BHABANI SHANKAR NAYAK | 29 MAY, 2020
The Capitalist Battle of Productiveness
The freedom of workers depends on the quality of our laziness
An old constructed dilemma surfaces through the coronavirus pandemic: to be or not to be product-ive. This tragedy is pushing people in two contradictory directions.
On one hand, states and governments are asking people to stay at home and stay safe, and varied lockdowns and the inevitable distancing policies produce social alienation and economic distress for the masses.
From the other side pushes our long capitalist association with the ideal that unproductive indolence is immoral. It forces people to engage with time and creativity for self-improvement by busying themselves in work.
The social media accelerate such socialisation. The battle of productivity during the crisis undermines individual creativity, mental health, and accelerates the crisis of public health.
The makers of policy ignore the miseries of individuals and communities while they look for ways to recover from the pandemic. Many commentators are trying to draw lessons from wartime economics to create a new narrative for productivism as the foundation of welfare states.
Such stories glorify workers’ sacrifices. This glorification of the spirit of work, the work ethic, is central to capitalism, which derives its strengths from all major world religions.
Religion and capitalism are the twin pillars of this contradictory narrative promoting productivist society. In such a society, time is considered money. People compete with each other and with nature to convert their time into money by working hard. This creates the illusion that working hard is a means to pursue one’s own dream and uplift one’s own self from economic miseries.
The desire to recover from economic misery puts people in an illusion, diverting their attention from their working conditions and the processes which control and exploit their work.
Workers work hard in every field and are the most productivist people in the world, but they suffer the most in miseries. A productivist society normalises and naturalises these inequalities and exploitation. So, a society based on the productivist philosophy is inherently exploitative and unsustainable.
The unsustainability of such a productivist system is revealed by this pandemic. This human alienation is the outcome of both the pandemic and of productivism.
The history of productivism as an ideology emerges during early agricultural society based on people’s growing needs. This need-based society was transformed into a desire-based society with the intensive expansion of agriculture for higher production: production meant not only for consumption requirements but also for sale in the market and export to distant places. The ideals of productivism became the everyday ideology of the industrial revolution.
Productivism continues to be the answer posed to problems created by the capitalist economy in parts of the world. The ideology of productivism in the 21st century demonstrates three dimensions: concentration, intensification and specialisation. These three dimensions have played a significant role in destroying the environment and weakening the power of labour to serve the interests of the owners of capital.
Both liberal and neoliberal policy makers have used these features of productivism as policy prescriptions during economic crisis. Now the global health crisis is bringing back these old ideals of productivism for the survival of the capitalist system, which further weakens the working classes all over the world.
Some countries have already removed protective measures, such as by reforming labour laws which provide safety nets to workers. The historical experiences of productivist societies show that this ideology upholds the interests of capital and weakens labour power.
The productivist ideology of capitalism imposes an economic and moral logic to lure workers like you to the world of competitive wage-work that diminishes the meaning of life. It individualises working conditions and production processes, destroying the collectivist foundation of society.
It is in this process that workers face all forms of social, economic, cultural and political alienation concomitant with the alienation people face during the pandemic-led lockdown.
The pandemic outbreak has also manufactured unprecedented uncertainties on a global scale. The capitalist class is trying to capture their lost profit for instance by increasing working hours. Trade union laws are being diluted to serve the interests of the capitalist class.
It is in this context that workers need to start writing their own narratives, by disengaging with the competitive capitalist productivist framework in which work is individualised, standardised, disciplined and commodified, and there is little room for the creative growth of workers and their skills.
This crisis is an opportunity for us to create our own workers’ cooperatives and other labour organisations to coordinate different factors of production. We can create our own conditions of work, where the work is meaningful for society and for us workers. We can shape our own experiences by labouring independent of the productivist logic of the death cult called capitalism.
The lockdown period is a period of reflection on life. Human happiness and health depend on our quality of life, which is denied in the productivist work culture.
Pascal said that “all the problems of humanity come from the inability of man to sit without doing anything in a room”, an apt sentiment for the lockdown period in which people are made to feel impatience for being idle.
It is time to understand the vices of productivist life and celebrate the virtues of laziness. Iconic works like On Laziness by Christopher Morley, An Apology for Idlers by R.L.Stevenson, In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell and Why Are Beggars Despised? by George Orwell provide enough reason to celebrate the virtues of being lazy.
Being idle gives the opportunity to workers to consolidate our time and energy disengaged from the system, for a more meaningful life. Workers’ non-cooperation with capitalists and the productivist ideology of capitalism can only help us and help the planet, making our activities more sustainable for the future.
The freedom of workers from capitalism depends on the quality of their laziness. It’s time to dump the busy schedule in search of collective meanings of life, liberty, individual dignity, equality, humanity and happiness.
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