jueves, 8 de mayo de 2008

Paul Lafarge: The Right to be Lazy

Paul Lafargue's spirit is free-floating and carries with it a bracing whiff of disrepute. Born in Cuba on January 15, 1842, Lafargue was a child of the New World, although he was a citizen of France. Educated and trained as a physician, he found his true calling as a revolutionary, a speaker, writer, agitator, and organizer on behalf of French working people. He took an active part in the Paris Commune and was one of the founders of the party of revolutionary socialists in France. He held public office and represented the French workers at international congresses. He also spent time in French jails. He is best remembered as the author of The Right To Be Lazy, a subterranean classic that has remained all but constantly in print in numerous languages since it was first published in 1880. He was fond of pointing out that the blood of three oppressed peoples-African, Carib-Indian, and Jewish-ran in his veins. He told Daniel DeLeon, one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World, that he was proudest of his "Negro extraction." DeLeon thought this statement characteristic of him and went on to say, "Paul Lafargue had a constitutional affinity with the oppressed. His being was a harp the strings of which responded melodiously to the sighs of man. The poetic nature of Lafargue is the dominant key in his life's work." The poetic nature of Lafargue's polemics helps to keep them alive when the writings of his more solemn contemporaries have sunk without a trace. He was a free man, or longed to be, rather than an ideological hair-splitter, an ironist as much as a Marxist. He was aware of the liberating power of laughter and was far closer to the revolutionary philosophes of the 18th Century-particularly Diderot-than to the plodding Stalinoid propagandists of the 20th Century. "Socialism" was to his quick and bright mind what "Reason" had been to the thinkers of the 18th Century, in the United States as well as in France. "Everything," he said to students in Paris during a speech in 1900 that is reissued in this volume, "everything, religion, philosophy, science, politics, privileges of classes, of the State, of municipalities, was submitted to its [Reason's] pitiless criticism. Never in history had there been such a fermentation of ideas and such a revolutionary preparation of men's minds." Lafargue's poetic nature found its natural outlet as a fermenter of ideas, as a preparer of minds for a happier, healthier, freer future. His masterpiece, The Right To Be Lazy, at once funny and serious, witty and profound, elegant and forceful, is a logical expansion of The Right to the Pursuit of Happiness announced by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. It was not only extremely popular but also brought about pragmatic results, inspiring the movement for the eight-hour day and equal pay for men and women who perform equal work. It survives as one of the very few pieces of writing to come out of the international socialist movement of the 19th Century that is not only readable-even enjoyable-but pertinent. Much of the suffering and confusion caused by today's obsolete social system-"downsizing," the "exportation of jobs," the increasing number of careers that amount to little more than wasting time for pay (making decent people cynical, bored, or ashamed-or all three at once), despair and the addiction to anodynes it breeds, yuppification with its daft pride in the sixty-hour week, the use of technology to enslave rather than free, terrorism and counter-terrorism, gangs of unemployed youth roaming our cities and gangs of unemployed intelligence agents roaming our world-springs directly from the continuing worship of the false god Work that Lafargue set out to smash with his iconoclastic zeal. If his argument is dated, it is mostly because our rulers now are more concerned with maintaining and extending their power than with increasing their wealth. The social purpose of work is now primarily to keep people occupied rather than to produce wealth. Time was money. Now it's power.
Lafargue and his wife, Laura Marx, one of the daughters of Karl Marx, took their own lives on November 27, 1911. He had become too old and ill to enjoy life or care for himself; and he hated to be a burden to others. She had no wish to continue without him. They did not live to face the test of the war much less the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise of Fascism, the Stalinist murder of anarchists and other independent-minded radicals in Spain, the death camps, the bomb, the gangsterization of the American labor movement, the growth of the International Brotherhood of Secret Police, and the rise of the global televisionary state. In The Right To Be Lazy, Lafargue's witty voice continues to speak to us from the other side of that great divide. It is a pleasure and an inspiration to listen to him now, when the world has been turned so completely upside down that "leisure" has become an industry. Lafargue's spirit is likely to make its presence felt again in the future. Republication of his little masterpiece in a fresh, complete translation might help ensure that it will.

