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Lumpenproletariat (a German word literally meaning "rag proletariat") is a term first defined by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in The German Ideology (1845) and later elaborated on in other works by Marx. The term was originally coined by Marx to describe that segment of the working class that would never achieve class consciousness, and was therefore worthless in the context of revolutionary struggle.

In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852), Marx refers to the lumpenproletariat as the 'refuse of all classes,' including 'swindlers, confidence tricksters, brothel-keepers, rag-and-bone merchants, beggars, and other flotsam of society.' In the Eighteenth Brumaire, Marx describes the lumpenproletariat as a 'class fraction' that constituted the political power base for Louis Bonaparte of France in 1848. In this sense, Marx argued that Bonaparte was able to place himself above the two main classes, the proletariat and bourgeoisie, by resorting to the 'lumpenproletariat' as an apparently independent base of power, while in fact advancing the material interests of the bourgeoisie.

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Issues

Engels wrote about the Neapolitan lumpenproletariat during the repression of the 1848 Revolution in Naples: "This action of the Neapolitan lumpenproletariat decided the defeat of the revolution. Swiss guardsmen, Neapolitan soldiers and lazzaroni combined pounced upon the defenders of the barricades."[1]

In other writings, Marx also saw little potential in these sections of society. About rebellious mercenaries, he wrote: "A motley crew of mutineering soldiers who have murdered their officers, torn asunder the ties of discipline, and not succeeded in discovering a man on whom to bestow supreme command are certainly the body least likely to organise a serious and protracted resistance."[2]

Marx's description of mutineers as being unreliable could be argued upon at length. Russian Army mutineers and their soldiers committees were critical to the overturning of the Tsarist regime during the Russian Revolution of 1917. Yet, there is a difference in that the Russian Revolution was a general uprising of most of Russia's popular classes, not just a military mutiny[3]. Also, the Russian Imperial Army was a regular army of conscripts[4], not an army of mercenaries; as such, its social extraction was quite different, and much closer to the peasantry than to the lumpenproletariat[5].

According to Marx, the lumpenproletariat had no special motive for participating in revolution, and might in fact have an interest in preserving the current class structure, because the members of the lumpenproletariat usually depend on the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy for their day-to-day existence. In that sense, Marx saw the lumpenproletariat as a counter-revolutionary force[6].

Leon Trotsky elaborated this view, perceiving the lumpenproletariat as especially vulnerable to reactionary thought. In his collection of essays Fascism: What it is and how to fight it, he describes Benito Mussolini's capture of power: "Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat -- all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy."[7]

Marx's definition has influenced contemporary sociologists, who are concerned with many of the marginalized elements of society characterized by Marx under this label. Marxian and even some non-Marxist sociologists now use the term to refer to those they see as the "victims" of modern society, who exist outside the wage-labor system, such as beggars, or people who make their living through disreputable means: prostitutes and pimps, swindlers, drug dealers, bootleggers, and bookmakers, but depend on the formal economy for their day-to-day existence.

The concept is similar to the more modern term, underclass.

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Positive Perceptions of the Lumpenproletariat

However in some societies, individual members of this class of people without formal employment have, on occasion, taken the lead in issuing a progressive challenge to society. One example is Abahlali baseMjondolo in the KwaZulu region of contemporary South Africa.

The Young Lords, once a Latino street gang, believed that revolutionary change would become a reality only via a coalition between workers and the lumpenproletariat.

In the late 1960s, Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party came to believe that the lumpen proletariat could have a progressive role. Newton argued that the economic and social system of his time was fundamentally different from that which Marx based his analysis on, saying, "As the ruling circle continue to build their technocracy, more and more of the proletariat will become unemployable, become lumpen, until they have become the popular class, the revolutionary class."[8] This is the class the Black Panther Party sought to organize, he said. Some disregard Newton's interpretation, saying he applied the term to, and sought to organize, the temporarily unemployed, rather than the true lumpen. However, a careful reading of his writings reveals repeated references to the "unemployed" and "unemployable" as those with revolutionary potential.

Frantz Fanon also argued in "The Wretched of the Earth" (1961) that revolutionary movements in colonized countries could not exclude the lumpenproletariat, as it constitutes both a counterrevolutionary and a revolutionary potential. He described the lumpenproletariat as "one of the most spontaneous and the most radically revolutionary forces of a colonized people." However, it is an ignorant and desperate class, particularly susceptible to being co-opted by counterrevolutionary forces. Therefore, he claimed, education of the dispossessed masses should be central to revolutionary strategy.

Used as a pejorative

In modern Russian,[9] Turkish,[10] Persian, Spanish, Japanese, Polish, Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Estonian,[11] lumpen, the shortened form of lumpenproletariat, is sometimes used to refer to lower classes of society. The meaning of the term is roughly analogous to scrounger, riff raff, hoi polloi, white trash, bogan, or yobbo.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Friedrich Engels (May 31, 1848). The Latest Heroic Deed of the House of Bourbon. vol. 7. Marxists Internet Archive. p. 24. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/06/01d.htm.  
  2. ^ Karl Marx; Friedrich Engels (1960). The first Indian war of Independence 1855-59. Moscow: Foreign Languages Pub. House. p. 42.  
  3. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=vBxYAAAAMAAJ&dq=John+Reed&printsec=frontcover&source=an&hl=en&ei=VVL_SaCyHcqMtgewhvWiDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&pgis=1 John Reed, Ten Days That Shook The World.
  4. ^ http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=9337
  5. ^ http://www.historyman.co.uk/Russia/index..html
  6. ^ http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm The “dangerous class”, [lumpenproletariat] the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.
  7. ^ Leon Trotsky (1932). "How Mussolini triumphed". What Next? Vital Question for the German Proletariat. Marxists Internet Archive. http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1944/1944-fas.htm#p2.  
  8. ^ Garrett Epps, "Huey Newton Speaks at Boston College, Presents Theory of 'Intercommunalism,'" The Harvard Crimson,November 19, 1970.
  9. ^ "Over 30 000 children get lost in Russia annually". Pravda. 2004-10-22. http://english.pravda.ru/main/18/90/361/14486_homeless.html. Retrieved 2008-11-07.  
  10. ^ "Sözlerle ilgili sorular" (in Turkish). Turkish Language Association. http://www.tdk.gov.tr/TR/BelgeGoster.aspx?F6E10F8892433CFFAAF6AA849816B2EF378E26063129A875. Retrieved 2008-11-07.  
  11. ^ "Õigekeelsussõnaraamat (2006)" (in Estonian). http://www.keelevara.ee/login/?d=qs2006&q=lumpen&sne.x=0&sne.y=0. Retrieved 2009-02-10.  

Further reading

External links


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