Difference in Marx: the lumpenproletariat and the proletarian unnamable

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Difference in Marx: the lumpenproletariat and the proletarian unnamable
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  Difference in Marx: thelumpenproletariat and theproletarian unnamable Nicholas Thoburn Abstract This article considers the place ofdifference in Marx’s politics through an explorationofhis categories ofthe lumpenproletariat and the proletariat.Far from a simple set of class subjects or empirical peoples,these two categories are argued to describe particu-lar modes ofpolitical composition .Despite the frisson ofdifference and excess which isusually associated with Marx’s lumpenproletariat,it is argued to describe a mode of composition – and,in relation to anarchism,a politics – oriented not towards differ-ence and becoming,but towards present identity .The proletariat,on the other hand,is shown to be not a People,historical Subject or identity,but a ‘minor’political modeofcomposition immanent to the manifolds ofcapitalism,and premised on the con-dition that,as Deleuze puts it,‘the people are missing’.Keywords:proletariat;lumpenproletariat;Marx;minor politics;Deleuze;anarchism. When the proletariat proclaims the dissolution ofthe existing world order  ,it isonly declaring the secret ofits own existence,for it is the actual  dissolution of that order.(Marx 1975:256)The power ofminority,ofparticularity,nds its gure or its universal con-sciousness in the proletariat.(Deleuze and Guattari 1988:472)When Marx writes ofthe proletariat in The Eighteenth Brumaire ofLouis Bona- parte ,he presents less a neat dialectical trajectory ofan authentic historicalsubject,than a process ofcomplication,interrogation and iteration.‘Proletarian Copyright © 2002 Taylor & Francis LtdISSN 0308-5147 print/1469-5766 onlineDOI:10.1080/03085140220151882 Economy and Society Volume 31 Number 3 August 2002:434–460 Nicholas Thoburn,Department ofSociology,Goldsmiths College,University ofLondon,NewCross,London SE14 6NW.E-mail:sop01nt@gold.ac.uk  revolutions’,he writes,‘such as those ofthe nineteenth century,constantlyengage in self-criticism,and in repeated interruptions oftheir own course.Theyreturn to what has apparently already been accomplished in order to begin thetask again.’To mark that this return is not a repetition ofthe same,but an alwayssituated process which seeks to draw in the new,he tells us that the proletariansocial revolution ‘can only create its poetry from the future’(Marx 1973a:150,149).This article takes up Marx’s injunction and returns to the question oftheproletariat.It returns not to reproduce that way ofthinking Donzelot (1979:73)describes as a compulsory reverence for a certain set ofrevered political gures,but from a contemporary concern to elucidate the function and place of‘differ-ence’in Marx’s proletarian standpoint.It seeks to show that at the core ofMarx’sformulation ofthe proletariat – and despite the work oforthodox Marxism,andthose who would draw too neat an historical break between modernist and post-modernist political thought – lies a politics which at once highlights theproblems ofidentity and compels a practice ofinvention and becoming.This isan important move ifMarx is to maintain contemporary pertinence not just asan analyst ofthe dynamics ofcapital – as the bad conscience-fuelled praise of 1990s business journals would have it (cf.Wheen 1999:5) – but also as a thinkerofits overcoming.For,ifthere is a common concern in contemporary theory – after ’68,the poststructuralist intervention and the turn to the study ofminoritypolitics – it is that politics resides in processes ofdifference,invention and com-plexity against the strictures ofidentity.Talking ofthe proletariat in terms ofdifference might seem a little strange,since it is in many ways the great unitary teleological subject against  which muchpost-’68 work on difference emerged.From Frantz Fanon and the Black PantherParty,through European counter-cultural groups such as the British Heatwave and the Dutch Provos (both ofwhom had some relation to the Situationist Inter-national),1970s deviancy theory,to recent poststructuralist exploration ofapolitics beyond identity,it is towards the lumpenproletariat  that interest in com-plexity and difference in Marx has tended to be oriented.Here the lumpen-proletariat is variously seen as the declassé  break with an incorporated workingclass,the class ofthe refusal ofwork or the site ofan unassimilable heterogene-ity that breaks Marx’s otherwise modernist meta-narrative.It is indeed in thelumpenproletariat that difference and anomaly as a property ofpeoples is mostapparently foregrounded by Marx,such that,when placed in contrast with theconventional image ofthe Marxian proletariat,it appears to be an attractivecategory for those seeking to develop a politics ofdifference.That Marx’s critiqueofthe lumpenproletariat is frequently framed in rather moral terms seems onlyto add to its appeal,as ifeven for Marxists a lumpenproletarian politics offers thepossibility