The lumpenstate dystopia of the Trump/Brexit era


Marx and Engels’ concept of the “lumpenproletariat,” or underclass (an anglicized, politically neutral term), appears in The Communist Manifesto and other writings. It refers to “the dangerous class, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society,” whose lowly status made its residents potential tools of the capitalists against the working class. Surprisingly, no one has made a substantial study of the lumpenproletariat in Marxist thought until now. Clyde Barrow argues that recent discussions about the downward spiral of the American white working class (“its main problem is that it is not working”) have reactivated the concept of the lumpenproletariat, despite long held belief that it is a term so ill-defined as not to be theoretical. Using techniques from etymology, lexicology, and translation, Barrow brings analytical coherence to the concept of the lumpenproletariat, revealing it to be an inherent component of Marx and Engels’ analysis of the historical origins of capitalism. However, a proletariat that is destined to decay into an underclass may pose insurmountable obstacles to a theory of revolutionary agency in post-industrial capitalism. Barrow thus updates historical discussions of the lumpenproletariat in the context of contemporary American politics and suggests that all post-industrial capitalist societies now confront the choice between communism and dystopia.

Clyde W. Barrow is Professor & Chair in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

“Clyde Barrow has provided us with an insightful analysis of a much–neglected concept: the Lumpenproletariat. His book is of exceptional relevance today and it will prove valuable for anyone interested in Marx’s writings.”
—Stephen Eric Bronner, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Political Science (Emeritus) at Rutgers University

- Stephen Eric Bronner

“This book appropriately reminds us that Marx and Marxists already have a theoretical framework and historical analysis (the lumpenproletariat) to help understand this phenomenon–both in terms of politics and economics.”
—George A. Gonzalez, University of Miami

- George A. Gonzalez

"The Dangerous Class is a much-needed resource and will be a crucial touchstone for future scholarship on the lumpenproletariat."
Contemporary Political Theory

- Contemporary Political Theory

"Barrow's account [of the lumpenproletariat]...provides a robust theoretical explanation for the often-peculiar relationship between class, as it’s conventionally understood in Marxist theory, and the recent political upsets witnessed across the developed world (be it Brexit or Trump). He provides critical tools for translating Marxist class analysis into the twenty-first century."
—Zachariah Wheeler, New Political Science

- Zachariah Wheeler

"[The Dangerous Class] begins with a very helpful and nearly comprehensive overview of references to the category of the lumpenproletariat in the writings of Marx and Engels. Arguing that critics of the category focus on Marx’s political writings to the exclusion of The Condition of the Working Class in England and volume I of Capital, Barrow presents a more complete inventory of the lumpenproletariat in the archive."
—Kathi Weeks, New Political Science

- Kathi Weeks

Read: Symposium in New Political Science—Review One, Review Two, Review ThreeAuthor Response | June 2021
Watch: Lecture/workshop on The Dangerous Class hosted by Study Groups in Psychoanalysis and Cosmonaut Magazine | 2/12/2021
Read: Revised extract from The Dangerous Class in New Political Science | 10/17/2020
Listen: Interview with Clyde Barrow on This is Revolution! | 09/09/2020
Read: Article by Clyde Barrow featuring The Dangerous Class on Sozialismus.deAktuell (German) | 09/08/2020
Read: Article by Clyde Barrow featuring The Dangerous Class on The Bullet | 08/30/2020
Read: Article by Clyde Barrow featuring The Dangerous Class on The Bullet I 10/14/2020
Read: Review by Jonathan Russo in Talking Points Memo I 12/09/2020
Listen: Interview with Cyde Barrow on Out of the Box with Jonathan Russo I 12/08/2020