Beyond Workerism

“I support workers' rights” is a common phrase I hear from radlibs; it implies a modern liberal understanding of workers as a marginalized group that the state should protect through civil rights and economic regulation in terms of things like higher wages, better working conditions, the right to unionize, etc. This collection of articles critiques that stance from various revolutionary perspectives.

“Workerism is a form of capitalist ideology that is endemic amongst self-defined revolutionaries.

It is an ideology that encourages the acceptance of, and propaganda for wage-labour, amongst individuals who have realised the exploitation and alienation that wage-labour entails. It is thus one of the highest forms of alienation.

Worship of the worker is found in various state ideologies, such as Stalinism and Nazism. Workers are honoured for their role as builders of the nation, the economy, capital.

Workerism is not an ideology that praises all wage labour, but one that promotes only 'productive' labour. It in fact vilifies office workers and service industry workers and praises only those who are most closely involved in the reproduction of capital.

Workerism worships manual labour, the 'work with hammers'. Its vision of the proletarian is of the muscle-bound male. In rejecting office and shop work, it rejects a large part of female wage-workers, revealing itself as sexist.

Workerism has been present in the workers' movement from the beginning. The earliest workers societies were Christian inspired, and praised diligence thrift and hard work. These moralistic ideas linger on in workerism, which is a remaining bastion of Christian ideology within the working class.”

“Workerism” by Antagonism

“My first encounter with an explicit anti-work position came from fellow Chican@ friends who I had met in 2001. They were heavily-influenced by the French communist theorist Guy Debord and the Situationist International. In 1953, a young Guy Debord painted on a Parisian 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 (who as a youth looks forward to a lifetime of work ahead of them?). Previously, all the anarchist literature I had read on work concerned themselves with how wage labor was theft of our time, our labor-power, our created wealth and that the solution was not the abolition of work per se but worker self-management.

Anti-work was a scandalous position growing up in a Mexican household where what was prized was the opportunity to find well-paying work, as well as a hearty work ethic. Though the starting point for Guy Debord’s opposition to a world of work was not a beatnik, bohemian-lifestyle refusal common to the 1950s, rather it was a rejection of the bleariness of life under capitalism and part of a whole project to overthrow the capitalist totality he coined as the Spectacle. The aim was not just to make life bearable, but also to return joy into our daily lives.

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 or in Gilles Dauve’s 'Eclipse & Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement' (1970) where Dauvé clarifies what the abolition of work means: 'what we want is the abolition of work as an activity separate from the rest of life.' He further explains that the issue at hand is not whether we are active or not, but rather that under capitalism what we do is abstracted into two spheres, both alienated: work-time and leisure-time. This (anti-state) communist critique of work highlights that the liberation from Capital is not the liberation of labor but the liberation from labor. Currently it is broadly assumed that only those activities which are paid a wage have some social worth and that only those things which are productive, in the capitalist sense, are necessary to human life.”

“But We Have To So We Do It Real Slow…: On Anti-Work, Mexican(-American)s and Work (Revised)” by Noche

“The historical inheritance can be found today: while the professional leftists praise the new labor movement they simultaneously decry 'crime waves,' including the uptick of decentralized mass lootings across the United States in the lead up to Black Friday 2021. This attempt to distinguish labor from the 'criminal' elements of the proletariat reveals the gap between the growing surplus population and the unionizing workforce as a racialized exclusion—the construction of a 'virtuous' labor movement is only possible through the banishment and dejection of the 'black underclass.' The 'service sector'—the only sector of the economy to experience any meaningful employment growth since the Great Recession—is disproportionately racialized and feminized. It also remains the center of recent unionization efforts. Yet, by valorizing only 'formal' worker organization and treating the 'working class' as a moral rather than objective category, this level of concrete differentiation and class experience is thrown aside and erased in the pursuit of building a unified 'working class' identity that is mediated only by acting through the 'appropriate' channels of struggle. Though union bureaucrats and professional leftists might be too careful and trained in DEI to explicitly deploy racial animus (can’t lose those journalism contracts and paid positions), they still appeal to a 'class unity' that in actual practice is achieved through racialization and heteropatriarchy, contrasting and opposing it to 'criminality,' anarchy, and destitution and thereby breathing new life into the ideological conflict between 'undeserving' and 'deserving' poor.'”

“Re-emergence and Eclipse of the Proletariat” by disaffected communists

“There is no such thing as freed labour. There is no such thing as integrated labour (manual-intellectual). What does exist is the division of labour and the sale of the workforce, i.e. the capitalist world of production. The revolution is the negation of labour and the affirmation of joy. Any attempt to impose the idea of work, ‘fair work’, work without exploitation, ‘self-managed’ work where the exploited are to re-appropriate themselves of the whole of the productive process without exploitation, is a mystification.

The concept of the self-management of production is valid only as a form of struggle against capitalism, in fact it cannot be separated from the idea of the self-management of the struggle. If the struggle is extinguished, self-management becomes nothing other than self-management of one’s exploitation. If the struggle is victorious the self-management of production becomes superfluous, because after the revolution the organisation of production is superfluous and counter-revolutionary.”

Armed Joy by Alfredo M. Bonanno

"Today, everything is identity, including class. To rewrite Stuart Hall, we can say that identity is the modality through which class is lived. Intersectionality stands as the cipher of this conundrum, an inability to theoretically and politically deal with and overcome this (unity-in-) separation. The proletariat is fragmented, split up and unable to form a movement. Class composition is decomposition today. And it is very difficult to mobilize the disgruntled mass as anything other than a racist mob."/p>

"Fascist Spectacle" by Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen