Human Nature and Socialism
Socialists are often confronted with the statement that human nature would not allow Socialism to be established, that men would not “work for nothing”, that man is selfish, the whole idea of Socialism though admittedly a desirable system of society would not work for it is contrary to the nature of man.
What the critic really means is human behaviour as conditioned by capitalism and not as he claims human nature. Human nature in fact is a basic set of desires e.g. to eat when hungry, to drink when thirsty, to sleep when tired etc. and these basic desires of man will not change under any system. On the other hand, human behaviour does change and varies from society to society. Rather it is Capitalism that is opposed to human nature, for under this system man is often deprived of basic desires of human nature. i.e. if he is hungry and has no money, he cannot eat.
A man born into a primitive cannibalistic way of life, would be conditioned from birth to accept the eating of his fellow man as the normal thing to do, until educated to the contrary. Likewise a man born into the capitalist system of society is conditioned from birth to accept this system as normal, until he is educated to the fact that there is an alternative to the capitalist system of society. The alternative being a system of common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth, by and in the interests of the whole community. A classless society that would end for ever exploitation, war, and poverty. A system of society whereby man would have a free, satisfying, full life. Secure for all time from the ravages of the capitalist system, with an unlimited horizon ahead to work for the betterment of all mankind.
When Socialism does eventually come to be established, a man born into this society, the final emancipation of all men, would accept common ownership and working for the needs and betterment of all human life (indeed, not working for nothing) as the normal way of life. He would look back unbelievably at a system of society, whereby the propertyless majority were exploited and used for their whole lifetime, subjected to wars, hunger and poverty, for the benefit of the propertied few, and wonder how this system lasted for so long,
I read with interest in the November edition of the Socialist Standard,
to the late Clement Attlee, and though 1 am in partial agreement with you, I feel your assessment was rather harsh.
To be true the Labour Party isn’t and hasn’t been Socialist—point accepted; but to be pragmatic (no slur on the prime minister intended) the most likely form of socialism did appear to come from the Labour Party, and this may still be true.
Attlee, “a cunning and bitter enemy or the working class”? Come now. It is an unfortunate fact that under a bourgeois capitalist representative democracy, such as Britain, all reformist parties accept the parliamentary democratic system. Why even the SPGB have stood for Westminster. Because of the innate conservatism of the populace and like the SPGB are unwilling or unable to use physical force to overthrow the government. These reformist parties, typified under Attlee’s leadership perhaps, set about reforming the capitalist system. True there was no basic change social or otherwise during the 1945-51 government. But isn’t half a loaf better than none? Soviet communism better than Tzarism, or the Welfare State better than child labour? Or at least it’s no worse.
You know, whatever the reasons and motives and whatever the ownership, Britain and the rest of the world isn’t as black as you paint it. Accepting the capitalist system for a few more years at least the reformist parties are the best hope to educate the workers if socialism is to be achieved. I know many in the Labour Party and Labour Young Socialists who are sympathetic to the SPGB and it is these people who can carry the word of Socialism.
I hope that Hobbes and Machiavelli were wrong when they assumed all men were naturally evil and had a propensity to do wrong. But until they are proved to be wrong we are stuck with the political leaders, under whatever guise they go.
Mr. Melvin argues that “the most likely form of socialism did appear to come from the Labour party, and this may still be true”—even though “the Labour Party isn’t and hasn’t been Socialist”. We do not accept this. The Socialist Party of Gt. Britain has always maintained that Socialism will only he achieved by a majority of the working class taking conscious, revolutionary action to capture political power and institute common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Before this step can be taken workers must be equipped with an understanding of what Socialism entails.
In our work of helping to spread socialist ideas we have had to combat reformism— the concept that workers should be mainly concerned with merely improving their conditions of life and work under capitalism. But at no time have we taken up the illogical position of arguing that all reforms are useless. When we criticised Clement Attlee (Socialist Standard, November 1967) we did not do so because of the reforms which were pushed through Parliament by the governments he led. We would say that some of these (eg. the National Health Service Act, 1946) left the working class marginally better off. Others very definitely worsened the lot of the workers (e.g. post-war rearmament and development of nuclear weapons). But the overall effect of the Labour party’s programme was to maintain the workers in their previous situation — propertyless wage labourers under capitalism.
We attacked Attlee for the confusion and, worse, disillusionment which he personally did so much to promote among working men and women. He claimed to be a socialist and promised that a Labour government would be instrumental in building a socialist society in Britain. As we showed, to give his policies credibility he adopted a revolutionary pose on a number of issues. After the second world war millions of workers were horrified with the slaughter and destruction of capitalism and, believing that the Labour Party stood for something different, voted Attlee into power on a great wave of enthusiasm. It took just six years for the revulsion to set in and. when this happened, many workers were convinced that they had witnessed the failure of Socialism. This, we think, earned Attlee his epitaph—“a cunning and bitter enemy of the working class”.
Mr. Melvin claims that there are individuals in the Labour Party and its youth section who are sympathetic to the Socialist Party. This is true enough and, of course, many of the present members of the Socialist Party started their political careers in the capitalist parties. The reason why each one of us left to join the revolutionary party was that we realised it was impossible to argue convincingly for Socialism to workers like ourselves from within the ranks of an anti-working class organisation.
Capitalism has got nothing to do with men being ‘’naturally evil” or displaying “a propensity to do wrong”. Nor is it necessary to paint Britain and the rest of the world artificially black. In fact, at times, the problems which capitalism confronts us with defy any attempt at exaggeration. Capitalism exists today because of a class monopoly of the means of production. This monopoly can only be broken by the combined efforts of the working class and, for this task, the workers need their own political organisation. In Britain this is the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain.