The reticence of the petty bourgeoisie or the end of a promise: How a non-class dissolves and its members are devalued.
The fact that you, who are reading this, are reading this is almost proof: proof that you belong. This is a great introductory sentence; it comes from Hans Magnus Enzensberger and is at the beginning of his essay “From the inexorable petty bourgeoisie”, published in the class book No. 45 from 1976 was published. The petty bourgeoisie, it is reproduced somewhat abbreviatedly, in the class book defined as people who, on the one hand, neither have the means of production, land and / or “working” capital, nor are in key positions of political, social and cultural power, and who on the other hand earn more than they do to survive and need to restore their labor power and invest this surplus, so to speak, in themselves or in the family.
Petty bourgeoisie are people who have one leg in the world of the exploiters and the other in the world of the exploited, who personally escape the basic contradiction between capital and labor and structurally aggravate it. The petty bourgeoisie are the people in a class that is not one, but forever in between, forever split between the greed of advancement and the fear of descent, eternally split into a progressist-liberal-democratic and one conservative-reactionary and fascist part.
Columns like this are usually written and read by the petty bourgeoisie of the progressist wing. Which brings us back to Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s super introductory sentence and also to his dictum: petty bourgeoisie want everything possible, except to be called petty bourgeoisie.
For the fact that the petty bourgeoisie can neither achieve real wealth nor real power, it was rewarded with something that im class book at that time the “cultural hegemony” was called. Petty bourgeoisie determined tastes and fashions, discourses and debates, pop and philosophy, design and disaster. Petty bourgeoisie should be “the middle”, to which all governance and all business, all art and all society are related. It seems to have been over for some time.
Relationships turned upside down
In the time of the social market economy (which was not given to us, which was always fought for), the great promise was that the majority of all working people and their families could rise to the petty bourgeoisie. The children should have it better, and everyone should benefit from prosperity and progress. The great promise of the petty bourgeoisie consisted not only in a larger piece of the pie, but also in a peculiar freedom of subject in this class, which is not one.
Proletarian work is work determined by the machine, the assembly line, the foremen; Petty-bourgeois work, on the other hand, is subject work, even in the most subordinate form it is about making decisions and conveying social pressure, which often led to the unsympathetic phenomenon of cyclist syndrome (hunching up, stepping down).
Neoliberalism, the interplay of privatization, globalization and digitization in “deregulated” markets, has turned the situation on its head. The promise of progressive petty bourgeoisisation was followed by the threat of relegations and exclusions. The decline of the petty bourgeoisie takes place on three levels.
The precariousness. That means working in insecure and often lawless conditions with vague individual chances of somehow still making it to the “winner” (beyond the class). The sinking into the new “service proletariat” lurks everywhere.
The automation. For a century the working class struggled with the effects of automation, machines took and devalued work, and they degraded human productivity. The machine should replace physical work so that people could devote themselves to more creative areas, according to the idealistic version, which did its calculations without capital. In the new century the petty bourgeoisie is experiencing what the working class previously experienced and what it finally dissolved: more and more areas of their work are being “rationalized” by machines; Computers take over “intellectual” tasks that petty bourgeoisie previously had, from education to administration and research. The question: What is a petty bourgeoisie? Can currently be answered primarily with the image of a person at “his” computer, even more alienated than the work of the proletarian at “his” machine.
Bizarre hatred of elites
The loss of cultural hegemony. A look at the television programs and the consumer papers at the kiosk reveals that the common reference points of discourse and design as mainstream no longer exist. The bizarre hatred of the “elites” does not come from below, but from a petty bourgeoisie, which is declining in every respect. There is no mainstream, no more cultural intersections between the progressive and the conservative part. As a glance at their own family or the next door shows, they can no longer even argue properly
The loss of cultural hegemony has a deeper effect than one might think. Because the affective part of it is the seemingly unshakable feeling of moral superiority. I am not rich, I am not powerful, but I am always right for that. This is how petty bourgeois speak, right and left And they speak it louder the more they become aware of the devaluation of their non-class. The much-invoked division in society is above all a division of the petty bourgeoisie. Perhaps it is time that “we petty bourgeoisie” (that’s what it was called class book from 1976) develop something like class consciousness.