Petit-Bourgeois Socialism

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Excerpted from Cui Zhiyuan:

"A specter is haunting China and the world – the specter of petty bourgeoisie socialism.

Why? Both Marxism and Social Democracy has lost its political and intellectual momentum worldwide. The disillusion about neoliberalism is also growing. Petty bourgeoisie socialism can make some sense out of the current confusion in interpreting the institutional arrangements in today’s China. Moreover, since socialism should not perpetuate the proletarian status of the working class, the universal petty bourgeoisie seems to be the promise of the future.

The central economic program of petty bourgeoisie socialism is to establish a “socialist market economy,” especially through reforming and transforming the existing institutions of financial markets. The central political program of petty bourgeoisie socialism is to promote “economic and political democracy.” The leading thinkers in the rich tradition of petty bourgeoisie socialism are P-J. Proudhon, F. Lassalle, J.S. Mill, Silvio Gesell, Fernand Braudel, James Meade, James Joyce, Charles Sabel, Fei Xiaoton, and Roberto M. Unger.

The notion of “petty bourgeoisie” used in this chapter includes peasants.

This is the main difference with the notion of “middle classes” used in the current Chinese discourses. But the concept of petty bourgeoisie socialism may be associated with the current Chinese effort to build “Xiao Kang Socialism.”


  • Essay/Chapter: Liberal socialism and the future of China. A petty bourgeoisie manifesto. Cui Zhiyuan. Chapter 9 of: The Chinese Model of Modern Development. Edited by Tian Yu Cao.