Monday, December 27, 2010

On the Revolutionary Potential of the Lumpenproletariat

On the Revolutionary Potential of the Lumpenproletariat*

BJ Murphy

December 24, 2010

Intro by Mike

In a recent post by Rosa, she raises questions about what the Marxist term “lumpen proletariat” means — and how to understand the nature and revolutionary potential of the criminal class and (separately) of “broken people” at the bottom of class society.

She describes a young brother living in a housing project and saying:

“The people here are so fucked up, they don’t deserve communism and would mess it up if they had it.”

And she asks her own pointed question:

“How do we show up here, as communists, and change people’s choices, and change the people themselves?”

The following is an essay from the early days of the Maoist movement in the U.S. — it appeared in the journal Red Papers 2 that helped create the Revolutionary Union as a national communist organization.

It was written at a time when some revolutionary forces (notably the Black Panther Party) were claiming that the lumpen proletariat (as a class) included both criminal elements and the permanently unemployed sections of the working class — and that together they could forge a relentless revolutionary vanguard stratum for leading change in the U.S. The Revolutionary Union sought to present a different (and more classically Marxist) view of the lumpen.

Here in the U.S., it is my view that we should view the lumpen as the career criminals — the ones who mastermind the gangs, or spend much of their life preying on the people. They are not the same as the working class kids who sometimes slip in and out of illegal activity, or people on welfare who are unable to work, or those described in some Marxism as “the permanent army of the unemployed.”

In other words, I would make an argument that we should distinguish between the lumpen and poorer sections of the working class.

This article views sections of the lumpen as a potential ally of a revolutionary core — but not itself a force that can itself lead in driving revolution forward.

Meanwhile there is more to say about the white lumpen — sections of which have have played a negative role, through rightwing motorcycle gangs or even fascist groups like the prison-based Aryan Brotherhood.

This essay has now been recently reposted in the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line where many materials of the New Communist Movement of the 1970s appear.

* * * * * * * *

The Lumpenproletariat and the Revolutionary Youth Movement

by Bruce Franklin

The first major Black rebellions since 1943 broke out in several large cities in the summer of 1964. That fall, the Free Speech Movement erupted at Berkeley. Since then, it has become increasingly obvious that the Black Liberation Movement plays a leading part in revolutionizing large sections of white youth, and recently we have come to see a Revolutionary Youth Movement in the mother country dialectically related to the struggle of the internal Black nation.

Clearly it is crucial that some of those engaged in both struggles develop a correct theoretical understanding of the relation between the two. In trying to arrive at this understanding, some people within both the Black and youth movements have started relying on the term “lumpenproletariat.”

The reasons for this are clear. A section of white youth has dropped out of its privileged position and consciously assumed a sub-proletariat mode of existence. These “street people” now live a life at least superficially similar to that into which a large section of Black youth has been forced. Black youth on the block and white street people own no property, rarely sell their labor (in one case because they cannot, in the other because they will not), hustle and drift; they despise and are despised by bourgeoisie, petit bourgeoisie, and privileged sectors of the working class alike. Their resemblance to each other has now been driven home by the police, who have begun to use on the white drop-outs the kind of systematic terror and brutality usually reserved for Black and brown people and the poorest whites.

The Black Panther Party sometimes glorified the potential of the Lumpen --
and contrasted their desperation to the often conservatizing stability of some employed workers. Here a poster by the beloved Panther artist Emory Douglass

All this has led some to theorize that the principal class struggle in the United States is not that between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat but that between the lumpenproletariat and all other classes, who are seen as more or less bourgeoisified. They visualize an anarchic force, made up of the most desperate and alienated sub-groups in society, ripping the vitals out of the Empire and dragging the rotting corpse to some fiery Armageddon. Since this idea has been advanced by some people strategically enough placed in the movement to be able to put it into practice, we must seriously analyze both its theoretical foundations and practical consequences.

To do this, we must answer two very difficult questions: What precisely is the lumpenproletariat? What are its possible roles in the American revolution? This paper is offered as a preliminary examination of these questions.


The lumpenproletariat is a class that has received extremely little attention in classical Marxist-Leninist theory, and what has been said about it is somewhat puzzling.

