The bourgeoisie are the ruling class, the owners of the means of production. The bourgeoisie differs from the petit bourgeoisie in that it refers specifically to the ruling or upper class who do not constitute any part of the proletariat. The source of income of the bourgeoisie is surplus value, which is created by unpaid labor and is appropriated by the capitalists.
In the period of feudalism in the countries of Western Europe, "bourgeois" meant the inhabitants of the cities. The development of the trades and of commodity production led to the class stratification of the urban population, from which elements of the bourgeoisie began to emerge at the end of the 15th century. “From the serfs of the Middle Ages” wrote K. Marx and F. Engels in the Communist Manifesto, “sprang the chartered burghers of the earliest towns. From these burgesses the first elements of the bourgeoisie were developed”. The bourgeois class was made up of traders, usurers, the wealthiest guild masters, the leading elements of the countryside, and feudal lords. As industry, trade, and navigation developed, the bourgeoisie gradually concentrated in its hands ever-increasing masses of wealth and money capital. The formation of the bourgeoisie as a class was linked to the era of the so-called primary accumulation of capital, which mainly consisted in the expropriation of land and labor tools from the broad masses of people and which relied heavily on colonial pillage and seizure. During this era, the conditions were created for the birth and development of the capitalist mode of production—a mass of wage workers free of personal dependence and the means of production was created, and large sums of money capital were concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie.
The discovery (1492) and colonization of America, the discovery of a sea route to India around Africa (1498), and the expansion of trade with the colonies created a new field of activity for the incipient bourgeoisie. Guild production could no longer satisfy the growing demand for goods. The manufactory came to replace the handicraft shops, as did large-scale machine industry later, as a result of the industrial revolution that began in England in the mid-18th century and spread to Europe and North America. A new class entered the historical arena—the proletariat, which is the antagonist and gravedigger of the bourgeois class.
Struggle against feudalism
The development of capitalist production made it essential for the bourgeoisie that the political domination of the feudal lords be eliminated. Striving to put an end to the feudal fragmentation that hindered the development of trade and industry, the bourgeoisie headed, in its own class interests, the movement of the masses of the people against feudalism. The bourgeoisie came to power as a result of the bourgeois and bourgeois democratic revolutions that occurred in the countries of Western Europe and North America during the 16th to 18th centuries and in a number of other countries later on.
In the struggle against feudalism, the bourgeoisie played a historically progressive role. Under its leadership the dominance of feudal relationships was liquidated by the dictates of the objective laws of the development of productive forces. The bourgeois revolutions proceeded under the banner of the ideas of the Enlightenment; they furthered the progress of science and technology. The age-old isolation of small-scale production was destroyed; there was collectivization of labor, which as a result increased in productivity. With the development of industry the bourgeoisie subordinated the countryside to the domination of the city. It created national markets and bound all the parts of the globe into one world market through economic ties. “The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured as if out of the ground—what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?” .
Rise of capitalism
The rates of formation of the bourgeoisie and the degree of its influence were different in different countries: “While a rich and powerful bourgeoisie was forming in England from the 17th century and in France from the 18th century, in Germany it is possible to speak of the bourgeoisie only from the beginning of the 19th century”.
V. I. Lenin distinguished three historical epochs in the development of the bourgeoisie as a class. The first (to 1871) was the epoch of the rise and formation of the bourgeoisie, “the epoch of the rise of the bourgeoisie, of its triumph”. The second (1871-1914) was the epoch of the complete domination and the beginning of the decline of the bourgeoisie, “the epoch of transition from its progressive character toward reactionary and even ultrareactionary finance capital”. The third (from 1914) was “the epoch of imperialism and imperialist upheavals as well as of upheavals stemming from the nature of imperialism, ” when the bourgeoisie, “from a rising and progressive class has turned into a declining, decadent, internally dead, and reactionary class”.
During the period when capitalism was on the rise, the bourgeoisie of England—“the workshop of the world”—held the leading position. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the aggressive imperialist bourgeoisie of Germany began to move into first place in Europe. However, by this time the monopolistic bourgeoisie of the USA, the greatest international exploiter and chief bulwark of international reaction in the contemporary era, began to gain strength rapidly.
Competition leads to profound changes in the arrangement of forces within the bourgeois class; as a result, the highest strata of the bourgeoisie begin to play a decisive role in capitalist society. The bourgeoisie is subdivided into the industrial, commercial, banking, and rural bourgeoisies as a function of the sphere in which capital is applied. A struggle goes on between individual capitalists and layers of the bourgeoisie over the distribution of surplus value; however, the bourgeoisie acts as a single class of exploiters in opposition to the proletariat and toiling people in general.
With the development of capitalism, the contradiction between the social character of production and the private form of appropriation sharpened. The concentration of production and its growing scope was accompanied by the centralization of capital and the concentration of vast resources in the hands of, and under the control of, the ever-narrower upper strata of the bourgeois class. This process was accelerated by periodic crises of overproduction. By the early 20th century, on the basis of the processes of concentration and centralization of capital and production, free competition was becoming monopoly. The monopolistic bourgeoisie took shape as the ruling stratum of bourgeois society.
Concentration and centralization of capital ruined small, middle, and some upper capitalists. The proportion of the bourgeoisie in the gainfully employed population and the population at large of the capitalist countries decreased. In the USA, for example, in 1870 owners of enterprises and proprietors of firms (along with petit bourgeois, managers, and high officials) made up 30 percent of the employed population; by the figure was 23 percent; and in their proportion was 15.9 percent. In Great Britain, entrepreneurs made up 8.1 percent of the gainfully employed population in 1851; in 1951, they were only 2.04 percent. On the whole, the big bourgeoisie amounted to approximately 1-3 percent of the gainfully employed population in highly developed capitalist countries in the mid-20th century.
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The struggle of a progressive class (the proletariat) against a reactionary one (the bourgeoisie) constitutes the substance of the modern epoch, which is mankind’s transition from capitalism to socialism.
In this struggle, the proletariat and its Marxist-Leninist parties take account of the changes and shifts that are taking place within bourgeoisie at the present time. The concentration and centralisation of production have ruined a lot of small, middle and some big capitalists, thus reducing the proportion of bourgeoisie in the gainfully employed population and the entire population in the capitalist countries. bourgeoisie makes up approximately from 1 to 3 per cent of the employed population in the developed capitalist countries. Having turned from an erstwhile rather numerous class into a superconcentrated, scanty, ruling elite, bourgeoisie has strengthened its economic and political positions in society. As different forms of state-monopoly capitalism developed and the scientific and technological revolution advanced, bourgeoisie became stratified. Small capitalists constitute a stratum—the biggest in number and the smallest in power—of owners of small industrial and commercial firms and service enterprises, as well as the agricultural bourgeoisie, exploiting a small number of wage-labourers (from 4 to 50). Some ruined small capitalists join the petty bourgeoisie, who live by their own labour, or become employees. The middle bourgeoisie includes owners of bigger enterprises (employing from 50 to 500 workers). The big bourgeoisie employs thousands of wage workers, while the scanty monopoly bourgeoisie—the tycoons of trusts, corporations and banks—in fact exploit the toiling people not only of their countries, but of other countries too. The leading position within the state-monopoly bourgeoisie is held by the financial oligarchy—the proprietors of major industrial, bank, insurance, transport and commercial monopolies. This part of the bourgeoisie holds the key positions in the economic and political life of the capitalist countries. In fact, it determines the domestic and foreign policy of the capitalist states in its own interests and is mainly to blame for the social hardships of the working people. Many small, middle and some big capitalists have virtually become subcontractors of monopolies and have lost their independence. All this, coupled with the unequal distribution of profits, increases the gap between the interests of the 21 monopoly bourgeoisie and those of the non-monopoly bourgeoisie The financial oligarchy and the monopolistic top layer, which on many issues loses the support of small and middle capitalists, join ranks with, or often even include in their ranks, big landowners, latifundistas, managers, bourgeois politicians, party and trade-union bosses, high government officials, representatives of the army, police and the secret service (the military clique). A number of countries are witnessing the growth of the military-industrial complex, i. e. the alliance between military-industrial monopolies, reactionary top brass circles and the state bureaucracy. The present-day monopoly bourgeoisie makes increasingly broad use of the state in its own class interests along with the methods of programming and forecasting production, the state funding of scientific and technological progress, military production, and imperialist integration. Yet all of this does not make it possible for bourgeoisie to control the forces of anarchy on the capitalist market, or to keep the deepening contradictions at bay. The decay of bourgeoisie is manifest in the growth of parasitism, corruption, moral degradation, and political adventurism, bordering on criminality within its ranks. The social gulf between the monopoly bourgeoisie and the mass of the toiling people is becoming ever wider and deeper.
- Bourgeoisie. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979).
- Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4, p. 425
- ibid., p. 429
- F. Engels, ibid., p. 48
- Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 26, p. 143
- ibid., pp. 143, 145-46
- Bourgeoisie. A Dictionary of Scientific Communism