Chapter 1 "The Subsistence Society"
- Haven't you ever, just once, felt like turning up late for work or felt like slipping away from work early?
In that case, you have realised that:
- Time spent working is time doubly lost because it is time doubly wasted... - as time which might more agreeably be spent making love, or day-dreaming, on pleasure or on one's hobbies: time which one would otherwise be free to spend however one wished; - as time wearing us down physically and nervously.
- Time spent working eats up the bulk of one's life, because it shapes one's so-called "free" time as well, time spent sleeping, moving about, eating, or on diversions. Thus it makes itself felt in every part of the daily lives of each one of us and reduces our daily lives into series of moments and places which have the same empty repetition and the same growing absence of real living in common.
- Time spent fulfilling an obligation to work is a commodity. Wherever there is commodity there is, unfailingly, obligatory labour and nearly every activity comes, little by little. to resemble obligatory labour: we produce, consume, eat and sleep for an employer, or a leader, or a State, or for the system of universal commodity.
- The less work, the more life.
So you see... you are already fighting, consciously or otherwise, for a society which would guarantee each one of us the right to dispose of one's own time and space: and to build for ourselves each day the life we would choose.
- Haven't you ever, just once, felt the desire never to work again,without having others work for you, that is? In that case, you have come to realise that:
- Even if obligatory work has as its goal only the production of useful things such as clothes, food, tools, comforts and so on... it would be every bit as oppressive, because: the worker would still be robbed of the fruits of his labour and subjected to the same laws governing the pursuit of profit and power;the worker would still have to spend ten times as long at work as would require an attractive organization of creativity to place one hundred times the product at everybody's disposal.
- In the commodity system which dominates everywhere, the aim of obligatory work is not, as they would have us believe, to produce goods which are useful and palatable to everybody, but rather just to churn out commodities, regardless of whether they might be useful or useless pollutants. Commodities have no purpose other than to sustain the profits and power of the ruling class. Under such a system, everybody works to no end and becomes aware of this.
- By accumulating and replacing commodities, obligatory work merely boosts the power of bosses, bureaucrats, leaders and ideologies So it becomes the object of the workers' disgust. Every stoppage in work is a way of becoming ourselves again and defying those who prevent us from being ourselves.
- Obligatory work produces only commodities. Every commodity is inseparable from the he which it stands for. So, obligatory work churns out lies, produces a world of lying representations, a topsy-turvy world where the image takes the place of reality. In this spectacular, commodity system, obligatory work produces two important lies concerning itself: - the first lie is that work is useful and necessary and that it is in everyone's interest to do so; the second lie is the make believe story that workers are incapable of shrugging off wage slavery and work, and that they cannot build a radically new society, one based on attractive, collective creativity and universal self-mangement.
So you see... you are already fighting, consciously or otherwise, for a society where an end to obligatory work will be replaced by a collective creativity regulated by the wishes of each individual, and by the free distribution of the goods necessary for our everyday needs. The end of forced work means the end of the system where profit, hierarchical power and universal lies reign supreme. It signifies the end of the spectacular commodity system and opens the doors to an overall re-examination of priorities. The pursuit of money and of morsels of power will give way to the quest for a harmonisation of enthusiasms which will, at last, be released and given recognition.
- Has it ever happened that, outside your place of work, you have felt the same distaste and weariness as you do inside the factory'?
In that case, you have come to understand that:
- The factory is all around us. It is the morning, the train, the car, the ravaged countryside, the machine, the bosses, the chief, the house,the newspapers, the family, the trade union, the street, one's purchases, pictures, one's pay, the television, one's language, one's holidays, school, housework, boredom, prison, the hospital and the night. It is the time and space of our everyday subsistence. It is the becoming accustomed to repetitive moves and suppressed emotions, emotions sampled through the proxy of intermediary images.
- Every activity reduced to mere existence is obligatory work: and all obligatory work transforms the product and the producer into objects of mere existence, into commodities themselves.
- Rejection of the universal factory is everywhere, since sabotage and re-appropriation are everywhere among the proletariat, allowing them still to derive some morsel of pleasure from idleness, or from love-making, or socialising or chatting or eating, drinking, dreaming or preparing to revolutionise everyday life by neglecting none of the delights of being not quite totally alienated.
So you see, you are fighting, consciously or otherwise, for a society where feelings will be all, and boredom and work, nothing. Mere survival has so far prevented us from really living. We must now stand the world on its head and value those glimpses of authentic living which are fated to be covered up and distorted in the system of the commodity and the spectacle... these moments of real contentment, of boundless pleasure and passion.
