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Bourgeois, Léon

Bourgeois, Léon (lāôNˈ bo͞orzhwäˈ), 1851–1925, French statesman and social philosopher. He held cabinet posts, notably the premiership (1895–96) and was a delegate to the first and second Hague peace conferences and a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. One of the earliest proponents of the League of Nations, he headed the French delegation in the League. In 1920 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His influential book, Solidarité (1896), advocated the use of public authority to achieve the solidarity increasingly necessary within and among nations.


bourgeoisie (bo͝orzhwäzēˈ), originally the name for the inhabitants of walled towns in medieval France; as artisans and craftsmen, the bourgeoisie occupied a socioeconomic position between the peasants and the landlords in the countryside. The term was extended to include the middle class of France and subsequently of other nations. The word bourgeois has also long been used to imply an outlook associated with materialism, narrowness, and lack of culture—these characteristics were early satirized by Molière and have continued to be a subject of literary analysis.

Origins and Rise

The bourgeoisie as a historical phenomenon did not begin to emerge until the development of medieval cities as centers for trade and commerce in Central and Western Europe, beginning in the 11th cent. The bourgeoisie, or merchants and artisans, began to organize themselves into corporations as a result of their conflict with the landed proprietors. At the end of the Middle Ages, under the early national monarchies in Western Europe, the bourgeoisie found it in their interests to support the throne against the feudal disorder of competing local authorities. In England and the Netherlands, the bourgeoisie was the driving force in uprooting feudalism in the late 16th and early 17th cent.

In the 17th and 18th cent., the bourgeoisie supported principles of constitutionality and natural right, against the claims of divine right and against the privileges held by nobles and prelates. The English, American, and French revolutions derived partly from the desire of the bourgeoisie to rid itself of feudal trammels and royal encroachments on personal liberty and on the rights of trade and property. In the 19th cent., the bourgeoisie, triumphantly propounding liberalism, gained political rights as well as religious and civil liberties. Thus modern Western society, in its political and also in its cultural aspects, owes much to bourgeois activities and philosophy.

Subsequent to the Industrial Revolution, the class greatly expanded, and differences within it became more distinct, notably between the high bourgeois (industrialists and bankers) and the petty bourgeois (tradesmen and white-collar workers). By the end of the 19th cent., the capitalists (the original bourgeois) tended to be associated with a widened upper class, while the spread of technology and technical occupations was opening the bourgeoisie to entry from below.

In Marxism

Within Karl Marx's theory of class struggle, the bourgeoisie plays a significant role. By overthrowing the feudal system it is seen as an originally progressive force that later becomes a reactionary force as it tries to prevent the ascendency of the proletariat (wage earners) in order to maintain its own position of predominance. Some writers argue that Marx's theory fails because he did not foresee the rise of a new, expanded middle class of professionals and managers, which, although they are wage earners, do not fit easily into his definition of the proletariat.


See H. Pirenne, Medieval Cities (1952) and Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe (1956); D. Johnson, ed., Class and Social Development (1982); P. Gay, The Bourgeois Experience (Vol. I–V, 1984–98).

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(MARXISM) in capitalist societies, the social class comprising owners of capital. Thus, CAPITALIST is primarily an economic category and bourgeoisie a social one. Non-Marxist sociological approaches to SOCIAL STRATIFICATION tend not to use the term, not least because the debates around the MANAGERIAL REVOLUTION in twentieth century capitalism raise the question as to whether a social class based on the ownership of capital any longer exists. In more general usage, the term bourgeois is often used to describe the lifestyles of the MIDDLE-CLASS(ES). Williams (1976) has a useful discussion of changing and differing usages of the word. See also, ÉLITE, UPPER CLASS, RULING CLASS.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the ruling class of capitalist society, which possesses property in the means of production and which exists by exploiting wage labor. 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, the word “bourgeois” initially designated the inhabitants of the cities in general. 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” (Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4, p. 425). 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.

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?” (ibid., p. 429).

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” (F. Engels, ibid., p. 48).

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” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 26, p. 143). 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” (ibid.). 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” (ibid., pp. 143, 145-46).

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 1910 the figure was 23 percent; and in 1950 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.

As capitalism developed, and particularly as it developed into imperialism, there was a fundamental change in the historical role of the bourgeoisie. It became the main obstacle to social progress. Imperialism carries with it profound changes in the structure and arrangement of forces within the bourgeois class. Finance capital, a qualitatively new form of capital, becomes dominant. Finance capital is personified in the financial oligarchy, which, relying on its combined economic power, seizes the key positions in the economy and takes possession of most of the national wealth of a country.

One of the most important features of the financial oligarchy is its control over a vast mass of other people’s capital and over the monetary means of the society through the development of the joint stock form of capital and credit institutions (banks, insurance companies, and savings banks). This control brings unprecedented monopoly superprofits. The domination of the financial oligarchy becomes still stronger as monopoly capitalism develops into state monopoly capitalism. It becomes capable of controlling not only the capital of other people, accumulated in the form of shares and other securities, but also a sizable portion of the means of the state budget, through which the fulfillment of state orders is financed.

Even within the bourgeoisie itself, a financial oligarchy is an extremely narrow circle of people, a small group of millionaires and billionaires who have seized for themselves the overwhelming portion of the national wealth of the capitalist countries. In the 1960’s, 1 percent of the property owners in the USA amassed 59 percent and 1 percent of the property owners in Britain amassed 56 percent of all capital. Directly affiliated with the financial oligarchy are the leadership of the ruling government machinery, the party political elite of the bourgeois parties and sometimes the reformist parties, and the upper military caste. This is the direct consequence of the interlacing and interlocking of the monopolies and the state.

Monopoly capital engenders the specific social layer of managers of capitalist enterprises. With the increasing importance of the function of production management and its growing scale, the reinforcement of processes of specialization and collectivization of production, the development of state monopoly capitalism, and the exacerbation of competition among the monopolies, the role of the technocracy grows. A distinctive social differentiation takes place within the technocracy. Its upper stratum merges with the financial oligarchy.

Monopolies cannot reorganize the entire capitalist economy. “Pure imperialism, without the fundamental basis of capitalism has never existed, does not exist anywhere, and never will exist” (Lenin, ibid., vol. 38, p. 151). Rushing into the most profitable branches of industry, monopoly capital leaves a relatively broad field of activity for the non-monopolistic bourgeoisie in the other branches. Many of these branches are not ripe for mass standardized production because of their technical economic characteristics, and in some the creation of large enterprises is not always economically justified (trade, everyday repairs and services, maintenance, and so forth). Moreover, some branches of production that service the large monopolies are the property of the state, local authorities, and municipalities. Through the system of monopoly prices, the financial oligarchy extracts a portion of the surplus value created in these enterprises without spending its own capital.

The bourgeoisie is a doomed class; it is becoming a thing of the past. The bourgeois class was liquidated in the USSR for the first time in history as a result of the Great October Socialist Revolution and the victory of socialism; it was then eliminated in the other socialist countries where the dictatorship of the proletariat came into being.

The reactionary role of the bourgeoisie is manifested with particular clarity under the conditions of state monopoly capitalism, which “joins the power of the monopolies with the power of the state in a single mechanism for the purpose of enriching the monopolies, suppressing the workers’ movement and national liberation struggle, saving the capitalist system, and unleashing aggressive wars” (Program of the CPSU, 1969, pp. 26-27). The most aggressive groupings of the bourgeoisie attempt to find an escape from the contradictions of imperialism in the militarization of the economy. They unleashed the first and second world wars and are now threatening to plunge the world into a new military catastrophe, using the means of mass annihilation and destruction. The monopolist bourgeoisie carries out an aggressive foreign policy directed against the socialist countries and the national liberation movement and a reactionary domestic policy that aims to suppress the struggle through strikes of the working class and the democratic movement of the broad masses. Neofascist parties are becoming active in some imperialist countries. The main ideological and political weapon of the monopolistic bourgeoisie is anticommunism.

