Pursuing the Individual in Working-Class History

James R. Barrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The individual is still rare in working-class history, and, when we find them, they are often, like Bebel and Lula, exceptional. We are interested in them as leaders of vital mass movements and because they had an important impact on their societies. But another part of the promise of biographies like these is the opportunity to approach the personal dimensions of working-class experience through an individual life. Bringing the two biographies together highlights the diversity of working-class experience. Bebel developed in a racially homogeneous society while Lula was a mixed-race person shaped in race-conscious Brazil. Bebel thrived as a small-shop artisan while Lula thrived as a skilled worker in a mass production factory. I also compare and contrast these two subjects with two American labor radicals, the socialist leader Eugene Debs and William Z. Foster, a key figure in the Communist Party of the US. The importance of individual psychology and the homosocial worlds of these subjects might have played a greater role here, while the ubiquitous learning of both men raises the problem of working-class intellectual history, another subject that has not received enough attention from labor historians.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-151
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Review of Social History
Issue number1
Early online dateAug 1 2022
StatePublished - Apr 1 2023


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