Surplus Population, Social Reproduction, and the Problem of Class Formation

The black lumpen pro­le­tari­at, unlike Marx’s work­ing class, had absolute­ly no stake in indus­tri­al Amer­i­ca. They exist­ed at the bot­tom lev­el of soci­ety in Amer­i­ca, out­side the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem that was the basis for the oppres­sion of black peo­ple. They were the mil­lions of black domes­tics and porters, nurs­es’ aides and main­te­nance men, laun­dress­es and cooks, share­crop­pers, unprop­er­tied ghet­to dwellers, wel­fare moth­ers, and street hus­tlers. At their low­est lev­el, at the core, they were the gang mem­bers and the gang­sters, the pimps and the pros­ti­tutes, the drug users and deal­ers, the com­mon thieves and mur­der­ers.

- Elaine Brown, A Taste of Pow­er

Lazarus Begging for Crumbs from Dives's Table (Heinrich Aldegrever, 1552)
Lazarus Beg­ging for Crumbs from Dives’s Table (Hein­rich Alde­gr­ev­er, 1552)

1. Introduction

Today, few uphold the old belief that wage labor will grad­u­al­ly expand to cov­er the major­i­ty of the world’s pop­u­la­tion. Once, this was the con­di­tion of the his­tor­i­cal belief that cap­i­tal­ism would cre­ate the con­di­tions under which wage labor could be orga­nized as a glob­al pow­er to match cap­i­tal. Instead anoth­er tele­ol­o­gy has appeared, claim­ing that cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment entails work­ing class dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion. Rather than a nar­ra­tive of progress, this is a nar­ra­tive of decline, of pre­car­i­ty, infor­mal­iza­tion, and immis­er­a­tion.

Marx had once pre­dict­ed that a rev­o­lu­tion would become orga­ni­za­tion­al­ly pos­si­ble through “the ever expand­ing union of the work­ers,” and mate­ri­al­ly urgent due to the deep­en­ing of pro­le­tar­i­an mis­ery: “A rad­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion can only be the rev­o­lu­tion of rad­i­cal needs.”1 In the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, the com­bi­na­tion of mis­ery and orga­ni­za­tion was rare, due to the con­ces­sions giv­en to orga­nized labor in the Glob­al North, con­ces­sions which were to a large extent made pos­si­ble by the exploita­tion, mis­ery, and vio­lent sup­pres­sion of colo­nial pop­u­la­tions. Today, we see instead a ten­den­cy towards the dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion of north­ern labor, which is to a large extent due to com­pe­ti­tion from low-paid and less orga­nized work­ers in the Glob­al South. It thus appears that the two ele­ments of Marx’s the­o­ry are mutu­al­ly exclu­sive, but in a dif­fer­ent way than believed by many dur­ing the mid-19th Cen­tu­ry, when the idea of full employ­ment and union­iza­tion was seen as a pos­si­bil­i­ty. Instead, Marx’s own strong argu­ments for the impos­si­bil­i­ty of full employ­ment have been re-actu­al­ized through a re-read­ing of Marx’s the­o­ry of “gen­er­al­ized law of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion” and the cap­i­tal­ist ten­den­cy to pro­duce sur­plus-pop­u­la­tions.2

The fore­most lumi­nar­ies of this reac­tu­al­iza­tion have been the pro­po­nents of com­mu­niza­tion the­o­ry, among whom the col­lec­tive End­notes is per­haps the most influ­en­tial voice in the Anglo-Sax­on world. Refer­ring to End­notes, Fredric Jame­son, for exam­ple, has recent­ly offered the provoca­tive sug­ges­tion that Cap­i­tal is a book about unem­ploy­ment rather than about exploita­tion.3 The writ­ings of com­mu­niza­tion the­o­rists on sur­plus pop­u­la­tion are of inter­est both because they pro­vide an explana­to­ry frame­work for under­stand­ing the empir­i­cal­ly observ­able phe­nom­e­na of the infor­mal­iza­tion of labor and the devel­op­ment of immis­er­a­tion and slums, ana­lyzed by writ­ers such as Jan Bre­man and Mike Davis, and because it is one of the most sophis­ti­cat­ed among the (in any case few) con­tem­po­rary Marx­ist attempts to think the con­di­tions of rev­o­lu­tion­ary com­mu­nist prac­tice today.

This text takes its diag­nos­tic start­ing point in these new the­o­ret­i­cal devel­op­ments, with an aim to think through the chal­lenge they pose in terms of the ques­tion of class for­ma­tion and orga­ni­za­tion. It pro­pos­es that the cen­tral task of class com­po­si­tion is to respond to the prob­lem of the con­tin­gency of pro­le­tar­i­an repro­duc­tion, which all pro­le­tar­i­ans have in com­mon, but deal with in many dif­fer­ent ways. This means that class com­po­si­tion must start from the recog­ni­tion that the modes of pro­le­tar­i­ans’ strug­gle are extreme­ly diverse: from the lim­it con­di­tion of peas­ants fight­ing against becom­ing pro­le­tar­i­an­ized to the clas­si­cal fig­ure of the wage-labor­er on strike, lies a whole range of strug­gles to which fem­i­nist and anti-colo­nial writ­ers are more attuned than most Marx­ists. Once we rec­og­nize this con­sti­tu­tive het­ero­gene­ity of the exploit­ed and expro­pri­at­ed pop­u­la­tions of the world, we rec­og­nize that any gen­er­al the­o­ry of “the pro­le­tari­at” as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary agent will have to start from the self-orga­ni­za­tion and com­po­si­tion of dif­fer­ences and par­tic­u­lar­ly of dif­fer­ent strate­gies of life and sur­vival.

In order to elab­o­rate such a the­o­ry, I turn to the Marx of the 18th Bru­maire, a text not inter­est­ed in the elab­o­ra­tion of the abstract his­tor­i­cal dialec­tic of com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion, but in devel­op­ing and deploy­ing a method of analy­sis of con­crete strug­gles. This text has right­ly been laud­ed by many as a mod­el mate­ri­al­ist analy­sis of the con­junc­ture – of the cri­sis, the rela­tions of class forces, the his­tor­i­cal tem­po­ral­i­ty of events, the dynam­ics of polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion and vio­lence, etc. Marx’s rich­ly tex­tured med­i­ta­tion on the play of con­tin­gency and neces­si­ty in the French rev­o­lu­tion of 1848 and its after­math is an impor­tant cor­rec­tive to the all too com­mon Marx­ist attempt to lim­it polit­i­cal analy­sis to what can be derived from the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my or to the ques­tion of the prospects of rev­o­lu­tion. What fol­lows is the attempt to relate the wide­ly observed con­cep­tion of polit­i­cal con­tin­gency and class for­ma­tion in the 18th Bru­maire with the ques­tion of the con­tin­gency of pro­le­tar­i­an repro­duc­tion. Start­ing from the lat­ter allows me to read the Bru­maire not mere­ly as an analy­sis of the actions of con­sti­tut­ed class­es, but to draw from it a the­o­ry of class for­ma­tion and class dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion.

While the prob­lem of pro­le­tar­i­an repro­duc­tion has been raised with renewed urgency by the cri­sis and the growth of sur­plus pop­u­la­tions, it has a wider sig­nif­i­cance. As observed by Michael Den­ning, the pro­le­tari­at is not defined by exploita­tion and labor, but by its real or vir­tu­al pover­ty. The key insight of this text is that any prac­tice of pro­le­tar­i­an class for­ma­tion and orga­ni­za­tion – the con­di­tion sine qua non of com­mu­nist strat­e­gy – must start not only with this vir­tu­al pover­ty, but with the real strate­gies of life and sur­vival through which pro­le­tar­i­ans live this prob­lem.

2. The Necessity of Surplus Population Under Capitalism

Marx always gave a dual def­i­n­i­tion of the pro­le­tari­at: in terms of the prob­lem of the con­tin­gency of their repro­duc­tion, their exis­tence as “vir­tu­al pau­pers,” and in terms of their exploita­tion as work­ers.4 In oth­er words, the pro­le­tari­at is defined by its sep­a­ra­tion from the means of repro­duc­tion, and its com­pul­sion to repro­duce itself by repro­duc­ing cap­i­tal. The repro­duc­tion of the pro­le­tari­at (the val­ue of its labor-pow­er) is kept in line with the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal through the “nor­mal” work­ing of the law of val­ue: if wages rise too high, cap­i­tal will hire less work­ers, thus cre­at­ing a reserve army exert­ing a down­ward pres­sure on wages.5 The point here is that as long as the employed and unem­ployed do not com­bine, wages will always fall back in line with the require­ments of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion.

Marx point­ed out that state vio­lence is gen­er­al­ly unleashed should such a com­bi­na­tion force the law of val­ue tem­porar­i­ly out of func­tion. How­ev­er, there are two oth­er cru­cial lim­i­ta­tions of work­ers orga­ni­za­tion, which are both based on the long-term sec­u­lar ten­den­cies of cap­i­tal. First, the pro­duc­tion and accen­tu­a­tion of dif­fer­ences with­in the pro­le­tari­at along gen­dered and racial­ized lines, which leads to com­pe­ti­tion between and with­in nation­al work­forces; and sec­ond­ly, the pro­duc­tion of sur­plus pop­u­la­tions.

As Marx notes with regards to the nation­al and reli­gious con­flicts between the Eng­lish and the Irish, this antag­o­nism is the secret of the work­ing class’s impo­tence in Eng­land, despite the lev­el of orga­ni­za­tion of its Eng­lish part. It is the secret of the main­te­nance of pow­er by the cap­i­tal­ist class. And the lat­ter is ful­ly aware of this.6 This is not mere­ly a strat­e­gy of divide and rule, how­ev­er, but an effect of capital’s chase for absolute sur­plus val­ue, which – as soon as it has extend­ed the exist­ing work­day as much as pos­si­ble – brings it to incor­po­rate the labor-forces of areas where the repro­duc­tive cost of labor is low­er, and where nec­es­sary labor is thus less rel­a­tive to sur­plus-labor time. In the Grun­drisse, Marx writes:

Sur­plus time is the excess of the work­ing day above that part of it which we call nec­es­sary labor time; it exists sec­ond­ly as the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of simul­ta­ne­ous work­ing days, i.e. of the labor­ing pop­u­la­tion. … It is a law of cap­i­tal … to cre­ate sur­plus labor, dis­pos­able time; it can do this only by set­ting nec­es­sary labor in motion – i.e. enter­ing into exchange with the work­er. It is there­fore equal­ly a ten­den­cy of cap­i­tal to increase the labor­ing pop­u­la­tion, as well as con­stant­ly to posit a part of it as sur­plus pop­u­la­tion – pop­u­la­tion which is use­less until such time as cap­i­tal can uti­lize it. … It is equal­ly a ten­den­cy of cap­i­tal to make human labor (rel­a­tive­ly) super­flu­ous, so as to dri­ve it, as human labor, towards infin­i­ty.7

Sec­ond, Marx dis­cov­ers that the chase for rel­a­tive sur­plus val­ue itself replaces work­ers with machin­ery, lead­ing to an inter­nal sec­u­lar ten­den­cy towards the growth of sur­plus pop­u­la­tions.8 Thus, by enrolling new pop­u­la­tions as work­ers and by expelling exist­ing work­ers in favor of machin­ery, cap­i­tal pro­duces ever larg­er work­ing class­es along­side ever greater sur­plus pop­u­la­tions, which makes the chal­lenges of sus­pend­ing the law of val­ue through orga­ni­za­tion ever greater. We see here two ten­den­cies of cap­i­tal­ism: whether in cri­sis or in peri­ods of growth, exist­ing lines of pro­duc­tion will shed labor. Despite peri­od­ic crises, cap­i­tal will accu­mu­late ever more cap­i­tal, and employ ever more pro­le­tar­i­ans. This gives us “the gen­er­al law of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion”:

The greater the social wealth, the func­tion­ing cap­i­tal, the extent and ener­gy of its growth, and there­fore also the greater the absolute mass of the pro­le­tari­at and the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of its labor, the greater is the indus­tri­al reserve army. The same caus­es which devel­op the expan­sive pow­er of cap­i­tal, also devel­op the labor-pow­er at its dis­pos­al. … But the greater this reserve army in pro­por­tion to the active labor-army, the greater is the mass of a con­sol­i­dat­ed sur­plus pop­u­la­tion, whose mis­ery is in inverse ratio to the amount of tor­ture it has to under­go in the form of labor. The more exten­sive, final­ly, the pau­per­ized sec­tions of the work­ing class and the indus­tri­al reserve army, the greater is offi­cial pau­perism. This is the absolute gen­er­al law of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion. Like all oth­er laws, it is mod­i­fied in its work­ing by many cir­cum­stances, the analy­sis of which does not con­cern us here.9

If we try to break this down we have three effects of this law: the expan­sion of the mass of employed (“active”) pro­le­tar­i­ans, of the num­ber of unem­ployed (“reserve”) pro­le­tar­i­ans, and of the mass of unem­ploy­able (“con­sol­i­dat­ed”) pro­le­tar­i­ans.10 The effect of the lat­ter two cat­e­gories is to press down wages, i.e. the mon­e­tary part of the repro­duc­tion of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion. Indeed, cap­i­tal con­stant­ly pro­duces a rel­a­tive­ly redun­dant work­ing pop­u­la­tion, i.e. a pop­u­la­tion which is super­flu­ous to the ful­fill­ment its dri­ve for val­oriza­tion.11 The expand­ed repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal is thus both the expand­ed repro­duc­tion of the employed and unem­ployed pop­u­la­tions, posit­ing an ever greater rel­a­tive sur­plus, a “dis­pos­able reserve army” bred by the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion.12 “Mod­ern industry’s whole form of motion there­fore depends on the con­stant trans­for­ma­tion of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion into unem­ployed or semi-employed ‘hands.’”13

In recent decades such sur­plus pop­u­la­tions have most­ly been pro­duced by automa­tion man­u­fac­tured in the Glob­al North, where­as the sur­plus pop­u­la­tions of the Glob­al South over­whelm­ing­ly remain vic­tims of the com­bined push of pop­u­la­tion growth and indus­tri­al agri­cul­ture in rur­al areas (sub­di­vi­sion of land, cap­i­tal­ist com­pe­ti­tion and expro­pri­a­tion). The north­ward migra­tion from the for­mer colonies intro­duces an already racial­ized pop­u­la­tion into an indige­nous work­force ren­dered inse­cure by off-shoring, automa­tion and infor­mal­iza­tion, with some long­ing for the hey­day of North­ern labor dur­ing the time of open white suprema­cy and the nation­al social state.

In this increas­ing immis­er­a­tion of the pro­le­tari­at it is pos­si­ble to find both a deep­en­ing con­tra­dic­tion between cap­i­tal and labor – and thus an increased hope of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary clash rather than an inte­gra­tionist class com­pro­mise – and an increas­ing com­pe­ti­tion between work­ers and between work­ers and the unem­ployed, and thus a decreased hope for sol­i­dar­i­ty and col­lec­tive action. We dis­cov­er this ambiva­lence in the writ­ings of the com­mu­niza­tion­ist jour­nal and writ­ing col­lec­tive End­notes. In their sec­ond issue, End­notes devel­oped a struc­tur­al analy­sis, which claimed that the repro­duc­tive cycles of cap­i­tal and labor were becom­ing increas­ing­ly decou­pled, lead­ing to a “sec­u­lar cri­sis” of “the repro­duc­tion of the cap­i­tal-labor rela­tion itself” and an objec­tive pres­sure on the pro­le­tari­at to abol­ish cap­i­tal.14 The inabil­i­ty of cap­i­tal to sat­is­fy the demands of the work­ers was thus a con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­i­ty of com­mu­nism. How­ev­er, in their third issue this con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­i­ty appeared as a con­di­tion of impos­si­bil­i­ty: “an increas­ing­ly uni­ver­sal sit­u­a­tion of labor-depen­dence has not led to a homogeni­sa­tion of inter­ests. On the con­trary, pro­le­tar­i­ans are inter­nal­ly strat­i­fied” and their col­lec­tive inter­ests have often been cap­tured by mark­ers of race, nation, gen­der, etc.15 These remarks allow, as we will see, no more than a hope ground­ed in a the­o­ry of the sec­u­lar deep­en­ing of the antag­o­nism between cap­i­tal and labor, and the exhaus­tion of all pos­si­bil­i­ties of medi­at­ing it. In what fol­lows we will see that Endnotes’s med­i­ta­tions on the neces­si­ties of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment and the abstract pos­si­bil­i­ty of com­mu­niza­tion leaves us with­out a mate­ri­al­ist method of class for­ma­tion.

3. Reproductive Crisis and Revolutionary Hopes

Endnotes’s the­o­ry of rev­o­lu­tion is based on the ten­den­cy towards antag­o­nis­tic repro­duc­tion giv­en by the Gen­er­al Law of Cap­i­tal­ist Accu­mu­la­tion. They posit a deep­en­ing cri­sis of the repro­duc­tion of the class rela­tion itself, where­by the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal and of the pro­le­tari­at will enter into a deep­en­ing antag­o­nism:

With its own repro­duc­tion at stake, the pro­le­tari­at can­not but strug­gle, and it is this repro­duc­tion itself that becomes the con­tent of its strug­gles. As the wage form los­es its cen­tral­i­ty in medi­at­ing social repro­duc­tion, cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion itself appears increas­ing­ly super­flu­ous to the pro­le­tari­at: it is that which makes us pro­le­tar­i­ans, and then aban­dons us here. In such cir­cum­stances the hori­zon appears as one of com­mu­niza­tion; of direct­ly tak­ing mea­sures to halt the move­ment of the val­ue form and repro­duce our­selves with­out cap­i­tal.16

The ten­den­cy here described can only be seen as point­ing in the direc­tion of rev­o­lu­tion or com­mu­niza­tion, if we claim that cap­i­tal­ism has reached some absolute lim­it to expan­sion, some exhaus­tion  of the cap­i­tal­ist tele­ol­o­gy itself. Oth­er­wise, cap­i­tal will have room to maneu­ver and give con­ces­sions, and we would thus be deal­ing either with a con­tin­gent lim­it, which pos­es noth­ing but a win­dow of rev­o­lu­tion­ary oppor­tu­ni­ty, or more flu­id fields of strug­gles. Stak­ing every­thing on one glob­al total­iz­ing process of sub­sump­tion and abjec­tion, com­mu­niza­tion the­o­ry describes a process that is head­ing for its lim­it. This the­o­ry tends to reduce the ques­tion of rev­o­lu­tion to its struc­tur­al con­di­tion: gen­er­al squeeze on liv­ing con­di­tions. But because the process­es of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion entails both the increas­ing com­pe­ti­tion and atom­iza­tion of work­ers, End­notes can only con­ceive of strug­gle as the spon­ta­neous com­ing togeth­er of the sep­a­rat­ed, prin­ci­pal­ly in riots and insur­rec­tions. But in this dual­i­ty of objec­tive ten­den­cy and sub­jec­tive irrup­tion, it is eas­i­ly over­looked that riots are con­di­tioned by every­day resis­tances that work against the nat­u­ral­iza­tion of oppres­sion and explore the lim­i­ta­tions of oth­er less antag­o­nis­tic forms of redress. It is equal­ly easy to for­get the role of whis­pers, rumors, and cama­raderie that pre­cede a riot, set­ting the tone of its affec­tive atmos­phere of anger and con­ta­gious mutu­al trust. To under­stand all this is nec­es­sary to under­stand the con­nec­tion between the struc­tur­al “con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty of riots” and the riot itself. Per­haps it is the belief in the immi­nent exhaus­tion of the glob­al process of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion that makes it pos­si­ble to neglect such con­sid­er­a­tions.

Albert O. Hirschman once observed that when Marx and Engels in the late 1840s – most influ­en­tial­ly in the Man­i­festo – thought that cap­i­tal­ism was reach­ing its final lim­it, they failed to rec­og­nize the capac­i­ty of impe­ri­al­ism to dis­place capitalism’s con­tra­dic­tions and post­pone its cri­sis.17 More prob­lem­at­i­cal­ly, Marx’s pri­or­i­ti­za­tion of the the­sis that rev­o­lu­tion would come about through the glob­al­iza­tion and exhaus­tion of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment, lead him to briefly lend colo­nial­ism sup­port as a dri­ver of the process that would make the pro­le­tari­at a glob­al real­i­ty, and thus com­mu­nism a glob­al pos­si­bil­i­ty.18 This impli­ca­tion is premised on an abstract for­mal dialec­ti­cal rever­sal, which com­plete­ly effaces how the effects of the glob­al divi­sion of labor are divi­sive and dis­ci­plin­ing, and hence the nec­es­sary dif­fi­cult task of devel­op­ing cross-bor­der sol­i­dar­i­ty. Sim­i­lar­ly, accord­ing to Hirschman, V. I. Lenin and Rosa Lux­em­burg only real­ly rec­og­nized this pow­er of impe­ri­al­ism when they could say it had run its course, i.e. when the recog­ni­tion did not con­tra­dict the idea that rev­o­lu­tion is objec­tive­ly immi­nent. Hirschman’s provo­ca­tion rais­es the fol­low­ing ques­tion: does the ori­en­ta­tion of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary desire of Marx­ists – inso­far as it is sus­tained by the the­o­ry of capital’s real tele­ol­o­gy run­ning its course – ori­ent them away from the prob­lem that there might still be venues for cap­i­tal­ist expan­sion as well as oth­er mod­i­fy­ing cir­cum­stances to the gen­er­al law?19 And fur­ther­more, does cap­i­tal not have the capac­i­ty to re-sub­sume areas and pop­u­la­tions it has pre­vi­ous­ly spat out as if they were new to it – once they have been suf­fi­cient­ly deval­ued?  The prob­lem with the the­sis of exhaus­tion is that in order to give hope it needs to sug­gest a uni­form deep­en­ing of the pro­le­tar­i­an antag­o­nism with cap­i­tal. This allows the­o­ry to avoid the ques­tion of strat­e­gy and orga­ni­za­tion, and allows it to “solve” the prob­lem of the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion through a sim­ple dialec­ti­cal schemat­ic à la “the expro­pri­a­tors are expro­pri­at­ed.” While we might agree that that is indeed the for­mal con­cept of com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion, it says noth­ing what­so­ev­er about the real move­ment that abol­ish­es the present state of things.

In his cri­tique of com­mu­niza­tion the­o­ry Alber­to Toscano relates its “almost total neglect of the ques­tion of strat­e­gy” to “the col­lapse or atten­u­a­tion” of col­lec­tive bod­ies capa­ble of pro­ject­ing a strat­e­gy.20 As a the­o­ry of com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion, com­mu­niza­tion is a the­o­ry of the insuf­fi­cien­cy of all real prac­tices, yet curi­ous­ly a the­o­ry of hope. This is the case, because it is spec­u­la­tive­ly derived from the obser­va­tion that cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment entails a deep­en­ing con­tra­dic­tion between the repro­duc­tion of the work­ing class and the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal. Under such con­di­tions, labor must abol­ish cap­i­tal or suf­fer its own slow death as sur­plus pop­u­la­tion. This is a the­o­ry of the “con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty of com­mu­nism,” in Endnotes’s Kant­ian for­mu­la­tion. Because End­notes focus on the “mov­ing con­tra­dic­tion” between cap­i­tal­ist and work­ing class repro­duc­tion, they tend to pose the ques­tion of com­po­si­tion from the clas­si­cal point of view of unit­ing “the” pro­le­tari­at in order to pro­duce a his­tor­i­cal sub­ject ade­quate to abol­ish cap­i­tal, often defin­ing the pro­le­tari­at in exces­sive­ly for­mal­is­tic ways, as ful­ly atom­ized and mutu­al­ly com­pet­i­tive and mis­trust­ful, where­by the prob­lem of their coor­di­na­tion becomes so rad­i­cal­ized that even strug­gle can only be thought as an event of spon­tane­ity rather than a process based on the com­ing togeth­er and increased con­nec­tiv­i­ty of already exist­ing net­works of sol­i­dar­i­ty and trust.21

As with Marx and Engels in the Man­i­festo, deep­en­ing mis­ery becomes the occa­sion for a con­di­tion­al belief in progress, a kind of per­verse faith that his­to­ry will progress by its bad side – or per­haps the the­sis is mere­ly that if it pro­gress­es by its bad side, it will do so in a more com­mu­nist way this time, unmedi­at­ed by trade unions and par­ties, and free of the laborist pro­duc­tivism of for­mer epochs. But free­ing them­selves of the weight of the past in this way, we also find our­selves in a vac­u­um, pin­ning our hopes on the absence of the pos­i­tive ten­den­cy on which Marx and Engels hung their hats, name­ly the grow­ing orga­ni­za­tion and pro­duc­tive pow­er of the pro­le­tari­at, the vehi­cle through which immis­er­a­tion spelled the pos­si­bil­i­ty of mass action rather than the bar­barism of the war of all pro­le­tar­i­ans against all.

In address­ing this ten­sion, End­notes do not pro­vide any oper­a­tional con­cepts and tac­tics that might enable the com­po­si­tion or abo­li­tion of these dif­fer­ences, except “strug­gle itself,” which spon­ta­neous­ly will abol­ish the dou­ble-bind in which work­ers find them­selves: “they can act col­lec­tive­ly if they trust one anoth­er, but they can trust one anoth­er — in the face of mas­sive risks to them­selves and oth­ers — only if that trust has already been real­ized in col­lec­tive action.” Instead of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the col­lec­tive devel­op­ment and shar­ing of tac­tics and tools of strug­gle, End­notes admit the spec­u­la­tive char­ac­ter of their the­o­ry, which they con­sid­er a “ther­a­py against despair,” the answer (rev­o­lu­tion) to which the pro­le­tar­i­ans have not yet for­mal­ized the ques­tion. In short, com­mu­niza­tion is an answer whose only ques­tion is abstract, it responds not to the con­crete prob­lem of class for­ma­tion, but to the abstract prob­lem of fend­ing off the despair of the the­o­rists of rev­o­lu­tion.

