Guyana has a small but growing petty (petit) bourgeois who dominates the economy (leaving out the giant multinationals like those involved in energy, mining, lumbering, etc.). The Guyanese petit (petty) bourgeois has been among commentaries recently. What is the petty bourgeoisie and how does it behave politically especially with regards to the working class PPP?
It is a term coined by Karl Marx, modern day founder of communism. It is used to describe small business folks who pursues wealth. They come from the working class and are above them economically but well below the capitalist bourgeois class. Like the bourgeois, they mostly financially concerned about themselves and families rather than community well being even if they come from an ethnic group that is conflict with another group as is Guyana. They are known for political grass hopping, meaning jumping from party to party, as they are not ideologically committed to a political cause.
Marx never really defined the term. He offered some examples of who they were, and he recognized their important role in transforming the society from rural to industrial towards socialism or communism (working class ownership of the means of production). None of the towering communists really defined the term. Lenin, following from Marx, used it profusely, recognizing the important role played by the petit bourgeois to transform society on the inevitable road to industrialization. The other communist ideologues also did not offer specific definitions of the term. Dr Cheddi Jagan also did not define the term. We only know who are included among the petty bourgeois such as self-employed, in the trades – electricians, contractors, etc. or with family-run shops. They provide services, engage in construction, carry out government contracts, and they do help create jobs, etc. One can add some large rice farmers and millers and those with small scale industries. Shopkeepers, come clerical staff, those with an opportunity to cash in on affiliation with government are also included – charging fees for appointments with political bosses, etc. There are also some clerical staff and economic opportunists in the mix among the petty bourgeoisie. The upper tier clerical staff or political bureaucrats use their connections in government to make deals for self-enrichment with blessings from political bosses regardless of which party in government. The lower and working classes complain they have virtually no connection with party apparatchiks and can’t get contracts although VP Jagdeo has been directing contracts to members of the lower classes or small contractors in communities across the country.
The petty bourgeois generally are better off economically than those with tertiary (university) education. Those of us with post-secondary education pursue the professions while the petty bourgeois, mostly without a college education, is largely self-employed pursuing wealth. The petty bourgeois is supposed to be revolutionary, bringing about change, but in Guyana and in most countries they are not political change promoters with rare exceptions. In Guyana, they were responsible for political change in 2015 and 2020. The petty bourgeois abandoned the PPP in 2015 and returned in 2020, clearly demonstrating they are not committed to an ideology or a party but to their economic interests.
The petty bourgeois is almost always on the side of the government – supporting the party in power except in our race-based conflict ridden society where they tend to align with the party of their race. But if they see economic opportunities in backing the other side, they would as happened in 2015 and 2020. They tend to drift towards the other race party when it serves their interests. They return when their race is in government.
In the Soviet Union and other communist countries, they were scorned upon and many of them were eliminated because they were considered as exploiters and abusers of the working class, somewhat akin to how the more wealthy capitalist bourgeoisie were seen. In China, many among the petty bourgeoisie were also eliminated. But since 1985, they have been embraced under the new economic policy of becoming wealthy to enrich China.
The Guyanese petty bourgeois had existed since colonial times rising from poverty (from indentureship and slavery) to be accepted by the White colonial ruling class. During the period of the dictatorship, a new petty bourgeois was created. Desmond Hoyte embraced the rising petty bourgeois and some of them, Indian bourgeois, formed a CREEP for his 1992 re-election campaign. Several of the CREEPs opportunistically embraced the PPP after its victory, but Jagan was watchful of them as they were not in involved in the freedom struggle nor in the movement for restoration of democracy against the dictatorship. After Jagan’s death, they wormed their way in the PPP and were granted contracts and opportunities that have made them extremely wealthy at the expense of the working class.
There are activists who complain that the petty bourgeois exercises greater influence than the working class who are the base of the PPP. The diaspora has expressed displeasure that the petty bourgeois has benefited at the expense of the masses. Those who fought for free and fair elections at home and the diaspora are not pleased about their alienation and the rise of the petty bourgeois. The diaspora that fought Burnhamism as well as the working class (affected by constantly rising prices) complain about the privileges given to the opportunistic petty bourgeois. It is an issue that the PPP has to address come next election.
The Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo stated days ago that the party will have to make a decision on whether it should remain working class. He seems in favor the working class having opportunities to enrich themselves. He is also well liked among the working class. There is no domestic local match for his political skills. He is indisputably very skillful and adept in political strategy. The PPP base loves him with no one having his stature since he was elected on his own in 2001. He ran (when he was President) and still run rings around the opposition. There is no other in government or opposition who commands the respect and power he has over the country. And without his skill, the PPP probably would not have been able to prevail in 2020.
He commands the respect and power he has over the country especially among government supporters. And without his skill, the PPP probably would not have been able to prevail in 2020.