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Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain (1991) - Article - Employment and the “Right to be Lazy”

Karl Marx inspired 9,000 Euros ‘Free cash’” screamed a banner head-line to an article in THE TIMES (28th January 2017). However, it was Paul Lafargue, Marx‘s son-in-law, the article was referring to. In 1883, Lafargue wrote a pamphlet, “THE RIGHT TO BE LAZY” and his ideas have apparently been embraced by Benoit Hamon, the mis-named “Socialist” Party’s presidential candidate.

According to the article, Mr Hamon claimed that:

…automation will destroy 10 per cent of all jobs in France over the next eight years, propelling the country towards a post-work era”.

Hamon went on to say that France’s “jobs-for-life” culture, based on labour laws that protect workers against dismissal, will collapse in a digital economy. In the future, he went on to say, people will become only partially employed, if at all. His solution is to pay everyone 900 euros a year as a means to top-up falling wages for those temporary or permanently out of work.

Why the tenuous link in THE TIMES between Marx, Lafargue’s pamphlet, the French “Socialist” Party and Mr Hamon? It is nothing more than a nasty little political smear by misleadingly associating the revolutionary socialist Karl Marx with Hamon’s reformist politics.

There is, of course, no link at all between Marx and Hamon. Marx wanted the working class to abolish capitalism, something both the French “Socialist” Party and Mr Hamon actively want to retain. And Paul Lafargue’s pamphlet was a satire on the call for a “right” to employment not a policy for future politicians to use in the administration of capitalism and its economic and social problems. A “post-truth” culture” with “alternative facts” does not only exist in the White House.

(For the SPGB’s position on the universal basic income see the on-line article at: http://www.socialiststudies.org.uk/article%20ubi.shtml)

In fact, Lafargue did not argue for a universal basic income. Instead, he satirised the “right” to employment. Why should workers want to be employed? Employment is nothing more than wage slavery and class exploitation. And, unlike the opportunists, such as the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party, with their litany of “transitional demands”, there can never be a “right” to employment under capitalism.

Workers are only employed if it is profitable for capitalists to employ them. And the political opportunists know this only too well. It is a tactic to gain the support of angry non-socialist workers. And as a tactic it has been an unmitigated disaster.

First, there was the SWP’s “Right to Work March” outside the Brighton Conference Centre during the Conservative Party Conference in October 1980 which came to nothing. What members they gained the SWP quickly lost. Unemployment kept on rising.

Second, a more recent “right to work” demonstration was called by the “Socialist” Party in 2011. The demonstration was to mimic the 75th anniversary of the event of October 1936 when thousands of unemployed workers marched from Jarrow to London. The Socialist Party- organised march, under the slogan “Youth Fights for Jobs”, consisted of a few hundred marchers calling for a litany of social reforms that could never be met under capitalism. Their reward for days of marching, if you can call it a reward, was to be harangued at by Socialist Party leaders at a rally in Temple Embankment. Such is the dire and futile opportunism of the Trotskyists.

Lafargue did not mean that men and women would opt for laziness rather than work in a socialist society. In socialism there would still be the need to work even if it meant just the administration of things for useful social ends. Lafargue did not believe the entire working population in a socialist society would just lie asleep in hammocks all day long to be gently blown in the wind. And neither do socialists.

Work would still be necessary in socialism. However work in socialism would be voluntary and co-operative not compulsory as it is under capitalism. Work would take place to ensure enough was produced so that people could flourish and lead worthwhile and creative lives.

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