Work and leisure

Dear Editors

Although I agree with much of what the editors write in reply to the letter by N.B. (February Socialist Standard), I think there is more to say about work and leisure in a socialist world.

N.B. writes “People need a contrast between work and leisure in order to appreciate and enjoy their leisure time.” The editors comment on this: “Of course, there will still be a distinction in socialism between organised work to be done during set hours, even if enjoyable, and recreational activities carried out at the individual’s discretion.”

Both N.B. and the editors assume that the line commonly drawn between work and leisure by people in capitalism will also be drawn by people in socialism. I question this. A few people today—some retired workers and some capitalists who are more than non-employed parasites—are able to live productive and enjoyable lives which they don’t divide into work and leisure segments. In socialism I expect many more such people and society will be the better for having them.

In capitalism it is understandable that workers do divide their lives into work (paid employment) and leisure (mostly as customers of the leisure industry). In socialism there won’t be employment or the leisure industry. Instead there is likely to be a division (though not a hard and fast one) between socially committed activities and individually chosen activities. Both types of activity will straddle what we today call work and leisure.

Most of us will commit some of our time to being, for example, train drivers, classroom teachers, members of orchestras or football teams. Most of us will also spend some of our time doing things that don’t require being with other people at a specified time and place—for example, handicrafts and individual sports.

Michael Schauerte (in the same issue) writes of the socialist revolution: “The first change that seems likely, for a number of reasons, is a major reduction in the length of the working day.” Michael shows too little creative imagination about what work will mean for us in socialism.

Certainly we won’t want to spend more time than we have to on activities or in circumstances that we find unpleasant, boring or damaging. But why should we be concerned with “the length of the working day”? Some activities and interests—socially committed or individual chosen—may be so absorbing, thrilling or delightful that it wouldn’t make sense to long to reduce time spend on them.

People will have much more choice about their lifestyle than they do now. Some may choose Marxian multi-tasking: hunter, farmer, critic, philosopher, blogger, all in one day. Others may devote their whole lives to one interest or activity, bordering on the obsessive. I guess most of us will be somewhere between these two extremes.


Northern Rock

Dear Editors

The Tories have always presented themselves as the party of low taxation, and with another ‘former left’ turned New Labour Cabinet Minister carcass for them to succulently devour (Peter Hain over allegations of sleaze), are naturally revelling in the government’s current dilemma over whether to either nationalise completely Northern Rock or initiate a cobbled up tax funded financial scheme that acts as a veneer for doing something.

The principal question therefore for a party which is allegedly in opposition and whose fundamental tenet of ideology is low taxation to promote free enterprise (albeit also rigidly upheld by New Labour) is why don’t they let this tenet do the talking, by insisting that Northern Rock is an unequivocal market failure and should, like other failed firms, go into liquidation to save the billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money necessary to prop it up?

The reality is, despite all the hype and bluster between both, neither they or New Labour could possibly allow this to happen because if a financial institution of this magnitude were allowed to collapse it would expose to the voting public at large the underlying fragility of the entire capitalist system. Hence this is why most mainstream financial commentators seem reluctant to emphasise that Northern Rock is the first obvious symptom in the UK of a far greater endemic problem of the global financial system where borrowing and speculation has basically outweighed actual economic growth. Indeed the term ‘credit crunch’ is simply a useful euphemism that conveys the myth that it was all down to politicians or financial gurus failing to exercise foresight beforehand. In fact the majority of mainstream politicians in parliament today simply oversee these inept ‘fat cat’ policies as a formality, regardless of the detrimental effects they have on the livelihoods of millions of their constituents particularly if they are working class or homeowners with mortgages.

So for the Tories, as long as New Labour carries the can for this Northern Rock debacle the better. However for the average voter, where the whole fiasco and the billions that are conveniently found to save it should be precipitating a public revival in socialist thinking in some shape or form, the chronic ideological vacuum that exists in British politics today is comprehensively exposed.

NICK VINEHILL, Snettisham, Norfolk

Reply: Good point. The ideological supporters of capitalism like to preach the virtues of competition eliminating lame ducks, but the government – guardian of the interests of a national capitalist class as a whole – doesn’t always let this happen, especially not in a case like Northern Rock which could have a domino effect and even if this costs “the taxpayers” (i.e., the rest of the capitalist class) money – Editors.

The Hull Floods

Dear Editors

Last year’s floods were the widest spread, if not the worst on record, in Britain. Great swathes of the country were affected including the West Country and Yorkshire. Worst affected, however, was Hull, my home town. Local events did not attract much attention in the national media. Hull is a visually uninteresting town, off the beaten track, with few rich people to make a noise (it is the ninth most deprived area in England). The death toll was low, with only one person killed, and, unlike in Gloucester, the floods did not generate any stunning aerial views. However in terms of human impact the northern port was certainly in the front line as can be seen in the recent “The June 2007 Floods in Hull: Final Report by the Independent Review Body” (http://content.thisis.co.uk/hull07/Complete%20v7.pdf).

Stated simply the rainfall on the 25 June was exceptionally heavy and followed in the wake of another heavy storm ten days earlier. The soil was already completely saturated and the drains filled to capacity. There was just nowhere for the water to go. This is a matter of some concern for the area is completely flat with much of the built up area below sea level. Nearly 9,000 homes and 1,300 businesses were affected and 91 of 99 schools in the area damaged, 43 severely so. Institutions affected included the University, where the library (once run by poet Philip Larkin) was badly damaged. As might be expected, the poorer areas, including Bransholme (said to be one of the worst estates in Britain), suffered most. Some 6,300 people had to seek temporary accommodation; around 1,000 are still living in caravans, upstairs or in lodgings.  The trauma of being flooded out has been considerable and, with repairs badly backlogged, long lasting.

Immediately after the event great play was made in local papers over the state of the roadside drains. Undoubtedly in some cases these were blocked due to reductions in street cleaning budgets. However the official report largely negated claims of any major impact. The Independent Review Body did find there were “serious issues” with the drainage facilities, specifically a failed pumping station on Bransholme, and commented “detailed information about the performance and operation of water utilities’ drainage systems should be in the public domain”, a clear condemnation of the damaging privatisation undertaken over the past quarter century. It also picked up on insurance problems faced by many, recommending that the state underwrite flood risks.

Ironically given these proposals of intervention by the state (which clearly isn’t interested), it was the community response which provided back up to most people: “The people of Hull showed extraordinary levels of goodwill, comradeship and willingness to help neighbours during the floods”. So much for selfish human nature.


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