Effectiveness of Protesting in Changing the Status Quo


When people are not satisfied with a political regime, policies, or the way society functions, they may resort to protests to change status quo. Since both objecting and abstaining from protests are associated with particular costs and consequences, interests and positions of supporters and opponents of protests as an instrument of changing status quo are difficult to reconcile. In his Manifesto of the Communist Party, Karl Marx argues that class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie is inevitable and that protests are the only way to change status quo. In contrast, in A Report to an Academy, Franz Kafka uses hypothetical example of an ape to demonstrate that one can improve his social status by conforming to existing social dynamics. The analysis and comparison of Marx’ and Kafka’s writings demonstrates that although people may view protests as catalysts for change, the effectiveness of protests aimed at changing status quo is limited.

Marx’ Arguments in Favor of the Effectiveness of Protests

Position in favor of protests as a tool for changing status quo views protests as means of changing societal dynamicsand achieving desired outcomes via engaging in active protests. Karl Marx was an avid supporter of the point of view that protests are the only effective way of influencing changes in society and resolving status-related differences between bourgeoisie and proletariat. He argued that social status is reflection of one’s wealth and viewed redistribution of capital and means of production a way of inducing justice. In his opinion, since no owner of capital would denounce his or her property rights for society benefit of his own will, militant and aggressive protests are a must for changing capital ownership structure and status quo (Marx 468). In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx repeatedly and insistently emphasizes the importance of protests. He states that history of society is the history of struggles between classes (Marx 456). Marx proceeds to say that hidden and open fights between contending classes were the triggers that led to reconstruction of society (457). Therefore, Marx’ position means that united effort of many members of society makes a change of social status (status quo) possible. However, Marx’ claim is debatable since current societal dynamics do not provide sufficient support for his claim. For example, modern history of Western world hardly holds any accounts of violent protests aimed to redistribute capital and change existing status quo. Thus, when Marx writes that riots and antagonisms are th results of a class struggle (464) and that violent confrontations are wheels of history (465), his claims can be debated as such that have little relevance and support in contemporary historical and political context of Western civilization.

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Kafka’s Arguments against Protests

In A Report to an Academy, Kafka uses hypothetical example of an ape to demonstrate uselessness of protests and how one can change his status quo and move up the social ladder not by protesting, but by conforming to expected behavioral norms and social conditions. For example, he states that there is no sense to aspire for greater freedom and higher social status since freedom is a delusion (Kafka 84). According to Kafka, since freedom is “achieved in sovereign self-confidence” (84), there is no point to protest for achieving it. The author proceeds to explain that improving one’s condition is contingent on how well one can accept and integrate into existing social order. Kafka expounds that existing social order is the mechanism that protects citizens. Therefore, protesting and ruining existing order will lead to worse and greater problems than current ones. Kafka indicates that a protester develops in more pitiful state as a result of protests than he or she was prior to protesting, and that ruining existing system inflicts harm on a protester as well (85). He states that the way to change one’s status quo is imitating those who are higher in social rank (Kafka 87). According to the author, although one may not like to imitate those with a higher social status, he or she should still imitate them, since such imitation is a way out of the unsatisfactory, low status quo (Kafka 87). However, one can challenge Kafka’s arguments against protesting on the basis of the following claims. First, evolutionary social changes of status quo take a long time. Therefore, one cannot hope for relatively quick and satisfactory change. Second, real-life economic and social constraints make it possible to achieve the change of status quo by only limited number of people. For example, only very few middle-class persons can count on becoming wealthy in their lifetime. However, these counterarguments do not show that Kafka’s position is invalid. They only demonstrate that one can achieve status quo change over a longer period of time, and that the change of status quo is not possible for everyone.

Protests in the Context of Contemporary Western Society

The analysis of online and TV news demonstrates that protests are common occurrence worldwide. However, while media frequently focus on the ssensational side of news and protest-related information, the outcomes of protests are frequently overlooked. Therefore, although protests get headlines in the media, their effectiveness remains unclear. Consequently, the reasonable and justified question to ask is whether it is worth expending energy, time, and resources protesting to change societal dynamics or one is going to be better off by accepting his or her present status quo. While Marx and Kafka discussed protests in the context of changing status quo, their views have certain limitations. For example, Marx’ model of protest as an inevitable social phenomenon lacks relevance in context of the modern political processes in the Western world. For example, he writes that disagreements between classes further social tensions and lead to constant battles (Marx 464). However, the contemporary Western society is not steeped into class-based conflicts that threat to overthrow political order. On the other hand, while Kafka’s point about disadvantages of protesting does have a measure of validity, his evolutionary way of changing status quo seems to be long and limited. Kafka’s view is difficult to reconcile with Marx’ position since two authors hold contrary views on ways of changing status quo. Stekelenburg and Klandermans state that when people choose to protest, they are not guided merely by cost-benefit analysis of protesting, but may be driven by a broad array of instrumental and ideological factors (8). The authors write that ideological protests are useful for voicing indignations and maintaining moral integrity while instrumental protests can be purposeful for resolving political and social problems. However, in the majority of instances, people use protests to offend authorities and voice their opposition to the dominant group, and effects of protests are frequently limited to socio-psychological transformation (Stekelenburg and Klandermans 9). The concept of this transformation seems similar to Kafka’s concept of freedom through sovereign self-confidence. Therefore, although there is a measure of effectiveness in protesting to change status quo, the effectiveness of protests is limited.

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The topic of effectiveness of protesting in changing status quo is debatable and not straightforward. For example, Karl Marx believed that purposeful protests were inevitable for changing social dynamics, while Franz Kafka viewed protests as useless and counterproductive. However, the analysis of protest dynamics and impact demonstrates that protests have only a limited effect on changing status quo.

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