- Haven't you ever thought about using your machine to turn out some instrument for use outside the factory?
In that case you have realised that:
- The machine produces contrary effects according to whether it is employed for the benefit of the employer and the State or whether it is put to use by the worker for his own immediate benefit.
- The principle of misappropriation consists of employing against the enemy those very techniques and weapons which he usually employs against us.
- The opposite of obligatory work is the creativity of the individual or group. Proletarians aspire to create their own living conditions so that they may thereby cease to be proletarians. Outside of a handful of rare revolutionary outbursts, this pent-up creativity has thus far remained hidden (using the boss's machinery, doing odd jobs, experimentation, and the quest for new emotions and sensations).
- The passion to create seeks to be all. Implying as it does the demolition of the commodity system and the reconstruction of our everyday lives, this passion to create embraces all our passions. The misappropriation of techniques so that creativity may enjoy all their benefits for all is, consequently, the only way to have an end of work and the omnipresence of compartmentalisation (into manual/intellectual, work/recreation, theory/practice, individual/society, being/appearance).
So you see, consciously or otherwise you are already fighting for a society in which the warehouses and distribution outlets, the factories and technology itself will be the property of the striking shop floor and then of all individuals grouped in self-managing units.
- Haven't you ever deliberately destroyed products still on the production line or already in storage?
In that case, you have understood that:
- The struggle of the workers against commodity is the real point of departure for revolution. It brings out clearly the joy of being oneself and of enjoying everything and shows how these can only be achieved by the utter destruction of that which destroys us.
- Commodity is the heart of a heartless world: it is the strength but also the weakness of hierarchical authority, the State and its bureaucracy. The personal liberty and happiness of all requires not only that we strike out against it but that we annihilate it utterly once and for all (for instance, the mere sabotaging of products will not be enough since the premature release of obsolescent products on to the market is, in the last analysis, a help to private and State capitalism as in USSR, Cuba, China... - in stepping up the rate of purchase and the replenishment of ideologies; thus it improves the accumulation of commodities and the reinforcement of their representatives and of the social attitudes they thrust upon us).
- To the extent that sabotage is one way of holding up work, it has the merit of saving our energies and of encouraging us to down tools.
- Inadequate though it may be, the sabotaging of finished products is a healthy reaction. It speaks of the workers' distaste for commodity and says something about the role of the worker i.e. about the attitude bound up with beliefs in the necessity of work, taking pride in one 5 work and other claptrap thrust upon the worker by the ruling society.
- Refusal of the role of the worker goes hand in hand with the rejection of work and commodity itself. There is every chance that it may explode into a rejection of all roles and all modes of behaviour which would make the individual act, not in accordance with his urges and inclinations, but in accordance with images (be they good or bad) imposed upon him, images which are part of the lie by means of which commodity expresses itself. What chance has that part of you that is still, truly you when all day long you have been playing roles like the role of the paterfamilias, husband, worker, motorist, militant, TV viewer, consumer...?
So you see, consciously or otherwise, you are already fighting for a society where compartmentalisation will disappear as work itself disappears: when the individual may at last be completely true to himsef because he will no longer be churning out the commodity and its lie (that topsy turvy world where the reflected image is more important than the authentic).
- Whilst sabotaging production, hasn't it ever occurred to you what fun it might be to sabotage the weapons of repression (such as the bureaucratic machine, the cops, the quality control people, the information services or the town planners)?
In that case, you have come to realise that:
- The commodity system is proficient at recuperating partial sabotage for the advantage of the system. Sabotage confined to the sabotage of products does not destroy the commodity system, for the poor quality thereby brought about merely adds to the premature obsolescence perfected by the employers as a means of forcing the rapid and regular replacement of purchases. Furthermore, sabotage, like any act of terrorism, breathes new life into the spectacle's stock of images by offering the indispensable negative images (such as the hateful saboteur, the ghastly arsonist preying on warehouses...).
- What allows a product to be turned into a commodity and the insinuation of the commodity process into every aspect of social activity is obligatory work and those forces which protect and maintain it... the State, the unions, the parties, the bureaucracy, the spectacle, i.e. the whole arsenal of representatives which are in the service of the commodity system and the commodities themselves (ideologies, culture, roles, or even the prevailing vocabulary).
- Consequently, the destruction of commodity by means of the ending of obligatory work is inseparable from the liquidation of the State, of hierarchy, constraint, the commendation of sacrifice, and the lies and of those who organise the universal commodity system. As long as sabotage fails to direct its attacks simultaneously against the production of commodities and against those who protect it, it will remain partial and ineffective; it becomes that terrorism which is the despair of revolution and the self-destructive fatalism of subsistence society.
