Why do Social Democrats do what they do?

March 18, 2016

More about the lumpen strata in Karl Marx thought

“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.

Marx, Communist Manifesto, Ch 1

Marx describes Napoleon Bonaparte and hissociety of disorder, prostitution and theft’ , as the ‘drunken soldiery, which he has bought with liquor and sausages’  Marx continues:: 

On the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpen proletariat of Paris had been organized into secret sections, each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist general at the head of the whole. Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème; from this kindred element Bonaparte formed the core of the Society of December 10. A "benevolent society" - insofar as, like Bonaparte, all its members felt the need of benefiting themselves at the expense of the laboring nation. This Bonaparte, who constitutes himself chief of the lumpenproletariat, who here alone rediscovers in mass form the interests which he personally pursues, who recognizes in this scum, offal, refuse of all classes the only class upon which he can base himself unconditionally, is the real Bonaparte, the Bonaparte sans phrase

An old, crafty roué, he conceives the historical life of the nations and their performances of state as comedy in the most vulgar sense, as a masquerade in which the grand costumes, words, and postures merely serve to mask the pettiest knavery. Thus his expedition to Strasbourg, where the trained Swiss vulture played the part of the Napoleonic eagle. For his irruption into Boulogne he puts some London lackeys into French uniforms. They represent the army.[In his Society of December 10 he assembles ten thousand rascals who are to play the part of the people as Nick Bottom [A character in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. - Ed.] that of the lion

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1852

“the lumpen- proletariat is variously seen as the declassé break with an incorporated working class, the class of the refusal of work or the site of an unassimilable heterogeneity that breaks Marx’s otherwise modernist meta-narrative.”

...

Marx and Engels are credited by the OED as the Žfirst to coin the composite ‘lumpenproletariat’. It Ž first appears in The German Ideology where it is used to describe both the ancient Roman plebeians (as ‘midway between freemen and slaves, never becoming more than a proletarian rabble [lumpenproletariat in German]’) and Max Stirner’s self-professed radical constituency of the Lumpen or ragamuffin (Marx and Engels 1976: 84, 202). The preŽfix ‘lumpen’ is not to be taken as synonymous with poverty. Though Marx and Engels do often use the term to describe the very poor, Draper (1972) suggests that the principle root is not Lumpen meaning ‘rag’ and ‘tatter’, but Lump (pl. Lumpen, Lumpe) meaning ‘knave’
Nicholas Thoburn, “Difference in Marx: the lumpenproletariat and the proletarian unnamable”

On the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpenproletariat of Paris had been organized into secret sections. . . Decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, rubbed shoulders with vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves,swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux, brothel-keepers, porters, literati, organ-grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars – in short, the whole of the nebulous, disintegrated mass, scattered hither and thither, which the French call la bohème; from this kindred element Bonaparte formed the core of the December 10 Society. A ‘benevolent society’ – in so far as, like Bonaparte, all its members felt the need to beneŽ t themselves at the expense of the labouring nation. This Bonaparte who constitutes himself chief of the lumpenproletariat, who here alone rediscovers in mass form the interests which he personally pursues, who recognises in the scum, offal and refuse of all classes the only class upon which he can base himself unconditionally.

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1852 (V)

 Nicolas Thoburn writes of Marx's use of this designation:

"The constituency of this knave class is complex indeed. And, as if to match this complexity conceptually, the word lumpenproletariat is itself unstable in Marx’s and Engels’ work. In the many translations, including those by Engels, the German ‘lumpenproletariat’ is variously rendered as ‘social scum’, ‘danger- ous classes’, ‘mob’, ‘swell-mob’, ‘ragamuffin’, ‘ragged-proletariat’. And Marx and Engels often use other terms in place of ‘lumpenproletariat’ (particularly ‘la bohème’ and ‘lazzaroni’ but also German versions of the above English translations), all of which conjure different speciŽ c meanings as they are used to 440 Economy and Society characterize an apparent group of people. This is indicative of the way Marx seems to need to resort to empirical description of the lumpen (albeit in a rather theatrical fashion) rather than present a neat conceptual class deŽ nition (such as with wage labourers: those who have nothing to sell but their labour). He sees the lumpenproletariat as, by deŽfinition, a nebulous, disintegrated group without stable collective determination – they are a ‘non-class’, a ‘people without a deŽfinite trace’ "

Note:


Marx, CW

Nicholas Thoburn, “Difference in Marx: the lumpenproletariat and the proletarian unnamable” Economy and Society Volume 31 Number 3 August 2002: 434–460

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