"Lumpenproletariat" (a German word meaning "raggedy proletariat") is a term first defined by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in "The German Ideology" (1845) and later elaborated on in works by Marx.

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.


Engels wrote about Swiss mercenaries during the end of the 1848 July monarchy rule of revolutionary 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." [ [ Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 1 June 1848 ] ]

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." [K.Marx, The First Indian War of Independence 1855-59. Moscow, 1960, p. 42] . In Marx's time, some of the most vocal and anti-establishment voices were the Nihilists, who revelled in crime, adventurism and apparent sociopathy, and did not seem to get any closer to their aims or widespread working-class adaptation of their methods or objectives. The Nihilists wanted to provoke the state and championed the propaganda by the deed using "terroristic" methods such as bombing and assassination.

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. Also, the Russian Imperial Army was a regular army of conscripts, not an army of mercenaries; as such, its social extraction was quite different, and much closer to the peasantry than to the lumpenproletariat.

According to Marx, the lumpenproletariat had no real 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.

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 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." [ [ LEON TROTSKY: Fascism: What it is and how to fight it ] ]

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: police informants, prostitutes and pimps, swindlers, drug dealers, bootleggers, and operators of illegal gambling enterprises), but depend on the formal economy for their day-to-day existence.

The term has also been used to describe welfare recipients and homeless people, but this is a very different use from that proposed by Marx, and can be considered inaccurate within Marxist theory.

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

In the late 60's, Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party referred to the semi-skilled and underemployed workers as the vanguard of revolutionary USA classes. Some confuse this as theorising a revolutionary role for the lumpenproletariat, but it should be clear that semi-skilled and underemployed workers are not part of the lumpenproletariat.

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.

Used as a pejorative

In modern Russian, [ [ Over 30 000 children get lost in Russia annually - Pravda.Ru ] ] Turkish, [ [ Türk Dil Kurumu ] ] , Persian, and Spanish, "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.


Further reading

*Eric Hobsbawm, "Bandits". London, New Press, 2002.
*Friedrich Engels, "Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844" Oxford Paperbacks, 1999.

ee also

* Chav
* Informal Sector
* Black Market
* Social Class
* Underclass
* Frantz Fanon
* Lumpen magazine
* Lumpenbourgeoisie

External links

* [ Mutinees in World War One by David Lamb]
* [ Origins of the Young Lords]

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