POLITICAL SOCIOLOGY: VIOLENCE VERSUS PERSUASION AS AGENTS OF MODERN SOCIAL CHANGE

Allowed to participate in the political arena, sharing in the economic pie, the leading elements of the working classes may be said thus to have been incorporated into the society. They there upon have renounced the class struggle. They no longer respond to ideological appeals to solidarity of the oppressed, much less to appeals to violence. This incorporation occurred in England, Scandinavia, the Low Countries and North America, Australia and New Zealand in the 1930’s and 1940’s with the coming to respectability and sometimes power of the social-democratic parties and labour movements. It occurred in West Germany and Austria after the second World War. It is being completed now in France and Italy with the incorporation into the parliamentary system of the Communist parties. It may be argued that, via another path, this is what is occurring in the post Stalin era in the USSR and Eastern Europe. It has yet to occur in Spain, Portugal and Greece.

The end of revolution does not mean the end of privilege. Far from it. In all the countries of Europe and North America, there are the poor: the unskilled workers, the small peasants, the aged, the sick. They are inadequately, if at all, covered by the benefits of social security. They have few spokesmen. A bright child born to a poor family is immediately given access to higher education and therefore higher income and status. As a consequence the poor are also, probably for the first time in the history of the world, the less bright.

There are also the dispossessed ethnic groups – Negroes in the United States, French-Canadians in Canada, Bretons in France, Slovaks in Czechoslovakia. But precisely because these minorities are defined in ethnic terms, they still have the potential for organising themselves under first class leaders. And with enough fuss and credible threat of violence, they too shall be admitted or rather the upper-half of the ethnic group will be admitted, to share in the good society.

In this new society, it has become politically pointless to preach revolution and violence, for the poor have become a minority. Their plight is thus all the more difficult. Deprived of both members and leadership, they are at the mercy of the privileged. Here the Utopians may take over. For if there is to be further social change, it will, – as a result of this simple shift in arithmetical proportion – have to come now not from the threat of the poor to revolt but from the idealism of the privileged.

However, there is no reason to expect idealism to be a bigger factor than before in reducing privilege just because the percentage of the privileged is larger. Idealism, incarnated in some intellectuals and perhaps in the churches, will nevertheless be a prod, a small one, but a prod all the same. There will also be the prod of convenience. As standards of living continue to increase, it will often seem easier to the privileged to make some further small concession to the poor than tolerate their complaints and their ugliness. But such change may be very slow and gradual.

Thus the argument over the effectiveness of violence versus persuasion as agents of social change is easily resolved if it is seen that their effectiveness depends on the structural context of the society, particularly the proportion of persons who are privileged in the total group. Placed in its historical context, violence (or its credible threat) was a major agent within Western nations at an early period of modernization, and has now diminished in importance. The revolutionaries bred their own undoing. When their action led to the shift in the ratio from 1 :2 to 2: 1, it became true, as the Utopians argued, that rational persuasion was most likely to effect future major social change. Revolution made reform possible, and reform in turn made revolution impossible.

This theoretical proposition explains in broad outline what has happened in Europe. It may also be applied to the contemporary world scene. Since the second World War, the effective arena of politics has shifted from Europe to the whole world. And in the world today, we are confronted by an international ratio of 1 :2. The developed nations are a small minority. At first they were only Western Europe and North America. In the last 10 years Japan, Italy and now the Soviet Union have joined their ranks – economically and thus to some extent politically.

As did the privileged classes of early 19th century Western Europe, the developed nations today have the monopoly of force and of wealth. There are two schools of progressive thought. There are Reformists who argue that by a combination of mild pressure and persuasion they can obtain a redistribution of the world’s income – through foreign aid, new trade patterns, growth of new industries in underdeveloped countries. This is the position, in one or another version, of the Soviet Union, of the European left, and of some leaders in the Third World. The revolutionaries argue now, as they did in the early 19th century, that only force will bring the privileged to heel and that only the solidarity of the oppressed – now defined as Asia, Africa and Latin America – will make possible a credible threat of violence. This is the position of China and of Cuba – but it is also the position of many non-Marxist states: Algeria, the UAR, the erstwhile regimes in Ghana and Indonesia, and others who are less vocal.

It is probable that on the world scene, as in the past on the European scene, revolution (or its credible threat) will make possible reform. Reform in this case will mean enough redistribution of world income to permit industrialization of the underdeveloped nations. But it is unlikely that this world reform will benefit equally all the underdeveloped nations. In 25 – 50 years, when China and others – such as perhaps the UAR, Brazil, an African-controlled South Africa – enter the ranks of the world’s developed states, they too may mute their ideological clarions. When violence has played its course as an instrument of social change, when the world privilege ratio will have become 2: 1, there may be no one to speak for the forgotten corners of the globe – except the Utopians who preach idealism and convenience. Change in the social structure, the erosion of┬áprivilege, may continue, but, if it does, the pace of change will be a slow one. It will be unlikely however, at that time, that any alternative method of social change will exist.