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CLASS MOBILIZATION AND POLITICAL CONFLICT

We have already seen in the discussion of Marx and Engels how fruitful their model has been for a sociology of political conflict. As sociology began doing survey research in the 1940s and thereafter, it inevitably had a rediscovery of many of these insights. Seymour Martin Lipset (in his youth a Marxist, though he later moved sharply to the right) summarized the evidence of the class influence on politics by calling elections "the democratic class struggle." Social classes have been among the most essential dividing lines in explaining how people vote, although the other dimensions that also predict political attitudes are often versions of Weber's status groups. Social class has been shown, moreover, to strongly affect the mobilization of people in modern politics. The conservative parties have not disappeared in modern democracies, even though they represent only a minority of the people, because their higher-class supporters are much more likely to vote, to contribute financially, and to be active in party affairs than are the working-class supporters of the more liberal parties. The

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material means of mobilization continue to be crucial in the modern struggle for political power. Although the more spectacular conflict theories have dealt with revolutionary uprisings and other social movements, "resource mobilization" is equally applicable to the mundane class conflicts that go on through the medium of voting.

Though the model is generally correct -- in the sense that the higher social classes tend to favor the status quo and the maintenance of property, whereas the lower social classes tend to favor reforms and economic redistribution -- there have nevertheless been some major refinements in it. Marx and Engels were not just interested in liberal/reforming politics, but in a revolutionary working class. The question that has been addressed is: Within the general left/right continuum of politics, how far will the left go? Under what conditions does it produce reformism, and when radicalism? For that matter, when does one find reactionary movements emerging from the lower classes? Comparative sociologists have made considerable headway on this question.

The first part of this analysis dealt with the early phase of capitalism: the penetration of the capitalist economy into the agricultural societies of Europe as early as the 1700s, as well as subsequently around the world. Both Arthur Stinchcombe and Barrington Moore, Jr., proposed models of agricultural class politics. They both pointed out that the capitalist market itself tends to mobilize social classes. Hence, it made a great deal of difference whether peasants marketed their own crops or whether this was done by some feudal landowner. The French Revolution of 1789 gave peasants their own land. But as a result it made them not a radical force, but a conservative one: as small farmers, unprotected by any monopoly position, they were always kept on the brink of ruin by the ups and downs of the market for farm products. Thus, like small farmers everywhere, they became a typically reactionary force in modern politics, hostile to urban society and to the socialistic or tradeunion policies of the workers, which the farmers regarded as just so much featherbedding at the expense of honest citizens.s



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Paradoxically, Moore pointed out, the establishment of modern democracy proceeded most smoothly in countries such as England where the landlords drove the peasants off the land and into the cities, where they were then transformed from a reactionary force into a liberal one. The worst possible outcome, Moore argued in his Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy ( 1966), isradical. This happened, for instance, in Chi when feudal lords keep the peasants on the lands and force them to produce goods for the market by an intensification of traditional discipline. This is the formula for fascism, which developed in Germany and Japan. Finally, there is also the possibility of agricultural workers going na, where the peasants did not own the land, but had to pay rent to absentee landlords. The result was that the peasants were left to absorb the pressures of the market while being squeezed by landlords who demanded rent in good times and bad. Peasants in this case reacted by supporting a movement to overthrow the entire property system.

In Craig Calhoun book The Question of Class Struggle ( 1982), this type of analysis is extended to urban workers as well. Marx and Engels expected that the coming together of workers in factories would make them "capitalism's gravediggers," revolutionaries mobilizing to bring down the system. But their sociology of political conflict was not quite right on this point. For factory owners themselves are the most directly exposed to the market; and it is this market experience that mobilizes them and makes them politically active and aware of their national interests, whereas the workers are somewhat shielded by the organization itself. The workers, thus, fight their class battles within the factory itself, striving for better employment security and for better wages -- but not on the national level. They do not direct their attack on the institution of property itself; their basic stance becomes not radical and socialist, but local, trade unionist, and reformist.

The real radicals, Calhoun points out, were those workers who were most directly exposed to the market. These were the small craft workers, self-employed artisans or those in domestic enterprises who were involved in the "putting-out"

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system of working up raw materials sent to them by merchant-entrepreneurs. For them, there was no cushion against economic downturns, which could immediately drive them out of business. Moreover the crafts workers had no local enemies they could fight -- enemies in the form 'of factory owners and bosses. They could not fight for organizational reforms because they did not work in someone else's organization. Instead, they had to direct their protest against the whole system. It was these workers who made up the radical movements Marx and Engels observed in the early 1800s, the decades of their own youth, and who convinced them that a still larger radical socialist movement was in the offing.

This is not to say radical socialist movements cannot reappear at later times. But Calhoun's type of analysis is in keeping with the general growth of modern sophisticated conflict theory. Organizations are capable of containing and localizing class conflict, just as they create and shape new conflicts of their own. For a full-scale revolutionary transformation of the system to occur, we need to look beyond the localized conflicts to structural forces that focus conflict on the level of the overall property system itself. And this brings us again to that dominant superorganization, that upholder of property through its means of exerting force: the state.


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 567


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