“ From Catalonia to the American Midwest, from “Brexiters” and Corsican separatists to Salvini and the German AfD, all over the world the petty bourgeoisie has played a leading role and has directed reactionary “revolts” under the pretext of the crisis… towards nothing. Not enough, it now enters a new and inevitable phase after the clash with reality: it has no alternative, no future to offer society. Its only option is to revitalize the fantasy of the “people”, interclassist entelechy, (1) a crappy and Utopian version of the nation, now turned into a pure delirium, a zombie political subject. ”
And yet… it is succeeding or coming very close to it. The “confluence” on the basis of the closing of borders with which the German post-Stalinism of Sahra Wagenknecht (2) and Oskar Lafontaine (3) intend to “oppose” the SPD and Salvini’s discourse of security and xenophobia, which already aligns 60% of Italian [public] opinion, have a common formula above the traditional and deceitful right-left opposition: the association between migrations and lumpenization.
In a context in which the proletariat only exists punctually and embryonically as a political subject, in which the decomposition of social relations and of work itself is rampant, the vast majority of our class feels the breath of lumpenization in its neck. It’s the first thing anyone in the neighborhood tells you about. It is every parent’s fear of the evolution of their children’s environment, the abandonment of schools and the growing violence in the immediate surroundings.
The fear produced by the massive arrival of immigrants in Europe among the workers is that they will feed this process even more. Without real job opportunities, without real ties to the class – the vast majority of Syrians and Africans who have arrived in recent years belonged to the urban or peasant petty bourgeoisie – many of them will be burned on the stakes of exclusion and lumpenization.
How does xenophobic propaganda play out? By concealing that those masses of unemployed who will be lumpenized, who will pass into the infamous circuit of the illegal economy and petty crime, are mostly already here and have a local passport since they were born: it’s themselves, it’s us, it’s the kids who hang around in the squares. By blaming some of its imminent victims for the lumpenization, xenophobia conceals the responsibility of a capitalism that no longer even has the capacity to exploit us all.
Yet the internationalists don’t seem to notice. What’s more, it seems that they let come back in through the window what they had chased out of the house by the door. It is no coincidence that the same texts that define the working class as a “multi-gender, multi-national, [multi-]racial front” bless looting as expressions of the “explosive spontaneity of the proletarian element.” (4) They do not understand that the proletariat, in its process of constitution as a class, not only asserts itself “upwardly”, against the petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie, but against the bourgeois order as a whole. And that the lumpen proletariat, (5) that permanent threat of decomposition of one’s own class “downward”, is an essential part of the forces trying to contain and dissolve it.
Why does this happen? Paradoxically many young groups remain tied in their conceptions to a manufacturing moment of class life that will not return. Others may have confused precariousness with lumpenization without being able to understand either one or the other. But the fact is that most of the working class already lives in precarity and their daily fear is lumpenization.
The harshest ideological attacks that the working class is currently suffering have been cooked in the stoves of the petty bourgeoisie. On the one hand, feminism and its tireless will to break the class in two: from the “gender strikes” to the proposal of agreements differentiated by sex.
On the other hand, the return of “workers’ identity politics” (6) that feeds directly on the fear of lumpenization, presenting itself as a form of resistance. Workers’ identitarianism spreads the illusory belief, nurtured for decades by Stalinism, that nationalism is a guarantee against lumpenization. It is this lie inherited from Stalinism, and not the end of the PCI, which pushes part of the Italian workers to let themselves be fooled by Salvini. And it is that same recipe, as easy as it is false, that makes the antifascist neo-Stalinism, inter-class and aggressive, attractive for many precarious young people. (7) It is the same murky waters in which Iannone [‘Casa Pound’ in Italy] (8) or Melisa [‘Hogar Social’ in Spain] (9) try to fish.
The “integrationist alternative” is no less dangerous for the workers. On the same sterile and divisive logic of “identities” it attempts to squeeze in the exploiting migrant petty bourgeoisies as civil rights defenders, while presenting the savage exploitation of the weaker part of the class, not as capitalism in action that threatens us all, but as racism, as an outdated and irrational prejudice. By preventing the class to understand what it is confronted with, “progressism” actually feeds its division, hiding the common nature of their struggles and throwing migrant workers into the arms of exploiters with whom they share a supposed “origin”. Moreover, in reality it feeds the reactionary prejudice of the “impossibility of open borders” by hiding its real background: the global failure of decadent capitalism.
Historically, lumpen and lumpenization have been destructive forces against the workers and their affirmation as a class, in the service of the latter’s dissolution and as cannon fodder at the disposal of the most reactionary options of the moment. (10) Without remembering and recognizing what any worker knows and experiences everyday, from the slums of Buenos Aires to the neighborhoods of Cologne, from the slums of Algiers to those of Shanghai, internationalists will not be able to elaborate any useful discourse. And useful here means useful to denounce the framework, whether Neofascist or Neostalinist, xenophobic or “integrationist”. But to do so, to overcome impotence, it is necessary to distinguish first and with equal clarity precarity, which is an essential part of class life, and lumpenization, which negates and threatens us all.
Nuevo Curso, August 15, 2018
Translation: H.C., September 12, 2018
Some linguistic corrections effected on Sept. 17, 2018
1 Entelechy: the supposed vital principle that guides the development and functioning of an organism or other system or organization (Oxford English Dictionary).
2 Der Spiegel: Sahra Wagenknecht “Deutschland muss seine Fachkräfte selbst ausbilden”
3 Die Welt (Plus): Oskar Lafontaine “Staatlichkeit gibt es nur, wenn Grenzen geschützt werden”
4 https://intransigence.org/2017/10/09/the-dead-end-of-racial-identity-politics/ In an interesting article on social racism in the USA: The Dead-End of Racial Identity Politics (E.S., Workers’ Offensive) we read the following passage: “The self-anointed leaders of the so-called ‘black community’ (…) are deeply embedded in capitalist production relations and therefore complicit in the reproduction of racism. These ‘black brahmins’ (…) are little more than professional poverty pimps, opportunistically riding the wave of black proletarian discontent to achieve political prominence and riches for themselves. The most recent manifestation of this phenomenon is an activist network in the United States that calls itself ‘Black Lives Matter’, which has become synonymous with the movement against racialized police violence, a clear-cut example of capitalists and their lackeys co-opting the authentic resistance of black workers. This organization (…) attempts to harness the explosive spontaneity of the proletarian element within these social movements, which often takes the form of riots and looting, into forms of engagement with the capitalist system that do not interfere in any way with profit-making.” According to our information, comrades of Workers’ Offensive have changed their view regarding the presumed proletarian character of “riots and looting”, following a discussion with Nuevo Curso. [Editor’s note]
5 ‘Nuevo Curso’ defines the lumpen proletariat with quotations from Marx and Engels as “a mass of declassed, excluded persons, separated from the proletariat, that thrives economically from illegal trade, criminal enterprises, begging, state or private patronage or a combination of all these.” (https://nuevocurso.org/definicion/lumpenproletariado/)
6 The theory of “Workers’ identity politics” originates from E.P. Thompson substituting “work culture” for class consciousness. As a consequence, the communist program is replaced by cultural sociology and the universality of the proletariat by nationality. See: ‘Nuevo Curso’: Identidad obrera“ no es conciencia de clase.
10 Read “Lumpenization, looting and class struggle” (Nuevo Curso, May 4, 2018) https://nuevocurso.org/lumpenizacion-saqueos-y-lucha-de-clases/
A postscript by the editor:
1. A concrete demonstration of Nuevo Curso’s insistence on the dangerous phenomena of lumpenization can be found in “¿Volverán los saqueos a Argentina?” (“Will the looting return in Argentina?”) of last September 3. A translation into English would be welcome.
2. A demonstration of Workers’ Offensive’s political evolution on this issue can be found in “The Black Panther Party and the Glorification of the Lumpenproletariat” (August 26).
3. Nuevo Curso has commented on this latter article as follows (September 9): “Yesterday we counted some leftist reactions to the maturing that is taking place within ‘Intransigence’ around the discussion on the political role of lumpen and looting. It is surely the least theorized and perhaps today, the most dangerous of the class borders in much of the U.S.A. and the Caribbean. However, last week’s attempts to derail workers’ reflection and combativeness toward looting in Argentina warns us that it is by no means a local issue. Moreover, as the following article [by Workers’ Offensive on the Black Panther Party] warns, it is intimately linked to the global promotion of “identity politics”. Today, some of the groups, militarized political expressions of the lumpen, that appear in it have deserved the romantic praise of the Spanish newspaper “El País”. Everything points to our American comrades having “touched the nerve”.