This is probably the oldest and most repeated of these zombie arguments. It generally goes something like this: “If you don’t have to work, you won’t. Why would you work when you could just sit around and let other people work?” Of course the most common sense answer is: because you like having things and doing things. Communism, as we’ve argued before, starts with the culture recognizing that we all still need to accomplish work in order to have a modern life. But no one should nor needs to be exploited to accomplish that work, and everyone should receive the entire benefit from the the work they do. Its also a democracy, meaning that if you don’t contribute to your community, but lazily reap what your community produces, you’re likely to be ostracized by your community and no one is going to want to help you when you need help. The Capitalist argument is also based on a fallacious definition of what constitutes “work,” As I’ve pointed out before: Capitalism only calls activities “work” if they can produce profit for an owner. Communism ends that concept, recognizing that almost all activities can qualify as work, as they all enrich society in some way, and we cannot quantify the value of anyone’s work anyway.
There is also the fact that, once again: Communism ends the division of labor. Absolutely no one is truly “lazy,” just wanting to sit around and do literally nothing all the time. There is an activity that we all want to perform that benefits society, but we are more often than not prohibited from doing that activity under Capitalism for many reasons. And look how many people perform such tasks anyway. How many people enjoy working on cars as a recreational activity, and not even a part of the job they perform for their livelihood? Or carpentry, or construction, or any activity which even qualifies as work now under Capitalism? My own Grandfather spent his entire life building houses, furniture, electrical work, rebuilding and repairing cars, and nearly every other construction and carpentry related activity, but never as his job, because he never had the knowledge nor the desire to be a businessman. He worked as a State employee at a mental Hospital, and then as a truck driver. He hated those jobs, but was required to perform them for the majority of his life, because that’s how Capitalism works. If you aren’t a business s savvy person, it doesn’t matter how beneficial your skills are for society, or how much you enjoy doing that work. You can’t do that work for a living without also being good at capitalist business, you can’t make money off any skill if you aren’t also a good salesman, or you find someone hiring for that job. Communism has no such restrictions. It allows you and everyone to pursue those passions that you enjoy, because all your needs are provided by everyone else doing the same thing in a society. If my Grandfather had lived in a Communist society, he could have spent his entire life doing carpentry, working on cars, building houses, doing electrical work, as his livelihood, and so could everyone else who wants to. Him and society could have benefitted from the work he already wanted to do for a living.
On this subject, I want to turn once again to the words of Peter Kropotkin in his seminal Work, “The Conquest of Bread.” This will be a long section, and I apologize for that. But Kropotkin makes the most thorough rebuttal against this Capitalist argument, and I feel it is worth quoting in as close to its entirety as possible. Still, this is an abridged version of the entire rebuttal. The complete essay is from chapter 12 of “The Conquest of Bread,” and I highly encourage everyone to read it.
“The objection is known. ‘If the existence of each is guaranteed, and if the necessity of earning wages does not compel men to work, nobody will work. Every man will lay the burden of his work on another if he is not forced to do it himself.’ Let us first remark the incredible levity with which this objection is raised, without taking into consideration that the question is in reality merely to know, on the one hand, whether you effectively obtain by wage-work the results you aim at; and, on the other hand, whether voluntary work is not already more productive to-day than work stimulated by wages.
…They fear that without compulsion the masses will not work. But during our own lifetime have we not heard the same fears expressed twice? By the anti-abolitionists in America before Negro emancipation, and by the Russian nobility before the liberation of the serfs? ‘Without the whip the Negro will not work,’ said the anti-abolitionist. ‘Free from their master’s supervision the serfs will leave the fields uncultivated,’ said the Russian serf-owners. It was the refrain of the French noblemen in 1789, the refrain of the Middle Ages, a refrain as old as the world, and we shall hear it every time there is a question of sweeping away an injustice. And each time actual facts give it the lie. The liberated peasant of 1792 ploughed with a wild energy unknown to his ancestors, the emancipated Negro works more than his fathers, and the Russian peasant, after having honoured the honeymoon of his emancipation by celebrating Fridays as well as Sundays, has taken up work with as much eagerness as his liberation was the more complete. There, where the soil is his, he works desperately; that is the exact word for it. The anti-abolitionist refrain can be of value to slave-owners; as to the slaves themselves, they know what it is worth, as they know its motive. Well-being, that is to say, the satisfaction of physical, artistic, and moral needs, has always been the most powerful stimulant to work. And when a hireling produces bare necessities with difficulty, a free worker, who sees ease and luxury increasing for him and for others in proportion to his efforts, spends infinitely far more energy and intelligence, and obtains first-class products in far greater abundance. The one feels riveted to misery, the other hopes for ease and luxury in the future. In this lies the whole secret. Therefore a society aiming at the well-being of all, and at the possibility of all enjoying life in all its manifestations, will supply voluntary work which will be infinitely superior and yield far more than work has produced up till now under the goad of slavery, serfdom, or wagedom.
…to do manual work now, means in reality to shut yourself up for ten or twelve hours a day in an unhealthy workshop, and to remain riveted to the same task for twenty or thirty years, and maybe for your whole life. It means to be doomed to a paltry wage, to the uncertainty of the morrow, to want of work, often to destitution, more often than not to death in a hospital, after having worked forty years to feed, clothe, amuse, and instruct others than yourself and your children. It means to bear the stamp of inferiority all your life, because, whatever the politicians tell us, the manual worker is always considered inferior to the brain worker, and the one who has toiled ten hours in a workshop has not the time, and still less the means, to give himself the high delights of science and art, nor even to prepare himself to appreciate them; he must be content with the crumbs from the table of privileged persons.
We understand that under these conditions manual labour is considered a curse of fate. We understand that all men have but one dream — that of emerging from, or enabling their children to emerge from this inferior state; to create for themselves an ‘independent’ position, which means what? — To also live by other men’s work! As long as there will be a class of manual workers and a class of ‘brain’ workers, black hands and white hands, it will be thus.
…It is precisely to put an end to this separation between manual and brain work that we want to abolish wagedom, that we want the Social Revolution. Then work will no longer appear a curse of fate: it will become what it should be — the free exercise of all the faculties of man.
…Moreover, it is time to submit to a serious analysis this legend about superior work, supposed to be obtained under the lash of wagedom…”
Here, Kropotkin lists conditions that he observed in workplaces throughout the world, which were horrendous, and exceedingly inefficient at the time of his writing (the mid-19th century.) Certainly conditions have improved, but they also have remained the same in the ways that matter: profits are held above the health and safety of workers consistently. And then there is the simple fact that a wage-worker has no incentive to work harder than the bare minimum, as they do not reap the rewards of their harder work, the owner of the business does. Peter Kropotkin continues on this line:
“…And if you talk to the workmen themselves, you will soon learn that the rule in such factories is — never to do entirely what you are capable of. ‘Shoddy pay — shoddy work!’ this is the advice which the working man receives from his comrades upon entering such a factory. For the workers know that if in a moment of generosity they give way to the entreaties of an employer and consent to intensify the work in order to carry out a pressing order, this nervous work will be exacted in the future as a rule in the scale of wages. Therefore in all such factories they prefer never to produce as much as they can. In certain industries production is limited so as to keep up high prices, and sometimes the password, ‘Go-canny,’ is given, which signifies, ‘Bad work for bad pay!’
Wage-work is serf-work; it cannot, it must not, produce all that it could produce. And it is high time to disbelieve the legend which represents wagedom as the best incentive to productive work. If industry nowadays brings in a hundred times more than it did in the days of our grandfathers, it is due to the sudden awakening of physical and chemical sciences towards the end of last century; not to the capitalist organization of wagedom, but in spite of that organization.
…’But the danger,’ they say, ‘will come from that minority of loafers who will not work, and will not have regular habits in spite of excellent conditions that make work pleasant. To-day the prospect of hunger compels the most refractory to move along with the others. The one who does not arrive in time is dismissed. But a black sheep suffices to contaminate the whole flock, and two or three sluggish or refractory workmen lead the others astray and bring a spirit of disorder and rebellion into the workshop that makes work impossible.’
…To begin with, is it not evident that if a society, founded on the principle of free work, were really menaced by loafers, it could protect itself without an authoritarian organization and without having recourse to wagedom? Let us take a group of volunteers, combining for some particular enterprise. Having its success at heart, they all work with a will, save one of the associates, who is frequently absent from his post. Must they on his account dissolve the group, elect a president to impose fines, or maybe distribute markers for work done, as is customary in the Academy? It is evident that neither the one nor the other will be done, but that someday the comrade who imperils their enterprise will be told: ‘Friend, we should like to work with you; but as you are often absent from your post, and you do your work negligently, we must part. Go and find other comrades who will put up with your indifference!’
This way is so natural that it is practiced everywhere nowadays, in all industries, in competition with all possible systems of fines, docking of wages, supervision, etc.; a workman may enter the factory at the appointed time, but if he does his work badly, if he hinders his comrades by his laziness or other defects, and they quarrel with him on that account, there is an end of it; he is compelled to leave the workshop.
…Then, why should means that are used to-day among mates in the workshop, traders, and railway companies, not be made use of in a society based on voluntary work?
Take, for example, an association stipulating that each of its members should carry out the following contract: ‘We undertake to give you the use of our houses, stores, streets, means of transport, schools, museums, etc., on condition that, from twenty to forty-five or fifty years of age, you consecrate four or five hours a day to some work recognized as necessary to existence. Choose yourself the producing groups which you wish to join, or organize a new group, provided that it will undertake to produce necessaries. And as for the remainder of your time, combine together with those you like for recreation, art, or science, according to the bent of your taste. Twelve or fifteen hundred hours of work a year, in a group producing food, clothes, or houses, or employed in public health, transport, etc., is all we ask of you. For this work we guarantee to you all that these groups produce or will produce. But if not one, of the thousands of groups of our federation, will receive you, whatever be their motive; if you are absolutely incapable of producing anything useful, or if you refuse to do it, then live like an isolated man or like an invalid. If we are rich enough to give you the necessaries of life we shall be delighted to give them to you. You are a man, and you have the right to live. But as you wish to live under special conditions, and leave the ranks, it is more than probable that you will suffer for it in your daily relations with other citizens. You will be looked upon as a ghost of bourgeois society, unless some friends of yours, discovering you to be a talent, kindly free you from all moral obligation towards society by doing necessary work for you. And lastly, if it does not please you, go and look for other conditions elsewhere in the wide world, or else seek adherents and organize with them on novel principles. We prefer our own.’
That is what could be done in a communal society in order to turn away sluggards if they became too numerous.”
I’ve pointed out this solution at times, and been met with the rebuttal: “So you make people choose between working or being ostracized and even exiled from society?” First, I think anyone can see how that is preferable to the “be a wage-worker or starve” threat that Capitalism makes to all of us. Second: that is not even what is being argued. This is a possible solution to the hypothetical problem of a Communist society that is fraught with “laziness.” It is not suggested as a pillar of Communism that would exist everywhere, and it is not forcing such a choice on anyone, it’s merely pointing out that a society is not likely to decide to provide you with the fruits of its produce if you choose to not contribute to that produce in any way. That does not mean you are left to starve, or without shelter, or barred from having anything. Because the only people who are likely to ever make the decision to not contribute to society, are those who are able to meet all their needs without society to begin with. Meaning that they’ve already ostracized themselves from society, and they already have everything they need and want to live. Also, as I’ve pointed out: this “laziness” problem isn’t one that will even exist. Kropotkin continues on this theme:
“We very much doubt that we need fear this contingency in a society really based on the entire freedom of the individual. In fact, in spite of the premium on idleness offered by private ownership of capital, the really lazy man, unless he is ill, is comparatively rare.
…As to the laziness of the great majority of workers, only philistine economists and philanthropists say such nonsense. If you ask an intelligent manufacturer, he will tell you that if workmen only put it into their heads to be lazy, all factories would have to be closed, for no measure of severity, no system of spying would be of any use.
…So when we speak of a possible idleness, we must well understand that it is a question of a small minority in society; and before legislating for that minority, would it not be wise to study its origin? Whoever observes with an intelligent eye sees well enough that the child reputed lazy at school is often the one which does not understand what he is badly taught. Very often, too, it is suffering from cerebral anæmia, caused by poverty and an anti- hygienic education. A boy who is lazy at Greek or Latin would work admirably where he taught in science, especially if taught by the medium of manual labour. A girl reputed nought at mathematics becomes the first mathematician of her class if she by chance meets somebody who can explain to her the elements of arithmetic she did not understand. And a workman, lazy in the workshop, cultivates his garden at dawn, while gazing at the rising sun, and will be at work again at nightfall, when all nature goes to its rest.
Somebody said that ‘filth is matter in the wrong place.’ The same definition applies to nine-tenths of those called lazy. They are people gone astray in a direction that does not answer to their temperament nor to their capacities. In reading the biography of great men, we are struck with the number of ‘idlers’ among them. They were lazy as long as they had not found the right path, and afterwards laborious to excess. Darwin, Stephenson, and many others belonged to this category of idlers. Very often the idler is but a man to whom it is repugnant to make all his life the eighteenth part of a pin, or the hundredth part of a watch, while he feels he has exuberant energy which he would like to expend elsewhere. Often, too, he is a rebel who cannot submit to being fixed all his life to a work-bench in order to procure a thousand pleasures for his emulover, while knowing himself to be far the less stupid of the two, and knowing his only fault to be that of having been born in hovel instead of coming into the world in a castle.
