Questions about "the middle class" & the current situation

10 posts / 0 new
Last post
Questions about "the middle class" & the current situation
Printer-friendly version

I've seen the ICC use the term petite bourgeoisie in it's literature more than a few times now, in it's discussions of fascism, nationalism, various revolutionary situations, etc. but I've found it hard to locate a concise outlining of what the term exactly means to the ICC.

According to the US census in the United States there were 27.9 million small businesses with 18,500 of them having 500 employees or more and of course small businesses make up almost 100% of all firms in the US. In the UK, 24.3 million people depend on small businesses for income.

That's quite a large amount and while many of those people are without question selling their labor for subsistence there are surely a good number of people from those statistics who are contract workers, small scale merchants and farmers.

The reason I brought this up is in regard to the whole 99% vs 1% slogan when clearly there are a lot of grey areas. I often wonder how much this group of people actually effects the operations of the state and democracy, etc. People like small business owners and also people selling their labor and still living very comfortably seem to be the most engaged in the "democratic" process, the ones most likely to vote, the ones most likely to have an "informed" opinion about the news and current events, "politics", etc.

How do these things factor in to the current social and economic situation, especially in terms of these violent social upheavals we've been seeing which have been basically amounting to bad news for the working class all the way around; from Occupy to Egypt to Greece to Syria to Ukraine, etc.?

The Economist

A friend wrote to me:  "I do go to websites like the Economist in hopes that they may inch into enlightenment and embrace what the ICC proposes.  They aren't going to but I look for light."  


Is is this not an extraordinary thing to say?  Why would anyone look for political enlightenment such as put forward by the communist left, notably the ICC, in an unchallengeably bourgeois rag like the Economist?  Does it express a secret  hope for a large scale bourgeois "conversion" to communist thought?  But "they aren't going to" the writer says, and he's certainly got that right.  The only "enlightenment" the Economist can shed today is on the process of decomposition going on before our eyes which it can endlessly analyze and advise about, but can never get to the bottom of because  it assumes a bourgeois point of view on all matters. So to "look for light" in a bourgeois magazine, even the Economist,  is a misplaced effort.  Its an even more misplacement of effort, as the writer above implicitly acknowledges, in so far as he already sort of agrees that the ICC's analysis and presumed solution to all our woes ie. the overthrow of capitalism, is in fact and already the "enlightenment" we're looking for. But he can't understand why the Economist can't see this!  And I can't understand why he can't see this?  Why can't he make the break from his critical but lingering love of the bourgeoisie, its ideology and failing economic system and arrive at some advanced rationality by embracing what the  ICC proposes?  Why can't everyone?  

I only raise this matter as I think it may go a little way to answering  the sort of questions Jamal is raising above.  The "petite bourgeoisie", in so far as this includes many people involved in education, finds itself  in a cleft stick and between a silent rock and a hard place. with regards to what I suppose is best called now decomposition. Which way will some of these guys jump when push comes to shove?  


We may wonder which way many of us might jump!  What effect will fear have?  How much will the notion that while things are bad now they could easily be made worse by class war tilt people's reactions one way or the other?    Some folk may be thinking that communism could be okay once we got it, but that the process of getting there could be astoundingly awful.  But then that is to ignore the fact that just staggering on blindly  as we are now, is not just  going to continue quietly forever in a slow drug-numbed kind of disintegration, but will also be astoundingly awful as the signs already show.  The awful inescapable fate facing us all is unavoidably: socialism or barbarism. Like it or not. Admit it or not.  So commit yourself now,  before it's too late! 

petty bourgeoisie, material and ideological

double post

petty bourgeoisie, material and ideological

Jamal's question about the petty bourgeoisie is a useful one as the term can be misused or misunderstood. Certainly the term 'middle class' has been very widely misued in relation to the recent waves of social revolt: in numerous cases, these were classified as 'middle class' because they were led by educated but generally underemployed or unempoyed young people who are essentially part of the proletariat. The situation is different in the movements in the Middle East where the weight of intermediate strata left over from previous modes of production is much stronger

Classically the term petty bourgeoisie represents the small independent producer or businessman caught between bourgeoisie and proletariat, although in decadence and under state capitalism a lot of strata who might have fitted into this definiton have to a considerable extent been proletarianised - among doctors and in sectors like education for example.  But perhaps more important in the central capitalist countries is the weight of the ideology of the petty bourgeoisie which hangs on in society even if its material sources are being eliminated. The impact of various forms of anarchism, democratism, conspiracy theories, notions about 'alternative' forms of money,  individualism, and so on in the Occupy movement is a case in point. There isn't a direct and mechanical link between these ideas and the class composition of those who adhere to them but they do express an ideological fom which may not be directly capitalist but is not proletarian either and can be a serious obstacle to genuine proletarian thought. 


Alf wrote:

 ...But perhaps more important in the central capitalist countries is the weight of the ideology of the petty bourgeoisie which hangs on in society even if its material sources are being eliminated.

I agree: I think alf's emphasis on the -de facto- manifold mystifications that come with the important distinguished classification 'petit-bourgeois' that Marx made helps to depict clearly and explain apparently grey areas quite starkly.

To me the term represents in general all manner of 'in-betweenies' who on a day by day basis may have some limited control over certain aspects of production, distribution with regard to their economic relation: they have some limited degree of control over when, how they sell their labour-power, and an 'apparent' degree of autonomy over their product and to whom they sell it. It is, however, simply the case that they do not own the much much greater means of production, distribution et al.

Take a London taxi driver for example: many own their own cabs (£38,000), after a few years can choose to work whenever they please: there are many who live in Surrey, Kent, Bucks., or villas in Spain, work a month in London - then a month off: quite a few millionaires among them, depending on age, family needs etc. but ... they still experience the increasing repressive nature of the State as Capitalist: it owns the roads, decides on insane new traffic flow measures, arbitrarily changes one way streets, central train station rank layouts etc. and always adversely. Their experience pulls in two opposite directions: 'doing nicely thankyou' then trampled on by a bigger power: reflected in different ways but essentially the same 'cleft stick' that Fred mentions: against the State, against 'beurocrats', 'the council', but not questioning the economic base because their well-paid self-employment hides it/makes it seem 'o.k'

Then there's the 'from corner shop to Supermarket chain' type : that's the Bourgeois myth: you too could be President one day: and this or that individual 'proves' that it can and does happen: the false hope carrot for most but it keeps alive and thriving the eternal, no-better-way-than capitalism myth: the acceptance of competition as a 'fact of life': they are better off in many apparent ways but the truth is hidden until the real Bourgeoisie decide to drive an unecessary railway through their shop and compulsorarily purchase it for peanuts.

Again with the apparently 'independent' artists, artisans, musicians etc. - especially annoyed often, because their product isn't 'commercial': they may even individually try to make politically radical statements and mean it: even that can work out ideologically in many ways: token radical gestures alone or small groups: sensational activism compensating for the reality that no solidarity is possible (unless they follow the revolutionary Proletariat) or their'sensational creation suddenly is 'flavour of the month': a work of 'art' worth 100s of thousands .... It's not just that they personally get rich : it affirms in general the lie that we as humans are defined by our marketable skills: also again the insidious lie that this mode of production (even if made 'nicer') is some natural evolutionary pinnacle and determination, hard work, luck, accident, persistence will 'pay off' in the end.

Would I be right ,Alf, in describing the explosive, kidnapping Bader-Meinhof group as just one example of petit-bourgeois mentality? Recycling, vegetarian shoe wearing, hippie self sufficiency being at the other end of the scale: and a lot in between.

(Apologies Jamal: this doesn't address the other issue of the white-collar wage slave millions I'll come back when I've pondered more.)




Good points about the position of the petty bourgeoisie, AS. On terrorism, the text below argues precisely that Baader Meinhof type groups are expressions of the hopeless rebellion of these strata, as is pacifism (and by extension, hippie alternativism...)

violence and terror

This quote that follows may not have much to do with the status of the middle classes today, but it is a quote from the article referred to by Alf above, which was written in the early and younger days of WR and the ICC and has a quite startling quality to it, and is filled with the excitement of newly discovered ideas uniquely expressed. Well, this is how it strikes me at any rate. And it reminded me of something. 

I recently saw the film "Richard the Second"  again, and was amazed by its  explicit but subtle dramatization of the psychology of fear, and terror.  Everyone in the play is afraid of everyone else and terror bubbles up all the time.  Machiavellianism, recently formulated and published in book form, and clearly grasped completely by Shakespeare, who doubtless knew all about it without needing the book, rules  everyone's actions, and violence is the order of the day, as are constant almost incoherent  expressions of apology offered for its use.  It's like:  "we're sorry for doing this but its unavoidable, and really we don't know why. We wish we did, but we're frightened too. There are things we just can't talk about."   In the film, a lot of this "psychology" is projected through the marvelous acting of the performers and almost without words.  But so strong is Shakespeare's hold on his subject, and amazing versification (the play is full of "quotes") that it only takes an intelligent  production to reveal the depth of meaning at the root of the action.  


And this is the  ICC on the same subject: violence and terror.


MC=ICC wrote:
 Like the movement of capitalism into its imperialist phase, violence combined with exploitation takes on a particular and new quality. It’s no longer an accidental or secondary fact: its presence has become a constant at every level of social life. It impregnates all relationships, penetrates the pores of the social organism, both on the general level and the so-called personal level. Beginning from exploitation and the need to dominate the producer class, violence imposes itself on all the relationships between different classes and strata in society: between the industrialized countries; between the different factions of the ruling class; between men and women; between parents and children; between teachers and pupils; between individuals; between the governors and the governed. It becomes specialized, structured, Organized, concentrated in a distinct body; the state, with its permanent armies, its police, its laws, its functionaries and torturers; and this body tends to elevate itself above society and to dominate it.