ofovercoming the last remnants ofbourgeois morality in his world-view.This article argues,however,that this is a problematic interpretation.Through a consideration ofthe way Marx elaborates the contours ofthe prole-tariat in a kind of   fort  / da game with the lumpenproletariat,it seeks to show,against conventional interpretation,that they describe not  social groups ,but modesofpolitical composition .Despite the frisson ofexcess that circulates around the Nicholas Thoburn:Difference in Marx 435  lumpenproletariat such that it looks like a category of  difference ,the articleargues that the lumpenproletariat is actually a mode ofcomposition which isoriented towards the maintenance of  identity ,and that it is in the proletariatwhere difference emerges,as a mode ofcomplication,invention and becomingimmanent to the social ows and relations ofthe capitalist socius.To make this case,the article seeks to show that Marx’s proletariat resonateswith the kind ofdifference,becoming and creation that Deleuze and Guattari(1986,1988),following Kafka,elaborate as a ‘minor politics’.There are threeinterrelated aspects ofminor politics that are useful for considering Marx’s pro-letariat:1) a politics against identity ,2) a consequent emphasis on  social relations and 3) an intensive mode ofengagement  .1) Deleuze and Guattari’s minor politicsis a direct challenge to political models founded on the representation ofasubject or an identity,whether in the form ofa ‘People’or a self-declaredmarginal.Against these molar  models,which are premised on the fetishizationofan already present identity, minor  politics operate in the ‘cramped spaces’and‘impossible’positions of‘small peoples’and ‘minorities’who lack or refusecoherent identity – those who,constrained by a wealth ofdetermining socialrelations,exist under,and in a sense affirm,the condition that ‘the people aremissing’(Deleuze and Guattari 1986:16–17;Deleuze 1989:216).2) But minorpolitics is not a resigned turn to the local or particular as such.Rather,it is apolitics oriented towards  social relations and their possibilities for becomingbeyond identity.For,in cramped space – without self-secure delineated identityand autonomous concerns – politics ceases to be a self-referential process ofself-actualization,and becomes a process ofengagement with the social relationswhich traverse minorities and determine their movements;a necessary move if anything is to be actively lived.3) The milieu ofsuch an engagement is neverable to settle,or soar into the self-actualizing grandeur ofa People.Instead,it isan ‘incessant bustle’charged with vitality,with polemic,and with a continuousprocess ofinterrogation,intrigue and invention as minorities engage with thesesocial relations and seek to turn them away from their molar effects,towards,asDeleuze and Guattari (1983:382) enigmatically suggest,a ‘becoming every-body/everything’in the ever-renewed calling forth ofa ‘new earth’.Linking thisproject with Marx,Deleuze and Guattari (1988:472) suggest – in a passage thathas received scant critical attention – that the universal gure ofminor politicsis the proletariat.In its exploration ofthe proletariat as a minor political gure,this article is intwo main parts.The rst part explores Marx’s elaboration ofthe lumpenprole-tariat.It starts with a briefsummary ofcritical work on the category,and thenshows how the lumpenproletariat emerges across Marx’s works – in terms ofitsrelation to history,production and political action.This part ends by showinghow Marx’s critique ofthe lumpenproletariat as a non-revolutionary (non-)classis related to his critique ofanarchism.Despite looking like difference,thelumpenproletariat is shown to be a mode ofpractice oriented towards the bol-stering ofidentity cut-offfrom social relations.The second part ofthe articleturns to the proletariat.It argues that the proletariat is less a group ofpeople,436 Economy and Society  than a mode ofpractice that is premised on the minor condition that the peopleare missing.It exists in Marx’s texts as a non-identitarian mode ofcomposition – a minor gure or ‘unnamable’– immanent to the mutational social relationsofcapital. 1 This part explores the absence ofthe proletariat from Capital  ,Marx’sintensive or minor mode ofengagement,and the proletariat’s relation to themanifold social relations ofcapital and the critique ofwork.While the rst partofthe article follows the empirical detail ofMarx’s critique ofthe lumpenpro-letariat (and,in this,shows some ofMarx’s minor or proletarian mode ofengage-ment with his milieu),the second part works at a more conceptual level,and isrelatively concise.Though there is some discussion ofMarx’s actual practice,the point here is to map the general framework,or mode ofcomposition,of Marx’s proletarian unnamable,a practical elaboration ofwhich is necessarily leftto the multiplicity ofspecic,and ever-new,socio-historical situations withinwhich the proletariat nds itself. I Critical work on Marx’s lumpenproletariat  In the relatively small amount ofcritical work devoted to explication ofMarx’slumpenproletariat it is