In an anarchist society, or a society of "higher" or full communism, who does the necessary and necessarily unpleasant work required to keep society functioning?

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    Elements of this question come up all the time, it doesn't appear in our back catalogue. – Samuel Russell Feb 24 '15 at 1:43
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    I think that the important question is not who is shovelling shit. The point is that, on the contrary of what happens in capitalist countries, people doing less qualified jobs would be fairly compensated for their job and not living in poverty. – user5217 Feb 24 '15 at 9:35
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    Maybe that would be the first job to be replaced by a robot. – James D Feb 24 '15 at 12:43
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    Everyone, as long as they are not a member of the ruling party. – Pedro Werneck Feb 24 '15 at 19:12
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    For those unaware of the term full communism, it derives from Marx's paragraph in Critique of the Gotha Programme, "In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor … has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; … -- only then then can … society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!" marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1875/gotha/ch01.htm – Samuel Russell Feb 24 '15 at 20:05

Firstly, much work perceived as necessary is a result of social choice. Shit shovelling, as a quintessential example has been widely replaced by sewering or compost-toileting or mechanised sewage removal. Many "necessary" roles may in fact not be.

Secondly, work isn't "necessarily" unpleasant. In the Australian context, sanimen who carried the can in relation to sewage disposal were decently paid and well respected. Garbage men used to be sinecures given to local amateur sports heros. Sewering engineers were well paid, particularly after society recognised their responsibilities. Society and culture produces the unpleasantness of some work, by declaring it to be unpleasant.

The core of the question is why would people do necessary work, the largest direct answer is someone will want to do anything if you ask them to do it. The second section of the answer is some people will do anything if you ask them to do anything. These arguments rely on the idea of the excess of productivity in existing society being largely spent on waste, which would therefore reduce the real necessity that people would not otherwise choose to do to a minimum.

  • The idea of necessary work is largely wrong
  • The idea of necessarily unpleasant work is wrong
  • People will voluntarily choose to do needed things, particularly if they're asked to do so and respected for doing so
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    I'm as concerned who'll be a doctor: considering what they currently need to be paid to stick at it, it must be a terrible job. Ofc that's a different question but the answer might be the same, people who observe the necessity of doctoring and fancy themselves being recognised and even praised for doing it. – Steve Jessop Feb 24 '15 at 11:01
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    “…much work perceived as necessary is a result of social choice. Shit shovelling, as a quintessential example has been widely replaced by sewering or compost-toileting or mechanised sewage removal.” This isn’t primarily a matter of social choice; it’s a change in technology. Before these technologies were available, shit-shovelling was a necessity. Of course, the pace and priorities of technological advancement are to a great extent matters of social choice; but in the medium-term, plenty of “unpleasant” jobs are necessary. Agreed with your other two points, though. – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Feb 24 '15 at 12:14
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    Peter, Sydney wasn't sewered until the 70s. For the people of Western Sydney the decision was made to keep people shovelling shit. That's a social choice. Technology isn't some neutral category that descends from the stars; its implementation is deeply economic. – Samuel Russell Feb 24 '15 at 20:02
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    @SteveJessop Salaries are not about how bad the job is, but about the supply of and demand for qualified workers and that market's elasticity. Training to be a doctor requires a decade of expensive and difficult schooling reducing the supply and making it inelastic. In the US there is a shortage of General Practitioners because many new people have health insurance, but people can't become doctors fast enough. How bad the job is does effect the supply, but not much. People work crappy, unskilled, minimum wage jobs because the labor supply outstrips demand & people need money. – Schwern Mar 1 '15 at 17:21
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    Sorry, -1. Sanitation work is unpleasant because objectively, you smell unpleasant stuff on a biological level, AND you run the risk of diseases from the waste. Not because of some artificial social construct. In my life shoveled both snow and manure - in private, with no social pressure. One is clearly more unpleasant despite being ostensibly similar physical work (without comparing either to writing code or posting on StackOverflow). Also, I second Steve's comment - your reasoning for dismissing "Necessary" are only applicable in high-tech society, and not even then always true. – user4012 Mar 3 '15 at 17:02

Only speculative answers can be given, based on various visions of communism or anarchism, since the actual 'pure' communism/anarchism was not implemented.

The modern examples of communism, like kibbutz or open source, are based on volunteers. Volunteers are a special group of people, and they are free to leave in any moment. We have no idea how would, for example, kibbutz function if there were people born there with no option to leave. The Machno state was a rural one, short lasting, and was never self-sustaining (in that sense it didn't produced all the tools it used) and it was de facto a form of military government.

The technological vision of communism (like Star Trek) is very near (if not exactly) what the Marx described as building the material basis for communism - the production is automatized to the amount, where there is enough goods to fulfill people's needs. In that world, any dirty or boring work is made by machines, the people do only the creative work.

Communism as such does not exclude government, and the justice concept requires to give anyone everything they need, but to demand to give back to community as they are able to, so people who are not able to do more sophisticated work, may be forced to do the unpleasant/boring one.

