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September, 2006

Vision and the Fight for a New World
This column is a place for revolutionaries to debate why a cooperative society is a practical solution to the problems people are fighting out. We welcome your thoughts about the articles we are running and we welcome your articles. You can view all articles at here. E-mail info@peoplestribune.org or write: People's Tribune, P.O. Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654

Readers respond to 'Work Ethic' column

The "'Work Ethic' and the Electronic Age," by Bob Lee, (August 2006 ) pointed out that the wealthy few who tell us to get a job don't work, but also that, with the electronic age, we're moving toward a society where no one will have to work in the traditional sense. The article suggests that we redefine the 'work ethnic,' and it asks: "What is a moral person today? Is it someone who denounces those who can't find work or one who recognizes the common interests of those who have to sell their labor power?" It suggests a new morality based on one's contribution toward building a new society. Since our purpose is to inspire our readers to debate vision, we reprint two responses.

Samantha Spencer of Chicago:

"As a young artist, I am often out of work and left searching for a positive way to contribute and educate young people, as well as bring a sense of humanity to our difficult world. I was affected by the article "The 'work ethic' and the Electronic Age," in the August 2006 issue. I have felt trapped in the "capitalist inspired morality" that keeps us valuing "hard work", even when it does not serve our own interests. This article reassured me that I do not want to contribute to an immoral system and that has often left me unemployed and struggling to get by. In addition, I think it is important that as revolutionaries we redefine the concept of hard work to include creating art, studying philosophy, or even simply sitting on your porch and creating relationships within your community. The idea that we are not valuable to our system if we are unemployed or underemployed is a myth put forth to trap us in a system of hopelessness and destruction."

Prof. Robert Birt of Baltimore (excerpts):

"What's especially devious about the capitalist work ethic is that it is a form of psychological control over the wage slaves of modern capitalism. It largely (not totally) replaces the whip and the sword used in ancient and medieval times -- or in the antebellum American south. Thanks to the work ethic, today a psychological whip replaced the physical whip -- and it has been immensely more effective. Even when the work ethic was "practical" in pre-electronic capitalism, it did tremendous emotional harm to millions of people, and was crippling to the cultural life of society.

"In antiquity and in the Middle Ages, the ruling classes relied more on force to make folks work (as in American South before Civil War.) Because the capitalists cannot rely (at least not nearly as much) on the sword, psychological and ideological controls are more important and effective.

"Indeed, I know of nothing else aside from racism that has inhibited the maturing of American social consciousness as much as the work ethic. However, the effectiveness of the work ethic has depended on the rapid economic growth and extraordinary prosperity of the USA. Indeed, the average American worker could attain greater economic goodies even if he/she were poor than similarly placed persons in most other countries. Now that this is ceasing, an objective basis is emerging which will allow us to break the ideological hold of the work ethic as we break also the ideological hold of racism.

"It is the self-destruction of capitalism, evidenced by the effects of the electronic revolution described in this article, that is making this possible, We can throw off the mental shackles of the work ethic and other psychological and cultural impediments to our human liberation."

This article originated in the People's Tribune
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