Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents


The Subbourgeoisie

Underneath the politico-commercial class and the other elite groups, yet above the working class, is the subbourgeoisie. This group includes the nation's teachers and clerks, military NCOs and junior officers, and low-level bureaucrats or local government officials. Although the early members of the politico-commercial class came from the subbourgeoisie, the waves of university graduates that filled the upper echelons of government from 1965 onward effectively blocked this class from any hope of upward mobility. Totally dependent on the state, yet marked by a deteriorating income and status, this was a highly disgruntled group in the early 1990s.

The subbourgeoisie provides a clear example of what Schatzberg means by situational class membership. Relative to those above them in the class hierarchy, teachers, clerks, NCOs and chiefs have felt "out of the loop," without power or influence. Their perceptions of powerlessness are well justified. With the exception of some university-educated secondary school teachers, who might be posted outside their home areas, chances of geographical or professional mobility are nil. While totally dependent on the state as a source of livelihood, their salaries have fallen woefully behind inflation. They frequently wait months to receive their salaries and, even then, their superiors might appropriate much of what is disbursed.

Nonetheless, from the perspective of those people below them, namely workers, peasants, and Zairians in the informal sector, these salaried members of the subbourgeoisie are part of the privileged, exploiting class. Many low-level state functionaries require bribes before exercising their services. Teachers may demand money to pass a student, government clerks may request a bribe in order to get funds disbursed or a certificate or license delivered. And state security personnel may demand a donation in order to let travelers pass an impromptu roadblock or escape an infraction of the law, whether real or imagined. Even for those state employees who retain a sense of professionalism, the need to feed their families when salaries go unpaid has proved a powerful inducement to abuse of official position. As a consequence, a member of the subbourgeoisie may be viewed as a member of the victimized lower class or of the victimizing upper class, depending upon the onlooker.

Historically, the position of the subbourgeoisie has been most precarious in times of trouble. During the 1964 rural insurgencies, for example, the subbourgeoisie lacked the ability of elite personnel to flee and consequently bore the brunt of popular anger against the establishment; tens of thousands of teachers, clerks, and low-level government personnel were killed in many rebel-held areas. Fear of such popular anger, together with the habits and mindsets of their professional roles, have kept the subbourgeoisie generally compliant in their role as, in Young's words, "the indispensable capillaries of the power system."

Data as of December 1993