front cover of The Dangerous Class
The Dangerous Class
The Concept of the Lumpenproletariat
Clyde W. Barrow
University of Michigan Press, 2020
Marx and Engels’ concept of the “lumpenproletariat,” or underclass (an anglicized, politically neutral term), appears in The Communist Manifesto and other writings. It refers to “the dangerous class, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society,” whose lowly status made its residents potential tools of the capitalists against the working class. Surprisingly, no one has made a substantial study of the lumpenproletariat in Marxist thought until now. Clyde Barrow argues that recent discussions about the downward spiral of the American white working class (“its main problem is that it is not working”) have reactivated the concept of the lumpenproletariat, despite long held belief that it is a term so ill-defined as not to be theoretical. Using techniques from etymology, lexicology, and translation, Barrow brings analytical coherence to the concept of the lumpenproletariat, revealing it to be an inherent component of Marx and Engels’ analysis of the historical origins of capitalism. However, a proletariat that is destined to decay into an underclass may pose insurmountable obstacles to a theory of revolutionary agency in post-industrial capitalism. Barrow thus updates historical discussions of the lumpenproletariat in the context of contemporary American politics and suggests that all post-industrial capitalist societies now confront the choice between communism and dystopia.
 
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front cover of Disciplining the Poor
Disciplining the Poor
Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race
Joe Soss, Richard C. Fording, and Sanford F. Schram
University of Chicago Press, 2011

Disciplining the Poor explains the transformation of poverty governance over the past forty years—why it happened, how it works today, and how it affects people. In the process, it clarifies the central role of race in this transformation and develops a more precise account of how race shapes poverty governance in the post–civil rights era. Connecting welfare reform to other policy developments, the authors analyze diverse forms of data to explicate the racialized origins, operations, and consequences of a new mode of poverty governance that is simultaneously neoliberal—grounded in market principles—and paternalist—focused on telling the poor what is best for them. The study traces the process of rolling out the new regime from the federal level, to the state and county level, down to the differences in ways frontline case workers take disciplinary actions in individual cases. The result is a compelling account of how a neoliberal paternalist regime of poverty governance is disciplining the poor today.

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front cover of The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed
Karl Marx’s Debates on Wood Theft and the Right of the Poor
Daniel Bensaïd
University of Minnesota Press, 2021

Excavating Marx’s early writings to rethink the rights of the poor and the idea of the commons in an era of unprecedented privatization
 

The politics of dispossession are everywhere. Troubling developments in intellectual property, genomics, and biotechnology are undermining established concepts of property, while land appropriation and ecological crises reconfigure basic institutions of ownership. In The Dispossessed, Daniel Bensaïd examines Karl Marx’s early writings to establish a new framework for addressing the rights of the poor, the idea of the commons, and private property as a social institution.

In his series of articles from 1842–43 about Rhineland parliamentary debates over the privatization of public lands and criminalization of poverty under the rubric of the “theft of wood,” Marx identified broader anxieties about customary law, property rights, and capitalist efforts to privatize the commons. Bensaïd studies these writings to interrogate how dispossession continues to function today as a key modality of power. Brilliantly tacking between past and present, The Dispossessed discloses continuity and rupture in our relationships to property and, through that, to one another.

In addition to Bensaïd’s prescient work of political philosophy, The Dispossessed includes new translations of Marx’s original “theft of wood” articles and an introductory essay by Robert Nichols that lucidly contextualizes the essays.

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