The Eighteenth Brumaire of Donald J. Trump: A Response to Bryan Palmer

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 2215 ... October 14, 2020

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Donald J. Trump: A Response to Bryan Palmer

Clyde W. Barrow

Bryan Palmer’s recent contribution to The Bullet (September 28, 2020) offers an interpretation of Donald Trump’s class politics, which purports to challenge my comparison of Donald Trump and Louis Napoleon III as Emperors of the Lumpenproletariat (August 30, 2020). Palmer argues that Trump is better understood as the Stalin of Capitalist Counter-Revolution. Despite our different choice of dictators as competing points of comparison, Palmer agrees that "there is much in The Eighteenth Brumaire, as Barrow insists insightfully, that translates easily into an assessment of Donald Trump." Nevertheless, he is "not convinced that presenting Trump, as Marx does Louis Philippe Bonaparte, as the chief of a déclassé lumpen proletariat, their Emperor brought to power and domination, is useful."

Palmer’s essay raises three objections to my analysis of Trump as Chief and future Emperor of the Lumpenproletariat. First, he argues that by focusing on Trump and the lumpenproletariat, I fall prey to Trump’s theatrics and deflect attention away from the capitalist... class, which is the real class enemy of the working class. Second, Palmer claims that I ignore the role of other classes, particularly the petit bourgeoisie, in explaining Trump’s ascendancy to power. Finally, Palmer argues that the concept of the lumpenproletariat is not a useful tool of analysis, because it is a fluid and heterogeneous social category.

Palmer’s essay neglects many aspects of my analysis and it over-simplifies my position on the role of the lumpenproletariat in contemporary US politics. In doing so, however, Palmer’s essay calls attention to a long-standing unease with the concept of the lumpenproletariat in contemporary Marxist political theory. While Marxists of the 2nd and 3rd International, as well as Marx and Engels before them, grappled hard with the problem of the lumpenproletariat, Marxists began to jettison the concept as an analytic tool in the 1960s, primarily as a reaction to the elevation of the concept by Frantz Fanon and the Black Panther Party, who brought the concept into the heart of New Left political thought and made it the cornerstone of their understanding of the future trajectory of capitalist development in the Global South and the United States, respectively.

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