Marx and Engels were writing at a time when most other writers about the history of revolutionary struggle took a consistently bourgeois viewpoint. To these other writers, revolutions – and for them of course the French revolution was the archetype – were carried out by a mob, an undifferentiated mass, le fou. Marx and Engels, in singling out the industrial proletariat as the vanguard of socialist revolution, were anxious to distinguish it from that urban mob of the bourgeois writers. This may help account both for the contempt they express for the lumpenproletariat and for their lack of detailed analysis of its conditions of life, its consciousness, and its relations to capitalist production.

White lumpen are not known for their progressive views --
but there have been times of multinational unity and struggle

In the Communist Manifesto, they refer to the lumpenproletariat as “the ’dangerous class,’ the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society,” and claim that although it “may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution, its conditions of life prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.” (Selected Works, I, 44), In The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850, Marx says that the lumpenproletariat “in all big towns forms a mass sharply differentiated from the industrial proletariat,” and analyzes it as “a recruiting ground for thieves and criminals of all kinds, living on the crumbs of society, people without a definite trade, vagabonds, gens sans feu et sans aveu, varying according to the degree of civilization of the nation to which they belong, but never renouncing their lazzaroni character.” (Selected Works, I, 155). The most savage passage comes in Engels’ “Prefatory Note to The Peasant War in Germany”:

The lumpenproletariat, this scum of the depraved elements of all classes, which established headquarters in the big cities, is the worst of all possible allies. This rabble is absolutely venal and absolutely brazen. If the French workers, in every revolution, inscribed on the houses: Mort aux voleurs! Death to thieves! and even shot some, they did it, not out of enthusiasm for property, but because they rightly considered it necessary above all to keep that gang at a distance,, Every leader of the workers who uses these scoundrels as guards or relies on them for support proves himself by this action alone a traitor to the movement (Selected Works, I, 646).

Yet even this passage, taken with the others, presents some apparent contradictions.

First of all, what do Marx and Engels see as the class background of the lumpenproletariat? This is not an idle or academic question. Class background should certainly have something to do with determining consciousness, both actual and potential. And recently it has become fashionable in some quarters to write off the street people as not even lumpenproletariat but “lumpenbourgeoisie,” or fake lumpenproletariat. In the previous passage from Engels he says that they come from the “depraved elements of all classes.” But the Manifesto says that they come only from “the lowest layers of old society.” And in the very passage in which Marx says that the lumpenproletariat is “sharply differentiated from the industrial proletariat,” he also indicates that it comes directly from only one class, that same proletariat (’And so the Paris proletariat was confronted with an army, drawn from its own midst . . .”). Yet in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Marx is quite explicit in stating that the lumpenproletariat comes from all classes:

Alongside decayed roues 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, maquereaus (pimps), brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ-grinders, rag-pickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars – in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French term la boheme; from this kindred element Bonaparte formed the core of the Society of December 10. A “benevolent society” – in so far as, like Bonaparte, all its members felt the need of benefiting themselves at the expense of the labouring nation. This Bonaparte, who constitutes himself chief of the lumpenproletariat, …. here alone rediscovers in mass form the interests which he personally pursues, „ „ . recognizes in this scum, offal, refuse of all classes the only class upon which he can base himself unconditionally . . . (Selected Works, I, 295).

But this is all very confusing, because in the Manifesto the paragraph which immediately follows the sentence condemning the lumpenproletariat describes the pauperization of the proletariat in these terms:

Attica Rebellion 1971 -- the high level of Black-white-Latino unity revealed the ability to transform conditions through struggle

In the condition of the proletariat, those of the old society are already swamped. The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family-relation . . Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests. (Selected Works, I, 44).

A few paragraphs later, it states that “the modern laborer . . . sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of his own class”; “He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth.” Well, then, if this is true, what happens to the pauperized proletariat? How do they manage to live? Why is a knife grinder or a tinker or a porter or a beggar or a discharged soldier or even a discharged jailbird a member of some other class, the lumpenproletariat, “sharply differentiated from the industrial proletariat”? It cannot be just a question of values, because to the true proletarian “law, morality, religion” are just “bourgeois prejudices.” And it cannot be a question of personal relation to the means of production, because in that case any worker who becomes unemployed would automatically become a member of the lumpenproletariat and the industrial reserve army would become a lumpen army.

