Paul Lafargue: The Slavery of Capitalism

In many ways, Paul Lafargue, Karl Marx‘s son-in-law, is an important critic of capitalism, of its wage system and a voice for the need for another vision. Here an excerpt from ‘The Right To Be Lazy’ (1883).


“A strange delusion possesses the working classes of the nations where capitalist civilization holds its sway. This delusion drags in its train the individual and social woes, which for two centuries have tortured sad humanity. This delusion is the love of work, the furious passion for work, pushed even to the exhaustion of the vital force of the individual and his progeny.

Instead of opposing this mental aberration, the priests, the economists and the moralists have cast a sacred halo over work. Blind and finite men, they have wished to be wiser than their God; weak and contemptible men, they have presumed to rehabilitate what their God had cursed. I, who do not profess to be a Christian, an economist or a moralist, I appeal from their judgement to that of their God; from the preaching of their religious, economics or free thought ethics, to the frightful consequences of work in capitalist society.

In capitalist society work is the cause of all intellectual degeneracy, of all organic deformity. Compare the thoroughbred in Rothschild’s stables, served by a retinue of bipeds, with the heavy brute of the Norman farms, which plough the earth, carts the manure, hauls the crops. Look at the noble savage whom the missionaries of trade and the traders of religion have not yet corrupted with Christianity, syphilis and the dogma of work, and then look at our miserable slaves of machines.

When, in our civilized Europe, we would find a trace of the native beauty of man, we must go seek it in the nations where economic prejudices have not vet uprooted the hatred of work. Spain, which, alas, is degenerating, may still boast of possessing fewer factories than we have of prisons and barracks; but the artist rejoices in his admiration of the hardy Andalusian, brown as his native chestnuts, straight and flexible as a steel rod; and the heart leaps at hearing the beggar, superbly draped in his ragged capa, parleying on terms of equality with the duke of Ossuna. For the Spaniard, in whom the primitive animal has not been atrophied, work is the worst sort of slavery…”

Written: Saint Pélagie Prison, 1883
Source: The Right To Be Lazy and Other Studies
Translated: Charles Kerr
First Published: Charles Kerr and Co., Co-operative, 1883

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lafargue/1883/lazy/index.htm

Note: Paul Lafargue is a French revolutionary Marxist socialist journalist, literary critic, political writer and activist; he was Karl Marx‘s son-in-law, having married his second daughter Laura. His best-known work is ‘The Right to Be Lazy’. Born in Cuba to French and Creole parents, Lafargue spends most of his life in France, with periods in England and Spain. At the age of 69, he and Laura die together on November 26, 1911 in a suicide pact.

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