- Anything which cannot be turned to the advantage of revolutionaries must be destroyed through sabotage. Anything that impedes such redirection deserves to be destroyed.
So you see, consciously or otherwise, you are already fighting for a society from which the State and all manner of hierarchical power will have been eliminated, a society that will give way to self-managing assemblies that will control the forces of production as well as all wealth for free distribution which will put an end to any danger of reconstruction of the commodity system.
- Haven't you ever felt like giving up reading the newspapers and putting your foot through the television?
In that case, you have come to appreciate that:
- The press, radio and television are the crassest vehicles for the lie. Not only do they push real problems (such as "How can we live better?", a question asked in concrete terms every single day) further into the background, but they also induce each private individual to identify with ready made images and to put himself, abstractly, in the shoes of a head of State or a filmstar, or a murderer or a victim... in short, they induce him to react to life as if he were someone whom he is not. The images which rule us mark the success of that which is not ourselves, which haunts us out of ourselves; of that which transforms us into objects to be categorised, labelled and hierarchised in keeping with the usages of the general commodity system.
- There is a vocabulary at the disposal of hierarchical power. It is to be found not only in the information services and in advertising, in ready-made ideas and habits and conditioned behaviour, but also in any expression which does not pave the way for the revolution of everyday life, every expression which fails to serve our pleasures.
- Every moment one works for the commodity system (i.e. most of one's time), imposes on us its representatives and images, it's meanings and vocabulary. This battery of ideas, identifications and modes of behaviour dictated by the need to accumulate and to replace the commodity over and over again, makes the SPECTACLE in which everyone plays a part he really fails to live and lives falsely that which he is not. That is why role-playing is living the lie, and mere existence a sickness without end.
- The spectacle (ideologies, culture, art, roles, images, representations, commodity-words) embraces all those aspects of social behaviour by means of which men enter the commodity system and, by becoming subsistence objects, (commodities) conspire against themselves, renouncing the pleasure of really living for themselves and freely constructing their everyday lives for themselves.
- We subsist amid a forest of images with which we are driven to identify. We act less and less for ourselves and more and more as puppets of abstractions that direct us according to the laws of the commodity system (i.e. profit and power).
- Roles and ideologies may be favourable to, or hostile towards the ruling system... it makes no difference since they are part of the spectacle, part of the ruling system in either case. Only that which destroys commodity and its spectacle is revolutionary.
So you see, you have had enough of organised lies and inverted reality... enough of the dumb shows that ape real life only to impoverish it. And already, consciously or otherwise, you are fighting for a society where the right to communicate, really communicate, will belong to everyone and where each individual will have access to information on things which concern him, thanks to the free availability of technology (printshops, telecommunications) and where the elaboration of an engaging lifestyle will eradicate the need to have a role and to place greater store by appearance than by what is genuinely lived.
- Haven't you ever had the disagreeable sensation that, aside from a few odd moments, you do not really belong to yourself and are becoming alienated from your real self?
In that case you have grasped that:
- Through every one of our movements (which are mechanical and repetitive and devoid of connection with one another) time is being broken up and, morsel by morsel, is stealing us away from our own selves. It is by working, and through our being obliged to labour for the reproduction and accumulation of commodities, that such stolen moments proliferate and are amassed.
- Today, ageing is nothing but the expansion of wasted time, time during which life slips away. That is why there are no longer any young or old people... only individuals with a greater or lesser liveliness about them. Our enemies are those who believe (and make believe) that universal change is impossible. The dead are those who govern us. The dead are those of us who let themselves be governed.
- We labour and eat, read and sleep, consume and take our leisure, absorb our culture and receive attention, and so we live out our bleak existence, much like potted plants. We subsist despite all that urges us to really live. We survive for a totalitarian, an inhuman system (a religion of things and images) which sucks us in on almost every side and almost always in order to boost the profits and crumbling power of the bourgeois bureaucratic class.
- Unless we suddenly become ourselves again, unless we are seized by the urge to live life to the full, we merely help the commodity system to survive. Instead of being lived by proxy through intermediary images, moments of real living and boundless pleasure allied to the repudiation of whatsoever obstructs or falsifies them, are blows against the commodity-spectacle system. We have only to marshall these blows in a more coherent fashion to extend, multiply and redouble their impact.
- Through the passionate creation of conditions favourable to the growth of our passions, we wish to destroy that which is destroying us. Revolution is the passion that licenses every other passion. Passion without revolution is only the ruination of pleasure.
