| "Paul Lafargue spoke satirically about
the first sinister acceleration thrusts of early industry: "All individual and social
misery comes from a passion for work. O laziness, be merciful with your endless misery!: O
laziness, you are the balm for the pains!"
On the Human Right to Laziness
The German Chancellor in the Struggle against State-Subsidized Laziness
By Goedart Palm
[This article published in the German-English cyber journal Telepolis
April 9, 2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,
Linda Evangelista wouldnt make chancellor Schroder happy. The top model said she
wouldnt even get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day. Perhaps some recipients of
income support and unemployment benefits see life similarly when work under 1000DM monthly
is offered them. Now this idleness will be ended.
There is no right to laziness in our society, said the
pragmatic social democrat Schroder. Whoever refuses reasonable work will receive reduced
The Slaving Solidarity Community
No constitutionally guaranteed right to laziness exists. However a
natural right or human right is involved. Christ pleaded for laziness at least in the
Sermon on the Mount. Behold the lilies of the field how they grow. They neither toil
nor spin and yet I tell you Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of
these (Matthew 6,28-29). In the 19th century in Gontscharovs
Oblomov, the Russian soul (Volksseele) preferred remaining in bed to hectic
times and discovered laziness as a meaning of life.
This sense for the leisurely-contemplative life has withered. Richard
Sennett described the suffering of the flexible person in the dotcom-society.
Lifelong flexibility for lofty business goals is emphasized. In turbo-capitalist times,
even sweat jobs become attractive again since the connection between the
economic situation and full employment is regarded as irrefutable. The chancellors
verdict on state subsidized laziness is popular in the ears of all those who slag away for
little more than sustenance while others are paid for idleness by the social
welfare office. Resentment helped him to a good election outcome.
Whoever denies the right to laziness is a populist who speculates on
voter moods. The economy is regularly seen this way. The chancellor doesnt need more
jobless. The government has the goal of reducing unemployment to below 3.5 million by the
2002 Bundestag election. The number of unemployed in Germany fell 113,100 in March
compared with February to 3,999,600. This was the smallest decline in the spring since the
The statistical governmental goal doesnt ask about the economic
meaning or quality of work. A McJob as a bag-carrier may also be regarded as
socially valuable work. The connections between the numbers of the unemployed and economic
development are hardly clear. More and more businesses see the real danger that the German
economy is strongly affected by the growth weakness in the United States and its
consequences for the international economy.
Is the question whether some alleged social parasites live
more or less in the last socio-topes of German laziness and are completely irrelevant for
the economic upswing exaggerated by the chancellor? Since everything is
somehow connected with everything else in the economy, the lazy jobless must
be described as the spoilsports in the solidarian one-boat-society.
On the Nobility of Work
If the work of people supposedly ennobles, the question remains why
millions prefer to live so un-feudally. Work is regarded as the foundation of social
esteem. According to numerous studies, unemployment is the cause of many forms of personal
unhappiness and also for rising rates of criminality that cannot be cushioned by the
constitutionally guaranteed social state principle.
What is reasonable work? All work that pays higher than unemployment
benefits is considered reasonable. The German trade union alliance sees the dangers of
wage dumping. According to the DGB, the real shirkers sit in the boardrooms
where overtime is decreed and jobs arent offered even in good profit- and growth
This is the populism of the opposite side that can point to diets of
parliamentarians, fat corporate profits, juicy settlements for departing CEOs and
executives with work overload. Whoever can work and will not work cannot expect
solidarity, the chancellor said. But can those who define the reasonability of work
for others expect much solidarity when they dont think any more about the
reasonableness of their own work?
Before capitalism was promoted to the international economic order,
such populisms were charged with the tried and tested formula of the class
struggle. The post-industrial social parasites are coming out of the
industrial reserve army today. Angela Merkel abolishes the class struggle:
We dont make policy for classes or strata. The CDU (centrist-conservative
party of Helmut Kohl) was and is the great party of the middle. I dont want a
society of false divisions in modernization losers and modernization winners. I want a
That is a society that accepts changes through globalization and digitalization.