How­ev­er, the debate that is of inter­est here is not one between forms of hope, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of rev­o­lu­tion dis­cov­ered in good or bad gen­er­al his­tor­i­cal ten­den­cies. Nei­ther from sur­plus pop­u­la­tion to com­mu­niza­tion, nor from the mul­ti­tude to com­mon­wealth, as it were. It is easy to under­stand that a the­o­ret­i­cal indi­ca­tion of hope is nec­es­sary to keep prac­ti­cal rea­son from falling into cyn­i­cism, melan­cho­lia, or oppor­tunism.22 But such nar­ra­tives risk leav­ing us stuck in the Kant­ian prob­lem­at­ic of ori­en­ta­tion in think­ing, accord­ing to which the ratio­nal sub­ject will only com­mit itself to prac­ti­cal, moral action if it has hope that its action will suc­ceed in fur­ther­ing moral­i­ty mate­ri­al­ly or spir­i­tu­al­ly – and in which only the kind of action that address­es the ten­den­cies that give hope, can itself be seen as car­ry­ing a his­tor­i­cal promise, that is a promise of more than short term gains and even­tu­al defeat. For Kant, the prac­ti­cal neces­si­ty of opti­mism ulti­mate­ly becomes an argu­ment for the prac­ti­cal neces­si­ty of the idea of God, for End­notes it becomes an argu­ment for the con­tin­u­ous med­i­ta­tion on rev­o­lu­tion, that is, on an answer to which pro­le­tar­i­ans have not for­mu­lat­ed the ques­tion. Even if the con­cept of com­mu­niza­tion, unlike Kant’s God, is found­ed on a sys­tem­at­ic mate­ri­al­ist and dialec­ti­cal under­stand­ing of the laws of move­ment of cap­i­tal, such a the­o­ry does not, as we have seen, pro­vide us with a strate­gic, prac­ti­cal ori­en­ta­tion of class for­ma­tion and strate­gies of repro­duc­tion, nor with a con­cept of state vio­lence.

Even if Marx’s sys­tem­at­ic analy­sis of the ten­den­cy towards the pro­duc­tion of sur­plus pop­u­la­tion is empir­i­cal­ly con­firmed, as sug­gest­ed by End­notes and Aaron Benanav – Marx is still adamant that it has many mod­i­fy­ing cir­cum­stances from which he abstracts in Cap­i­tal.23 How­ev­er, while Marx is right to exclude them from his expo­si­tion for method­olog­i­cal rea­sons, we can­not draw any polit­i­cal lessons from a law with­out con­sid­er­ing its coun­ter­vail­ing ten­den­cies that not only work against the ten­den­cy, but even sus­pend it. Some of these are inter­nal, like the peri­od­ic deval­u­a­tion of labor to the point that labor ren­ders high­ly mech­a­nized pro­duc­tion uncom­petive, which would low­er the organ­ic com­po­si­tion of cap­i­tal. Anoth­er, and more sig­nif­i­cant mod­er­a­tor is declin­ing birthrates, which Marx does not take into con­sid­er­a­tion as he method­olog­i­cal­ly takes demo­graph­ic growth a vari­able depen­dent sole­ly on wage lev­els. Thus, because of dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, declin­ing birth rates due to women’s strug­gles for repro­duc­tive health and refusal of child bear­ing, vio­lent state sup­pres­sion of birthrates, etc. – it is pos­si­ble that the ten­den­cy towards sur­plus pop­u­la­tion is peri­od­i­cal­ly reversed. Fur­ther, the avail­able pool of labor has his­tor­i­cal­ly been dimin­ished by war, epi­demics, famine and the slow death of pover­ty, declin­ing pub­lic health stan­dards and dead­ly polic­ing of poor neigh­bor­hoods and bor­ders.

What is inter­est­ing and chal­leng­ing about the re-actu­al­iza­tion of the the­o­ry of sur­plus pop­u­la­tions today is that, unlike the immis­er­a­tion the­sis of the Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo, it is not pred­i­cat­ed on a the­sis of the grad­ual embour­geoise­ment of the world, or on the homog­e­niza­tion of the pro­le­tari­at. The real­i­ty of sur­plus-pop­u­la­tions pos­es instead the issue of a gen­er­al­ized cri­sis of repro­duc­tion, and the mul­ti­tude of sur­vival strate­gies that arise from it, includ­ing modes of wealth appro­pri­a­tion far short of rev­o­lu­tion prop­er, women’s strug­gles, and var­i­ous forms of state and para-state vio­lence.24 Revers­ing the rela­tion between the­o­ry and prac­tice, it pos­es a very non-Kant­ian ques­tion: what does it mean to ori­ent rev­o­lu­tion­ary prac­tice from the stand­point of the prob­lem of the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion and the man­i­fold ways to live it? 

4. The Common Problem of Reproduction

We have seen how the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion is best under­stood as one of sep­a­ra­tion from the means of repro­duc­tion. This is the con­di­tion of cap­i­tal orga­niz­ing pro­le­tar­i­ans as wage labor­ers. New sep­a­ra­tions are con­stant­ly pro­duced by capital’s expan­sive dri­ve for absolute sur­plus val­ue, a ten­den­cy through which ever new pop­u­la­tions are includ­ed in the work­force – women and agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­ers pri­mar­i­ly.25 Fur­ther­more, we have seen how the dri­ve for rel­a­tive sur­plus val­ue ten­den­tial­ly spits out more work­ers, ren­der­ing them super­flu­ous to cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. In the course of long peri­ods of mass-unem­ploy­ment, and as an effect of the sec­u­lar decline in employ­ment we see a growth of the con­sol­i­dat­ed sur­plus-pop­u­la­tion, i.e. a pop­u­la­tion unfit, unable, unwill­ing to work, because of poor health, age; or – which Marx only men­tions – because it has adopt­ed anoth­er mode of repro­duc­tion.

Prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion, vio­lent­ly destroyed and destroys pre­vi­ous modes of repro­duc­tion. In Feu­dal Europe as in the Glob­al South today and in colo­nial times, prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion rup­tures cus­tom­ary bonds of author­i­ty, as well as the peas­ants’ organ­ic tie to the land, and leaves indi­vid­u­als atom­ised and bereft of the means and rela­tions nec­es­sary to sur­vive and actu­alise their poten­tials. Marx’s ret­ro­spec­tive analy­sis of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion in Cap­i­tal focus­es on how this process lead to the cre­ation of a mass of pro­le­tar­i­ans, who had to com­bine with cap­i­tal as work­ers in order to sur­vive. How­ev­er, we also see in his nar­ra­tive the out­line of a dif­fer­ent set of his­to­ries of strug­gles against the enclo­sures, food riots, and of the crim­i­nal­ized, and thus sub­ver­sive strate­gies of sur­vival and repro­duc­tion. The impo­ten­tial­i­ty of indi­vid­u­als had and has to be enforced by pri­vate and pub­lic vio­lence, their propen­si­ty to com­bine autonomous­ly or with­in and against their work­places made the process of the inte­gra­tion of the pro­le­tari­at into work-life a pro­tract­ed process.26

In tan­dem with the repres­sion of oth­er modes of sur­vival, mon­ey devel­ops into a gen­er­al con­di­tion for par­tic­i­pa­tion in soci­ety: if you don’t have it you are com­pelled to obtain it, be it by work­ing, steal­ing, sell­ing your­self or by mar­ry­ing some­one who has mon­ey. In oth­er words, pro­le­tar­i­ans have to repro­duce them­selves through exchange. How­ev­er, this gives us noth­ing but the abstract social form through which labor is repro­duced; indeed the ways in which labor takes this form are innu­mer­able. Behind the com­mon prob­lem of the pro­le­tar­i­ans (dis­pos­ses­sion of means of re/production) and their com­mon ‘solu­tion’ (mon­ey) lies a man­i­fold of het­ero­ge­neous modes of life through which the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion can and must be lived. Thus, as Sil­via Fed­eri­ci shows,

prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion … was not sim­ply an accu­mu­la­tion and con­cen­tra­tion of exploitable work­ers and cap­i­tal. It was also an accu­mu­la­tion of dif­fer­ences and divi­sions with­in the work­ing class, where­by hier­ar­chies built upon gen­der, as well as ‘race’ and age, became con­sti­tu­tive of class rule and the for­ma­tion of the mod­ern pro­le­tari­at.27

What is also implied here is that as the repro­duc­tion of the pro­le­tari­at became medi­at­ed through the wage, it did not abol­ish pro­le­tar­i­an self-repro­duc­tion; the wage has very rarely been high enough for work­ers to obtain all the means of their repro­duc­tion (food ready for con­sump­tion, sex, clean­ing, health care) direct­ly on the mar­ket.28 Instead, the wage became a form through which the unpaid repro­duc­tive work of women, but also of chil­dren and oth­er depen­dents, was medi­at­ed through the most­ly male wage, pro­duc­ing what Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta calls the patri­archy of the wage.29 Where­as Marx’s analy­sis focus­es first on the accu­mu­la­tion of “men,” and then on their pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal through their exploita­tion, authors such as Fed­eri­ci, For­tu­nati, Dal­la Cos­ta and James pro­vide a the­o­ry of the con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­i­ty of Marx’s analy­sis: the pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of labor pow­er itself.30 To under­stand the his­to­ry of how strug­gles over repro­duc­tion start­ed to wane, it is there­fore not enough to ana­lyze the inte­gra­tion of pro­le­tar­i­ans in wage-labor and the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of alter­na­tive repro­duc­tive prac­tices. We must under­stand with Fed­eri­ci how one effect of this war on women, whose most vio­lent episode was the witch-hunts, was that the pro­le­tari­at was split.31 This effect of this war was not just the prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion and dis­ci­plin­ing of women’s bod­ies by cap­i­tal, state and church, but also the sub­or­di­na­tion of pro­le­tar­i­an women to pro­le­tar­i­an men. For these men the strug­gle for repro­duc­tion was often – and once alter­na­tive routes were exhaust­ed most­ly – a strug­gle to find women who could repro­duce them. To the macro-vio­lence of the cler­gy and the state, a micro-vio­lence of the every­day was added, often draw­ing on the dis­cur­sive resources and images pro­duced by the for­mer. Eco­nom­ic com­pul­sion and extra-eco­nom­ic vio­lence are insep­a­ra­ble but yet dis­tin­guish­able under cap­i­tal­ism.

The destruc­tion of the dif­fer­ent forms of repro­duc­tive self-orga­ni­za­tion of the pro­le­tar­i­ans did not entail a destruc­tion of pro­le­tar­i­an repro­duc­tion as such, but the cre­ation of the mod­ern nuclear fam­i­ly, with­in which unpaid repro­duc­tive work took care of the repro­duc­tive needs of chil­dren and wage work­ers, so the work­ers could remain free-float­ing mutu­al­ly com­pet­i­tive pro­duc­tive bod­ies. Hence we can under­stand the mod­ern fam­i­ly as an essen­tial sur­vival-unit in a con­di­tion of inse­cu­ri­ty, but we have to under­stand how the sta­bil­i­ty of this nuclear fam­i­ly mod­el is inex­tri­ca­bly linked to the sta­bil­i­ty of the male wage.

Thus, if we read togeth­er Marx’s chap­ters on prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion with his analy­sis of the gen­er­al ten­den­cies of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion, we must con­clude that strug­gles over repro­duc­tion are becom­ing an increas­ing­ly impor­tant issue, not mere­ly in the form of strug­gles over the wage and work­ing day, but as defens­es of wel­fare (the social wage), and strug­gles to appro­pri­ate the means of repro­duc­tion or against their expro­pri­a­tion. If the pro­le­tari­at is, as End­notes and Benanav write, “rather a work­ing class in tran­si­tion, a work­ing class tend­ing to become a class exclud­ed from work,” we must note that it is also a class increas­ing­ly in need of alter­na­tive ways to secure its own repro­duc­tion. Before this becomes a mat­ter of rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle it is a mat­ter of every­day solu­tions and resis­tances to the prob­lem of pro­le­tar­i­an repro­duc­tion.

5. Proletarian Differentiation

Marx con­cep­tu­al­izes the prob­lem of the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion in two ways: in terms of its exploita­tion and in terms of its expro­pri­a­tion. If the for­mer relates to the (waged) work­ing class, the lat­ter refers to any­body sep­a­rat­ed from the means of re/production, a pau­per vir­tu­al or actu­al. Marx rec­og­nized that the pro­le­tari­at also attempts to sur­vive out­side the cap­i­tal-rela­tion, as lumpen­pro­le­tari­at, rur­al or urban. This class lives as an exclud­ed insid­er to “the silent com­pul­sion of eco­nom­ic rela­tions,” faced not with exploita­tion but with the “direct extra-eco­nom­ic force which is still… used, but only in excep­tion­al cas­es.”32 Marx had first intro­duced the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at in a dis­cus­sion of Max Stirner’s roman­tic vision of non-pro­duc­tive and work-refus­ing raga­muffins and laz­za­roni. After 1848, the prob­lem of the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at becomes a prob­lem of the failed rev­o­lu­tion, of the pro­le­tar­i­ans who sold them­selves to the reac­tionar­ies. This approach, which stress­es the dif­fer­ence between the work­ing class and the lumpen, and con­tains cer­tain moments of mor­al­iza­tion from the per­spec­tive of the work eth­ic and law and order, has since been at the main­stream of Marx­ism, with the most notable excep­tions in Frantz Fanon and the Black Pan­ther Par­ty.

Marx’s focus on the con­trast between the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of the pro­le­tari­at and the “par­a­sitism” of the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at mir­rors cap­i­tal­ist val­ue-pro­duc­tion cri­te­ria, instead of ask­ing the ques­tion of the com­mon con­di­tion of the two, and the often blurred bor­der­line between them. To the­o­rize the pro­le­tari­at as dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed into work­ers and lumpen­pro­le­tar­i­ans entails not pri­or­i­tiz­ing the prob­lem of exploita­tion over dom­i­na­tion or vice ver­sa, but rather see­ing these as dif­fer­ent ways in which pro­le­tar­i­ans live their con­di­tion: at the extremes some suf­fer only dom­i­na­tion or exploita­tion direct­ly, but most­ly, pro­le­tar­i­ans are faced with some mix of both. And through the medi­a­tion of com­pe­ti­tion of jobs and state hand­outs, etc., all pro­le­tar­i­ans are always indi­rect­ly sub­mit­ted to both, but in an uneven way in which some are rel­a­tive­ly priv­i­leged over oth­ers.

Thus, wage labor is one of many ways in which pro­le­tar­i­ans try to solve the prob­lem of sep­a­ra­tion. If the pro­le­tar­i­an is a vir­tu­al pau­per, then in the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion (to take this word in the sense of the “human con­di­tion,” but his­tori­cized and neg­a­tive) the pro­le­tari­at is strat­i­fied into dif­fer­ent strate­gies of deal­ing with this prob­lem:

proletarian condition


In Marx’s analy­sis the pro­le­tari­at analy­sis is not lim­it­ed to the active­ly work­ing indus­tri­al pro­le­tari­at, which was so cen­tral to trade union, social­ist and com­mu­nist strat­e­gy in the nine­teenth and twen­ti­eth cen­turies. If the pro­le­tari­at con­sists, as Engels claimed in 1888, of “the class of mod­ern wage labor­ers, who, hav­ing no means of pro­duc­tion of their own, are reduced to sell­ing their labor-pow­er in order to live,” we must note that this does not imply that they find will­ing buy­ers.33 The pro­le­tari­at thus con­sists both of the employed and the unem­ployed. If the pro­le­tari­at and lumpen­pro­le­tari­at are not agglom­er­a­tions of con­crete indi­vid­u­als, but modes of life that indi­vid­u­als slip in and out of accord­ing to the need and avail­abil­i­ty of work or oth­er strate­gies of sur­vival, the dis­tinc­tions begin to blur. Yet it is clear that fre­quent con­flicts might arise between these pop­u­la­tions, both for moral rea­sons (e.g. the protes­tant work eth­ic) and the neg­a­tive impact of crime on the every­day lives of work­ing peo­ple.34 What dis­tin­guish­es the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at from the unem­ployed is its mode of life, its every­day strate­gies of hus­tling, theft, and sex work, a sub­jec­tiv­i­ty or con­duct that tends to make it unem­ploy­able, where­as the unem­ployed law-abid­ing­ly look for work. Sim­i­lar­ly, there are con­flicts between the unem­ployed and the employed, most obvi­ous­ly the down­ward pres­sure on wages and con­di­tions exert­ed by the for­mer, or strug­gles for job-secu­ri­ty by the lat­ter. These groups there­fore can­not share the same strate­gies for deal­ing with their class con­di­tion: the work­ers reject the “par­a­sitism and crime” of the lumpen. The unem­ployed com­pete with each oth­er and press the wages of the employed. Many employed work­ers strug­gle against the inclu­sion in the labor mar­ket of new groups of (women, lumpen, migrants, blacks) in order to main­tain their posi­tion. Final­ly, those repro­duc­ing the labor force – main­ly women – are under pres­sure from the labor force itself, to repro­duce it. This is what it means that dif­fer­ent parts of the pro­le­tari­at live the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion dif­fer­ent­ly. Now it becomes clear­er what is at stake in the prob­lem of class for­ma­tion.


6. Class Formation Through Struggle

Marx dis­tin­guished between the forms that sub­sume class­es (the val­ue-form, mon­ey-form, cap­i­tal-form, state-form, etc.), and the active process of class-for­ma­tion in strug­gle.35 This dis­tinc­tion recurs in Operais­mo’s notion of class com­po­si­tion, which has both a pas­sive and an active form: the com­po­si­tion of the class as work­ers, and the active effort of com­pos­ing the ele­ments of the class, autonomous­ly. “The polit­i­cal class com­po­si­tion… is deter­mined by how the ‘objec­tive’ con­di­tions of exploita­tion are appro­pri­at­ed ‘sub­jec­tive­ly’ by the class and direct­ed against those very con­di­tions.”36 It is here use­ful to recov­er a pas­sage from The Ger­man Ide­ol­o­gy describ­ing active and pas­sive class for­ma­tion:

The sep­a­rate indi­vid­u­als form a class only inso­far as they have to car­ry on a com­mon bat­tle against anoth­er class; oth­er­wise they are on hos­tile terms with each oth­er as com­peti­tors. On the oth­er hand, the class in its turn achieves an inde­pen­dent exis­tence over against the indi­vid­u­als, so that the lat­ter find their con­di­tions of exis­tence pre­des­tined, and hence have their posi­tion in life and their per­son­al devel­op­ment assigned to them by their class, become sub­sumed under it. This is the same phe­nom­e­non as the sub­jec­tion of the sep­a­rate indi­vid­u­als to the divi­sion of labor and can only be removed by the abo­li­tion of pri­vate prop­er­ty and of labor itself.37

Indi­vid­u­als are formed as a class, through their sub­sump­tion and lim­i­ta­tion in the web of neces­si­ties of their social con­di­tion, but are form­ing a class through a com­mon strug­gle. When there is no com­mon strug­gle, those who could form a class fall back into inter­nal com­pe­ti­tion or mutu­al indif­fer­ence. In the absence of com­mon strug­gles, the “objec­tive class inter­ests” become abstract slo­gans com­pared to the con­crete real­i­ty of the inter­ests of indi­vid­ual and fam­i­lies to com­pete with oth­ers for scarce resources. This should tell us why attempts to “raise pro­le­tar­i­an con­scious­ness” are gen­er­al­ly met with deri­sion. To say that peo­ple share a com­mon prob­lem to which there is a com­mon solu­tion is an abstract truth, which in itself will con­vince only very few to com­pose in com­mon strug­gle; this requires trust in one anoth­er and in the tac­tics of strug­gle. A com­mon prob­lem is only a prob­lem if a solu­tion can be imag­ined; if not, it is sim­ply a con­di­tion, a giv­en if trou­bling fact, which might as well instill cyn­i­cism and oppor­tunism. Strug­gles only emerge where peo­ple believe – ratio­nal­ly and affec­tive­ly – that col­lec­tive response to a prob­lem is bet­ter than or com­ple­men­tary to the ways in which they deal with their con­di­tion in their every­day.

The last part of the quote indi­cates that the prob­lem of the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion can­not be final­ly “solved,” but only dis­solved, through “the abo­li­tion of pri­vate prop­er­ty and of labor itself.” Thus, the prob­lem will per­sist and insists through all attempt­ed solu­tions, be they indi­vid­ual or col­lec­tive. This is one of the rea­sons for the invest­ment of hope in polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives who might solve the prob­lem, reli­gions that promise oth­er­world­ly sal­va­tion, and drugs that help you for­get the whole mess. This also pro­vides a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the pro­jec­tions of com­mu­nist the­o­ry, in as much as it projects a solu­tion that at least rests on the col­lec­tive self-activ­i­ty of the believ­ers.

But is impor­tant that this com­mu­nist hori­zon is not con­strued as a mat­ter of over­com­ing and negat­ing par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual strate­gies of repro­duc­tion, in the sense of rais­ing your­self to the lev­el of uni­ver­sal­i­ty of the class in the uni­for­mi­ty of its antag­o­nism with cap­i­tal. Rather, the prac­ti­cal task of class com­po­si­tion – which is nec­es­sary for pos­ing the prob­lem of the abo­li­tion of the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion con­crete­ly instead of remain­ing stuck in mutu­al com­pe­ti­tion and abstract hope - con­sists in devel­op­ing col­lec­tive strate­gies of life and sur­vival which either com­bine, sup­ple­ment or make super­flu­ous indi­vid­u­al­ized forms of repro­duc­tion.

If the first aim of resis­tance was mere­ly the main­te­nance of wages, com­bi­na­tions, at first iso­lat­ed, con­sti­tute them­selves into groups as the cap­i­tal­ists in their turn unite for the pur­pose of repres­sion, and in face of always unit­ed cap­i­tal, the main­te­nance of the asso­ci­a­tion becomes more nec­es­sary to them than that of wages. This is so true that Eng­lish econ­o­mists are amazed to see the work­ers sac­ri­fice a good part of their wages in favor of asso­ci­a­tions, which, in the eyes of these econ­o­mists, are estab­lished sole­ly in favor of wages.38

Marx makes this argu­ment, which is clear­ly ori­en­tat­ed by the prac­tice of the Eng­lish work­ers, against Proudhon’s the­o­reti­cist rejec­tion of work­ers’ com­bi­na­tions. Proud­hon argues against work­ers’ com­bi­na­tions, for what will they achieve, even if they win wage ris­es: the cap­i­tal­ist class will push down wages to make up for lost prof­its, the cost of orga­niz­ing will itself be high­er than what is won, and at the end of the day the work­ers will still be work­ers, the mas­ters still mas­ters. While ques­tion­ing the eco­nom­ic side of Proudhon’s argu­ment, Marx’s focus on the expe­ri­ences of the Bolton work­ers sug­gests that some­thing more, and more impor­tant than wages, can be gained from com­bi­na­tions and strug­gle.39

How­ev­er, the prob­lem of the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion is much wider than any exist­ing or even pos­si­ble orga­ni­za­tion of wage labor. In the face of sur­plus pop­u­la­tion, trade unions will have their bar­gain­ing pow­er under­mined by the increas­ing com­pe­ti­tion from the un- or under­em­ployed, and some will engage in a loos­ing bat­tle to low­er com­pe­ti­tion through enhanc­ing the exclu­sion of some groups, on grounds of race, gen­der, or cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus. W.E.B. Du Bois point­ed to this prob­lem, when he wrote about the black work­ing class in the Unit­ed States:

The­o­ret­i­cal­ly we are a part of the world pro­le­tari­at in the sense that we are the main­ly exploit­ed class of cheap labor­ers; but prac­ti­cal­ly we are not a part of the white pro­le­tari­at and are not rec­og­nized by that pro­le­tari­at to any great extent. We are the vic­tims of their phys­i­cal oppres­sion, social ostracism, eco­nom­ic exclu­sion and per­son­al hatred; and when in self-defence we seek sheer sub­sis­tence we are howled down as “scabs.”40

The prob­lem of pro­le­tar­i­an sep­a­ra­tion can only be tack­led in those nodal points where com­mon solu­tions can be pro­duced, and forms of com­pe­ti­tion – racial­ized, gen­dered, nation­al­is­tic, etc., can be under­mined. This entails, quite sig­nif­i­cant­ly, fac­ing the chal­lenge of think­ing the con­di­tions of the com­po­si­tion of those that are not part of a work­place, which in Marx’s writ­ing is quin­tes­sen­tial­ly the prob­lem of the peas­ants and lumpen-pro­le­tar­i­ans raised in the 18th Bru­maire.

7. The Material Conditions of Composition

Where the Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo, writ­ten short­ly before the 1848 Rev­o­lu­tions, was a med­i­ta­tion on the his­tor­i­cal ten­den­cy towards immis­er­a­tion, pro­le­tar­i­an class pow­er and rev­o­lu­tion, Marx wrote The 18th Bru­maire in 1852 as a reflec­tion of the fail­ure of that rev­o­lu­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly a fail­ure that was due to the fail­ure of the pro­le­tari­at to com­pose with the lumpen and the peas­ants.41 It is use­ful to return to this text today, when it is clear that the gen­er­al ten­den­cy towards sur­plus pop­u­la­tion leaves us with a the­o­ry of the dif­fi­cul­ty of rev­o­lu­tion as much as of its urgency. In it Marx devel­oped a mate­ri­al­ist the­o­ry of class com­po­si­tion, as a cor­rec­tive to the gen­er­al, his­tori­cist pro­jec­tions of the Man­i­festo. The Bru­maire is often read as a text in which the prob­lem of class divi­sions – between pro­le­tar­i­ans and between the pro­le­tari­at and its allies – is one of enlight­en­ing pro­le­tar­i­ans about their objec­tive com­mon inter­est and orga­niz­ing them, of estab­lish­ing alliances with the orga­ni­za­tions of oth­er class­es, and of find­ing ways to polit­i­cal­ly rep­re­sent the unor­ga­nized and “unen­light­ened” residues of the pro­le­tari­at and oth­er sub­al­tern class­es. Thus the ques­tion of strat­e­gy and force becomes reduced to the ques­tion of recom­pos­ing the polit­i­cal forces with a view to estab­lish­ing new class alliances. How­ev­er, if we look care­ful­ly at Marx’s reflec­tions on class­es in the text, we see that it is a pro­found reflec­tion on the rela­tion between class­es as con­sti­tut­ed cat­e­gories of peo­ple, and the shift­ing and inher­ent­ly prac­ti­cal and exis­ten­tial respons­es to the con­tin­gency of pro­le­tar­i­an repro­duc­tion through which class­es crys­tal­lize or melt away. Marx’s analy­sis of the chaos of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis sole­ly in terms of its polit­i­cal con­tin­gency is implic­it­ly but indis­putably shaped by pre­sump­tions about the ques­tion of repro­duc­tive con­tin­gency.

7.1. The peasantry

The 18th Bru­maire con­cep­tu­al­izes the prob­lem of sep­a­ra­tion in its most rad­i­cal, most scat­tered and iso­lat­ed forms: the small-hold­ing peas­ants, a mass of semi-pro­le­tar­i­ans who are large­ly being under­mined by the devel­op­ing mar­kets in food, tax­es, and debts and the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at. Marx’s analy­sis of the coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary sec­tion of the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at that was orga­nized by Bona­parte, touch­es quite pro­found­ly on the ques­tion of repro­duc­tion. He did not only offer them rep­re­sen­ta­tion and par­tial pro­tec­tion, but a tem­po­rary solu­tion to their con­di­tion of inse­cu­ri­ty and pover­ty: pay, com­rade­ship, and a mis­sion. While the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at secured the dom­i­nance of Louis Bona­parte in the Parisian streets, it was the peas­antry that elect­ed him in Decem­ber 1848. Marx asks what it is about peas­ant life that made them sus­cep­ti­ble to elect­ing a leader so alien to them. Unlike the pet­ty bour­geoisie, the peas­antry does not eas­i­ly pro­duce or come into con­tact with more or less organ­ic intel­lec­tu­als. This gives us the basis of Marx’s often crit­i­cized state­ment that the small-hold­ing peas­ants are

inca­pable of assert­ing their class inter­est in their own name, whether through a par­lia­ment or a con­ven­tion. They can­not rep­re­sent [vertreten] them­selves, they must be rep­re­sent­ed [vertreten]. Their rep­re­sen­ta­tive must at the same time appear as their mas­ter, as an author­i­ty over them, an unlim­it­ed gov­ern­men­tal pow­er which pro­tects them from the oth­er class­es and sends them rain and sun­shine from above. The polit­i­cal influ­ence of the small-hold­ing peas­ants, there­fore, finds its final expres­sion in the exec­u­tive pow­er which sub­or­di­nates soci­ety to itself.42

But what is it in their mode of life that makes the peas­ants sus­cep­ti­ble to this mode of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, Vertre­tung? Here we must ask how Bona­parte became an answer to the peasantry’s need for ori­en­ta­tion and rep­re­sen­ta­tion. By under­stand­ing this need we under­stand how it might instead be sat­is­fied by a move­ment of rev­o­lu­tion­ary com­po­si­tion. Marx’s inquiry into this prob­lem starts not with the con­scious­ness of the peas­ants, but with a descrip­tion of the peas­ants’ spe­cif­ic mode of life, their prob­lems and the pos­si­ble solu­tions:

The small-hold­ing peas­ants form a vast mass, the mem­bers of which live in sim­i­lar con­di­tions but with­out enter­ing into man­i­fold rela­tions with each oth­er. Their mode of pro­duc­tion iso­lates them from one anoth­er instead of bring­ing them into mutu­al inter­course. The iso­la­tion is fur­thered by France’ bad means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and by the pover­ty of the peas­ants. … Each indi­vid­ual peas­ant fam­i­ly is almost self-suf­fi­cient… and thus [the peas­antry] acquires its means of life more through an exchange with nature than in inter­course with soci­ety. A small hold­ing, the peas­ant and his fam­i­ly; along­side them anoth­er small hold­ing, anoth­er peas­ant and anoth­er fam­i­ly. A few score of these make up a vil­lage, and a few score of vil­lages make up a Depart­ment. In this way, the great mass of the French nation is formed by the sim­ple addi­tion of homol­o­gous mag­ni­tudes, much as pota­toes in a sack form a sack of pota­toes.43

Thus the every­day and the mode of (re)production of the peas­ants sep­a­rates them from one anoth­er, mak­ing it hard to con­sti­tute any polit­i­cal col­lec­tiv­i­ties. And unlike the iso­lat­ed urban pro­le­tar­i­ans who live in close prox­im­i­ty and attend the same work­places, peas­ant fam­i­lies live sta­tion­ary lives with few neigh­bors.44 Where a dis­course that starts from the need of sci­ence and ide­ol­o­gy would ask: how can the peas­ants be rep­re­sent­ed, and how can they be enlight­ened about the con­di­tions under which they live, an inquiry start­ing with the way the peas­ants are liv­ing their con­di­tion comes up with dif­fer­ent results:

Inso­far as mil­lions of fam­i­lies live under con­di­tions of exis­tence that sep­a­rate their mode of life, their inter­ests, and their cul­ture from those of the oth­er class­es, and put them in hos­tile oppo­si­tion to the lat­ter, they form a class. In so far as there is mere­ly a local inter­con­nec­tion among these small-hold­ing peas­ants, and the iden­ti­ty of their inter­ests forms no com­mu­ni­ty, no nation­al bond, and no polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion among them, they do not con­sti­tute a class.45

The peas­antry lives this com­mon prob­lem, but the very char­ac­ter of the prob­lem itself, as well as the peas­ants’ lim­it­ed means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and its local­ized mode of life, means that while it is formed as a class, it can­not form a class. This shows the strict­ly rela­tion­al and self-relat­ing char­ac­ter of Marx’s con­cept of class; the peas­ants share cer­tain prob­lems (mar­ket fluc­tu­a­tions of the prices of their pro­duce, com­pe­ti­tion, their enslave­ment to cap­i­tal through debt), but the ways these are for­mu­lat­ed and dealt with are local.46 While this might cre­ate or main­tain strong bonds of local com­mu­ni­ties and moral economies, the peas­ant pop­u­la­tion as a whole is a mere mass. It does not find the col­lec­tiv­i­ty in which these prob­lems could be artic­u­lat­ed as com­mon inter­ests, where the every­day strug­gles of each peas­ant fam­i­ly or vil­lage could become a com­mon strug­gle.

The iso­la­tion of the small-hold­ing peas­ants meant that they were lost for the rev­o­lu­tion: instead they were unit­ed by Bona­parte, a man in whose fame and pow­er these indi­vid­ual peas­ants found a pro­tec­tor. Their trust in him as their rep­re­sen­ta­tive was based on the his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry of their alliance with the old Napoleon. A mass, whether het­ero­ge­neous and con­nect­ed by locale (like the lumpen) or rel­a­tive­ly uni­form and sep­a­rat­ed (like the peas­antry), is most eas­i­ly unit­ed under a mas­ter or mas­ter-sig­ni­fi­er. How­ev­er, the iso­la­tion also points to the fact that a move­ment which devel­ops the tech­ni­cal means and orga­ni­za­tion­al forms through which peas­ants can com­mu­ni­cate and link up is one that will abol­ish the need for a rep­re­sen­ta­tive and enable the peas­antry to rep­re­sent itself. And indeed most of the suc­cess­ful rev­o­lu­tions and anti-colo­nial strug­gles of the 20th cen­tu­ry – in Chi­na most par­a­dig­mat­i­cal­ly – were to a large extent suc­cess­ful due to the cen­tral involve­ment of peas­ant, par­ty due to a com­mu­nist re-appre­ci­a­tion of the peas­antry, and due in part to the increased capac­i­ty of trans­porta­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion and thus coor­di­na­tion due to telegraphs, tele­phones, rail­ways, cars, etc.

While changes in the means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trans­porta­tion were not a rel­e­vant vari­able in describ­ing a rev­o­lu­tion­ary and counter rev­o­lu­tion­ary peri­od of four years, he did con­sid­er the becom­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary of the peas­antry. Thus, he invest­ed his hopes in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion of the small-hold­ing peas­antry on its wors­en­ing con­di­tion, point­ing to the pos­si­bil­i­ty that a change in the char­ac­ter of the peas­ants’ prob­lem would lead them to seek its rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the pro­le­tari­at. In short, Marx did not sug­gest that the peas­ants could not be rev­o­lu­tion­ary:

The Bona­parte dynasty rep­re­sents not the rev­o­lu­tion­ary, but the con­ser­v­a­tive peas­ant; not the peas­ant who strikes out beyond the con­di­tion of his social exis­tence, the small hold­ing, but rather one who wants to con­sol­i­date his hold­ing; not the coun­try­folk who in alliance with the towns want to over­throw the old order through their own ener­gies, but on the con­trary those who, in sol­id seclu­sion with­in this old order, want to see them­selves and their small hold­ings saved and favored by the ghost of the Empire.47

Marx defines rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies as those who aim to abol­ish the old order, rather than improve their posi­tion with­in it, who opt for a dif­fer­ent future rather than a rep­e­ti­tion of the past in the present. Fur­ther, he notes that the ranks of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary peas­ants are like­ly to swell with the growth of the rur­al lumpen­pro­le­tari­at, “the five mil­lion who hov­er on the mar­gin of exis­tence and either have their haunts in the coun­try­side itself” or move back and forth between town and coun­try­side with “their rags and their chil­dren,” remind­ing us of Jan Breman’s con­tem­po­rary ana­lyzes of the cir­cu­la­tion and migra­tion of land­less and land-poor labor in South and South­east Asia.48 As the small-hold­ing peas­ant class is drawn fur­ther into the bour­geois order, the con­ser­v­a­tive con­sol­i­da­tion will become an option for still few­er peas­ants; in oth­er words, the strate­gies and modes of liv­ing the peas­ant con­di­tion will change as this con­di­tion changes. Now, Marx writes (in what was cer­tain­ly also a strate­gic inter­ven­tion in a process of class com­po­si­tion), the inter­ests of the peas­ants are close to those of the urban pro­le­tari­at, in which they will find a “nat­ur­al ally and leader” – while many young lumpen peas­ants will be lost to the army.49 The ter­rain of strug­gle and polit­i­cal class com­po­si­tion also changes – the major­i­ty of the peas­ants no longer find their inter­ests aligned with the bour­geoisie, as under Napoleon, but as turn­ing against it. Thus, while Bona­parte would like to appear as the “patri­ar­chal bene­fac­tor of all class­es … he can­not give to one class with­out tak­ing from anoth­er,” severe­ly con­strict­ing his capac­i­ty to unite dif­fer­ent class­es under his rep­re­sen­ta­tion.50

Curi­ous­ly, the pro­le­tar­i­an lead­er­ship of the peas­antry advo­cat­ed by Marx seems to install it in posi­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the iso­lat­ed peas­antry, sim­i­lar to that of the mod­ern Prince Bona­parte, on the one hand, or a cer­tain automa­tism of them join­ing the pro­le­tari­at in the city – instead of the lumpen. It would thus seem that our read­ing brings us to the very tra­di­tion­al inter­pre­ta­tion that Marx – accord­ing to the iron log­ic of his own argu­ment – could only be cham­pi­on of the indus­tri­al pro­le­tari­at. How­ev­er, Marx is not hos­tile to peas­ants per se, nor does he, as we have seen, present the peas­ants as nec­es­sar­i­ly counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ary. The argu­ments around their sub­or­di­na­tion to pro­le­tar­i­an lead­er­ship main­ly relate to the devel­op­ment of the means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and com­bi­na­tion, i.e. the means of relat­ing and com­pos­ing in strug­gle, and of rep­re­sent­ing them­selves. As we see in the case of the pet­ty bour­geoisie, it is the char­ac­ter of their mode of life, its prob­lems and solu­tions, which keeps them con­formist: as their prob­lem is chang­ing, then so will their polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion. In The Civ­il War in France, writ­ten in 1871, Marx asks: “how could it [the peas­ants’ ear­li­er loy­al­ty to Bona­parte] have with­stood the appeal of the Com­mune to the liv­ing inter­ests and urgent wants of the peas­antry?” The reac­tionary rur­al assem­bly of landown­ers, offi­cials, ren­tiers and trades­men…

knew that three months’ free com­mu­ni­ca­tion of Com­mu­nal Paris with the provinces would bring about a gen­er­al ris­ing of the peas­ants, and hence their anx­i­ety to estab­lish a police block­ade around Paris, so as to stop the spread of the rinder­pest.51

In the 18th Bru­maire Marx was hos­tile to the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at, skep­ti­cal of the peasantry’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary capac­i­ties, and hope­ful about the urban pro­le­tari­at. The whole issue here is to keep in mind that Marx’s reflec­tions, while informed by a struc­tur­al analy­sis, are first of all con­junc­tur­al. They are focused on the mate­r­i­al con­di­tions of com­bin­ing or ally­ing what is sep­a­rate around com­mon strug­gles, and on the inven­tion and con­struc­tion of new solu­tions to the prob­lems of the times and of life. Tech­nolo­gies of com­mu­ni­ca­tion (means of con­ta­gion, as it were) and the capac­i­ty to over­come or bypass the force of the state are deci­sive. But first of all, it is a ques­tion of align­ing and shap­ing the inter­ests of pop­u­la­tions under the pres­sure of time. In his rebut­tal of Bakunin’s cri­tique that he wish­es to make the pro­le­tari­at the mas­ter of the peas­ants, Marx remarks that it is sim­ply an issue of com­pos­ing inter­ests. With own­er-peas­ants it is a mat­ter of the pro­le­tari­at doing for them at least what the bour­geoisie is able to, while pro­le­tar­i­an­ized agri­cul­tur­al work­ers can orga­nize with the pro­le­tar­i­ans imme­di­ate­ly, in as much as there repro­duc­tive strate­gies can be com­posed. Final­ly, with respect to the rur­al work­ers, the goal is not a mere class alliance, but to effect a reor­ga­ni­za­tion of their repro­duc­tion toward com­mu­nal own­er­ship, with­out antag­o­niz­ing the peas­ants, i.e. with­out forcibly col­lec­tiviz­ing them or remov­ing their rights to the land.52 We here see how Marx under­stands class com­po­si­tion as a mat­ter of com­pos­ing dif­fer­ent strug­gles around repro­duc­tion, and not of feign­ing that this dif­fer­ence is sim­ply an illu­sion hid­ing their com­mon essence, iden­ti­ty, or prob­lem.

