Skip to content

The Call of the Lumpen

November 10, 2009


Lumpenproletariat: a German word meaning “raggedy proletariat” -Wikipedia (2009)

I. Depictions of a Class

It was in 1854, in a work titled The German Ideology, that authors Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels first coined the term “lumpenproletariat.” Marx would later go on to use this term in his reference to the “refuse of all classes, the swindlers, confidence tricksters, brothel keepers, rag-and-bone merchants, beggars, and other flotsam of society” (1). Trotsky made reference to this lumpenproletariat as the “countless bands of declassed and demoralized human beings whom finance capital has brought to desperation and frenzy” (2). And today this term is used in contemporary sociology (both Marxist and non-Marxist alike) to further include the prostitutes, pimps, petty drug dealers and bootleggers, operators of small-time illegal gambling enterprises, impoverished alcoholics and drug addicts, thieves, fencers, loan sharks, welfare recipients, the homeless, and those in gangs – in short, all victims of modern day capitalist society who exist outside the wage labor system.

Some political organizations have even begun categorizing the lumpenproletariat into three very distinct groups stemming from three very different and distinct geopolitical regions and classes of people: militiamen, survivalists, and disaffected veterans (etc.) found in rural areas; a suburban lumpenproletariat consisting of student radicals, countercultural and rebellious, disconcerted youth; and the lumpenproletariat (herein referred to as the lumpen) of the urban under-class – the gangbangers, convicted felons, and the ethnic minority nationalists.

But regardless of however some may attempt to define or categorize this class, the ranks of the lumpenproletariat continue to swell into the millions and represent both the most dire consequences of capitalism here within the borders of the united states, and the most potentially radical sector of humanity within those very same borders.

II. Theoretical and Historical Perspective

“The ‘dangerous class,’ the lumpenproletariat, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.” -Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

According to Marx, the lumpenproletariat were more of a counter-revolutionary force than anything else. In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, he notes them as the political power base resorted to by Louis Bonaparte, which enabled him to be placed above both the proletariat and bourgeoisie of 1848 France. Engels wrote about the lumpenproletariat during the repression of the 1848 revolution of Naples as well, declaring them to have been the deciding factor in the people’s defeat. And Trotsky, nearly a hundred years later, would note how Benito Mussolini’s success in mobilizing this “dangerous class” ultimately contributed to his rise and eventual capture of power over WWII Italy.

In 1960, Ernesto Che Guevara would make a critical note of comparison between the lumpen and the guerrilla combatants. In the opening pages of his work, Guerrilla Warfare, he writes that “they have many characteristics of a guerrilla army: homogeneity, respect for the leader, bravery, knowledge of the terrain , and, often, even a good understanding of the tactics to be employed. The only thing lacking is the support of the people.” But it wouldn’t be until the publishing of The Wretched of the Earth in 1961, by Martinican psychologist and revolutionary philosopher Frantz Fanon, that a qualitative theory of the lumpenproletariat would be reached. Fanon argued in his work that the lumpenproletariat were not simply just an ‘under-class’ with counterrevolutionary tendencies but, in fact, “one of the most spontaneous and the most radically revolutionary forces of a colonized people.” He went on to further argue that not only could revolutionary cadre not afford to exclude the lumpenproletariat, but that the education of these dispossessed masses should be made central to revolutionary strategy.

Throughout the later 1960s and into the early 1970s, Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party (BPP) would lead the way in applying practice to theory. Huey would argue that it was the Black lumpenproletariat who were the true revolutionary class in u.s. society. The BPP, under the Leninist concept of the vanguard party and Maoist ideas of armed struggle, would set out to organize, politicize and mobilize this sector of u.s. society against the imperialist establishment. In sync with the BPP, there were a number of other parties that set out to do the same amongst the Pacific Islanders and Asian American communities. Amongst the Latin American communities, there were the likes of the Brown Berets and the Young Lords parties. And there were even such groups as the Young Patriots, which were primarily made up of young, disconcerted, rebellious white youth. Extensive work was being undertaken (especially by Fred Hampton and Bunchy Carter) in such major metropolitan areas as Chicago and Los Angeles to form a United Front amongst the already existent lumpenproletarian organizations (LPOs) of that era. In L.A., the BPP began making contact and progress with the Black Leaders of Our Days (BLOOD) and Community Revolution in Progress (CRIP) organizations; and in Chicago the same was being made between the warring factions of the Disciples and the Rangers (3). At the same time, the Brown Berets in California were working with such LPOs as the Southern United Raza and the Norteños; and in Illinois the Young Lords were working hand-in-hand with the Latin Kings. In less than ten years, Fanon’s theory was manifested into a true threat. And the federal government acted accordingly.

III. Strategic and Psychological Degradation of the Lumpen

“The Black Panther Party is the number one threat to security in the USA.” (4) -J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director from 1924 to 1972

In ten more years, and in the wake of J. Edgar Hoover’s violent COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgram) victory over the BPP, the ruling class bourgeoisie would consciously make a decision to foster the development of a Black middle class so as to serve as an effective obstacle for future unrest amongst ethnic minorities, and the Iran-Contra scandal (the evidence that it was the CIA flooding our communities with cocaine) would help reveal that the federal government’s “war on drugs” was in all actuality the furtherance of its “war on the lumpen.”

