By Fred M’membe
Hello Comrade, when you have a chance, kindly reflect on the common assumption that socialism encourages laziness.
Great thanks Comrade and here is my brief reflection on the assumption:
The laziness trope is often used as a way to kind of discredit socialism overall. However, there’s some truth to this. In the experience in the Soviet Union and Cuba and Eastern Europe, there was a point in the development of socialism where workers were less motivated than certainly everyone that imagined what socialism would be thought would happen.
Now, before getting into that, let’s look at, first of all, the increase in productivity and the growth of the economy, industrialisation in the Soviet Union during the 1920s on was astounding. The fact that this semi-feudal country industrialised so quickly that it actually could fend off this highly developed industrial power of Nazi Germany, and eventually win that war, the extent to how hard people worked and how much they sacrificed to be into that position, you can’t call that laziness. Let’s not forget the Soviet Union got to space before the United States. In a very short amount of time after World War II, the Soviet Union built a nuclear weapon to counteract the nuclear threat of the United States, and the extent to which it was an offensive threat to the United States and that the Soviet Union was in a defensive position.
When people have a guaranteed job and you can never get fired, when people have a guaranteed standard of living, they have healthcare, they have schooling, there’s no fear of poverty, which is more or less what there was in the Soviet Union, people get lazy. And if there’s no competition, like if everyone gets paid the same no matter how hard you work, then why work hard?
The Soviet Union was incredibly innovative. Some of the most amazing inventions came out of the Soviet Union, including, if you go back to the beginning, the Soviet Union gives birth to modern filmmaking and so on, and all kinds of developments in the sciences.
So if you look at the stages of the Soviet Union, for a long time, it was very productive, as you see, what I said about taking on Germany and getting to space and so on. And then also, in certain sectors of the economy, it remained very productive, especially the sciences. The Soviet Union was able to compete with the United States in the development of technology.
But on this one specific thing – and it’s a complicated subject, we can’t get into it all now – but there was something that developed in the Soviet Union, and it happened in Cuba, and to some extent in Eastern Europe. When you got to the level of the factory floor and much of the working class, kind of everyone got paid the same. And it kind of didn’t matter if you worked hard or didn’t work hard, and there was a lot of resentment. Workers that did work hard, were motivated, were definitely pissed that this person over there was having a cigarette half the day and nothing happens. And then it was difficult to fire somebody and even discipline them, because ideologically, this was supposed to be a worker’s state and all the rest. And one of the reasons that is because the bureaucrats, especially, to maintain their own positions of power, didn’t want to piss off sections of the working class. And a lot of them believed in this theory too, that you pay everyone the same because that’s the socialist ideal. Except it’s not.
There’s absolutely no reason under socialism why everyone should get paid the same. And in fact, they didn’t. In the Soviet Union, the artists got paid more, filmmakers got paid more, the party leaderships got paid more. It’s not like everyone got paid the same, it was mostly in the working class you didn’t have hardly any variance. But there’s no reason why that needs to be.
If we go back to what Karl Marx said, socialism is not the same – and there’s so much misconception of what communism is because of the Cold War and all the rest. But if you take what Marx and Engels thought communism was, communism is when the state withers away and isn’t there anymore because there’s no classes anymore, because the whole point of the state is to be coercive.
And if you don’t have distinctions in classes, you don’t need cops, you don’t need armies. So communism is this ideal kind of utopia. Who knows if human society ever gets there, but that’s the theory. It got all demonized because they called the Soviet Union communism because the Soviet Union sometimes called themselves that, but it wasn’t.
So under communism, the tagline is, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” Because this ideal state, where there’s no classes, everyone is highly motivated, but not everyone is equal in ability. Some people run fast, some people run slow, some people are smarter, some people can do this and that. So everyone gives what they have to give, but everyone gets what they need. That’s this utopian state of communism, and that was the ideal. But socialism, the slogan was, the tagline from Marx was,
“From each according to their ability, to each according to their work.” You don’t work, you don’t get. So that was not what was followed. This idea of having the same wage did demotivate people.
In Cuba people became so educated, they didn’t want to do agricultural work. They didn’t want to go work in the fields because people were learning sciences and medicine. And in those areas, Cuba excelled. They have a pharmaceutical industry in Cuba that competes at a world level. Though when it came to when you have such an educated population, a lot of people didn’t want to do that kind of work.
But it also was the same thing, with everyone kind of getting paid the same, and they were resentful about that. People said, ‘Well, why should I work hard when they don’t?’ But there’s no reason for that. This isn’t something inherent in socialism. You can have competition between workers, you can pay people more for more productivity. This is not a state where you get what you need, it’s an economy where you get how you work.
Moreover, even capitalist countries somehow faced some similar challenges when it came to social security. There are some people who were satisfied just sitting at home drinking, producing children and collecting social security for each child and didn’t want to work. It seems, regardless of the social and economic system, this is the side effect of providing social security beyond a certain optimal level.
Socialism is not promoting laziness, it does not say that you can live off other people’s work while sitting at home collecting welfare. You will not get paid if you do not work. People will say that socialism is just giving someone money that they didn’t earn. This is wrong, you still have to work.
So it’s a complicated, long story. Well, comrades, for now we’re going to have to leave it here.