This would probably apply equally to all software engineers that formed their own company, whether it is Mark Zuckerburg, Noland Bushnell, or David Crane. These entrepreneurs started their companies with very little money. Legend has it Atari was founded on $500, Activision received $650,000 in venture capital, and Facebook was founded on $200,000 and received half a million in VC for a 10% interest in the company.

Marx defined several classes of people, the Landlord Class, the Bourgeoisie, the petty Bourgeoisie, and the Proletariat.

What class did those engineers belong to?

Did it change when they founded their companies?

  • Are you asking about companies in general, or very specifically start up software companies?
    – user1530
    May 4, 2013 at 23:49
  • @user1873 whether software engineers are dependent upon their income kind of depends on whether you view them as labour aristocrats, a "new petits-bourgeois" (Poulantzas) or in some cases as anticipatory bourgeois if they're paid in options. May 5, 2013 at 21:06
  • Well you could start by reading any of the 19th century debate on imperialism: no one private capital particularly needs to engage in imperialism for the metropole to benefit from the exploitation of the periphery: it is an aggregate relationship. And, in any case, the claim regarding labour aristocracy was that a skilled stratum was bought off, the stratum under investigation in the 19thC being bought off with the fruits of external imperialism. An equivalent argument is available without having to specify the source of the disproportionate wages. May 6, 2013 at 2:34

5 Answers 5


As a Marxist, I can answer from an opinionated AND analytic response. If you've ever read 'Das Kapital' or 'The Communist Manifesto', Marx at a base level considers anyone who owns a business to be some form of bourgeoisie.

Now you can be a petty-bourgeois or a -just- a bourgeois. So let's say a man has a small bakery and hires several workers. Now he is considered a petty-bourgeois who will eventually either become a member of the bourgeoisie when his company grows OR will be reduced to becoming a worker (proletariat) when a larger group or more powerful member of the bourgeoisie buys him out, runs him out of business etc.

So in the end it's rather simple. If you start a company and hire people, you belong to the petty-bourgeoisie. If you get really big and hire a lot of people. A lot of workers. Then you become bourgeois, and according to Marx, an enemy of the worker.

  • 1
    What if you're self-employed and cannot afford to hire employees, so you are your own bottle-washer, cleaning lady and fix-it man? What if your only capital is a kitchen table, the computer you bought from your meager savings, and what's in your head? What if your contact at your first client is a "worker" (salaried employee) who works half the hours but makes three times the money you do? P.S.: A person can be a member of the bourgeoisie but he or she cannot be bourgeoisie, anymore than a person can be capitalism or proletariat. However, a person can be a bourgeois. May 28, 2013 at 8:58
  • After a while, business picks up and you need to hire people to take on the extra work. That big customer stiffs you and you still have to meet payroll. You do, but then you are forced to declare bankruptcy. Were you the enemy of your "worker"? May 28, 2013 at 9:19
  • To answer your questions in Marxist terms. If you are self-employed and you are the only employee, no you wouldn't be considered a member of the Bourgeoisie or even the Petty-bourgeoisie. When and if you take the step to hiring on more workers you become a member of the Petty-Bourgeoisie. After which, if you declare bankruptcy you become a member of the Proletariat or if you succeed you become a member of the Bourgeoisie. Remember though, that sense the 1800s when Karl Marx wrote his Manifesto we have had a lot of changes in workers. Someone can be salaried or even be a stock holder in a May 28, 2013 at 15:15
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    Thos answer would be approved with a citation to Marx's work directly, abd perhaps the applicable definition (or a summary, if it isn't terse enough for a quote). Oct 16, 2017 at 4:18
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    @tj1000 You don't understand communism; it's about central control. A business owner is a decentralized entity; so the central control owns everything and extends jobs to everything.
    – FalseHooHa
    Oct 16, 2017 at 15:12

The bourgeoisie.

It doesn't change that they're the founder. They're usually just as reliant on finance capital as existing capital.

The failures tend to be petits-bourgeois (or "kleine" more accurately) bourgeois rather than haute or gross bourgeois. The distinctions being whether they employ wage labour and how much.

The central class relationship in capitalism, for the Marxist, is the relationship around the ownership of capital and wage labour. "Those engineers" belong to the bourgeoisie no more or no less than Isambard Kingdom Brunel, also an engineer, sometime successful as a capitalist.

Whether their class changed when they founded a company to reproduce value in an expanded form depends on their previous class relationship. In Zuckerberg's case he probably comes from the kleine bourgeois, given his parents profession and the structure of dental work as collective team labour with employees. So no, Zuckerberg's class didn't change appreciably, but the role of his control of capital changed significantly as the volume of capital controlled expanded.

  • So, it is their access to capital that make them bourgeoisie? What if David Crane was unable to find venture capital, and continued working at Atari for $20,000 per year? (would that make him dependent upon his labor for income and part of the working class?)
    – user1873
    May 4, 2013 at 13:10
  • 1
    That depends how he spends it. If he would hire an Indian programmer to program his Atari and take $5000 in the process he would be bourgeousie. If he would put in his own effort for the full $20,000 he would be part of the industrial working class.....
    – Major Byte
    May 4, 2013 at 21:51
  • 1
    Like @SamualRussell said: for the Marxist, the relationship around is the ownership of capital and wage labour. If you can hire someone to do your dirty work your Bourgeoisie.....
    – Major Byte
    May 4, 2013 at 23:13
  • @Major Byte those who do not hire labor but own means of production and work themselves also belong to (a sort of) bourgeoisie.
    – Anixx
    May 6, 2013 at 1:07
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    @user1873 here by "capital" is meant means of production rather than some investment money. Since David Cane worked on his own means of production, we say that he owned the capital (even if it was only his garage and tools, lol).
    – Anixx
    May 6, 2013 at 1:10

One has to remember that Marx wrote his manifesto in the midst of the industrial revolution, when there was considerable abuse of monopoly power and definitely abuse of the working class in manual labor jobs. At that time, there were no laws regarding employment conditions, so the oligarchs were free to squeeze their people for all they could.

