Drive Like Jehu, Review Like Jehu (A Brief Response)

I’m very witty, I know…

It’s easy to feel like your previous works were a mistake and especially if they were done when you were a different person. Right down to my name and pronouns I’m not the person I was when I came out with a book I edited called Abolish Work, released by Little Black Cart. There are some things I used to believe that I don’t hold as strongly or don’t hold to at all anymore and there are connections in that book that are long gone.

But thankfully most of that doesn’t stop me from loving this collection and many of the authors involved. Looking back at this book again, I appreciated the variety of experiences and ideas gathered from various perspectives. I got together social anarchists, individualist anarchists and a few non-anarchists. Most notably, John Danaher who is included at length.

Part of the reason I included Danaher was because I found his essay Should We Abolish Work? (look at the visible inclusion of a book by Lenin in the picture, doesn’t seem Danaher is reticent to include Marxism in a discussion as Jehu claims) to be particularly striking. I didn’t agree with all of it (see here) but I found it to be a helpful inclusion to the anti-work collection.

A fellow from the past, Jehu, takes issue with the essay, here.

Now, here’s the part where I get all defensive and tell Jehu he’s full of shit or whatever I’m supposed to do. But I’m not going to do that. Jehu makes a some good points about Danaher (and if he really wants to talk to Danaher, he’s on Twitter, here), not to mention the entire collection, and really, it’s only worth addressing a few things in particular.

So, here’s that:

To be honest, almost no one spends their time outside of labor doing research, composing music or innovating.

Very true! But this doesn’t take into consideration the fact that folks often don’t spend that time like this because they’re burnt out from work. And for the folks who aren’t burnt out from work there are many barriers to entry so that the capitalist/ruling class can provide a monopoly on goods and services. It’s not like the working class has seized the means of production.

Many people who aren’t burnt out from work may also feel there’s no need to innovate or research, etc. Either because they are not personal interests of theirs or because they consider capitalism a functioning system that meets their needs in adequate ways. Therefore, little innovation happens for both practical and ideological reasoning.

Of course, Danaher is almost exclusively referring to wage labor in this passage, yet he is reticent to employ the term. Perhaps, this is because of the term’s historical association with Marxist theory. (The term is actually mentioned only four times in the entire book.)

One thing Jehu’s review made me realize was that I’m so proud of the collection for having very little to do with Marxist thought. I didn’t do it consciously but most folks in the collection were individualist anarchists or non-anarchists. Only a few could be described as social anarchists and there’s only a handful of references to Marx by name, if that.

But, and this is important, none of this is because I hate Marxist theory or I think it shouldn’t be involved in a series about anti-work. I definitely don’t feel that way and in retrospect wish we had included more Marxist-friendly pieces in the collection. So it’s a thing I admire in the collection but I also wish I had done a little better with. In any case, this is a fair point.

Though on the other hand, anti-work theory has been so dominated by Marxist theory that, it’s pretty cool (and rare!) to see an anti-work collection that doesn’t mention Marxism every other paragraph.

Again, that wasn’t a conscious choice on my part (at least not one I remember) but it’s one I appreciate about the collection. It’s staunchly individualist in many (though not all) places and apathetic to Marxism or slightly sympathetic at best (mostly through Carson and E. Kerr).

Lastly, it’s good to keep in mind the publisher. I was sending this book to an egoist and nihilist publisher. Two strains of thought within anarchism that are not the biggest fans of Marxism, historically speaking. And hey, Marxists typically don’t like egoists either (c.f. Marx and Stirner’s beef). So perhaps Jehu can see how it would be difficult to include some hot Marxist takes.

Yet — and this is the most astonishing thing about this volume — the absolute dependence of wage labor today on state expenditures is never mentioned even once!

Okay, here’s the tough part, here’s where I gotta be a little mean.

I’m not sure Jehu read the book.

From the foreword by David S. D’Amato:

Were efficiency … its goal, work would at least appear very different from the bloated, wasteful monstrosity of the existing corporate economy, so dependent on the very kinds of compulsions that advocates of “free-trade” purport to hate.

p. V

And these:

This is why I think that reduction of work hours, could only benefit industrialists and their political friends, in short, the blackmailers.

In case we haven’t been clear, technological innovations are prepared by our blackmailers to give us the illusion that they make our lives better.

Of course, our blackmailers and their henchmen, reject this sort of criticism.

When the English parliament passed the first law limiting the length of the workday (the Factory Act) in 1848, it did so in order to put an end to worker’s agitation that threatened civil war. …As Marx had to say “[the working class] was struck by a deprivation of rights and placed under the law of suspicion.”

E. Kerr p. 35, 36, 37,38

And here:

It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers … for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. …If somebody had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job.

Graeber, 45

Also here:

Politicians boast of getting “tough on dependency culture” and when they talk of “clamping down” on the “hardcore unemployed”, you’d think they were referring to criminals.

[T]he moral framing of work as a virtue in its own right continues to serve the interests of big business and conservative politics.

Dean, 49, 52

I could keep going* but this is just in the first 50 pages.

Maybe these don’t meet Jehu’s criteria because they don’t all explicitly mention “wage labor” but for me, they work fine. The point in all of these quotes is to show the intersection between capitalist oppression and political oppression (e.g. laws derived from politicians). If it doesn’t work exactly as Jehu wants it to, I’m OK with that. It satisfied me.

Also, it’s worth noting that this is not an explicitly anarchist collection of writings. Danaher is not an anarchist and he is featured heavily, the On Your Last Day of Work section is taken from various authors, not all of whom are anarchists. And besides that, Brian Dean and Serena Ragia’s specific politics was unknown to me at the time of publishing (and still are, besides being radical). Obviously there’s a big anarchist bent in this collection and I won’t deny that and the publishers are anarchist. Most authors are anarchists or would consider themselves in good company.

My point being, this book isn’t necessarily about anarchism and anti-work, it’s much more about establishing the latter, then the former. I don’t think a single essay in this collection is trying to convince anyone of anarchism or that government is inherently evil (which isn’t all anarchism has to say, anarchism can’t be reduced to mere anti-statism), etc. It’s just treated as a byproduct of anti-work theory, when it’s mentioned at all.

And, not for nothing, but when it’s not mentioned, it’s often by anarchist communists like Graeber, Brown, MayMay and non-anarchists/not necessarily anarchists like Danaher and Dean. But that’s because some of these essays don’t have the space to bring it up. Either because they are too short and informal or because they’re centered on a very narrow topic like play or personal experiences they’ve had with jobs of their own. They aren’t political treatises or theoretical underpinnings, just personal stories.

But OK, I’ve rambled enough. I appreciate Jehu giving this collection a look-see and if you (the audience, not Jehu) want the book, just email me or comment below. I’ll give you a free PDF version.

Also, I’m not sorry about the title, I had to make a Drive Like Jehu reference!

*Carson: 58, 61; Ragia: 78; Carson: 163, 164, 165, 166, 167; Ford: 213, 242

2 thoughts on “Drive Like Jehu, Review Like Jehu (A Brief Response)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *