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Bourgeoisie [ bʊʁʒo̯a'ziː ] ( French for ' bourgeoisie ') is generally a designation for the wealthy bourgeoisie or, in Marxism, the designation of the ruling social class of society , which is opposed to the class of the proletariat and sometimes to differentiate it from the (artistic) bohemian is used.

In contrast to the broad concept of the citizen , which also includes the citoyen in the sense of the citizen , the concept of the bourgeois comprises the upper class of the secular upper class. While the individual bourgeois already existed in earlier social epochs , the bourgeoisie only became politically significant as a separate force in Europe during the feudal and absolutist age.

The term has a central meaning within the Marxist theory going back to Karl Marx , in which it is used as a synonym for capitalist and thus for exploiters . Based on this theory, the term developed a derogatory valuation character: A typical bourgeois is accordingly a very rich member of the upper class who has a conservative or reactionary attitude.

Social structural development and conceptual history

With the beginning of industrialization in Germany , a new layer of the bourgeoisie, called the “bourgeoisie” in France, emerged, the “property bourgeoisie”. It was only to a small extent from the traditional, commercially dominated bourgeoisie or from the educated middle class out, but has been mostly successful craftsmen founded. In the course of the 19th century , following various bourgeois revolutions such as the July Revolution of 1830, the February Revolution of 1848 and the March Revolution of 1848/49 against the politics of Restoration, the revolutionary forces increasingly split into two opposing classes: On the one hand, the Third Estate, which has been was the spokesman for the progressive movements during the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution, on the other hand the proletariat , which grew rapidly in the course of the industrial revolution , was understood as the "fourth estate" and increasingly appeared as a separate political force in the form of the workers' movement .

The labor movement turned against the bourgeoisie, formerly understood as progressive and revolutionary, which, conversely, developed as a Juste milieu into the ruling class and, after the implementation of its bourgeois revolution, became a conservative, anti-revolutionary force. The political conflict within society no longer existed between the nobility and the clergy as representatives of the ancien régimes on the one hand and the bourgeois-proletarian majority on the other, but above all between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat themselves.

One of the first socialists to formulate an insurmountable contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie was the tailor Wilhelm Weitling . Weitling had a decisive influence on the Union of the Just , which emerged in Paris in 1836 from the Union of Outlaws , a forerunner of the later socialist and communist parties . Weitlings influence declined as a result of arguments with Karl Marx after the League of the Just in London was renamed the League of Communists and came under the predominant influence of Marx and Friedrich Engels .

Marx and Engels expanded the theory of the opposition between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie with a scientific claim. In 1848 they published the influential Communist Party's manifesto in which they called for the international and revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie in order to enforce communism as a classless society .

Scientific use of terms

Whether the term bourgeoisie, and with it the designation bourgeois society, should also be used to describe contemporary societies is a matter of dispute within science - especially sociology. Because even the division of society into social classes is doubted because of its political explosiveness.

The term civil society is still used scientifically, albeit no longer as a dominant figure of description as it was in the 1970s . In its place came the socio-structurally indeterminate concept of civil society . The problem for the description of modern societies is in particular that the bourgeoisie "is socially so generalized today that it seems to be everything and nothing, an almost indifferent category." ( Markus Pohlmann : The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie? )

Definition according to Karl Marx

In the works of Karl Marx , the bourgeoisie, the capitalist upper class, appears as that of the two great classes ruling capitalism . This rule is what matters in the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat , the employed wage workers . The petty bourgeoisie of the smaller self-employed occupies an intermediate position .

The bourgeoisie emerged from the third estate of feudal society, which was made up primarily of craftsmen , traders , and free and land- owning large farmers . In the course of the industrial revolution , but also in the course of the so-called original accumulation , these classes developed into factory owners and large entrepreneurs .

In contrast to the ruled and exploited class of workers , whose members only have their labor that can be sold on the labor market, the upper bourgeoisie are the owners of the decisive means of production (e.g. factories, means of transport, mineral resources) and can use them - and through the exploitation of the workers - constantly increase their capital .

According to Marx, the interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are objectively contradicting and irreconcilable. According to his prognosis, their opposition (antagonism) necessarily leads to class struggle , which leads to a dictatorship of the proletariat . In the implementation of socialism and then communism as the highest stage of classless society , historical development comes to an end: For Marx and historical materialism , which is based on his theories, the whole history of mankind is to be understood as a sequence of class struggles, in which, through revolutions, one The previous ruling class is overthrown in order to replace an old form of society with a new one with new economic, political and cultural rules. In this context, the bourgeoisie had the historically progressive role of overthrowing the ruling class of the nobility in feudal society, including absolutism and feudalism , in order to establish capitalism and, with it, modern society .

Definition according to Immanuel Wallerstein

The theorist of world systems theory , Immanuel Wallerstein , follows up on Marx's theory and enriches it with newer sociological and political science elements. For him, the bourgeoisie is a dynamic, that is, a phenomenon that is constantly changing. For him, there is no fixed ideal type of the bourgeois. Instead, there are different, spatially and temporally limited, dominant forms of organization of the bourgeoisie. These depend on the degree of development of the world economy as a whole, the role of the spatially delimited area (such as a nation state ) within the world economy, and the resulting forms of class struggle in the world economy.

An individual who is part of this class is characterized by participation in the following process: a bourgeois, because of his membership of a certain group, to certain circles, etc., receives a part of a surplus value that was not produced by himself, and sets this (in whole or in part) for capital accumulation .