So you see, you have had enough of squandering your life away amid constraints. And already you are, consciously or not, fighting for a society whose basis will no longer be the pursuit of profit, but rather the search for and harmonisation of the lust for life.
- Haven't you ever felt the urge to burn some distribution factory i.e.. supermarket, giant store or warehouse) to the ground?
In that case, you have caught on that:
- The real pollution is the pollution by universal commodity intruding into every area of life. Every commodity on the supermarket shelf is a cynical hymn to the wage-slave oppression of the lie which places it on sale, and of the barter system of the boss and the cop whose function it is to protect that lie.
- The display of commodities is part and parcel of a bleak existence and a glorification of its impoverishment: a paean to life squandered in hours of obligatory work; the sacrifices we give our assent to so that we can purchase shit junk food, gadgets, cars-coffins, accomodation cages, and items with built-in planned obsolescence); inhibitions; plea-sure/anxieties; the derisory images offered in exchange for an absence of real life and purchased by compensation.
- Arson against a large store is only a terrorist act. Indeed, since the commodity is designed to be destroyed and replaced, arson does not destroy the commodity system but conspires with it with just an excess of brutality. Now it is not a question of whether commodity destroys us in destroying itself. The commodity has to be destroyed utterly if we are to build universal self-management.
So you see, you have had it with settings of ennui and voyeurism. And with a world where what one sees prevents one from living And where that which prevents one from living presents itself as an abstract caricature of life. And, consciously or otherwise, you are already fighting for a society where the true eradication of commodity will be achieved through free usufruct of products created once obligatory work has ceased. Instead of the work that proscribes abundance and produces only a distorted reflection of it, we want abundance that will encourage creativity and passions.
- Haven't you ever felt like pinching something or other from the factory or store for the simple reason that you had a hand in its production, or for the (even better) reason that you need it or want it?
In that case you have come to realise that.
- There is no theft in repossessing one's handiwork. The only thieves are those who serve the commodity system and the henchmen of the State: bosses, bureaucrats, police, magistrates, sociologists, town planners, ideologues. It is because of our tardiness in condemning them to vanish from the scene in practical terms, that they still dare to use the law to condemn a worker who takes something from a factory or a shop for which he has a need.
- An industrial or agricultural product serves no purpose unless it is freely available to satisfy each individual. It is a sin against the right to enjoyment to turn it into a commodity, an element of barter, a piece of the spectacle.
- What is required if an object is to be removed from the commodity process and kept from returning to that process, is obviously that it should not be re-sold, nor appropriated for individual use, nor exchanged for a mess of money or power, (stealing so as to play the underworld big-shot and thus to have a role is merely to reproduce the spectacle-commodity process, with or without the permission of the State).
- What is required if an object, or even an attitude, is not to be absorbed into the commodity process is that that object or attitude should be deployed against the process, and turned against commodity seized in full flight (the flight which converts a product into a commodity leaps from the specific object to its abstract representation and that abstract representation in turn takes on concrete shape in a variety of conditional social posturings i.e. in roles).
- The complete destruction of commodity can only be encompassed through the collective seizure of industrial and agricultural goods to the advantage of universal self-management, and only universal self-management.
So you see, you have had your fill of submission to money and to roles as a means of earning, in exchange, the good you need for a semblance of life at least. And, consciously or otherwise, you are already fighting for a society where 'no charge' and gift are the only possible social relationships.
- Haven't you already taken part in pilfering from a distribution factory (i.e. supermarket, large store, discount warehouse)?
In that case, you have come to understand that:
- Individual re-appropriation of goods stolen by the State and the employer class merely feeds the commodity process, unless it becomes a collective action and leads to the total liquidation of the system (however attractive the act may be, it is not enough just to repossess goods. One must also repossess the time and space stolen from us all).
- Pilfering is a normal response to commodity's provocations (i.e. the signs reading "Free offer" on "Free service", etc.). Like so-called criminal arson, it is only one manifestation of the system. Just as the commodity system allows for a certain percentage of thefts in large stores and factories, so it also allows for a certain proportion of shoplifting and its self-regulation will be calculated in the light of such foreseeable, programmable "mishaps". This fact is so self-evident that one of the representatives of the law, Judge Kinnard, the sole magistrate in the Liege criminal assizes, refused on 12 September 1973, to apply the legal penalty for the theft of display goods and made the following remarkable observations: "Theft of display goods from self service store is inevitable and, indeed, shoplifting is allowed for in the charges made by traders of this sort, where gaudy advertising and scientifically gauged and phased multiple temptations constitute, for the consumers, a provocation to buy well beyond either their needs, or their purse. Generally speaking, shoplifting does not denote in the perpetrator any mentality or attitude deserving of punishment under the legal code." That is jurisprudence indeed.
