From the February 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard
This is a question often asked when we explain that in socialist society the principle "from each according to his/her abilities, to each according to his/her needs" will apply. In other words, that people will voluntarily contribute in terms of work what they can in order to produce the abundance of wealth to which they will then have free access according to their individual needs (of which they themselves will be the sole judge).
The assumption behind the "dirty work" objection is that if work were voluntary nobody would choose to do the hard, the dangerous, the boring or the messy work because this would be "against human nature". We don't want to go here into all the scientific arguments which show that there is nothing in the nature of the animal homo sapiens that would prevent them living in a socialist society; quite the reverse in fact, human beings are animals which have evolved and survived only through their capacity to co-operate. All we will do is draw attention to the fact that the objection is not valid even for all work under capitalism.
Work under capitalism mostly takes the form of employment—that is, work for an employer, under his control and for his profit, and it is therefore not surprising that most people consider "work" to be something unpleasant, to be avoided as much as possible. But when it comes to exercising their mental and physical energies—which is equally "working"—in their own time, as in digging their gardens, pursuing their hobbies and the like, it is a different matter. Because people enjoy this kind of work, many are not even prepared to consider such activities as work, to such an extent has capitalism associated work with work for an employer! Socialism, which will abolish employment, will also abolish this false distinction between "work " (unpleasant) and "play" (pleasant), People will be able to organise the necessary productive work in such away that everybody will be able to derive satisfaction from doing it.
But what about the dirty work? Well, as the Penlee lifeboat disaster recently showed, even under capitalism people can be found to undertake work of the most dangerous kind voluntarily. These lifeboatmen were all volunteers to do a job they knew to be socially necessary. Despite the fuss they made of the disaster, the capitalist class were unable to understand this. "£3 for a start, then, £1 an hour—the price of lifeboat courage" headlined the Daily Telegraph (21/12/81) with the suggestion that lifeboatmen were not being paid enough. But, as any of the lifeboatmen could have told them, this was not the point; money (expenses) was not the motive. In fact, one RNLI official was quoted as saying "some do not bother to claim it".
Then why do they do it, why do they voluntarily undertake such dangerous, dirty work? Why could more than enough volunteers be found from the same village to replace the eight men who died? Because, as we have said, they were aware that there was a socially necessary job to be done. If this can happen under capitalism where the cash nexus has corrupted nearly everything, how can it be imagined that in socialism there will be any problem to find people to undertake any "dirty" jobs that cannot be automated?