Voyou Désœuvré

The concept of the lumpenproletariat is generally used to support a workerist (in the bad sense) form of Marxism, in which the working class’s revolutionary activity comes from their role as producers, and hence the lumpenproletariat, the unproductive poor, have little or no part to play in revolution. The lumpenproletariat then are criminals, prostitutes, the homeless, written off by so-called Marxists along lines very similar to bourgeois discussions of the “underclass.” Aside from the reactionary political implications of this definition, it also seems wrong from a Marxological point of view. In the Manifesto, Marx’s discusses the lumpenproletariat in the context of reactionary groups that attempt to preserve their position within a pre-capitalist order, describing them as:

The “dangerous classes,” the social scum, that passiveley rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society.

The last part of the definition seems interesting here: the lumpenproletariat are not those excluded from participation in capitalism, but remnants of “old society.” This doesn’t seem to include those included in capitalism in the most precarious or criminalized forms; indeed, I’m not sure who in contemporary society this definition of the lumpenproletariat would apply to. So, who are the lumpenproletariat?


  1. Naadir Jeewa, 12:41 am, November 6, 2007

    Mark Davis suggests that the slum dwellers across the planet represent exactly the “lumpenproletariat,” denied a class consciousness through their exploitation and the bureaucratisation of neoliberal doctrine and NGOs.

  2. voyou, 10:23 pm, November 6, 2007

    I’m generally suspicious of claims that slumdwellers are part of the lumpenproletariat – once upon a time, people recently arrived in cities from the countryside might have been “thrown off by the lowest layers of old society,” not yet integrated into capitalism, but I’m not sure that’s true any longer. The informal sector seems like an integral part of the capitalist system.

    However, the idea of people denied a class consciousness by certainly particular techniques of government does seem like a really interesting way of defining the lumpenproletariat, potentially much more politically useful than traditional left definitions. I haven’t read the Davis book, but I probably should.

  3. Nate, 7:29 am, December 6, 2007

    Geo and Abbie.

  4. jim, 7:53 am, December 27, 2007

    aren’t they spivs?

  5. steff, 6:11 pm, December 30, 2007

    And who are the lumpenintelligentsia

  6. shag, 7:20 pm, January 22, 2008

    Who was the woman who said something like, “The only thing worse about being caught up in circuits of capitali is not being so caught up?”

    just as an aside: I first read the title of the post and thought it was “Who ATE the lumpenproletariat”

    Joan Robinson was her name.

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