Are Lumpen the Leaders the Revolution Needs?
"Sakai on Lumpen in Revolution" was my favorite piece in ULK 64. I would have liked to see a more in-depth analysis of the subject of the role of lumpen following the review of Sakai's book. I believe the lumpen will play a principal role in revolution here in imperialist United States.
We live in a time very different from Marx's, when the battle was to be waged between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Marx wrote of the growing contradictions between bourgeoisie and proletariat, following from these contradictions, the proletariat revolution abolishing capitalism. This was apparently true then, but the terrain is very different now. After the imperialist wars I and II led to imperialist expansion and consolidation of global capitalism and the global market, new classes with their own contradictions (and inner-contradictions) have been created. And with the transformation of colonialism proper into neocolonialism, the roles of the different classes and the contradictions even among the oppressed classes themselves, has created many non-principal contradictions, clouding the principal ones.
In the imperialist countries, and especially here in the imperialist capital of the world, the U.S., imperialism and neo-colonialism is beneficial to the "proletariat." The working class population is effectively bought off with a better standard of living thanks to global value transfer from Third World nations. This "sharing of the (stolen) pie" gives the appearance that the proletariat and the bourgeoisie share a common interest in imperialism. Of course, the contradiction between the two classes continues to exist, but giving the proletariat some crumbs off of the table of the "all you can eat global buffet" alleviates the contradictions and pacifies revolutionary potential and the raising of working class consciousness.
With the proletariat in the imperialist countries there also exists blind patriotism and national chauvinism, and this is a major hindrance to uniting the proletariat in any truly revolutionary way. Much of the working class has been brainwashed with national pride without any good reason. Participating in bourgeois political games, buying into their effectiveness. Supporting various U.S. aggression toward Third World countries, and the so-called "war on terror."
These are just a few of the reasons why we should consider the possibility of the lumpen playing a principal role in revolution. Lumpen's very existence is much more precarious and unpredictable. They comprise millions of the U.S. population. They are the most cast-off population. People are accepting gays, lesbians, transgenders, etc. The women's movement is again taking off and enjoying widespread support. Racism continues to be addressed and shunned, as well as religious intolerance. But the lumpen population continues to be cast off, ignored, discriminated against for life, killed, and legally enslaved (see the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution).
Proletariats, with the sheer numbers, and the fact that they are the very foundation, the absolute precondition for the existence of capitalism, they hold the potential to abolish oppression. But for that to happen, the proletariat here would have to settle accounts with imperialism, and this may prove more difficult than transforming the lumpen mentality to a revolutionary mentality.
Lumpen have been in rebellion their entire lives against the exploitive system, even if unconsciously. The prestige of U.S. righteousness, justice, and equality, if it ever existed for the lumpen, is constantly being deconstructed. And the lumpen, with their lumpen organizations, are these not already guerrilla armies? Doing guerrilla warfare every day? We need only work to introduce revolutionary principles and raise their consciousness. Their material conditions of existence are more primed for revolutionary action than the proletariat in the U.S. today.
I would really like to see more dialogue on this subject. I hope that I have made some kind of valid point. I am no authority on revolutionary theory. I am only 24 and very new.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We have much unity with this analysis of classes in the United $tates. But where it is limited to an analysis of classes within U.$. borders, we think it's crucial to think more broadly about classes globally in this era of imperialism. As this comrade notes, the workers in the United $tates have been bought off with the spoils of imperialism. But this doesn't mean the proletariat on a global scale is bought off. We do look to the proletariat as the foundational class for revolution, but we don't find that proletariat within U.$. borders. Instead we find it in the Third World, where it is actively engaged in a battle for life and death with imperialism. There it is not a big leap for the proletariat to take up revolutionary struggle.
In First World countries like the United $tates, on the other hand, we see the lumpen playing a leading role in the revolutionary movement. This is in large part because the national contradiction is the principal contradiction within U.$. borders. And as this writer points out, the oppressed nation lumpen continue to receive the brunt of this oppression even while living in a country of great wealth and prosperity. The potential for lumpen organizations to become revolutionary organizations is of great interest to us as well. We work with many of these organizations to build peace and unity. But these organizations are generally structured to meet capitalist goals. In the book reviewed, Sakai, addresses the challenges faced in joining forces militarily with such organizations in other times and places. But in those contexts we are talking about a lumpen-proletariat, in proletarian populations. We talk about the First World lumpen, within the exploiter countries, and see even more barriers in wholesale moves to the revolutionary road.
With such a relatively small potentially revolutionary population in the imperialist countries, we don't expect to see revolution start from within the United $tates. At least not without a significant change in conditions. The most likely avenue for revolution comes from the Third World. This doesn't absolve us of responsibility within imperialist countries. We must organize the resistance, support revolutionary movements in the Third World, and build a movement capable of seizing the moment when it arrives.