something ofa truism that Marx leaves the categoryrather undeveloped.Yet,while one may be tempted to interpret this conceptualunderdevelopment as a sign ofthe relative insignicance ofthe category ascompared to the serious business ofMarxian political economy (one might hencepoint out that it is in Marx’s historical and journalistic essays,rather than,say, Capital  ,where the category gures most prominently),the lumpenproletariatactually has a pivotal place in Marx’s understanding ofradical class formation.The critical work on Marx’s category falls roughly into two perspectives.First,in the 1970s it tends towards a mapping and clarication ofthe category in theprocess ofdelineating a clear constituency ofthe lumpenproletariat and prole-tariat,and,second,from the late 1970s,the lumpenproletariat returns as a siteof  difference in poststructuralist attempts to deconstruct Marx and open updifference in his texts. 2 I shall briey consider these perspectives.The classic work by Draper begins by lamenting the tangled ‘misunder-standings,misinterpretations and even mistranslations’(1972:2285) that haveaccompanied the category ofthe lumpenproletariat.In an admirable work of explication,Draper develops what he sees as the specic historical,political andeconomic meanings ofthe category,suggesting that,though underdeveloped,there is nevertheless something quite distinct about the lumpenproletariat as,most essentially,those peoples that ‘are being exuded,extruded,excreted fromthe class structure and onto the scrapheap’(ibid.:2308).Hirst (1972) undertakesa similar task ofclarication,though this time in favour oflaying bare the factsofMarxian class analysis in an analytic arbitration that replicates Marx’scontempt,but now specically directed at radical deviancy theorists who would Nicholas Thoburn:Difference in Marx 437  seek to include criminal practice and marginals within the community oftheworkers’movement.Hirst suggests that the condemnation ofthe lumpenprole-tariat should not be dismissed merely as bourgeois moralism on the part ofMarxand Engels;on the contrary,it is the result ofa sophisticated materialist under-standing ofthe reactionary nature ofthe marginal and criminal classes.The conceptual contours ofthe lumpenproletariat are,however,not so easilyidentiable.Marx’s account ofthe lumpenproletariat cannot be easily read as asimple analytic cleansing ofthe dangerous classes for the simple fact that he doesnot succeed in producing a clear constituency – successfully excised or not.Thisnebulous non-class takes multiple guises (from nancial aristocracy and LouisBonaparte to secret society conspirators,criminals,service workers and indeed‘pen pushers’),and is placed in varying historical trajectories (sometimes as alast manifestation ofpre-industrial forms,sometimes as a strictly modern mani-festation ofindustrial cities).As such,it appears to pop up everywhere ratherthan exist as a neat and distinct social group.Such confusion has led some morerecent theorists,inuenced by psychoanalysis and poststructuralism,to posit thelumpenproletariat not as a social group,but as the irruption ofheterogeneity inMarx’s conceptual system.In a fascination/repulsion account oflumpendecrepit excess,Andrew Parker suggests that in Marx’s lumpenproletariat wesee the ‘(de)structuring effects oferoticism’(1993:23) and a repressed ‘economyofanal pleasures’(ibid.:34) between Marx and Engels.And Peter Stallybrass(1990) uses psychoanalytic frameworks to argue that Marx composes the purityofthe dialectic through the spectacle oflumpen heterogeneity.In this,hesuggests,the lumpenproletariat may be the space of‘the political’as it escapesfrom determined class composition (in an argument which would seem to makeLaclau and Mouffe,with their ‘autonomy ofthe political’,cultivators ofa con-temporary lumpen swamp ower).But the classic work here is JeffreyMehlman’s (1977) Revolution and Repetition .Mehlman argues that,on Marx’scontact with the lumpenproletariat in The Eighteenth Brumaire ,‘a certain pro-liferating energy is...released’(1977:13) that disrupts all dialectical identitieswith an unassimilable heterogeneity:Where the higher  was inevitably to be overthrown by the lower   – the bourgeoisie by the proletariat – those two poles remain constant and are mutually impov-erished by a strange irruption ofsomething lower than the low...at the top.For Bonaparte seems to short-circuit both dialectic and class struggle in gath-ering in his service the ‘scum (  Auswurf  ),offal (  Abfall  ),refuse (  Abhub ) ofallclasses’,the lumpen-proletariat  ....[A] specular – or reversible – relation isexceeded by a heterogeneous,negatively charged instance whose situation isone ofdeviation or displacement in relation to one ofthe poles ofthe initialopposition.(Mehlman 1977:12–13)Mehlman’s rather Derridean conclusions that,despite himself,Marx cannothelp affirming the heterogeneity ofthe lumpenproletariat and his notion that itis a specically literary Marx where difference emerges are problematic (not438 Economy and Society
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