7.2 Composing with the lumpen

To raise the prob­lem of the class com­po­si­tion of the peas­antry today and already in Marx’ times, is to dis­cuss the strug­gles around the risk or actu­al­i­ty of land­less­ness or land­pover­ty and debt. Along with the ques­tion of sur­plus pop­u­la­tions pro­duced by mech­a­niza­tion (which also hap­pens in indus­tri­al agri­cul­ture), this leads us towards the prob­lem of the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at, as an extreme, infor­mal con­di­tion and mode of sur­vival and death.

Already in the Man­i­festo Marx and Engels had warned against this group:

The “dan­ger­ous class,” the social scum, that pas­sive­ly rot­ting mass thrown off by the low­est lay­ers of old soci­ety may, here and there, be swept into the move­ment by a pro­le­tar­i­an rev­o­lu­tion; its con­di­tions of life, how­ev­er, pre­pare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reac­tionary intrigue.53

In the 18th Bru­maire the lumpen­pro­la­te­ri­at re-enters as a prob­lem­at­ic fig­ure for Marx’s schema of rev­o­lu­tion: as a class the lumpen are irrefutably a prod­uct of bour­geois soci­ety and its dynam­ics, and a class of rad­i­cal needs, yet one orga­nized against the 1848 rev­o­lu­tion in France.

The Feb­ru­ary Rev­o­lu­tion had cast the army out of Paris. The Nation­al Guard, that is, the bour­geoisie in its dif­fer­ent gra­da­tions, con­sti­tut­ed the sole pow­er. Alone, how­ev­er, it did not feel itself a match for the pro­le­tari­at. More­over, it was forced grad­u­al­ly and piece­meal to open its ranks and admit armed pro­le­tar­i­ans, albeit after the most tena­cious resis­tance and after set­ting up a hun­dred dif­fer­ent obsta­cles. There con­se­quent­ly remained but one way out: to play off part of the pro­le­tari­at against the oth­er.54

Thus enter the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at in the nar­ra­tive of the fail­ure of the rev­o­lu­tion, made his­tor­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant by the 24,000 young men recruit­ed to the Mobile Guard to sup­press the rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro­le­tari­at. Marx’s scep­ti­cism with regards to the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at is a result of his aware­ness of how the polit­i­cal alle­giances of a class are shaped by the ways in which this class repro­duces itself. While this did not lead him to sug­gest that polit­i­cal recom­po­si­tion can be achieved through recom­po­si­tion of repro­duc­tion, we shall see that such a con­clu­sions can and must be drawn from his writ­ings on the lumpen.

In the 18th Bru­maire it would seem that Marx laps­es into the organi­cist idea of par­a­sitism when, invok­ing the nation, he writes that the lumpen, like their chief Louis Bona­parte, “felt the need of ben­e­fit­ing them­selves at the expense of the labor­ing nation.”55 How­ev­er, Marx’s “nation” as a vic­tim appears iron­i­cal­ly, in rela­tion to Louis Bonaparte’s own con­sis­tent self-rep­re­sen­ta­tion as the sav­ior of the nation. What Bona­parte and the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at have in com­mon is their char­ac­ter as float­ing ele­ments in the sit­u­a­tion – if Bona­parte even­tu­al­ly becomes the fig­ure unit­ing con­tra­dic­to­ry class inter­ests it is pre­cise­ly because of his appar­ent ele­va­tion above the class­es. On the oth­er hand, the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at was exploit­ed exact­ly as an ele­ment that has no sta­ble sta­tion or stake in soci­ety. For Bona­parte – as for the finan­cial aris­toc­ra­cy – it takes abstrac­tions and mon­ey to exploit an unsta­ble sit­u­a­tion. A sig­nif­i­cant exam­ple is the case of the young mem­bers of the Mobile Guard, who were cap­ti­vat­ed by their Bona­partist offi­cers’ “rodomon­tades about death for the father­land and devo­tion to the repub­lic.”56 On top of this ide­o­log­i­cal seduc­tion, it took mon­e­tary cor­rup­tion (1 franc 50 cen­times a day) to bring the mal­leable young lumpen­pro­le­tar­i­ans into the Bona­partist ranks.57 The prob­lem of the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at might not be that they are the para­dox­i­cal prod­uct of bour­geois soci­ety stand­ing in the way of the world-his­tor­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion, but that their untime­ly up-root­ed­ness is so con­tem­po­rary in times where “every­thing sol­id melts into air,” that its orga­ni­za­tion in the rev­o­lu­tion requires a whol­ly dif­fer­ent mode of polit­i­cal com­po­si­tion.

It is clear that the coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary char­ac­ter of this group of over­whelm­ing­ly young and male lumpen­pro­le­tar­i­ans does not allow any gen­er­al points to be made about the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at as such. Con­sid­er Marx’s num­bers: 25,000 in the Mobile Guard com­pared to 4 mil­lion “recog­nised pau­pers, vagabonds, crim­i­nals and pros­ti­tutes in France” – a large part of whom were women.58 Fur­ther­more, even this par­tic­u­lar sec­tion enrolled in the Mobile Guard, “capa­ble of the most hero­ic deeds and the most exalt­ed sac­ri­fices as of the basest ban­dit­ry and the foulest cor­rup­tion,” can­not be said to be counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ary per se.59 Indeed, while Marx does not sug­gest any tac­tics by which the lumpen­pro­le­tar­i­ans can be won for the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cause, his descrip­tion of how they became counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, implies that oth­er ide­o­log­i­cal artic­u­la­tions and oth­er ways of sat­is­fy­ing their needs could bring them to anoth­er cause. Here we have rad­i­cal needs that are not defin­able in terms of sta­ble class inter­ests, but as the waver­ing inter­ests of a het­ero­ge­neous group which can com­pose with whomev­er can help sat­is­fy their needs and desires, with whomev­er it can share a slo­gan, an idea and a meal (just like, we should add, the work­ing-class itself before it is ide­o­log­i­cal­ly and orga­ni­za­tion­al­ly homog­e­nized by the work­ers move­ment). From this per­spec­tive of needs and the thirst for ideas and con­vivi­al­i­ty, the prob­lem with the lumpen­pro­le­tar­i­ans for the rev­o­lu­tion is no longer that their modes of life are essen­tial­ly counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ary, but that they, unlike the work­ers who are fed by cap­i­tal, will not be sat­is­fied by slo­gans, but only by cash pay and food (and a bit of moral license). There there­fore is no struc­tur­al rea­son why Marx’s strate­gic ori­en­ta­tion couldn’t heed the urgency of Frantz Fanon’s call to orga­nize the (most­ly land­less, rur­al) lumpen­pro­le­tari­at, whose alliances are nev­er giv­en in advance, but who will always take part in the con­flict: “If this avail­able reserve of human effort is not imme­di­ate­ly orga­nized by the forces of rebel­lion, it will find itself fight­ing as hired sol­diers side by side with the colo­nial troops.”60 And there is no struc­tur­al rea­son – quite the con­trary – that com­mu­ni­sa­tion­ists should not look to the prac­tices of the Black Pan­thers, which start­ed from the ques­tion of the armed and legal self-def­er­ence of a sur­plus pop­u­la­tion against the racist polic­ing of its alter­na­tive forms of sur­vival – its hus­tling and infor­mal economies – and pro­gressed to the imple­men­ta­tion of sur­vival pro­grams that would drew tens of thou­sands to the strug­gle and pow­er­ful munic­i­pal elec­tion cam­paigns in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia.61

The will­ing­ness of young lumpen­pro­le­tar­i­ans to enlist in the Mobile Guard brings up the ques­tion not just of rad­i­cal needs and their rev­o­lu­tion­ary poten­tial, but the ques­tion of their prac­ti­cal orga­ni­za­tion around con­crete solu­tions: the prob­lem of all those that can­not or will not work is of an imme­di­ate every­day char­ac­ter. The needs of the lumpen­pro­le­tar­i­an are more imme­di­ate than those of the employed, and more non-con­formist than those of the unem­ployed; in the absence of exploita­tion their modes of life are crim­i­nal­ized, their neigh­bor­hoods col­o­nized, in the terms of the Black Pan­thers, by the police.62 Thus the pro­gram­mat­ic demand of an abo­li­tion of bour­geois prop­er­ty will be inef­fi­cient if it does not address the imme­di­ate needs of those that will oth­er­wise sell them­selves to the counter-rev­o­lu­tion.

The his­to­ry of the pro­le­tari­at out­side the wage-rela­tion, of the pro­le­tar­i­ans ren­dered super­flu­ous to cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion (if not nec­es­sar­i­ly indi­rect­ly pur­pose­ful as a reserve army) and the pro­le­tar­i­ans that always were super­flu­ous, is a his­to­ry of con­stant attempts to cre­ate oth­er modes of repro­duc­tion, their vic­to­ry, co-opta­tion, or sup­pres­sion. If pro­le­tar­i­an self-repro­duc­tion against cap­i­tal – i.e. a repro­duc­tion that opens for the self-abo­li­tion of the pro­le­tari­at as pro­le­tari­at – is to come on the agen­da, it is not enough to state that such com­mu­niza­tion is an invari­able rev­o­lu­tion­ary project of the pro­le­tari­at (Gilles Dau­vé and Karl Nesic) or a project only pos­si­ble today, a deep­en­ing rad­i­cal need (Théorie Com­mu­niste, End­notes).63 To open the his­tor­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion of com­mu­niza­tion the­o­ry to the prac­ti­cal ques­tion of orga­ni­za­tion, it becomes unavoid­able to relate it to ongo­ing prac­tices of de-pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion. To go beyond this we need to see not only pos­si­bil­i­ty and grow­ing exis­ten­tial need, but poten­tial­i­ties which can be – or are striv­ing to be – actu­al­ized. To do this is to open for the ques­tion of com­po­si­tion, emu­la­tion, orga­ni­za­tion, and con­ta­gion, between het­ero­ge­neous strate­gies of repro­duc­tion, as they exist or are need­ed to sat­is­fy the prac­ti­cal sit­u­at­ed needs of pro­le­tar­i­ans in rela­tion to the many dif­fer­ent ways they live this con­di­tion-prob­lem.

While the repro­duc­tion of large sec­tions of the West­ern Euro­pean pro­le­tari­at was medi­at­ed by the wel­fare state, what Bal­ibar calls the “nation­al-social state,” anoth­er range of strug­gles have tak­en hold, among migrants in Europe and pro­le­tar­i­ans in the “Glob­al South.”64 Infor­mal work and ille­gal activ­i­ties, squat­ting and land occu­pa­tions most sig­nif­i­cant­ly, but also what Asef Bay­at calls qui­et encroach­ments, a pop­u­lar ver­sion of what Ital­ian auton­o­mists called auto-reduc­tion in poor Lev­an­tine and North African neigh­bor­hoods and slums.65 Even where such activ­i­ties are car­ried out on a small group or indi­vid­ual basis, attempts to crack down on those modes of repro­duc­tion have often result­ed in mass pop­u­lar resis­tance as Bay­at points out; in short, we can speak of these as emer­gent moral economies of the pro­le­tari­at.66 Sim­i­lar­ly, the often “indi­vid­u­al­ized” – if high­ly net­worked – ways in which migrants move often cohere into com­mon strug­gles when they are met with a fence. Bay­at shows that strate­gies of qui­et encroach­ment, along with exist­ing orga­ni­za­tions of resis­tance such as work­ers unions, infor­mal com­mu­ni­ties around mosques, and the foot­ball fan clubs, were all prac­ti­cal con­di­tions for the capac­i­ty of the spon­ta­neous upris­ing to pose the exis­tence of Mubarak’s regime as a prac­ti­cal prob­lem.

