Fuck small business
“There is nothing more vulgar than a petty bourgeois life with its halfpence, its victuals, its futile talk, and its useless conventional virtue.”А. Chekhov
We often see the presenters of news and talk shows talking to us with a concerned look about the difficulties of small and medium-sized businesses. ‘Support for small and medium-sized businesses’, ‘Incentives for small businesses’, ‘Small businesses are the backbone of the economy’, ‘New measures to support small and medium-sized businesses’ are among the most common political clichés spouted by politicians on a daily basis and occupying a prominent place in the programmes of their parties. But the sufferings of the small businessman are not a distant media echo – we all have friends and acquaintances running businesses who constantly complain about the endless hours of work they put in to scrape together some profit while fighting tooth and nail against taxmen, inspectors, negligent workers, regulations and requirements, all of which seem to exist only to “eat away at the small entrepreneur’s bottom line”. This same businessman is the basis of all modern political-economic ideologies, from the shoulder-shrugging Atlas in libertarianism, to the start-up yuppie of liberals, to the individual small-farm owner ( chickens, donkey, woman) in the patriarchal nationalist archetype. Perhaps we too, though less enterprising (and perhaps because of this) should be sympathetic to his plight?
While contemporary capitalist ideologies convince us that it is the small entrepreneur who is the engine of the economy, and political parties race to testify their empathy for his plight, the reality is radically different. On the one hand, concern for small business is used by political parties as a sexy garment designed to clothe in some sort of appeal to the masses the sagging body of good old big business beneath, whose interests are actually represented by the people’s elected representatives and in whose service the policies in question are actually aimed. It just doesn’t do to lean on the screen and announce that you are proposing policies in support of that part of the oligarchy that pays for your political campaign, does it? As for the other claim, we’ll have to turn to statistics for that one. The generally accepted classification of small and medium-sized businesses in Bulgaria puts 99.8% of companies operating in the country in this category. However, they employ 75% of the workforce and the share of GDP they produce is only 62% of the total. Small businessmen in Bulgaria are about 100 thousand people according to data from 2021. For reference, wage workers in the country are close to 3 million.
But what is behind the phrase `small and medium business`? According to the official definition, this category includes enterprises with up to 250 employees whose annual turnover does not exceed BGN 97 500 000 or the value of assets does not exceed BGN 84 000 000. As we can see, the “small and medium-sized business” category includes companies with hundreds of workers and tens of millions of leva in assets. So when a politician or an analyst talks to us about small and medium-sized businesses, we should bear in mind that this does not necessarily mean the freezer behind the block or the small family shop.
But let’s talk about them anyway – the very small entrepreneurs who take risks, take out loans and work tirelessly to open their dream shop or brewery, where they themselves usually work alongside the few wage earners (or relatives) involved in the venture, in realising the Dream. This dream is sold relentlessly by politicians, market analysts, media and bank sales-consultants – “take a chance”, “make your dream come true” and “get in the big game”. But, as is often the case, the reality is far from what the advertising promises. First, the entrepreneur’s dream is a nightmare for workers. In small firms, exploitation is at its cruelest, pay at its lowest, and working conditions abysmal.
And this is not due to any individual characteristics of the small boss, but there are purely economic reasons. The small entrepreneur is squeezed both by the state with taxes and regulations (which often don’t apply to the big fish) and by competition from the bigger ones, who force him to constantly push wages down and hours up, while saving on normal working conditions. Exploitation is even more cruel when the workers are family members.
But it’s not just workers who suffer from small business work. The entrepreneur himself is put in a situation of self-exploitation and is often forced to work 12-13 hours a day, without a break, to save on staff costs and make some profit. Massively, small bosses earn less by working more, compared to the hours and salary they would have earned if they had remained workers. But the small boss’s woes don’t end there.
The failure rate of starting a new small company is 90%. Thus, for 90% of would-be entrepreneurs, the `Dream` sold by the banks turns out to be a nightmare. They go bankrupt (very often in the first year of existence) and go back to their previous occupation, usually wage labor, but already burdened with solid debts to the bank, which they often pay for the rest of their lives. Thus, they not only re-enter the ranks of the working class, but return underemployed, perpetually squeezed by credit and debt and therefore subservient to the bosses.
At the same time, small businessmen are extremely annoying. Representing a small but extremely vocal social group, they often dominate the country’s protests, their particular economic situation pushing them to take anti-social positions on most political issues. They naively believe in the propaganda of their majestic politicians and right-wing ideologues, feeling that they should be privileged as the ‘backbone of the economy’. These expectations clash with their actual material situation and this makes small businessmen perpetually self-pitying and angry. This same situation renders them incapable of independent political activism as the individual small businessman sees other small businessmen as competitors and finds it difficult to unite with them in defending common interests. That is why the small businessman most often attaches himself to the initiatives of big business, which he imitates anyway and whose class he aspires to join one day. The small entrepreneur thinks primarily of himself and rarely takes a stand on public issues, and when he does, his immediate material interests lead him to take anti-social positions that are harmful not only to others but also to himself. Thus, for example, small entrepreneurs are lumped together with big business as the staunchest defenders of anti-social policies such as the flat tax and low social security contributions, because they see in them the immediate benefits to their pockets. But unlike the big businessmen, who do not rely much on public services, small businessmen suffer the effects of these policies in the form of deteriorating public health, education, etc. on a par with workers.
Small businessmen are also among the most susceptible groups to brown propaganda, and they may not form the backbone of the economy, but they do form the backbone of the country’s many nationalist parties and formations. Unable to understand their material situation in capitalist society, this inert social class desperately seeks easy explanations for their misfortunes, which are generously provided by the far right, be it the poor or the gypsies, whom the small businessman ‘feeds with his taxes’, or the ‘bloated public sector’ in which the small businessman recognises the tax collectors but fails to identify the teachers who teach his children, the firemen who guard his property or the nurses who care for his ungrateful body.
The small businessman is a marginal with hegemonic pretensions. He is at once a decent citizen for the state, a despot for his workers, and an anti-social element in society. He is a representative of a social class that, although oppressed by big capital and the state, has neither the political potential, nor the demographic capacity, nor the material interest to challenge the status quo. So when another petty political crook or passionate fighter against the oligarchy tries to present us with the small businessman as the main hero of the resistance, we can collectively shout in a paraphrase of the Roman Senate – “Fuck small business!”