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 bourgeoisie17. 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