 In order to ensure the exploitation of man by man, violence becomes the most important activity of society, which devotes a bigger and bigger portion of its economic and cultural resources to it. Violence is elevated to the status of a cult, an art, a science. A science applied not only to military art, to the technique of armaments, but to every domain and on all levels, to the organization of concentration camps and the installation of gas chambers, to the art of rapid and massive extermination of entire populations, to the creation of veritable universities of psychological and scientific torture, where a plethora of qualified torturers can win diplomas and practice their skills. This is a society which not only “sweats mud and blood from every pore”, as Marx said, but can neither live nor breathe outside of an atmosphere poisoned with cadavers, death, destruction, massacres, suffering and torture. In such a society, violence has reached its apogee and changed in quality - it has become terror.




violence and proletarian ethics

Is it right to say that the violence the proletariat will use against the exploiting classes, has an ethical dimension?  That because it aims for the amelioration of the whole of society proletarian violence is justified. Yet, as violence, it will undoubtedly cause feelings of fear and terror in many individuals. But   this terror, as a mental and physical response to violence, is by no means to be confused with "terrorism" which, in its petty bourgeois futility and desperation seeks nothing beyond the perpetuation of fear and terror for their own sake and is the ultimate gesture of a corrosive decomposition and  nihilism. I hope I've understood this properly. 

MC's article, referred to above by Alf, is a very powerful statement about violence, terror and terrorism, and its use by the various components of class society.  It is also almost  overpowering in its dynamic presentation and it struck me that it could be misunderstood by some of the very elements it thunders against.  But then isn't this a danger with many revolutionary statements; even genuine proletarian revolutionary statements, such as this one? Certain elements in society, especially a society in decomposition, are always on the look out for things to misunderstand and to pervert the meaning of in their own bewildering petty bourgeois confusion; and in this they will of course  find plenty of encouragement coming their way from the Big Bourgoisie, for whom confusion is a life force. 

MC wrote:
 The class violence of the proletariat cannot be terror because its raison d’etre is to do away with terror. To consider them the same is to play with words. The hand of a murderer drawing his knife isn’t the same thing as someone who stops the murder being committed. The proletariat cannot resort to the organisation of pogroms, lynchings, schools of torture, Moscow Trials, as methods for realising socialism. It leaves these methods to capitalism, because they are part of capitalism, they are suitable to its ends and they have the generic name of TERROR.


I take it the ICC reject all

I take it the ICC reject all those Lenin quotes about violence being necessary in the overthrow of the ruling class  and its state? I don't think anyone will able to stop a certain amount of retribution, revenge and counter-violence myself. As much as joy is a necessary ingredient of revolution so too is anger. And, of course what about the civil war which will potentially (I should say probably) occur as an attempted revolution/transition takes place from capitalism to commnism? 

There was a time

When Marx posited at least the possibility - always in International context of course - that in England the 'local' -as it were- moment of overthrow by the 'nationless workers' might be relatively non-violent. It is an old chestnut often brought up in the how 'wrong' Marx could be squabbles (which, to me, misses the point: see below)

Compared with the German Political-Economists, he seems to have regarded even the National Political-Econmists in Britain as more insightful: the workers more advanced, more likely candidates as the combustive match because they were -literally- at the cutting edge of the Industrial revolution. 'Communism you say ?....hmmm ...bally good idea ....let's go for it .. I'll put the kettle on...'

A quaint, unrealistic and faintly ludicrous depiction indeed in the catastrophic present, but the underlying fundamental that it gets across to me is that the necessity of violence, the greater or lesser levels of violence here or there, the longer or shorter duration of that violence in overthrowing this last of ruling classes is in the first instance dictated by the Bourgeoisie.

Fred makes a good point, however, about the way that 'necessarily violent' could come across: slippage from 'violence dictated by The Oppressors' to 'workers must be violent'. Now I understand what Fred means by 'an ethical dimension' to violence but it can easily mis-read to all the 'in betweenies' as something as unmeant as 'greed is dictated by The Bourgeoisie' therefore 'the workers response must be greedy' (not!) Or the thingyfying of 'violence' into an abstract ethical issue up for debate 'When is violence not violence?' discuss and thus completely mystify the issue which as ~Fred says~ is eminently acceptable to the Big Bourgeoisie.

I read 'necessarily violent' in the way it is intended i.e. the Bourgeoisie have enforced submission for a hundred and fifty years and some , with ever more refined, deliberate, and gruesomely violent methods and technology: it is they who 'shoot up the saloons' everywhere in town: it is they who have robbed every stagecoach, homestead at gunpoint for decades (and then shot everyone anyway).

They are the gunslinging gangsters: the world is theirs: the Proletariat with their delegated Wyatt Earps (instantly revocable) go to the O.K.Coral armed of necessity.