In a number of countries where tribal relations and vestiges of slavery and feudalism persist, the national bourgeoisie can still play a progressive role to a certain extent. This was demonstrated by the experience of the historical development of the countries of Asia and Africa which, after World War II (1939-45), cast off their colonial fetters and embarked on the path of independent development, continuing the struggle for the consolidation of their state sovereignty and for economic self-dependence. In some of the developing countries, the national bourgeoisie became the ruling class, endowed with political power and the corresponding economic privileges. Basing itself on state power, it was able to counterpose national interests and its own class interests to international monopoly capital on the domestic market and within the world capitalist economy. But, while taking certain steps to frustrate the neocolonialist schemes of the imperialist monopolies, the national bourgeoisie simultaneously falls back on the aid of the imperialist monopolies in the area of economic development and in the struggle to strengthen its own class rule. The inconstant and contradictory nature of the class position of the national bourgeoisie is also linked to the intensifying processes of intraclass differentiation—that is, economic stratification and a change in its social aspect. The upper and middle national bourgeoisie, each in its own way, come to the use of foreign capital and to economic and social reforms and approach the problem of democratic transformations. As a result of the influence of the aggregate of external and internal conditions, the development of the bourgeoisie becomes ever more complex and contradictory. In some countries, the general weakening of imperialism results in the contraction of the economic and social base of bourgeois national enterprise; in other countries, where imperialism has managed to strengthen its positions, the national bourgeoisie joins ranks with the forces of reaction.

“Social differentiation develops in the countries that have liberated themselves. The conflict sharpens between the working class, peasantry, and other democratic forces, including patriotic-minded strata of the petit bourgeoisie, and, on the other hand, imperialism and the forces of internal reaction, and those elements of the national bourgeoisie that are inclined more and more to make a deal with imperialism” (Mezhdunarodnoe Soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii: Dokumenty i materialy, Moscow, 1969, pp. 311-12).

History has confirmed the prognosis of Marx regarding the inevitability of the degeneration and downfall of bourgeois civilization under the weight of the crimes it has committed. This follows from the economic essence of capitalism, the fundamental law of which is the production of surplus value. Marx pointed out that there is no crime capital would not commit in order to increase its profits. The most complete and villainous manifestation of the criminal nature of bourgeois rule was embodied in fascism and the system it created of the mass extermination of people, based on genocide and a revival of slavery. The most reactionary strata of monopoly capital urge the use of fascist methods. Through the creation of so-called military-industrial complexes, they strive for total militarization and the suppression of all democratic liberties. The maniacs of militarism threaten humanity with annihilation through rocket and nuclear war.

The class whose goal and calling in life is the production of profit for its own enrichment is doomed to decay. Amorality, corruption, and gangsterism flourish in the social life of the most developed capitalist countries. In the end, the material ideal of the “society of consumption” advanced by bourgeois economists and sociologists is reduced to the establishment of “satisfied slavery, ” which leads to spiritual impoverishment and the decay of morals. Contemporary bourgeois culture brings the disintegration of literature and art and the renunciation of the realistic depiction of reality; it is used to propagate hatred of mankind and immorality.

The working class and its communist vanguard emerge as the bearers of the ideas of social progress, which express the best hopes of humanity; they rally the peoples of the world in the struggle against imperialism.

“The struggle against imperialism, ” states the Document of the International Conference of Communist and Workers’ Parties (June 1969), “is a long, stubborn, and difficult one. Sharp class battles are inevitable in the future. It is necessary to intensify the offensive against the positions of imperialism and domestic reaction. The victory of the revolutionary and progressive forces is inevitable” (ibid., p. 330).


Marx, K., and F. Engels. “Manifest Kommunisticheskoi partii.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4.
Marx, K. “Kapital, ” vols. 1, 2, and 3. Ibid., vols. 23, 24, and 25.
Marx, K. “Naemnyi trud i kapital.” Ibid., vol. 6.
Marx, K. “Burzhuaziia i kontrrevoliutsiia.” Ibid., vol. 6.
Marx, K. “Klassovaia bor’ba vo Frantsii s 1848 po 1850 g.” Ibid., vol. 7.
Engels, F. “Polozhenie rabochego klassa v Anglii.” Ibid., vol. 2.
Engels, F. “Revoliutsiia i kontrrevoliutsiia v Germanii.” Ibid., vol. 8.
Lenin, V. I. “Po povodu tak nazyvaemogo voprosa o rynkakh.” In Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1.
Lenin, V. I. “Razvitie kapitalizma v Rossii.” Ibid., vol. 3.
Lenin, V. I. “Mezhdunarodnyi sotsialisticheskii kongress v Shtutgarte.” Ibid., vol. 16.
Lenin, V. I. “Voinstvuiushchii militarizm i antimilitaristskaia taktika sotsial-demokratii.” Ibid., vol. 17.
Lenin, V. I. “Imperializm, kak vysshaia stadiia kapitalizma.” Ibid., vol. 27.
Lenin, V. I. “Imperializm i raskol sotsializma.” Ibid., vol. 30.
Lenin, V. I. “O zadachakh proletariata v dannoi revoliutsii.” Ibid., vol. 31.
Lenin, V. I. “Detskaia bolezn’ ‘levizny’ v kommunizme.” Ibid., vol. 41.
Lenin, V. I. “Proletarskaia revoliutsiia i renegat Kautskii.” Ibid., vol. 37. Ch. “Chto takoe internatsionalizm?” Pages 291-305.
Lenin, V. I. “ ‘levom’ rebiachestve i o melkoburzhuaznosti.” Ibid., vol. 36.
Programmnye dokumenty bor’by za mir, demokratiiu i sotsializm. Moscow, 1964.
Programma i Ustav KPSS. Moscow, 1964.
Brezhnev, L. I. Otchetnyi doklad TsK KPSS XXIII s” ezdu Kommunisticheskoi partii Sovetskogo Soiuza. Moscow, 1966. Part 1, secs. 2 and 3.
Mezhdunarodnoe revoliuisionnoe dvizhenie rabochego klassa, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1966. Chs. 2, 5, 8.
Mezhdunarodnoe soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii …, Moskva, 5-17 iiunia 1969 g. Moscow, 1969.
Gollan, J. Politicheskaia sistema Velikobritanii. Moscow, 1955. (Translated from English.)
Gorodskie srednie sloi sovremennogo kapitalisticheskogo obshchestva. Moscow, 1963.
Imperialisticheskoe gosudarstvo i kapitalisticheskoe khoziaistvo. Moscow, 1963.
Politicheskaia zhizn’ SShA. Moscow, 1966.
Stroitel’stvo kommunizma i mirovoi revoliutsionnyi protsess. Moscow, 1966.
Guttsman, W. L. The British Political Elite. London, 1963.
Sampson, A. Anatomy of Britain Today. London, 1965.
Baran, P. A., and P. M. Sweezy. Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order. New York-London, 1966.
Millar, R. The New Classes: The New Pattern of British Life. London, 1966.
Galbraith, J. K. The New Industrial State. Boston, 1967.
In Russian translation:
Novoe industrial’noe obshchestvo. Moscow, 1970.


The bourgeoisie in Russia. The historically protracted existence of serfdom in Russia considerably retarded the process of the formation of the bourgeoisie—in particular, the big industrial bourgeoisie. The prerequisites for the development of capitalism and the formation of the bourgeoisie appeared as early as the 17th century, when an all-Russian market took shape, the growth of cities and the trading population accelerated, and the first manufactories began to appear. The entire manufactory period in the history of Russian industry was marked by the development of the serf manufactory parallel to that of the capitalist manufactory. The former predominated in the manufacturing industry to the end of the 18th century, and it still played a large role in the first half of the 19th century.

The use of forced labor contributed to the considerable expansion of the distinctive form of gentry enterprise in the 18th century, to the detriment of the development of the bourgeoisie. Organizing possessional and patrimonial manufactories, the large serf owners expanded feudal exploitation and the use of income for consumption. As people who were merchants, petit bourgeois, or peasants by extraction became large industrialists, they were elevated under these conditions to the nobility in a number of cases and thus moved into the class of feudal lords (the Demidovs, Batashovs, Goncharovs, and others).

Only the beginning of the industrial revolution of the 1830’s to 1850’s brought about the marked predominance of free labor in manufacturing industry. In the metallurgical industry, forced labor still predominated on the eve of the peasant reform of 1861. The capitalist structure took shape during the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. The formation of the bourgeois class as such proceeded from the second quarter of the 19th century, as manufactory industry began to develop rapidly into factory industry.

