Slacking Off as a Revolutionary Act
The worker becomes a revolutionary not by becoming more of a worker but by undoing his “workerness.” And in this he is not alone; the same applies to the farmer, the student, the clerk, the soldier, the bureaucrat, the professional — and the Marxist. The worker is no less a “bourgeois” than the farmer, student, clerk, soldier, bureaucrat, professional — and Marxist. His “workerness” is the disease he is suffering from, the social affliction telescoped to individual dimensions…The worker begins to become a revolutionary when he undoes his “workerness,” when he comes to detest his class status here and now, when he begins to shed exactly those features which the Marxists most prize in him — his work ethic, his character-structure derived from industrial discipline, his respect for hierarchy, his obedience to leaders, his consumerism, his vestiges of puritanism. In this sense, the worker becomes a revolutionary to the degree that he sheds his class status and achieves an un-class consciousness. He degenerates — and he degenerates magnificently. What he is shedding are precisely those class shackles that bind him to all systems of domination. He abandons those class interests that enslave him to consumerism, suburbia, and a bookkeeping conception of life.
To me, this excerpt from Murray Bookchin’s “Listen, Marxist!” feels like the core point of the whole essay, and everything else is supporting documentation for it.
When you’re fucking around on Slack at work or you’re playing a mobile game in the bathroom, you’re performing a revolutionary act. (Put aside for a moment the very real concern that your revolutionary act is being monetized by corporations by means of digital platforms.)
Bosses and project managers very much want you to be performing work even when there isn’t real work to be done. In retail and food service, this is represented by the phrase “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” Even in knowledge work, we are expected to seem busy at all times. You only get singled out for reprimand or passed over for promotions when your activities can be visibly recognized as “not-work.” “Fake-work” and “make-work” are both absolutely fine.
Frankly, alienation and the desire to slack off are logical results of a system that we’re ill-equipped to process. Why are so many of us depressed and anxious? Yes, these issues have always existed, and many humans throughout history have turned to self-harm and suicide because these issues weren’t diagnosed and dealt with medically. I’m talking here about less severe cases. I am referring to the low-grade anxiety as you drive to work that causes your brain to “rehearse” all the items on your calendar. I mean the feeling in the evening after work that nothing sounds good and you’d rather just lay down and stare at the ceiling instead of doing any of the activities you typically enjoy. The structure of our work and our society at large leave us disconnected from our desires, our friends, and even our selves.
Later in this essay, Bookchin makes a reference to “human scale, direct democracy,” and that puts into words nicely exactly what I yearn for and what I believe our brains crave. The world we live in is populated by states and employers that exist on a scale that is neither comprehensible nor influenceable by humans. The scale is fucked up, and I don’t think human brains are set up for this shit.
At my first Real Job™, I worked with a guy who would often go out for smoke breaks and come back with red eyes, smelling like weed. He would then sneak a few minutes later to buy a bagel for whoever was working with him at the customer service counter. His manager was a stickler for rules, who was always on his ass about some offense or another. On the day that he announced he was leaving, I was really bummed. I was going to miss this guy. We had drank beer together after work. He had introduced me to The Mountain Goats, Atom and His Package, and a load of other great bands. When I told him how sad I was to see him go, he just shrugged and with a wry smirk said, “This wasn’t an environment where I was going to excel.”
All of us are in a frenzy to stay busy (or at least look like we are) in an environment where we’re not going to excel.