Evan Richards writes about the difference between labour in a capitalist society and that of a revolutionary socialist society, arguing that only socialism can truly emancipate workers from wage-slavery and other forms of work-based exploitation.
On the notion that Communists are lazy and there is no economic “incentive” under Socialism.
It is often alleged by bourgeois scholars that under Socialism we will not have any economic “incentive” to work efficiently, or work at all. As with most accusations from reactionary forces, it is a complete projection of capitalist society and is not representative of Socialism.
The supposed economic “incentive” spoken about under capitalism is wage-slavery, this is not an incentive but a violent and coercive class relation. Those who bring up these points seem to view incentives more as sticks rather than carrots.
As with all arguments on Socialism they must begin with the critique of capitalism for Socialism does not emerge out of thin air but from the contradictions of capitalism.
Wage-slavery and coercion.
To understand this point we must understand what “wage-slavery” is.
First, what is a slave? Engels stated in his book Anti-Duhring that, “In order to be able to make use of a slave, one must possess two kinds of things: first, the instruments and material for his slave’s labour; and secondly, the means of bare subsistence for him.”
Wages in capitalist society perform the function of “bare subsistence”.
In order to survive one must primarily work for a capitalist to gain an income. In Engel’s pamphlet Socialism: Scientific and Utopian he states that as feudalism decayed and capitalism emerged, “oppression by force was replaced by corruption; the sword, as the first social lever, by gold.”
In previous modes of production the sword is what coerced us into work, under capitalism it is money. The fact that one must first earn a wage in order to eat is clearly not an incentive but an imperative.
However, misconceptions arise easily as under capitalism this process is not so clear, the social and compulsory aspects of capitalism slip out of sight and therefore out of mind. Capital is veiled to the degree that wage-slavery is seen to many as an incentive and not a means of exploitation and coercion.
“The proletarian is helpless; left to himself, he cannot live a single day. The bourgeoisie has gained a monopoly of all means of existence… What the proletarian needs, he can obtain only from this bourgeoisie, which is protected in its monopoly by the power of the state. The proletarian is, therefore, in law and in fact, the slave of the bourgeoisie, which can decree his life or death.. It even lets him have the appearance of acting from a free choice, of making a contract with free, unconstrained consent, as a responsible agent who has attained his majority. Fine freedom, where the proletarian has no other choice than that of either accepting the conditions which the bourgeoisie offers him, or of starving, of freezing to death, of sleeping naked among the beasts of the forests!” – Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1 844
This makes the imperialist’s taunts of forced labour in revolutionary societies hypocritical. It seems that when the landlords and capitalists are told they must work for a living instead of existing as parasites on the people the bourgeois press puts up quite the outcry.
Those who voice these protests are never concerned one bit about the forced labour of the millions of workers and peasants who were enslaved by feudalism and capitalism in the old society of these places.
This coercion is rooted in the economic structure of society, and only with radical change to this structure will emancipation be possible, Engels said that “slavery in the United States of America was based far less on force than on the English cotton industry” (Engels, Anti-Duhring).
During the American Civil War, British bankers strongly supported the confederacy as a source for cheap cotton. This fact must be firmly understood if we are to correctly tackle these issues,
Marxists, unlike liberals know that “liberation is an historical and not a mental act” (Marx, The German Ideology). We understand that the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles, not individuals.
We can not solve our issues on pure politically adventurist schemes, our liberation lies in Socialism and a new economic order, achieved through revolution.
The accusation levelled at Communists is that there is no motivation to work under Socialism. This is objectively false and shows a strong mischaracterisation of “motivation”. It turns out that once one’s needs are met, what motivates them to work is a variety of things from challenge, mastery, independence, and one’s ability to contribute.
Studies from MIT and several other universities show that money in capitalist society is only a motivation so far as it caters to our bare subsistence. From that point on greater incentives do not equal greater rewards in terms of productivity and creativity.
In fact psychological research shows that excessive rewards can, in many cases, result in a decline in performance.
Take just one of these examples, mastery. On the weekend one might like to practice a musical instrument. To liberal economists this makes no sense; it’s not going to make someone money or increase their revenue so why do it?
The answer provided by several psychology papers is quite unsurprising, the reason is that it is fun. Improving and getting better is satisfying, therefore we do it.
Those who level these accusations in the first place are the ones who must come to grips with reality. They must ask themselves why the vast majority of people who are technically skilled and who have jobs spend the majority of their free time doing equally if not more technically skilled work, not for their employer, but for their own satisfaction; from sports, to music, to editing wikipedia pages to volunteer firefighting, working for charities and so on.
The same argument can be contrasted with education, by making learning the primary focus as opposed to the grades we achieve. This premise seems so obvious and so simple, but the capitalist system confuses us into thinking exploitation is justified.
Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting.
Why then do we not engage in these ways? Liberals do not have an answer! They put it down to mistakes or to corrupt individuals, Marxists have the answer. It is because education is a tool of bourgeois hegemony that serves ruling class interests.
Einstein lays it clear, “Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.”
Marxist Sociologists Bowles & Gintis prove in their study ‘Schooling in Capitalist America’, that the school system favours not creativity or dedication, but instead favours social-conformity.
The MIT paper on the motivation to work entitled ‘Large Stakes and Big Mistakes’ was published in the Review of Economic Studies in 2009, it is hardly a Marxist outlook, yet it speaks marvellously to Marx’s analysis of human nature and our species being.
When the shackles come off, real motivations shine through.
After the Bolshevik revolution, Lenin was enthusiastic about Subbotniks, even claiming that they were the beginnings towards Communism. Subbotniks were voluntary days of labour organized for cleaning the streets of rubbish, fixing public amenities, collecting recyclable material, and other community services and they were very successful.
Lenin described the very first Subbotnik as follows, “The comrades on the Moscow-Kazan line finished their first communist subbotnik by singing the Internationale. If the communist organisations throughout Russia follow this example and consistently apply it, the Russian Soviet Republic will successfully weather the coming severe months to the mighty strains of the Internationale sung by all the working people of the Republic…. To work, communist comrades!”.
The idea of diligence is clearly a point Lenin wanted to encourage, and it carried through on to the Stalin era and was encountered by the American journalist Anna Louise-Strong. During the first five year plan, she wrote of her contact with a worker named Bill Shatoff, his words describe a similar story, “The greatest thing in life is work. No, not just work. Creation! And in this spot of time in which we live there is the chance to create without end or limit.”
Among the most important accomplishments of the Soviet economy was the abolition of unemployment. Not only did the Soviet Union provide jobs for all, work was considered a social obligation.
The 1936 constitution stated, “citizens of the USSR have the right to work, that is, are guaranteed the right to employment and payment for their work in accordance with quantity and quality.” On top of that deriving an income from rent, profits, speculation or the black market was illegal.
What is work?
The distinction of work between Socialism and lower/higher-stage Communism must be made, for higher-stage Communism abolishes work.
Lenin makes a brief distinction between Socialism and Communism as follows, “the only scientific distinction between socialism-and communism is that the first term implies the first stage of the new society arising out of capitalism, while these conditions imply the next and higher stage” (Lenin, A Great Beginning).
What do Communists therefore mean when we call for the abolition of work?
Work is different from labour, work is commodified labour, alienated labour, there is no division of labour under Communism and hence no work. The designation of “workplaces” will not exist, Communism is the free association of labourers.
By doing away with the division of labour and abolishing work all human production may be creatively directed by freely associated labourers by their own agency. Communism is the liberation of labour.
It is clear there is no call for the abolition of labour – which is impossible – we therefore must explore the value of labour in and of itself.
Both Marx and Engels saw it as a part of our “species-being” and our very existence, in his essay “The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man,” Engels states, “[Labour] is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself.”
It is labour that differentiates us from other species as we were able to master nature, it is labour that defines our very existence.
How will Socialism revolutionise production?
As Albert Einstein states in “Why Socialism“, under capitalism “Production is carried on for profit, not for use”. This results in a savage attack on human creativity, innovation and productivity. Any useful factor is only ever considered if it can generate a profit.
Capitalism also suffers from pointless jobs, the anthropologist David Graeber detailed this in his book “Bullshit jobs”. He said that modern workers under capitalism today face the same result as Sisyphus, king of Corinth, who was condemned for all eternity to push a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again.
Anyone who has worked for a large corporation can confirm this. Whole armies of workers today are focused on trying to trick people into buying products, even ones they don’t want or need, and which in any case are grossly overpriced and of low quality.
Under Socialism, a rational society would see whole areas of work such as lawyers, bankers and police liberated. Under capitalism so much of the “work” that actually exists is pointless, or even worse, actually harmful to the people’s interests.
This also links to the working week. Adam Smith, said in his famous “Wealth of Nations” that in his day there was a four day work week and that it was the norm. He even accused the four day work week of “excessive labour”, saying that the “excessive application, during the four day week, is frequently the real cause of the idleness of the other three, so much and so loudly complained of.”
John Meynard Keynes, as far back as the 1930s predicted that the working week would be drastically cut to fifteen hours. Neither of these things are the case today because capitalism does not care for anything other than the accumulation of capital.
As capitalism continues to plunder its two sources of wealth: nature and human beings, there emerges a shameless waste of resources.
Che Guevera explains it as follows, “Work [under Socialism] no longer entails surrendering a part of one’s being in the form of labour power sold, which no longer belongs to the individual, but becomes an expression of oneself, a contribution to the common life in which one is reflected, the fulfilment of one’s social duty… We are doing everything possible to give work this new status as a social duty and to link it on the one hand with the development of technology, which will create the conditions for greater freedom, and on the other hand with voluntary work based on the Marxist appreciation that one truly reaches a full human condition when no longer compelled to produce by the physical necessity to sell oneself as a commodity”.
Communism could never be lazy – unlike capitalism – at its heart is the proletariat, the working class. Therefore the accusations could not be further from the truth. Capitalism, on the other hand, is represented by a vicious capital accumulation process that rapes and plunders the world’s resources whilst capitalists grow fat from doing absolutely nothing. Work hard, organise and struggle for peace, jobs and Socialism.
Evan Richards, is a member of the YCL’s London branch