Did the problems of the Black Panthers come from their base in people outside of the formal economy? Where are the borders of the working class? Can Marx’s concept of the “lumpenproletariat” help explain conditions in the modern-day ghetto? How can we respect the revolutionary possibilities of lumpen people, but still relate to working-class people that are often preyed upon?
* lumpen= people who aren’t working class or the bourgeoisie. The lower class ie prostitutes, pimps, dboys, etc. . .
I was recently in a discussion with some friends about the lumpen proletariat and their place in the over all revolution against Capitalism. One of my friends, an activist in the homeless rights struggle was at odds with another of my friends because he diss the lumpen, claiming that they have no place in the revolution. I said the following
It’s really interesting because I agree and disagree with Huey and the Panthers on this point. Organizing oppressed communities, in particular Black and Brown ones, means your going to be dealing with the Lumpen. And I agree with Huey that they need to be placed inside of the thought of bringing about revolution under capitalism. Marx analysis was based and limited to the time he lived in, he did not project into the future and so his analysis of the lumpen follows the same way. What constitutes the lumpen now is very different and Boone is right in his aggression towards certain parts of the Lumpen. Huey himself said that certain parts of the Lumpen couldn’t be organized such as pimps. It is very difficult growing up in a place where you are surrounded by pimps, prostitutes, DBoys etc. . . I know when I was growing up I developed a hostility towards them and still harbor ill feelings (it’s hard not to when people are selling poison to their own, you know and your immediate family are victims of that) However, I am trying to always remember that I hate this system, which has produced the lumpen, more. That people are shaped by their conditions. Another interesting point that I picked up speaking to an ex panther the other day was how detrimental the Panthers being the party devoted to organizing the lumpen was. The Ex Panther was saying, and I agree, that the working class is the only class that can bring about revolution under the Capitalist system because of their relations to the ruling class and the means of production. Thus, the working class is the revolutionary class. Marx was right on this, however I agree that it is essential that we start a new pedagogy that has a place for the lumpen, they are the most effected by this Capitalist system in many ways. And if we are talking about updating the Left and making it relevant well. . .
It’s funny cause this all started with me reciting a lyric from a Digable Planets song. “To the lumpen mass. . .”