The Right to be Lazy (On this Site): Chapter IV, New Songs to New Music

Paul LaFargue (Being middle-aged and lazy)

First off, I really like the title to this chapter. It invokes Spring and a certain freeness to me. The ability to structure not only new things but things in a new context to support these new things. It’s just a nice phrase in general, really.

Lafargue builds off his latest conclusions that giving the laborer more time to themselves will not only be better for them but will also give the capitalist and their machines better output per hours. On top of this LaFargue seems to think that strict laws are requires to instill the former non-producers to work once the labor market is overflowed with the failing capitalist class. According to LaFargue:

It will be impossible to find employment for that swarm of former unproductives, more numerous than insect parasites, and after them must be considered all those who provide for their needs and their vain and expensive tastes. When there are no more lackeys and generals to decorate, no more free and married prostitutes to be covered with laces, no more cannons to bore, no more palaces to build, there will be need of severe laws to compel the working women and working men who have been employed on embroidered laces, iron workings, buildings, to take the hygienic and calisthenic exercises requisite to re-establish their health and improve their race. When once we begin to consume European products at home instead of sending them to the devil, it will be necessary that the sailors, dock handlers and the draymen sit down and learn to twirl their thumbs. The happy Polynesians may then love as they like without fearing the civilized Venus and the sermons of European moralists.

I feel mixed on critiquing aristocratic leisure. On one hand it is certainly right for their leisure depends on others hard work to some extent of course. But at the same time we should be careful not to condemn these people to the same fates they would have us suffer. It doesn’t seem right, fair or particularly consistent (so maybe I am a “moralist” now, oh well) to impose the situation we once dreaded on them.

Now, to be fair(ish) to LaFargue the “limits of work” he is talking about is four hours in a given day. He isn’t talking about having the former non-productive class becoming workers who uselessly toil for twelve to sixteen hours. He is just saying that they should join the rest of the labor force in working a minimum amount of hours a week. And that, given their history, this joining should be done by the state.

I don’t really see this as practical. I don’t see how the capitalist class would fail to begin with just because the worker has more time to themselves. We know typically have eight hours in a given job (there are plenty of exceptions of course on either an individual basis or something else) and in many ways the capitalist class seems to have just restructured itself according to modern technology. It doesn’t seem as if many capitalists are really sweating the current work situations in many industries. This is especially true in the software industry and people in the Silicon Valley who tend to over-work themselves constantly for that next best technological product on little money and little benefits or sometimes a lot of money but no real benefits.

So in the end it doesn’t seem like the capitalists in the end (or the state for that matter) really go away once we give workers more time to themselves. It would seem to me like it would take a lot more.

But let’s assume for some reason that improving the amount of work that workers have for themselves really helps dissolve the non-productive class/capitalist class, etc.

Well, why would the state allow this?

Are we just presuming that the state would be under worker control somehow?

Also does anyone else think that “…sending them to the devil.” sounds a bit…uh…racist? Or at the very least really culturally insensitive? Maybe that’s just me. I mean I call my best buddies the devil so what do I know, right?

Moving on though the next small section is really interesting and I thought I had noticed it before but was too uncertain to comment but now I know I saw it:

 In order to find work for all the non-producers of our present society, in order to leave room for the industrial equipment to go on developing indefinitely, the working class will be compelled, like the capitalist class, to do violence to its taste for abstinence and to develop indefinitely its consuming capacities.

It sounds like LaFargue is (and I could be wrong here) advocating consumerism?

That would certainly seem to be a connotation I get from this. That basically the more of our products we gorge ourselves on we will enjoy them all the more if they are ours and if we have plenty of time to create them to begin with. The Pope will drink less modestly and with better wine and the proletarian will eat much more juicy meat are two examples that LaFargue gives. I am not sure if consumerism is the right word here. Perhaps it is just a hedonism about the things we produce for ourselves and not a per se’ emphasis on consuming the things themselves? I am not entirely sure. Still, I find this fairly interesting and cool of LaFargue to argue for.

The next part seems to contradict what LaFargue said earlier:

The proletarians have taken into their heads to inflict upon the capitalists ten hours of forge and factory; that is their great mistake, because of social antagonisms and civil wars. Work ought to be forbidden and not imposed.

But what about the strict laws that would compel capitalists to work? Is work to just not be imposed upon the proletarian and instead be imposed only on the capitalists…by the state? In fact this whole scenario that LaFargue outlines is patently ridiculous. I must ask again: Why would the state do any of these things? Why would citizens just give up their tax money to people who were just vagabonds? Perhaps, like in The Dispossessed they would run around town to town and trade stories and laughter and joy for money and shelter. But somehow I don’t see all non-productive people able to do that. And some non-productive people are non-productive not by choice but because of disabillities of some kind. What should be done about them? Thus far LaFargue is silent on the matter and just keeps assuming that the capitalists are the only ones we should be concerning ourselves with. What about the sick, the elderly or the too young?

There’s just too many questions left unanswered for me to feel very satisfied with his answers. He seems to treat the state as if it is totally separate from the capitalist class and could somehow be corralled into whatever the public wanted. But what evidence do we have of this? He has given evidence that certain manufacturers have implemented certain policies within their factories and this has affected a national policy or two. But this just reinforces my point about the capitalist and political class being way more tied together then the worker movements (which he cites himself) which were brutally put down by state forces by and large. It just doesn’t seem like history (and even the history LaFargue cites) are on his side.

The next section is uh…a bit brutal. I don’t know how else to say it.

Just look:

But vengeance, harsh and prolonged, will be heaped upon the moralists who have perverted nature. The bigots, the canters, the hypocrites, +and other such sects of men who disguise themselves like maskers to deceive the world.

 the members of the Academy, of moral and political sciences, the priests with long robes and short, of the economic, catholic, protestant, jewish, positivist and free-thought church; the propagandists of Malthusianism, and of Christian, altruistic, independent or dependent ethics, clothed in yellow, shall be compelled to hold a candle until it bums their fingers, shall starve in sight of tables loaded with meats, fruits and flowers and shall agonize with thirst in sight of flowing hogsheads. Four times a year with the changing seasons they shall be shut up like the knife grinders’ dogs in great wheels and condemned to grind wind for ten hours.

LaFargue? Buddy? …Are you gonna be okay? Do we need to talk?

I don’t even really know how to respond to this. Like…yikes. I knew LaFargue was a communist and communists often (I say often, not always) are not known for their…ahem…peaceful methods. But geez dude. Is that really necessary? There’s no other way to integrate society into a better whole then just employing mass hunger on one section of society that used to be oppressing you? You don’t do well with grudges, do you?

It seems like for all of his talk for “the right to be lazy” LaFargue resents the capitalist class (whether they are in power or not) enough to use violence on them…but it doesn’t seem necessary! I mean, they’re already disempowered and supposedly (we’ll ignore the logistics of this) the state supports the public. So why employ violence or hunger or starvation on to the now- former capitalist class? What good does this do any of us? I just don’t think it does us any good, really. What are we getting out of this besides some vague notion of justice that is fueled by vengeance? It doesn’t look like much to me.

I know I didn’t live in LaFargue’s time so obviously to some extent it’s a bit difficult for me to empathize with his feelings here. In part though even if I could somehow make Bill Gates or Obama or someone else suffer I don’t think I would. I don’t know why I would. What would be the point? If we, as a society are in such a position of power that we can make the former oppressors suffer like that then we’ve already won. Let’s be the better people here and not utilize those same powers they did to those whom we love and made them suffer.

The rest of this chapter is just…useless honestly. It’s just more about how the non-producers are going to pay (who cares? what does this do for us exactly while we starve?) and a silly play (The Theft of the Nation’s Goods) that LaFargue puts on that shows the death of capitalism and the rise of Destiny or whatever. It’s pretty much total tripe because the way LaFargue sees this is totally unrealistic to me and the descriptions of it are just tainted with the inevitable brutality that accompanies LaFargue’s passion here. It’s a shame too because some of the descriptions or ideas here seem generally speaking like decent ones. But they just get outweighed by the previous paragraphs being so base-line objectionable in my book. It’s hard for me to recover and find much to salvage in this chapter after that stunning declaration of supposedly necessary blood and compulsory labor after telling us that laziness is a “right” we should have.

I don’t want to rise for the “right to work” or the “rights of man” as told to me by capitalists (I agree with LaFargue that these are undesirable things) but nor am I going to rise for the “right to be lazy” if that means appealing to the state or trying to get this machine of violence, destruction and a machine that is very much joint at the hip with the capitalist class.

Thanks but no thanks, LaFargue.

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