[Marxism] Petty-bourgeois

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Wed Aug 18 07:01:25 MDT 2004

Anthony wrote:

What part of the United States is Petty bourgeois? In
my opinion a lot more than the 9-10 million small
business owners cited by Juriaan.

Just for the sake of clarity, I never claimed that the petty-bourgeoisie as
a class or subclass or social stratum equals 9-10 million small business
owners. That aside, I also referred to new middle classes of high-income,
salaried professionals.

What I am saying is, that to characterise the petty bourgeoisie, a real
follower of Marx would not tout a concept but would make a specific analysis
of a specific petty-bourgeoisie in a specific country, looking at employment
status, occupational structure, income level, culture, power, and
social/political outlook, within the framework of time.

For the sake of insight into the class hierarchy, class status or class
relations can be viewed synchronically (structurally) or diachronically
(dynamically), as well as objectively and subjectively.

As regards the last-mentioned, you could for instance trace the lifecycle of
a human being who faces the challenge of a sequence of standard problems in
life which s/he must resolve: growing up, making friends, getting an
education, adopting certain values, getting a job, finding a mate, obtaining
a satisfactory home, raising kids, seeking to improve his existence, drawing
conclusions about the way life is or could be, and so on.

To define the pettybourgeoisie, would then require specifying the
characteristic or typical strategies which the petty-bourgeoisie has for
resolving these life-problems, in contrast to the way the working class or
the haute bourgeoisie would resolve them, ie.. given a hierarchical social
order, what the class-specific response to that is.

However, the question is what the purpose or motive of this class analysis
would be - is it to explain social classes, or use class to explain
something else ? Is to to explain the social forces behind the political
policy and ideology expressed by the polity ? Is it to say that class
divisions are a bad thing or the root of the evil, or that some categories
of people are preferable to others ? Is it to specify the dynamics of class
conflict and class power in the struggle over the ownership and control of
wealth and resources ? Is it to predict future social or political outcomes
? Is it to understand with what language and concepts to intervene in
politics, and plot a path of political intervention ? Is it to specify how
knowledge about class relations is best obtained ? Is it to explain popular
mentalities or popular moralities ?

The problem I have for example with the panorama of monumental oppression of
academia by government and business which Prof. Lause sketches is, that
whereas it might clarify what you're against, or up against, it doesn't
really clarify how you could intervene, for the purpose of changing things
to the advantage of the class or classes you support. It isn't talking about
what is to be done, but only about what is to be undone :-).

The two main new "insights" into "class" that were created by my generation

(1) Mobility principle: it is possible to rise out of, or get around your
class, faster than was previously thought possible, and
(2) Gnostic principle: extensive personal experience of classes and their
lives suggest, rightly or wrongly, that far less theorising is required to
obtain usable knowledge about how society really is, than previously
thought, i.e. the dogged insistence of Marxists on theory and doctrine is
often at the expense of other modes of obtaining knowledge, which are far
more effective and have more effect (implying Marxists are losers).

The main new experience of my generation was the rapid increase in
discontinuities and breaking points in the course of life, i.e. an increased
number of job changes, life changes etc and a lower expectation of being
able to view life as a cumulative, secure continuity of experiences forming
a coherent totality. So, fewer constants, more changes, such that change
almost becomes a constant itself.

Frank Furedi's next book is called "Where Have All The Intellectuals Gone:
Confronting 21st Century Philistinism" which really suggests not just that
Furedi want to say "I am not a philistine, and don't like hanging out with
them, I would rather concern myself with lively, inquiring minds" but that
the creation of an elaborate, systematic theoretical structure for the
purpose of fathoming the depths of social reality (if you like, a "grand
narrative") in modern society is conceived as useless, because:

- the chances of making a lot of money from systematic social knowledge in a
partisan way are slim
-  there are better, more efficient ways of obtaining knowledge (through
direct experience, personal networks, interactions, selective use of
information technology, etc.).
- obtaining knowledge is only functionally desirable if it advances your own
- that all this knowledge about society is not necessary for a good,
pleasurable life,
- that the complexity of modern society is so great, that either it cannot
be understood in its totality even if we spent a lifetime at it (hence no
need to bother) or that the limitations of what we can know are so great,
that only a fool would attach more importance to it than it is really worth.
- there is no point in expressing what you know or who you know, unless it
makes you better off, because of the ease by which you are manipulated
through that.
- what you can expect from life in your lifetime is pretty much known by
now, and extensive theoretical knowledge plays only a minor role in it.

Orthodox Marxism in the tradition of Lenin and Kautsky defined classes
doctrinally in terms of relations of production, essentially ownership
relations. But this was clearly not Marx's own view; Marx defined classes in
terms of a whole mode of life, a totality of life circumstances affecting a
large mass of people, and at at least implied the existence and possibility
of more principles of class structuration and class exploitation in the
social hierarchy.

It may be that class identity is rooted in the social relations of
production, but relations of distribution co-determine class formation,
since modes of exchange and trade can raise or lower social position
independently from production, and income source refers both to production
and distribution. The insistence on relations of production is necessary,
only because the distribution of wealth through the market is mainly shaped
by ownership or non-ownership of productive assets, but that is not to say
that relations of distribution and exchange, or even of consumption, cannot
also shape class position, because they do.


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