Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The hidden evils behind “divide and conquer”

It’s an old tactic: Get your opponents to fight amongst themselves so that they will get weaker and you can pick them off one by one. Gaius Julius Caesar coined the phrase “divide et impera” – divide and conquer – to describe it. He used it in his war against the Gauls, but in the millennia since then it has also become a very common political strategy. Again and again, the ruling classes of various societies at various times have used this trick to keep the people in line, to make ordinary people fight each other both literally and figuratively and forget about the guys who are really in charge. It continues to be used today all over the world, sometimes with great success. But sometimes people figure out what’s going on, and refuse to be divided.

Capitalists and politicians love to use whatever excuse they can find to get different groups of workers to be suspicious, afraid and hostile to each other. In the Middle East, and also increasingly in the West, they are currently trying to instill hatred between Christians and Muslims. They are helped in this task by the existence of real religious extremists who really are crazy. The media gives them excessive attention; they are made to look much more powerful than they actually are and books get published telling the adherents of one religion that everyone in the other group is secretly out to get them. Right-wing talk shows in the United States say that there is a secret Muslim plot to destroy America. Right-wing talk shows in Pakistan say that there is a secret Christian plot to destroy Pakistan. Some people fall for it, angry crowds protest against Muslims’ right to free speech in New York City or Christians’ right to free speech in Karachi; each side sees the other side’s anger as a confirmation that all the people in the other religion really are dangerous and scary. We end up with a self-reinforcing spiral of hate and the capitalists who started it all laugh all the way to the bank as they use the excuse of imminent danger to start profitable wars and cut social spending.

But, fortunately, it doesn’t always work like that. Last December, there was a bomb attack on a Christian church in Egypt. One might expect that this would increase sectarian tensions and mistrust between Egypt’s Christians (who make up 10 percent of the population) and Muslims. But in fact, the opposite happened. Weeks later, at Christmas, thousands of Muslims flocked to Christian churches and formed protective human shields around them in an impressive display of solidarity. They said they were ready to die for their Christian neighbors in case the fundamentalists tried to stage another attack. “We either live together, or we die together” was the slogan. The fundamentalists were nowhere to be seen that night. They did not dare face the people. A month afterwards, as millions of Egyptians of all faiths took to the streets to bring down Hosni Mubarak, inter-religious solidarity was taken to new heights. Christians defended Muslims during their noon prayers in Tahrir Square when it looked like Mubarak might send his thugs against them at any moment. Muslims attended an open-air Christian service, also in Tahrir Square, a few days later. Signs and graffiti depicting a crescent and a cross were among the symbols of the revolution. The people of Egypt were not divided, and as a result they were not conquered.

There is a lesson here for America, and it’s not just about religion. Our own rulers are trying to divide us in many different ways. Recently, there have been blatant attempts to turn private sector workers against public sector workers (especially teachers). After spending hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out the banks, after extending Bush’s tax cuts to the super-wealthy, the American ruling class has apparently decided that the time has come to make workers pay the bill – especially public workers. So Obama instituted a wage freeze and state governments are busily chopping away at the wages, benefits, pensions and union rights of public workers.

The attack on the working class has reached an intensity not seen since the 1920s, with the Republican governor of Wisconsin trying to ram through a law that basically takes away the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. And how do they justify this attempt to roll back the clock to the age of robber barons? They say that public sector workers are overpaid and get too many benefits. That’s right. Not Wall Street bankers. Not CEOs with their multi-million dollar bonuses. No, no. Schoolteachers are the ones making the real money. They’re the reason the government is out of money – not, you know, bailouts for corporate America, tax cuts for the rich, or endless wars. This may sound insane (because it is), but there is a good reason why they’re suddenly trying to paint public sector workers as fat cats. The point is to divide the working class. The point is to make workers in the private sector hostile to their neighbors in the public sector.

Whether the wedge being used is religion or employment status, the strategy is the same: divide and conquer. Corporate America knows that it cannot fight all American workers all at once. So they must turn us against each other if they are to win. And if we are to win, we must stand together just as the Egyptians did.

Mike Tudoreanu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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    Cheech C.Aug 15, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    I agree with most everything you have written with one exception: There is a huge difference between public and private sector unions. All Americans should really look into this difference before lumping these bargaining unions together. Most of your elected officials in most local government levels and our state have their hands tied due to union contracts and that they made the mistake of including in the State constitution; most elected officials do not represent the general public/taxpayer, but the employees of the government/schools, etc. Public sector unionization should be banned; it is a conflict of interest. Believe me, private sector unions are far different than public sector. Private business needs to make quality goods at competetive pricing; not so for public sector…just raise taxes. Yeah, public sector pays taxes, but their raises and benefits are more than enough to cover any increase. In this little upstate village, our per student cost if over $16,000/year, more than many metropolitan American city schools! Why? Most of the electorate are public sector and the only ones who have a carefree life..never worry about their retirements and have plenty of boats and vacations homes to boot! Not for nothing, but think about who really runs these unions and just why such ‘honest’ politicians of the past would even think of ‘doing business’ with these people..hmmm??? My property taxes have skyrocketed to protect guaranteed pensions to public sector workers; I do not believe that any American should be guaranteed a job nor a pension at anyone else’s expense. It is not the fault of the public workers, it is the fault of the crooked politicians who get big donations from these unions. Public sector workers, at least in NY state have multiple protections under “civil service” laws that the private sector citizen does not enjoy. They do not need unions. This is unfair. While my 401K dwindled due to market fluctuations, the public sector worker does not suffer one penny lost. So, only private sector worker’s pension’s bottom line goes down, but we are expected to guarantee and then pay more in taxes to make sure the public sector worker’s pension never dwindles—they take no risks and many get their pensions without any contributions, and many don’t pay for healthcare. A good example…I live in a village in upstate NY where the majority of employment is public sector…schools, government. Around June 20 or so, the streets become crowded and notice those Mercedes, BMW’s, caddies, etc. come out of ‘nowhere'(?!) Also, equally educated, more experienced people can’t find a job around here as the taxes to support this bloated, corrupt state, local governments and their minions have forced businesses out! Individual Teachers in this village make more than the average Household income! The reason most companies, which are small businesses, not big, ‘crooked’ greedy corporations like IBM, or Microsoft, etc. cannot afford to pay their workers more, give guaranteed step raises, cost of living raises when they’re corporate tax rate goes up and up to guarantee public sector workers their raises, healthcare and pensions. That government now exists for itself and those within its walls is very obvious. Governments regulate private sector, but then claim they cannot touch the way private business pays their employees, healthcare, pensions, but do regulate just about everything else. The fact of the matter is, if it wasn’t for the private sector worker and businesses, the public sector worker would not enjoy these guarantees. If everyone was public sector, salaries and benefits would clearly drop dramatically. I am all for paying for public services, but the ‘guarantees’ have to go as government really cannot step in and tell private companies to pay more, etc. as if they did, they would be cutting their own throats even more. Divide and conquer, yes indeed. I simply Just don’t believe public sector, public ‘servants’ should be livin’ large, while the ‘masters’ wages and benefits languish or jobs are slashed to guarantee their lifestyle and futures. No one in America should be guaranteed anything unless ALL are guaranteed the same. That will never happen. Again, American government, and all governments are now more blatant about letting us all know who they really represent…themselves and their ever expanding ‘minions’. Enjoyed your blog…99.9% agree!