Sociology Index

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Lumpenproletariat

Lumpenproletariat is one of those terms that has almost nostalgic connotations, a term that was forgotten. Lumpenproletariat used to be a word that was in vogue when people took the Communist Party more seriously. The term Lumpenproletariat includes the unemployed, the homeless, and career criminal. Economist Richard McGahey, writing for the New York Times in 1982, noted that it is one of the older terms used in labeling theory that attached stigma to poor people for their poverty, and listed the following lumpenproletariat synonyms: "underclass", "undeserving poor", and culture of poverty in "culture of poverty thesis". The term lumpenproletariat was coined by Karl Marx. Lumpenproletariat is a term used by Marxist theorists to describe the underclass devoid of class consciousness. - Hemmerle, O.B. (2006). In Marxist terminology the lumpenprolertariat are actually the dregs of humanity, those who have no interest in attaining class consciousness and hence aiding and abetting the struggle. Instead of being the lowest rung, of freeloaders and petty thieves, the lumpenproletariat, now composed of aimless unemployed workers from defunct industries like coal and steel, seems to have grown.  Lumpen originally meant “rags,” was later used to mean “a person in rags.” The term lumpenproletariat was applied to slum workers or the mob. Lumpenproletariat is a term used by Marxist theorists to describe the underclass. The term Lumpenproletariat was used originally in Marxist theory to describe those members of the proletariat who lacked awareness of their collective interest and class oppression.

The Communist Party USA website defines it as follows: "Generally unemployable people who make no positive contribution to an economy. Sometimes described as the bottom layer of a capitalist society. May include criminal and mentally unstable people. Some activists consider them "most radical" because they are "most exploited," but they are un-organizable and more likely to act as paid agents than to have any progressive role in class struggle."

The term Lumpenproletariat has also been rendered as "social scum", "dangerous classes", "ragamuffin", and "ragged-proletariat". Lumpenproletariat identifies the class of outcast and submerged elements that make up the population of industrial centers. Lumpenproletariat includes beggars, prostitutes, racketeers, petty criminals, tramps, persons who have been cast out by industry, and all sorts of declassed or degraded elements. In Marxist terminology the lumpenprolertariat are the dregs of humanity without interest in attaining class consciousness. Lumpenproletariat also came to mean “riff-raff” or “knave.”

Lumpenproletariat was later to be used freely as a prefix to perjorative terms. Lumpenproletariat used to be a word that was frequently used when people took the Communist Party seriously. In times of depression many people are pushed into this limbo of lumpenproletariat. In the view of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the lumpenproletariat consists of people who subsist on the margins of society and scavenge a living.