This is a typed-in version of Bob Black's 1985 essay, "The Abolition of Work", which appeared in his anthology of essays, "The Abolition of Work and Other Essays", published by Loompanics Unlimited, Port Townsend WA 98368 (ISBN 0-915179-41-5). The following disclaimer is reproduced from the verso of the title page: "Not Copyrighted. Any of the material in this book may be freely reproduced, translated or adapted, even without mentioning the source." Italicised material appears between asterisks. Typos are my own. Typed in by Kurt Cockrum, noted armchair theorist, anarcho-hedonist dilettante, curmudgeon-philosopher-king of himself and bon vivant, in the Summer of 1992, in the Duwamish River watershed of Cascadia bioregion.
THE ABOLITION OF WORK
by Bob Black
(presented here in five sections, of which this is the cardinal
No one should ever work.
Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any
evil you'd care to name comes from working or from living in a world
designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop
That doesn't mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean
creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic
conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to
play than child's play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective
adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance.
Play isn't passive. Doubtless we all need a lot more time for sheer
sloth and slack than we ever enjoy now, regardless of income or
occupation, but once recovered from employment-induced
exhaustion nearly all of us want to act. Oblomovism and
Stakhanovism are two sides of the same debased coin.
The ludic life is totally incompatible with existing reality. So much the
worse for "reality," the gravity hole that sucks the vitality from the
little in life that still distinguishes it from mere survival. Curiously -- or
maybe not -- all the old ideologies are conservative because they
believe in work. Some of them, like Marxism and most brands of
anarchism, believe in work all the more fiercely because they
believe in so little else.
Liberals say we should end employment discrimination. I say we
should end employment. Conservatives support right-to-work laws.
Following Karl Marx's wayward son-in-law Paul Lafargue I support
the right to be lazy. Leftists favor full employment. Like the
surrealists -- except that I'm not kidding -- I favor full unemployment.
Trotskyists agitate for permanent revolution. I agitate for permanent
revelry. But if all the ideologues (as they do) advocate work -- and
not only because they plan to make other people do theirs -- they
are strangely reluctant to say so. They will carry on endlessly about
wages, hours, working conditions, exploitation, productivity,
profitability. They'll gladly talk about anything but work itself. These
experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their
conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us.
Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and
management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in
exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists
think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we
should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists don't care which
form bossing takes so long as the bosses are women. Clearly
these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy
up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any
objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.
You may be wondering if I'm joking or serious. I'm joking and
serious. To be ludic is not to be ludicrous. Play doesn't have to be
frivolous, although frivolity isn't triviality: very often we ought to take
frivolity seriously. I'd like life to be a game -- but a game with high
stakes. I want to play for keeps.
The alternative to work isn't just idleness. To be ludic is not to be
quaaludic. As much as I treasure the pleasure of torpor, it's never
more rewarding than when it punctuates other pleasures and
pastimes. Nor am I promoting the managed time-disciplined
safety-valve called "leisure"; far from it. Leisure is nonwork for the
sake of work. Leisure is the time spent recovering from work and in
the frenzied but hopeless attempt to forget about work. Many people
return from vacation so beat that they look forward to returning to
work so they can rest up. The main difference between work and
leisure is that work at least you get paid for your alienation and
I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When I say I want
to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I
mean by defining my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways. My minimum
definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production.
Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by
economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot
is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work
is never done for its own sake, it's done on account of some
product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else)
gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to
despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition
decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over
time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies,
including all industrial societies whether capitalist or "Communist,"
work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its