Petty bourgeois

jenyan1 jenyan1 at
Mon May 14 21:41:24 MDT 2001

On Mon, 14 May 2001, Xxxx Xxxxxx wrote:
> You are certainly right, Nestor. I should, however, add that we Marxists
> should find ways of _conceptualizing_ (or to speak,
> in methodological terms) the meaning of  "petty bourgeois" in the third
> world context. To my memory, we discussed this issue before. The bourgeois
> nationalists that led their countries into victory against imperialism were
> not petty bourgeois in the technical sense. I don't know about the class
> origins of Nasser or Peron that much, but Kemal was a military officer,
> whose class roots had tied to the military/bureaucratic class in the
> Ottoman empire. If the meaning of  "petty bourgeois" corresponds to a class
> situation somewhere the between middle and working class, those folks do
> not terribly fit in that typology.
> adios, Xxxx
I realise that is a difficult question and that I was being a bit slipshod
in my use of the term petty bourgeois. I'll try and redress this as best I
can in an explanation below.

The choice of terminology is made more tricky by the fact that there is
rarely a real bourgeoisie in the capitalist sense to be found in the
periphery. Indeed one might suggest that the relative strength of the
bourgeois class in the capitalist countries, almost by definition, gives a
good relative measure of the degree of peripheralisation.

Second thing is that I would be cautious in drawing too many parallels
between the Kemalists whom you say were  tied to the military/bureaucratic
class in the Ottoman empire and the Nasserists. This for the reason that
Kemalism grew in the centre of the decaying Ottoman empire while Nasserism
was in large part a movement that sought to liberate Egypt from the legacy
of foreign domination (by the Ottomans and then the British) and the
latifundists and other domestic reactionaries who flourished under the
tutelage of the British. Thus the Nasserist revolution could and did draw
on a wide base of support from the Egyptian felaheen and the exploited and
oppressed generally. In fact I found the following quote attributed to
Nasser himself:

   "I am proud to belong to this small village of Beni Morr. And I am more
   proud to be a member of a poor family from that village. I am saying
   these words for history that Nasser was born in a poor family and I
   promise that he will live and die a poor man."

Now I don't want to be caught out making the mistake of reading too much
into biographical detail, but this quote is quite consistent with
everything that I have previously heard about the radical-populist
character of the Nasser regime.

So why did I use the term petty bourgeois to characterise Nasserism? Well,
I guess my perception is coloured by what I know of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Here the bourgeois in the technical sense is almost completely lacking,
and the independence movement was generally led by a western educated
strata who, though a product of colonialism, were apparently best
positioned at the time to mobilise the masses (here we mean the peasantry)
against colonial domination. Now it is clearly absurd to call this strata
bourgeois, since has never owned any capital to speak of. They did and
still do come from the the small and medium sized traders and merchants,
the professions, the bureaucracy and the military, but at the same time
retain strong ties to the peasant classes from whence they emerged
relatively recently, over the last 50-100 years or so.

So, if I might be so bold as to draw parallels between Egypt and
Sub-Saharan Africa, I would argue that while both Nasserism and the
revolutions in the Nkrumist mould, drew on a large base of support from
the masses, they were led neither by the masses or the bourgeoisie, but an
intermediate hybrid class that had recently emerged from peasant roots and
grew in the interstices of colonialism.

I would also add that through their ideological confusion and no small
amount of opportunism, the Nassers and Nkrumahs of this world, for all
their achievements in the fight against imperialism and the domestic
reactionaries, frittered away and, in the final analysis squandered the
support of the masses. This is the difficult hand history has dealt us

So Mine, I'm not satisfied with the unqualified use of the catch all
term "petit bourgeois" to describe the class character of third world
nationalist movements like Nasserism. But in the absence of a more
accurate term I'd be prepared to forgive its continued use.
John Enyang

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