The Right to Be Lazy by Paul Lafargue

The Right to Be Lazy by Paul Lafargue

Published in 1883, The Right to Be Lazy (Le Droit à la paresse) was written by Cuban-born French Marxist and socialist Paul Lafargue (1842-1911).

He was a journalist, polemicist, economist, activist, and literary critic.

This work was all about opposing wage labour and the vast industrial factories that trapped the working class in mindless drudgery. He championed the right to be lazy and his work complemented The Communist Manifesto (1848) as a call to end working exploitation.

The Right to Be Lazy in a Mindless Frenzy of Capitalist Hard Work

“Our epoch has been called the century of work. It is in fact the century of pain, misery and, corruption.”

You need to work harder. Hard work is all that matters. Work harder, you lazy bastards! That’s what our Tory government keeps telling us here in England.

Yet the overprivileged gits populating the Conservative government have been markedly lazy, corrupt, and incompetent over the last 13 years.

The Tory message of “working harder”, in the midst of a terrible cost of living crisis following 13 years of austerity, poverty, and devastated communities, is in stark contrast to its message of “hard work” for financial reward.

For the vast majority of people these days, hard work (to the point of burnout or worse) results in sod all. Low wages, sky high cost of living, and sky high rents in an endless housing crisis results in minimal income.

No savings, just enough to scrape by.

But in a hard right Western society utterly obsessed with capitalism and the individualistic dream, arguing against hard work is akin to treason. Not just in the UK, but certainly in many other Western nations. Particularly America, where capitalism is worshipped by most across the nation—44% of Americans even believe they’ll end up billionaires (refer to The Struggle For Identity in a Market-Based Society by Paul-Verhaeghe for more insights).

Lafargue’s short essay may have been written in 1883, but what’s in there remains relevant to this day:

“Confronted with this double madness of the labourers killing themselves with over-production and vegetating in abstinence, the great problem of capitalist production is no longer to find producers and to multiply their powers but to discover consumers, to excite their appetites and create in them fictitious needs.”

We refer you to Happiness by animator Steve Cutts and this obsession we have in the West of stuff equalling success in life—wealth, gadgets, cars etc.

You can’t move these days for obnoxious advertisements everywhere forcing this idiotic premise into our faces. And yet it seems to be a way of life gleefully accepted by huge proportions of society (except cynical, jaded gits like us).

Which leads to inane pipe dreams and the assumption our hard work will, inevitably, lead to riches. As the saying goes, “Temporarily embarrassed millionaires“.

Back in Lafargue’s day, when poverty was appalling and the exploitation of workers rife (ethical employment laws weren’t common in the 19th century), The Right to Be Lazy argued that citizens should be battling for the right to leisure, joy, and self-realisation.

Instead, workers battled for the right to an eight-hour working day. This was a social movement to regulate working hours, which began life in 16th century Spain, but became a demand during the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

Prior to the 40-hour work week, working days were often between 10-16 hours (if you’re poor you should work harder, of course). Child labour was also common. Extreme poverty was the norm.

“Cannot the labourers understand that by over-working themselves they exhaust their own strength and that of their progeny, that they are used up and long before their time come to be incapable of any work at all, that absorbed and brutalised by this single vice they are no longer men but pieces of men, that they kill within themselves all beautiful faculties, to leave nothing alive and flourishing except the furious madness for work.”

George Orwell touches on this in Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), where he discusses how giant factories were, essentially, prisons. There to trap “the proles” in mundane work so the elite could keep a wary eye on them.

In England right now it’s much the same. The poverty crisis, created by an elitist batch of MPs privately educated, is because of the government of the continued failings of capitalism as an economic system.

Some countries are now trailing a four day working week and shorter hours.

In England, this is being touted for the future in some quarters (and some businesses are even trying it out). Yet we have a government that’s infuriated by the very concept of remote working, so it seems they’ll delay that as much as possible.

The Right to Be Lazy may tread standard socialist ground here, with the many capitalists violently opposed to these ideas, but its message is as strong as ever. Even if most people will ignore it.

Now we think to the emergence of computer technology and its promises.

Less work. More spare time. A happier, more fulfilling life.

It’s not happened. In many businesses, hours are increasingly absurd and unpaid overtime commonplace (industry by industry). Employee workaholics are encouraged, burnout is the norm, yet wages are stagnating.

In almost every instance we can think of in our 10+ year career, manic overwork (working harder and harder working work hardering) has met with no benefit.

Most businesses don’t even acknowledge overtime.

We can type all this out now, but it doesn’t make any difference. The false allures of capitalism are too deeply ingrained in society and the few who’ve truly benefitted don’t want to abandon their luxuries (and how they worked harder than everyone else to achieve them).

What’s left for us is to accept our lot and delight in the knowledge we’re pathetic losers in the eyes of capitalism. And you know what? We think that’s a state of mind to revel in.

The Right to Be a Loser

The YouTube channel Einzelgänger (translation: “one who lives in solitude”) has some excellent content about all of this.

The channel cites the stoic philosopher Epictetus, whose focus in life was clear:

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

He sought the “lesser things” in life.

We’ve covered this before on Professional Moron, with books such as The Beauty of Everyday Things and A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind. Japanese philosophies steeped in how finding joy in ordinary things and how that’s the key to a happy life.

It does make you a loser in the eyes of capitalism, of course, where money and power are all that matter. But we’ve come to view that as a tedious state of affairs and one we’re eager to distance ourselves from.

If you want to go off and be loaded that’s your prerogative.

But we do feel those who pursue it regularly abandon a sense of reality, as if owning a mansion with three supercars and a helicopter will somehow cleanse your being of all its woe. Or, at least, give your superiority complex a prod in the right direction. But for what? Bugger all, when it comes down to it.


  1. It’s the same in NZ. Back in the early 1990s government here actually took pride in policies that actively punished those who were poor or unemployed. The irony was that most of the unemployment and poverty-trap issues came about because of policies imposed by that and the prior government, both of which were running an extreme version of Thatcherism with all the puritanical zeal they could muster. It was then that, for some reason, the Minister of Finance suddenly needed 24/7 police protection (there is a well-known newspaper photo of this woman, who was 4’8″ tall, running to work in her tracksuit, presumably thinking of what valued institution or system she could smash up next, with a plain-clothes cop chugging after her). Things have pegged back a bit today but the core remains and the pressure to WORK is no less. The odd part is that some of the worst aspects of those policies were brought in on successive April Fools’ days – the ministers of finance involved were, it seems, triggered by the fact of that being the start of a financial year and oblivious to any other meaning. History, of course, is well aware of the irony of such timing, and I know this because I’ve written it… (The photo’s here, incidentally: )

    Liked by 1 person

    • “most of the unemployment and poverty-trap issues came about because of policies imposed by that and the prior government” – And exactly the same thing here, the poverty crisis has escalated thanks to our present government (which they deny, of course). Seems to be a universal thing at this point.

      That photo makes me wonder how many millions get trashed on keeping our politicians safe from the general public. An enormous amount, I should think, which could perhaps go to the constituents they keep failing. Although I should imagine that opinion would be viewed as treasonous.

      NZ has Chris Hipkins for the time being, am I right? Seems to be a revolving door of PMs – we’ve had about 30 in the last few years. I am getting cynical!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Hipkins replaced Ardern in a very smooth transition after Ardern abruptly resigned in January. He’s known as ‘Chippy’. We haven’t been too bad in terms of multiple PM’s of late, though there was a period in the late 1980s when the Labour party, having wholly betrayed the trust of the electorate and destroyed the legacy of its own history by adopting extreme neo-liberal policies, ran through three PM’s in about 18 months. Symptomatic of outright policy failure, and the UK seems to present in similar fashion now.

        Curiously, Ardern gave personal reasons for resigning but the broad consensus in the media was that she’d been essentially hounded out by the hate poured across her by the electorate, this to the point where, I was told, police were concerned she could not safely conduct ordinary walkabouts during an election campaign. Ouch. This in a country where until recently, most MP’s (except that finance minister of the early 1990s) could walk unescorted anywhere and nobody cared.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Chippy – good ring to it! And sheesh with Ardern. Quite a few female PMs have quit – Sanna Marin. Plus Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said it was due to the relentless stress and harassment from the news/social media.

          The Tory lot here seem to travel by private jet mainly, so they don’t get much of people chucking rotten eggs at them or whatnot.

          Liked by 1 person

Dispense with some gibberish!

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