Lumpenproletariat

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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. The term was originally coined by Marx to describe that segment of the working class that would never achieve class consciousness, and was therefore worthless in the context of revolutionary struggle.

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 rhetorically 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 'finance aristocracy'. For rhetorical purposes, Marx identifies Louis Napoleon himself as being like a member of the lumpenproletariat, insofar as being a member of the finance aristocracy, he has no direct interest in productive enterprises.[1]

Contents

The concept and the debate around it

The view of Marx and of Marxists

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."[2]

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."[3]

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