Belonging to the bourgeoisie is not restricted by the exercise of certain professions or the disposal of any kind of property . Entry into the bourgeoisie can also take place by means of a springboard or on the basis of particular ambition or talent. Belonging to the class does not guarantee that they will remain in it. At this point, according to Wallerstein, certain character traits become decisive for the bourgeois, namely cleverness, hardness and hard work. Because the most important criterion for staying up in the league is success in the market .

For the individuals who consider themselves the bourgeoisie permanently associated, arises over time, the question of how the bonuses are to be kept without being constantly exposed to the tremendous competition and pressure to perform. The strategy for solving this problem lies in converting economic success into social status . From this, however, another problem arises for the bourgeoisie, namely the fact that, due to the economic dynamics of capitalism, new bourgeois are created who do not yet have social status, but claim it for themselves. However, since the valuable good of social status loses its distinctive character and thus its actual value if too many dispose of it, there are fights between the new and the old bourgeoisie.

Comprador bourgeoisie

To distinguish it from the national bourgeoisie in individual capitalist countries, the term comprador bourgeoisie is used in relation to the history of colonialism and describes the indigenous class that maintains colonialist exploitation from outside in the interior of the country. The comprador bourgeoisie, also known as the comprador class, has no interest in building up industry and accumulating capital, but only in the accumulation of wealth. According to Nicos Poulantzas , the comprador bourgeoisie acts as an intermediary for foreign capital.

Inner bourgeoisie

In the 1970s, the Greco-French state theorist Nicos Poulantzas introduced the term “inner bourgeoisie” into the predominantly Marxist debate about imperialism . Poulantzas distinguishes the inner bourgeoisie from those of the national and comprador bourgeoisie. Its existence is the result of the progressive internationalization of production and capital, especially after the Second World War. According to Poulantzas, this class is linked to capital from abroad, but at the same time has its basis of reproduction within the state itself. While the concepts of national bourgeoisie and comprador bourgeoisie (governor-bourgeoisie) focus primarily on the relationship between capitalist centers and peripheries, one can with the concept of the “inner bourgeoisie” also grasp the relationship between imperial powers like the USA and Europe under internationalized capitalist conditions. The inner bourgeoisie would have become the ruling faction in the state in the course of internationalization and would have to deal with the interests of the ruling imperialist capital (Poulantzas names the USA), international production, the world market, etc. within the national formation. In contrast to the national bourgeoisie, which occupies a relatively autonomous position, the inner bourgeoisie is therefore inextricably linked with the internationalized capitalist relations, but its basis is the (internationalized) nation state.

See also



  • Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party . In: MEW . tape 4 . Dietz, Berlin 1959, p. 459-493 ( ).
  • Friedrich Engels: The position of the bourgeoisie to the proletariat . In: MEW . tape 2 . Dietz, Berlin 1972, p. 486–506 ( - chapter of The Situation of the Working Class in England ).
  • Nicos Poulantzas: Political Power and Social Classes . Athenaeum Fischer, Frankfurt a. M. 1968.
  • Werner Sombart : The Bourgeois: To the intellectual history of the modern business man . 6th edition. Duncker & Humblot, 2002, ISBN 3-428-10917-1 (first edition: 1913).
  • Immanuel Wallerstein: The class conflict in the capitalist world economy . In: Étienne Balibar , Immanuel Wallerstein (ed.): Rasse, Klasse, Nation. Ambivalent identities . Hamburg 1998, p. 141-153 .

Recent research literature

  • Edmond Goblot, Franz Schultheis, Louis Pinto (eds.): Class and Difference: Sociological Study of the Modern French Bourgeoisie . UVK, Konstanz 1994, ISBN 3-89669-832-X .
  • Joachim Fischer : Civil Society. On the historical sociology of contemporary society . In: Clemens Albrecht (ed.): The bourgeois culture and its avant-garde . Würzburg 2004, p. 97–119 ( [PDF; 203 kB ]).
  • Jürgen Kocka (ed.): Bourgeoisie in the 19th century. Germany in a European comparison. A selection (=  Kleine Vandenhoeck series . Volume II: Business Citizens and Educated Citizens , No. 1574 ). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1995, ISBN 3-525-33598-9 ( - first edition: 1988, first published by Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag [DTV, 4482], ISBN 3-423-04482-9 ).
  • Markus Pohlmann : The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie? - A contribution to the sociology of the modern business middle class . In: Steffen Sigmund, Gert Albert, Agathe Bienfait, Mateusz Stachura (eds.): Social constellation and historical perspective. Festschrift for M. Rainer Lepsius . VS, Wiesbaden 2008, p. 228-252 ( ).


Web links

Wiktionary: bourgeoisie  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. E.g. Friedrich Engels: On the question of housing . In: Karl Marx - Friedrich Engels - Works (MEW) . tape 18 . Dietz, Berlin 1962, p. 216 ( ).
  2. Markus Pohlmann: The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie? A contribution to the sociology of the modern business middle class. In: Steffen Sigmund, Gert Albert, Agathe Bienfait, Mateusz Stachura (eds.): Social constellation and historical perspective. Festschrift for M. Rainer Lepsius. Wiesbaden 2008, p. 228.
  3. The bourgeois definition of processes - and not of certain properties - is derived from the fact that Wallerstein does not have ideal types for classes.
  4. Schapour Ravasani: Comprador class. In: Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism. Volume 7 / II. 2010, p. 1423 f.
  5. ^ A b John Kannankulam , Jens Wissel : Inner Bourgeoisie. In: Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism. Volume 6 / II. 2005, p. 1136 ff.
  6. Cf. Jens Wissel: Transnationalization of the Bourgeoisie and New Networks of Power. In: Bretthauer et al. (Ed.): Poulantza's reading. VSA 2006. p. 242 ff.