most evident in Virdee’s examination of the role of the state in bringing about hegemonic national projects which while claiming to democratize British society, oppress and exclude groups racialized as outsiders.
Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider also unsettles the forms of methodological whiteness which have underpinned those sections of historical sociology, class analysis, as well as social and labour history that have demonstrated a tendency to imagine the British working class as ‘white’.
Integral to Virdee’s re-reading of class formation in Britain is a rich historical overview of a series of episodic struggles that have taken place between socialist nationalism and socialist internationalism. Set against the backdrop of the evolving nature of capitalism and the role played by empire in shaping (and continuing to shape) Britain’s relationship with the rest of the world, Virdee charts the struggle between a socialist vision underpinned by white nativism and counter-currents of socialist internationalism advanced by Irish Catholics, Jews and people of Asian, Caribbean and African descent.
Virdee draws attention to the different ways in which Robert Wedderburn, Mary Prince, William Davidson, Aron Lieberman, Eleanor Marx, James Connolly, Claudia Jones, Jagmohan Joshi and Jayaben Desai have offered both alternative ways of seeing the present and more inclusive visions of the future in the midst of struggles to democratize British society. That is, by providing an alternative ‘way of seeing’ that captures not only the interplay of race and class, but also the way in which events happening in other parts of the world, namely colonialism, slavery, the struggle for civil rights in the United States and anti-colonial resistance, have been an integral to the making of the British working class.
The immediate value of the racialized outsider thesis is perhaps most evident in that it can help us to challenge the way in which academics, journalists and politicians reach for terms such as the ‘left behind’ and the ‘traditional working class’ while also overlooking the fact that the current crisis – and the deleterious effects of deindustrialisation, neoliberal political-economy and austerity – have been structured by racism, thus having a disproportionate impact on a working class that has been both multiracial and multi-ethnic from its very inception.
Podcast: Surviving Society with The Sociological Review. 2018. ‘Episode 19: Satnam Virdee’.
Video: Virdee, Satnam. 2018. ‘Annual Lecture 2018: Unthinking Sociology and Overcoming its History Deficit’, Undisciplining – The Sociological Review Conference, 19th-21st June 2018, Gateshead.
Virdee, Satnam. 2015. ‘Opening a dialogue on race, class and national belonging’. Ethnic & Racial Studies, 38(13), pp. 2259-2266.
Virdee, Satnam. 2014. Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.
Further Readings & Resources:
Ashe, Stephen., Virdee, Satnam. and Brown, Laurence. 2016. ‘Striking back against racist violence in the East End of London, 1968-1970’. Race and Class, 58(1), pp. 34-54.
Virdee, Satnam. and McGeever, Brendan. 2018. ‘Racism, crisis, Brexit’. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 41(10), pp. 1802-1819.
Virdee, Satnam. 2017. ‘Socialist antisemitism and its discontents in England, 1884–98’. Patterns of Prejudice, 51(3-4), pp. 356-373.
Virdee, Satnam. 2014. ‘Anti-racism, working class formation and the significance of the racialized outsider’. New Left Project.
Virdee, Satnam. 2014. ‘The politics of class and the long shadow of racism’. New Left Project.
In what ways is the racialized outsider thesis a heuristic device?
What role does ‘collective memory’ and ‘experience’ play in the racialized outsider thesis?
What, if any, are the similarities and differences between Virdee’s racialized outsider thesis and W. E. B. Du Bois’ concept of ‘double-consciousness’?
In Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider, Virdee analyses the catalytic role played by Irish Catholics, Jews, Asians and people of Caribbean and African descent in the collective struggle for a more inclusive and democratic Britain. In what ways can Virdee’s thesis be used to analyse ongoing struggles in Brexit Britain?
If convivial multiculture is to take on an organised political form, what lessons can be drawn from Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider?
Submitted by Stephen Ashe