Red Letter
Daily Left Theory. 15 Minutes or Less. Refreshes at Midnight.
Transitional Classes
by Marta Hanecker
Estimated Reading Time: 7 min

As we began to think about how to introduce the idea behind the Petty Bourgeois, we ran into other issues. My greatest shame is my complete and utter inability to correctly spell beorgious. I almost got it today researching this reading, but it's a real problem. First, what to make of the popular concept of the Professional Managerial Class. Introduced by John and Barbara Ehrenreich in the late 1970s, the PMC is:

The PMC is a class totally distinct from the petit bourgeoisie (the “old middle class” of artisans, shopkeepers, self-employed professionals and independent farmers). The classical petit bourgeoisie lies outside the polarity of labor and capital. It is made up of people who are neither employed by capital nor themselves employers of labor to any significant extent. The PMC, by contrast, is employed by capital and it manages, controls, has authority over labor (though it does not directly employ it). The classical petit bourgeoisie is irrelevant to the process of capital accumulation and to the process of reproducing capitalist social relations. The PMC, by contrast, is essential to both.

How do we resolve the relationship of the Petty Bourgeois and the PMC? Second, how had the definition of the Petty Bourgeois been developed since Marx? Marx himself seems to think this was a group on their way into being demoted into the proletariat, there was a lot to be said of the role they had played in the rise of various fascist movements, and Marx's definition was almost cursory: how would we define them today?

Perhaps cough cough by Perhaps, we mean tomorrow.... we will return to some of these questions. Today, we settled on Marta Harnecker's definition from her 1981 piece on Social Classes, but wanted to add in two quotes we came across while debating what to post. The first is from G.A. Cohen's Karl Marx's theory of History: A Defense. It's a great footnote defining it:

"Structural characterization of the petty bourgeois: he owns his labour power, but he does not sell it to another. If he owns means of production, then he does not do so on a scale which enables him to live without labouring. Thus he is forced to labour, though not forced to labour for another. Within the petty bourgeoisie so defined, we may distinguish between those who do and those who do not hire the labour power of others."

Later, we came across this quote from the Definitions section of "The Ideology of the Young Lords Party," their definition of class:

CLASS: The group of persons that an individual belongs to all of whom make their living the same way. For instance, lumpen make their living by surviving–stealing, prostitution, dope, etc. The workers make their living by working for someone. The petty bourgeoisie make their living by working for themselves, the peasants make their living working on the land for themselves or someone else. The bourgeois make their money off the labor of everyone else. They don’t work at all.

Marta, take it away...

Transitional Classes are the classes which only appear at the level of the social formation as the effect of the disintegration of old relations of product ion and which tend to decompose as the new relations of production develop.

The petty bourgeoisie, that is, independent, petty producer (artisan or peasant) is a typical example of a transitional class.

First, let us look at the agrarian petty bourgeoisie or the PEASANTRY in the strict sense.

Where historically there has existed a regime of production based on serfdom, the abolition of the bonds of servitude has liberated the old serfs, converting them into more or Jess independent petty producers. But the disappearance of serfdom does not happen by chance or the good will of the "lords,' but by the pressure exerted by incipient capitalism, which, after a certain degree of urban development, begins to penetrate the countryside.

Capitalist penetration of the countryside produces a disintegrating effect on this class which little by little is transformed into a rural proletariat and a rural bourgeoisie. The peasantry as a class, therefore, tends to disappear. Unable to compete with capitalist production in the market, due to its higher production costs, it either goes to ruin and is converted into a rural proletariat or emigrates to the city, except for some rare exception who manage to hold firm and become rich peasants rising to the ranks of rural bourgeoisie.

This decomposition of the peasantry is an irreversible process so long as the capitalist laws of production dominate. No "desire" to maintain the petty producer can detain this process but measures can be taken to diminish its velocity.

The same thing happens with the small, independent producers, that is, these producers who are also the owners of their means of production. The impossibility of competing with the capitalist enterprises in the market reduces them, little by little, to the conditions of proletarians.

Therefore, the petty bourgeoisie (small peasant producers and artisans who produce in a mercantile economic regime) does not exist as a class at the level of a pure mode of production, but appears as such at the level of the social formation, as a transitional class which arises from the disintegration of the relations of production based on serfdom and tends to disappear as the capitalist relations of production are extended.

The isolation of its members, due to their independent form of production, their transitory nature, and their position between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie determines their characteristics at the different levels of the social formation.

From the economic point of view, the petty bourgeoisie

17. Lenin, "What the 'Friends of the People' are and How They Fight the Social Democrats."
is an exploited class, dominated by the capitalist system, but precisely due to its isolation, caused by its very conditions of production, it is locked into this position and this determined form of exploitation. The petty bourgeoisie is not in a condition to understand the class character of this exploitation and of this oppression, which it suffers, often, no less than the proletariat; it is not in a condition to understand that the state in bourgeois society cannot help from being a class state. 17

From an ideological point of view, because of his/her transitional nature, the petty producer has a dual situation; he/ she is on the one hand, a progressive element insofar as he/she represents Liberation from the former regime of dependency, and on the other a reactionary element as he/ he struggles to maintain his/ her position as an independent, petty producer posing obstacles to economic development.

The intermediate situation which he/ she occupies, between bosses and workers, makes him/ her fluctuate between the interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Moreover, this is the class most susceptible to the ruling ideology, with which it establishes certain relations that prevent it from perceiving the objective conditions of its servitude and of its future destruction.

To close, we quote this excellent passage from Lukacs about the petty bourgeoisie:

18. George Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness
This class (petty bourgeoisie) lives at least in part in the capitalist big city and every aspect of its existence is direetly ex.posed 10 the influence of capitalism. Hence it cannot possibly remain wholly unaffected by the/act of class conflict between bourgeoisie and proletariat. But as a 'transitional class in which the interests of two other classes become simultaneously blunted ... 'it will imagine itself 'to be above all class antagonisms'. Accordingly it will seach for ways whereby it will 'not indeed eliminate the two extremes of capital and wage labour, but will weaken their antagonism and transform it into harmony'. In all decisions crucial for society its actions will be irrelevant and it will be forced to fight for both sides in turn but always without consciousness. 18
Transitional Classes
Communism Is How We Forcibly Break Apart the Organized Power of the Capitalist Class
   Suggestions and Materiel can be sent to   ?s    YTD Doubt Everything