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THE REVOLUTION OF EVERYDAY LIFE - VANEIGEM
The Decline and Fall of Work - Page 24

Perhaps man realizes himself in his forced labour? In the nineteenth century the concept of work retained a vestige of the notion of creativity. Zola describes a nailsmiths' contest in which the workers competed in the perfection of their tiny masterpiece. Love of the trade and the vitality of an already smothered creativity incontestably helped man to bear ten or fifteen hours which nobody could have stood if some kind of pleasure had not slipped into it. The survival of the craft conception allowed each worker to contrive a precarious comfort in the hell of the factory. But Taylorism dealt the death-blow to a mentality which had been carefully fostered by archaic capitalism. It is useless to expect even a caricature of creativity from the conveyor-belt. Nowadays ambition and the love of the job well done are the indelible mark of defeat and the most mindless submission. Which is why, wherever submission is demanded, the old ideological fart wends its way, from the Arbeit Macht Frei of the concentration camps to the homilies of Henry Ford and Mao Tse-tung.

So what is the function of forced labour? The myth of power exercised jointly by the master and God drew its coercive force from the unity of the feudal system. Destroying the unitary myth, the power of the bourgeoisie inaugurated, under the flag of crisis, the reign of ideologies, which can never attain, separately or together, a fraction of the efficacy of myth. The dictatorship of productive work stepped into the breech. It's mission is physically to weaken the majority of men, collectively to castrate and stupefy them in order to make them receptive to the least pregnant, least virile, most senile ideologies in the entire history of falsehood.

Most of the proletariat at the beginning of the nineteenth century had been physically enervated, systematically broken by the torture of the workshop. Revolts came from artisans, from privileged or unemployed groups, not from workers shattered by fifteen hours of labour. Isn't it disturbing that the reduction of working time came just when the spectacular ideological miscellany produced by consumer society was beginning effectively to replace the feudal myths destroyed by the young bourgeoisie? (People really have worked for a refrigerator, a car, a television set. Many still do, 'invited' as they are to consume the passivity and empty time that the 'necessity' of production 'offers' them.)

Statistics published in 1938 indicated that the use of the most modern technology then available would reduce necessary working time to three hours a day. Not only are we a long way off with our seven hours, but after wearing out generations of workers by promising them the happiness which is sold today on the installment plan, the bourgeoisie (and its Soviet equivalent) pursue man's destruction outside the workshop. Tomorrow they will deck out their five hours of necessary wear and tear with a time of 'creativity' which will grow just as fast as they can fill it with the impossibility of creating anything (the famous 'leisure explosion').

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