Dr. Dawg

A hard lesson from India for the #Occupants

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Coal miners India.jpg

“I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”—American financier Jay Gould

Organizing the poor has its considerable risks, as a community organizer in India learned the hard way.

I like “the 99%” as a metaphor for gross inequality, structured hierarchy and the concentration of wealth and power that virtually defines capitalism. But that 99% contains elements that are unpredictable, treacherous, and easily bought and sold.

In The Eighteenth Brumaire Karl Marx offers a partial description of what we may be seeing today:

The bourgeois republic triumphed. On its side stood the aristocracy of finance, the industrial bourgeoisie, the middle class, the petty bourgeois, the army, the lumpenproletariat organized as the Mobile Guard, the intellectual lights, the clergy, and the rural population. On the side of the Paris proletariat stood none but itself. More than three thousand insurgents were butchered after the victory, and fifteen thousand were deported without trial. With this defeat the proletariat passes into the background on the revolutionary stage.

What is this “lumpenproletariat?”

Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux, brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars—in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème; …like Bonaparte, all its members felt the need of benefiting themselves at the expense of the laboring nation…this scum, offal, refuse of all classes….

You get the idea. Marx is harsh and sweeping, as always, but he points to an inescapable and inconvenient truth. Not all of the poor are revolutionary, just as not all women are feminists, not all racialized people are anti-establishment, and not all LGBT folks are opposed to the society that has marginalized them.

Some of the #Occupy camps have drawn lumpen elements like a magnet, to the delight of the civic officials itching for an excuse to smash the movement. Not only do they individually prey upon the legitimate Occupiers, stealing, assaulting, and using the encampments as handy crackhouses, but they can be easily mobilized into active and violent political opposition as well.

The Occupiers are, at least to some degree, onto these people:

Montreal indignes.jpg

But, almost by definition, it’s difficult to separate the movement wheat from the lumpen chaff.

The sense of inclusivity inherent in “the 99%” is of the first importance at the moment. The movement needs to grow, and ideological schism, the eternal bane of progressive movements, needs to be avoided at all costs. But “the 99%” concept needs, at some point, to be tempered by a more nuanced view of its constituents. The cops gleefully breaking heads in numerous cities, after all, are part of the 99% as well, and although this has been pointed out to them, they’re having far too much fun to listen. And among the wretched of the earth gravitating to the camps, some are in it only for themselves, incapable of solidarity—the Achilles heel of the movement.

The murdered nun in India serves as an object lesson to any starry-eyed progressive, but especially to the #Occupy folks. The oppressed are not necessarily of our politics; they, too, must be won over. And some, regrettably, are incapable of it.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on November 18, 2011 3:25 PM.

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