USA • August 30, 2020 • Clyde W. Barrow
In The Harmful Class: The Idea of the Lumpenproletariat (College of Michigan Press, forthcoming 2020), I argue that US President Donald Trump must be understood as a “Prince of the Lumpenproletariat.” The query that may confront us on November third and lengthy afterward is whether or not Donald Trump will turn out to be “Emperor of the Lumpenproletariat.” These phrases are taken from Karl Marx’s 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, the place he utilized them to Louis Bonaparte III. I argue that Trump has adopted the script of the 18th Brumaire, which is the story of the distinctive rise to energy of a lumpenproletariat organized and led by an authoritarian populist.
Marx described Louis Bonaparte III as an authoritarian dictator:
“who constitutes himself chief of the Lumpenproletariat, who here alone rediscovers in mass form the interests which he personally pursues, who recognises in this scum, offal, refuse of all classes [i.e., the lumpenproletariat] the only class upon which he can base himself unconditionally… An old crafty roué, he conceives the historical life of the nations and their performances of state as comedy in the most vulgar sense, as a masquerade where the grand costumes, words and postures merely serve to mask the pettiest knavery… the serious buffoon who no longer takes world history for a comedy but his comedy for world history.”
In his preface to a second version of the 18th Brumaire, Marx noticed that the aim of his e-book had been to “demonstrate how the class struggle in France created circumstances and relations that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part.” It’s no coincidence that the duvet of Time (June 18, 2018) options a picture of Donald Trump his reflection within the mirror and seeing a king mirrored again within the mirror. The July 4, 2018 New York Day by day Information portrays Trump as “the clown who plays King.” The language used to explain the Trump Administration as a theatrical however harmful “clown show” performed out on a world stage is remarkably just like Marx’s description of Louis Bonaparte within the 18th Brumaire.
Eager for Greatness, Once more
Within the 18th Brumaire, Marx chronicles the defection of the peasantry and the city petite bourgeoisie from the February Revolution of 1848, as a result of regardless that they had been “working classes,” they had been additionally small proprietors whose dedication to non-public property made them leery of the extra radical calls for for a social republic put ahead by the economic proletariat within the ensuing June Days. These lessons weren’t solely threatened by the ‘socialistic’ calls for of the proletariat; they had been additionally nostalgic for an older capitalism based mostly on native small producers and small farmers (peasants), who had flocked to the armies of Emperor Napoleon I – a dictator who had as soon as made France nice for them. As Marx noticed, the city and rural petit bourgeoisie longed to make France nice once more.
Within the 18th Brumaire, Marx additionally recognized quite a few fractions of the bourgeoisie, which was removed from unified in its most popular response to the revolutionary proletariat and even in its dedication to a republic in any kind. The bourgeoisie, as Marx outlined it, included massive landowners (actual property), the finance aristocracy (bankers), massive industrialists, and the professions – senior officers of the military, college intellectuals, monks, legal professionals, and the press. The division of curiosity inside the bourgeoisie, and the nostalgic longings of the peasants and the petite bourgeoisie, set the stage for Louis Bonaparte’s election as president of the Second Republic in December 1848. Nevertheless, with little assist within the French Nationwide Meeting, and dealing with the prospect that he must depart workplace as a consequence of a probable electoral defeat in 1854, Louis Bonaparte staged a coup d’état on December 2, 1851, with the assist of military officers, who led the Cell Guard after which the Society of 10 December, and the approving acquiescence of the finance aristocracy.
Bonaparte had initially received an election with assist from the finance aristocracy and the votes of the agricultural and concrete petit bourgeoisie, who had been swayed by his promise to scale back their taxes and his pledge to make France nice once more. Nevertheless, Bonaparte’s coup d’état finally relied on the mass assist and violence of the lumpenproletariat. Marx and Engels didn’t contemplate the lumpenproletariat able to impartial political motion, due to its dependent place on the margins of capitalism. Thus, when the lumpenproletariat does turn out to be politically energetic, it is actually because it has been organized into within the political area by different lessons, though the lumpenproletariat is normally introduced into the category wrestle by the ruling class as a counterweight to the proletariat’s superior numbers. The ruling class will most frequently enlist the lumpenproletariat as “bribed tools of reactionary intrigue” by enrolling them in counterrevolutionary militias and particular police forces directed towards the working class. A uniform, a gentle wage, medical care, a pension, and a gun are an interesting “bribe” to somebody whose “conditions of life” provide no prospects for the long run.
