Capitalism dominates the world economic system today. Even in societies like China and Cuba where advanced forms of communism have succeeded, they have been heavily influenced by capitalist tendencies. According to Chilcote (2006, p. 32), there is not even a pure form of capitalism owing to state ownership of means of production and businesses in virtually all countries of the world. The main principle guiding socialism and communism is the equitable distribution of resources among members of the society in a way that no one receives more than the other. Under communism, the state owns all means of production and it runs a welfare system where people are provided for the necessary needs. Capitalism on the other hand allows members of the society to own means of production privately to participate in the free enterprise which is the hallmark of capitalism. It is these owners of capital and means of production that Marx and Angel in their manifesto reoffered to as the Bourgeoisie. The rest of the people with no resources only have their labour to offer and they are referred to by Marx as the proletariat.
There is sufficient evidence that poverty reigns in both systems of economic organization. However, the gap between the owners of capital and owners of labour in the capitalist system is very big. This is because, over time, owners of capital use the strength of their resources to increase and accumulate their wealth through the exploitation of the proletariat.
As mentioned earlier, capitalist principles dominate the world’s economic systems today. The organization is in such a way that ownership of wealth in terms of money or asset takes precedence in decision making in all levels of society, hence the clichés such as “money is power”. The following sections will tackle the meanings of power and authority as well as the question of whether the bourgeoisie is the ruling class.
Power and Authority
When it comes to societal leadership at whatever level, power and authority come to the fore. It is not easy to separate power and authority (Applerouth & Edles 2008, p.45). There is a thin line between power and authority. Calhoun and Gerteis (2007, p. 103) define power as the ability to exert control of the environment or behaviour of subjects or entities through different means including coercion. However, more often than not, power uses soft force which many sociologists agree is influence. According to Erickson and Murphy (2010, p. 27), authority is influence or command. In most cases, authority and power are used interchangeably but it suffices to say that when power is legitimate, it becomes the authority. Authority, therefore, is the legitimacy to exercise power that is for the example given by a national government to local authorities.
Wealth, Power, Authority and the bourgeoisie
There is a delicate balance between power authority and wealth. According to Marx and Engels, (2009, p. 21), wealth plays an important role in both of them. This begs the question if indeed the bourgeoisie who own the majority of wealth is the ruling class. The answer to the above question may be a yes and no. in other words, the answer to the above question is debatable. Yes in the sense that owners of capital have power and influence but not all bourgeoisies have authority. Authorities are charged with the responsibility of delivering services to their electorate. Delivery of these services often requires huge resources mainly obtained through taxes or other sources such as bonds and the sale of government assets. Given the capitalistic nature of the economic systems in place today, many people in positions of authority interact often with owners of capital. Through these interactions, the bourgeoisie exercises their power over leaders through arm twisting to have their way with policies that favour them. As such corruption disguised as lobbying has become the norm within many governments and a very tactical through which owners of capital rule by proxy. From the above case, it is safe to conclude that the bourgeoisie influence the ruling class but they are not the ruling class.
According to Erickson and Murphy (2010, p. 33), the bourgeoisie does have another proxy way through which they exert influence, power and sometimes authority. Applerouth and Edles (2008, p.49), say that owners engage in blackmailing people in authority to take positions that favour them. The above cannot be described as ruling by proxy since the bourgeoisie take advantage of loopholes in the laws governing the society to advance their interests. Most owners of capital pay the highest taxes in most societies. More often than not, the society and authorities in place need the tax revenues to survive. As such many people in authority have little room to manoeuvre other than go with the wishes of the bourgeoisie. As in the previous illustration, the bourgeoisie here are not the ruling class but they exercise influence and raw power through blackmail.
The above two cases highlight, the bourgeoisie as people not in mainstream leadership but bystanders who have decisions made through illegal means thanks to their wealth. However, there are many cases where the bourgeoisie is the ruling class. In the democratic system, all people have the right to run for public office effectively becoming part of the ruling class. Campaigning for public office in any democratic system requires enormous resources which in most cases only the bourgeoisie have. For instance, in the 2008 US election, Democrat Barack Obama used an estimated $800 million to capture the presidency. The above is a huge sum that was only made possible by wealthy donors. It is important to note the candidate himself is a wealthy individual who used his connections to raise the figure. In cases such as the above, wealthy people get into power where they get advised by a coterie of fellow wealthy people who effectively become the ruling class. In this case, the bourgeoisie forms the ruling class.
Subtly, one can argue that the bourgeoisie is the ruling class. Under their influence, it is almost impossible their role in leadership decision making and nowadays, it is increasingly becoming difficult to draw a line between them and leaders. The bourgeoisie’s power to corrupt is simply overwhelming. Despite the bourgeoisie owning the means of production and most of the wealth in society coupled with their seemingly irresistible clout, they are not necessarily the ruling class. What is clear however is that; the bourgeoisie has a heavy influence on the ruling class and they can easily get into power thanks to their wealth.
Applerouth, S & Edles, L 2008, Classical and contemporary sociological theory: text and readings, Cengage Learning, New York.
Calhoun, C & Gerteis, J 2007, Classical sociological theory, Springer, Chicago.
Chilcote, H 2006, Power And the Ruling Classes in Northeast Brazil, Routledge, New York.
Erickson, P & Murphy, L 2010, Readings for a History of Anthropological Theory, Sage Publications, London.
Marx, K & Engels, F 2009, The Communist Manifesto, Echo Library, Teddington.