I would like to draw the following working conclusions: Marx and Engels, perceiving the existence of an important but ill-defined social class and angered by the treacherous role often played by that class, tended to make an ethical judgement rather than a Marxist analysis of its role in capitalist society and revolutionary struggle. This class may be defined as follows: It does not engage in productive labor, and is therefore not exploited in industry (The bourgeoisie, however, does utilize it as police, army, or agents). Its principal means of support is the labor of the productive class, and its relationship to the proletariat is therefore inherently parasitic. Its members have come from all classes, and they have ceased to be members of those other classes because of a combination of two conditions, one objective, the other subjective – they no longer have the same relationship to the means of production and they no longer have any loyalty to their former class. From this it follows that the lumpenproletariat will contain more varied forms of consciousness than any other class in society, for the previous experience of the individuals within it will be most varied and their present precarious means of existence will throw them into many different forms of contact with all the other classes (the prostitute providing the most striking example of this). So the role of the lumpenproletariat is inherently unpredictable both strategically and at each and every moment.

If this is true, we should be keenly aware of the unreliability of the lumpenproletariat, but we must reject Engels1 condemnation of them as completely worthless and merely dangerous. Marx provides a key insight in a passage which foreshadows the analysis of Mao and Fanon and relates directly to the development of the Revolutionary Youth Movement. At a “youthful age,” he says in The Class Struggles in France, the lumpenproletariat is “thoroughly malleable, as capable of the most heroic deeds and the most exalted sacrifices as of the basest banditry and the foulest corruption.” (Selected Works, I, 155). If so, at least the youth of the lumpenproletariat should be able to play an extremely important part in revolutionary struggle, because they are the only group to combine this potentiality for heroism with an intimate daily knowledge of how to cope with the police and to engage in underground activities as a way of life. And remember that in What Is To Be Done? Lenin makes the mastery of these skills the primary requirement of the professional revolutionary and of the revolutionary party as a whole, primary because these skills are needed to survive.

Not all prisoners are lumpen -- many are just working class kids caught up in some bullshit.

Lenin himself deals with one aspect of the lumpenproletariat quite relevant at the present moment– their tendency to engage in spontaneous and disorganized armed struggle against the state and in “expropriation” of state property. Lenin violently condemns those Bolsheviks who disassociate themselves from this by “proudly and smugly declaring ’we are not anarchists, thieves, robbers, we are superior to all this.” (“Guerilla Warfare,” Collected Works, XI, 220.) He attacks “the usual appraisal” which sees this struggle as merely ”anarchism, Blanquism, the old terrorism, the acts of individuals isolated from the masses, which demoralize the workers, repel wide strata of the population, disorganize the movement and injure the revolution.” (Works, XI, 216-17). Lenin draws the following keen lesson from the disorganized state of this struggle: it is not these actions “which disorganize the movement, but the weakness of a party which is incapable of taking such actions under its control.” (p. 219). The Bolsheviks must organize these spontaneous acts and “must train and prepare their organizations to be really able to act as a belligerent side which does not miss a single opportunity of inflicting damage on the enemy’s forces.”

Mao’s basic analysis of the lumpenproletariat and of their possible role in the revolution is clear and simple:

Apart from all these other classes, there is the fairly large lumpenproletariat, made up of peasants who have lost their land and handicraftsmen who cannot get work. They lead the most precarious existence of all . . . .One of China’s difficult problems is how to handle these people, Brave fighters but apt to be destructive, they can become a revolutionary force if given proper guidance. (“Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society”).

Although in American society the lumpenproletariat consists of more groups than the dispossessed farmers of the South and Mid-West and unemployed handicraftsmen, Mao’s final generalization seems to be as fitting here as there. But unfortunately for us, Mao does not give any detailed theory on working with this particular almost entirely urban class. The closest he comes is a passage in “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party” (Works, II, 325-26):

China’s status as a colony and semi-colony has given rise to a multitude of rural and urban unemployed. Denied proper means of making a living, many of them are forced to resort to illegitimate ones, hence the robbers, gangsters, beggars and prostitutes and the numerous people who live on superstitious practices. This social stratum is unstable; while some are apt to be bought over by the reactionary forces, others may join the revolution. These people lack constructive qualities and are given to destruction rather than construction; after joining the revolution, they become a source of roving-rebel and anarchist ideology in the revolutionary ranks. Therefore, we should know how to remould them and guard against their destructiveness.

Why is a drug dealer legally considered a criminal, but a bartender is legal and respected?

The major Marxist theorist of the lumpenproletariat is Frantz Fanon, whose view is like an amplification of Mao’s. In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon, writing mainly about African colonies, sees the lumpenproletariat as made up almost exclusively of landless peasants (p. 90). This is the part of the analysis least relevant to the U.S., although, of course, almost all of the Black and part of the white lumpenproletariat has been driven from the land into the cities. But he argues that, for three reasons, the revolution cannot succeed without these people:

(1) They are the most ready to fight. (2) They therefore provide the way by which the revolutionary forces of the countryside enter the city. (3) If they are not fighting on the side of the revolution, they will be fighting against it. Fanon gives many specific examples of the counter-revolutionary role sometimes played by the lumpenproletariat. In Madagascar, the colonialists assisted in “the creation of a party out of the unorganized elements of the lumpenproletariat” and then used “its distinctly provocative actions” as “the legal excuse to maintain order.” (p. 93) In Angola, Algeria, and the Congo, the colonialists were able to use elements of the lumpenproletariat as soldiers, agents, laborers, and counterrevolutionary demonstrators. Fanon concludes from this not that the lumpenproletariat should be ignored, but quite the contrary: the real danger lies in depending on its spontaneity:

Colonialism will also find in the lumpen-proletariat a considerable space for manoeuvering. For this reason any movement for freedom ought to give its fullest attention to this lumpen-proletariat. The peasant masses will always answer the call to rebellion, but if the rebellion’s leaders think it will be able to develop without taking the masses into consideration, the lumpen-proletariat will throw itself into the battle and will take part in the conflict – but this time on the side of the oppressor. And the oppressor, who never loses a chance of setting the niggers against each other, will be extremely skillful in using that ignorance and incomprehension which are the weaknesses of the lumpen-proletariat. If this available reserve of human effort is not immediately organized by the forces of rebellion, it will find itself fighting as hired soldiers side by side with the colonial troops, (p. 109)

What makes all this particularly dangerous is that it may occur after the lumpenproletariat has fought on the side of the revolution and may therefore take the revolutionary forces completely by surprise. Fanon points out that the enemy relies on careful analysis to take advantage of any such opportunity:

The enemy is aware of ideological weakness, for he analyzes the forces of rebellion and studies more and more carefully the aggregate enemy which makes up a colonial people; he is also aware of the spiritual instability of certain layers of the population. The enemy discovers the existence, side by side with the disciplined and well-organized advance guard of rebellion, a mass of men whose participation is constantly at the mercy of their being for too long accustomed to physiological wretchedness, humiliation, and irresponsibility. (109-110)

It’s certainly not difficult to imagine a similar situation here, and we should be warned of the necessity of raising the consciousness of all those who join the struggle. The Black Panthers’ political education courses, based on intensive study of Mao and stressing an application to people’s immediate experience, here serves as a model. Many of their early recruits, although unaccustomed to reading and used to the life of a criminal, learned to serve the people with complete dedication. And, like Malcolm X, not only Eldridge Cleaver, but several other leaders of the Panthers are the “discharged jailbirds” which Marx sees as part of the lumpenproletariat.

