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The discreet charm of the petty bourgeoisie: Marx, Proudhon, and the critique of political economy

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Thesis type
(Thesis) M.A.
Date created
This thesis examines Marx and Engels's concept of the petty bourgeoisie and its application to the French socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Rather than treating the concept as purely derogatory, I show that for Marx and Engels, the petty bourgeoisie was crucial in their broader critique of political economy by embodying the contradiction between capital and labour. Because of their structural position between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the petty bourgeoisie are economically, politically, and socially pulled in two separate directions––identifying with either the owners of property, with propertyless workers, or with both simultaneously. This analysis is then extended by investigating Marx's critique of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. I argue that for Marx, Proudhon was not wrong because he was a member of the petty bourgeoisie. Rather, Proudhon mirrored the contradiction between capital and labour by attempting to steer a middle course between liberal political economy and socialism. This meant that for Marx and Engels, Proudhon's theories were incapable of leading to a world beyond capitalism, a point that activists today may find useful.
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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Leier, Mark
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