Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” offer a fresh perspective on the endurance of class antagonisms in the Britain of the 1950s. These texts' radical import rests on their rejection of consensual discourses and on their fundamental insistence on working-class difference. Instead of offering a gradualist argument in the mold of much socialist writing of the period (whether revisionist or “New Leftist”), Sillitoe's fictional engagements point to a persistent rift, to a lasting separation that may effectively lead the working-class subject to a sense of self-worth without subordination. This article contends that in these classic pieces of British working-class literature Sillitoe sketches—in a sequential and incremental manner—a “strategy of refusal” of the conditions of incorporation defined by postwar capitalism. Following the theoretical analyses developed by the Italian school of Marxist workerism (operaismo), it is claimed that the increasing “socialization” of capital in the postwar period did not mark its waning or disappearance but rather a widespread effort to absorb or “subsume” the entire society in its value-producing logic. This came as a specific response to working-class struggles and subjective assertions and was therefore a confirmation of the working class's increasing autonomy rather than of its fading. Sillitoe's fiction is a potent illustration of the tension between capitalist subsumption/incorporation and working-class resistance/autonomy in this period—a tension that reaches a breaking point in the passage from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning to “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner.”

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