Two other parts of Fanon’s analysis are of even more strategic importance. The first is the theory of the lumpenproletariat as the way the countryside enters the city. “The rebellion, which began in the country districts, will filter into the towns through that fraction of the peasant population . . . which has not yet succeeded in finding a bond to gnaw in the colonial system.” “It is within this mass of humanity, this people of the shanty towns, at the core of the lumpen-proletariat that the rebellion will find its urban spearhead.” (103) How does this apply to the U.S.? It is easy enough to see the unemployed people of the Black ghettoes as part of this mass of humanity. But where is the rebellion that began in the country districts? The answer, of course, is in the world revolution as described by Lin Piao in Long Live the Victory of People’s War! The country districts of the world are Asia, Africa, and Latin America, homelands of the wretched of the earth. There are various groups of people in the United States who share the physical misery of these rural masses – American Indians, Chicano farm laborers, Black tenant farmers in the South, the dispossessed whites of Appalachia. But most of these groups are scattered and weak, living on the fringes of capitalist society, away from its vital centers. There is only one group that not only shares the degradation of the world’s revolutionary masses but is sufficiently concentrated to attack imperialism at home – the urban lumpenproletariat. This class in American society is largely made up of Third World people, but also includes whites dispossessed from the land or dropped out of their class. This last is no inconsiderable group, and it has taken over areas of several important cities, from the Haight Ashbury and Telegraph Avenue through Madison to the Lower East Side, Cambridge, and Georgetown, Wherever the lumpenproletariat lives in America, “law and order” are rapidly disintegrating. Imperialism, caught in its own contradictions, finds it increasingly difficult to develop effective weapons to use within its own diseased vital organs, its cities. Here stirs the lumpenproletariat, the one class whose physical existence approximates that of the main forces of the world revolution.

Fanon points to the symptoms of breakdown in the colonized country, and we see the same symptoms, perhaps more pronounced, in the colonizer; to “juvenile delinquency,” “stealing, debauchery, and alcoholism,” we can add the effects of methedrine and heroin.

The constitution of a lumpen-proletariat is a phenomenon which obeys its own logic, and neither the brimming activity of the missionaries nor the decrees of the central government can check its growth. This lumpen-proletariat is like a horde of rats; you may kick them and throw stones at them, but despite your efforts they’ll go on gnawing at the roots of the tree.

. . . The lumpen-proletariat, once it is constituted, brings all its forces to endanger the “security” of the town, and is the sign of the irrevocable decay, the gangrene ever present at the heart of the colonial system, (p. 104)

The other extremely important part of Fanon’s analysis has to do with the changing values and lifestyle of the lumpenproletariat within revolutionary struggle. The conditions of life have shaped them to fight, but the fighting itself is a new condition which transforms them into a new kind of people:

So the pimps, the hooligans, the unemployed and the petty criminals, urged on from behind, throw themselves into the struggle for liberation like stout working men. These classless idlers will by militant and decisive action discover the path that leads to nationhood. They won’t become reformed characters to please colonial society, fitting in with the morality of its rulers; quite the contrary, they take for granted the impossibility of entering the city save by hand-grenades and revolvers. These workless less-than-men are rehabilitated in their own eyes and in the eyes of history. The prostitutes too, and the maids . . . , all the hopeless dregs of humanity, all who turn in circles between suicide and madness, will recover their balance, once more go forward, and march proudly in the great procession of the awakened nation. (104)

All this emphasizes both the danger of tailing after the lumpenproletariat’s existing values and life 1 styles, and the necessity of conscious leadership for the lumpenproletariat to assert their own liberation through revolutionary struggle. Of all classes, this may be the one that most needs to be led by conscious revolutionaries with a sense of their historical condition and an awareness of their weaknesses and instability. It would be a mistake, probably a fatal mistake, to think that the only peoples qualified to lead them are individuals just as unpredictable and as lacking in ideology.


Students now constitute a large portion of the entire population. The number of college students alone now approximately equals the country’s entire armed forces pi us its three largest unions (Teamsters, UAW, and United Steel workers), and the number in high school is far larger. From the students has come the bulk of both the most militant white radical political forces and street people, two overlapping groups. Clearly, the radicalization and lumpenproletarianizing of students are not coincidences.

All students, particularly those living away from home, are partially and temporarily declasse, existing in a limbo between their wealthy or working-class past and whatever careers or jobs they are being channeled into. Although physically and psychologically capable of productive labor and childbearing, indeed more energetic and sexually motivated than most “adults,” though often among the most intellectually alert and best informed people, they are branded by all classes as immature parasites. They are generally not permitted either to sell their labor or to own property. Although they may work quite hard in school, they do not produce anything, and are not workers. No matter how socially useful their knowledge and skills may later prove to be, they are still “dependents,” a pleasant word for parasites.

