Socialists believe that people have a natural relationship that should be based on cooperation (working collectively to achieve mutual benefits) and not competition, as competition leads to conflict which leads people to ignore their natural relationships with others. As a result, people who are in conflict learn negative traits such as aggression and selfishness and people who work together learn to care and have affection for each other. Peter Kropotkin said that the human race thrives due to ‘mutual aid’, the desire to help each other out, knowing that the favour will be returned. Socialists tend to have a very positive view of human nature, suggesting that people are naturally inclined towards sociable cooperation.
Socialists believe that cooperation rewards people for hard work on a deeper moral level rather than the material rewards of liberal capitalism. They think that people will be motivated to aid the ‘common good’ rather than just their own short term aims. Many socialists believe that individual material rewards can be balanced in harmony with community-based moral rewards. For example, people who work hard will not only benefit themselves but they will create more wealth to provide welfare for society.
Equality: The socialist commitment to equality (egalitarianism) is the core feature of socialism and is what makes it very different from the other two main ideologies (liberalism and conservatism). This belief focuses not just on equality of opportunity or legal equality, but on social equality- equality of outcome. They believe in this for three main reasons;
Social equality upholds the ideas of justice and fairness that are taken away when people compete against each other. The inequality that exists in society has been created by the competitive and selfish nature of capitalism. Socialists do not believe that people are naturally equal in skills but do believe that each person plays a role in society and therefore should receive an equal reward. They think that the differences between people are exaggerated by the competitive nature of society.
Equality underpins community and cooperation. If people are more able to identify with each other they are more likely to work for the common good. Equality therefore strengthens a feeling of solidarity with each person and their fellow humans. They believe that inequality causes conflict and selfishness and leads to a breakdown of society.
Socialists believe that ‘need satisfaction’ is the key element of freedom and not the ability to act as each individual chooses. Each person should be treated by society according to what they need (not want) and therefore the whole of society benefits. Karl Marx said ’from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’, meaning that as everyone contributes to society (albeit in different ways), everyone should have their needs satisfied in society.
Different kinds of socialists disagree about the extent to which equality should exist in society. Marxists and communists believe in total equality whereby private property is abolished and the state / society distributes everything according to needs. There is common ownership, meaning that the means of production are owned commonly, by everyone, so that everyone benefits from the wealth of society. Social democrats, on the other hand, believe in the reduction of inequality through progressive taxation and welfare. They do not wish to destroy capitalism but only limit and tame it. This slightly blurs the desire for equality of outcome and equality of opportunity. Marxists would reject equality of opportunity, suggesting that it does not address the fundamental inequalities created by capitalism.
Opponents of social equality argue that treating everyone in the same way fails to recognise the difference in talents and efforts amongst people. By rewarding everyone similarly, it also saps motivation to work hard. In addition, as such an outcome can only really be achieved by state intervention, this potentially restricts the liberties of individuals.