Xenophobia, lumpenization, and the proletariat

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From Catalonia to the American Midwest, from Corsican “Brexiteers” and independence fighters to [Matteo] Salvini and Alternative für Deutschland, as well as across the world, the petite bourgeoisie has served as the protagonist and led — albeit not toward any end — reactionary “revolts” in the face of crisis. Not only that, but it is now entering a new, inevitable phase after colliding with reality: it has no alternative, and no future, to offer Its only option is to revitalize the fantasy of the “people,” that cross-class entelechy [entelequia interclasista], that shabby, utopian version of the nation, which is by now the height of pure delirium, a zombie political subject.

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And yet, it has either achieved this already, or is getting very close. The “confluence” between border closures, with which the German post-Stalinism of Sahra Wagenknecht and Oskar Lafontaine pretend to “drug” [«opar»] the SPD, and Salvini’s xenophobic discourse of security, which already commands 60% of Italian opinion, have a formula in common, lying above the traditional left-right axis: the association of migration with lumpenization.

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In a context where the proletariat exists only punctually and germinally as a political subject, where the decomposition of social relations and of work itself is rampant, a majority of our class can feel lumpenization breathing down its neck. That’s the first thing anyone living in the neighborhood [barrio] tells you. It is every parent’s fear of a changing environment for their children, the abandonment of schools and the growing violence in their immediate surroundings.

The fear that the massive influx of immigrants into Europe instills among workers feeds that process even further. With no real job opportunities, and no real ties to the class — the vast majority of Syrians and Africans who arrived in recent years belonged to the urban or rural petite bourgeoisie — many will end up burned in the pyre of exclusion and lumpenization.

How does xenophobic propaganda play out, after all? It obscures the fact that the masses of unemployed people who will be lumpenized, who will pass through the infamous circuit of the illegal economy and petty crime, for the most part already live here and have had a local passport since they were born: it is they themselves, it is us, it is the kids who kill time in the square. By blaming lumpenization on some of its imminent victims, xenophobia conceals [invisibiliza] the responsibility of a capitalism which no longer can exploit us all.

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And yet, the internationalists do not seem to realize it. What’s more, it seems the goals which don’t get them headfirst slip between their legs.

It’s no coincidence that the same texts which define the working class as a single “multigender, multinational, and multiracial front” give their blessings to looting as an expression of the “explosive spontaneity of the proletarian element.” They don’t grasp that the proletariat, in its process of class composition, not only asserts itself “upwards” against the petite bourgeoisie and the haute bourgeoisie, but against the bourgeois order as a whole. Or that the lumpen, that permanent threat of decomposition of the class itself “downwards,” is an essential part of the forces trying to contain and dissolve it.

Why is this happening? Paradoxically, many younger groups are still attached to antiquated conceptions, to a moment in the life of the class (industrial manufacturing) that will not return. Others confuse precarization with lumpenization, without being able to understand either. But the fact is most workers already live under precarious conditions, and their daily fear is lumpenization.

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The harshest ideological attacks on the working class at the moment have been cooked up by the petite bourgeoisie.

On the one hand, by feminism, with its untiring will to break the class in two: from “gender strikes” to the proposal of agreements differentiated by sex. On the other hand, by the return of “workerism” [«identitarismo obrero»] which feeds directly on the fear of lumpenization while presenting itself as a form of resistance. Workerism spreads the illusory belief, nourished for decades by Stalinism, that nationalism is a guarantee against lumpenization. It is this lie, inherited from Stalinism (not the end of the PCI!), which drives some Italian workers to be duped by Salvini. And it is this very same recipe, facile as it is false, which makes antifascist, cross-class, thuggish [matonil] neo-Stalinism attractive to many precarized youth. It’s the same dirty and turbulent water [Gianluca] Iannone is trying to fish in.

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The “inclusive” [«integradora»] alternative is no less dangerous for workers. Basing itself on the same sterile and divisive logic of “identities,” it attempts to sneak up on exploitative migrant petite bourgeoisies as defenders of civil rights while presenting the savage exploitation of the weakest part of the class not as what it is, capitalism in action that threatens us all, but as racism, outdated and irrational prejudice. By disarming the class to understand what it faces, “progressivism” actually fuels division, hiding the common nature of the struggles and throwing migrant workers into the arms of their exploiters, with whom they share an alleged “origin.” In fact, as if all the above were not enough, they feed reactionary prejudices about the “impossibility of open borders” by concealing its real background: the global failure of capitalism in decline.

Historically, lumpen sections and lumpenization have been destructive forces against the workers and against their affirmation as a class, a solvent of class struggle, and cannon fodder at the disposal of whatever reactionary options exist at the moment. Without remembering or recognizing this, which any common worker from the towns of Buenos Aires to neighborhoods in Cologne, from the neighborhoods of Algiers to those of Shanghai knows and lives daily, it will be impossible for internationalists to elaborate any useful discourse. Useful here means useful to denounce the framing, be it neofascist or neo-Stalinist, xenophobic or “integrating.” But to do so, to overcome impotence, we must first and foremost distinguish with equal clarity between precarization, which is an essential part of the life of the class, and lumpenization, which denies us and threatens us.

Nuevo Curso
Madrid, Spain
August 2018