Last & Least
The myth of classless society
Dr. Binoy Barman
May 5 is the birthday of Karl Marx, the great German philosopher, political economist, historian and social scientist. This episode pays tribute to the revolutionary, who inspired the poor to break out of poverty opposing capitalist oppression.
“The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Communist Manifesto
KARL Marx dreamed of a society in which there would be no class distinction. There would be only one identity for all -- 'human'. All people would be of equal status and enjoy equal benefits in society. There would be no privilege for anybody. There would be no rich and poor, as there would be no personal property; and the national wealth would be distributed among the citizens equally and equitably. All people would be educated as per personal and national interest. There would be no discrimination between male and female. There would also be no religious wall between people. There would be only one religion and that is humanity, controlled by rigours of reason and science, in the greater group benefit. Ah, what a dream! But ultimately it seems to be only a dream, devoid of reality. The unrealised dream is what might be called a utopia.
Different nations have tried to materialise the dreams of Karl Marx in different fashions but all in vain. Centuries of earnest political efforts have ended in fiasco. Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, East Germany and others -- no country could create a classless society. After the fall of Soviet Union, whereby Glasnost and Perestroika were introduced, around the end of twentieth century, it was clear that Marx dreamed an impossible dream. Classless society is only a myth. It may be found in book but not on the face of earth. Here we can make an attempt to dissect the myth, breaking into the causes of the failure of Marxist theory.
Marx's theory stands contrary to the natural system, which endorses class. Human society is divided into various classes based on wealth, sex, religion, colour, language, education, social status, profession, ethnicity, regionality, taste and personality, etc. In society some people are rich and some are poor; people acquire wealth by birth or by attainment. The whole human race is naturally divided into male and female. Religion divides people as Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist and others. Multiple languages make communities distinct from one another. Some people in society get education, high or moderate, while others remain illiterate. Titles in society, which are marks of social dignity, also make some people more respected than others. Profession or occupation also acts as a class differentiator. For ethnicity, people are identified as Aryan, Semitic, Dravidian, Mongolian, etc. Regionality links people to particular geographical locations where they are born or live. Taste distinguishes people as vegetarian or meat-lover, tea-drinker or coffee-drinker, among many other identities. For the pattern of personality, some are conservative and some are progressive, some are extrovert and some are introvert. Human society is thus classed into various cross-segments.
Some of these classes are natural while others have emerged as a consequence of socio-political intervention in the revolving wheel of history. For example, sex, colour, language, ethnicity and regionality are natural classes; and wealth, religion, education, social status, profession, taste and personality are artificial classes. One does not know what sex, colour, religion, language, ethnicity and regionality one will have. It is determined through birth. Sex and colour are genetically determined while religion, language, ethnicity and regionality are determined by chance. On the other hand, wealth, education, social status, profession, taste and personality come through a process of economic and social adjustment. Wealth, education, social status and profession partially depend on human efforts while taste and personality are psychological phenomena influenced by genetical and environmental factors.
Human society is thus naturally or artificially classified. Now, the question one may ask: is it possible to declassify a society when class system is profoundly ingrained in it? My answer is 'no', though it contradicts with Marx's conviction. The Marxists might fight class in two ways: first, abolishing all classes to bring them under one identity; and second, eradicating all class-based discriminations through political steps, bolstered by revolution and dictatorship. In the history of the world, both the strategies have been tested, without yielding any remarkable results. All declassifying measures, tough or mild, have failed.
Natural classes are like natural laws. In other words, we find the hand of God here. We cannot change certain classes, whatsoever. We cannot turn male into female or female into male. We cannot make white people black or black people white. Though all people may be compelled to follow single religion and to speak single language, it is not practical. The conversion effort will cause massive conflict and bloodshed. With language, it may be sometimes possible but in case of religion, it is almost impossible. So the other way is, for this case, to efface the trace of religion altogether. That was the strategy which was enforced by Soviet Union and China. But they failed miserably, despite their totalitarian policy. Religions have reappeared. Human religious aspiration is so deep-rooted that it can hardly be obliterated from mass psyche.
For other class factors like wealth, education, social status, profession, taste and personality, the political authority can do many things, however. The government may preserve exclusive property rights and attempt to distribute national wealth among all citizens without any disparity. The state can ensure education for all and put them in professions as per their qualification and propensity. If the income disparity disappears, the social status of people of various professions will also supposedly come to a level. The state has however little to do with taste and personality of people. The communist countries of the world have tried to minimise wealth gap among its citizens, and they have done it quite satisfactorily. They went a long way to establishing real welfare states. But the problem is that some people think they are more intelligent and capable than others so they deserve greater share of possession. Their desires cause a friction with the state interest. In this situation they have two options. Either they go to a capitalist country where they can buy as many comforts as they wish, or they stay back in the country and try to change the social system itself to a capitalist one.
Man is greedy in nature. They always want to consume more than others. It is inherent in their mental make-up. The allure of consumer goods ultimately overwhelms the utilitarian interest. The evil wins over the good. The socialist frame of governance falls apart and so-called democracy comes back.
Classlessness is not any natural order. So it has to be invoked with revolution. Revolution is imposed and brought about in an unnatural way. Whatever is unnatural will not last long. Therefore I suppose there was a miscalculation in Marxist dialectics. The political transition from monarchy to democracy to communism was erroneous. Democracy does not necessary develop into communism. It may be brought by force but will not survive and sustain in the long run. The present world is its evidence. Communism established through revolution has collapsed or is limping.
Another truth is that people's individual consciousness of self is class-centred. An individual loves to see him/her belonging to a class. If the state attempts to abolish classes, he/she feels uncomfortable and at last wages a war against the collective authority. Suppression of individualism is the most ominous thing, and the weakest point, in my reckoning, in a communist state. Individual interest is so powerful that it defies to be dominated by collectivism.
Failure to establish a classless society, as dreamed by Marx, may be interpreted in two ways. First, there was some fatal flaw in Marx's theory. Second, there was some problem in implementation. May be the theory is all right but the time is not ripe yet to realise and materialise it. At the present state of human nature, in individual and collective existence, Marx appears to be wrong. But I believe human nature is amenable to change. Human psychology as well as physiology may change in evolutionary process to the extent very different from now. Much above selfishness and narrowness, then people will feel that they are all equal and same, whereby a real classlessness will be attained automatically. There is no need of revolution when evolution takes its course. It may happen in very remote future. But that day, surely, Karl Marx, the real friend of the poor, will laugh his last laugh, sitting in heaven.
(The writer is Assistant Professor and Head, Department of English, Daffodil International University.)