Capitalism and Work
Under Socialism the entire means and techniques that humanity has developed for producing wealth will become the common property of the whole community. The whole of Humanity’s heritage as a tool making innovator handed down from flint stone axe to electronic cybernetics will be unreservedly taken over by the whole community for the satisfaction of its material needs. This condition by itself pre-supposes democratic control and social equality within all aspects of world-wide production. Socialism will reconcile the harvesting of “hat the community needs with the assertion of individuality through work. Thus people will not perform work by selling their labour on the labour market for a wage or salary. Work will be the means by which people will express within the community. Socialism means co-operation, with the individual determining their contribution to society through all their diverse skills and aptitudes.
No proposition is more likely to inflame the prejudices of defenders of the wage labour system than the demand for “… a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common.” These prejudices take the form of a variety of objections frequently voiced at Socialist public meetings. Part of this prejudice is that people by their nature are lazy and have a natural repugnance for work. That production is only ever possible at all when people are forced to engage in work activity by bringing pressures to bear on them. The defenders of commercial interests and the indignities of wage labour claim that people will only work under the inducement of money incentives and when laziness is penalised by the worker being cut off from a livelihood.
It is often argued that people’s “natural laziness” rules out as impracticable any revolutionary demand for a society free from commercialism, the profit motive, class divided society, and the social coercions of wage labour. This objection is a hollow prejudice that seeks to impose a quite false and perverted limitation on humanity’s social possibilities. In order to explain the prejudice itself and why, within Capitalist society, work itself is brought into disrepute, it is necessary to place the whole question of work within modern society into its true social perspective.
The framework within which work is performed in Capitalist society is comprised of the fact that wealth is produced and distributed through the buying and selling of commodities. A small section of the population monopolise and control the means of production, the factories, mines, transport etc., and this monopoly of the means of life is used by them to extract a commercial profit from social production. From this economic basis two inescapable facts of every day life emerge. Firstly, the work performed by any category of worker, whether they be labourer, technician or professional, enhances the privileged position of a social minority; the profit that accrues to this minority class takes precedence over general community needs. Secondly, the only access to a living open to any category of worker who contributes through his or her work to production and distribution is by selling his or her mental capacities for wages or salary to an employer.
Capitalist production rests upon involving those who contribute to production in subservience and economic exploitation. Exploitation is an inevitable corollary of work in a commercial society. Work in these circumstances cannot be the fulfilment of the workers’ interests through their creative efforts, but its direct opposite, the activity by which their exploited status is maintained. The ends to which their work efforts are directed are alien to their interests as individuals and alien to the interests of the working class as a class. Work under Capitalism means selling labour power in a labour market, but in the conditions of day to day reality it is impossible to abstract the power to work from the personality of the person working. Commercialised labour involves the commercialisation of humanity itself.
Under Socialism the fact that work will be the means whereby individuals will assert themselves within society through creative activity will in itself characterise the nature of social production. The expression of individual talent will not be stultified by the crushing economic factors which operate in present day society, where the object of production is for sale at a profit. The organisation of the labour force under Capitalism is determined by stringent economic factors which are both commercial and military; it is geared to the profit motive and the military defence of the profit motive. From the viewpoint of catering for actual material needs a vast wastage of labour takes place under Capitalism. The functions of Advertising, Insurance, Banking, the Armed Forces, the Armaments Industry are all examples. This is not an organisation of Society’s resources adjusted to human needs but is one adjusted to social ends that are alien to human needs and which would under Socialism become redundant.
Under Capitalism then, work becomes an activity imposed on workers by forces external to themselves. It is the division of labour in the cause of profit that imposes itself on workers and forces them to comply with its requirements. People become the adjuncts of machines, servants of the “belt system”; workers engage in work that is physically and mentally destructive and which involves a life time of personal frustration. Workers under Capitalism must compromise their individuality, must tell lies and perfect a multitude of deceitful techniques. Like someone who sells. eternally cheerful under all circumstances, they must lead double lives, only becoming their true selves during their leisure time. Work in these circumstances cannot be a creative activity that enhances the workers’ personal sense of fulfilment; it is the hall mark of their social inferiority and merely the means of reproducing their subsistence from week to week or month to month. Work is not an end in itself but a distasteful and repugnant means to another economic end.
The division of labour in Capitalist society not only places in the name of work, a burden of economic duty on the working class, but debases work even further through the economic factors that condition it. A system geared to the marketing of commodities is pre-occupied with cheapness and saleability. The skills of carpenters for instance are bent not to the flowering of their talents, but to speed, the saving of time, skimping of material and the inferiority of the product in design and finish. The person who, in their leisure time, does carpentry for a hobby, in an atmosphere that is free from the requirements of speed and cheapness, would not dream of making an inferior joint, whilst knowing that the more elaborate joint, consuming more time, was really necessary. That person would regard such an economy as not only an abuse of the job in hand but an abuse of themselves, a self-inflicted insult to their own skill. The double standard is common in many workers. As units of labour within commodity production they must act as economic categories and accept all the priorities of Capitalist economics, including speed and cheapness. It is only when they are outside money inducements and the economic necessity of reproducing their subsistence that they are able to take pride in performing uncorrupted work. Capitalism degrades work and makes impossible what William Morris called “The expression of man’s joy through his labour”. Marx himself saw work in a Capitalist context in the same light. “… The work is external to the worker, that is not part of his nature, that consequently he does not fulfil himself in his work but denies himself… His work is not voluntary but imposed, forced labour. It is not the satisfaction of a need but only a means for satisfying other needs… Finally, the alienated character of work appears in the fact that it is not his work but work for someone else, that in work he does not belong to himself but to another person.” (Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts.)
To ignore the social context in which work is performed and to raise people’s “natural laziness” as an objection to Socialism is to crown ignorance and prejudice with distorted pessimism. Like any other social phenomenon, the question of work can only be understood in relation to the whole social environment.
Under Socialism work will spring spontaneously from individuals themselves and the contribution that they make through Society, in whatever field they choose, will at once form the basis of social cohesion and at the same time endow their individual personality. The interests of the individual will be in harmony with the interests of the whole community.