What mat­ters are strate­gies that might build the pro­le­tar­i­an capac­i­ty to resist and thus to project solu­tions to its mis­ery, i.e. see it is a prob­lem rather than a fate. Today, the tac­tics and strate­gies for deal­ing with, and abol­ish­ing the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion can thus only be reduced to the ques­tions of the wel­fare state and trade unions through gross neglect. Fur­ther­more, such strate­gies that have long been rel­e­vant where “devel­op­ment” was always a fic­tion, will become increas­ing­ly impor­tant a Europe that is provin­cial­iz­ing itself and abol­ish­ing wel­fare rights in bun­dles. The forms of orga­ni­za­tion and class com­po­si­tion pos­si­ble and nec­es­sary under con­di­tions of sur­plus pop­u­la­tion and the squeeze on pro­le­tar­i­an repro­duc­tion starts with “sur­vival” pro­grams. If not, the cur­rent vio­lent and eco­nom­ic anni­hi­la­tion of the pro­le­tar­i­an capac­i­ty to resist and com­bine will pre­vent any rev­o­lu­tion­ary crys­tal­liza­tion.

8. Conclusion

Start­ing with the ques­tion of pro­le­tar­i­an repro­duc­tion has sev­er­al advan­tages: it imme­di­ate­ly con­nects the macro­analy­sis of cap­i­tal with the exis­ten­tial urgency of indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive strate­gies of life and sur­vival. Fur­ther, it allows us to avoid pos­i­tivis­tic soci­olo­gies of class based on the com­part­men­tal­iza­tion of a pop­u­la­tion, and econ­o­mistic def­i­n­i­tions of class in terms of eco­nom­ic func­tions with­in the divi­sion of labor. It allows us to think the struc­tur­al and exis­ten­tial aspects of class for­ma­tion togeth­er, and to under­stand how both com­po­si­tion and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion are respons­es to the same prob­lem.

I have argued that the pro­le­tar­i­an prob­lem must be defined more broad­ly than by exploita­tion. The lumpen, the unem­ployed, unpaid repro­duc­tive work­ers, and the work­ing class live the same prob­lem-con­di­tion – the sep­a­ra­tion from the means of (re)production. Yet they live it dif­fer­ent­ly, and these dif­fer­ences of dai­ly prac­tices, cre­ates a dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of needs and desires, which is pro­found­ly inter­twined with process­es of gen­der­ing, ableism and racial­iza­tion, etc. The com­mu­niza­tion­ist ori­en­ta­tion to the con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty of com­mu­nism pos­es the ques­tion of a solu­tion ade­quate to the gen­er­al­i­ty of this prob­lem: the pro­le­tari­at becomes the name for all those who ide­al­ly share an inter­est in abol­ish­ing this prob­lem. From a spec­ta­to­r­i­al dis­tance, this approach points out the lim­i­ta­tions of exist­ing strug­gles from the point of view of the cap­i­tal­ist total­i­ty, which pro­vides it with a the­o­ry of what form such a rev­o­lu­tion must nec­es­sar­i­ly take to be ade­quate. To intel­lec­tu­als this is a the­o­ry of the log­i­cal form and pos­si­bil­i­ty of rev­o­lu­tion; to pro­le­tar­i­ans it is a the­o­ry of the inad­e­qua­cy of their efforts. Mere­ly point­ing out the lim­i­ta­tion of any one strug­gle by ref­er­ence to the epochal rad­i­cal­i­ty of a prob­lem is a recipe for cyn­i­cism and indif­fer­ence. It is not enough to be faced with a com­mon prob­lem; this yields noth­ing but an under­stand­ing of the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion as a mis­for­tune. Unless there is the devel­op­ment of com­mon tac­tics and strate­gies of deal­ing with con­crete prob­lems, the dif­fer­ent mutu­al­ly com­pet­ing strate­gies for deal­ing with it will pre­vail. Any rev­o­lu­tion­ary prac­tice must start with solu­tions that are sit­u­a­tion­al­ly more con­vinc­ing or desir­able than exist­ing ones. Instead of with­draw­ing to its own niche in the divi­sion of labor out of habit or for fear of vio­lat­ing the puri­ty of strug­gles, the­o­ry, con­sid­ered as a part of such move­ments, is the active effort to dis­sem­i­nate strate­gies of com­bi­na­tion and strug­gle, and of elab­o­rat­ing com­mons and trans­ver­sal points of con­nec­tion between dif­fer­ent strug­gles. Tak­ing seri­ous­ly the fact that resis­tances and net­works of sol­i­dar­i­ty pre­ex­ist irrup­tions of open strug­gle means to go beyond the faith in spon­tane­ity. This entails an ethics of mil­i­tant, embed­ded research, knowl­edge pro­duc­tion, and pop­u­lar ped­a­gogy, which pro­ceeds through prac­tices of col­lec­tive­ly map­ping of the pos­si­bil­i­ties of com­po­si­tion, and reflec­tions on how to con­nect and extend net­works of trust and sol­i­dar­i­ty.67 It implies shar­ing tools of orga­niz­ing and tac­tics of strug­gle, tak­ing mea­sure of the rumors and whis­pers, and engag­ing in small strug­gles in ways that can help them trans­form fear and mis­trust into courage and sol­i­dar­i­ty.

The prob­lem of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion of pro­le­tar­i­an dif­fer­ence is one of invent­ing com­mon solu­tions to the com­mon prob­lem of the pro­le­tari­at, whether lumpen, employed or unem­ployed. But this must start with a recog­ni­tion that the strate­gies of the strug­gle will dif­fer sig­nif­i­cant­ly, accord­ing to the many ways the prob­lem is lived and sur­vived. Our task can­not be to search for the equa­tion that will give us the result we want, but to explore the max­i­mal pos­si­bil­i­ties of abo­li­tions of sep­a­ra­tions here and now, between us and between us and our means of repro­duc­tion – be it through riots and affin­i­ty groups, mutu­al aid and autonomous zones or through tak­ing munic­i­pal or state pow­er. All this depends on sit­u­at­ed assess­ments of the pos­si­bil­i­ties of com­po­si­tion, the state of the ene­mies and the rela­tions of forces.68 If the strug­gle pro­ceeds suc­cess­ful­ly, class-dif­fer­ences will be abol­ished both grad­u­al­ly and in leaps. Pro­le­tar­i­ans will be stuck less and less in the mode of life they had devel­oped to deal with a prob­lem of their sep­a­ra­tion, by abol­ish­ing this sep­a­ra­tion and thus their exis­tence as pro­le­tar­i­ans. Strug­gles for de-sep­a­ra­tion are not mere­ly coura­geous strug­gles for love, but also often entail fear­ful search for secu­ri­ty. The affec­tive atmos­phere of com­mu­nism can­not be giv­en except through sen­si­tiv­i­ty to the micro- and nanop­o­lit­i­cal dimen­sions of any move­ment. Fur­ther, if com­mu­nism is to be thought again as a real move­ment we must accept that it can­not be a uni­tary process, but only the com­bi­na­tion of man­i­fold desires and needs of more or less sep­a­rat­ed pro­le­tar­i­ans, unit­ing for self­ish rea­sons, but pro­duc­ing a telos in excess of their self­ish­ness, a transin­di­vid­ual sub­la­tion of their indi­vid­u­al­i­ty. Marx saw this clear­ly when he par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Parisian pro­le­tar­i­ans’ con­vivi­al­i­ty. He not­ed that the means to cre­ate com­mu­nism is com­mu­nism itself: that is, com­mu­nism prac­ticed pro­duces itself as a need and an aim in itself.69 Com­mu­nism is not an abstract Kant­ian “ide­al” nor a plan, nor a uni­ver­sal and glob­al hori­zon from which to judge all strug­gles or find hope. Com­mu­nism, instead, is best described as a pos­si­ble emer­gent telos in process­es of com­bi­na­tion, when they fold back on them­selves and become self-repro­duc­ing, self-orga­nized and capa­ble of defend­ing them­selves. Such desep­a­ra­tion can only be effec­tive when it involves the world of things and begins to abol­ish prop­er­ty as a form of sep­a­ra­tion. What is need­ed for this to hap­pen is not the sus­te­nance of hope, but prac­tics of com­po­si­tion and exper­i­men­ta­tion with need, desire and pos­si­bil­i­ty. Glob­al­i­ty or uni­ver­sal­i­ty are not ter­rains of col­lec­tive action, but lev­els of the­o­ret­i­cal abstrac­tion. The ques­tions of scal­ing up and uni­ver­sal­i­ty will remain prac­ti­cal­ly irrel­e­vant until they are posed as con­crete ques­tions of the con­di­tions of repro­duc­ing, com­bin­ing and defend­ing real move­ments.

  1. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Man­i­festo of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty,” in Select­ed Works, vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1973); 118. Karl Marx, “A Con­tri­bu­tion to the Cri­tique of Hegel’s Phi­los­o­phy of Right. Intro­duc­tion,” in Ear­ly Writ­ings, (Lon­don: Pen­guin, 1992), 252. 

  2. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal: Vol­ume I, trans. Ben Fowkes (Lon­don: Pen­guin Books, 1976), 762-872. 

  3. Fredric Jame­son, Rep­re­sent­ing Cap­i­tal (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2012). 

  4. Michael Den­ning, “Wage­less Life,” New Left Review 66 (Novem­ber-Decem­ber 2010): 79-97. 

  5. Marx here brack­ets the role of the state, which com­pli­cates this pic­ture, with­out abol­ish­ing the gen­er­al dynam­ic, par­tic­u­lar­ly under con­di­tions of strong inter-state com­pe­ti­tion for cap­i­tal invest­ments. 

  6. Marx’s let­ter to Vogt and May­er, April 1970 in MECW - Marx and Engels: April 1868-July 1870, vol. 43 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1988), 475. 

  7. Karl Marx, Grun­drisse: Foun­da­tions of the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my (Rough Draft), The Pel­i­can Marx Library (Har­mondsworth: Pen­guin, 1973), 398–9. 

  8. It must be not­ed that Marx’s has noth­ing to do with Thomas Mathus’s ear­li­er the­o­ries of sur­plus pop­u­la­tion. Where Malthus pre­sumed that nat­ur­al fac­tors such as demo­graph­ic growth and the scarci­ty of land and food would lead to sur­plus pop­u­la­tion, Marx ana­lyzed the emer­gence of sur­plus pop­u­la­tions as a strict­ly his­tor­i­cal effect of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion. They share, how­ev­er, a blind­ness to the fact that women’s strug­gles would sig­nif­i­cant­ly increase their capac­i­ty to lim­it the amount of chil­dren born. 

  9. Marx, Cap­i­tal: Vol­ume I, 798. Marx does not present what such mod­i­fy­ing cir­cum­stances might be, and leaves this as a sim­ple ceteris paribus clause. Hen­ryk Gross­man has a use­ful list of the eco­nom­ic fac­tors from which Marx abstracts in his sys­tem­at­ic analy­sis. “3. Mod­i­fy­ing coun­ter­tenden­cies” in Law of the Accu­mu­la­tion and Break­down, trans. Jairus Bana­ji (, 1929).  

  10. Marx dis­tin­guish­es between four dif­fer­ent modes of exis­tence of sur­plus pop­u­la­tions: 1. float­ing form: urban in and out of work. 2. latent form: the mass­es that can be called in from rur­al areas. 3. stag­nant: extreme­ly irreg­u­lar employ­ment. 4. Pau­perism: lumpen­pro­le­tari­at; con­sist­ing of those unem­ploy­able, either because they refuse work, or because they can­not work. This is what we can call absolute sur­plus-pop­u­la­tion. Marx, Cap­i­tal: Vol­ume I, 794–97. 

  11. Ibid., 782. 

  12. Ibid., 783-4. 

  13. Ibid., 786. 

  14. End­notes and Aaron Benanav, “Mis­ery and Debt,” End­notes 2 (2010), 32. 

  15. End­notes, “Spon­tane­ity, Medi­a­tion, Rup­ture,” End­notes 3 (2013), 230. 

  16. End­notes, “Cri­sis in the Class Rela­tion,” End­notes 2 (2010), 19. 

  17. Albert O. Hirschman, “On Hegel, Impe­ri­al­ism and Struc­tur­al Stag­na­tion,” in Jour­nal of Devel­op­ment Eco­nom­ics, vol. 3 (1976), 1-8. 

  18. Karl Marx, “British Rule in India,” in Select­ed Works, vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1969). But Marx soon rec­ti­fied his posi­tion on colo­nial­ism: see Kevin B. Ander­son, Marx at the Mar­gins: On Nation­al­ism, Eth­nic­i­ty, and Non-West­ern Soci­eties (Chica­go: Uni­ver­si­ty Of Chica­go Press, 2010.), Lucia Pradel­la, Glob­al­iza­tion and the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my New Insights from Marx’s Writ­ings (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2015). 

  19. Hirschman, “On Hegel, Impe­ri­al­ism and Struc­tur­al Stag­na­tion,” 6-7. 

  20. Alber­to Toscano, “Now and Nev­er,” in Com­mu­niza­tion and its Dis­con­tents, ed. Ben­jamin Noys (Wivenhoe/New York/Port Wat­son: Minor Com­po­si­tion, 2013), 92. 

