by Don Franks
Seldom has the expression “lumpen proletarian” been so much employed in New Zealand.
Many commentators, notably leftist ones, have seized on the term to describe the anti mandate protesters occupying parliament and its surrounds.
For example, columnist Chris Trotter, as in:
” a motley crew of lumpenproletarians …being presented as ordinary, decent working-class battlers”(Bowalley Road 17th February)
Chris Trotter spelled out the expression’s meaning to his readers:
“Karl Marx himself recognised the acute political danger inherent in what he called the Lumpenproletariat. According to the Encyclopedia of Marxism, this social formation is composed of the “outcast, degenerated and submerged elements” of industrial society:
It includes beggars, prostitutes, gangsters, racketeers, swindlers, petty criminals, tramps, chronic unemployed or unemployables, persons who have been cast out by industry, and all sorts of declassed, degraded or degenerated elements.”
To date, several thousand people have participated in the occupation, adding up to an extraordinary number of degenerates. Visibly assembled in the light of day, who would have known they were so keen on gardening, yoga, and children’s entertainment, and so insistent on banning smoking, alcohol and other drugs from their demonstration?
The mass of the occupiers at parliament today have a different outlook, for a different reason. Not a few of them have said they’re there protesting because results of covid restrictions cost them their job. Recently unemployed workers want their jobs back and will fight to try and achieve that. Accustomed to cooperation, blue collar workers frequently tend to seek some sort of collective solution. They know that unity is powerful, some of the placards at the protest carry that message.
Drifting round Auckland and Wellington at the end of the 1960s and early ‘70s, I came to associate closely with quite a few beggars, prostitutes, petty criminals and chronic unemployed. They were, like all of us, individual characters, but one overall thing could definitely be said to describe them. Inward looking and suspicious of everyone and each other, they all shrank instinctively from any idea of collective solution to their problems. The concept of banding together in common purpose was foreign to them, as was anything in any way political.
In my experience, genuinely declassed people exist on society’s fringes in tiny bubbles of their own limited self contained world. They generally have no vision of a better tomorrow, or even regular employment and are not seeking these things.
Certainly, there will be some opportunist down and outs attaching themselves to the protest, that occurred even in the previous much smaller Wellington Occupy movement.
In my observation though, whatever the various rights and wrongs of this unprecedented event, any lumpen element down there today is dwarfed by the presence of ordinary decent working people.