Useful Work and Useless Toil

Useful Work and Useless Toil

An exchange on the refusal of work from Subversion #23

Letter from F (Liverpool)

You seem to have run into some internal criticism over your articles (Subversion 21/22) about revolutionaries entering specific kinds of employment. I'd like to suggest actually NOT working offers more of a revolutionary potential than your writer gives credit for. To consider ourselves revolutionary we need to participate in actions that oppose capitalism: it could hardly be said that working for the sake of it is revolutionary. At best work enables us to put something decent on the table to eat and/or helps pay the rent, but the basic ingredient of the act of work surely only underpins the lousy system that enslaves us?

If we are not in a job that pays enough to allow us to financially support the overthrow of capitalism then the job is probably not worth a fuck anyway - give it up, sacrifice the pittance it pays and get down to some REAL work i.e. subverting the system. A regular diet of beans on toast isn't too bad and after a while, when one gets quite used to it, there comes the quiet but wholesome satisfaction knowing that you're no longer following trends of this or that new product that is such an indispensable ploy of capitalist marketing.

Jobs/wages invariably lead us to shackling ourselves to the baubles that capitalism dangles before us incessantly - drop out and do something that hurts capitalism instead of meandering along inside its poxy system. Experience the sheer joy of waking up to a new day, every day, knowing that day to be entirely your own to do with as you like, without having to sell it to anybody. Bliss! Jobs - factories/offices/shops, where jobs are mainly to be found, are simply prisons in which they keep us interred during the prime cycle of the day, releasing us overnight in order to recuperate before returning the following morning for yet another 8/10/12 hours more miserable confinement without seeing the natural light of day, sunshine, blue sky, flowers, pissing-down rain or whatever. It's your life, why spend the best part of it in some factory unit making contributions to the capitalist cause.

When I signed on recently (Southport) they tried to push me into a job, wait for it, as, for fuck's sake, a JOB-CLUB LEADER, and hear this too, it was a four-day week, maximum 32 hours, paying £5.70 an hour (rates unheard of advertised on Southport's job display board) plus a yearly quota achievement bonus. Now, I'm on my uppers and have been for a while but no way was I going to take a position that requires me to push some other poor sods into crap employment so that I might prosper a little. No way! At the risk of being sanctioned, perhaps losing entitlement altogether, I managed to talk my way out of it, keeping both my integrity and personal esteem intact. No self-respecting revolutionary could or should entertain a shitty number like that surely?

And all that moralistic lark they come out with about not working equals not contributing to society is just a load of old bollocks too - they only want us working so that they can take more and more taxes from us to finance road schemes, provide revenue via various consumer taxations fostering all manner of environmental degradations that serve only to devalue the quality of life in favour of big business, not forgetting too that wage deductions also are filched to pay for the elite lifestyles our rulers lord it over us with. NOT working could become as positive as not voting; if none, or enough of us don't do it, then surely we will have them worried?

In conclusion, allow me to refer back to my own situation briefly: I've been signing on (dole? benefit? why use terms that suggest they are giving us something we should be grateful for?) for almost two years now and I know that a compulsory work-scheme is imminent. Contemptible of such a scheme though I will be, I will be taking just one line of thought into any forced labour projects with me: Sabotage - photocopiers, computers, vehicles, machinery etc., all cost employers thousands of pounds to buy, to maintain, to repair. Let us make certain that anyone who participates in these wank work-schemes as an employer or training provider pays very dearly for collaboration with the government...Welfare to work? Bollocks! Farewell to work!

F (Liverpool)

SUBVERSION REPLY

Just as it is a mistake to believe that wearing black is a revolutionary act, so it is a mistake to believe that not having a job or having a job is a revolutionary act. Oh, if only life were so simple that I could believe I was in any way bucking the system by not having a job as you seem to believe...

Unfortunately, unemployment is a key factor in the operation of the economy. The fact that so many people in Britain are unemployed has enabled business to keep wages down and to instil a discipline and fear in the workforce that was not there in the 1970's. The "recovery" that we have been witness to in the British economy over the last 10 or so years has been due to the way our rulers have tackled the labour problem. It has become a great situation for our economic and political bosses, not only have large numbers of unemployed helped keep the economy on track, but they are also able to make the unemployed feel guilty for not having a job, and, as you point out, make the employed look upon the unemployed as a bunch of idle scroungers who are just bringing our glorious country down. Being unemployed is not a threat to the system. Now, the bosses would certainly like militant troublemaking workers to become unemployed, so that they are no threat to the motor of capitalism (i.e. profit-making, production, and all the jobs that help the economy to run smoothly).

So please explain just how being unemployed "hurts capitalism", and what is it that you do all day that a worker can't do for the promotion of radical thought amongst the working class? (My experience of unemployed radicals, apart from a few notable exceptions, is that they generally somehow seem to have less time or inclination to do and produce things than those who work!).

You seem not to have read the original article properly. Where does it promote "working for the sake of it"? Are you saying that it is worth doing a job only if it "allows us to financially support the overthrow of capitalism"? Does it matter what sort of job this might be? Should we all train to be managers or professionals so that we can get good wages, or become rich tycoons?? If, on the other hand, we go unemployed you say we will be able to get down to "some real work i.e. subverting the system" (see above; please explain). And where does this leave all the militant workers we continually hear about across the world? Aren't they good enough for you? Where does stopping work en masse, and thereby halting the wheels of capitalism, come on your list of most revolutionary things to do? Pretty low down I suppose.

We all, of course, agree that work is a horrible thing, and the whole point of class struggle is to do away with work (i.e. our slavery), which is why the article in question was trying to put forward ideas on how we might best achieve a greater level of class struggle. It was an appeal to everyone to think about how to put themselves in the most interesting position regarding class struggle.

As for your lucrative job offer. Are you sure you actually even read the title of the original article? The article was talking about getting jobs in workplaces where there is an ongoing history of trouble, not taking supervisory posts in back-to-work schemes!!

I'm glad that, should you be forced into a work-scheme in the near future, you will be acting like a lot of workers (who sabotage, steal things and time, etc.). I'm sure, also, that you are aware of the gulf between brave words of intention to sabotage and the actual practice on the job. Also, I'm worried that you only seem to reserve your hatred for the bosses who "collaborate (...) with the government", should we only work for employers who support the Tories?

On not voting in democratic elections. Unfortunately, although it is certainly worthwhile pointing out to our class that voting changes nothing, it is extremely doubtful that the low turn-out at elections worries our rulers. In the USA barely 50% of the electors bother voting, this makes no impact on the democratic process. Don't think that our rulers are stupid, they also know that voting changes nothing, politics is a circus for our entertainment, the real decision-making goes on out of sight of us sad proletarians. If there was any concern that people weren't taking an interest in the democratic process then they could always introduce a law like they have in Australia, where you are legally obliged to vote. But it still wouldn't mean anything; 2% or 100%: it still wouldn't change anything. So, no, a few more of us going on the dole isn't going to worry "them" any more than a few extra thousand not voting at election times.

It is a nice idea that maybe everyone individually will just give up work to go and lie in a field, but it's a bit unlikely isn't it? Capitalism only finds itself under threat when its workers stop working and profit-making is prevented, this will only happen when the actual employees halt the production/profit process. This is happening every day around the world, if we really want communism then we have to understand that it is from these real actions (not day-dreams) that the revolution will be born.