  21. This is a cri­tique of the explic­it attempt to devel­op con­cepts for think­ing com­po­si­tion in “Medi­a­tion, Spon­tane­ity, Rup­ture,” 230-232. In texts where End­notes engage in empir­i­cal dis­cus­sions, of the insur­rec­tions of 2011 in “The Hold­ing Pat­tern,” ibid., we see a much rich­er and more flex­i­ble con­cep­tion of strug­gle dialec­ti­cal­ly artic­u­lat­ed with their analy­sis of the move­ment of cap­i­tal and the class con­tra­dic­tion, but as soon as Endnotes’s focus on the ques­tion of com­mu­niza­tion, their con­cep­tion of strug­gle becomes for­mal­is­tic. My hope is that that this kind of dif­fi­cul­ty can attune us to the impor­tance of dis­cussing the lim­i­ta­tions of the Marx­ist method of “lev­els of abstrac­tion,” par­tic­u­lar­ly the way in which the priv­i­leg­ing of the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my tends to black­box what is most in need of prac­tice-ori­ent­ed the­o­riza­tion, or worse yet place it in some realm of the “pure­ly par­tic­u­lar” which is unwor­thy of thought, or only wor­thy in a way that sus­tains a dual­ism between it and the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my. 

  22. Immanuel Kant, “What Is Ori­en­ta­tion in Think­ing?,” in Polit­i­cal Writ­ings, trans. H.B. Nes­bit, 2nd ed. (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1990). 

  23. “Mis­ery and Debt,” in End­notes 2 (2010); Mike Davis, Plan­et of Slums (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2007). “Like all oth­er laws, it is mod­i­fied in its work­ing by many cir­cum­stances, the analy­sis of which does not con­cern us here.” Cap­i­tal vol.1, 798. 

  24. See for instance Melin­da Coop­er, “Work­fare, Fam­i­ly­fare, God­fare: Trans­form­ing Con­tin­gency into Neces­si­ty,” South Atlantic Quar­ter­ly 111, no. 4 (Fall 2012): 643-61. 

  25. This analy­sis will be based on Rosa Luxemburg’s analy­sis of Marx’s the­o­ry of expand­ed repro­duc­tion. Rosa Lux­em­burg, The Accu­mu­la­tion of Cap­i­tal (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2003). 

  26. Marx, Cap­i­tal: Vol­ume I, 897, Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, Cal­iban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Prim­i­tive Accu­mu­la­tion (Autono­me­dia, 2004), par­tic­u­lar­ly 87-91. Peter Linebaugh and Mar­cus Redik­er, The Many-Head­ed Hydra: The Hid­den His­to­ry of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Atlantic (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2002), 15-29. For the Dig­gers, see Christo­pher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Rad­i­cal Ideas Dur­ing the Eng­lish Rev­o­lu­tion, new ed. (Lon­don: Pen­guin, 1991), 110ff.; on riots, see Roger B. Man­ning, Vil­lage Revolts: Social Protest and Pop­u­lar Dis­tur­bances in Eng­land, 1509-1640 (Oxford: Claren­don Press, 1988). 

  27. Fed­eri­ci, Cal­iban and the Witch, 64. 

  28. Ivan Illich, Shad­ow Work (Boston: Mar­i­on Boyars Pub­lish­ers, 1981), K. Hart, J.-L. Lav­ille, & A.D. Cat­tani, The Human Econ­o­my, (Lon­don: Poli­ty Press, 2010). 

  29. Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta and Sel­ma James, The Pow­er of Women and the Sub­ver­sion of the Com­mu­ni­ty (Bris­tol: Falling Wall Press, 1973). 

  30. Ibid. See also Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta, “Cap­i­tal­ism and Repro­duc­tion,” The Com­mon­er 8 (Autumn/Winter 2004). 

  31. Fed­eri­ci, Cal­iban and the Witch; Leopold­ina For­tu­nati, The Arcane of Repro­duc­tion: House­work, Pros­ti­tu­tion, Labor and Cap­i­tal (New York: Autono­me­dia, 1995). 

  32. Marx, Cap­i­tal: Vol­ume I, 899. On the notion of the inclu­sion of the exclud­ed as exclud­ed, see Colec­ti­vo Situa­ciones, 19&20 Notes for a New Social Pro­tag­o­nism, trans. Nate Hol­dren and Sebastián Touza (Wiven­hoe: Minor Com­po­si­tions, 2011), 103-106. 

  33. In a note to the Eng­lish edi­tion of ibid., 108. Den­ning, “Wage­less Life.” 

  34. Marx’s analy­sis of the inter­play between the com­mon sense and day to day com­mon sen­si­bil­i­ty of work and law-abid­ing behav­ior among ‘work­ing peo­ple’ has been use­ful­ly updat­ed in Stu­art Hall et al., Polic­ing the Cri­sis: Mug­ging, the State and Law and Order (Lon­don: Macmil­lan, 1993), 142, 149. 

  35. In terms of the phi­los­o­phy of nature, the vocab­u­lary of com­po­si­tion sug­gests exte­ri­or­i­ty, jux­ta­po­si­tion and con­junc­tion, while the con­cepts of form sug­gest inte­ri­or­iz­ing orga­ni­za­tion, either as sub­sump­tion or self-orga­ni­za­tion. Marx’s ear­ly con­cept of the crys­tal­liza­tion and self-orga­ni­za­tion of the mass gives us a log­ic of the pas­sage from class com­po­si­tion to class for­ma­tion. 

  36. Mat­teo Man­dari­ni, “Translator’s Intro­duc­tion,” in Time For Rev­o­lu­tion, by Anto­nio Negri (Lon­don: Con­tin­u­um, 2004), 265. 

  37. Marx and Engels, “The Ger­man Ide­ol­o­gy,” in Select­ed Works. Vol. 1. (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1969), 65. 

  38. Karl Marx, “The Pover­ty of Phi­los­o­phy,” in MECW. Vol. 6. (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1976), 211. 

  39. Ibid. 

  40. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Class Strug­gle,” The Cri­sis 22, no. 4. (August 1921), 151. 

  41. Karl Marx, “18th Bru­maire of Louis Bona­parte,” in Select­ed Works, vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1973). 

  42. Marx, “18th Bru­maire,” 479. 

  43. Ibid., 478. 

  44. On the often mis­un­der­stood phrase “idio­cy of rur­al life,” Hal Drap­er remarks the idea that “idio­cy” equals stu­pid­i­ty is based on a mis­trans­la­tion. “In the ninetheenth cen­tu­ry Ger­man still retained the orig­i­nal Greek mean­ing of forms based on the word idiotes: a pri­vate per­son, with­drawn from pub­lic (com­mu­nal) con­cerns, apo­lit­i­cal in the orig­i­nal sense of iso­la­tion from the wider com­mu­ni­ty.” The back­ward­ness of the peas­antry has noth­ing to do with a rejec­tion of rur­al life, but with the fact that they – in the absence of means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trans­porta­tion – can­not eas­i­ly par­tic­i­pate in orga­nized social life and its strug­gles, except by proxy, exem­pli­fied by the long rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the French peas­antry by the Bona­parte fam­i­ly. Hal Drap­er quot­ed in “Notes from the Edi­tors,” Month­ly Review 55, no. 5 (Octo­ber 2003). 

  45. Marx, “18th Bru­maire,” 479. 

  46. “… the feu­dal oblig­a­tion was replaced by the mort­gage…” Ibid., 481. 

  47. Marx, “18th Bru­maire,” 479. 

  48. Ibid., 482. Thus the num­ber of rur­al pau­pers in France, accord­ing to Marx’s num­bers, is greater than the urban lumpen­pro­le­tari­at, which he sets at 4 mil­lion; also Fanon finds the most impor­tant group of lumpen­pro­le­tar­i­ans in the colonies and post-colonies among the land­less peas­ants. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 1st Ever­green Black Cat Edi­tion (New York: Grove Press, n.d.), 111. The total num­ber of pau­pers, 11 mil­lion, would thus have been almost one third (32.7 per­cent) of all inhab­i­tants in met­ro­pol­i­tan France, which in the peri­od in 1848-52 was around 36 mil­lion. This, inci­den­tal­ly, is the exact same per­cent­age as that liv­ing in “extreme pover­ty” (less than $1.25 p.d.) in India in 2010, as esti­mat­ed by the World Bank. “Pover­ty & Equi­ty Data | India,” The World Bank, 2010. 

  49. Marx, “18th Bru­maire,” 482–3. 

  50. Ibid., 486. 

  51. Karl Marx, “The Civ­il War in France,” in Select­ed Works, vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1969), 226. 

  52. Karl Marx, “From Com­ments on Bakunin’s Book, State­hood and Anar­chy,” in Select­ed Works, vol. 2 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1969), 410–411. 

  53. Marx and Engels, “The Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo,” 118. 

  54. Karl Marx, “The Class Strug­gles in France,” in Select­ed Works, vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1973), 219. 

  55. Marx, “18th Bru­maire,” 442. 

  56. Karl Marx, “The Class Strug­gles in France,” in Select­ed Works, vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1973), 220. 

  57. Marx, “18th Bru­maire,” 422. 

  58. Marx, “18th Bru­maire,” 482. 

  59. Even if, as men­tioned by Trot­sky and Fanon, the dan­ger of a right­ist coop­tion of the lumpen­pro­le­tar­i­ans remains. Trot­sky: “Through the fas­cist agency, cap­i­tal­ism sets in motion the mass­es of the crazed pet­ty bour­geoisie and the bands of declassed and demor­al­ized lumpen­pro­le­tari­at – all the count­less human beings whom finance cap­i­tal itself has brought to des­per­a­tion and fren­zy.” Leon Trot­sky, “Fas­cism: What It Is and How to Fight It,” Pio­neer Pub­lish­ers, August 1944. 

  60. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 1st Ever­green Black Cat Edi­tion (New York: Grove Press, 1968), 137. 

  61. Eldridge Cleaver even explic­it­ly devel­oped a the­o­ry of sur­plus pop­u­la­tion caused by colo­nial dis­place­ment and automa­tion, which he dubbed the lump­eniza­tion of mankind. Eldridge Cleaver, “On the Ide­ol­o­gy of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty,” 1970. See also Elaine Brown, A Taste of Pow­er: A Black Woman’s Sto­ry (New York: Anchor Books, 1993), Joshua Bloom and Wal­do E. Mar­tin, Jr., Black Against Empire: The His­to­ry and Pol­i­tics of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty (Los Ange­les: Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 2013).  

  62. Cf. Bob­by Seale, Seize the Time: The Sto­ry of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty and Huey P. New­ton (Bal­ti­more, MD: Black Clas­sic Press, 1991). 

  63. For a col­lec­tion of texts from the debate between Théorie Com­mu­niste and Dau­vé & Nesic see End­notes, Gilles Dau­vé and Karl Nesic, and Théorie Com­mu­niste, End­notes, vol. 1 (Lon­don, 2008). 

  64. Éti­enne Bal­ibar, Mass­es, Class­es, Ideas: Stud­ies on Pol­i­tics and Phi­los­o­phy before and after Marx (New York: Rout­ledge, 1994), 134. 

  65. Asef Bay­at, Life as Pol­i­tics: How Ordi­nary Peo­ple Change the Mid­dle East, (Stan­ford: Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2013). 

  66. To speak with Edward P. Thomp­son, “The Moral Econ­o­my of the Eng­lish Crowd in the Eigh­teenth Cen­tu­ry,” Past & Present no. 50 (Feb­ru­ary 1, 1971): 76-136. 

  67. See for exam­ple the issue on the “Work­ers Inquiry” of View­point Mag­a­zine, issue 3, edit­ed by Asad Haider and Salar Mohan­desi. See also Mar­ta Malo de Moli­na, “Com­mon Notions, part 1: Work­ers-inquiry, Co-research, Con­scious­ness-rais­ing,” in eipcp, April 2004, Colec­ti­vo Situa­ciones, “On the Researcher-Mil­i­tant,” in eipcp, Sep­tem­ber 2003. For an exten­sive bib­li­og­ra­phy, see For pop­u­lar ped­a­gogy one can start with Pao­lo Freire’s The Ped­a­gogy of the Oppressed (Lon­don: Pen­guin, 1996). Coun­ter­car­tog­ra­phy, anoth­er exam­ple of mil­i­tant research, devel­ops counter-maps of flows of mon­ey, goods and sub­jec­tivites, and forms of strug­gle and orga­ni­za­tion with­in a field of pow­er. See for instance the work by the 3Cs-Col­lec­tive and Coun­termap­ping Qmary. 

  68. On the ques­tion of build­ing pow­er, see my con­tri­bu­tion with Manuela Zech­n­er, “Build­ing Pow­er in a Cri­sis of Social Repro­duc­tion,” in the forth­com­ing issue of ROAR Mag­a­zine

  69. Karl Marx, “Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­i­cal Man­u­scripts, Paris 1844,” in Ear­ly Writ­ings (Lon­don: Pen­guin, 1992), 365. 

Author of the article

is a postdoctoral researcher and member of the editorial collective of Viewpoint.