Author:Ivekovic, Ivan

Conventional social sciences of both Weberian and Marxian inspiration assumed that the processes of modernization, urbanization, mass education and intensified social communication would gradually homogenize the world population, leading to the lessening of the tensions associated with social and cultural differences. Contrary to such expectations, it seems that on the eve of the twenty-first century ethnic and religious conflicts have multiplied. Recent wars in the space of former Yugoslavia, in the Caucasus, communal violence in the Indian sub-continent, internal troubles in Turkey, Algeria, etc., seem to confirm this. Could it be that there are some common causes that actually generate such conflict?

In trying to answer this question, this essay assumes that development is a disruptive process and that it affects in various ways even the most isolated and remote communities. Old social institutions, habits and ways of life related to traditional agrarian communities are being undermined or changed beyond recognition; at the same time, new institutions and norms of conduct are being shaped under the impact of hectic and uneven modernization, but are still not consolidated and generally accepted. Disruption, whether it comes from outside or from within the community, exerts pressure and provokes resistance. Pressure and resistance lead to tension which may escalate into political violence.

Without pretending to give a comprehensive answer, this essay offers some conceptual tools which offer an explanation of contemporary problems. The essay is divided into three sections: a brief discussion of the long-term historical trajectory of human society; an introduction to the geopolitical concept of 'regional laboratory', which describes the role of regional 'client-states' and 'pivots'; and an explanation of the process of transition to mass industrial society as a three-stage process.


Braudel's (1980) trajectory of tres longue duree of humankind may be reduced to a process of growth, geographic expansion and of maturing of stationary agrarian or pastoral communities, and of their subsequent transition to mass and mobile industrial society. This overlaps with the process of transition from use-value to commodity production. Transition to mass industrial society was the most recent stage in this sequence of this long-term historical trajectory.

The process itself was initiated with the agricultural revolution some 10,000 years ago when foraging (food-gathering, hunting and fishing) began to be replaced with systematic plant cultivation and animal breeding. Archeological evidence confirms that this revolution originated in the Middle East and then spread to the Mediterranean basin, to the regions north of the Black Sea and finally rolled over Europe. Systematic planting allowed an increase in population density and it was hypothesized that demographic growth stimulated in its turn the 'wave-of-advance' or the geographic expansion and consolidation of peasant communities which at that time used a primitive slash-and-bum technique. Humans discovered that with their labor they could improve their condition. Prior to this discovery, the human creature, like the rest of the animal world, found in nature goods of a use-value for his survival. Labor itself arises from the scarcity of the means necessary for human survival. Yet the value of goods produced did not arise out of this scarcity but out of labor. Labor molded man's consciousness and transformed him into a cognizant being. Labor also created all the values needed by humankind for its existence. As explained by one researcher:

With his labor, man started taking from nature even those goods which previously had been inaccessible to him. Thus he began taking control of the laws of his own reproduction, making his survival dependent on the quantity of foodstuffs that he could produce with his own labor. Man had no need to create those goods which were available in nature; he worked only to acquire those which he lacked, which he needed for his survival and which were scarce. In this respect nothing has changed to the present day.

Millennia had to go before production began, before the existing world system of commodity production came into being. Yet all the goods in nature have retained unchanged their form of use-value. They remain so until such time as man with his labor transforms them into a commodity value, i.e. until he takes them to the market for the purpose of trading, when they become commodities (Dakovic, 1994: 5).

The man in question was, of course, a peasant and he lived in scattered and mutually isolated agrarian communities. The subsequent development, expansion and maturing of these communities, their political organization, their continuous transformation and interaction represents the long-term historical trajectory of humankind. This strikingly simple statement requires a re-reading of history. This essay is however focused on the last sequence of this trajectory when industrialization linked to the capitalist mode of appropriation/production was initiated, leading to the emergence and consolidation of the modern nation-state.

The switch to merchant agriculture producing food for the growing urban population in Europe and raw materials for European nascent industries announced the beginning of this uneven and hectic sequence of transition to mass commodity production, as well as the beginning of the capitalist integration of the world economy. Capitalist relations gradually spread from Europe into peripheral and less developed zones through direct colonization, or through the imposition of free trade as in the case of the Ottoman Empire, Persia, China or Latin America. By the end of the 19th century, most of the globe was already drawn into the orbit of this whirlpool.

Today, this process is called globalization. Globalization seems to be the highest stage of the capitalist integration of the world economy linked to transnational capital. In this stage, the process has accelerated regional and local political fragmentation, including the fragmentation of the Middle East (which for the last 40 years was masked with Cold War confrontations). It seems that economic integration on one side and political volatility on the other, are integral parts of the same dialectical process of modernization. Of course, such a hypothesis has to be documented or refuted in each specific regional laboratory. The Eastern Mediterranean is only one of them.

Each step forward in the capitalist integration of the world economy required the readjustment of both domestic productive forces (PF) and the related social structure of accumulation (SSA). The above concepts will be elaborated in the next section. As it will be argued, this process of transition proceeds by stages or sequences of socio-economic, political and technological development. The transition from one stage to another invariably leads to destruction in order that a new SSA at the domestic level could be constructed and a new articulation established between the national and international levels.

Destruction of social institutions and relationships that had up to that moment governed the life of communities may lead to social fragmentation. Pressured from within and without, the threatened communities usually crack along their internal fault lines - ethnic, religious and/or class divisions. If institutional channels for peaceful conflict resolution are not available, or if the confronted parties and their political elites are unable or unwilling to compromise, then the clash of conflicting vested interests becomes inevitable.

At this stage, the perceived scarcity of resources, especially a worsened land-to-labor ratio, may aggravate the clash of interests by intensifying competition for the appropriation of these resources both between rival political elites and between the communities they represent. A short survey of conflict-zones will indeed show that contemporary political conflicts are the most acute in regions of peasant overpopulation and of surplus manpower, which was not absorbed by the modern sector of the economy. The related and unresolved peasant question generates in turn violent patriarchal reactions or neopatriarchal convulsions (Ivekovic, 1996), which are characteristic of threatened agrarian communities. For this reason perhaps, current conflicts and political violence take a violent and bloody turn in some countries, and may not in others. That is the second hypothesis of this essay.

Although presenting themselves and seen by many analysts as ethnic, racial, communal or religious conflicts, all of them have underlying material causes. The clash of material interests may result in developmental violence whose aim is the control of natural and human resources linked to specific territories, and the appropriation of the products of other peoples' labor. In some countries such conflicts erupted over the appropriation of foreign aid. Developmental violence is then justified/explained by political elites with different ideologies, or with contradictory 'national interests' (Morgenthau, 1952:961), with allegedly opposed 'political cultures' (Almond & Powell, 1988: 40-46), with the 'clash of civilizations' (Huntington, 1993), or with mutually exclusive ethnic, racial, communal or religious identities. Most time it is ignored that these collective identities are not God-given or genetically reproduced but are politically constructed and reconstructed as imagined political communities (Anderson, 1983) out of the pre-existing human material. The modern nation state is such a historically derived political artifact. Rejecting the idea that such communities are static and immutable, and adopting a constructivist approach, this essay, nevertheless, could not avoid such terms as 'ethnic conflict' and 'Islamist neopopulism' because they enter every day...

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