Rather than earn a living, students chisel or hustle for one. Even the son of a member of the ruling class knows that he has gotten his sports car by finagling it out of his old man, not through productive labor (like his father’s workers) or legalized respectable plunder (like his father); he relates to his father like a call girl or swindler. Students are denied even bourgeois democratic rights. As neither workers nor owners, living under coercive rules without even the illusion of having chosen the authority over them, students share some of the experience of the more clearly classless elements of society, the true lumpenproletariat. This experience has at least some effect on their consciousness. They know what it is to be considered a parasite and to live like one. Their class loyalties weaken. The sanctity of both work and private property is questioned. Of course they are still largely products of their natal class. But because their class position is now ambiguous, many of them slip out of the class roles for which they supposedly were being trained, and some find it quite easy to become outright class traitors. Some sons and daughter of workers compete for managerial careers, and a few even become lower level bosses over their parents. Some sons and daughters of the wealthiest capitalists become conscious revolutionaries, seeking to overthrow their parents’ rule, and a few even succeed in merging with the workers. But the most striking phenomenon is that of the dropout, who slides directly from an existence with some superficial resemblances to the lumpenproletariat into becoming a bona fide member of that class. And during the present period, the beginning of the final collapse of imperialism, that is becoming a mass phenomenon.

The alienated street people, predominantly ex-students whose neighborhood usually adjoins a Black or brown ghetto, form an ambiguous connection to the dispossessed lumpenproletariat and lower strata of the proletariat. The potential exists for two kinds of conflict, and both have already taken place: in one, whites and Third World people fight against each other; in the other, both fight together against the police. This represents in dramatically clear form the classical ambiguity of and within the lumpenproletariat.


Although the lumpenproletariat must play a part in revolutionary struggle, as a class it is incapable of being the main force. Its capacity for fighting and destruction may be great, but of all classes within society it is the least capable of seizing and maintaining state power.

One error currently being made within the movement is empiricism, which bases its analysis only on what has already taken place here and now. In any pre-revolutionary or early revolutionary condition, the least stable elements within society are those to go into motion first. This almost always includes students and elements of the lumpenproletariat. Empiricism mistakes this first force for the leading force or vanguard, and concludes that the revolution will be made by precisely those elements in fact least able to carry it through to completion.

In developed capitalist society, there is of course only one class other than the bourgeoisie capable of holding state power; that class is the working class. At this point in history, revolution can mean only one thing: the overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat. (Individuals can be fighting anti-imperialists, totally committed to the destruction of the bourgeois state, without being revolutionaries. If they are merely destructive, they sooner or later attack the working class as well as the state.) But in the obvious historical meaning of revolution lies the danger of dogmatism, which ignores living reality for historical certainty. The dogmatists, best characterized by the Progressive Labor Party and other varieties of Trotskyites, see the struggles of any group other than the proletariat as inconsequential if not downright counterrevolutionary. PL carries this so far that they assert that students and street people are not part of the people at all. Because they ignorantly assume that “when Mao or Lenin talked of the people they were referring (only) to workers and peasants,” they arrive at the preposterous conclusion that “the fight for People’s Park was a reactionary struggle.” (The Battle of Berkeley, PL pamphlet, pp. 7-9.) Unlike PL, Marxist-Leninists understand that theory must be based on objective reality. They conclude, therefore, that the key revolutionary task at the present moment is spreading the intensely political struggle of the dispossessed and the alienated to the working class as a whole, which, mired in economism, can win its battle only in revolution, and can win the revolution only by leading other classes in alliance.

