1990s >> 1993 >> no-1066-june-1993

Future of work and leisure

One of the worst features of capitalism is the way it separates our lives into periods of paid work and paid-for leisure. Too often we speak of work as if it were only paid work, and it is easy to regard leisure as only entertainment we have to pay for. But even within capitalism there is much work that isn’t done for money and much leisure that doesn’t have a price tag. With socialism, work and leisure will not only be free from financial calculation but also the dividing line between the two will be much less than it is today.

Work done for money is really a distorted and alienating form of work. Employment means going to work because an employer expects to make a profit from buying your labour and selling what you produce. You may do something useful like growing food or building homes—or useless like guarding property or harmful like making weapons. I’he chances are you won’t like the job, although you may like the work, especially if it is creative or to do with people. You won’t like the job because it is done to someone else’s orders, in conditions that are usually less than ideal, and for longer than you would wish.

Even in capitalist society some men and women speak very warmly of their work. Helping people, teaching them, giving them services they appreciate, are all sources of work satisfaction, even enjoyment. These kinds of work will continue in socialist society and be extended to more people for more of the time. What will disappear will be work done only to make someone or some institution a profit. or to service the money system in some way (there are millions of such “jobs”).

It may seem fanciful to say that we can play at our work. Some work is not easily associated with play: the kind that has to be done. “Who will do the dirty work?” is a cry that often goes up from those who cannot imagine anyone working except for money. But people do perform essential tasks quite happily without payment if they do so co-operatively and without a sense of being exploited. And they can gain deep feelings of pleasure and creativity from such work, from doing or producing something useful. Psychologists call this a sense of “flow”, of immersing yourself in what you do. of losing any desire to watch the clock.

Tainted by money

Leisure in capitalist society is subject to market forces. Margaret Thatcher once announced. talking of the tourist industry, that there is money to be gained from other people’s leisure. The providers may be commercial or “public”. Both types rely on consumers paying either at the point of consumption or by taxes or licences. Most of this is casual leisure: you buy a ticket or press a button and you are duly “entertained”.

There is, however, another kind of leisure on which the market has little or no effect. To distinguish it from capitalist entertainment it may be called serious leisure (which doesn’t mean humourless leisure). It takes three main forms: amateur activities, hobbies and volunteering. Amateurs do the same things as professionals. but without payment. Perhaps they are musicians, or scientists of some kind. Hobbyists are like amateurs but without a professional equivalent. They could be collectors or model builders or enthusiasts of any one of a thousand hobbies. Then there are volunteers: people who spend some of their free time helping others in some way. Again there are very many different ways of volunteering.

Capitalism not only artificially separates work from leisure; it also opposes them. Paid workers have been known to say “Roll on five o’clock, lets get out of this place and start living”, or something similar. Its a tragic waste of precious life. Leisure, too, is tainted by the money system. Millions of punters band together every week to make a tiny few (sometimes only one) of their own number very rich through the football pools. Follow-up studies of the big winners are not encouraging about their happiness. You can, of course, buy a good time without gambling, but you are usually expected to be a passive consumer rather than an active participant.

With socialism there will be enormous scope for bringing work and leisure closer together and making them both worthwhile parts of a whole life. Work will be organized democratically, not financially. It will be in direct response to need and not in the interest of profit-seeking. It will as far as possible be freely chosen. Leisure won’t be an “industry”—it will be that part of life in which things are done for their own sake and not in the service of something else. People will find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between what is work and what is leisure. In other words, why shouldn’t we have fun at our work and be serious about at least some of our leisure?

Stan Parker