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“To the lumpen mass…” From Deluche

July 28, 2010

Just a comment I wrote on a cross-post thread over on Advance The Struggle.  Original post at …or does it explode?

It’s worth reading the entire A/S thread, but I thought I’d copy my piece here since it speaks to my 9-month experience at the Faithful Fools.  (Damn, that long already?)  A truly wonderful, radically humanist group, rare among non-profits in terms of the depth of its sustained connection to individuals in a community.

Ever since I started living and working here, I’ve wondered what kind of political organizing might take shape in the TL.  In San Francisco lately there’s been some solid direct action around occupying empty buildings on behalf of eviction victims and homeless folks.  At the same time, most people I see here are basically just struggling to survive and heal.  Which, as I say in the comment below, deserves respect and recognition.

Thanks for posting this here — and thanks to Deluche for writing it.

I’m appreciating all the analysis from Icarus and a comrade. Much to think about.

Apart from the political-economic analysis, another current I was seeing in the original post is some attention to the lived experience of tremendous suffering that is happening in “surplus populations” within US urban ghettos, and their overlap with the working class.

Like Deluche says, without blaming or taking out anger on individuals within surplus populations, we can see the ways that being forced to live outside of a formal, legal economy — chronically unemployed, corralled, imprisoned — would (a) foster desperation and (b) support self-medicating addictions, both of which extend a chain of violence.

I don’t know enough about proper definitions of “lumpenproletariat” or surplus populations to comment on Icarus’ objection to an overly narrow focus on drug dealers and sex workers. But to speak just on my own experience living and working in the Tenderloin neighborhood of SF with a homeless community: criminalized addiction, exploitative sex work (amplified by transphobia), and stigmatized mental illness are definitely major factors dominating the scene around here.

At the same time, along with this enormous suffering and harm is the potential for astonishing healing. I haven’t even been working here that long (9 months), and already I’ve seen some incredible, long-time-coming shifts. Folks choosing to move forward in addiction recovery, dealing with depression and PTSD, making beautiful art, showing great generosity to others, and getting their feet on the ground — largely because a group of people stood by them and for years showed committed care, love, and faith in the face of an entire society that tells them they’re worthless and, yes, “parasitic.”

This kind of healing, even on an individual or small community level, is quite inspiring. Can we allow it to inform revolutionary organizing? Can we allow it to illuminate the healing work already taking place (often un-compensated and un-heralded) within the working-class itself, buttressing its power for economic and social transformation?

Seems to me that it’s easier for folks to dis those with no labor-power leverage when we take revolution of capitalism as the sole redemptive struggle in life. In truth, revolutionaries interested in building a better society for humans, animals, and the earth might benefit from learning about the inter-related struggles and healing among the ‘lumpen.’

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