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Representation of the Lumpenproletariat , lithograph, late 19th century

The term lumpenproletariat was coined by Karl Marx and describes the variety of people with different class origins, but especially proletarians who have descended to the lowest end of society or who come from it and do not do any typical wage work . Politically, they are often unreliable, passive and reactionary for Marx because of their situation in life .

Lumpenproletariat after Karl Marx

Marx used the term for the first time in his argument with Max Stirner , whom he criticized for confusing the proletariat with “ruined bourgeois and ruined proletarians, [...] a collection of rags that have existed in every age”; H. with pauperism , which is "the situation only of the ruined proletariat, the last stage to which the proletarian who has become unresisted against the pressure of the bourgeoisie sinks, and only the proletarian who is deprived of all energy is a pauper." Out of all classes ”, Marx counted the“ shattered livelihoods with ambiguous means of subsistence and of ambiguous origin, depraved and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, vagabonds, released soldiers, released prisoners, runaway galley slaves, crooks, jugglers, gamblers, pickpockets, pickpockets, Brothel keepers, porters, writers, organ turner, rag collectors, scissors grinders, tinkerers, beggars, in short, the whole indefinite, dissolved, to and fro mass that the French call ' la bohème ' ”. In the Communist Manifesto , Marx / Engels described the sub- proletarian groups as “passive decay of the lowest strata of old society”. Even if they were to be “thrown into the movement in places” in the proletarian revolution expected by the authors, they would be “more willing to allow themselves to be bought into reactionary activities” according to their whole situation. As the “mobile guard” of the reaction, Marx saw a danger in the Lumpenproletariat. The fact that the “lumpen proletariat”, which is very heterogeneous in its composition, cannot be organized like the industrial workers, has little awareness of its interests and is open to bribery by the class opponent, was seen as a problem in the workers' movement. It was ruled out as an ally of the working class because of its unreliability and inability to develop proletarian class consciousness . Politically and economically, the rag proletariat (vagabonds, criminals, prostitutes) is determined in Marxian capital as part of the “deepest precipitate” of the relative overpopulation (the industrial reserve army ) that produces capital.

Litter of all classes and source of crime

The attacks against the "lumpenproletariat" were not limited to the materially lowest class. Engels (1887/88) identified (1887/88) in a "numerous parasitic nobility" in the lower stratum of the Prussian Junkers a "noble lumpenproletariat", "that of getting into debt, a dubious game , Intrusiveness, begging and political espionage “live.

Rosa Luxemburg , on the other hand, spoke of the “lumpen proletariat” as of “criminals and prostitutes”. On the other hand, however, it referred to “a special layer” of “social waste” that grew “huge” in a phase of social upheaval. She located their emergence in “all layers of civil society”, namely as the result of their “lumpiness”. "Graduations between commercial price influx , slaughterhouse pushes, fictitious occasional business, food forgery, cheating, official embezzlement, theft, burglary and robbery" would merge in such a way that "the line between the respectable bourgeoisie and the prison" blurred. If the “conventional barriers and supports for morality and law” fell away in situations of upheaval, bourgeois society “immediately and unrestrainedly fell victim to simple rottenness”.

Apart from these more or less theory-based definitions of “lumpenproletariat” and “Verlumpen”, the everyday understanding of the broad majority population saw in this a milieu of “ antisociality ” and a place of origin of crime . As the turn of the 20th century the population sanitary notions of Sozialhygienikern started to become popular, their interest was focused primarily on the labeled as "anti-social" sub-proletarian groups. In 1912, the hygienist Alfred Grotjahn , a member of the SPD and, in the Weimar Republic, a member of the Reichstag and author of the health policy section of the Görlitz program (1922), described it as a "sediment of the population" and a "population conglomerate [...] made up of vagabonds, work shy, peddlers, Prostitutes, pimps, drunkards and other neglected people ”, at the top of which would be“ criminal natures ”. It is about "a danger and a burden for every community".


  • Gerd Stein: Lumpenproletarian - bigwig - hero of work. Treason and Solidarity. Cultural figures and social characters of the 19th and 20th centuries . Volume 5, Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 1985, ISBN 3-596-25039-0 .
  • Michael Schwartz : "Proletarians" and "Rags". Socialist origins of eugenic thought . In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte , Volume 42 (1994), pp. 537-570 ( PDF ).
  • Michael Schwartz: Socialist Eugenics. Eugenic social technologies in debates and politics of the German social democracy 1890–1933 , Bonn 1995.

Web links

Wiktionary: Lumpenproletariat  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. JBfGOE, Volume 46, p. 366.
  2. Werner Stark: The Sociology of Knowledge: A Contribution to a Deeper Understanding of Spiritual Life, 1960, p. 247.
  3. Popper: The open society and their enemies, Vol. II, 8th edition, Tübingen 2003, p. 174.
  4. Die deutsche Ideologie , MEW 3, p. 183 [1]
  5. The Eighteenth Brumaire by Louis Bonaparte , chap. V, MEW 8, 160f [2]
  6. Manifesto of the Communist Party , MEW 4, 472 [3]
  7. The Eighteenth Brumaire by Louis Bonaparte , chap. I, MEW 8, 121 [4]
  8. ^ Marx, Das Kapital, MEW 23, 670–674.
  9. Friedrich Engels, The role of violence in history, quoted in according to: [5] .
  10. Rosa Luxemburg, “Introduction to the National Economy”, pp. 751–757, here: p. 753, in: dies., Gesammelte Werke. Published by the Institute for Marxism-Leninism at the Central Committee of the SED. Vol. 5, Berlin (GDR) 1975, see also: [6] .
  11. Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, Part 4, cited above. according to: [7] .
  12. Patrick Wagner, Crime prevention qua mass murder. The socio-biological conception of the Nazi criminal police and its significance for the persecution of gypsies. In: Michael Zimmermann (Ed.), Between Education and Destruction. Gypsy Policy and Gypsy Research in Europe in the 20th Century. Stuttgart 2007, pp. 379-391, here: p. 387.