Tracksuits, Traumas and Class Traitors
Photograph by Ben Allen via Unsplash
Tracksuits, Traumas and Class Traitors brings together a myriad of threads to produce a truly intersectional picture of the lumpenproletariat in Britain in a way that many ostensibly communist organisations have singularly failed to do. It does this by linking ten encounters from the author’s life to leading revolutionary theory.
The main body of the work is sometimes harrowing reading, and all of them are deeply personal; D. Hunter bares themselves to the reader, in order to analyse these incidents in light of class and oppression that the reader might understand. They write about their sexual abuse by their grandfather, but chooses to use this as a springboard to discuss the needs for carceral reform – abolishing the abusive system that enables abuse, which includes the abusive prison system itself. They discuss striking a female partner with no attempt at excuse, choosing to use it as a means to dissect themselves for the reader to see.
In these ten chapters, Hunter succinctly deconstructs and subverts ‘approved’ working-class narratives. These narratives fall into either stories of victimhood or of wayward individuals turning their lives around, as stories of triumph against the odds. These archetypes litter the terrain of working-class writing: they are acceptable to liberal sensibilities. Hunter’s book does not fit any of these, instead this book will be decidedly uncomfortable reading for someone entrenched in liberal sensitivities due to its unwillingness to sugar coat its stories – its avoidance of happy endings and its resolute laying of the blame at the feet of systems and not individuals.
Each chapter interrogates a particular interaction and relationship between the author themselves and another individual or individuals. The relationship is studied surgically through the lenses of class analysis, queer methodologies, whiteness studies and prison abolitionism, informed by a life spent at the boundary between classical lumpenproletariat and proletariat, the terrain which Sakai dubs the lumpen/proletariat.
Lumpen/proletariat theory is a subject which has been significantly overlooked by revolutionary theorists. Much of that comes down to an over-reliance on single quotations from Marx’s Communist Manifesto describing the lumpen/proletariat as ‘The Dangerous Class, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society.’
With these words from 1848, the lumpen/proletariat of 2020 is uncritically dismissed. The beginning of J. Sakai’s ‘The Dangerous Class’ and Revolutionary Theory: Thoughts on the Making of the Lumpen/proletariat (2017) begins with these important words on revolutionary theory:
The crisis of revolutionary theory right now is that it is plain too old and obsolete. Meaning that in practice it is largely unusable. This is understood as a practical reality, and we usually leave revolutionary theory behind us in the attic when people go out to play. Nowhere is this more important than when it comes to the lumpen/proletariat, that most dramatic, most elusive of maybe-or-maybe-not ‘classes.’ This matters because the revolutionary movement and the lumpen have a much longer and more involved relationship than we have fully owned up to. Whether revolutionaries think it’s good or not, the lumpen are going to play a big part in everyone’s future. No better place then, to start remaking the tool of theory.
Society is made by classes and society is controlled by classes, this is the essence of Marx’s theoretical developments and this should be the starting point for any analysis of society regardless of the content of single cherry-picked quotations. If we fail to understand classes, we will fail to understand the reproduction and transformation of society. Hunter’s book is very much in this vein – a new revolutionary theory of interpersonal relationships for the present, drawing on Marxist and anarchist theory.
There is a rigorous introduction where Hunter justifies their approach, which takes the style of an academic social science research piece, giving it a feel of purpose in its well thought out research while never falling into the air of a detached observer. This is personal, ethnographic, insider research. Hunter’s theoretical underpinnings are informed by many of the most crucial works of Marxism or Marxist-adjacent theory in the past thirty years, including the ground-breaking works of Federici and Mies. Their books, Caliban and the Witch and Patriarchy and Accumulation On A World Scale, do for the patriarchal terrain what J.Sakai did for the settler population of the USA in Settlers: Mythology of the White Proletariat.
One of the most interesting chapters is D. Hunter’s interrogation of the category of whiteness, which they rightly highlight as not being static but dynamic and varied across classes –working class whiteness and middle class whiteness are dynamically different, and it is that middle class whiteness which leads to seemingly absurd scenes where the recent uprisings in the USA result in groups of people ‘renouncing white privilege’ while doing nothing to destroy white privilege. It is this middle-class whiteness which is one side of a coin with white supremacist whiteness on the other.
Hunter’s understanding of this can be seen with this quotation which distils the essence of what whiteness is: ‘Whiteness is not a concrete identity or a specific culture, but one that Noel Ignatiev describes as a set of privileges, which are granted based on loyalty to the dominant power.’
This is Sakai’s very uncontroversial thesis in regard to race and class – whiteness is an exclusive category of privilege granted based on loyalty to the bourgeoisie. Whiteness is the mark of the loyal foot soldier of imperialism; it is learned, reproduced, and wielded across millions of social interactions every day both in Europe and in the white settler colonies of the USA, Israel, South Africa, and Australia.
I would somewhat disagree with the author when they say that,
Whiteness acts as compensation for being exploited by capitalism, and it might not always come in the form of money, but it is always intended to offer a psychological and emotional nourishment which diminishes the effects of being stigmatised for being poor.
This is not because the essence of the second half of their argument, but that I believe whiteness is not compensation for being exploited, it is compensation for loyalty to the bourgeoisie – compensation for doing the dirty work of imperialism and colonialism, and for providing a buffer against the global south for the very small class which controls the means of production. The ruling class gathers around themselves a loyal cadre, who receive some small benefits: ‘psychological and emotional nourishment which diminishes the effects of being stigmatised for being poor.’ This can be summed by this excellent quote from the book:
The economic and psychological wages of whiteness may be more meagre (and thus more precious) the lower down the social hierarchy the white subject is located. However, the performance of whiteness is still one that grants privileges to all who are racialised as white.
