Lumpenproletariat

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The lumpenproletariat, also known simply as lumpens, are the poorest and most oppressed class in capitalist society. They are a superexploited class that exist outside the means of production and have thus been rejected by most historical 'communist' parties, but since the 1960s Leftist groups such as the Black Panther Party have taken the progressive view that the lumpens are the victims of society. Among those considered to be lumpens include the long-term or permanently unemployed, the homeless, beggars, prostitutes, most prisoners/"criminals", drug addicts and dealers, and in some societies, LGBT people. In contemporary societies, they are called the "underclass". Colloquially, they are known as the "dregs of society", the "scum", as well as "white trash", "ghetto rats", "chavs", etc.

Origins of the "lumpen" concept

The term lumpen-proletariat was coined by Karl Marx, who believed that they were irrelevant to class struggle and thus could never achieve class consciousness. He also expressed the reactionary, moralistic, religion-based antipathy toward lumpens that was characteristic of most people's views at the time. Mikhail Bakunin, on the other hand, saw an alliance between the lumpen and the peasants as the key to overthrowing the capitalists.

The Old Left and the lumpen

The Old Left generally adopted the classical Marxist view that lumpens were vermin, and this was used by some ostensibly "socialist" states as an excuse to justify socially conservative policy toward "criminals", the "work shy", etc. A popular Old Left talking point was that the lumpenproletariat tended toward the Right and fascism, and were often used as thugs of the bourgeoisie against the trade unions. This was summed up in the old German socialist saying, "Those who call themselves Aryans are really lumpenproletarians". However, considering that the lumpen were treated harshly by the Nazi regime - even ethnic German lumpen were considered "degenerate trash" and many perished in concentration camps - this claim seems quite absurd.

The New Left and the lumpen

As part of the radical change from the moralistic, socially conservative views of the Old Left, the New Left began seeing the lumpens in an entirely different matter - as the most deprived, oppressed, victimized members of the proletariat. The Black Panther Party viewed the massive African-American underclass in the ghettos of American cities as the most revolutionary group in American society, and recruited heavily among gang members and others in this "dangerous class". This view was also held by the Young Lords, a former Latino street gang turned revolutionary Leftist organiation, as well as the Patriot Party, which considered "poor white trash" the natural allies of oppressed lumpen blacks.

Today, the Western Left is, in general, strongly sympathetic toward the lumpen. This is shown in their fierce opposition to police brutality in impoverished communities of color, and their opposition to the prison-industrial complex and the war on drugs (actually a war on poor minorites). The general consensus among the Left today is that the lumpens are both too large to ignore, and are also the most oppressed, terrorized class of society and thus the front line in the Class War. For example, most Leftists groups supported the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the 2011 England riots, expressions of lumpen rage.

Famous lumpens

See also