The petty bourgeoisie explodes

1 November, 2020

Barcelona tonight.

In Spain, with a record number of infections and more than 239 dead per day, France and Italy is clear that perimeter-based confinements and curfews will not be enough to stop the upward curve of cases, hospital overcrowding, deaths and permanent disabilities. And yet, the media have been collecting and encouraging the demonstrations and complaints of hoteliers and nighttime businessmen while refraining from amplifying a single voice calling for more rigorous lockdowns. The strategy was evident. The only discordant voices published were supposed to reinforce the main policy in the face of the pandemic: save the companies (=their profits) and economic activity (=capital accumulation), no matter what.

Clashes, denialists and lumpen petty bourgeoisie

Stealing from the Decathlon down the road.

But the petty bourgeoisie, especially the commercial one, and even more so the part of it that becomes blurred on the borders of the lumpen like the one controlling the nightclubs and their associated illegal businesses, is a dangerous creature when it is jostled.

In Italy, the transition from demonstration to riot was almost immediate. In France, the passage from symbolic protests to resistance to closures and passive opposition indicates a similar evolution. In Spain there have been two nights of clashes in half a dozen cities.

Clashes in Barcelona that have also taken on a novel and strange scenario to the local norms: demonstrators broke into a Decathlon store and stole bicycles. Nor could anything else be expected from a mobilization that put the lumpen articulated by nightclub owners in the forefront. Bannon’s boys, who this time have barely gathered a hundred people in the main German cities, can be proud. But they can’t take all the credit. This time, even if they went hands-on in a melee of classic right-wingers and club owners, their arguments were just the seasoning of the event.

The common slogan of the European petty bourgeoisie

“Let’s save the hospitality business”. Poster exhibited tonight in Logroño by the owners of “nightlife” clubs. Note the incorporation of the Celtic cross to the name of the city.

The dominant arguments in this wave of riots are shared in all of Southern Europe and for all of the petty business bourgeoisie: deaths by covid would be equivalent to the economic deaths of their businesses. It would be necessary to balance the fight against some deaths and others.

The moral barbarity is evident, although the formulation is identical, even if a bit cruder in the argumentation, to the public positions of the big companies of consumer goods and distribution. Less than a week ago Juan Roig, owner of one of the main Spanish supermarket chains, stated that we have deviated much towards health and little towards the economy. In other words, saving lives is deviating from the main goal, profits, and would have to be balanced.

Having said that, the attitude towards strikes and protests by workers, even against health care providers asking for more resources, can be expected. And global. In Canada, we are seeing a real media campaign based on these sentiments this week against the health care strikes. A little over a month ago we saw something similar in South Korea.

To sum up: we have a class that is rebelling against the consequences of the crisis, but it does so under a slogan that is a crude version of the most anti-human line of all those who express the needs of capital; whose morality considers maintaining its business accounts in positive numbers to be more important than avoiding the slaughter of hundreds of people a day; and which, as could not be otherwise, exudes violent hostility towards workers’ mobilizations.

Idealism and delusion of an intermediate class

The interesting thing is that between these approaches and those of the postmodern, identitarian left, there is a perfect continuity. We are already used to listening to feminism, to Podemos or to the BLM movement in the United States, telling us the important thing is for everyone to be able to make up their own narrative. Narratives and terms of language that -by different means- would be configuring reality: using the jargon called inclusive language would reduce discrimination of women, resignifying and disputing the word fatherland would turn the defense of the national economy into a proper goal of the workers and so on… In Errejón’s (a Podemos’ politician) words politics, which for him is a form of narrative building, would not be overdetermined by what happens in areas prior to and above it such as the economy or social relations. To put it in a more understandable way: power is disputed by identities and ideas that may be conditioned by reality but that, ultimately, take shape on the margins of materiality. In fact, reality would be transformed and built from discourses and identifications. Politics would consist of the organization and representation of heterogeneous majorities based on narratives, and in principle would not reflect the strength of economic-material interests. This argument is the definition of idealism. Ideas, ideology is what would explain historical change rather than the other way around.

The left-wing version is certainly more sophisticated, but it is not at all different from things like pandemic denialism, eschatological catastrophism announcing the extinction of the human species, or the more delusional theories of pop trumpism.

The idea of alternative truths is nothing new and appears again and again linked to the cultural and political expressions of the petty bourgeoisie. Gramscism, that variant of idealism which fascinates Iglesias, Errejón or Mélenchon so much, is no more than the insinuation of the existence of political and media modes capable of causing an alternative truth to be established as a hegemonic social reality. In the end, if in principle every narrative can become political truth, given that the tendencies of material reality are always contradictory, it would be sufficient to emphasize those existing but secondary tendencies that align with a desire or a collective interest for the principle of desire to impose itself on reality. This is what summarizes Gramsci’s famous slogan: against the pessimism of the intelligence, the optimism of the will. The voluntarist subjectivism of anarchism would be simply another way of articulating this. Its closest political exemplification would be Ayuso saying that there are no studies supporting the obvious or denialists and anarchists affirming that the use of masks is nothing more than an authoritarian exercise unable to protect anyone from the contagion of a disease which many even go so far as to deny.

All this to understand how the losses of a business can be considered equivalent to the death of hundreds of people in one day, or how a massacre can become invisible.

But there is something extra. And it is important. reality is indeed contradictory, there is no tendency that does not have its counterpoint. But that doesn’t mean that all tendencies weigh the same in the dialectic of reality or that they all point to the same place. In fact, the meaning and basis of these tendencies is what matters. In all the struggles of the workers as a class and for their own interests, we see – in different degrees and forms – universal human needs.

Today: to stop contagion, to ensure the supply of families, to care for and protect everyone equally… is progressive because it aims at overcoming a manner of organizing production and society that ends up opposing human life to the continuity of an accounting trick which conceals exploitation and, along the way, keeps destroying the capacities of society in a thousand different ways: crisis, war, suicides, loneliness, violence, discrimination…

On the other hand, trying to freeze history at a point where the small businessman, the academic or the corporate middle class are recognized by the big funds, pampered by the state linked to them. Where they reaffirm their status vis-à-vis the workers and are not overwhelmed by the crises of the system or the pandemic, this may take apparently anti-capitalist forms but is profoundly reactionary. Be it in its ultra-right-wing version, in its denialist version, in its environmentalist version, or in its left-wing liberal or identity-based version.

All these petty bourgeois movements affirm, although they cannot compensate, the capitalist material truth that makes all their current manifestations reactionary. The petty bourgeoisie exploits because it has more and more difficulty in profitably exploiting the labor of others and fears proletarianization. Its slogans, the call to save businesses before people, express the devaluation of those human lives that it cannot make profitable in its accounts of exploitation.


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