From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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.
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 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 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."
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."
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 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.
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.
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 Mjondolo 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.
"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."
However, a careful reading of his writings reveals repeated references to the "unemployed" and "unemployable" as those with revolutionary potential.
He described the lumpenproletariat as "one of the most spontaneous and the most radically revolutionary forces of a colonized people."
Used as a pejorative
In modern Russian, Turkish, Persian, Spanish, Japanese, Polish, Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Estonian, 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.
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumpenproletariat"