The Tension Between Labour and Capital and the Development of Human Unity

Going back into history, as society developed a stratification based on a division of labor, there has come about a corresponding development of ruling elite and those being governed.  There has also evolved a stratification with respect to the access to the resources of the society, which has been a factor in human development as well.  With the advent of the industrial revolution, the application of technology and engineering to vastly enhance the resource development and output of the society has primarily turned into an engine to support and enhance the position of those possessing the capital and “ownership” of the resources, as well as those who make such technological advancements possible.  The laboring classes, therefore, have not participated equally in the increase in general “wealth” of the society, and in some cases, have seen their power to bargain reduced as technology replaced the need for untrained manual labor.

During the 20th century, the exploitation of the workers became a cause of large social movements, including the development and rise of communism, socialism and the labor union movements that occurred in industrial society; as well as the rising of masses of people in regions that had been colonized and exploited by the colonial powers.

The development of digital technologies has, however, to a great degree, helped to destroy the bargaining power of labor and we see today ever larger income and access to resource inequality spreading throughout the world, regardless of the type of economic or political structures for the most part.

Sri Aurobindo takes cognizance of this issue as one that may cut across the economic and political macro forces that have to be addressed to bring about human unity:  “The interclass conflict has long been threatening like the European collision. The advent of the latter was preceded by large hopes of world-peace and attempts at a European concert and treaties of arbitration which would render war finally impossible.  The hope of a concert between Labour and Capital idyllically settling all their acute causes of conflict in amoebaean stanzas of melodious compromise for the sake of the higher national interests is likely to be as treacherous and delusive.  Even the socialisation of governments and the increasing nationalisation of industry will not remove the root cause of conflict.  For there will still remain the crucial question of the form and conditions of the new State socialism, whether it shall be regulated in the interests of Labour or of the capitalistic State and whether its direction shall be democratic by the workers themselves or oligarchic or bureaucratic by the present directing classes.  This question may well lead to struggles which may easily grow into an international or at least an inter-European conflict; it might even rend each nation in two instead of uniting it as in the war crisis.  And the results of such a struggle may have an incalculable effect, either in changing the ideas and life of men dynamically in new directions or in breaking down the barriers of existing nations and empires.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 15, Some Lines of Fulfilment, pp. 133-134

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