"Bourgeois" as a Meaningless Pejorative

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"Bourgeois" as a Meaningless Pejorative

Post by Celtiberian on Mon Jun 27, 2011 7:12 pm

Just as George Orwell remarked in 1946, the word "Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable'"—thereby losing any descriptive value it once possessed—so too has the term "bourgeois" been misused to the point where it represents little actual meaning anymore.

The definition of bourgeoisie is, of course, very straightforward:

"By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage laborers."
(Friedrich Engels, 1848)

However, "bourgeois" is now carelessly attached to anything the neo-"Marxists" should happen to dislike. Thus, we have socialist presidents, like Hugo Chávez and Raúl Castro, being casually dismissed as mere "petit-bourgeois dictators," and even explicitly anti-capitalist varieties of nationalism being labeled "bourgeois nationalism." The sheer absurdity of of associating individuals who possess no private ownership over means of production, and ideologies which adamantly oppose the very notion of a capitalist class, with the bourgeoisie should be transparent to anyone with a functioning brain; but, alas, this never seems to phase the neo-"Marxists."

Has anyone else observed this annoying phenomenon in the contemporary Left?


Last edited by Celtiberian on Tue Jun 28, 2011 3:21 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: "Bourgeois" as a Meaningless Pejorative

Post by Admin on Mon Jun 27, 2011 8:04 pm

I agree with this criticism at one level. However, the term can also apply to certain shared characteristics (that transcend the parameters of production itself) between the bourgeois class — in their ethics, tastes, values, etc. — and certain individuals, ideas, etc.

Of course, I agree that the manner by which the term is often employed is senseless and superfluous.
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Re: "Bourgeois" as a Meaningless Pejorative

Post by Celtiberian on Mon Jun 27, 2011 8:24 pm

Admin wrote:I agree with this criticism at one level. However, the term can also apply to certain shared characteristics (that transcend the parameters of production itself) between the bourgeois class — in their ethics, tastes, values, etc. — and certain individuals, ideas, etc.

Yes, but the individuals and ideas that are commonly referred to as "bourgeois" by many neo-"Marxists" do not, in my opinion, harbor any of the ethics or values that can be attributed exclusively to the bourgeoisie. Nationalism obviously long precedes the capitalist mode of production, Hugo Chávez doesn't adhere to Lockean property acquisition theory (or any other bourgeois ethic), etc.

Even if we were to hypothetically accept the validity of using the term "bourgeois" as an epithet to refer to characteristics of the bourgeoisie that transcend production itself, they're still guilty of misusing the term to a ridiculous extent.

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"The dogma of human equality is no part of Communism . . . the formula of Communism: 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs', would be nonsense, if abilities were equal."
—J. B. S. Haldane Hammer Sickle

"Nationality. . . is a historic, local fact which, like all real and harmless facts, has the right to claim general acceptance. . . Every people, like every person, is involuntarily that which it is and therefore has a right to be itself. . . Nationality is not a principle; it is a legitimate fact, just as individuality is. Every nationality, great or small, has the incontestable right to be itself, to live according to its own nature. This right is simply the corollary of the general principle of freedom."
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Re: "Bourgeois" as a Meaningless Pejorative

Post by Rev Scare on Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:07 am

Celtiberian wrote:Yes, but the individuals and ideas that are commonly referred to as "bourgeois" by many neo-"Marxists" do not, in my opinion, harbor any of the ethics or values that can be attributed exclusively to the bourgeoisie. Nationalism obviously long precedes the capitalist mode of production, Hugo Chávez doesn't adhere to Lockean property acquisition theory (or any other bourgeois ethic), etc.

Even if we were to hypothetically accept the validity of using the term "bourgeois" as an epithet to refer to characteristics of the bourgeoisie that transcend production itself, they're still guilty of misusing the term to a ridiculous extent.

They misuse the term, but I don't quite understand your intention with this. Do you propose that we renounce it? If so, I must state my disapproval. The term itself is, as you have already mentioned, quite straightforward with regards to its usage in Marxian class analysis. The word can also describe culture related to the class, and I therefore find Admin's assessment to be accurate. The term may very well lose its political potency, but it cannot lose its context within Marxist theory.

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Re: "Bourgeois" as a Meaningless Pejorative

Post by Celtiberian on Tue Jun 28, 2011 3:21 am

Revolutionary Wolf wrote:They misuse the term, but I don't quite understand your intention with this.

My intention with the thread was merely to discuss the constant misapplication of the term "bourgeois" within the contemporary Left, as well as to advise that our usage of the term remain strictly within its appropriate domain.

Do you propose that we renounce it?


Absolutely not. Like "proletariat," the term "bourgeoisie" represents a critical position in class analysis that shouldn't be discarded simply due to its current misapplication.

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"The dogma of human equality is no part of Communism . . . the formula of Communism: 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs', would be nonsense, if abilities were equal."
—J. B. S. Haldane Hammer Sickle

"Nationality. . . is a historic, local fact which, like all real and harmless facts, has the right to claim general acceptance. . . Every people, like every person, is involuntarily that which it is and therefore has a right to be itself. . . Nationality is not a principle; it is a legitimate fact, just as individuality is. Every nationality, great or small, has the incontestable right to be itself, to live according to its own nature. This right is simply the corollary of the general principle of freedom."
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Re: "Bourgeois" as a Meaningless Pejorative

Post by Rev Scare on Tue Jun 28, 2011 4:09 am

Celtiberian wrote:
Revolutionary Wolf wrote:They misuse the term, but I don't quite understand your intention with this.

My intention with the thread was merely to discuss the constant misapplication of the term "bourgeois" within the contemporary Left, as well as to advise that our usage of the term remain strictly within its appropriate domain.

Do you propose that we renounce it?


Absolutely not. Like "proletariat," the term "bourgeoisie" represents a critical position in class analysis that shouldn't be discarded simply due to its current misapplication.

All right, then. I am curious: how do they justify the claim that Hugo Chávez can in any way be described "petit-bourgeois"? I am actually quite sympathetic to the Chávez government and believe that it has effected much positive change in Venezuela since the implementation of the Bolivarian Revolution. In the same vein, on what grounds do they label him a "dictator"? Has he not made it a point of effort to spread participatory democracy? This should be borne in mind with the corruption associated with the previous regimes since the 1992 coup attempts, particularly the introduction of neoliberal policies during the presidency of Carlos Andrés Pérez.

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Re: "Bourgeois" as a Meaningless Pejorative

Post by Celtiberian on Tue Jun 28, 2011 4:41 am

Revolutionary Wolf wrote:I am curious: how do they justify the claim that Hugo Chávez can in any way be described "petit-bourgeois"? I am actually quite sympathetic to the Chávez government and believe that it has effected much positive change in Venezuela since the implementation of the Bolivarian Revolution. In the same vein, on what grounds do they label him a "dictator"? Has he not made it a point of effort to spread participatory democracy?

I often ask myself the same questions, yet I've come across several articles over the years denouncing President Chávez as being a "petit-bourgeois nationalist" and a "dictator," which are published by organizations from several factions of the contemporary Left (particularly anarchists and council communists). They offer no coherent explanation as to how a man who happens to be going to such great lengths to implement a genuinely socialist mode of production is, in anyway, "petit-bourgeois," nor do they explain how winning some of the most monitored and free elections on the planet render him a "dictator."

Michael Parenti summarized the ludicrous position these sort of individuals hold quite well when he wrote, "No surprise then that the pure socialists support every revolution except the ones that succeed." Basically, whenever a revolution doesn't turn out precisely the way they'd like it to (e.g., having the nation-state abolished immediately, seeing ethnocentrism and crime magically vanish overnight, etc.), their default position is to assume that this revolution must be contaminated with "bourgeois" elements.

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"The dogma of human equality is no part of Communism . . . the formula of Communism: 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs', would be nonsense, if abilities were equal."
—J. B. S. Haldane Hammer Sickle

"Nationality. . . is a historic, local fact which, like all real and harmless facts, has the right to claim general acceptance. . . Every people, like every person, is involuntarily that which it is and therefore has a right to be itself. . . Nationality is not a principle; it is a legitimate fact, just as individuality is. Every nationality, great or small, has the incontestable right to be itself, to live according to its own nature. This right is simply the corollary of the general principle of freedom."
—Mikhail Bakunin Red Star
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