The Scum of Humanity (1935)

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by Paul Mattick

(International Council Correspondence Vol. 1, no.6, March 1935, pp 9-18)

I

Anyone unfamiliar with politics who strolls into a workers’ meeting (leaving out of consideration the gatherings of the unemployed) is surprised by the fact that the larger part of those present is not to be numbered among the most impoverished stratum of the proletariat. The best organized workers are, of course, those who belong to the so-called labor aristocracy, which takes a social position between the middle class and the genuine proletariat. These trade-unionist organizations espouse the direct vital interests of their members, bringing to them immediate advantages; and yet they are neither able nor do they attempt to politicise their adherents in the socialistic sense. The radical labor movement, on the other hand, can provide its adherents only with ideological satisfaction; it offers them no direct material advantages. And this is precisely why it is incapable of embracing the truly impoverished part of the proletariat. This part, by reason of its very misery, is compelled to concern itself only with its pressing and direct interests if it is not to abandon life altogether. For this reason, the political radical labor movement hovers between the two poles of the working population, namely, the labor aristocracy and the Lumpenproletariat, and is carried on by those elements which, though without illusions on the point that within the present society genuine possibilities of advance are barred to them, nevertheless still maintain a standard of living which permits them to devote money, time and energy to endeavors the fruit of which, in the form of real material advantages for themselves, is deferred to some uncertain future. They set themselves in opposition to the existing society from a recognition of the fact that it has to be changed and because, in spite of this position, it is possible for them to live in it.

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