If one follows the typical narrative on socialism using capitalist assumptions of human nature as the base, the opponents of it would argue that there is inadequate incentive under socialism to work hard. “If you pay people the same, no matter what they do… if you can’t make a profit no matter how hard you work, why would anyone bother to excel?” they ask. Now, being that we have debunked the assumptions of human nature which this perspective is based on, let us examine the issue of incentive based on a Marxist Perspective on Human Nature. If we proceed from this understanding, that human nature is the means in which human beings adapt themselves towards meeting human needs (to produce, in both the material and social sense) then incentive in socialist society will follow suit with the meeting of these needs.
Collective Benefits as Incentive
Let us take a look at the world today. What do we see? A world where most must struggle to make ends meet, while a select few reap the rewards from their labor by virtue of what they own. They do not work harder than your average worker (in fact, what they do can hardly be called “work”), yet the surplus value of the blood, sweat and tears of the world’s laborers goes to their own pursuits of luxury and decadence. The benefits for working in such a society are centralized for the benefit of one exploiting class. The bread-crumbs, in the form of wages and salaries, are what workers must compete for in the labor market. It is like a lottery, in that many will enter, but few will actually “win.”
Now, imagine if all of the “winnings” belonged to the people who actually made them possible. Imagine a social situation in which the worker, instead of working for the profit ends of a private owner, works instead for the benefit of other workers. In socialism, the products of social labor are enjoyed directly by the laborers themselves as a class. So, rather than working for someone else’s profit ends, or competing for more bread-crumbs than your neighbor, you are working for your own benefit in the context of broader society. Why is this so? It is because your work (along with everyone else’s) will work to increase overall production in society, whose rewards will be enjoyed by the society as a whole. As a member of that society, as a worker under socialism, you are entitled to work and share in the products of that work. It is in this way that socialism will work to meet the needs and wants of all members in society in a way that capitalist exploitation cannot.
Freedom to Work, Freedom from Alienation
The capitalist would be quick to denounce such a thing as Utopian. Following their narrative on human nature, people are too motivated by self interest in order to be interested by these abstract collective benefits. To them, the only way to encourage hard work is to have a carrot and stick, with material wealth being the carrot and abject poverty being the stick. Their understanding follows that capitalism is a true meritocracy; that the wealthy are wealthy by virtue of the value of their work, and if their ability to accumulate wealth is harmed, they will have no incentive to contribute this work to the social good. The example of a doctor is frequently given. Why work hard, go through many years of education, to become a doctor if you won’t make more money doing that?
As the previous work on human nature reveals, profit is not the sole incentive for hard labor, in that many undertake care work without the same monetary incentives enjoyed by your average doctor. In any hospital, there are technicians, nurses and other workers who are not as well paid as doctors (yet do the same work, if not more work, than your typical doctor) that do their jobs very well without this fiscal incentive. In addition to paying the bills and providing some funds for personal maintenance and enjoyment, people undertake such jobs to reap other benefits, in that they may actually enjoy the work that they do or the feeling they get for helping others. These benefits fall under the meeting of human needs for production, in both the material and social sense.
It is these benefits that will guide the individual worker in what he/she desires to do for work in socialist society, rather than a desire for decadence or the avoidance of poverty, being that either extreme will be done away with by virtue of the proletariat owning their own means of production. The question changes from “how can I make a profit” or “how can I make ends meet” to “how can I help, while enjoying what I do?” This change in the essential question that guides work is brought about through the construction of socialist relations to the means of production, as well as the consciousness of workers in society. As the working masses no longer have to worry about going hungry doing the work they do, they are allowed to decide for themselves what work they want to undertake. In addition, they will have every resource they need to undertake this new work, including public education through graduate school, healthcare and daycare services for their children, housing and job entitlements. It is with these considerations that workers will have the freedom to do the work they want to do. Socialist Consciousness and New Social Priorities
Outside of the biases towards preferred work that people in society will carry with them, there is another force which will compel workers under socialism: the broader social need for certain types of labor to be done. In capitalism, where the profit ends of an ownership class decide what work is done for what pay, compensation and the social need for work rarely coincide. For instance, teachers are vastly more important to all members of society than models, actors or television spokespersons. Education is a vital social need, yet educators are paid very little for their work being that they aren’t in the more lucrative position of advancing a capitalists profit motive. The very people who build society are very meagerly compensated for their essential work, while those who aid the parasites in their exploitative adventures make a king’s ransom. It doesn’t take more than a passing glance to see that this situation is absolutely absurd.
In socialism, the social priorities are different. Rather than capitalism’s carrot and stick, the necessary risk of unemployment under capitalism to force workers to take on labor which is inadequately compensated (and therefore, undesirable) compared to the decadence enjoyed by those who best help advance the ends of capitalist profit, the emphasis in socialism is on the work that it needed for the betterment of social conditions. The bottom line is that every worker in socialism has their individual interests invested in the success of socialism. In order to protect these individual and collective interests, the worker is encouraged to take up that work that best suits current social needs. The force which would provide this encouragement is socialist consciousness, the understanding that one’s personal ambitions must coincide with those of the masses of the proletariat if anyone is to meet their needs.
Human Interdependence as a Social Fact
“But wait a minute,” bellows the capitalist, “why should I care about what happens to anyone else?” It is here where one might assert the “self-made man” theory and argue that it is irrational to put any other person’s needs above one’s own. This argument completely ignores the entirety of the human experience. It ignores the fact that human beings are social creatures, who fundamentally depend on one another’s labor for mutual survival. It ignores the fact that we have a fundamental relationship with the laboring masses of the world simply by living in it. Consider the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the car you drive. Where did these things come from? What force made them possible? The answer is labor; the labor of your fellow human being.
The fact that this labor was most likely coerced by the capitalists of other countries, who pay workers a lesser pittance than here and often recruit children into their abused and desperate workforce, is the source of one’s material comforts should itself be a force for consciousness. The essential reality is that in a system construed around the profit motive, the success of the few is predicated on the suffering and loss of the many. We need one another, yet the current mode of production requires that the vast masses of workers be subjected to some of the worst conditions imaginable. Can we continue to live in a world characterized by such oppression? Can we call ourselves human if we can look away? The answer should be no. In order for anyone to be free of the forces of exploitation and alienation, everyone must be free of these forces.
The Necessary Compromise between Self and Society
To defend ourselves from exploitation, we must be willing to defend one another. It is only rational to do so, being that we depend on one another anyway for our continued material and social production. Therefore, in order to protect oneself and one’s fellow person, compromises will need to be made between individual and social desires and needs. Yet, such compromise is already a fact of social life. We already accept on some level that we need to limit ourselves and make sacrifices for the benefit of others. Consider the situation of a crowded subway car, where a pregnant woman is in need of a seat. Will not two or three people stand in order to allow the woman to get off of her aching feet? Now, consider a more serious sacrifice, say in the face of a natural disaster. Aren’t there always those people who sacrifice their own time, efforts and even safety to help one’s fellow man and woman? This socialist consciousness is already, in one form or another, a component to our social selves.
Conclusion: More Incentive Under Socialism
The enemies of socialism will argue that there is no incentive to work in socialism, yet a proper understanding of that which motivates people says otherwise. In fact, it can be argued effectively that there is more incentive to work under socialism than under capitalism. The incentive for the worker to work under socialism is the same as the capitalist’s incentive continue to exploit workers: to defend their position of dominance. Just as the bourgeoisie works tirelessly to maintain their dictatorship over the workers, workers will work every bit as hard to maintain the social order in which workers rule. They will work to defend the gains of their revolution, to defend themselves and every member of society from exploitation by working to meet collective needs and advance social ends. We already work to defend ourselves and our loved ones from poverty and the worst forms of exploitation, yet in socialism, the products of that labor will go to defend workers collectively, and not the profit ends of their mutual exploiters.