By this time the crack epidemic would sweep through the homes of the lumpen community like the biblical Passover and the angel of death striking down nothing less than the first born of every family. The demoralized and psychologically defeated lumpen would swarm the ranks of the leftover LPOs, who were themselves unknowingly being provoked in the direction of their own destruction by federal-agent infiltrators and unseen hands. The gang-banging phenomenon of the 1980s and early 1990s would explode and it would be the captives of this war, unconscious of it all, who would serve to impregnate the prison industrial complex of today, while the government worked to manipulate the young minds of tomorrow.

From the 1990s into the first decade of the new millennium, the credo of the lumpen has gone from get free or die tryin’ to get rich or die tryin.’ The ruling class has taken measures to monopolize and filter their every source of inspiration and the result is a gross deformation of oppressed humanity bent on materialism and mentally blockaded by brick walls of individualism. Those who believe and teach that the lumpen are a “parasitic class” by nature, fail to perceive the power of education. It is true that in most cases the lumpenproletariat share a common trait with the bourgeoisie – that of living off of the labor of others – but it is incorrect to conclude that the lumpen have an overbearing conscious interest in preserving the capitalist/imperialist system. The lumpen, more than anyone else in u.s. society, feel the brunt of the capitalist/imperialist system – whether they realize its inherent nature or not. The system will continue to drive them deeper into the graveyard of ignorance, tricking them with illusions of wealth, while exploiting them (in every fashion) every step of the way. The dispossessed lumpen are always ready to rebel, but just as happened in the L.A. riots of 1992 and the Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005, because they lack the moral, discipline, and direction seemingly wasted upon the masquerading proletariat of North America (a labor aristocracy), they will continue to fail.

IV. The Final Call

“The reactionary has chosen his reactionary position. The revolutionary has chosen his position, that is, of going to others to win them over. If he can’t win reactionaries to the revolution, the forces of reaction will grow through the world.” (5) -Thomas Sankara (on the eve of his assassination)

…How much more so is it, then, that the revolutionary must win over the lumpen? The BLOODS and CRIPS, Disciples and Kings are still very much active today. They have grown and spread throughout every major city in the country. They are now even present in small town usa. And they have even begun to transcend oceans and international borders. Yet it is corporate America, drug cartels, other criminal racketeers, and First-through-Third World reactionary forces in between that show the greatest interest in winning their allegiance and tapping into both their energy and their creativity. Larry Hoover (Gangster Disciple) and Luis Felipe (Latin King) were both sent to the federal supermax prison in Colorado, Felipe to serve thirty-five years of complete isolation, affirmed by the United States Supreme Court – because they began reorganizing around the banner of nationalist revolution. Crip co-founder Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams was ultimately executed by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger because he dedicated the books that he wrote in prison to leaders of the Black Liberation struggle – books that were meant for the next generation of lumpen coming up in the ghettos of America (a generation of whom in every one could be found the potential of a George Jackson or a Malcolm X – lumpen icons bar-none). But there are countless other lumpen leaders still willing to sacrifice their all who are struggling to pick up where the BPP was knocked off. Every one of these LPOs herein mentioned (and an untold amount of others) has a revolutionary history of leaders who struggled to grasp a hold of the torch of freedom, so as to ward off the spirits of oppression, and shed its light upon the downtrodden.* And just as they’ve struggled to hold on to the torch of freedom, the last of the remaining imprisoned Panthers, Weathermen, Macheteros, etc. of the 1960s will soon be struggling to hold on to the torch of life…

The call of the lumpen is this: “Do not die with out giving us your last.” Do not pass before passing us the light. Do not succumb to death before teaching us how to live and fight. Your inheritance is ours to receive.

Where Newton and the BPP found that the White radicals and their organizations lacked significant influence amongst the white working class, the same will not be found in regards to the LPOs and their relationship to the lumpen in general. The LPOs have a dominant influence in both the streets of urban america and upon the yards of a locked-down nation. What they lack is a political consciousness.

In order to effectively reach the lumpen on a mass level, the revolutionaries must reach the hundreds of thousands of LPO members. And in order to reach the LPO members, they must reach the LPO leaders. The leaders, especially in prison, are present everyday, groping, struggling, hoping and failing. Their failure is just as much the failure of the revolutionaries as the failure of the revolution is theirs.

A sound and solid dialogical relationship needs to be built with the LPO leaders, and it needs to be established with the same patience afforded a Third World peasantry. As history has shown, the fate of many movements, diverse in both culture and cause, have depended upon just such a relation. A Maoist comrade wrote in January 1994 that the “…urban youth gangs of Black and Latinos [in north Amerika] are the closest to putting armed struggle into an organized framework for revolution” (6). As the conditions for evolution in this country fluctuate and rise, the actual capacity for such an event is in serious question. The words of the revolutionary are still published, but among the lumpen, they are rarely received. Their portraits are still painted, but among the majority of the lumpen, their faces remain unknown…

But the beat goes on…and revolutionaries and lumpen alike continue to fall…

The lumpens call…

Morin Michael #R04862
Florida State Prison
7819 NW 228th Street
Raiford FL 32026


  1. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852)
  2. Fascism: What it is and How to Fight it, by Leon Trotsky
  3. Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton, by Bobby Seale
  4. COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States, by Ward Churchill and Tim Vander Wall.
  5. Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983-1987.
  6. See the article “Factors Falling into Place for Successful Revolutions” in MIM theory #7 by MC5.

*For more on the history and political line of the ALKQN, read The Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation, by David Brotherton and Luis Barrios; or see The Revolutionary History of the Almighty Latin King Nation (MIM Notes #187 and 188) at
** Help us!

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: