Monday, May 02, 2022

The Nature of Work


Marx wrote about the increasing misery of the working class. By this he did not mean, as some who have tried to refute him have suggested, that wages would fall lower and lower, material conditions ever more harsh. Marx was right: the quality of living under capitalism becomes ever-more impoverished.

There is no point in work 

unless it absorbs you like 

an absorbing game.


If it doesn't absorb you 

if it's never any fun,

don't do it.


When a man goes out into his work 

he is alive like a tree in spring, he is 

living, not merely working.

                               (Work, D.H. Lawrence)

Work under capitalism is a drudge for the vast majority, an activity forced upon us rather than entered into voluntarily. Philip Larkin's poem, Toads describes more accurately the attitude of the majority towards their work;

Why should I let the toad work 

Squat on my life?

Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork 

And drive the brute off?


Six days of the week it soils 

With its sickening poison —

Just for paying a few bills!


Ah, were I courageous enough 

To shout Stuff your Pension!

But I know, all too well, that's the stuff 

That dreams are made on.


The narrator of Three Men in a Boat, is fascinated by work. He says he can sit and look at it for hours. If Jerome K. Jerome had ever met a socialist he might very well be one of those people who object to a wageless, money-free society on the grounds that no one would work at all if coercion were removed. This is of course a fallacious argument: when the clock-watching stops and people are free to do what they choose, nothing becomes too much trouble. When a majority of the working class understand and want socialism, it is hardly likely that everyone will sit on their backsides and do nothing.

Forty hours tied to work he hates.

Unable to undo his fate.

Locked inside those iron gates 

Stocking up his hate.


Blue skies, hot summer days 

Filter through the industrial haze.

The poor automaton can only gaze 

Perplexed by ultra violet rays.


Five days, eight hours.

The sentence is complete.

Alas, money is small recompense 

For labour so mis-spent.

                (Forty Hours in a Birmingham Factory, C. Mulchrone)

It is a misconception that only those engaged in manual or productive labour are "working class”. How many men could match the work-rate of a mother or housewife? We belong, the majority of us, to the working class because we are denied free access to the means of production and distribution. We produce, but we do not own; our whole life-style is conditioned by the need to sell our labour power to a minority class in order to live.

Work is an integral part of human existence, but only in socialism will it become part of the realisation of human potential. To achieve fulfilment, work for socialism.

No comments: