Human Needs

The question is often asked, “What would life be like under Socialism?” If we can’t say precisely what it will be be like, we can at least say what it will not be like. We can say it will be production for use, which means there will be no buying and selling and consequently no high pressure advertising, no costly and frenzied attempts to get people to buy this or that. It won’t be a veneer society covering the sham and the shoddy. Only the best will be good enough in Socialist production.

Before people can pursue any cultural activities their basic needs, food, clothing and shelter, must be met. Different societies have different needs depending on the level they have reached. Thus, Feudalism, based upon agriculture and individual handicraft, meant that cars television, jet planes, etc., were not only impossible, but unthinkable. These things presuppose all the scientific and technical development necessary to their production. The development of Capitalism brings with it new techniques and new methods of production that generate new needs. Mass production demands mass sales. Large-scale industry, for example, needs large-scale transport for its distribution and finds its logical extension in jet planes. Mass entertainment, from the music hall to the cinema and radio, finds its extension in television.

This may appear as though techniques were made to measure or as if some ready-made, overall, technology were just waiting to be taken off the scientific clothes’ peg. It is not quite as mechanical as this. What we can say is that there is a never-ending cycle of discovery and investigation. New discoveries give rise to new fields of investigation that require specialisation and new techniques. And, like oil in the earth, they are just waiting to be tapped.

The historical conditions that gave rise to commodity production, the production of things for sale and profit, produced also the necessary new techniques. Large-scale, power-motivated industry grew up, based on mass production and from this flowed the mass advertising and the constant pressure to buy, buy, hammered into us with unchanging regularity. One could say that in capitalist society, nothing is bought, everything is sold.

Our needs are largely conditioned by the kind of society into which we are born. We satisfy our needs by buying things or services. To get the money, the majority of us, as wage workers, have to sell our energy and skill to someone prepared to make use of them. Wages approximate to what is required to keep the worker to a standard of working efficiency. Since profit is the motive of the Capitalist, he pays the worker less than the value of his product. Profit is unpaid labour, the difference between what the worker receives in his wage packet and the value of what he has produced. The Capitalist must turn into money this unpaid labour or profit on the market, hence the enormous growth of advertising and selling agencies. In America, the country of capitalism par excellence, advertising has reached a turnover involving 9,000 million dollars and we are told by statisticians that if this trend continues, by 1965 the figure will reach 15,000 million, barring a slump.

The waste that production for sale and profit engenders is immeasurable. Socialism, that is production for use, means that only the best will prevail. The gradations of quality to suit your pocket will go and along with the cheap-jack will go the sham, the shoddy, the thief and the spiv. Restrictive practices, so prevalent today, will disappear and resources will be used to the full.

Production factors can greatly influence our needs today. A new commodity plus an intense advertising campaign creates new needs. It is hard to believe that before the war we managed quite well without nylon and other manmade fibres. Snob values and the “keeping lip with the Joneses” are exploited by the advertising experts whose job it is to manipulate and play on the weaknesses of potential consumers.
The most prevalent aspiration in this society is the acquisition of money, for money gives one a social power. Without it you are a failure; with it a success. Hence the striving to climb that slippery ladder, to reach the top, at all costs, to be able to surround oneself with all the things that will earn the approbation of one’s fellow men. These are the kind of values that obtain today. Relationships between people revolve around this factor. The personality becomes identified by and through the accumulation of things and not through the exercise of one’s human capacities. Full development is repressed and stultified by the property society we live in.

Let us look at some of its effects. Over 40 per cent, of lying-in patients in hospitals are mental cases. The soul-destroying repetitive processes that most workers do because it is cheaper to produce in that way, completely separate them from joy in their labour. The feeling that they can be sacked only adds to the frustration and insecurity of living. Workers do not have a job. They have the loan of a job which can be taken from them whenever their employer decides to do so. The threat of war and mass annihilation, due to the same basic cause, Capitalism, hangs over us like Damocles’ sword. The irritations, mistrust, guardedness and jungle morality of this society all serve to alienate the sociability of people. We know that once the property basis of society is ended and production is for use, then people will act in a harmonious and sociable way.

Production, when it is for use and not for profit, will depend solely on the amount of people available and the natural resources to work on. All the wasted and useless labour that we have today will be usefully employed under Socialism. Men in the armed forces, policemen, people engaged in accounting, collecting and doling out money, insurance, banking and the hundred and one other useless tasks so necessary to capitalism will enter into production. Potentially we can produce an abundance. It simply becomes a matter of organisation. We know that under Socialism people will not seek to acquire things which today carry with them status and prestige value. Those compensating factors will no longer fill a need and the emphasis in people’s lives will at last be on the quality of living rather than the quantity of possessions.


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