Sam Pawlett rsp at
Tue Jan 4 11:17:41 PST 2000

Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:
> Justin:
> ><< The "underclass" is not a valid category for leftist social analysis either
> > (unless one examines it only to point out how the concept is used by
> > ideologues). That is an ideological category employed in racist and often
> > anti-urban discourse and stands in sharp contrast to the Marxist
> > understanding of class. >>
> >
> >"The 'dangerous class,' 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." --Marx & Engels, The Manifest of the Communisy Party, Part I.
> >
> >But what do you expect from a couple of German intellectuals, anyway?
> >Ideologues all, with no grasp of the "Marxist understanding of class."
> I think that given the war on crime, etc. in the USA, it is best to drop
> the concept of "lumpenproletariat" out of Marxist theory -- it occupies
> little weight in Marx's work to begin with and has no political utility
> now, only the danger of misuse.

A bit harsh on the lumpen. Sure, the lumpen by definition play no role in Marxist theory, other than as the reserve army of labor but what about reality? In Canada at least, about 20% of the population are lumpen, mostly whites and natives. In some countries it would be 60-70% of the population. Anarchists mostly prominently Bakunin thought that a successful revolution could only be carried out to completion by the lumpen because they are the only ones who have absolutely no stake in the system.

The lumpen (unemployed, street hawkers, serious drug users, thieves, welfare recipients,students) are the ones who suffer the most by capitalism and are the weakest in terms of political power.

Marxists and the left generally must organize the lumpen and unemployed because political enemies on the right are already doing so. The lumpen--as Marx and Engels pointed out-- traditionally play the role of strike breakers, death squads and fascist parties. Organizing the lumpen would lessen the liklihood of these kinds of organizations flourishing, though I know by personal experience that organizing the lumpen today is a somewhat Sisyphean struggle.

Sam Pawlett

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list