I here believe the author makes a small mistake at this point of their analysis by claiming that capitalism strives for homogeneity. I would instead say that it strives to make a ‘normal’ then exclude everything that does not fit this normal as abnormal. The strive for ‘normality’ is more evident when it intersects with the need for a growing population, while at the level of race there is not a striving to ‘make everything white’ instead there is a need to exclude the majority of the global population from the category of ‘white’ to enable and justify exploitation.
D Hunter’s discussions on whiteness can be summed up in this large section quoted in full, from Hunter’s conversations with an imprisoned friend and associate:
D, I get what we’ve got there. It’s alright, but some of it just sounds like you’re a fucking dick. Whining about how because you’re working class you’re a different special kind of white. Now, I am not disagreeing that it’s different for working-class people than it is from being middle class, or them fucking posh twats. But you’ve got to understand, most black folk, they don’t care. You read that to some of the brothers in here right now and they would snap your skinny arms. You and a lot of your pals have got to realise that some Black people are just going to remain fucking pissed off with white people. And they be justified. You’ve all been waiting around far too long, not dealing with your people. And some of what you, no I fucking suppose, what we saying here is that putting all white people in the same bag isn’t accurate. But shit, you all can put up with it for a bit, you’ve been doing it to us for time. I mean, some of the Black men and women you people listen to, fuck, those are ones who never gave a shit about me and my fam. But you nodded your head and patted yourself on your back for listening to a Black dude who acted like a white fucking gangsters in the board room. Telling yourself you’re paying attention to the Black people, that you’re listening to black people, just because you listened to a few of them. You was fucking content to throw the rest of us under the fucking bus. I bet you do it again. Here put this in the book. I will die in here.
The book also shines when it is talking about the power dynamics of sexual relationships, especially in Chapter 7, about the exploitative relationship between D Hunter and Stephen, a psychiatric nurse who he lived with after being discharged from a psychiatric ward. It examines the power which someone will hold over another through controlling access to shelter and food. It mirrors the situation many women find themselves in daily within heterosexual relationships. A man holding security over someone else’s head in exchange for access to sex. Hunter examines this as a single example of the transactional exchange that happens between individuals.
This highlights one of the issues with the book – because of the manner in which it is written certain things feel undeveloped, the author has good ideas and understanding but the time devoted to each individual issue seems small. I felt this particular family power-dynamic could have been developed more, relating it to theory and the wider nature of sexual transactions both in sex work and in relationships between individuals.
While capitalist failings are clearly outlined through this book, potential concrete solutions are also developed. This is not just a victim’s narrative or a voyeuristic look into a world of horror, nor is it an advocate of reformism, but of developing alternative structures and patterns of interaction beyond the capitalist state. Hunter spends considerable time discussing restorative justice as a way to properly and humanely address the punishment-orientated prison system and domestic sexual abuse in particular. The most salient point is that whether such restorative justice works is moot since what exists at the moment does not work – better to try something more humane than persist with the barbarity of the existing system. They also discuss the nascent second wave of disabled liberation and tie it to ongoing organisational and mutual aid work.
There is an overarching theme through this book for those involved in organising: ‘that those who define themselves as socialists, communists or anarchists, must address unequal power relations within their organising and political processes.’
There is a difference between those who condemn white-supremacist, patriarchal capitalism as a theoretical abstract and those who experience it as a daily attack on their life. I find this resonates: D. Hunter talks of class as more than just the relationship to the means of production, that is only the foundation and to treat that as the whole of class is reductionist. The superstructure on top of this economic base are the mannerisms, tones of speech, opinions and attitudes, sense of security, affectations, social policing, and methods of navigating relationships – in essence, how you think and feel. These all sit on top of the relationship to the means of production, but organisations are so often unwilling to examine these, they are unwilling to come face to face with themselves. I have seen this first-hand in ostensibly communist organisations – ‘middle class’ individuals who will accept Marx’s class terms but will not acknowledge their class behaviour let alone think about changing it.
I find myself wanting to read fully developed books on each of the topics the author touches on in relation to the lumpen/proletariat: sex work, domestic violence, the (mental) health-industrial-complex, disabled rights, reactionary views among the lumpen/proletariat, middle-class organisers, intergenerational family violence, the role of fiction and escapism, crime, addiction. Until then. D. Hunter’s Tracksuits, Traumas and Class Traitors is a rare and precious work as an important account of the lumpen/proletariat in Britain.
Morgan S is a writer and Maoist living in Britain.
https://www.ebb-magazine.com/essays/tra ... s-traitors
A while back I suggested that the line between the lowest proles and the lumpen was fuzzy and rather indistinct. My upbringing was an example of that: steady low-wage jobs but always hustles; gambling, street dealing, the stolen goods which are casually 'distributed' in local bars, from steaks to washing machines. My old man would buy 'breakage' from beer truck drivers and sell it under the table to a local liquor store(until the 'revenuers' caught on, yikes!) among other things. In my previous working existence I observed lots of this, the decline in working class wages over these years demands some sort of response in order to 'keep one's head above water' and these adopted by workers who couldn't figure out anything else. Of course organizing labor is another option for improving income but much more difficult these days of 'right to work(be slaves)' laws.
Other than the professional criminals I wonder if lumpen means much at all these days.
off topic discussions