Bourgeoisie Revolutions

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Ivysyn's picture
Joined: 12-08-14
Jan 4 2019 04:10
Bourgeoisie Revolutions

Something I only have a bare basics knowledge of is the "bourgeois revolutions", or the revolutions (specifically in Feudal Europe) that overthrew feudalism and allowed capitalism to spread. I'm looking for some readings on those if anyone would be so kind as to leave suggestions. I know Ruhle's "Bourgeois and Proletarian Revolution" and I know of a book called "From Neanderthals To Neoliberals" that also covers the bourgeois revolutions. Does anyone have any other suggestions?

Mike Harman
Joined: 7-02-06
Jan 4 2019 11:35

So the categorisation of bourgeois vs. proletarian revolutions is not great in the first place IMO - Marx was only referencing Western Europe, but the main one - the French Revolution, was part of an international wave of revolutions including the American and the Haitian (which were not Western European feudal societies, not being in Western Europe for a start, but capitalist colonies with a system of plantation labour). This is partly due to Marx focusing on Western Europe (nothing wrong with that in itself), but partly due to 'Marxists' since Marx not taking into account histories of capitalist development which weren't available at the time - CLR James wrote the first major work about Haiti nearly 150 years after it happened and fifty years after Marx died.

Would need to give it a lot more thought, but would probably describe it as 'revolutions at different phases of capitalism's development as a world system', which gets rid of the 'class character' stuff that Marxist Leninists love so much.

Given all that, very very early ones when capitalism was just emerging:

Engels on the 1525 German peasant's war:

Christopher Hill on the 1640 English revolution /

1775-1810, just as industrialisation started to pick up:

Kropotkin on the French revolution:

CLR James on the Haitian (and French) revolutions.


Haven't read it, but there's an analysis of slave revolts during the American revolution here:
Or Zinn:

Marx on 1848:

Then the Paris Commune was the first thing Marx recognised as a 'proletarian' revolution in 1871, and the 1877 Great Upheaval, arguably some aspects of Reconstruction (and slave revolts during the US Civil War itself) also place that in an international wave.

Mike Harman
Joined: 7-02-06
Jan 4 2019 14:44

Also one I know fuck all about - the Dutch/Batavian Revolution of 1787:

Dave B
Joined: 3-08-08
Jan 4 2019 20:06

Bourgeois revolution is probably in the modern context is a bit of a constraining description.

What it really is about is capitalist revolutions where the feudal order and or political control is overthrown which removes the fetters of un-restrained capitalist development.

In the classic cases like the English and French revolutions the ‘bourgeoisie’, or the capitalist class, were fairly thick on the ground as a percentage of the indigenous population because capitalist in general hadn’t developed into a concentrations of capital.

So rather than the 99% versus 1% it was more like 90%;10% say?

The 10% were also not so foppish and could kick ass themselves if they needed to.

After the initial overthrow of feudalism in say England they still had a problem with the workers taking the pre revolutionary rhetoric to seriously.

Eg universal suffrage without property qualifications as a starter.

The solution was for the 10%? ‘capitalists’ form some sort of compromise agreement with the landowning class in order to retain power

Some of the progressive landowning class themselves already had capitalist outlook and thus farming with wage labour for a ‘profit’.

Russia in 1917 or whatever was a change in that a lot of industrial production was large scale, fewer potential capitalists and absentee ones at that as a significant proportion of it was foreign owed.

And a lot of it was run from higher up or a senior management level by “profiteers of enterprise”, with no real ‘skin in the game’ working with foreign ‘finance capital’.

They obviously cleared out at the first sign of trouble; secret British foreign office documents was full of reports about what was going on from British mangers of capital who had returned home pretty quick.

That left a vacuum as to who was going to push forward and fill the traditional role of the ‘bourgeois’ capitalist class in developing capitalism.

That ‘historical material’ role was filled by [state] capitalist Bolsheviks.

As Ruhle

……….The thin voice of the Russian bourgeoisie was certainly aptly accompanied by a weak energy: it was not capable of fulfilling its historical task….

………Through an unusual chain of circumstances the bourgeoisie found itself in no position to play its historical role……….

……It was an historical error to believe that the Russian Revolution was the start of a social revolution. And it amounts to a demagogic fraud to awaken and maintain this belief in the heads of workers…..

From a retrospective historical materialist perspective it is absurd to suggest, in this case, the [state] capitalist revolution couldn’t have been carried out by the Bolsheviks because they didn’t wear the correct costumes of top hats and frock coats or whatever.

And they used to champion the cause of the working class under tsarist feudalism.

So much so that by 1922 a change of nomenclature was required.

‘Proleterians’ didn’t work in factories and were the state capitalist class and people who worked in factories were ‘casual elements of every description’.

…..Are the social and economic conditions in our country today such as to induce real proletarians to go into the factories? No. It would be true according to Marx; but Marx did not write about Russia; he wrote about capitalism as a whole, beginning with the fifteenth century. It held true over a period of six hundred years, but it is not true for present-day Russia. Very often those who go into the factories are not proletarians; they are casual elements of every description….

That wasn’t some rogue speech by Lenin gone mad it was a seminal one.

As regard another potential or rolling bourgeois revolution, in Italy the following ‘letter’ became seminal in the Menshevik-Bolshevik debate.

By the Mensheviks.

Much repeated and debated; it was one of those letters that was in fact an article and was published in Italy.

Ironically but true; the Mensheviks didn’t want to get too ‘involved’ in the expected Russian bourgeois revolution.

Like or as well as getting sucked into entering into a transitional provisional revolutionary government to set up ‘constituent assembly elections.

The Bolsheviks were all for it.

The Mensheviks accused the Bolsheviks of being ‘psychologically’ power mad and once they got into the ‘marble halls of power’ like in a provisional revolutionary government they wouldn’t want to let go and would dump the constituent assembly stuff.

Which is what they did after supporting the constituent assembly idea right up until the end of 1917.

Lenin said in 1905 that they would make fools of themselves if they attempted such a thing.

……….If Social-Democracy sought to make the socialist revolution its immediate aim, it would assuredly discredit itself. It is precisely such vague and hazy ideas of our “Socialists—Revolutionaries” that Social-Democracy has always combated.

For this reason Social-Democracy has constantly stressed the bourgeois nature of the impending revolution in Russia and insisted on a clear line of demarcation between the democratic minimum programme and the socialist maximum programme.

Some Social-Democrats, who are inclined to yield to spontaneity, might forget all this in time of revolution, but not the Party as a whole. The adherents of this erroneous view make an idol of spontaneity in their belief that the march of events will compel the Social-Democratic Party in such a position to set about achieving the socialist revolution, despite itself.”…..

Ivysyn's picture
Joined: 12-08-14
Jan 7 2019 22:07

Thank you Mike, ur comments were helpful.