- If, in the course of pilfering, the individual should seize goods as if they were his private property, the commodity would reappear and the system would be renewed (in which case, it would be better to destroy everything: we could be sure that at least 90 per cent of junk would go).
- In the absence of an appreciation of universal self-management, pilfering is, at best, an incoherent method of distribution. It constitutes an act divorced from revolutionary conditions in which the group that creates the goods distributes them directly to its members. Thus there is the risk that, by fostering shortages and scarcity of useful products, it may sow confusion in people's minds and bring about a reversion to the mechanics of commodity distribution.
So you see, consciously or not, you are already fighting for a society where unsalaried production and free distribution of goods will be rendered possible by means of the suppression of property and the collection of producers into self-managing assemblies. In those assemblies the will of every individual can be made plain through the words of delegates under mandates that may be revoked at any time. These delegates would keep account of the amount of goods available and would match up offers to produce and create with the requests of individuals, so that, progressively and irreversibly, abundance might be achieved.
- Is it not your intention, on the first opportunity that arises, to bawl out your boss or anyone else, who talks down to you?
In that case you have grasped the fact that:
- By becoming a boss, one ceases to be human. The boss is the packer and the package of commodity. Outside the commodity system, he has no use Like the commodities, he reproduces himself and is amassed: he is to be measured in terms of his power and his position in the scale of hierarchy. He derives his power from the power which the spectacle wields, as an economic intent and social representation, over the greater bulk of everyday life.
- The more power is atomised and extends everywhere, the stronger it becomes and the weaker it becomes. The more bosses there are the more powerless they are. The more powerless they are and the more the bureaucratic machine operates in a vacuum, the more it imposes upon everyone the semblance of its omnipotence and the more people learn to reject servitude in all its guises.
- Everywhere that authority exists, there is sacrifice. And vice versa. The boss and the militant are the twin stumbling blocks of revolution, the points at which it is turned on its head and becomes the very opposite of emancipation.
- The terrorist act of standing bureaucrat and boss back to back and dispatching them both with the one bullet, fails to alter the structure by a single iota. It merely accelerates the renewal of leadership cadres. If one is to liquidate the State and all hierarchical organisations that (sooner or later) reproduce it, one must obliterate the commodity system.
- The State is the regulator, the nerve centre and protective arsenal of commodity. It strives to balance out economic contradictions, and to politically ordain society's work into rights and duties of the citizen, and to organise the ideological barrage and the repressive mechanisms which convert each individual into a lackey of the commodity system.
- The degree of collusion between the State and commodity can be assessed at a glance by the speed with which the police (as well as the militias of the employers and of the unions) intervene the moment a wildcat strike breaks out.
So you see, already you are fighting for a society where there will be neither constraint nor sacrifice, where everyone will be his own master and live in such circumstances that he will never have to treat another man as his slave; in short, a classless society where the power delegated to councils will be wielded under the permanent scrutiny and through the wishes of every private individual.
- Doesn't it give you a certain sense of pleasure to think how, some day soon, you will be able to treat like human beings those cops whom it will not have been necessary to kill on the spot?
In that case you have come to appreciate that:
- The cop is the guard dog of the commodity system. Where the lie of the commodity is not enough to impose order, the ruling bureaucratic class or caste sends in the cop to impose it for them.
- Quite apart from the contempt which he stands for, the cop is despised as a hired killer, the lackey of every regime, a professional slave, a dealer in protection, the repressive clause in the economic and social contract which the State foists upon its citizens.
- Everywhere that the State is to be found, there are cops. Everywhere that cops are to be found - (starting from the stewards and marshals at opposition demonstrations) - there too, is the State or its ghosts.
- All hierarchy depends on the police.
- Killing cops is a pastime for would-be suicides. The only way to resolve the police problem is through self-defence within the general context of liquidation of all hierarchical power.
- Happiness is possible only when the State ceases to exist: and where the complete absence of hierarchy excludes the possibility of its re-emergence.
So you see, you have had your fill of controls and constraints, and of the cop who is a living reminder that you are nothing and the State everything... and a bellyful of the system that creates the conditions for illegal crime and legalises the crimes of the magistrates who repress it. And already you are fighting for a harmonisation of passions and interests (through the elimination of the interests of the spectacle and its economy) and for the reorganisation of relations between individuals through abundant intercourse and the free diffusion of desires.