Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Notes on Surrealism & the Revolution of Everyday Life

by Penelope Rosemont

“Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history,
is man’s original virtue.”—Oscar Wilde

” . . . and then we go out and seize a square of singular symbolic
significance and put our asses on the line to make it happen. The time has
come to deploy this emerging stratagem against the greatest corrupter of our
democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America.”—From Adbusters
(September/October 2011 issue)

We are not protesting. Who is there to protest to? What could we ask them
for that they could grant? We are occupying. We are reclaiming those same
spaces of public practice that have been commodified, privatized and locked
into the hands of faceless bureaucracy, real estate portfolios and police
“protection.” Hold on to these spaces, nurture them and let the boundaries
of your occupations grow.—Egyptian (Tahrir Square) Comrades

Unemployed, depressed, don’t know what to do next? WORK FULL-TIME! Men and women needed NOW to work on Occupy Everything! No pay; possible great future.

Guaranteed: enormous satisfaction right now! Make your unemployment
meaningful. Take the world apart and remold it to your desires. Don’t gamble
in casinos for petty stakes, don’t waste your nickels and dimes. Gamble big!
You have a world to win!

Work as we have known it is gone! For better or for worse, the workless
future is here; right now. And, it must be reckoned with. Don’t ask for
jobs, don’t be lonesome for your exploitation; don’t miss your cage, or your
alarm clock. Demand instead that everyone gets an equal share; demand
ownership of the products that you make, the world that you create. Demand
the natural world be restored . . . a beauty for us now to enjoy and a way to
sustain us the future.

Jacques Vaché, one of those WWI rebels with André Breton at the root of
surrealism, considered the role of the Alarm-Clock in daily-life-that
materialized superego lurking in every household. The Alarm Clock, he wrote,
“a monster that has always frightened me because of the regimentation
glaring from its face, because of the way it-this honest man-glares at me
when I enter the bedroom.” It is, “a hypocrite that detests me.”

Franklin Rosemont, co-founder of the Chicago Surrealist Group, commented
that the alarm/time clock is “at the very center of the class struggle . .
. scientific management . . . multiplied profits and the power of the giant
trusts.” He then asks, “When will the last ten-thousand alarm-clocks be
tossed on a bonfire of the last ten-million time cards?”

A good time would be now.

“Human dignity has been reduced to the level of exchange value,” wrote
Surrealist André Breton. “We do not accept the laws of economy and exchange,
we do not accept enslavement to work.”

Occupy Wall Street (OWS), we need to note, is the precariat—those who face
an uncertain future—manifesting not as the “unemployed,” as defined by
pointless policy makers, but as humanity in search of its dignity. The
critique of work and the consideration of new possibilities for everyday
life began in the 1880s when Paul Lafargue, Karl Marx’s son-in-law, wrote an
amazing book, The Right to Be Lazy. This book was the first to recognize a
disastrous dogma, “A strange delusion possesses the working classes of the
nations where capitalist civilization holds its sway. . . [T]his delusion is
the love of work, the furious passion for work, pushed even to the
exhaustion of the vital force of the individual and his progeny. Instead of
opposing this mental aberration, the priests, the economists and the
moralists have cast a sacred halo over work. . .”

Again this year, The Right to Be Lazy has come back into print at the
precisely right moment with an excellent introduction by Bernard Marszalek, a
Fifth Estate contributor in this issue. In his introduction, Marszalek
states that, “The Right to be Lazy, after decades of obscurity, was
reprinted by Solidarity Bookshop in the 60s, at a time when academics,
hippies and revolutionaries questioned the future of work.” At that time, he
writes, “A tiny faction of the 60s revolutionaries questioned the very
necessity of work itself and advocated its abolition before the 1968
rebellion of French students and workers inspired many to think of work
radically transformed. The Rebel Worker Group in Chicago, Fredy and Lorraine
Perlman’s Black and Red and the Fifth Estate in Michigan, and Black
in New York City, expressed their utter disdain for toil and devised
schemes to avoid it. Several dissident intellectuals, like Paul Goodman and
Ivan Illich, agreed with these sentiments.” The State, and the capitalism
that it embodies and defends, has no solutions to offer; it can only respond
by expanding its influence, economically if possible, and militarily if
necessary. Ideally, however, its best method of social control is through a
bewildering array of Non-Choices -breathtaking spectacles of useless
products and despicable celebrity antics. A corruption geared to leave us
with an acute sense of defeatism. We can observe the truth of Fredy Perlman’s
often quoted passage from the Reproduction of Daily Life, concerning the
situation of humankind in this society. They who were “previously conscious
creators of their own meager existence become unconscious victims of their
own activity . . . Men who were much but had little; now, have much, but are
little.” Surrealists have a word for it: “miserablism.”

In Creating Anarchy, Ron Sakolsky writes, “Miserablism is a system that
produces misery and then rationalizes it by perpetuating the idea that such
misery comprises the only possible reality.” It’s time to ask the question,
what do we really want? Shiny-black Gucci shoes and a stone-grey Bugatti
Veyron, the world’s most over-priced auto to drive around through the
assorted junk-yards of smashed automobiles, graveyards of abandoned tires
and lonesome-bloated refrigerators that now surround our cities instead of
prairies and forests? Or, an authentic life in a verdant world? Our social
world could be restructured so that work that needs to be done would be
divided up among us all. Many hands make work light, as the old, old saying
goes. Work could be structured so that hours would be short, variety would
be possible, and it would be a pleasure to cooperate with each other and
accomplish what needs to be done.

Transforming work into useful, collaborative and fun activity, means we need
to call that activity something besides work. Can the great joy in the
restoration of forests and prairies and sanctuaries for animals be called
work? Is the joy of creating art, work? Or, constructing beautiful
buildings, or teaching and helping others, work? Those lucky scientists who
have the privilege of puzzling over the universe and figuring out
complicated scientific and technical problems, do they define that activity
as a sacrifice of their time and energy? They may call it “their work,” but
this is not working by any current definition of the activity. If for one
day, work was freely shared, was focused on needs and for the benefit of
all, not only would it be necessary to find another word for what was
formerly known as “work,” but also, the world would change overnight.

Also, freedom from oppressive work would allow us for the first time in
history to truly develop our individuality. It is interesting to note that
Marszalek’s concluding comments on Lafargue’s The Right to be Lazy, written
last year, are almost a prediction of what began in lower Manhattan as
Occupy Wall Street. He calls for seizing space-creating communal living
spaces, occupying abandoned factory sites to re-in dustrialize for community
use, building a decentralized energy commons, doing spontaneous theater in a
bank-are like the late winter blossoms in the field of a new culture, a
culture of rhizomic expansion.”These remarks especially found their concrete
expression during Occupy Oakland’s General Strike on November 2, when a
theatrically animated and inspired crowd closed down a Wells Fargo Bank by
assembling a typical American living room-complete with sofas, chairs,
end-tables and lamps on the sidewalk in front of the bank.

They apparently were planning to make themselves at home and why not? It’s
our world. What are you going to do about it?

Marszalek analyzes what happens when we take our daily-lives into our own
hands: “Development of this sort encourages and connects diverse social
projects in a non-hierarchical way to solidify pragmatic politics and to
amplify human capabilities that can lead to a truly rich life.”

In other words, rebellion that creates lasting social change changes the
changemaker—frees the agent of change, to, as Breton famously said, change
life and transform the world.

Portions of this piece will appear in the forthcoming issue of the Fifth Estate

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