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A Nation of Shopkeepers: The Unstoppable Rise of the Petite Bourgeoisie

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There are quite a lot of references to left Twitter, which if you're not someone who is part of it or sees those posts, can feel like Evans is arguing against a broad generalisation (I learnt what the Deano meme is, at least). Read it, and you may well find the class position of yourself and everyone you know being explained with startling clarity. The only way [for the left] to win’, he argues, ‘is by building class alliances between the petty bourgeoisie and the working class’. For all its limitations, Corbynism represented a seismic shift to the left on both social and economic issues – which is why it was anathema to the entire ruling bloc. p. 284) He illustrates his point with reference to the left Twitter discourse over the Deano internet meme – a satire of relatively successful, new-build owning tradespeople who have no qualms about flaunting their lifestyle.

Though there are major disparities between rich and poor within the TPB, the growth in precarious self-employment is a result of the UK becoming a “laboratory for the worst excesses of neoliberalism” which force people into a difficult existance outside wage labour. The petty bourgeoisie – the insecure class between the working class and the bourgeoisie – is hugely significant within global politics.Evans himself mentions (though he disagrees with it) that a majority of people in Britain identify themselves as working class. Such notions can readily merge with middle-class liberalism’s ‘dependency on working-class “backwardness” for its own claim to modern multicultural citizenship’. The TPB possesses a radical individualism which is often hostile to collectivism, rooted in their isolated conditions of work. It shows how the rise of home ownership, small landlordism and radical changes to the world of work have increasingly inculcated values of petite-bourgeois individualism; how popular culture has promoted and reproduced values of aspiration and conspicuous consumption that militate against socialist organizing; and, most importantly, what the unstoppable rise of the petit-bourgeoisie means for the left. Everyone who has an investment in the labour movement or is interested in class in the UK should read this book.

However, I did observe some shortcomings that limited the usefulness of Evans’s framework: namely, the lack of consideration for the *global* class structure, without which any analysis of class falls short. Inspired by the work of Marxist thinkers such as Nicos Poulantzas, Evans terms this emergent class the ‘petty bourgeoisie’. Class is all too often viewed in solely cultural and aesthetic terms, such as having a regional accent or having a great-grandparent who worked in a mine. In contrast, the word 'racist' appears 10 times, generally in the context of critiquing the characterisation of certain groups of people (for example Brexit voters) as being racist. I remember thinking that there must be plenty of people who didn’t ‘own the means of production’, but who also wouldn’t qualify as ‘working class’.

stars for the excellent critique of the contemporary Western left, and the very helpful outlining of the petite bourgeoisie as a class defined by precarity and social mobility. Dan Evans’ book is good for theorising the various conundrums we have been witnessing on the ground.

Building on the work of thinkers such as Poulantzas, Bourdieu and Marx, his analysis challenges syndicalists to learn how to build alliances with those fractions with whom we share common interests. For instance, the traditional petite bourgeoisie in the US has long identified China as a source of competition, which leads them to support right-wing politicians who are more willing to engage in openly racist denunciations of China, which in turn prompts the Democrats to try to match their “tough on China” rhetoric, thus ratcheting the entire Overton window even further towards racist, imperialist reactionary politics).The petite-bourgeoisie — the insecure class between the working class and the bourgeoisie — is hugely significant within global politics. A book of theoretical and political clarity that will help all of us think through the political and economic striation of the petty bourgeoisie. I'm struggling a bit with how expansive Evans' definition of the petite bourgeoisie is, and as much as I get that the book is *about the petite bourgeoisie*, what with class being relational (As Evans acknowledges), I think it would be nice for there to be more discussion of the working classes and the 'underclass', as so far I have a confused sense of who Evans thinks they are.

Though Evans distinguishes the upper-middle class PMC from the nouveau petty bourgeois cadres of the left, he reproduces the logic Haider refers to. Over the course of the book, he gradually reveals that – despite some major differences – the two petty bourgeoisies are in fact remarkably similar. He gives the example of Guardian investigative journalist Helen Pidd travelling to Leigh, a northern brick in the red wall, to interview a ‘working class’ Tory artisan who owned several pizza restaurants.It perhaps could have been shorter as there is lots of repetition, but ultimately this serves to hammer home the intricacies of the points Evans makes. The work of a self-employed person is not just their “job”, but an “entire social world whose values, outlook on life and society – thrift, discipline, piety and so on – flowed from their unique working situation. Evans believes the left should revisit classical libertarian concern for individual freedoms, like free speech, and ditch the politics of privilege he suggests has produced ‘unhinged modes of human interaction’.

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