By the beginning of the 19th century, commercial and commercial-usurious capital still predominated over industrial capital, but the process of the formation of the big industrial bourgeoisie from among the small industrialists—who came, to a large degree, from the peasantry—was already evident. During the first half of the 19th century, this became the basic way in which the indigenous Russian industrial bourgeoisie was formed. However, commerce still remained an important source of income for the big bourgeoisie. In 1851, the total number of merchants in the three guilds was 180,000 (a figure 1.5 times less than the number of individuals of clerical rank). The serf system created numerous socioeconomic and state-legalistic difficulties on the path of the formation of the bourgeoisie as an independent class.

The peasant reform of 1861 eliminated the primary obstacle to the development of capitalism and the growth of the bourgeoisie—serfdom. The reform created a source of cheap labor power, and this made it possible for the capitalists to exploit the workers in the most merciless manner. But the retention of vestiges of the serf system in the countryside narrowed the domestic market for capitalist industry and, along with the retention of these vestiges in the political superstructure of Russia, arrested “capital in its medieval forms …” (Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1, p. 301).

In the postreform era, the predominance of commercial and usurious capital persisted; this was one of the factors that limited the use of domestic accumulations for the development of industry and facilitated the penetration of industry by Western European capital. Foreign entrepreneurs moved to Russia and became Russianized, filling out the ranks of the Russian bourgeoisie.

A genuinely industrial bourgeoisie took shape only in the leading industrial centers, and there essentially on the basis of light industry and the food industry. One such center arose on the basis of large-scale Moscow capital, which combined production activity with the sale of textile products and the procurement of cotton and flax. In the beginning of the 20th century, the Moscow big bourgeoisie (the Morozovs, Konovalov, the Riabushinskiis, and the Guchkovs) became monopolistic. Its political influence and importance were consolidated, and it was becoming the universally recognized leader of the entire Russian commercial-industrial bourgeoisie.

St. Petersburg was another center toward which the proprietors of a number of branches of heavy industry and private railroads gravitated. As capitalism in Russia developed into imperialism, the monopolistic bourgeoisie’s domination of industry was consolidated, and its participation in joint-stock companies increased. Lenin pointed out: “The number of large shareholders is insignificant; but the role they play, like the wealth they possess, is tremendous” (ibid., vol. 32, p. 109).

Parallel to the industrial monopolies (by 1914, more than 150 monopolies were active), large-scale banking associations arose. Banking capital was intertwined with industrial capital; finance capital developed and captured the major positions in Russia’s economy. The narrow stratum of the Russian financial oligarchy, which began to take shape at the beginning of the 20th century, was made up of people who had been high white-collar workers, members of the technical business intelligentsia, and prominent bureaucrats of the economic ministries (N. S. Avdakov, N. Ditmar, A. I. Vyshnegradskii, A. I. Putilov, A. P. Meshcherskii, and others). On the whole, the process of the formation of the financial oligarchy remained incomplete in Russia; nonetheless, there was intertwining of the state machinery and the capitalist monopolies. At the same time, the formation of the system of state monopoly capitalism proceeded, accelerating during World War I because of the necessity of state mobilization and regulation of the country’s economy for war needs.

The big bourgeoisie in Russia was multinational. In addition to Russians, it included Ukrainians (I. G. Kharytonenko, M. I. Tereshchenko), Armenians (A. I. Mantashev, S. G. Lianozov, the Gukasovs), Jews (B. A. Kamenka, the Brodskiis, S. S. Poliakov), Azerbaijani (T. Tagiev, M. Nagiev, Sh. Asadulaev), and other nationalities. It included Russianized émigrés from countries of the West, such as E. L. Nobel (from Sweden), the Knopps (from Germany), the Armands and Iu. P. Goujon (from France), and the Thorntons (from England).

The bourgeoisie of the industrially underdeveloped and undeveloped regions of the Russian Empire differed from the monopolistic bourgeoisie and the financial oligarchy that had taken shape. In these regions, enterprise in such spheres as commerce (especially in grain and other agricultural products) and navigation predominated, with sizable investments of capital in city real estate. All this was supplemented by and combined with industrial enterprise in the lumber, manufacturing, and mining industries, which were primarily of local significance but in rare cases had national importance. Large commercial-industrial firms were created on this base.

The Russian bourgeoisie took an interest in both the old, feudal-serf forms and the most flagrant new forms of capitalist exploitation in the central areas as well as in outlying colonial areas.