Anarchism as such bans institutional government, but the human remains the social being, therefore prone to social pressure. If you expect anyone to work for society, the social pressure for the people that do nothing should be enough to move at least some of them to do the unpleasant job, so they won't be looked down as parasites.

Anarcho-capitalism removes military pressure from government, but leaves the pressure that can be just as effective - the economic pressure. The people will be forced to do any job, no matter how unpleasant, in order to survive.

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    And in anarcho-capitalism, work that noone wants to do will tend to be better paid. So you're not a poor shit shoveler - you're going to be rich! (all things equal of course, which is not a great assumption). And since it will be expensive to hire shit shovelers, someone will make a machine that does it for a fraction of the cost of a shit shoveler. – Luaan Feb 24 '15 at 8:49
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    @Luaan I see no reason why it should be... if there's no minimal wage and no social security, the people who can't find another job may be payed as low as possible. It's how it works with nike-like factories in 3rd world countries. – Danubian Sailor Feb 24 '15 at 10:14
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    The "nike-like" factories are the best job the people have available. If there was something better they could do and make more money with less work, they would do it. Minimal wage and social security does nothing to prevent that - it only means you will get no work whatsoever if your work value isn't at least at the level of the minimum wage. Of course, that's the "all things equal" part - that includes stuff like education, skill level etc. If shit shoveling is a low-skill job and there's little competition for low-skill labor, it will not pay well. – Luaan Feb 24 '15 at 10:20
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    @Luaan: specifically: if there's unemployment, and furthermore if unemployed people die of starvation in an anarcho-capitalist society, then the premium that a shit-shoveller can demand for doing a less desirable job than other unskilled jobs, is going to be small. People will take a job that pays subsistence in preference to dying, and you can't pay less than subsistence unless you want your workers dropping like flies, so that'll be the natural level. If there's no unemployment then suddenly the workers have the upper hand in wage negotiations, and can start to pick and choose their jobs. – Steve Jessop Feb 24 '15 at 11:06
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    @gerrit: that just means multiple employers between them pay subsistence for whatever time/effort the worker has available. If there's an excess of labour then they don't need any explicit co-operation in order to achieve that, it's just the market price. That said, the excess will disappear when workers start starving (unlike in a society with social security), and useful things for labour to do will be invented or obsoleted, so the system will fluctuate over time. – Steve Jessop Feb 25 '15 at 22:28

Who shovels shit around here?

Just to use what I think is a pretty apt comparison, the SE network is pretty communal if not anarchistic. Community rules are more or less​ agreed upon by the community and mostly enforced by the community.

But who handles the less desirable work around here? Who deals with the worst of our rubbish?

The moderators.

Why do people decide to take on moderator positions? Often it's because they're held up with a certain regard, and they like their community enough to want to be of service.

Here's to you, the glorious janitors.

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    +1 For my shit shovelling being appreciated – SleepingGod Jun 17 '17 at 20:01
  • @SleepingGod - Same. As a mod on History, I have for years described myself as "the janitor". – T.E.D. Oct 18 '18 at 16:24
  • It would sure be different around here if StackExchange authorities had access to forced labor. – elliot svensson Oct 19 '18 at 21:57

The history shows that enemies of the revolution are the ones who do the dirty work. Read Aleksandr Solzhenitszn's "The Gulag Archipelago", any reports on the Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia, or "The Bamboo Gulag" by Nghia M. Vo.


Society will allocate more resources to get rid of nasty jobs. If everyone doesn't want to do it, then they'll be willing to spend more time working at other things (generating wealth) to trade for someone willing to shovel the shit.

If everyone is given everything they need, and nobody needs to work:

Self responsibility: You have to shovel your own shit, since nobody else is willing to do it for you.

Draw lots: Bad luck dude, you're shoveling shit today.

In order: It's your turn to shovel shit today.

Some people won't mind shoveling shit, or will be more efficient at it. And they will collect money (if it exists) or favors on the black market and shovel other people's shit, in order to get more/have more/get laid more/whatever.

And imagine a real labor market. What if every job was up for bid, and didn't rely on old-boy networks, seniority, etc? With real job requirements (not, say: needs an Ivy league education (which is just a white-washing the old-boy networking requirements/have enough money to buy your way in)).

How much would you bid to: play golf with other decision makers, have a private jet, secretary, change company policies, determine products or services offered, business direction, etc?

Or, fly into space and perform experiments?

How much would you bid for a needed salary to wear protective gear, get medical checkups, and shovel shit?

I suspect you'd bid at least 100K to be the shit-shoveler, and maybe bid -10K (or whatever you've got in savings divided by 10) to be the CEO.

If the job was determined by selection amongst the lowest bids, the highest paid jobs would be the worst jobs, and the best jobs would cost money to have, or pay next to nothing (you'd work a bad job for years in order to buy your way into a nice job). This would result in bad jobs being automated away, and good jobs being broken apart so there were more of them.

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    You don't seem to understand how few people can do a decent job as CEO. If you bid 10k, I don't want YOU as my CEO. – user4012 Mar 3 '15 at 16:55

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