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Human nature – no barrier to socialism

Among all the objections to the proposal to replace capitalism with socialism, those based on human nature are the most prominent. So, let's look at some of the alleged features of human nature that supposedly militate against socialism.

There are six main elements in the “human nature” argument against socialism. People are said to be inherently and incurably aggressive, competitive, selfish, stupid, greedy and lazy.

  • Aggressive. Undoubtedly some people in all societies resort from time to time to aggressive behaviour. But this is only a problem when there is some property issue to fight over. War is organised aggression and has a function in capitalism. The holders of property rights have to employ force (pay others to fight their battles) against those who would seize their property. In a propertyless society, organised aggression would make no sense and would not happen.
  • Competitive. Human behaviour is both competitive and co-operative. It is not surprising that, in a society based on profit-seeking employers, compete with each other for markets and profits and workers compete with each other for jobs and better wages. But even in capitalism people are bound together much more by co-operation than by competition. By co-operating with others we greatly increase what we can produce for our mutual benefit. Such co-operation will increase in socialism. Any remaining competition will be benign and playful, not destructive and need-denying.
  • Selfish. If we were by nature incurably selfish, then there could never have been any sort of stable society, because no one would have co-operated with anyone else. People act selfishly or anti-socially only when they can see no other way of getting what they want. If there is another way (by co-operation, for instance) there is no reason to suppose that they will not choose it when they see it is better to do so.
  • Stupid. Apart from a few gifted leaders, human intelligence is said to be too weak to enable people to solve the complex problems that face them. Ordinary people are supposed to be unable to run society in their own interest. Yet propagandists for capitalism never tell us that we are too stupid to understand the tortuous arguments used to prove that the way to preserve peace is to prepare for war.
  • Greedy. The typical behaviour of capitalists is to seek more profit and wealth. The system makes them act greedily. Workers are remarkably “ungreedy”: having produced all the wealth, they allow it to be appropriated by the capitalist class, while they live in various degrees of poverty. In a society based on common ownership and access according to need, there will be no reason for greed or hoarding things. You will simply go to the nearest distribution centre.
  • Lazy. Again, it is a question of behaviour in certain circumstances, not nature. If work is organised, not to meet your need but for someone else's profit, it is understandable that you will avoid it if you can. But if you are working for yourself, for others like yourself, or for the community as a whole you will be unlikely to shun work unless you are ill.

The idea of “human nature” as something more nasty than nice is a reflection of class-divided society that is incapable of providing a decent life for all its members. The aggressive, competitive, selfish, stupid, greedy and lazy behaviour that is laid at the door of human nature is really only conduct that is the outcome of a system based on private property. Once class-divided society is replaced by common ownership and production for need, people will willingly co-operate for their mutual benefit just because it is “human nature” to seek that which contributes to personal and social wellbeing.