When Louis Bonaparte was elected President of Second Republic, he first relied on the Cell Guard, which was the army arm of the Republican Provisional Authorities. Bonaparte disbanded the Cell Guard and changed them with a secret society referred to as the Society of 10 December – the Decembrists – which had been organized by army officers looking for to make sure the election of Louis Napoleon as president of the Republic of France on December 10, 1848. Marx describes the Cell Guard (and later the Decembrists) as belonging:
“for the most part to the lumpenproletariat… a recruiting ground for thieves and criminals of all kinds, living on the crumbs of society, people without a definite trade, vagabonds, gens sans feu et sans aveu, varying according to the degree of civilisation of the nation to which they belong, but never renouncing their lazzaroni character.”
Bonaparte’s coup d’état was made potential by the armed assist of the lumpenproletariat and it was tolerated by the finance aristocracy as long as the latter class was allowed to pillage the state treasury with mounting public debt and corrupt monetary schemes – “the pettiest knavery” pursued overtly in public view, whereas the petit-bourgeoisie is kind of actually lulled right into a narcotic coma with guarantees of creating the nation nice once more. Equally, Trump guarantees to return the USA to its conventional (if legendary) lifestyle – white males working good jobs in mines and factories, intact nuclear households, Protestant non secular values, and manifest future.
There may be nothing new concerning the reactionary and nostalgic longings of the American petit-bourgeoisie, which has all the time suffered from what Richard Hofstadter referred to as status-anxiety when squeezed by financial energy of company and finance capital and the calls for of a proletariat demanding greater wages and extra public providers (e.g., common healthcare, free greater schooling). What’s new in the USA, nevertheless, is the rise of a white lumpenproletariat, which now equally is moved by nostalgic masculine pictures of a time when American males mined iron ore, oil, copper, coal, and bauxite from American soil, constructed cars offered around the globe, and constructed army and civilian plane that dominated the world’s skies. Some political economists nonetheless name this class a deindustrialized proletariat, however the issue with the latter time period is that these ‘masses’ are not a proletariat they usually by no means shall be once more of their lifetimes. They’ve fallen into the ranks of the lumpenproletariat and, as Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto, they’ve turn out to be “the ‘dangerous class’, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of 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.”
Beneath President Donald Trump, there was a large enlargement of particular federal police forces with paramilitary capabilities and they’re profoundly loyal to the president. One can substitute Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs & Border Safety (CBP), and Homeland Safety Investigations (HSI) for the Cell Guard. The Southern Poverty Legislation Middle has recognized 165 armed militia teams in the USA, together with the Oath Keepers and the three Percenters, and this tally doesn’t embody quite a few run-of-the-mill thugs like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys. Donald Trump has a military of lumpenproletarian shock troops that he can activate on “December 2” to boost himself from the standing of Prince to Emperor. President Trump has lengthy boasted that his personal safety crew is “rough” with those that problem him and he encourages native police to to not be involved about stopping bodily hurt to individuals being taken into custody.
In the meantime, the President’s HSI “jump out boys” whisk away protestors in unmarked automobiles with no official markings to determine them as regulation enforcement officers. President Trump refers to armed neo-Nazis, fascists, and white supremacists as “fine people” and he hints that civil struggle is looming by claiming that “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
That is the script of the Eighteenth Brumaire. That is the Chief of the Lumpenproletariat, who gleefully declares that “I love the poorly educated!” But, from the standpoint of sophistication evaluation, it’s due to this fact vital to acknowledge that the mere act of eradicating Donald Trump from the Workplace of the President won’t reverse the underlying logic of post-industrial capitalist improvement that has led to the rise of an offended and violent white lumpenproletariat. Donald Trump didn’t trigger the white lumpenproletariat, though his phrases and actions have mobilized and unleashed them in quite a lot of alt-right, neo-Nazi, fascist, and white nationalist organizations, together with armed militias that may in all probability turn out to be extra energetic if Trump is denied the presidency.
The emergence of a white lumpenproletariat is the results of a long-term course of of sophistication formation that has generated a military of counter-revolutionary shock troops that won’t disappear due to an election. The lumpenproletariat is armed and harmful and, consequently, irrespective of the end result of the 2020 election, a query will stay as to what’s to be completed with the white lumpenproletariat? In case you might be questioning, The Harmful Class is a pessimistic e-book and it doesn’t have a cheerful ending – at the very least not within the foreseeable future. •
Clyde W. Barrow is Professor and Chair of the Division of Political Science on the College of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He’s the creator of Towards a Vital Theoy of States: The Poulantzas-Miliband Debate After Globalization (SUNY Press, 2016) and his latest e-book is The Harmful Class: The Idea of the Lumpenproletariat (College of Michigan Press, 2020).