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Power on the Margins: Lumpenproletarian Resistance in China and Egypt

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Although once the subject of intense theoretical debate, the lumpenproletariat is largely missing from class-based analyses of popular resistance under authoritarianism. This article introduces a new definition of lumpenproletarians in the developing world, focusing on the nature of their work. It then argues that, given their socioeconomic position, these people should eschew participation in conventional social movements but ought to back protests over state abuse. We evaluate this theory using quantitative and qualitative data from two authoritarian developing countries with large grey economies but different histories of unrest: China and Egypt. In both places, we find lumpenproletarians indeed tend to join demonstrations over government and police mistreatment. Moreover, the Egyptian experience shows that the group is susceptible to mobilization for both revolutionary and counterrevolutionary ends.

Keywords: China; Egypt; authoritarianism; lumpenproletarians; protest; revolution

Appeared or available online: June 21, 2022

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