The proletarization of the European bourgeoisie opens a new chapter of the social question, unsolved by the times of the triumph of bourgeois democracy. The protests of these days in France, as well as the Italian “populism” require an increasing awareness of the real stakes in Europe.
The social question, open wound in the history of bourgeoisie
It is a hundred and seventy years that the European bourgeoisie came to power, through the so-called democratic revolutions in 1848. His grasp of power coincided in a timely manner with the emergence of the social question (just think of the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx the same year). But the European bourgeoisie failed to give an adequate answer to the social question: it was not able then to find not only the necessary political answers, but above all those ideals, which could have justified the participation of the proletariat to the direction of the bourgeois nationalitarian State.
Seventy years after, in 1918, the fall of the Central Empires and the spread of bolshevik movements in Europe after the Russian Revolution determined the great fear of Communism, which, in various forms, knitted the European bourgeoisie until at least 1989, when the Soviet communism imploded unexpectedly.
Meanwhile, it had triumphed in the West an ideological and political model that has been able to control the social question, throughout the progessive absorption of the proletariat, both from the economic-social and ideological point of view, in a political, social and existential model embodied in the American Way of life. This model quickly produced a “bourgeosization” process of the same proletariat, which ended up sharing its values: a phenomenon that has been affirmed with great success, since the end of the Second World War, first in the advanced industrial societies of the Euro-Atlantic West.
The problem of the last thirty years, however, is that if the proletariat is thus in fact disappeared as a class and as a way of life (so that it has become indistinguishable in our societies), the bourgeoisie, especially the medium-small one, is more and more proletarized.
Fiscal pressure, workplace precariousness, impairment of the role in professionals and small officials, absorption of trade in the great retail organizations, loss of purchasing power, erosion of savings as a result of large financial crises in 1987 and 2007, disintegration of the family, loss of community identity because of the denationalization of States and migratory flows, devaluation of the “bourgeois ethic” at all levels: all these phenomena have made of the western middle class, majority at numerical level, a new proletariat – despite its access to property and the presence of a wide set of formal rights, once primary objectives of the bourgeois revolution in ‘ 48.
In parallel, the abnormal power growth of the major globalised financial centres, which are beyond the control of the States and of the parliamentary democracy, have progressively demolished confidence in the parties and in the electoral systems in this class, as it is shown by the reduction of voting participation all over the European Countries.
It was thus created, beside the policy of parties, a longstanding demand for new systems of participation and to express popular needs and will, which does not find space in the traditional politics.
Protests in France and the need for a new social action
If you read the few sociological investigations and especially if you listen to the many interviews scattered on the net, the French gilets jaunes are precisely these bourgeoisie, who lives a socially insecure life, no longer believes in the democracy of the parties, feels oppressed by the banks and the taxation, seen as a unified longa manus coming from the large concentrations of economic interests subtracted to any possibility of effective control by common people.
An increasingly individualized life, increasingly fragmented families, increasingly anonymous and demotivating working activities, salaries increasingly close to the limits of survival, small businesses increasingly penalised, growing fears related to world emergencies (climate, environment, immigration), absence of answers to fundamental questions about the meaning of life: this is all that pushes the protest, and generate dreams of rebellion.
We could therefore say that, ironically, it is just the social question, unsolved at the moment of the bourgeoisie triumph, which today presents the account to the bourgeois political system, precisely because today the bourgeoisie sees its class identity dissolved, as it became a very articulated and multifaceted social layer, dominated by fear and absence of great ideality. Let’s say that it is the unsolved social question at the core of the problem, because capitalism by its very nature is at the origins of that pathological interweaving between political systems, economical and financial powers and free expression of individual capacities, exactly what determines the current individual and collective crisis.
The democracy dominated by the political parties accentuated this pathology, even while the forces of the globalized high finance have, in an increasingly anonymous and omnipervasive way, acquired the power to influence any force expressed by the modern societies: policy, money, information – are only the most obvious points where such a kind of power penetrates into the individual existence of the proletarized bourgeoisie.
At this point, for the yellow vests as for the other “populist” movements and phenomena in Europe and all around the world, the question is first of all a problem of awareness: awareness, we mean, of the true dimensions, the coordinates of the social question today. This awareness does not only invest the present but requires a historical vision, if we really want to understand the mechanisms through which western capitalism has progressively enslaved all aspects of modern societies, transforming its logic of profit in a tool of the new global powers.
Awareness of the breadth of the issue should lead to a very different approach to social action, if you want to avoid the instrumentalizations that in this historic moment can find more than one sponsor, because Europe, despite its intrinsic weakness, remains today more than ever the needle of the balance of the future world: according to the direction in which it will move, we can see catastrophes comparable if not superior to those of the twentieth century, or emerging renewed forces.