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Social Upheaval
Conflicts arise for a myriad of reasons that are often a combination of politics, economics, and differing cultural identities.  This page is devoted to exploring the impact conflict has had on the people themselves.  Whatever the reasons for a conflict beginning, whether it is two political parties or two social classes at each other’s throats, it is the people who will ultimately pay the price.  Nigerian author Chinua Achebe explained this with an old African proverb that says, “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” 

The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s was not a conflict in and of itself, but it did create Some of the so-called heproblems between social classes.  This social stratification created the ideological differences between capitalism and socialism which, in turn were the catalyst for a number of wars between the superpowers of the 20th century.

The Industrial Revolution itself was a combination of new inventions and the presence of a huge labor supply caused by a population explosion.  The high population was the result of better farming techniques developed during the Agrarian Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution altered every aspect of life for people.  People flooded cities in search of work in the growing factories.  The results of this were dangerous working conditions, extremely low wages, child labor, women working for less than men, poor housing, poor sanitation, and a widening of the gap between rich and poor.  These problems led to a variety of social, economic, and political reforms including the idea of socialism.

Socialism is the concept that the nation should control all aspects of production with the people making all decisions.  This is directly opposite of capitalism which promotes competition among individual owners.  One version of socialism, called communism, came to the forefront.  Karl Marx (seen here) and Friedrich Engels,  in the book The Communist Manifesto, believed that history was the story of the class struggle of the lower class against the upper class.  Marxism called for the workers of the world, called the proletariat, to rise up and unite against the capitalist, called the bourgeoisie, in bloody revolutions.  Marxist socialistic thought was instrumental in the rise of the Soviet Union and China.

Living Under Stalin in the Soviet Union
Josef Stalin assumed control of the Soviet Union after the death of Lenin by murdering all possible rivals.  In his Great Purge, Stalin falsely accused many fellow communists of treason and executed thousands.  “Iron Joe” changed many of the social and economic policies instituted by Lenin, taking complete central control of all industrial and agricultural production.

His economic policy, called Five-Year Plans, forced the people of the Soviet Union were to work without pay on state farms called collectives.  Conditions were deplorable and any complaint was harshly put down using execution or deportment to Siberia, itself a death sentence.  Despite the consequences, many peasants revolted against collectivization.  To end this, Stalin instituted a policy of genocide for any group speaking out against the Soviet state.  By the beginning of the World War II, Stalin had murdered nearly 20 million people.  This is not considered ethnic cleansing because they were Stalin’s own people.

Social Instability in Red China
Mao Zedong, upon establishing the communist People’s Republic of China, set out to transform his country into a modern state.  Politics and economics were state controlled in what is referred to as the Great Leap Forward.  Mao also attempted to control the very minds of the people.  Beginning with the education of school children, communist thinking was indoctrinated.  Mao’s Little Red Book was required reading and any former members of the intelligentsia, the educated class, were forced into schools that re-trained their minds to fit Mao’s vision.  Confucianism and Taoism, the traditional religions of China, were banned.  However, women did receive more equality as traditional Chinese culture was suppressed.  Any opposition to Mao’s authority was quickly and harshly put down.

In the late 1950’s into the 60’s, Mao’s opponents, despite the consequences, began demanding changes in Mao’s policies.  Mao responded by unleashing the Red Guard, a mob of students who attacked and brutalized any who spoke out against Mao.  This period was known as the Cultural Revolution.  The ensuing chaos brought China to a grinding halt in terms of industrial production.  Finally, a harsh military-enforced crack-down ended the Cultural Revolution by the late 1960’s.

During the 1970’s, China and the Western world gradually increased economic, social, and political contact.  The thawing of the Cold War, resulted in democratic principles seeping into China.  In 1989, students filled Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, protesting for more democratic reforms.  China strained relations with the West by brutally putting the demonstration.  Many were killed and thousands were arrested as Chinese tanks and soldiers stormed into Tiananmen Square.  This famous image shows one lone student stopping an entire line of Chinese tanks.

The Role of Mahatma Gandhi in India
Great Britain had colonized the country of India during the 1700’s. Indian nationalistic movements, such as ones led by the Indian National Congress, had made attempts at self-rule but had never been completely successful.  The great proponent of a free India, Mohandas K. Gandhi, was instrumental in the Indian Nationalist Movement.  Known as the Mahatma, or the Great Soul, Gandhi forced change and an end to British imperialism through a strict policy of non-violence, or passive resistance.

Following the Mahatma’s example, thousands of common people across India employed civil disobedience, which included boycotts such as the Salt March, and hunger strikes.  He also forced change at home by attempting to do away with the Hindu caste system.  The rigid caste system separated religious and  political classes from lower classes of laborers and outcasts with no hope at social mobility.

Violent episodes, such as the Amritsar Massacre, plagued India’s movement to be come free.  Great Britain, weakened by its efforts in World War II, finally conceded to Indian nationalist demands in 1948.

Despite the influence of Gandhi, India fell into disorder.  Hindu people wanted an all-Hindu state and Muslims, led by the Muslim League wanted a separate state.  Gandhi was assassinated because of this conflict.  Eventually, Pakistan was formed as a separate Muslim state.  Therefore, the strength and will of the common people both achieved Indian independence and tore India apart.  The story of Mahatma Gandhi and Indian nationalism is one of history’s greatest ironies.

The Role of Nelson Mandela in South Africa
The most famous of all African nationalist leaders was Nelson Mandela.  The situation in South Africa was different from that in India.  It had  experienced imperialism, but the country had gained autonomy at the turn of the century.  White setters called Afrikaners had control of the South African government and had imposed a social structure known as apartheid.  Apartheid consisted of two social classes, upper white and lower black.  The races were kept separate and unequal, with the black population suffering terrible abuses.  Examples of this abuse include pass cards for blacks only, voting rights for whites only, and segregated reservations called Home Lands.  Mandela, due to speaking out against apartheid, was imprisoned for 27 years and not released until the early 1990’s.  South African president F.W. De Klerk freed Mandela and ended the racist institution.  In 1994, South Africa had its first free election and Mandela was elected president.  Mandela and De Klerk earned the Nobel Peace Prize together for their efforts.



1 Comment

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