There is nothing automatic or certain about the relation between the present insurgencies and the working class. On the contrary, there is an extreme danger that the contradiction between the lumpenproletariat and the working class may become antagonistic (particularly if many workers were to listen to the bourgeois press or PL), The lumpenproletariat is, after all, a parasitic class that lives off the labor of the working class. Workers may perceive anarchic rebellion as a threat to the marginal security they have been able to win from the ruling class. On its side, that part of the lumpenproletariat consisting of students who have dropped out of petit bourgeois, professional, and bourgeois families has been filled with the most virulent anti-working-class ideas. And particular situations may sharpen the contradiction. (Students and street people occupy a housing development from which working-class people have been evicted, and then demand that this be a free People’s Pad, while workers in the surrounding neighborhood cannot afford their rent. Or the same situation may be turned into unified struggle. Out of the People’s Pad project has come intensive organizing for a rent strike in the surrounding community. So the task of first linking and then uniting the struggles of the lumpenproletariat and the working class is not only essential, but needs the work of conscious revolutionaries.

Among Third World people, there is a less clear demarcation between lumpenproletariat and working class than there is between street people and the white working class. Black and brown workers are the last hired and the first fired, so that a large percentage knows what it is to be among the unemployed. Many Black and brown women are on welfare or employed in part-time “domestic” (i.e., servile) positions. The Black Panther Party has shown the way to unite lumpenproletariat with working class – by constantly developing practical programs to Serve the People in areas where the oppression of the lumpen proletariat is an extreme form of oppression suffered by Black working people. Beginning with a base almost entirely within the lumpenproletariat and committed to defending the people against police brutality, the Panthers now have wide support among Black workers, and thanks to the Breakfast for Children program, throughout the Black community. What has been central to this success has been the Panthers’ refusal to take the opportunistic course of organizing around lumpenproletarian demands per se, but rather organizing through the lumpenproletariat as the most victimized members of the Black nation and therefore as ones capable of raising demands for the people as a whole. Although now and again contradictions have intensified between lumpenproletariat and working class within Third World communities, it now seems certain that revolutionary leadership, national oppression, and the intensifying crisis of imperialism will combine to forge revolutionary unity.

In the mother country, the problems are far more difficult. Certainly the lesson of the Panthers, Serve the People, is just as crucial here, to say the least. The principal organizing concept here is the Revolutionary Youth Movement, which is made necessary and possible by cross-class youth culture, the draft and imperialist war, high unemployment among youth, and the pigs.

Within the Revolutionary Youth Movement, the bulk of the work within the next year or two will continue to be building the movement on the campuses and on the streets and linking the two together. But the key job for revolutionaries will be to spread that movement to young white working people.

Here one vital area of work must be draft resistance and resistance within the army, because here the movement among alienated white youth connects directly to the needs of young workers. Another priority is the work among street gangs, who are themselves basically lumpenproletariat although their class backgrounds vary, and motorcycle clubs, which are mostly made up of young workers whose life style and off-work associations relate closely to the lumpenproletariat. A third area of vital importance is the high schools, where the channeling system has not as yet totally forced class separation and where oppression cuts sharply across class lines.


In Germany, the lumpenproletariat was the main source of shock troops for Naziism. Anyone who worships the spontaneity of unemployed youth should be reminded of the Brownshirts. In the United States, unemployed white youth are a fertile breeding place for the worst forms of racism, national chauvinism], and the cult of the super-male. This is particularly true in the South, in the urban areas into which the dispossessed rural whites have been driven, and in European ethnic neighborhoods. And among these people there is no clear dividing line between lumpenproletariat and white working class.

The Young Patriots and Young Partisans have shown that these people are capable of becoming not only revolutionaries but revolutionary leaders. And the only way for them to do this, as both groups have shown, is by organizing around the principle of serving the most oppressed and exploited people in American society.

The lumpenproletariat know what it is to be on the bottom, to be mashed into the gutter by the whole weight of an imperialist structure. They share the degradation of the wretched of the whole earth. At every moment two paths are possible for them. One is to turn their hatred against other victims, against each other, against themselves. They can put on the uniform of the U.S. Marines and butcher Vietnamese peasants, they can prey on their brothers and sisters in the streets, or they can shoot their own veins full of poison. The other path is the path of their own liberation.

To reach this path it is necessary for them, like all of us, not only to become conscious of who our real enemies are but to realize that the only force capable of overthrowing them and destroying their rotten system is a grand alliance of all their victims. And one thing is sure for everybody: no class will be liberated while there still exists a class that can be called the lumpenproletariat.

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