With the release of the Federal Budget 2011-12 by Prime Minister Gillard, the opposition Liberal party led by Tony Abbott has accused Gillard of class warfare.
It is my opinion that class warfare in a country is a good and healthy thing, but first let me define what I mean by class warfare. Within any country there is a distribution of wealth and as a result there can be classified different classes of people based on wealth. Within most countries there are poor people, middle-class people, and rich or upper-class people.
Under authoritarian regimes, rich people tend to own slaves and oppress the poor, using them to run their businesses. The democratic system gives poor people a voice through the government, allowing the poor to push back at the rich so that they are not fully enslaved. This is class warfare. When the poor push back, they get benefits like public holidays, sick leave, maternity leave, recreation leave, and a host of other benefits that workers in authoritarian countries don't have.
To ensure that poor people get these benefits, they need to be constantly aware of class divisions and to vote for their own class interests in elections.
Unfortunately, in many democracies, while the majority of poor people are class conscious, a significant number of poor people actually vote for parties that implement policies that disadvantage them economically. In American following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 80 per cent of Americans voted kept George Bush in power, allowing him to implement tax cuts to the rich. Under his presidency, public debt soared and the gap between rich and poor accelerated dramatically. In Australia, refugees tried to hop on a boat and come into Australia. The Prime Minister John Howard turned the boat back. His tough stance saw just about everyone, including the poor, vote for him. When he came in, he implemented policies that diverted public money to the rich e.g. by giving tax breaks through superannuation funds, family tax benefits that even high-income households were eligible for, and of course WorkChoices. In countries like Thailand and Cambodia, the leaders there clash in small-scale wars along the border, both leaders afraid of starting an all-out war but both still very willing to talk tough in an effort to appear nationalistic. This tough stance wins votes and distracts the voting population from the immense wealth held by the elite in both countries. The King of Thailand is the wealthiest royal in the world with a net worth of $30 billion, over sixty times higher than the net worth of the Queen of England (around $450 million).
For many centuries, history shows that the rich often use nationalism to win broad support in democratic systems. Once in power, they implement policies that benefit themselves at the expense of the poor. A poor working-class American will continue to be loyal to the rich as long as he views everyone in the world as being either American or non-American. He feels united to his employer, the one who is exploiting him.
Class warfare allows poor people to suddenly realise that there are indeed divisions within countries. Class warfare allows the poor to demand policies that work in their own interests.
Further reading: Rich and poor divide underestimated