Archive for Human Nature

Isn’t it true that we’re too selfish?

Posted in Marxism with tags , , on July 26, 2009 by Umer

CHRIS HARMAN asks if it’s in our nature to look after number one

ONE OF the most popular arguments against socialism is that people are just too selfish for it to work. It is claimed that socialists are unrealistic dreamers for imagining that things will change overnight and people work together for the common good without being made to.

Certainly if you look at society today the argument seems justified. Many people do see life as a rat race in which the key thing is to get what you can for yourself, regardless of others. Bankers are quite happy to extract interest payments from Third World countries, condemning children to starvation. Industrialists don’t care if they ruin the environment, providing they make profits.

And workers are not immune to the same kind of poison. Some, for example, can resent benefit being paid out to refugees or those without work. But such selfishness is not a result of an unchanging human nature. With the best will in the world, people are often pushed to act in such ways by the structure of capitalist society.

Bosses can only survive if they are more competitive than other bosses. That means they have to try to get as much as possible out of their workers all the time. And it’s an added bonus for them if they can find some legal way of doing down other bosses or fiddling consumers. To boost their profits, industrialists have to do their utmost to prevent their workers fighting back.

Continue reading