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Bourgeoisie is defined by,

the middle class, typically with reference to its perceived materialistic values or conventional attitudes

As refer to Google define, enter image description here

Here, I see it actually means the middle-class people instead of upper class. However, when I watch debates between capitalists and communists/socialists, I find the problem of Capitalism is often referred as the clash/difference between social classes (Bourgeoisie vs. Proletariat). It is often assumed that the classes are upper rich class vs. lower working class. But, today I saw the definition somehow excluded the upper class (!). Why is the discussions then always between middle-class vs. lower class instead of upper class vs. lower class? What am I missing here?

Why did Karl Marx use a term representing middle class instead of upper rich class? Any background?

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    Read that definition carefully. Karl Marx didn't use a term that included the middle class: "(in Marxist contexts) the capitalist class..." Marx, of course, typically wrote in a Marxist context. This question might be a better fit for the English Language & Usage site. In political contexts, bourgeoisie means one thing, and Mr. Wrigley has provided a good explanation of this. But there are other contexts where the term can have other meanings. EL&U can cover those other contexts better.
    – Juhasz
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 22:50
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 17:55

4 Answers 4

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The Wikipedia page for Bourgeoisie is informative, and worth the read.

Strictly speaking, there was no equivalent of middle, upper, or lower classes (in the modern usage of the terms) prior to perhaps the 17th century. The bourgeoisie were the wealthiest segment of commoners under feudal aristocracies, all the way back to the 11th century: tradesmen, merchants, manufacturers, and the like, who developed a certain amount of social and economic power under the guild system. In that era, there were:

  • Feudal (titled) aristocrats, who owned land and earned money through rent and taxation
  • Agricultural peasants, who had no political status and owed fealty to the feudal lord who owned the land that they tilled
  • The bourgeoisie, who had a certain freedom as citizens within urban areas
  • The beginnings of the proletariat, who had a similar relationship to the bourgeoise that peasants had to the landed aristocracy

In the Marxist view, the industrial revolution wasn't merely a technological revolution; it was a political and social revolution as well. The shift from a primarily agricultural society (in which the landed aristocracy owned the means of agricultural production) to a primarily industrial society (in which the bourgeoisie owned the means of industrial production) shifted the bourgeoise into a position of power equivalent to the old aristocracy, while the rural peasantry left the farms and transformed itself into the urban proletariat. That urban proletariat then conceptually divided itself into lower, middle, and upper classes, representing different statuses of employment by the bourgeoise.

The bourgeoisie themselves were never lower, middle, or upper class; they became the owning (capitalist) class, set off from and above the lower, middle, and upper classes of workers.

The capitalist class has done a wonderful job obscuring its own existence, trying to make it appear as though it is merely the nose-bleed section of the upper middle class, and that anyone can work their way up to be part of that modernized bourgeoise. But it still carries that protectionist 'guild' mentality, where the interests and welfare of the class come first and foremost. Thinking of the bourgeoisie as middle or upper class is at best mistaken, and at worst disinformation.

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    "Thinking of the bourgeoise as middle or upper class is at best mistaken, and at worst disinformation." Depends on your definition of "upper class", IMO.
    – nick012000
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 6:48
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    While you are right in a Marxist context, linguistically speaking words can have different meanings in different contexts. The meaning of "bourgeoisie" as meaning middle class seems IMO to be obviously derived from the feudal meaning by analogy, where the bourgeoisie functioned as a "middle" class between aristocrats and peasants.
    – Jasmijn
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 7:31
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    The last paragraph seems to be your (rather one-sided and very propaganda-sounding) opinion, you might want to either clarify according to whom, or remove it as it doesn't really add anything to the otherwise fine answer.
    – vsz
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 14:29
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    @vsz: Not only is that last paragraph opinion, it is opinion that has been proven false by experimental evidence.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 17:09
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    @jamesqf could you provide a source on that? It seems quite interesting, and I would like to learn more about that. Commented May 4, 2021 at 17:56
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The core of Marx's critique of capitalism was that it would inevitably produce a vicious cycle in which the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Marx had a deterministic vision of the process of history, in which impersonal economic processes like this would inevitably lead to certain results. As a result of this process, he believed that there would be a hollowing out of the social totem pole, with only two completely separated classes remaining: a few people at the top (call it class A), and all the rest at the bottom (B).

In order to describe this morbid end-stage of capitalism (which would then lead to the collapse of capitalism due to its own internal contradictions), he needed words for the classes A and B. Since the evolution of society had not yet reached the stage that he predicted, the existing vocabulary didn't actually have words to describe A and B. The society in which Marx lived had all kinds of social groupings, including hereditary nobles, small shopkeepers, sharecroppers, peasants, skilled tradesmen, factory workers, and so on.

However, Marx thought that class A would end up being one that believed in and consolidated the social and political values of the bourgeois society of his time, not the values of some other group such as the remnants of the old feudal nobility in Europe. Therefore he picked "bourgeois" as his label for the predicted-to-emerge class A. (For B he picked a label derived from ancient Roman society, proletariat.)

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Why did Karl Marx use a term representing middle class instead of upper rich class? Any background?

Yeah, the background is time.

You are using modern definitions (which change a lot over time) and act like those were the same back when Marx wrote his book in 1867. That is AGES ago, and especially in regards to wealth, class or societal structures so much has changed.

Basically, when Marx wrote, the middle class were anyone rich or directly influential despite not being aristocratic (of noble birth). Since the aristocrat class is more or less irrelevant today and it is common today for non-aristocrats to hold at least some political power (democracy etc.) and capital, the formerly small "middle class" (Marx's burgeoisie) is nowadays split into what we know as the middle class today, and the upper class, the burgoisie in Marxist contexts (since the modern middle class does not hold the kind of power that the "middle class" at Marx's times held)

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Well first off, at least some (if not many) people who spend a lot of time arguing about this stuff on social media probably aren't rigorously using these concepts.

But the basic idea is extremely in-line with this quote:

"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season."

Letter from Birmingham Jail (ext) By Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., 16 April 1963

It is something you will commonly see in more, for a lack of a better word, revolutionary or "fringe" political ideologies -- more attacks and focus are placed on people closer to them in ideology than further. The ones closer are seen as, in a sense, traitors, whereas the people opposite them are a lost cause.

There countless examples of this, but a clear current example is Liz Cheney being viscously attacked by Trump Republicans' for, in the words of ex House Speaker Boehner, "not being crazy".

TLDR: So in terms of your quote, the middle class is seen as the betrayer that protects the upper class.

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  • This is more an extended comment than an answer.
    – RonJohn
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 14:18
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    While I generally agree with this idea overall, I don't think it applies in this case. As Ben and Ted's answers point out, Marx and Marxists use the word "bourgeoise" in a specific way that is different from the modern, commonplace definition of "middle class".
    – divibisan
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 14:25

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