Farewell to the Working Class

In 1883 Karl Marx’s son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, was idling in a relatively luxurious political prison near the Latin Quarter of Paris. A Cuban-French socialist, he whiled away the days taking long lunches and discussing the evils of capitalism with his comrade and collaborator Jules Guesde, who happened to be staying in the next room. Lafargue’s other prison pastimes included relaxing in the bathtub that had been delivered to his quarters (at Friedrich Engels’s expense), practicing his German and, like any good nineteenth-century intellectual, revising his treatise—a pamphlet titled The Right to Be Lazy. Like most of his contemporary activists, he condemned the twelve-to-fourteen-hour factory workday, but unlike his father-in-law, he didn’t just critique the conditions of labor—he went after labor itself. “In capitalist society,” he wrote, “work is the cause of all intellectual degeneracy, of all organic deformity.” Lafargue dismissed the “right to work” that other socialists demanded. He asked, instead, for the right to lie around on the daybed, the right to read and to nap, the right to feast and to make love. He declared the right to endless leisure. Read the book review in The Nation.

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