The Slavery Debate
BENEATH the debate that has been going on among English scholars over the state of the working classes during the Industrial Revolution lies a painful dilemma. One aspect of the question is all bound up with “immiseration”: the demoralizing and brutalizing consequences of exploitation under the emerging industrial system. The other aspect is that of resistance to the exploitation, and its consequences: creative energy, the development of a distinctive cultural identity, a radical working-class literature and tradition. The dilemma, of course, is how you can emphasize vitality and achievement while you are also emphasizing decline and degradation. I mention this problem because of its resemblance to another that especially concerns me.* This is the debate that has proceeded for more than a decade over American black slavery.
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