From the December 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard
Of all the bugs that have ever bitten the working class, the Human Nature one is perhaps the most persistent as well as the most illogical. There is certainly no socialist who has not heard repeatedly the statement that Human Nature is against Socialism, or that the people of this country would not stand for socialism.
Of course the words they choose to clothe their arguments are just as incorrect as the objection itself. It is Human Nature to eat when you are hungry, to drink when you are thirsty, and to sleep when you are tired. These things are part of the inherent nature of human beings as indeed of all biological organisms. Nothing can alter this and nobody wants to change it— least of all socialists. What is meant by Human Nature, as used by those who trot it out as an objection, is not human nature at all, but human behaviour. Now human behaviour is quite another thing and its roots are to be found principally in one’s environment and the economic conditions which influences one’s physiological make-up.
Man behaves in the way he does, very largely, although not completely, because of the conditioning he receives from his environment, since he is a social animal and lives in a community.
Normally a Bishop would not steal food, but if he were placed in an environment in which he had no choice but to steal food or die of starvation, his behaviour would be dictated by his environment. He would thus break the 8th Commandment, and be forced to excuse or justify himself by the unfortunate conditions in which he found himself (or which surrounded him).
Now what does the objector find in socialism which warrants his statement that human nature (behaviour) would not stand for it? His only answer appears to be that the workers would not tolerate the regimentation, the filling up of forms, and being told to do this, that, or the other. Indeed not only has the objector a false conception of human nature, but also (as usual), a completely false conception of Socialism. Who knows what the workers will or will not stand for? At least we can be sure that they have stood for two world wars almost without a murmur; and at present they appear to be standing for the preparation for a third.
In England they have stood for rationing for about 12 years, and with the end not yet in sight. They have stood for conservative and labour governments. "The labour party promised them everything and gave them nothing; while the conservatives promised them nothing and saw that they got it.” They have been through crises of unemployment and privations galore, and have received untold promises of better times to come if only they tighten in their belts and work for the common good. But in the end there still remains the struggle for their livelihood and the division of society into two classes, one of which owns the means of production and exploits the other.
Where therefore do the human nature objectors stand? Surely they are condoning the existence of a system which means the continuance of their own exploitation, whether they know it or not? Human nature (behaviour) can be made to tolerate some strange things. What socialism in effect means is the emancipation from exploitation by a ruling class, and if the workers won’t stand for their own emancipation, then things are certainly in a bad way.