The Revolt of the Spanish Petty Bourgeoisie

14 May, 2020

According to the official narrative of the Spanish Radio and Television, after the daily creepy nationalist show at eight o’clock -national hymn, applause, “Resistiré”, military funeral march songs- a group of neighbors from Núñez de Balboa street went to congratulate a very “original” DJ who, apparently, was ending the season and bidding farewell to his audience. Immediately the police appeared to break up the march and their presence led to a preview of the “nine o’clock pots and pans protest”, turning the gathered neighbors into a spontaneous demonstration supported from the balconies to the cry of “Communists out!”, “Freedom!” and “Government resignation!”.

Other media offered almost immediately slightly different accounts in which one could see the underlying tension, the desire to exercise a certain “civil disobedience” and that there were “more journalists than demonstrators”. In fact, they were expecting it. The police have long feared street outbreaks from the right wing closest to Vox and warned the government that this summer and fall could be marked by petty bourgeois protest on the one hand and a rising tide of strikes on the other.

The National Police and the Guardia Civil have informed the Interior Ministry that, after the summer months, a scenario of mobilizations against the Executive, labor demands and a new offensive of Catalan independentism is expected. The worst projections even point to a situation of great social cost and a deep erosion of the institutions with more worrying destabilizing effects.

The Barbour Rebellion

Meme widely distributed in petty bourgeois networks these days.

In petty bourgeois neighborhoods across the country, powerlessness and anger have been on the rise for weeks. What changes from one city to another and from one profile to another is how it is politically processed. It is not very thoughtful: there are no elaborate arguments about the pandemic and its effects. The discontent is expressed as generic outrage, with variable foci in small media anecdotes, to reaffirm previous ideological positions. In Barcelona’s “Quatre Torres”, the anguish turns into a reproach for the recentralization brought about by the state of siege. The fact that the “de-escalation” is done on a provincial basis leads to endless examples of diversity within each province as if it were a fact limited to the Catalan provinces. The narrative, which is clearly minor, is lived with a passion and tension that is incomprehensible without a long context prior to the pandemic.

The “Barrio de Salamanca” version of this same class is that petite bourgeoisie of Oviedo, Valladolid, Sevilla or Murcia who walks around disguised in hunting clothes and Barbour accessories and who once idolized former president Aznar, one of their own. They have been living an intense life in Whatsapp from the beginning of the pandemic. Synchronized by the conservative radio stations every morning, they share old audios of Podemos’ Pablo Iglesias as if they were energy drinks, varied memes with slogans claiming that the government “wants to shut us up” and slogans full of that primary anti-communism that until recently was exclusive to the Venezuelan opposition in exile. They feel deprived. Stripped of their identity by the evolution of a political system that has spread so thinly among regional governments that they can no longer recognize the state except in their armed bodies; they feel stripped of their national identity, but also of their intimacy by the elevation of feminism to a state ideology. And above all they feel deprived by the evolution of the economic system and the crisis. They feel solidarity with the farmer – another petty bourgeois family –, with the “lifelong” shopkeeper who has to close down his business, with the friend who owns restaurants or gas stations in the village they go to hunt and who is “having a hard time” under lockdown. And they do so because they too are having a hard time: the banks and the financial sector no longer recruit middle managers en masse and even less so those of a certain age, the investments they made in flats or in stocks no longer yield, their children – trained in private schools – do not have expectations equivalent to those he had at his age.

Something very significant, they are uninterested in Spexit. They are still ” neoliberal“, chauvinist and globalist at the same time. Their global perspective is even poorer and more defeatist than that of the media because politics is that which is decided in the morning news, with its strict thematic division in which national news belongs to a world of its own, “different and distant” from the international news. The “outsiders” are not part of the “problem”, which always ends up being the government. Like catalan independentists, they agree with the dumbest nordist clichés because they reflect the image of a “fallen country” in need of redemption, a “big change”. They may vote for Casado (PP) or Abascal (Vox), but their real reference is still Aznar.

The petty bourgeoisie and the coming political crisis

Catalan independentist tractor demonstration in Barcelona.

In Italy, France or Spain the seams of the political apparatus are already popping. What we are seeing is that the petty bourgeoisie will resume its revolt with renewed strength… and growing frustration. Aspirations such as Scottish independence are materially impossible with oil prices this low, Corsican nationalism will be the first casualty of the collapse of the tourism sector. The agrarian base that the electoral system makes so important for the Italian, French or Spanish right-wing great state nationalists, which now boosts prices while keeping miserable salaries and shameful situations on the verge of slavery, is going to “have a very hard time”. And all of them are going to put in the foreground, as a “necessity of the economy” increasing exploitation, lowering wages and reducing state health and social coverage in order to “make the state cheaper”.

Before the covid, we could already see that under the “people’s revolts” that took place last year there was a growing contradiction. The petty bourgeoisie was asphyxiating and demanded that the bourgeoisie and the state give them a piece of the “recovery” that big capital was beginning to enjoy, that is, it wanted oxygen at the expense of the precarization and transfer of income that others were managing. Now, like so many other things, that trend has accelerated. The petty bourgeoisie that just before the Covid was already attacking the minimum wage, is now revolting against a de-escalation that was already imprudent when it was designed in order to turn it into a complete de-escalation as soon as possible.

When the president of the Community of Madrid compares the two hundred daily deaths produced by the covid in Spain today with traffic accidents to argue this, she is not only committing a fallacy of scale. She is operating within a tacit consensus of the entire ruling class with the government at the helm: saving investments takes precedence over saving lives, the aim of containment measures is not to stop the disease to save as many people as possible but to avoid a healthcare system collapse and return to “normal” production as soon as possible. It is the same thing Merkel said yesterday: “we agreed that we would not be able to stop the coronavirus, but we would be able to slow down its spread”. The difference between Ayuso and Merkel is that she says it with impudence and a fallacious argument. And she is doing this because these kinds of arguments are so standardized in her environment, the Madrid petty bourgeoisie, that she is not even aware that there are people capable of thinking otherwise or who are afraid to see themselves or their own as possible “necessary sacrifices” to make business profitable again as soon as possible.

The Noisy Class

The petty bourgeoisie is radicalizing. The first sections of it that do so express the interests of their small capital by charging against the most basic need of all: public health in the midst of a pandemic. The industrial, commercial, financial and agrarian petty bourgeoisie will be followed more than likely by other sectors of the same class – academia, regional bureaucracies, corporate cadres – with even greater ideological exuberance – but no better intentions for the workers. But they will occupy all the space with an infinite noise, a thousand false dichotomies (fascism-antifascism, fascism-feminism, war-pacifism, climate change denialism-environmentalism, etc.) and “progressive” solutions to the crisis that are neither progressive nor based on anything else but promoting massive transfers of income from labor to capital.

In the historical period in which we are living, the mobilizations of the petty bourgeoisie, regardless of their ideological expression, cannot converge with those of the workers. On the contrary, they will be increasingly in conflict with the universal needs that the workers’ struggles assert. Worker’s struggles will have to overcome any nationalist temptation, any ”popular” approach in order to advance. From day one.


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