1970s >> 1978 >> no-881-january-1978

Is Greed a Barrier to Socialism?

The short answer to that question is “No!”. The objection “human beings are greedy, which will prevent Socialism working” forgets the crucial division of capitalist society—the division into classes. That is the cause of greed, and the removal of class society will do away with this so-called problem.

Basically capitalism is divided into the capitalist class and the working class. The great majority fall into the latter category: those who produce wealth by applying their ability to work to raw materials, either in the state in which they are found naturally or already transformed by human labour. The minority, the capitalist class, are those who purchase this useful activity and employ it to increase their own wealth.

How is the capitalist class able to buy the abilities of the worker? Because the division is based on ownership. The capitalists are the owners of all wealth of social significance. In comparison to them all previous owning classes—feudal lords, slave-owners, churches and ancient potentates—appear like paupers. The capitalist class have grabbed all the earth’s resources and will maintain their ownership until the working class decides to take it away. The workers own practically nothing, and as a consequence of this fundamental fact the worker is forced to sell his ability to work.

It is quite true there is greed in present-day society—the capitalists are the greediest class in history. They insist that the workers continue to produce more and more wealth; not for the purposes of human satisfaction but solely to increase the profits of the capitalists and enable them to increase their ownership of wealth.

If the capitalist class is the greediest in history, the working class is the most charitable—the most “ungreedy”. Having produced all this wealth they allow it to be appropriated by another class, whilst they live in various degrees of poverty. There has never been such philanthropy in the history of the world!

If greed were something inborn in all of us, as the objection given at the start of this article supposes, the working class would not have stood for this system for so long. The system of production for sale at a profit is the cause of greed. As Marx explained, money has become the object of greed:

“Money is (therefore) not only the object but also the fountain head of greed. The mania for possession is possible without money, but greed itself is the product of a definite social development, not natural as opposed to historical”.

(Grundrisse, p. 222.). In other words it is behaviour which occurs at a given stage of development of society.

When the working class establish a society of cooperation in their own interests as distinct from the interests of others, the problem of greed will appear as relevant as the problem of inflation. As a step towards that society the workers should stop calling one another greedy, and point to that class for whom the label is completely justified.

Ronnie Warrington