In the context of this prevailing petit bourgeois interest in the expansion of bureaucracy, there emerges, in Lenin’s view, a competition for power among different bourgeois and petit bourgeois political parties, which share and redistribute bureaucratic posts in accordance with wins and losses in political competition. This dynamic establishes the phenomenon of petit bourgeois socialism, in which political parties under petty bourgeois leadership proclaim an idealist form of socialism in order to attract the workers and peasants to their side, giving these “socialist” political parties an advantage in the competition for bureaucratic posts. But petit bourgeois socialism does not have an objective interest in the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the taking of power by the proletariat, inasmuch as the proletariat has an interest in the gradual elimination of the bureaucracy, with necessary administrative functions carried out by workers themselves. Therefore, the petit bourgeois socialists, to the extent that they are successful in the competition with the other bourgeois and petit bourgeois parties, will seek to mediate an arrangement between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, according to which there is an improvement in the economic and social level of the workers, thus promoting a degree of social stability within the structures of capitalism, and at the same time making necessary the further expansion and strengthening of the bureaucratic apparatus. Thus the petit bourgeois socialists ultimately betray the proletarian revolution, promoting their interest in political stability and bureaucratic expansion (Lenin 1997:47-48, 54).
Rosa Luxemburg also writes of the pernicious influence of petit bourgeois social democracy, which distorts the concepts of Marx in order to formulate a theory advocating the improvement of the conditions of the working class within the structures of the capitalist system, abandoning the perspective of the taking of power by the proletariat. The social democratic parties were able to attain parliamentary majorities in the competition among competing bourgeois and petit bourgeois political parties, thus giving these socialist parties control of the bureaucratic apparatus of the state. But the bourgeoisie was not dislodged from power, and the bureaucracy continued to serve its interests, although it did function as a mechanism for the improvement of the social and economic conditions of the working class, a necessary precondition for the maintenance of control of the bureaucratic apparatus by the petit bourgeois socialist parties. The true character of petty bourgeois socialism in Europe was revealed by the break-out of World War I, when the leaders of the social democratic parties in the various nations supported their respective national bourgeoisies, thus contributing to the slaughter of workers in the trenches of Europe in a war caused by the quest for domination of the planet by competing imperialist powers (Luxemburgo 2002:19-20, 27-28).
Thus, classical Marxist theory viewed the petit bourgeoisie as a class with a tendency to appear to be taking the side of the workers in opposition to the interests of the bourgeoisie, but in reality the petit bourgeoisie did not have an interest in creating a worker-controlled socialist state. The objective interest of the petit bourgeoisie was in the reform of the capitalist system, improving the standard of living of the workers and peasants, and thus providing the foundation for political stability. A less conflictive and more stable capitalist system, with a higher standard of living that would include increased access to petit bourgeois commercial and professional services administered by ever growing public and private bureaucracies, would expand and empower the petty bourgeoisie. Thus, according to classical Marxist theory, the petit bourgeoisie proclaimed its support for the worker-led socialist revolution, but in actuality it tried to serve as a mediator between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, directing the revolution toward reform and thus undermining the possibility of socialist transformation. Classical Marxists saw this dynamic, which they viewed as a petit bourgeois betrayal of the workers’ revolution, unfolding in both Russia as well as Western Europe in the early decades of the twentieth century. In Western Europe, petit bourgeois socialism rescued the bourgeoisie from the proletarian revolution following World War I. In the Soviet Union, during the 1920s a petit bourgeois counterrevolution took control of and redirected the proletarian revolution, facilitating a transition from soviets and popular power to a system controlled from above by the state bureaucracy (Lenin 1997:27-30, 47-48; Trotsky 2008:742; Trotsky 1972:31, 68; Luxemburgo 2002; Grant 1997).
Observing the role of the petit bourgeois socialist or social democratic parties, Trotsky formulated a distinction between a reformist political party and a revolutionary political party. “In practice a reformist party considers unshakable the foundations of that which it intends to reform. It thus inevitably submits to the ideas and morals of the ruling class.” In contrast, a revolutionary political party formulates an intellectual and moral perspective that is an alternative to the assumptions, concepts, and values that are integral to the functioning of the political-economic system of capitalism. The reformist political parties rise on the backs of the workers and peasants, but they are in essence bourgeois parties. A revolutionary party is authentic, faithful to its commitment to workers and peasants to lead the masses in the development of a political-economic system that is an alternative to the political economy of capitalism (Trotsky 2008:739). In a similar vein, Rosa Luxemburg, on the basis of her observations of the pernicious role of social democracy, made a sharp distinction between reform and revolution. She maintains that reform is the improvement of the situation of the workers within the existing order, whereas revolution is the conquest of political power by the workers (Luxemburgo 2002:23).
The distinction between reform and revolution by Trotsky and Luxemburg remains valid. It makes clear that a revolution requires the formulation of fundamental assumptions, concepts and values that are alternatives to the capitalist world-economy, and that provide the foundation for the popular taking of power in order to develop a world-system that responds to popular interests and needs.
But the betrayal of the revolution by the petit bourgeoisie pertains more to Europe than to the colonial situation. In the neocolonized nations of the world-system, where the middle class does not benefit from the superexploitation of other lands and thus lives in a more precarious material situation, the petit bourgeoisie has an interest in the autonomous development of the nation and thus in the fundamental structural transformation of the neocolonial system. For this reason, although ideologies significantly penetrate the middle class of the neocolonized nation, members of the petit bourgeoisie play a significant role, including a leadership role, in the revolutionary process and in the development of a socialist alternative in theory and in practice.
Moreover, in the context of the present structural crisis of the world-system, the petit bourgeoisie of the core nations no longer has the same possibility for protecting its interests in the context of the capitalist world-economy. During the twentieth century, material benefits to the core middle class were made possible through the conquest and superexploitation of vast regions of the planet and through government deficit spending. But in the twenty-first century, the conquest of new lands and peoples has been overextended, and government borrowing has exceeded reasonable limits. The providing of a secure and comfortable middle class life to members of private and governmental bureaucracies is no longer possible, and the core middle class will increasingly find itself in precarious material conditions. Therefore, like its colonized and neocolonized counterparts of the twentieth century, the core middle class of the twenty-first century will increasingly cast its lot with the popular sectors and will play an important role in the popular revolutions of the twenty-first century. No doubt many of its members will participate in resistance and reaction, but many of its members also will play leadership roles in the coming socialist popular revolutions of the core. Like their counterparts in the colonized and neocolonized regions of the twentieth century, they will dedicate and even sacrifice their lives for the sake of the revolution and for the good of humanity.
Grant, Ted. 1997. Rusia—De la revolución a la contrarrevolución: Un análisis marxista. Prólogo de Alan Woods. Traducción de Jordi Martorell. Madrid: Fundación Federico Engels. [Originally published in English as: RUSSIA—From Revolution to Counterrevolution].
Lenin, V.I. 1997. El Estado y La Revolución. Madrid: Fundación Federico Engels.
Luxemburgo, Rosa. 2002. Reforma o revolución. Madrid: Fundación Federico Engels.
Trotsky, Leon. 1972. The Revolution Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and where is it going? New York: Pathfinder Press.
__________. 2008. History of the Russian Revolution. Translated by Max Eastman. Chicago: Haymarket Books.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Russian Revolution, Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, petit bourgeoisie, reform or revolution