Are all members of the petit-bourgeois class necessarily capitalist?

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Hit Me
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Jan 1 2013 07:50
Are all members of the petit-bourgeois class necessarily capitalist?

Let me present to you a hypothetical situation:
Lets say you are an anti-capitalist, but you really like flowers and giving flowers to people, so you become a florist. You want to have independence so you don't work for another florist shop, but rather start your own florist shop. You'd love to give away the flowers at no cost but can't afford to under a capitalist society, but need to because you need money to thrive in such a system (despite your dislike of it). So you open a small flower shop, and employ one or two people. Income is determined based on how much people work, not who was there first or who started the business, so labor exploitation is kept to a minimum. You are still by definition though a member of the petit-bourgeois class.
Obviously this specific example is a hypothetical situation, but there are certainly a lot of analogous situations out there that might lead someone who claims to be anti-capitalist to start up a small business.
I've often heard this class referred to automatically as capitalist though. So my question is why? In the case of our florist friend for example, are there really any other viable options under a capitalist society? If there are any that I'm missing, could it be possible that many members of the petit-bourgeois class simply aren't seeing them and truly are not capitalist?
This isn't applicable to all members of the petit-bourgeois class, but it's definitely applicable to a lot of them. Maybe they aren't all necessarily exploitative but merely turn that way feeling no other option under a capitalist system.
So I guess that brings me to our next question: should we really demonize these people? Yes, I agree that labor exploitation is in no way acceptable; but realistically speaking, some of these people may feel as though there's no real other option in a capitalist society if they actually want to pursue what they want AND be independent. So under capitalist circumstances, is it really right to see them as the enemy 100% of the time? Many of them have even participated in movements like Occupy Wall St. and supported anti-capitalist movements. Maybe some of them DON'T support labor exploitation but see no way around it should they want to pursue what they want to do. Are these people really to share blame with the dreadful capitalist system that has been cast upon them? Should we not see the ones willing to help us change the world as our comrades?
Note that I'm not in any way condoning the exploitation of labor; but having known a few small business (petit-bourgeois) people, it seems as though many of them we could actually get on are side should we not be so obsessed over alienating and criticizing them.
Also, not that I am talking only about the petit-bourgeois class. The bourgeois class I 100% agree is fully culpable for the evils that they commit. I am speaking only of members of the petit-bourgeois class who meet all of the criteria of the aforementioned hypothetical florist.
So to sum things up:
Are they necessarily all capitalist despite exploiting labor?
AND
Should we really try to demonize the ones that could potentially be on our side?
Any thoughts, answers, rebuts, or (insightful and non-insidious) replies would be appreciated.
Thanks!

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Chilli Sauce
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Jan 1 2013 08:36

Hit Me,

I think I've said it before, but I don't think it's good forum ettiquette to post a fairly controversial question and then not respond to any of the replies. I've just had a look and you've started like 10 threads (some of which were pretty provocative--with one that even ended up in the bin) and I don't think you've participated in any of them beyond on the OP.

I'm still going to assume you're posting in good faith and these are legitimate inquiries. However, at a certain point it does become trolling.

radicalgraffiti
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Jan 1 2013 10:33

Are small capitalists capitalist? wall

Hit Me
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Jan 2 2013 01:46

Lets say that this person subsists on his own labor and doesnt employ anyone- would the still be considered capitalists?

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Operaista
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Jan 2 2013 03:09

The entry on "middle classes" in the encyclopedia at Marxists.org might be helpful here. A capitalist is someone who controls means of production - if they own a shop, or otherwise have capital, then they're part of the petit-bourgeoisie. If they don't own capital, but they're self-employed (and in a way where they have real control over their labor, not "self-employed" in the sense their employer is getting out of following labor laws), one could say they're part of the "professional middle class" but this usage can be controversial, and also tends to confuse people, given the very different meaning of "middle class" in common usage and sociology. These classes aren't essential to capital and positions in them tend to be very unstable.

Someone is a capitalist if they own means of production. Class is not a judgment of character nor a set of social traits, but a relationship to the means of production. A capitalist society tends to break down the old "middle classes" (most of them ending up in the proletariat) but also creates stratifications in the proletariat to redirect struggle and maintain itself.

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Chilli Sauce
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Jan 2 2013 22:26

Hit me, while I think targetted conversations are certainly important, I think you might benefit from reading libcom's introductions (in this particular case, check out the one on class):

http://libcom.org/library/libcom-introductory-guide

As for the example about the florist, it's not intentions that matter, but material relationships. Once you employ people--regardless of any sort of remuneration scheme--you're exploiting labor and are thus a capitalist.

One option might be to start a floral co-op. I don't think co-ops are or can be revolutionary, but I think they're a far better way to support and engage with a revolutionary movement than becoming a small business owner.

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Chilli Sauce
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Jan 3 2013 07:57

Is he?

Quote:
you open a small flower shop, and employ one or two people

Being self-employed is one thing (potentially a co-op of one, if you will) and in that sense a member of the petty-bourgoisie could have consistent revolutionary principles--even if they don't have structural revolutionary power.

If you become an employer, well a boss is a boss is a boss and a capitalist is a capitalist is a capitalist.

Harrison
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Jan 3 2013 10:48

iexist, has that poster already posted that personal information elsewhere or not? if not, it would probably be good to edit your post.

capitalist can either mean someone who owns capital or someone who ideologically aligns with capitalism

slothjabber
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Jan 3 2013 14:39

Doesn't 'capitalist' really mean, not 'one who owns capital', but 'one who derives their living from the wage labour of others'? Isn't it employing wage labour that makes you a capitalist?

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Jan 3 2013 17:37
Chilli Sauce wrote:
they don't have structural revolutionary power.

As a class.

I see some muddling of class and individual going on above. Come to think about it I havent read a good text that clarifies and elaborates on the role of pro-revolutionary individuals from non revolutionary classes. Perhaps a minor issue but these friggin edge cases are where all theoretically interested people seem to go camping.

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Chilli Sauce
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Jan 3 2013 23:07

Okay, I guess I meant structural in the sense of as a class, but point taken.

Harrison
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Jan 4 2013 14:25
slothjabber wrote:
Doesn't 'capitalist' really mean, not 'one who owns capital', but 'one who derives their living from the wage labour of others'? Isn't it employing wage labour that makes you a capitalist?

that sounds like a much better definition !

slothjabber
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Jan 4 2013 16:12
Harrison wrote:
slothjabber wrote:
Doesn't 'capitalist' really mean, not 'one who owns capital', but 'one who derives their living from the wage labour of others'? Isn't it employing wage labour that makes you a capitalist?

that sounds like a much better definition !

Whythangyou Harrison, nice to be appreciated.

It is a genuine question though, I mean, I appreciate that Marx derives class position from relationship to the means of production (and therefore, ownership of capital should be what's important) but I'm convinced that this is on the basis that fundamentally, we have to eat, so it's about how you obtain your 'necessities' and if you obtain them using income derived from the labour of others, I'm sure that is in the end what a capitalist is.

It can't be a perfect definition as it stands of course, as it would mean that pensioners were capitalists.

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Jan 6 2013 08:41

That's a good point iexist: feudal lords weren't capitalists.

However, did they own capital? That's a legitimate question. They obviously extracted a surplus value, but it was direct: peasants owned their tools and paid the lord in kind. All productive life wasn't mediated (and obscured) through the money form. Do the means of production still qualify as capital under those circumstances? I don't know.

Be curious to hear others' thoughts.

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Jan 6 2013 11:23
Chilli Sauce wrote:
They obviously extracted a surplus value, but it was direct: peasants owned their tools and paid the lord in kind.

The tithes and tributes weren't "surplus value". It only makes sense to speak of value (and hence of surplus value) in a system of generalized commodity production. What is extracted from peasants, slaves and proletarians alike is "surplus product", the result of "surplus labor". Depending on the social relations this takes place in, the surplus product takes various forms. Surplus value is the historically specific, capitalist form of surplus product. (I guess one could argue that tithes and whatnot were historically specific forms of surplus product in feudal Europe. What they had in common with surplus product in all class societies exepct capitalism was that they were, as you point out, extracted in kind, by direct violence, whereas in an ideali capitalism, surplus product is extracted purely in money and with no direct violence involved.)

Chili Sauce wrote:
All productive life wasn't mediated (and obscured) through the money form. Do the means of production still qualify as capital under those circumstances? I don't know.

No, they don't (capital is always a sum of values).

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Jan 20 2013 00:09

There is a contradiction in the some of these premises - we aim to own the means of production ourselves, so owning the means of production cannot in itself be capitalist.

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Jan 20 2013 01:02

If all means of production are collectively controlled and administered by everyone, can we really say anyone owns them anymore? No, we'd say that private property had ceased to exist (talking about things in terms of ownership at that point would be pretty non sequitor). The goal is not to have the workers at the factory own and run the factory, the workers at the hospital own and run the hospital, but for everyone to collectively administer everything according to the best of everyone's abilities to meet everyone's needs. This is part of a fundamentally different organization of society, not just replacing a bunch of individual capitalists with a collective capitalist.

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Tim Finnegan
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Jan 20 2013 03:39
jura wrote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:
They obviously extracted a surplus value, but it was direct: peasants owned their tools and paid the lord in kind.

The tithes and tributes weren't "surplus value". It only makes sense to speak of value (and hence of surplus value) in a system of generalized commodity production. What is extracted from peasants, slaves and proletarians alike is "surplus product", the result of "surplus labor". Depending on the social relations this takes place in, the surplus product takes various forms. Surplus value is the historically specific, capitalist form of surplus product. (I guess one could argue that tithes and whatnot were historically specific forms of surplus product in feudal Europe. What they had in common with surplus product in all class societies exepct capitalism was that they were, as you point out, extracted in kind, by direct violence, whereas in an ideali capitalism, surplus product is extracted purely in money and with no direct violence involved.)

I think the fundamental distinction is that pre-capitalist forms of surplus were primarily concrete- goods or labour- and abstract only secondarily, as a method of accounting, while in capitalism, surplus is primarily abstract, i.e. value, and concrete only secondarily, to the extent that value requires a physical "vehicle". For the the feudal landowner, a turnip is a turnip, even if he may in certain circumstances translate the turnip into some generalised measure, but for the capitalist farmer, a turnip is X amount of value, and the fact that it's a lumpy vegetable is only significant insofar as it influences how he goes about realising that value.

But, I might be missing something.

Bilge
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Jan 29 2013 17:42

I think what we need to remember is the role of "having mode" (as opposed to being mode - Fromm) that really determines the character of average individual and is the psychological engine of capitalist mentality. Thus we are equipped to take a capitalist turn when the opportunity arises.