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Conflict of Cultures

The massacre of 50 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, was the first instance of determined retaliation against Islamist terrorism in various parts of the world. In a broader historical perspective, class conflict has ended and been replaced by a clash of cultures.

Prafull Goradia | New Delhi |

Samuel Huntington has been proved right. Ever since the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, when a dozen Israeli athletes were massacred by Islamists, stormtroopers of the Islamic culture have been at war through terrorism against other cultures. Till very recently, those who represent Western culture have been patient. The massacre of 50 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, was the first instance of determined retaliation against Islamist terrorism in various parts of the world.

Another phenomenon, which however has gone uncommented upon is another face of class conflict. Yes, Communism met its eclipse soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and was followed by the breakup of the Soviet Union into 16 republics. That trade unions had begun to weaken and union terror had begun to die was not clearly noted. In a broader historical perspective, class conflict ended and was replaced by a clash of cultures. In the bargain, we are witnessing one phase of history being replaced by another. What follows is a brief examination of how classes came into being and how they clashed, and how their conflict began to end. The question arises: Is the world becoming classless or are classes reconciling themselves to coexistence? This was once theorized as class collaboration or fascism.

Adam and Eve did not come into being as members of a class. Social organization began as clans and tribes living in rural areas whether forests or otherwise. Whatever land and property developed, belonged to the community, neither to a family nor an individual. There was no farming or regular agriculture; people ate what they could hunt, cut or pluck. Land as such had no particular value in people’s minds. That consciousness emerged when farming began and crops provided food and materials like, for example, cotton. The ownership of land grew into a temptation; it became a major measure of wealth. The more the land owned, the more powerful the landlord. The greater the land and the farms, the more the workers required to till. The captive workers became the serfs. That is how feudalism emerged; the landlords became the pillars of the monarchs. The monarchies expanded into empires. The serfs turned into soldiers and the various landlords provided the hierarchy of knights or officers in times of war. The feudal structures or networks served the monarchies, big or small, in the time of peace as well as when wars took place. Thus a feudal society developed its own classes; the royalty, the aristocracy of landlords, knights and squires, and the farm workers, peasants with a little land and finally serfs with virtually no land.

With the advent of capitalism based on manufacture which expanded, more and more with the growth of the industrial revolution, the economic importance of land based feudalism became smaller. With manufacturing or industrial growth, towns and cities became bigger and bigger. The share of this sector in the total economic value became larger; the proportionate value of farm produce became comparatively smaller than before. But the class mentality that the owner is the superior and the worker is the inferior persisted. The owner took it for granted that it was his privilege to extract as much work and production as possible for the least possible payment to the worker.

This extraction of more work for a lesser wage was looked upon by persons with more humane hearts as exploitation. This phenomenon was not observed as clearly in the farms because the workplaces were scattered and the workers were seldom seen in large groups. Nor did they have to work throughout the year, whereas in the factories, being compact, the exploitation, whether real or supposed, was more easily visible. There were surely many observers but the most prominent ones who theorized and wrote at length on the phenomenon were Karl Marx and his friend Friedrich Engels. The fruit of their efforts was the enormous thesis running into several volumes ~ Das Kapital which is still considered the most masterly of the commentaries on capitalism. Marxism proved fecund enough to be not only an economic thesis but also a political ideology which in the 20th century went on to rule more people than any other idea. The greater part of the world, as a result, became classless societies, the largest countries being the Soviet Union and China. Marxism tried to bring about classless societies by dispossessing the capitalists or the bourgeoisie of the ownership of the means of production, in effect the means of making profit. The new alternative owners were not the people at large, but the state run by a coterie of Marxist leaders. That in effect was state capitalism; the gigantic American corporations, with widely dispersed shareholding appeared nearer to socialism than state capitalism begotten by the Marxist state. Nevertheless, this system was seen by many for many years as more just and humane; a resounding triumph of the people and the abolition of class exploitation. In the countries, which had not slipped into Marxist hands, there was a multiplicity of trade unions whose mission was to protect the interests of the workers or the proletariat.

What the followers of Marx failed to observe was the vicarious influence that Vladimir Lenin had on capitalist societies. The impact of the Leninist charisma was such that the bourgeoisie or the owners realized that the poor man or the worker also mattered as a partner in social or state power especially in countries which functioned democratically. As a result, in these societies the rich began giving the poor a fairer share of their economic harvest. He/ she had to be cared for. As it happened, the Communist economics proved to be wasteful and underproductive. They could not, therefore, do justice to the common folk. The capitalist societies, on the other hand, generated greater surpluses and had more to spare for their common folk. As a result, the poor man or woman in the western societies became better off than those in the economies which had undergone Communist revolutions. Paradoxical no doubt; yet rulers, whether in the politburos or central committees did not take serious notice of the peculiar contradiction.

Some of those strongly opposed to Communism innovated an ideological alternative to both the opposing theories that were alleged to be exploitative as well as one of conflict. They based their proposal on class collaboration and called it fascism; fascio in Italian meant a bundle. Professor Alfredo Rocco, the Minister of Justice in the Mussolini cabinet, set out the gist of this new ideology in the course of a speech at Perugia in 1925. According to him, society does not exist for the individual, but the individual exists for the society; economic progress is a social interest of all. Every class of people should collaborate to maximise production. He held the interests of employers and the employees to be identical. To ensure that this was practised, there was a system of State discipline over class conflicts. Strikes and lockouts were both illegal and punishable by heavy fines and imprisonment.

Whenever possible, employers and workers in each industry, trade or profession were organised together in syndical associations. Where it was not possible to form such syndicates, the unions and the employers’ associations remained but combined to form guilds to ensure coordination. If collective bargaining did not prove successful, the disputes were referred to law courts. This is how class collaboration was conceptualised by the Fascist Party. In practice, the economy was toned up by rearmament and public works. Soldiers and workers in large numbers were recruited in factories to produce goods. This would bring profits to the bourgeoisie who could then pay the proletariat well. Urban prosperity would increase the demand for agricultural produce. What was left of the unemployed youth was absorbed by the armed forces.

Notably the core objective of the trade union in the capitalistic economies was to weaken the bourgeois industries. That was the way to prepare society for a revolution. Without weakening the bourgeoisie, how would it allow a revolution? Nearer home, Kerala and West Bengal were two interesting theatres of effective, authentic trade unionism. Over the years, in both these states most of the manufacturing industrial units were closed. The unions were meant to protect and promote the welfare and interests of the workers; at least prime facie.

In fact, they helped the Communists to come to power in the two states. In the short run, they also helped to better the lot of the workers but in the longer run, the trade unions caused the industries to close down and render the workers jobless. People in other states, except Kerala and West Bengal, did not respond to the Communists. Thus India is a country that has witnessed Communism without having to pay the price of a revolution.

(The writer is an author, thinker and a former Member of Parliament)