When I was teaching Marx last year, I joked with my students that a job was such a terrible fate that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It wasn’t only a joke, though — until I got my academic job, I always hated having a job. I know that no one likes doing a job that is solely to make ends meet, but my hatred was particularly implacable. I hated “getting hours.” I hated the carefully defined little breaks. I hated that my boss could come along and interrupt me when I was absorbed in a task and force me to do something else before I’d finished. I hated being given make-work projects so that my pay would seem justified for a given time period. If I was ever given the choice between either standing around killing time so that I could get my “hours” or just going home, I always unfailingly chose going home. (This is surely an important part of the backstory of my adventures in credit card debt….)
This is not to say that I was a bad worker. Far from it! In every job I’ve ever had, I’ve always been the most efficient worker imaginable, because I want to get it over with. Partly this is an autobiographical quirk — for various reasons, in my youth I hit on the strategy of always doing my chores and homework as promptly as possible so as to free up as much unstructured time as possible. And that was because I always had real work to do. Sometimes that was dumb stuff like video games or catching a particular TV show, but it was more often reading and studying and trying to figure out computer programming and whatever else I wanted to do.
I love working. I’m constantly working, and when I’m not working, I hardly ever fully relax because it mentally feels like procrastination (hence part of the work process). What I hate about jobs is that they keep me from my work. And that’s why my academic jobs have been different. First, they allow autonomy — I’m not being micromanaged. Second, my work is mainly something I view as intrinsically worthwhile, and the remainder consists of things that are necessary to maintain the space to do that intrinsically worthwhile work. It’s all a lot of work, probably more than a full-time job all things considered, but I have control over when I work and at what pace.
Obviously I’m fortunate in today’s world to have this kind of work, but I resist viewing it as “privilege.” I understand what that language is trying to do, but to me calling a decent standard of living and dignified work “privilege” assumes that the deprivation is the norm. I want to reverse it — being able to have the relationship to work that I do is how things should be, for everyone. And I even believe that it’s possible, in terms of physical and technological resources.
It would be hard to figure out how to implement it, and of course some level of alienated labor is probably inevitable — and it’s present in my work situation, in the form of the administrative work that’s purely a means to an end that we’d all probably rather not do in our ideal world — but it’s possible. There are many obstacles, in short, but surely one of the biggest is that we’re all killing so much time to get in our hours.
Hence the need for full communism is all the more urgent.