Conference Agenda

RN06_09b: Lumpenproletariat, Artistic Precariat and the Radical Left
Friday, 23/Aug/2019:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: Gerardo Costabile Nicoletta, University of Naple Federico II
Session Chair: Laura Horn, Roskilde University
Location: GM.333
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road


The Concept of the Lumpenproletariat in Marxian Political Economy

Clyde W Barrow

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, United States of America

The concept of the lumpenproletariat has been largely neglected by Marxist political economy on grounds that the term does not refer to any clearly defined social group which has a major socio-political role. Over the last 50 years, various scholars have dismissed the concept as ambiguous, foggy, dubious, undeveloped, unclear, inconsistent, and invalid as a substantive concept. Consequently, some scholars have recently argued that the term should be jettisoned from Marxist from political economy. However, these assessments of the concept are based on Marx’s and Engels’ historical ‘political writings’, such as The Communist Manifesto, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, and The Peasant War in Germany, where the term appears most frequently. In contrast, this paper argues that the two most important examples of Marx’s and Engel’s analysis of the lumpenproletariat are contained in The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) and Capital, Vol. I (1869) and that these two works provide a refractive lens for understanding the use of this concept elsewhere in their ‘political writings’. The paper suggests that the failure to incorporate these two texts into the debate about the concept of the lumpenproletariat has led to numerous misunderstandings of the concept and a failure to see the lumpenproletariat’s significance to the long-term development of capitalist social formations.

The Autonomy of the State, Radical Left and Karatani's Capital-Nation-State: The Turkish Left in 1960-1971

Ahmet Oncu1, Ozgur Mutlu Ulus2

1Sabanci University, Turkey; 2Acibadem Mehmet Ali Aydinlar University, Turkey

The purpose of this paper is to provide an account of how leading radical left movements of Turkey in 1960-71 conceptualized the state in political debates on the structural features of capitalist social formation in Turkey. The analytical framework draws on the mode of exchange scheme developed by Kojin Karatani. Karatani argues that modern capitalist nations are composed of a mutually interdependent tripartite system of capital-nation-state which operates as an interlocking, self-reinforcing, independently autonomous system creating a Borromean knot. From Karatani's capital-nation-state scheme we critically assess the theoretical premises of the Turkish Left in connection with the concepts of capitalism, the state, social classes and nation. The Turkish Left discussed the political role of bureaucracy and the relative autonomy of the state based on the dominant mode of production. However, the Turkish Left was unable to theorize the autonomy of the state, the construction of the nation as an imagined community, and the importance of popular resistance against the state’s destruction of traditional communities. Right-wing political parties filled this vacuum with the populist discourse of “nation” that targeted the state’s oppression over the ethnically-religiously based communities and minorities (e.g. Kurds and tarikats). The proletarians in the name of the nation supported the Right’s call for “democracy,” and did not show much interest in the Left’s cry out for a socialist revolution against “fascism”. Thus, the Turkish Left conceded its social base to right-wing parties and hence lost the opportunity of winning political efficacy.

The Artistic Precariat: Commodification and Counter-Movements

Joana S. Marques1,3, Luísa Veloso1,2,3

1Centro de Investigação e Estudos de Sociologia (CIES-IUL); 2Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL); 3A3S, Portugal

The paper investigates the formation of an ‘artistic precariat’ in Portugal and Brazil, through the analysis of the double movement of work commodification in the artistic sector and the struggles for decommodification through different dynamics of collective organization and action, inspired by Polanyi’s seminal work (1944) and by Wright’s emancipatory social science (2010). The research design involved the comparative analysis of theatre collectives in Portugal and Brazil based on historical, statistical and documentary sources in order to contextualize the artistic work in both countries; conducting a survey of theatre collectives in order to map their working conditions, organizational structure and collective action dynamics; interviews and participant observation to deepen two empirical cases. The research results corroborate the literature that highlights the artistic work as precursor of contemporary forms of work hyper-flexibilization. However, despite their strong precariousness and lack of representation in traditional forms of workers’ collective organization (unions), the research has also identified multiple resistances among artist-workers who envisage other forms of collective action and utopian visions for making a better world. On the one hand, the counter-movements of the artistic precariat are restrained by the submission of national regimes to the constraints of global capitalism. On the other hand, it is possible to observe experiences where they join forces in their social struggles that perhaps are not enough to make a new ‘great transformation’, but contain elements of resistance with a transformative potential.

Spain: One Decade Through the Looking Glass

Javier Moreno Zacarés

University of Warwick, United Kingdom

Spain went into the global financial crisis as the posterchild of European neoliberalism and came out on the other side as one of its most resounding failures. For a decade now, the country has been afflicted by multiple convulsive crises. After the implosion of the most destructive property bubble to date, the working class has been ravaged by the highest levels of unemployment in the continent and by brutal austerity cuts. The political class has been tormented by permanent corruption scandals that have resulted in the break-up of the old party system. The constitutional order inaugurated by the death of Franco has undergone a severe legitimacy crisis, under fire by radical anti-austerity movements and by regional separatism in Catalonia. Until recently, Spain was the only major European country to escape the spectre of the far right – not anymore. The point of this paper is to make sense of this events from a Marxist political economy perspective, charting how the political turbulence of the last decade is traversed by the crisis of Spanish neoliberal capitalism. The paper traces how the collapse of a financialised residential apparatus, underpinned by the now familiar trade-off between mortgage-backed debt and asset-price speculation, has brought down two central pillars of the Spanish social order: (1) the clientelist symbiosis between the political elite and construction capital, and (2) the ideological consensus of 1978, which had previously succeeded in suspending the historic tension between a revolutionary left and a reactionary right.