Lastly, a good many ‘idlers’ do not know the trade by which they are compelled to earn their living. Seeing the imperfect thing made by their own hands, striving vainly to do better, and perceiving that they never will succeed on account of the bad habits of work already acquired, they begin to hate their trade, and, not knowing any other, hate work in general. Thousands of workmen and artists who are failures suffer from this cause. On the other hand, he who since his youth has learned to play the piano well, to handle the plans well, the chisel, the brush, or the file, so that he feels that what he does is beautiful, will never give up the piano, the chisel, or the file. He will find pleasure in his work which does not tire him, as long as he is not overdriven.
Under the one name, idleness, a series of results due to different causes have been grouped, of which each one could be a source of good, instead of being a source of evil to society. Like all questions concerning criminality and related to human faculties, facts have been collected having nothing in common with one another. They say laziness or crime, without giving themselves the trouble to analyse their cause. They are in haste to punish them, without inquiring if the punishment itself does not contain a premium on ‘laziness’ or ‘crime.’
This is why a free society, seeing the number of idlers increasing in its midst, would no doubt think of looking for the cause of laziness, in order to suppress it, before having recourse to punishment. When it is a case, as we have already mentioned, of simple bloodlessness, then, before stuffing the brain of a child with science, nourish his system so as to produce blood, strengthen him, and, that he shall not waste his time, take him to the country or to the seaside; there, teach him in the open air, not in books — geometry, by measuring the distance to aspire, or the height of a tree; natural sciences, while picking flowers and fishing in the sea; physical science, while building the boat he will go to fish in. But for mercy’s sake do not fill his brain with sentences and dead languages. Do not make an idler of him!… Such a child has neither order nor regular habits. Let first the children inculcate order among themselves, and later on, the laboratory, the workshop, work done in a limited space, with many tools about, will teach them method. But do not make disorderly beings out of them by your school, whose only order is the symmetry of its benches, and which — true image of the chaos in its teachings — will never inspire anybody with the love of harmony, of consistency, and method in work.”
It’s worth noting that these assertions that Kropotkin makes here are already being confirmed and accepted by our current society. Our education system has had to drastically adapt in recent years after realizing what Kropotkin wrote about one hundred and sixty years ago: that some children need to be taught differently. And anyone would admit that we all work better when we are working at jobs that we enjoy and believe in. But we can’t live in a society that allows everyone to do that as long as we have such unnecessary restrictions on us as the division of labor and the necessity of profit, and the only way to rid ourselves of these diseases of society is Communism.
We can also look at all the Scientific and engineering achievements made by the Soviet Union and Cuba as testaments to the argument “Communism makes everyone lazy and kills innovation” being wrong, despite the Soviet Union and Cuba only being a State-Socialist systems with a lot of flaws. If the Soviet Union can be that, and yet still be the first country to put a satellite in orbit, the first human in space, the first woman in Space, the first space-walk, the first full orbit of the earth, the first space station, the first probe on the moon, the first probe on venus (which was also the first manmade object to land on another planet), the first cell phone, and a very long list of other achievements, then how much can a truly Communist society achieve? If Cuba can eliminate illiteracy, have more doctors per-capita than any other country, eliminate homelessness, and end famine despite enduring a blockade and economic sanctions for 50 years which make it extremely difficult for the small island nation to engage in trade for necessities, how much more could a Communist society that is open and free to trade with the world achieve?
This is not to sound like I am using a double-standard, leaving the flaws and mistakes of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and other Socialist-States to its Government while claiming the achievements as ones of Communism. The achievements and failures of these countries are their own, and no one else’s. But we can and should learn from both of them. A Communist system is not guaranteed to be free from problems, but it’s also not guaranteed to fail. Whatever governmental system we put in place to achieve the goals of Communism, like any other system, is capable of failing in some ways and making great achievements in others, and it certainly will do both. Because these are systems composed of and made by people, and we aren’t perfect. But as I said before: a system based on and composed of Democratic principles is sure to make it far more difficult for it to fail in regard to providing for everyone and allowing everyone to pursue their interests. Because those are the things everyone wants, and when the people as a whole are the Government, when the people control the systems they rely on to live, they can use those systems to provide all that they want and need while living their lives how they want.