The four-hour day

Almost a century after the eight-hour day was established, productivity of the human beings has increased four or five times, as a result of the technology progress. In the last 20 years, informatic revolution has allowed to duplicate productivity. That means you, me and all workers of the world are producing more each time. But that fabulous productivity increase has not been provided for the benefit of the human being, but only for Capital’s, who search to obtain more profits. To us, all who live from our work, the only reward for producing more and more is... the lengthening of our working time.
By means of a worldwide offensive, Capital has succeeded in backtracking the labour standards to the nineteenth century.
Programs for restructuring enterprises, wich enclose lay offs, pressures and threats, outsourcing, moving out, short-term contracts and every kind of tricks, are forcing people to work almost as slaves, for about twelve, fourteen or sixteen hours each day. In some places, real slavery is reappearing (I am talking about real slaves, I mean, people locked up in sheds from wich they never get out, people who sleep and take his scarcy meals in that same places), for the shame of humanity.
In the middle of this gloomy landscape, however, there is a possible response, wich would allow to correct the history’s course, conquering for human beings the free time that we already are worth, after so much effort. And that response is the worldwide strike for the four-hour day.
Does it sound utopic, hard, too much optimistic?. It is not, because it was already done in the nineteenth century, when, by the means of worker’s struggle, labour hours were shorted from 16 to 10. And, in 1919, the eight-hour day was conquered. So, why could not we make a worldwide movement to obtain the most sensible thing which could ever have been desired, the same that would eliminate, with a stroke of one’s pen, unemployment (named the century’s plage by the WHO)?
If in nineteenth century people could form the backbone of a worldwide movement, how could it not be possible to us, today, when we have the most powerfull, extense and horizontal communication network never been (that is, internet)?
The worlwide strike for the four-hour day is the only way out from the universal madness of capitalism.

Pietro Basso: Modern Times, Ancient Hours

Reviewed by Jonathan Stern

To call economics a dismal science is perhaps an understatement. Pietro Basso's Modern Times/Ancient Hours is filled with lengthy, dry discussions of statistics on the working day. But that does not make it boring. No, Modern Times/Ancient Hours is a work of horror. Basso's book will terrify anybody who is concerned the quality of life in modern capitalist societies.

Basso's main concern is the length of the working day in modern industrial and post-industrial societies. His thesis: "in Western society, for at least the past twenty-five years, the average working time of wage laborers has become increasingly burdensome and invasive -- more intense, fast-paced, 'flexible' and long." Basso means that people work more and harder, and have less and less control over when and where they work. This is true in both industry and the service sector.

The working day was a major political concern in 1867, when Marx argued (in Capital Volume I) that most of a worker's day was spent manufacturing profit for his or her employer -- very little of that work time was required to generate the equivalent value of the worker's wage. Since the advent of the eight-hour day and forty-hour week as U.S. and European norms after World War II, the length of the working day has stagnated. Although it has been on the agenda of labor activists in Germany, France, and Italy, it has gotten less attention in the United States.

This should not be so. Presumably, technology and overall efficiency have improved in most industries and service professions, which means that people could work shorter hours and their employers would make just as much money. In fact, this is central myth of modern capitalism. Basso quotes economist John Maynard Keynes, who predicted that advances in machinery and other elements of production efficiency would reduce the number of required working hours for people to levels as low as three hours a day by the 21st century.

Basso argues that the problem is the demand for growth in capitalism, the demand for continual increases in profit. This pushes capitalists to see increases of efficiency as opportunities for increased profit. Again, this is an old argument, one that can be found in Marx.

By the end of Modern Times/Ancient Hours , you will be convinced that the working day is not only a central issue for labor organizing, but also a crucial site for cultural politics. For someone who works for a living, free time is a precious commodity, and if you work all the time and come home exhausted, you have no energy left to enjoy life, much less to participate in politics.

As it was in Marx's time, so it is today. There is a basic conflict of interests between employers and employees over working time. It doesn't matter if we're talking about the widget business or the digit business. Capitalists know that more hours means more profit. It took a militant labor movement to get the working day down to the fictional "eight hour" length, and that's why it will take a powerful movement to improve things today. Shorter hours for all working people ought to be at the center of any progressive social or political agenda. There is no humane alternative.

Barbara Ehrenreich: On (not) getting by in U.S.A.

Nickel and Dimed ,on (not) Getting By in the U.S.A.
Between 1998 and 2000, I went to three different cities, and tried to support myself on the wages I could earn as an entry-level worker. I waited tables, I cleaned the toilets of the rich, I fed Alzheimers patients in a nursing home, I sorted stock at Wal-Mart. All these were difficult, exhausting jobs, and it made me understand what a serious mistake our nation made with welfare reform.

The theory behind welfare reform was that there was something really wrong with welfare: They were psychologically damaged —lazy, demoralized · and they are that way because of welfare, that welfare causes poverty, some people said.

Never mind that most people on welfare of course, were busy raising children and working on and off whenever they could, the new law just says everybody has to get off of welfare and into the workforce, to sink or swim. This hasn't worked out too well.

The math just doesn't work. The average woman coming off of welfare since 1996 earns $7/hour, that's $280/week before taxes, and you can't support children on that, or even one person.

I know because I tried it. And no matter how carefully I pinched pennies I couldn't get my wages to cover basic expenses..Like rent, at least $500/month plus utilities, like transportation to and from work, at least $60/month, and then if you are a working parent, you have hundreds of dollars a month in childcare expenses. Now if there's one thing that's really demoralizing, it's working hard and not making enough to live on.

Here's a simple theory of poverty: It's not a psychological condition. It is, above all — a consequence of shamefully low wages and lack of opportunity for anything else.

In one poll, 94% of Americans said that they believe, if you work, you should make enough to live on. This is a notion that is basic to American values, I'd even say it's part of our social contract. Now we have to make it a reality.