One of the most frequent objections to socialism is “That’s all very well in theory, but you can’t change human nature”.
What exactly is meant by this? That human beings naturally do not want to share, co-operate, to be happy themselves and contribute to the happiness of others? That they must by their very nature snatch and grab, kick each other in the teeth, hate and maim and kill? If human nature is indeed like this, then it has to be said that there is an extraordinary number of freaks about—freaks who by some strange altruistic perversion actually stop at the scene of accidents to offer their help, rally around their neighbours in times of trouble, assist old ladies across roads, take lost children to the police station. It is the way society is based and organised which causes the distortions labelled as “human nature” by those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and declaring socialism to be unworkable; or by those brainwashed to believe that the present system is the only system.
Under capitalism, one hundredth of the population own over eighty per cent of shares, while for the remainder it’s a case of he who kicks hardest and fights the dirtiest wins most of whatever little is left. The wonder of it is not that perversions of human behaviour exist but that they are not a great deal more widespread. It is surprising, under such a system, that people still do react pleasantly, decently and caringly towards their fellow human beings. Most men will not rape every woman they see on the streets after midnight, most blacks will not mug old ladies, most gangs of unemployed youths will not smash windows and bash in your head with a brick.
Human beings are not inherently vicious and violent. They become so only under certain conditions-stress, for example. The stress of chronic insecurity and appalling living conditions, of lack of opportunity and self-fulfilment. Where the world’s wealth is owned by the few and denied to the many, then an attitude of grab-what-you-can and devil-take-the-hindmost is inculcated. Pleasure, for most people, comes essentially from sharing, be it sharing a good meal, or watching a good football match, or listening to a good concert. Human beings are naturally gregarious, and gregariousness does not square with the sort of antisocial behaviour represented as “human nature”.
It now appears quite “natural” for the capitalists to tolerate the spectacle of workers suffering hideous industrial diseases, from pneumonoconiosis to cancer, in order that they might continue to rake in their profits. What could be more hideously inhuman than the manufacture of nuclear weapons? Such weapons would be indefensible even if they protected “us” against “them” (currently the Russians, whose “human nature” is apparently so debased that they are only awaiting their opportunity to massacre us).
In fact, it is not “the Russians” but the Russian ruling class, and it is not to protect “us” but to protect the interests of one ruling class against the depredations of another. Three thousand “top people” are to be rushed out of London to hide themselves in deep shelters “somewhere in Oxfordshire” as soon as a nuclear war threatens. These “top people” are the very ones who have howled loudest for the continuation of nuclear, and indeed of all other kinds, of armaments. They are to be preserved: we, the working class, are the one who are to be sacrificed.
Maybe among the select few who currently organise our lives for us “human nature” has indeed become permanently distorted. No one who heard the recent BBC interview with Master Jacob Rees-Mogg, the precocious schoolboy son of the former editor of The Times, can be in much doubt that the capitalist class are making a pretty thorough job of perverting the “nature” of their progeny. This is a child who, at the tender age of twelve is already dabbling in the Stock Market, has “rather good stockbrokers” and a helpful assistant bank manager, whose main professed interest is in the making of profit (which profit he prudently invests in antique silver) and whose first question on being invited to do a radio interview was “How much will I get paid for it?”
For us, the working class, who do not have the opportunity to share the Rees-Mogg’s fascination with exploiting the labour of his fellow human beings, socialism will suit our natures very well. When there is a sufficiency for all, and all have equal access to it, we shall be quite content to take what we need, just as we shall contribute what we can according to our individual and social abilities. Being human beings, and possessing human natures, we shall doubtless still quarrel and still lose our tempers; but this will not be inflamed by the chronic insecurities, the constant fear of loss of livelihood, of degradation and poverty, which are endemic under the capitalist system. Socialism will have no “masters”, backed by their accumulations of wealth, to incite us into rising against our fellow workers, to destroy each other with the nuclear bombs and missiles which we have made on their behalf to do their battles for them.
Under capitalism, while there exists the potential for a sufficiency—indeed, for an abundance—the system will not allow the potential ever to be fulfilled. Indeed, if there is the least danger of such a thing happening, then steps are very quickly taken to put a stop to it: sooner burn good food than let the starving get their hands on it. In socialism, where production will be for need rather than for profit, there will be no “market forces” operating to justify such obscenities. There will no longer be some of us condemned to go hungry while others glut, nor some who must remain homeless while others occupy palaces. Socialism, in short, is concerned solely to change the nature of our social organisation, not the “nature” of the human beings who make up that organisation.