By the calculation of Lenin, the numerical strength of the big bourgeoisie (with their families) had reached approximately 1.5 million in 1897; the prosperous urban petit bourgeoisie, 2.2 million. On the eve of World War I (1914-18), the fixed and working capital (reserves) in industry and trade in Russia were valued at 8 billion rubles, and the value of city buildings (residential, commercial, and others) was 7 billion rubles. By 1913 there were 4, 000 large industrial enterprises with more than 200 workers, 22, 000 intermediate enterprises with more than 16 workers, and 150, 000 domestic-cottage trades establishments. Along with the 10, 000 wholesale and 173, 000 retail commercial enterprises, there were 983, 000 proprietors in the grocery and marketplace trade. On the other hand, large-scale enterprises accounted for 82 percent of the capital operative in industry, and wholesale and retail enterprises for 83 percent of the capital in commerce. The most numerous and least socially homogeneous group was the petite bourgeoisie; it included middle and wealthy peasants and the owners of small commercial-industrial enterprises in the cities and the countryside. The peasantry made up eight- or nine-tenths of the entire petite bourgeoisie (see V. I. Lenin, ibid., vol. 15, p. 64). In the 19th century the industrial big bourgeoisie, and in the 20th century the monopolistic bourgeoisie, economically predominated. Numerically they constituted only a small layer of the entire bourgeoisie.

The Russian bourgeoisie was distinguished by political indifference during its formation and development. It did not emerge as a class before the end of the 19th century, but remained politically unformed. The establishment of the revolutionary party of the proletariat and the growth of the mass workers’ movement and its consciousness accelerated the political development of the bourgeoisie. At the turn of the 20th century, bourgeois liberalism appeared among the bourgeois intelligentsia. Politically, the bourgeoisie did not become a class until the Revolution of 1905-07: it established its own political parties—the Octobrists and Kadets—and adopted frankly counterrevolutionary positions (ibid., vol. 16, p. 170; vol. 20, pp. 176-77, 190). The Russian big bourgeoisie was not able to create a strong, monolithic political party; its main groupings were able to unite only on the basis of narrowly class-oriented “merchants’” organizations (ibid., vol. 21, pp. 294-98). Among these, the “representative organizations, ” such as the all-Russian “Council of Congresses of Representatives of Industry and Trade, ” had the goal of defending the economic interests of big capital vis-à-vis the government and influencing the government’s economic policy. Associations such as factory owners’ societies and manufacturers’ societies became organs of an offensive struggle waged against the workers’ movement and its economic demands. However, the direct participation of the big and monopolistic bourgeoisie in political rule was negligible, although the autocracy was forced to rely politically on the big bourgeoisie, turning to a direct alliance with some of its strata. The social importance of the bourgeoisie and its influence in the political structure after the June 3 coup of 1907 were much smaller than its growing economic power. Representatives of the old exploiter class, who were moving closer to the big bourgeoisie economically, did not identify themselves with it either ideologically or politically. The ideology of the big bourgeoisie was expressed most fully only by the right wing of the Kadet Party, along with a certain segment of the bourgeois Russian professoriate and a narrow circle of the business intelligentsia, who served the big bourgeoisie directly.

Appraising the socioeconomic and sociopolitical role of the bourgeoisie in 1912, Lenin wrote that there were two bourgeoisies in Russia. “One is the very narrow stratum of ripe and overripe capitalists who, in the persons of the Octobrists and Kadets, are actually concerned with sharing the present political power, the present political privileges with the Purishkeviches…. The other bourgeoisie is the very wide stratum of petty and in part medium proprietors, primarily peasants, who have not yet matured but are energetically endeavoring to do so, and who in the present era of Russian history are by no means actually confronted with the question of privileges, but with the question of how not to starve to death because of the Purishkeviches” (ibid., p. 241). And if the big bourgeoisie contented itself with the role of junior partner in an alliance with the autocracy and the landlords, the “second bourgeoisie” would remain an important force in the coming bourgeois democratic revolution. However, the legal and illegal political parties of petit-bourgeois peasant democracy were extremely weak; during World War I, they held a chauvinist position.

The big bourgeoisie attempted to avert revolution by preserving the Romanov monarchy. It came to power only after tsar is m crumbled under the revolutionary onslaught of the worker and soldier masses. After the February Revolution, the bourgeoisie, because of the conditions that had been created, became temporarily and only outwardly republican. The independent revolutionary activity of the masses, the power of the proletariat, and the paramount role of the soviets in the country’s political life naturally inspired the bourgeoisie with fear for the fate of their wealth. Consequently, the bourgeoisie rapidly became entirely counterrevolutionary, completely repudiated bourgeois democracy, and placed its hopes on a counterrevolutionary coup with the purpose of smashing the revolution and restoring the monarchy. The revolution facilitated the further political consolidation of the bourgeoisie as a class. In 1917 the Kadets became the chief political and governmental party of the bourgeoisie. Although the petit-bourgeois parties supported the working class in the February Revolution of 1917, for the most part they subsequently became the base of support of the big bourgeoisie and the Provisional Government. On the whole, the peasantry followed the revolutionary proletariat during the days of the October Revolution of 1917. The bourgeoisie’s tenure in power between March and October 1917 demonstrated that the bourgeoisie had no substantial social support; both its political and governmental experience were insignificant. With the further development of the revolution, the bourgeoisie took to sabotage and national betrayal. In the course of the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, the big monopolistic bourgeoisie was first deprived of political power and then liquidated economically. Like other exploiter classes, the bourgeoisie bitterly resisted Soviet power. The bourgeois-landlord counterrevolution unleashed the Civil War in the country. The final liquidation of the petite and intermediate bourgeoisie of the cities and countryside was completed in the period of the building of socialism in the USSR.


Lenin, V. I. “Tret’ia Duma.” In Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 16.
Lenin, V. I. “Revoliutsiia i kontrrevoliutsiia.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “’Krest’ianskaia reforma’ i proletarski-krest’ianskaia revoliutsiia.” Ibid., vol. 20.
Lenin, V. I. “O sotsial’noi strukture vlasti, perspektivakh i likvidatorstve.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Liberalizm i demokratiia.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. “Anketa ob organizatsiiakh krupnogo kapitala.” Ibid.
Karnovich, E. P. Zamechatel’nye bogatstva chastnykh lits. St. Petersburg, 1874.
Ermanskii, A. “Krupnaia burzhuaziia do 1905 g.” In Obshchestvennoe dvizhenie v Rossii v nachale XX v. St. Petersburg, 1909-10.
Berlin, P. A. Russkaia burzhuaziia v staroe i novoe vremia. Moscow, 1922.
Liashchenko, P. I. Istoriia narodnogo khoziaistva v SSSR, vol. 2, Moscow, 1956. Ch. 15.
Iakovtsevskii, V. N. Kupecheskii kapital v feodal’no-krepostnicheskoi Rossii. Moscow, 1953.
Ryndziunskii, P. G. Gorodskoe grazhdanstvo doreformennoi Rossii. Moscow, 1958.
Pavlenko, N. I. “Odvorianivanie russkoi burzhuazii v XVIII v.” Istoriia SSSR, 1961, no. 2.
Volkov, M. Ia. “Formirovanie gorodskoi burzhuazui v Rossii XVII-XVIII vv.” In the collection Goroda feodal’noi Rossii. Moscow, 1966.
K voprosu o pervonachal’nom nakoplenii v Rossii (XVII-XVIII vv.). 1958. (Collection of articles.)
Ocherki ekonomicheskoi istorii Rossii pervoi poloviny XIX v. Moscow, 1959. (Collection of articles.)
Gindin, I. F. Gosudarstvennyi bank i ekonomicheskaia politika tsarskogo pravitel’stva (1861-1892 gg.). Moscow, 1960.
Gindin, I. F. “Russkaia burzhuaziia v period kapitalizma, ee razvitie i osobennosti.” Istoriia SSSR, 1963, nos. 2-3.
Gindin, I. F. “O nekotorykh osobennostiakh ekonomicheskoi i sotsial’noi struktury rossiiskogo kapitalizma v nach. XX v.” Istoriia SSSR, 1966, no. 3.
Volobuev, P. V. Proletariat i burzhuaziia Rossii v 1917 g. Moscow, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(in Marxist thought) the ruling class of the two basic classes of capitalist society, consisting of capitalists, manufacturers, bankers, and other employers. The bourgeoisie owns the most important of the means of production, through which it exploits the working class
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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