- Capitalism and Alternatives -


Posted by: Barry Stoller on January 11, 19100 at 22:21:49:

In Reply to: There is a significant moral and economic and practical differemnce between petty proprietors and real full-blooded capitalists. posted by Nikhil Jaikumar on January 11, 19100 at 15:32:48:

: The morally detestable actions that we both descpise are more commonly committed by large capitalists than by small proprietors. This is no accident. The large, faceless corporate structure allows people like General Motors to disguise and deny tehir responsibility for teh deaths of innocent victims.

: I would hesitate even to call petty proprietors 'capitalist'- many small proprietors have little economic security, relatively low salaries, and actually contribute something of value (engineering expertise, etc.) to the running of the enterprise.

: There is a significant moral and economic and practical differemnce between petty proprietors and real full-blooded capitalists.

: Some petty properiteor, at least, are good people ythat we should have on our side as we battle the lareg capitalists.

I believe you are fundamentally wrong.

You cite an anecdote about a petty proprietor. I've worked for three petty proprietors and, Nikhil, believe me when I say that my anecdotes negate yours (and yours is dramatic).

You mention Burkina Faso and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. One example no longer exists, the other has yet to stand the test of time. I'm underwhelmed.

I agree with Marx and Engels that:

The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history.(1)

This means that the petty proprietor's mode of production itself stands in the way of progress. Progress is the amalgamation, rationalization, and centralization of capital. That's right, capital. Large-scale capitalism must precede socialism (which is the amalgamation, rationalization, and centralization of the means of production in the collective hands of the people). The petty proprietor resists this essential process, the consolidation of the means of production which are the fundamental objective conditions for initiating socialism.

Now, you know as well as I do that, most often, the petty proprietor is anything BUT progressive. 'Shock troops in the battle against labor unions and government controls,' as C. Wright Mills put it... Recall those health benefits statistics I cited before; add to that the fact that non-union workers (earning, on average, one third less than union workers) are exclusively employed by small capital. Then, there's historical examples, the most salient being Germany in the 1930s... And there's the experience of the Bolsheviks (who knew a thing or two about class relations during revolution):

[O]ur chief enemy is the petty bourgeoisie, its habits and customs, its economic position. The petty proprietor fears state capitalism above all, because he has only one desire---to grab, to get as much as possible for himself, to ruin and smash the big landowners, the big exploiters. In this the petty proprietor eagerly supports us.

Here he is more revolutionary than the workers, because he is more embittered and more indignant, and therefore he readily marches forward to smash the bourgeoisie---but not as a socialist does in order, after breaking the resistance of the bourgeoisie, to begin building a socialist economy based on the principles of, within the framework of a strict organization, and observing correct methods of control and accounting---but in order, by grabbing as much for himself and for his own ends, without the least concern for general state interests and the interests of the class of working people as a whole.(2)

Luckily, capital's own logic of development wipes out most petty proprietorship---doing much of socialism's dirty work for it. In Jefferson's day, three-fifths of America was owned capital. In 1940, 40%. Today, 10%. Socialism requires no Stalinist collectivization, capital collectivizes itself (like AOL and Time Warner did yesterday).*


* It's true that large-scale capital relies on some measure of small, intrepid capitalists to blaze trails of innovation---start-ups, as they're called. As Rosa Luxemburg observed 100 years ago, these small, intrepid capitalists are essential for capital expansion: the small, intrepid capitalists take the research & development risks FOR large capital---and capital acquires (through ever ubiquitous mergers) ONLY those small, intrepid capitalist endeavors which have been successful, leaving the others to perish in the 'free market.'


1. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, International 1948, p. 19.

2. Lenin, 'Session of the All-Russia C.E.C.,' Collected Works volume 27, p. 294.

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