A 19th Century Magdeburg Citizen on the Difference between Paupers and Proletarians

One of the documents reproduced in Peter Jones’ The Revolutions of 1848 (Harlow: Longman 1981) pp. 78-9 are the observations of an anonymous citizen of Magdeburg in Germany of the fundamental psychological difference between paupers and proletarians. Paupers accept their poverty, while the proletarians actively resented it and the order that caused it. The extract runs:

… the proletarian is aware of his situation. This is why he is fundamentally different from the pauper, who accepts his fate as a divine ordinance and demands nothing but alms and an idle life. The proletarian realised straight away that he was in a situation which was intolerable and unjust; he thought about it and felt a longing for ownership; he wanted to take part in the joys of existence; he refused to believe that he had to through life in misery, just because he was born in misery; moreover he was aware of his strength, as we pointed out above; he saw how the world trembled before him and this recollection emboldened him; he went so far as to disregard Law and Justice. hitherto property had been a right: he branded it a robbery.

We too have a proletariat, but not so well developed. If one were to ask our artisans, who have been ruined by competition and much else, our weavers who are out of work, silk-weavers, those who live in our cassematte and family-homes; if one were bold enough to penetrate these cabins and hovels; if one spoke to the people and took in their conditions; one would realise with a shock that we have a proletariat. Nevertheless, they are not daring enough to voice their demands, for the German is generally shy and likes to hide his misfortune. But misery grow, and we may be quite sure, even as one day follows another, that the voice of poverty will one day be terribly loud!

The policy of successive administrations since Thatcher has been to try to turn the working class from proletarians into paupers. She destroyed the traditional working class heavy industries as part of a deliberate policy of destroying the unions and creating a huge reservoir of the unemployed. See Kittysjones’ recent post on the academic report discussing this, Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom” at http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/tory-dogma-and-hypocrisy-the-big-state-bureaucracy-austerity-and-freedom/. The Tories have then promoted an active psychological policy in which the unemployed and the poor are made to believe that their poverty is somehow their fault, rather than the economic structure of society. This also has the deliberate effect of discouraging the new paupers from enjoying an idle life. So if the Tories don’t want the proletariat to feel they are powerful, they do need them to feel that they can somehow do something about their conditions, a deliberate channelling of part of the surviving proletarian psychology – the desire for ownership – into a form that will accept the increasing stratified economic and social structure. However, increasing numbers of people are seeing their desire for dignity and property frustrated and denied, as they are priced out of the property market, and suffer from the rising prices of the energy companies. And for the unemployed, thanks to government welfare reforms and benefit sanctions, even food has become unaffordable and people are forced to go to food banks to stop themselves from starving.

This cannot and must not continue. The Tories and Tory Democrats should be voted out at the next election as the working people of this country show their awareness of their strength. The voice of the poor, the disabled, the unemployed must be heard. And it must be very loud.

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