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A Few Clarifications on Anti-Work (Astarian, 2016)

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by Bruno Astarian, Dec 2016, hic-salta

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The text below is a translation of my post Quelques précisions sur l’anti-travail initially published online by ediciones ineditos . This translation included several errors, some of them having me stating the opposite of what was meant. The translation below has been corrected accordingly, and is thus the only one being valid. 

For an episode of its program “Getting Out of Capitalism,” Radio Libertaire asked me to do a presentation on anti-work, based on the pamphlet I published with Echanges et Mouvement in 2005. Upon re-reading it, I realized that there was a need to correct or clarify certain points of view expressed at the time. A few paragraphs in italics are reproduced without any change from the 2005 brochure.

Introduction:

There is some confusion about the notion of anti-work. My brochure, “On the Origins of Anti-Work” (Echanges et Mouvement, 2005), did not escape this fate. The confusion arises from a lack of precision in defining the notion of anti-work. On the one hand, it groups in the same category as anti-work certain behaviors such as a worker’s laziness, when he or she tries normally to do the least amount of work, or a preference for (compensated) unemployment or living on the margin. Such practices of refusal of work, of resistance, are as old as the proletariat itself and do not define modern anti-work. On the other hand, the confusion lies in classifying as anti-work forms of resistance to exploitation that are in actual fact pro-work, e.g. Luddism. I believe that we should save the term anti-work for the struggles of our time (since ’68) which demonstrate that the proletariat is no longer the class that will affirm itself in the revolution as the class of hegemonic labor, nor is it the class that will make work mandatory for everyone or replace the bourgeoisie in managing the economy.

To better understand the specificity of the term anti-work, it has to be placed in a historical perspective. It should be noted that what we are interested in here are struggles in the workplace, against the usual characteristics of the relationship between workers and their means of labor (absenteeism, sabotage, lack of discipline in general).

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But we have to, so we do it real slow

by L.A. ONDA

In Los Angeles to be against Capital typically presents itself in a pro-work / worker position. The problem is never work itself, the nature of work or that work is waged but instead what is desired is extending a sphere of work that is unionized and bolstered with higher wages. Take for instance the CLEAN Carwash campaign, where carwash workers (whom are mostly immigrant men) have been unionized under the representation of United Steelworkers Local 675. Though this move one is that brings much needed betterment of working conditions and wages for these workers, what is ultimately not brought up is that the work of a car wash workers can and has already been automated. But of course the fading labour movement is not concerned with the overthrow of capitalism and abolition of work at all. That dream is a dream that has been lost along with the labour movement.

The expression of an anti-work position has either been minoritarian or unheard of. In a city where working conditions for immigrants can be well below the legal standards set forth by the State and the Federal Government, the push for more protections and rights within the workplace takes on precedence. An anti-work affect (rather than a bonafide position) among Mexican immigrants and / or Mexican-Americans is usually to be found in cultural forms and do not often take on explicit anti-political, or anti-capitalist forms. Whereas the playful and tongue-in-cheek cultural forms are plentiful, the other mentioned forms are few and far in between.

antiwork

ANTI-WORK / ANTI-CAPITALIST : AN INTRODUCTION

My first encounter with an explicit anti-work position came from Chican@ friends who I had met in 2001 who were heavily-influenced by the French Marxist theorist Guy Debord and the Situationist International. In 1953, a young Guy Debord painted on a wall on the Rue de Seine « NE TRAVAILLEZ JAMAIS » (tr. Never Work). A statement that was difficult for me to understand conceptually at the time but which I immediately gravitated towards. Hitherto, all the anarchist literature I had read on work concerned themselves with how wage labor was theft of our time & of our labor power and that the solution was not the abolition of work per se but worker self-management. [Think of all the nostalgia that some Left-Anarchists have for the revolution lost by the anarcho-syndicalists during the Spanish Civil War.]

Growing up in a Mexican household where what was prized was the opportunity to find well-paying work and as well as reverence of a hearty work ethic, this was a scandalous position. Though the starting point for Guy Debord opposition to a world of work was not a beatnik, bohemian lifestyle refusal common to the 1950s but rather a rejection of the bleariness of life under capitalism and part of a whole project to overthrow The Spectacle and make life a joyous affair once again.

The critique of work can be found elsewhere throughout history including Paul Lafargue’s “The Right to be Lazy”(1883) written by Karl Marx’s son-in-law, in the notorious post-left Anarchist Bob Black’s “The Abolition of Work”(1985) and Gille Dauve’s “Eclipse & Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement” (1970) where he clarifies what the abolition of work could mean and says “what we want is the abolition of work as an activity separate from the rest of life.” He later would explain that the issue at hand is not that we do or not do things, but that under capitalism what we do is often made confused by wage labor. We assume only those things paid a wage have value and that only those things which are productive are necessary to human life.

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