ID304X Spanish American Film: Cultural Issues

Term 2000 - November 5, 2000

Handout # 2: Fresa y Chocolate: Dos conceptos

bourgeoisie: in socioeconomic theory, the social order that is dominated by the so-called middle class. The term arose in medieval France, where it referred to the inhabitants of walled towns. These townspeople practiced arts and crafts and occupied an intermediate position in the economic and social scale between the rural landlords and peasantry. With the introduction of mechanical power into urban industry and the growth of the factory system, the medieval craftsmen began to separate into two classes--employers and employees--and the growth of a new kind of class consciousness tended to restrict the idea of bourgeois to the employers. Thus arose a system of economic and social classification that emphasized the distinction between bourgeoisie (or capitalists) and proletariat. This distinction became politically important in the early 19th century in the course of the reaction against the undiscriminating democratic idealism that flourished during the French Revolution.

Later, Marxists built an insupportable system of social and political philosophy on this distinction between bourgeoisie and proletariat. That the attempt to create a comprehensive philosophy of history and politics on this narrow basis was unrealistic is demonstrated by the subsequent struggles between different schools of socialism and communism. Karl Marx's early collaborator, Friedrich Engels, made the first breach in the Marxist system when he admitted the importance of evolution as well as revolution in the development of human society. The successors of Marx and Engels, from Karl Kautsky and Vladimir Lenin to Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, were forced to make increasing concessions to the realities of modern industrial and political life. The Marxist theory of social classification yielded to a growing recognition of the baffling complexity of modern society and politics.

In the most advanced capitalistic countries there is a strong tendency to revert to one of the oldest schemes of social and political classification. Aristotle's system of politics emphasized the distinctions among three classes--upper, middle, and lower--and stressed the importance of the middle class in a well-ordered state. But in contemporary politics these major classes are highly complex, and there is no part of them that can be identified as the bourgeoisie.

The word bourgeois retains its practical utility chiefly in discussions of art and manners, where it usually is used disparagingly to characterize a concern for material interests and respectability, with a tendency toward mediocrity. In much of Western discourse, bourgeoisie had nearly disappeared from the vocabulary of political writers and politicians by the mid-20th century.

proletariat: the lowest or one of the lowest economic and social classes in a society.

In ancient Rome the proletariat consisted of the poor landless freemen. It included artisans and small tradesmen who had been gradually impoverished by the extension of slavery. The proletariat (literally meaning "producers of offspring") was the lowest rank among Roman citizens; the first recognition of its status was traditionally ascribed to the Roman king Servius Tullius (fl. 6th century BC). In some periods of Roman history it played an important role, not as as an independent force but as a mass following, in the political struggles between the Roman patricians and the wealthy plebeians. Because it had little opportunity for productive work, which was performed in the main by slaves, its existence was largely parasitic on the Roman economy. On occasions it was quieted by doles of bread from the state and diverted by spectacles--"bread and circuses."

In the theory of Karl Marx, the term proletariat designated the class of wage workers who were engaged in industrial production and whose chief source of income was derived from the sale of their labour power. As an economic category it was distinguished in Marxian literature from the poor, the working classes, and the Lumpenproletariat. Because of its subordinate position in a capitalist society and the effects of periodic depressions on wages and employment, the proletariat as described by Marxists was usually living in poverty. But it was not therefore identified with the poor, for some members of the proletariat, the highly skilled or labour aristocracy, were recognized as not poor, and some members of the entrepreneurial class were not wealthy. Despite synonymous use in agitational literature, the term proletariat was distinguished from the working class as a generic term. The former referred to those engaged in industrial production, whereas the latter referred to all who must work for their living and who received wages or salary, including agricultural labourers, white-collar workers, and hired help occupied in the distribution services. The Lumpenproletariat consisted of marginal and unemployable workers of debased or irregular habits and also included paupers, beggars, and criminals.