Sunday, January 13, 2008

Third World Bourgeoisies Failing In Their Historical Role

I find that Frantz Fanon and Michal Kalecki have similar ideas on the middle classes in many underdeveloped countries. They think that these middle classes are unlikely to fulfill their historical role.

That role is to innovate and to accumulate capital embodied in a massive productive infrastructure. An impressive rate of economic growth comes about when the middle classes fill that role, as in nineteenth century Europe:
"Thus this remarkable system depended for its growth on a double bluff or deception. On the one hand the laboring classes accepted from ignorance or powerlessness, or were compelled, persuaded, or cajoled by custom, convention, authority, and the well-established order of Society into accepting, a situation in which they could call theirs very little of the cake they and Nature and the capitalists were co-operating to produce. And on the other hand the capitalist classes were allowed to call the best part of the cake theirs and were theoretically free to consume it, on the tacit underlying condition that they consumed very little of it in practice." -- Keynes (1920: 19-20)

Here is Fanon doubting that third world middle classes will play their part:
”The national middle class which takes over power at the end of the colonial regime is an undeveloped middle class. It has practically no economic power, and it is in no way commensurate with the bourgeoisie of the mother country which it hopes to replace... The university and merchant classes which make up the most enlightened section of the new state are in fact characterized by the smallness of their number and their being concentrated in the capital, and in the type of activities in which they are engaged: business, agriculture, and the liberal professions. Neither financiers nor industrial magnates are to be found within this national middle class. The national bourgeoisie of underdeveloped countries is not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labor; it is completely canalized into activities of the intermediary type. Its innermost vocation seems to be to keep in the running and to be part of the racket. The psychology of the national bourgeoisie is that of the businessman, not that of a captain of industry... Under the colonial system, a middle class which accumulates capital is an impossible phenomenon.” -- Fanon (1963)
Fanon has much more to say long these lines.

And here is Kalecki saying something similar:
”At the time of achieving independence the lower-middle class is very numerous while big business is predominately foreign controlled with a rather small participation of native capitalists...

...a well known historical pattern – the final submission of the lower-middle class to the interests of big business. This, however, is prevented by the weakness of the native upper-middle class and its inability to perform the role of ‘dynamic entrepreneurs’ on a large scale.” -- Kalecki (1967)
Apparently, this was a quite influential essay from Kalecki.

  • Franz Fanon (1963). The Wretched of the Earth (Trans. by Constance Farrington), Grove Weidenfeld
  • Michal Kalecki (1967). "Observations on Social and Economic Aspects of 'Intermediate Regimes'", Coexistence, V. IV, N. 1: 1-5 (Reprinted in Michal Kalecki (1976). Essays on Developing Economies, Harvester Press.)
  • John Maynard Keynes (1920). The Economic Consequences of the Peace, Harcourt, Brace, and Howe

1 comment:

YouNotSneaky! said...

"They think that these middle classes are unlikely to fulfill their historical role"

You know, if this kind of thing happens a lot - these 'classes' refusing to play their 'historical roles' - then perhaps at a certain point it becomes meaningless to keep talking about 'historical roles'. Or 'class' for that matter.

I think this one's in the 'if the darn facts are at odds with my favorite theory then the facts be damned' category.