People working for a software firm are paid to generate intellectual property. A motivated, satisfied person is ten to twenty times as productive as an abused or disaffected person. Consequently, a Marx style industrial abusive work environment tends to destroy the company, as productivity plummets, and the most productive people leave for better working conditions.

The big difference between the industrial revolution and the tech revolution is - the tech revolution relies on inspiration and motivation, not pure sweat. Marx age working conditions are not only cruel, in the software field they are counterproductive.

Yes, there are 'software sweatshops'... anyone who works in software knows what companies to avoid. If you're good, you can find a position elsewhere.

So, to get back to your question - how would Marx categorize an entrepreneur? They don't really fit in to any of his categories, because both the economic and social conditions have changed so much since Marx's time.

  • Don't forget Marx preceded effective Birth Control by about a century. The biggest reason workers are no longer a dime a dozen is simple scarcity.
    – MSalters
    Oct 18, 2017 at 11:59
  • @MSalters: I think birth control has little to do with the shortage described here, i.e. of software engineers. If you look at a country like Bangladesh and its textile industry, the conditions are probably not so different from Marx's time... That most Bangladeshis are not software engineers has little to do with birth control. Scarcity of highly skilled labour was something that Marx probably didn't encounter much in his time; scarcity gives said labour some bargaining power. Sep 17, 2019 at 10:16
  • And for non-high-tech workers, their bargaining power (assuming it is proportional to the labor share) has probably decreased since Marx's time wsj.com/articles/… The rise of the "superstars" is accompanied by a (contrary) downward trend for the average. Sep 17, 2019 at 10:26

Here's the thing. There is only one way to make money according to Marx -- you have to get someone to work for free. That sounds crazy, but this is what Marx meant. You have to hire someone to work for you who will create more value than you pay them for. So in essence, the worker is not paid for part of his work, in Marx's viewpoint. Some of the value created by the worker goes to the owner instead. For those who asked why the business owner who provides jobs to the worker becomes the enemy, you now have your answer. Work under these terms is fundamentally exploitative to Marx. The typical response of the capitalist is to say, well, you don't have to accept that job or that salary. While this is true, it's also misleading. Because exploitation in the fashion described is the basis for all jobs in capitalism. Every job offer in Capitalism would have this exploitation as an a priori feature. The worker must produce more value than he is paid. What's the alternative? Marx doesn't do a very good job detailing the alternative, but it would be some version of Communism, where the workers own the means of production. If you start your own business, you attempt to move into the world of the exploitative capitalist. But what Marx describes is that for most companies, a larger company will put them out of business. So then you enter the workforce again. Increased competition for jobs leads to lower wages for workers. To Marx, revolution was inevitable. It was a philosophical necessity. While all of this is an interesting answer to the question, I find that Marx's work about value itself and how money flattens every other notion of what a person might value is quite compelling. A good place to start is to read Marx's essay "The Power of Money in Bourgeois Society."

  • 2
    This post may benefit from quoting the relevant parts of Marx' works. Otherwise, it looks like a subjective interpretation that attracts downvotes, denials, and extended discussion. Oct 16, 2017 at 4:24
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    @indigochild Your comment would be more constructive when you would point out which parts exactly are inaccurate and how they could be worded more accurately. But besides that, this answer does not really seem to answer the question.
    – Philipp
    Oct 16, 2017 at 9:31
  • Downvoted because this is an inaccurate summary of Marx's work. His analysis does not require that someone work for free in order for profit to be realized. I would also be surprised if he said that workers are not paid for part of their work (he distinguishes between the value of the labor and the value produced). I would be prepared to change my downvote to an upvote if the claims made here were sourced. Oct 16, 2017 at 14:57

The moment someone starts their own company, nothing much happens. They still work, and sell their work for money. The interesting transition points are in my opinion

  • accumulate enough 'capital' (that may be in the form of software written) so that a sizeable part of the income is in fact rent on this capital
  • Hire workers and sell their work, thus extracting surplus value

ETA:*: In response to the claim that capitalists "are employed by their customer":
This is very wrong , with a kernel of truth. The wrong: Customers don't hold the same kind of power over a capitalist as the capitalist does over their employees. The kernel of truth is of course, that capitalists are stuck in a rat race against other capital and compete for the same market. But they have options: exploit their workers harder (e.g. invest in machinery that allows the same worker o produce more), move their factory to aplace with lower wages or even liquidate and invest the money in a more profitable ndustry. The key difference between capital and workers beeing that capitalists can move capital, while workers can only move themselves, sometimes.
Claiming that capitalists are employed by their customers is more ofcustating than telling.

  • I've edited a reply to your @FalseHooHa into the answer .
    – mart
    Oct 16, 2017 at 19:53
  • @FalseHooHa - That makes no sense at all. Based on your comments on the answers to this question, maybe you would like to post your own answer? Oct 16, 2017 at 20:23
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    They still work, and sell their work for money. Actually, all business owners, employees, etc are employed by the customer. At any point, customers may walk. Business owners and people with money can lose everything. Remember the Brazilian billionaire who lost billions? Customers walked to competition. Brazilian billionaire mentioned - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eike_Batista. He went from billions at one point to negative net worth. Added reference.
    – FalseHooHa
    Oct 16, 2017 at 20:39
  • The more I think about it, the less FalseHooHa's point applies to what I've written. I give up.
    – mart
    Oct 17, 2017 at 5:32

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