How long can desires of a people be suppressed? It seems to be for a very long time. But no matter how long domination happens, liberalization sooner or later occurs, changing the society as we know it. Let’s think back to the Reformation Day. The young Catholic priest Martin Luther was faithfully advocating Christian faith, but not the practices that the prevailing priests and bishops endorsed. It was the sale of indulgences Luther so much despised. It hindered believers to focus on their relationship with God, and enriched the priests and bishops without a reason. They told the people that they could free themselves from going to hell by donating money to the church.
As Luther was voicing his protest against the sale of indulgences, he came across stiff opposition from the church officials, but nonetheless persisted. In the diet of Worms Luther was declared an outlaw, and was to be killed by anyone without legal consequence. The church was not seen as an institution allowing democratic culture of scholarly debates. The church existed to maintain order in society, perhaps just as Confucius once indicated. This order was an oppressive one to modern day standards. It was not surprising at all. Luther lived in a time, when many people could not read or write, and therefore had no opportunity to voice their active opposition against the church.
The inhumane elements of an institution can only be questioned if the circumstances are right. Luther’s theories might not have reached the public at all if two things didn’t happen. First, if he had received no support from a mighty rule, in that case Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, he might be dead, and could not spread his theories. Second, if there was no printing press, his theories could not be disseminated as fast across Europe, thereby sparking a widespread debate on religion.
Luther is in the history books, because he had the moral courage to criticize a system, and had the success to find widespread acceptance. He is the founder of Lutheranism, the Protestant Church.
Any other social movement also proved capable of transforming the society, by making their sentiments heard and advocating for change. The European worker’s movement by far was very instrumental in fighting for more justice by demanding higher wages. Of course, the employers and the managers of a company, who basically depended on the labor of their workers, but controlled the inflow of revenues and expenditures of the company the workers are selling their labor for. As a consequence the employers were able to extract some of the revenue to police the workers, and prevent them from organizing in unions, who would demand higher wages. Companies also used the strategy of lockouts to prevent strikes. They simply shut those people out of their workplace by temporarily closing the factory.
Despite all the intimidation the workers began to organize. It was a very understandable move. Industrialization changed the working process. It made the once self-reliant farmers and artisans in rural areas heavily dependent on the wage the employer in the factory was willing to pay his workers. Another factor that spurred the creation of labor unions was the proximity of those workers in the workplace. It might have been very difficult to conceive of an organized farmer’s movement, since the small farmers only maintain subsistence farming and live too far apart from their neighboring farmer to consider measures against big farmers, who certainly wield a lot more power.
In short, the development of unions was inevitable given the capitalist mode of production that cares only little about the individual human life. The capitalists themselves justified their inhumane business concept by arguing that their company stood in fierce competition with other companies, thereby forcing more efficiency. The workers would care little. They evidently see that the company owner is able to hire more workers, but he is unable to pay the existing workers a higher wage. Or he will hear about another branch opening up at another place, but there ain’t no money for a raise? Marx had it right when he argued that the capitalist system would cause discontents in the name of progress that are so unbearable for the majority of the people, the proletariat, that it will inevitably cause a great uprising to overturn this unfair rule. It left the benefits disproportionately in the hands of the few, the bourgeoisie. Marx was right on this count, but he was wrong in assuming that a planned economy yielded better results, and that the impoverishment of workers was inevitable. It could, in fact, be ameliorated by reformist policies.
The pro-Marxists are all summarized in the socialist camp. But they were not all the same. There’s two main streams of socialists, and they were both keenly aware of the deterministic scenario Marx laid out to them. There were reform socialists, who later on emerged as social democrats. They wanted to avoid a revolution by all means, and hoped to satisfy the needs of the workers by strengthening labor unions and seeing worker improvements implemented like a shorter work week or holidays. Of course, comprehensive benefits are only conceivable if enough resources are generated, but capitalism provided that. Of course, the business owners at first rejected those steps, but once the unions banded together, they had to relent. Given the dangerous discontents a continuous worker uprising might have caused, it was certainly more sensible to concede to worker’s desires. There was more to lose than to gain from suppressing workers.
The second strain were called the revolutionary socialists, also known as communists. They were notable, yet small and therefore weak in Western European countries, where industrialization was advanced enough and democratic culture allowed a moderate reformist agenda in those governments. Social democratic parties began to be elected into parliaments, and participate in governments, thereby influencing the political process. It was somewhat different in Russia. Russia was not a fully industrialized country, but nonetheless took the step of plunging into revolutionary socialism. World War I had just discredited the tsarist regime. The Bolshevists took power and negotiated a cease fire with the hostile Germans, and Lenin developed his own strain of Marxism, called Leninism. 1
Leninism was different from Marxism in some very significant aspects. Most importantly, Marx believed that socialism was only viable in developed industrialized and therefore capitalist countries. Germany or America were the example that came closest to it. Lenin, however, knew that Russia was still a largely agrarian society. He simply renamed the farmers proletarians, since they were practically the underclass in the Soviet Union. That dialectic viewpoint was contrary to traditional Marxist ideas that saw proletarians as wage slaves of the manufacturing factories, not backward, rural farmers! Lenin also was an ardent proponent of a police state, and saw the need to guard the communist revolution from domestic and foreign intruders. Social Democrats from the West found totalitarianism abhorrent, but in Leninist-Stalinist Russia it was natural, because Russia lacked democratic traditions. Worst of all, revolutionary socialism as a practical approach failed. There was no viable alternative on the left to social democracy that explicitly approved of capitalism.
Indeed, industrialization had one important advantage. It may have made lives more complicated for the workers involved, but over the long term it generated the amenities of modern day life. Once machines began to replace unskilled workers, people saw an opportunity to unleash their creativity and invent other things to make lives easier. For most of the society electrical appliances or cars made consumption a given in a capitalist society. It made those people share in the wealth that a developed country offers. It is such a great contrast to underdevelopment that plaques many less developed countries, especially in Africa. But the efforts of modernization begin to embrace Latin America and East Asia, thereby generating huge wealth and a broad middle class that find itself suddenly capable of affording things Western people already take for granted.
That fantastic process in itself serves as a great equalizer. It implicates also some risks for the West, including fiercer competition from those societies that are also flooding the world market with their products. But it doesn’t have to be as negative as Samuel P. Huntington suggests. 2 The clash of civilizations is not a zero sum game. The former colonies of the West merely assert their position. It is the strive towards justice.
1 Dubovoy, Sina. “Socialism and Communism.” Reference For Business. Web. 02 Nov. 2010. .
2 Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Print.