Portland State University
SOC 320: Globalization
Conflict is a central part to human nature and the development of a society. Through this very basic concept, Karl Marx, a sociologist from the nineteenth century, developed a theory explaining the course of development throughout history. This theory is used to explain changes in economic systems and is key to understanding historical change. By using Karl Marx’s conflict theory, we can see how British colonialism in India triggers a dialectic materialistic process that results in social and economic reformation. In order to apply Marx’s theory we need to understand it more clearly. As a classical sociologist, Karl Marx believed that history could be interpreted as resolutions to contradictions stemming from the competing interests of people in different economic classes. He believed that “the way societies change and progress is through conflict—the engine of social change is dialectic conflict” (Allan, 2011, p. 45), a system originated by philosopher, Georg Hegel. According to Hegel, every idea or thesis has a meaning only when it is placed against an opposite, or antithesis. Conflicts between a thesis and an antithesis yield a synthesis; new information and understanding about an evolving reality. Marx agreed with Hegel’s dialectic process and furthered it by insisting that the dialectic process among material interests were the keys to social and economic change. This process can be seen through the economic reformation of India from colonial rule to national independence.
India was officially a British Colony in 1858 when power was transferred from East India Company over to the British Crown. Through British colonization, India underwent many economic and social changes. Many of the native industries declined, local agriculture turned into commercial farming for European industries, and workers were forced to work in fields and mines. Even though the production of commercial crops went up in the 1890s and 1940s, local production declined while the population grew, “a shift that spread hunger, famine, and social unrest.” (McMichael, 2008, p. 34) Over time a country that once was the main importer of luxury textiles in Europe, converted nearly all its resources into export commodities. British colonialism was helping India move into the modern era while chipping away at the rich Indian culture.
Although there had been resistance to British colonial rule and economic changes, none were able to impact India like Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi returned to India at age 45 after 21 years of practicing law in South Africa, where he organized a campaign of “passive resistance” to protest his mistreatment by whites for his defense of Asian immigrants. He then attracted wide attention in India by conducting a fast—the first of 14 that he staged as political demonstrations. Through Gandhi’s teachings and examples, many Indians marched and participated in non-violent, non-coopereation resistance over the years, protesting against racist poll tax and marriage laws, the exploitation of salt production, and the improved status of the untouchables. In 1935the Government of India Act passes British Parliament and is then implemented in India. This was the first really movement towards Indian independence. World War II began and the Indian National Congress declares that support for Britain in the war will only be given in exchange for Indian independence. Congress leaders were arrested and Gandhi fasts once more to protest British rule while imprisoned in the Aga Khan’s palace. Once released Gandhi visits Muhammed Ali Jinnah in Bombay, but is unable to work out an agreement that will keep India whole. In 1946 the British Cabinet Mission publishes proposal for an Indian state, without partition; Jinnah and the Muslim League reject the proposal. Lord Mountbatten arrives in India and hammers out agreement for independence and partition. Finally in August 15, 1947 Indian independence becomes official, as does the partition into two countries, India and Pakistan. This provides an excellent example of Marx’s dialectic. British colonial rule works as the thesis, Gandhi’s passive resistance and non-cooperational protests serves as an antithesis and the independence of India is the resolution or, synthesis. It can be seen that through this dialectic conflict that “collisions between the classes of the old society further the course of development.” (Farganis, 2011, p. 37) However, just because a synthesis has formed does not suggest that issues have been completely resolved. The interesting part of the dialectic process is that it is a continuous one. Every new economic system leads to internal economic contradictions, just like colonialism was a solution to an empire’s physical limitation of resources, independence and the partition of two countries becomes the thesis for the next conflict dialectic. After independence was granted in the mid-nineteenth century, India dissolved into chaos and killings, as Hindus and Muslims fled for the borders of India and Pakistan. Marx’s dialectic process has been and will continue to be the system for economic and social change.
Kenneth Allan (2011). The Social Lens: An Invitation to Social and Sociological Theory (2nd ed.)Pine Forge Press An Imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc Philip McMichael (2008). Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective (4th ed.).Pine Forge Press An Imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc
Johnson, Gordon (1973). Provincial politics and Indian nationalism; Bombay and the Indian National Congress, 1880 to 1915. Cambridge [Eng.] University Press, 1973 Farganis, James (2011) Readings in Social Theory: The Classic Tradition to Post-Modernism (6th ed.). McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Desai, Akshayakumar Ramanlal (1966) Social Background of Indian Nationalism (4th ed,).Bombay : Popular Prakashan Attenborough, Richard (1982). Gandhi. USA, Golden Crest Films