(Original link here (now dead)! I’d like to give my many thanks to Jason for his improvements and encouragement!)
When a given structure, institution, activity, or social pattern makes up a lot of our lives as individuals, it demands our attention as individualist anarchists.
Work is one such thing that takes up most of our lives and thus demands our attention.
By “work” I don’t mean giving effort or receiving payment for a product that you have made for someone else.
When I say “work” I mean work in the same sense that the post-left anarchist Bob Black says in his essay, “The Abolition of Work“:
“Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick.”
Some may quibble with my use of the word “enforced,” but this just refers to the limited options that we have under state-capitalism. Most workers (especially low-skilled workers) have little choice in where they work, and thus inevitably find themselves under a boss.
Of course, it is possible for one to build skills and become more independent. Even then, though, there are plenty of government created costs to deal with, laws to go through, licenses to obtain and so on. It’s certainly not as easy of a process as it would be if this government intervention were eliminated and top-down corporations did not play such a central role in society.
The individualist anarchist may first notice in this situation that the individual is crushed not only by the political arrangements but the systematic and institutional arrangements of work. Whether you are in retail, the food industry – or even in the upper echelon of a big corporation – it remains true that the individual is crushed.
This is chiefly because of how the individual is both treated and seen.
By now it may be regarded as an overstated sentiment but within the context of corporate culture one is treated as a cog in the machine. None of the individuals are important in of themselves but only insofar as their roles are concerned in relation to the corporation.
The solution to all of these problems and more relies on not just abolishing the state and capitalism but abolishing work as well.
Some may object, saying that work in of itself is not harmful and that it is just the way that work is structured by interference in the market place. While this is partly true, it is also a matter of splitting hairs.
As Bob Black says, to define work is to despise it. You cannot get around the fact that work, as both a systematic and institutional arrangement is primarily arranged for the benefit of a small class of people against the individuals at the bottom.
Sure, you could restructure work in some sense; maybe make it more fun like Google does for its employees. But this is just work with a nice mask on.
To paraphrase Cody Wilson, it’s just a more comforting whistle we can do while oppression is going on. Because when we look at these “nicer” relations we still see individuals subjugated to ends that are largely not their own and that they have no real investment or say in.
The trick here is that Google wants to blur the line between our lives outside of work and inside it. For both the individualist anarchist and the anti-work proponent there should be nothing more insidious and potentially destructive than this. For it assures the individual that they are not in a environment that they have little control over.
But the individualist anarchist must resist these scenarios. Whether it is the state with a nicer face (social democracy), capitalism with a nicer face (liberalism) or work with a nicer face (Google and the like). These are all just masks that these institutions and systems put on to make us as individuals feel as if we are not grossly disempowered under current circumstances.
And as anarchists we should know better. We know that the individual will not be respected in situations where their autonomy is not taken seriously. If individuals have contracts they cannot renegotiate reliably or relations they do not have as much of a say in as the other person does then how can their individual autonomy said to be respected?
To be clear, Google isn’t trying to lighten their workers load. They are trying to blur the distinctions between working for them and living. I think this idea of fusing our identity to the corporation should concern any libertarian with similar fears about tying our identity to the nation state.
So what can be done to oppose work?
Individualist anarchists should be sympathetic to radical labor unions like the Industrial Workers of the World and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, but also be willing to break with unions when necessary. Slowing down on the job, working to rule, calling out sick and so on can all be done individually as well as collectively.
But typically these tactics are going to be to useful to only ameliorate conditions in a given workplace.
In the long run we need to work on building alternative institutions filled with productive-play and autonomous activity that is chosen not out of necessity or via governmental restrictions but the individual’s free action. Cooperatives and independent contracting associations are two good examples of this.
Most important to realize is that there are no panaceas here. Personally, I try to live cheaply, share costs with others and use technology as a few of my methods to minimize and outright avoid work. But I don’t claim these things will work for everyone.
Choose what works for you and try to take the day off for once.
We could all use a little time off for the coming revolution.