Class War


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(Above) A pro-Thaksin ‘Red Shirt’ waves the Thai flag as vehicles burn in the background during a violent protest. (Below) Anti-government protesters throw rocks at riot police during a protest in Venezuela.

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Class warfare is a reality, regardless of how capitalists and the far right denies it. As much as I hate siding with the left, I have to say they have this argument spot on.

Karl Marx was the first to point it out, that a society will have tensions among its’ different socioeconomic classes due to their conflicting interests. Thomas Jefferson perhaps articulated the subject best when he said:

Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.

Bottom line is, the wealthy and the working class both have their own interests – and they contradict. The latter demand better wages, safer work conditions and health benefits which means expenses for businesses, thereby cutting profitability which is against the interest of the former, or the bourgeoisie as Karl Marx branded them.

In the present day, it seems we are seeing the advent of a modern-day class war. On two different continents, news of class struggles disguised as political conflict are dominating the airwaves.

First in Thailand, where anti-government protesters – who have been aptly called the ‘Yellow Shirts’ – are clashing with pro-government ‘Red Shirts’ made up of farmers and the working class.

In South America, Venezuela is seeing a level of turmoil it has not seen in a decade. Similar to Thailand, the anti-government protesters are suspected to be backed by the elite and the oligarchs who are calling for the ouster of the socialist government backed by the proletariat.

Tuning in to the news, the media would have you believe that the issue is but a struggle between two different political factions. But a deeper examination of the composition of these movements reveal an even bigger underlying cause.

Take the scenes in Thailand for example, the battleground is Bangkok where in recent weeks the anti-government “Yellow Shirts” have literally shut down the capital by barricading thoroughfares and government buildings. Just recently, they were successful in removing the incumbent Prime Minister – Yingluck Shinawatra – from office after a Constitutional Court declared that her party had violated rules when it tried to pass an amnesty bill pardoning her brother – former Prime Minister- Thaksin Shinawatra from corruption charges.

Just on the surface, it seems that this is no more than a clash between Shinawatra supporters and his opposition. But just analyze for a moment who the Shinawatra supporters are – farmers, who have largely benefited from his generous rice subsidies, rural poor who were given the privilege of microcredit development loans and residents in the North East region, an area which saw its’ average income rates double from 2001-2006.

It follows logically that Yingluck Shinawatra won by a landslide in the 2011 general elections, winning mostly in the North – the hotbed of the rural poor and the proletariat. And Yingluck continues to enjoy the support of the majority of Thais today, which is why the opposition ‘Yellow Shirts’ are so adamantly against an election.

So with Yingluck winning a democratic election and continues to be supported by the majority of Thais, what then does the opposition have against her?

The opposition argues that elections are undemocratic because the majority of voters are uneducated and also claim that vote-buying is rampant. The fact that Thaksin’s former policies were all aimed at appealing to the poor majority meant that they naturally would support him. But isn’t that the essence of democracy, that politicians pander to the grievances of the majority as an incentive into winning elections?

This didn’t seem feasible, apparently, to the opposition and they instead called for the courts – which are speculated to be backed by the elites – to handpick a committee to assume the role of ruling the nation. Ironically, they consider this to be the ‘true democracy’ that Thailand needs.

Take note, these Yellow Shirts are loyal to the Monarchy of Thailand. They are financed and backed by the urban middle class and the wealthy, and are centered mainly in Bangkok. Their idea of a democracy seems to be an exclusive one, where only a certain class of people can make decisions – rendering the rest to be inferior or having different rights.

Though this isn’t puzzling. Thaksin’s former policies have all been harsh on the upper class. He pushed for universal healthcare and set the price for doctor visits at less than $1US, which was criticized by doctors and private health clinics. His war on drugs enraged many of the elites who were secretly drug kingpins. Thaksin’s generous subsidies on local Thai farmers’ rice made private rice traders less competitive.

If you pander to the poor, the interests of the upper class are compromised. This is exactly how Yingluck and her brother Thaksin can be hated by the elite.

And in another continent…

Pandering to the poor has long been a platform for Venezuela’s ruling socialists, first led by the popular Hugo Chavez and now by his Vice President Nicolas Maduro. Just like Yingluck, Maduro has an affinity for the proletariat. He has carried on policies by his predecessor Chavez which emphasized on wealth redistribution, land reform and formation of cooperatives for workers.

Socialist policies enrage the bourgeoisie like a red cloth to a raging bull.  Chavez’ trump card however was his popularity among the majority of Venezuelans, especially those who have benefited from increased literacy, improved wages and better access to healthcare. But Maduro on the other hand does not share the same appeal, and while he was given Chavez’ blessing to succeed the latter he is still no iconic revolutionary.

Therefore, in January of this year the opposition was able to capitalize on a scandal that caught the entire nation. A former Venezuelan beauty queen, Monica Spear, and her husband were killed in a highway robbery. This highlighted Venezuela’s growing crime problem, which is worse than even that of Baghdad.

Barely a week after the incident, protests were building in the streets of the capital, Caracas and opposition parties rallied behind them. On the 23rd of January, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez became the figurehead of the protests and openly declared to protesters:

“We must create chaos in the streets through responsible civic struggle”

It is rather unsurprising that Lopez is a staunch critic of the socialist government, especially since he is a former ranking executive at an oil corporation. He was later arrested on charges of arson and inciting rebellion, which he calls were unjust. But then again, it was this same Leopoldo Lopez whose party called for a mass protest on the 12th of February, which resulted in the deaths of two pro-government activists that was the basis of his charges.

Another fact to take note is that two more mayors were arrested on the same charges as Lopez: San Diego mayor Enzo Scarano and San Cristobal mayor Daniel Ceballos, both of them are entrepreneurs. One more leading figure in the opposition movement is Henrique Capriles, the son of another wealthy businessman.

The profiles of these opposition figureheads make the protests very suspicious. The motive of the anti-government rallies is very vague as well, on television and in photographs the demonstrators are brandishing the word ‘peace’ in their slogans – yet, molotov cocktails and rocks have come from their side.

One of the early demands of the protesters was to restore peace so that Venezuelans may feel safe in their country again, but today their actions imperil the lives of many of their compatriots. Not to mention, their already fragile economy is suffering from the turmoil happening in key commercial districts.

So the anti-Chavez/anti-Maduro protests seem to be contradictory, that is if their intentions are really what they claim it to be. What’s analogous about these protests to that of Thailand is the build of the two sides clashing.

On one side, you have the pro-government groups made up of the majority and the poor. While on the other, you have urban middle-class and the oligarchy giving a loudspeaker to the anti-government faction.

One side is calling for reforms, more free-market and business friendly ones. And unsurprisingly, that is coming from the anti-government faction. On another, you have the masses, the working class and the rural poor desperately trying to preserve their government and its’ pro-poor, populist programs.

This seems like the making of a class war. Two sides of different socioeconomic classes with conflicting interests, clashing with one another. The media seems to want to avoid highlighting that angle of the story, and why wouldn’t they? The media moguls behind them have their own interests too. But regardless, it is blatantly obvious what the real story behind this is.

It seems painful to think that the lower class, who usually are voiceless in the debate, have found their voice with their pro-poor governments only for that to be sabotaged by the oligarchs. But this is the world after all, human beings have their own interests. The best interests of the working class are against the wishes of the bourgeoisie.

Karl Marx was right, and Warren Buffet seems to have predicted the likely outcome of every class war when he stated:

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

 

 

 

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