These changes from national economies to boundless global business
create immense problems for social systems and their labor markets that cannot be solved
in the windmill battle against social laziness. Transnational divisions of labor, labor
under virtual conditions and growing pressures of lifelong learning reach the limits of
reasonability for employees and national societies. 2.5 percent of present jobs in Germany
can be found in the environment of the Internet. The increase of jobs in the sphere of the
New Economy is greater than in any other branch. The way into the global
information society euphorically welcomed with tele-work, virtual businesses and the
decontrol of digital everyday work produces hop0e along with the apathetic outcasts of
A national labor market policy or a rigid application of the social
state principle will not lead to an international adjustment of human working conditions.
The dangers of international outsourcing have intensified enormously through the
virtualization of working conditions. According to a bold calculation of MIT,
unforeseeable turbulences threaten anyway for the national labor markets since 80% of all
jobs in the leading industrial states will be shifted abroad by the end of the decade.
Like other palliative rhetoric, the slogal of the We
society will not annul the growing digital gulf. Only vulgar sociology believes that
the differences between higher income persons and starvation wages can be reduced to the
social Darwinian distinction of diligence and laziness. To be sure, the chancellors
verdict over laziness may be excellently suited for the national pride debate. However
Germans by nature are very diligent, particularly in self-assessment.
On Laziness of Thinking
The problem of the chancellor and other We-society
theoreticians is an atrophied idea of work in which slaving away and
paid income, laziness and social crises are equated. Economic productivity in the future
will be increasingly independent of human labor. It becomes an intolerable paradox in
times of a raging technology not to define once celebrated automation, the disappearance
of stupid body drudgery and the cancellation of socially necessary work as progress while
waving the fetish of full employment.
The step-son of Karl Marx and precursor of Marxism in the French
working class movement Paul Lafargue used harsh words in his 1891 treatise The Right
to Laziness (Le droit a la Paresse) long before the development of
fully-automated factories and human-friendly robotization:
The blind, absurd and humanly murderous work mania/addiction has
transformed the machine from an instrument of liberation to an instrument for enslaving
free persons. The productive power of the machine has become the cause of the
impoverishment of multitudes
To force capitalists to perfect their machines of wood
and iron, one must raise the wages of machines and reduce the working hours.
Redefining the individual or collective purpose of labor under the new
technological conditions is urged for future human work
Now and then work makes people poor, not free. Germany as a
performance- and start-up society is still not ready or able to pay for necessary work.
There is no pay for the work of housewives and mothers. Instead with the social
proscription of such work, it has become a paradoxical privilege of overstrained families
to find at least part-time work for mothers. A future tax reform that offers less relief
for families than singles doesnt seem to recognize this indispensable work. Savings
occur where lobbies are weak, not with resources that can be redistributed.
The treatment of non-profit or charitable activities demonstrates that
work is redefined. Here there is no salary system that could make this work as attractive
as it urgently needs to be in an increasingly splintered society. This work is beyond the
stock market quotations.
There is no right to laziness in this society. This should also be true
for laziness of thinking instead of presenting creative models of society and work, labor,
gainful activity, income and the we-all-sit-in-one-boat mentality designed for
an early industrial turbo-capitalism. Before the cheap condemnation of
parasites, the rigidities of German labor law and the high non-wage labor
costs for low-wage earners should be reversed. Without speaking of a Manchester-capitalist
hire-and-fire work society, more flexible possibilities of changing jobs is
still future music for businesses and employees.
Paul Lafargue spoke satirically about the first sinister acceleration
thrusts of early industry: All individual and social misery comes from a passion for
work. O laziness, be merciful with your endless misery! O laziness, mother of the arts and
the noble virtues, you are the balm for the pains of humanity! However like all
satires, this should not be taken seriously.