Petit Bourgeois Political Economy

Petit Bourgeois Political Economy


in bourgeois political economy, the trend reflecting the ideology of the petite bourgeoisie. Petit bourgeois political economy, which originated at the beginning of the 19th century, was founded by J. C. L. Sismondi and Proudhon. Its character is determined by the socioeconomic nature of the petite bourgeoisie. On the one hand, it criticizes the phenomena of capitalism that conflict with the interests of the petite bourgeoisie; on the other hand, it defends the foundations of capitalism.

Although it brings to light the contradictions of capitalism, petit bourgeois political economy does not reveal their socioeconomic essence and thus does not offer effective means of resolving them. The representatives of petit bourgeois political economy see the basis of the historical process not in the development of the social mode of production but in moral ideals. Typical of petit bourgeois political economy is a method that replaces the scientific analysis of the objective laws of social development with the ethical evaluation of these laws from the standpoint of petit bourgeois morality. At the same time, the contradictions between the interests of small-scale and large-scale capital lead petit bourgeois political economy to a vulgar materialist interpretation of a number of socioeconomic processes.

As a rule, the petite bourgeoisie is exploited by large-scale capital in the sphere of circulation. For this reason, petit bourgeois political economy identifies large-scale capital as a whole with trade and loan capital and treats exploitation as unequal exchange that violates the law of value. The exponents of petit bourgeois political economy view socialism as the elimination of the exploitation of the petite bourgeoisie by means of reforms, primarily in the sphere of circulation. Petit bourgeois political economy seeks to perpetuate small-scale private property and small-scale commodity production stripped of inherent contradictions.

Among the petit bourgeois schemes for the transition to socialism are the “productive association” of small commodity producers united on the basis of the “principle of mutual aid,” and the “organization of labor” in “public workshops” with the aid of the bourgeois state. Petit bourgeois political economy ignores the objective necessity of the development of capitalism from small-scale commodity production. For petit bourgeois political economy, the ideal is the restoration of petit bourgeois relations, which are incompatible with the contemporary level of development of productive forces.

Marx and Engels singled out two main trends in petit bourgeois political economy. The first seeks to restore “the old means of production and exchange, and with them, the old property relations and the old society” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4, p. 450). The economic theories of liberal populism in 19th-century Russia and in contemporary economic doctrines of African, Asiatic, and Indian socialism belong to this trend, the revisionist form of which is the left-opportunist conception of “barracks communism” on the Maoist model. The first trend in petit bourgeois political economy denies that a high level of development of productive forces and socialist collectivization of production are necessary objective preconditions for socialism.

According to Marx and Engels, the second basic trend in petit bourgeois political economy endeavors “to cramp the modern means of production and exchange within the framework of the old property relations, relations that have have been, and are bound to be, exploded by those means” (ibid. ). An example of this trend is the theory of “democratic socialism” in developed capitalist countries, which treats socialism as a “mixed economy” that combines private property in the means of production, free enterprise, and competition with the regulation of the economy by the bourgeois state. The ideas characteristic of this theory—the “brotherhood” of workers and capitalists, the development of the socialist structure within capitalism, and the rejection of the necessity of the class struggle—constitute a con-temporary modification of the ideas of 19th-century petit bourgeois socialism. The conception of “market socialism,” which substitutes the spontaneity of market relations for the planned socialist economy, is a petit bourgeois revision of socialist political economy that is associated with the second trend in petit bourgeois political economy.

The contradictory position of the petite bourgeoisie under contemporary capitalism and its vacillations between the working class and the middle and big bourgeoisie predetermine the dual social orientation of contemporary conceptions of petit bourgeois political economy. On the one hand, the reformist resolution of capitalist contradictions and compromise with imperialism are preached, and a reactionary, Utopian quest for a “third” path of social development is urged. On the other hand, a frequently incisive but not always consistent critique of the most odious contradictions of imperialism is provided, the need for struggle to secure democratic rights and to limit the absolute power of the monopolies is substantiated, and the struggle for national independence and for the noncapitalist path of development is supported. The true interests of the toiling masses of the petite bourgeoisie lie in securing an alliance with the working class in its struggle to eliminate all forms of exploitation of man by man.

A profoundly scientific critical analysis of petit bourgeois political economy is found in the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Manifest Kommunisticheskoi partii. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4.
Marx, K. Nishcheta filosofii. Ibid.
Marx, K. “Vosemnadtsatoe briumera Lui Bonaparta.” Ibid., vol. 8.
Marx, K. K kritike politicheskoi ekonomii. Ibid., vol. 13.
Engels, F. Anti-Duhring. Ibid., vol. 20.
Lenin, V. I. Chto takoe “druz’ia naroda” i kak oni voiuiutprotiv sotsialdemokratov? Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1.
Lenin, V. I. Ekonomicheskoe soderzhanie narodnichestva i kritika ego v knige g. Struve. Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. K kharakteristike ekonomicheskogo romantizma. Ibid., vol. 2.
Lenin, V. I. Razvitie kapitalizma v Rossii. Ibid., vol. 3.
Lenin, V. I. Krakh II Internatsionala. Ibid., vol. 26.
Lenin, V. I. O “levomrebiachestve i o melkoburzhuaznosti. Ibid., vol. 36.
Lenin, V. I. Proletarskaia revoliutsiia i renegat Kautskii. Ibid., vol. 37.
Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Protiv burzhuaznykh i melkoburzhuaznykh teorii sotsializma. Moscow, 1972.