Anarchism in Interesting Times
Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook, or follows me on twitter or on instagram, will be painfully aware that I’ve just been away for a few days in Amsterdam. They will also be aware that I’m not so happy to be back. As my girlfriend put it this morning on twitter “The first day back at work really does take away any novelty factor of having actually been on holiday at all.” While Stephanie is back at work catching up on all the stuff that sat on her desk for the last week, I’ve put that particular pleasure off until Monday, still, being back is a downer. Being on holiday is a glimpse of how your life could be if you didn’t have to get up and go somewhere everyday for the privilege of eating and having a roof over your head. Or, at least it’s a glimpse of how your life could be in a post capitalist society where you attempt to cram a year’s worth of activity into a week or two. Here’s a leaving cert style compare and contrast list on the subjects of holidays and full communism.
1. You don’t have to go to work
Yes, this is the obvious one, but it’s great isn’t it? That feeling when you wake up and realise that you’re far away from the office, from obligation and from the daily grind and you are faced with a world of possibility; Shall we go for a walk? A cycle? To a museum? On a boat trip? For a beer? Or shall we just stay in bed a bit longer and go for a lazy lunch? Even if you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do, you know you’re going to have a great day. And you won’t even have to do any housework. The worst thing that might happen is not being able to get white chocolate on your belgian waffle at one in the morning.
2. Being lazy is acceptable
You’ve clocked out, you’ve made sure the bills are all paid, or at least that no one is going to come looking for money off you for the duration, so what’s the rush? You can go on walks that don’t necessarily lead anywhere and just soak up the sights and sounds of being somewhere different. You can sit and have a coffee or a beer and people watch or read a book. You have so much time on your hands that eventually, being lazy gets boring and you feel the urge to do something educational and productive.
3. You can fill your days with culture, if you like
Art galleries, museums and the theatre are usually things we only get to go to once in a blue moon and are often seen as the preserve of the idle rich, but when I’m on holiday, I like to get a lot of this kind of thing in. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get what the artists were trying to say, sometimes it’s just nice to look at pretty things and forget about the daily struggle. You might also learn something that you didn’t need to for work or formal education. Learning becomes a part of everyday life and is indistinguishable from pleasure.
4. You’ll be raving about the food
Even if you’ve just bought a bratwurst from a street trader for four euro, anything you eat will be pure pleasure. You don’t get asked on a daily basis what the food was like at home last night, but when you return from a holiday, you will get asked over and over what you had. In a similar way to how learning and culture just seamlessly blend into your day, the pleasure of eating, every bite, every flavour becomes part of a wider experience and is not just to fulfil a daily requirement.
5. You begin to feel human, you feel like yourself
When you do the same thing every day, it begins to define you. You become alienated, not just from the things you do at work that you don’t directly benefit from, but from the self that you suppress in order to fit the mould that has been cast for you. On holiday, the things that normally occupy your thoughts slip into the background and your mind has space to breath, so much space that at first it can be overwhelming. It is almost the possibility that Karl Marx maps out in The German Ideology, where:
In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming a hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.
In other words, on holiday, as in a communist society, you define yourself, you constantly redefine yourself, rather than being defined by your exclusive sphere of economic activity.
1. Someone has to go to work to make it possible
From the moment you leave work behind you, your very existence, never mind your holiday fun times, requires the labour of others. The taxi driver that took you to the airport, the pilot who flew the plane, the cabin crew who served you drinks and food, the hotel staff who checked you in at reception, the ones who clean your room when you are out and about, the bar and restaurant staff who keep you fed and watered (or wined and dined) and the people working in souvenir shops are all dreaming of when it will be their turn to take a break from being wage slaves. The drivers on city sightseeing busses can’t hop on and off whenever they feel like it. You probably know someone who works for minimum wage or is on an internship doing something that the tourist industry couldn’t do without. A truly communist society would do away with wage labour and reduce necessary work to an absolute minimum, allowing everyone to be themselves all the time.
2. You have to cram everything in
What to do? Have you got your travel guide, your map, your itinerary? Will you fit in everything you want to see? The knowledge that your freedom is transient makes your holiday a little like communism on amphetamines. You may try to fit into a week, a level of activity that is more suited to a month and you still won’t do and see everything that you want to. Oh well, at least you can go back there again.
3. Whose culture is this anyway?
While we soak up the local culture of our chosen destination, what we take in is shaped by capitalism. The content of art galleries is chosen by boards made up of those whose wealth allows them the time to enjoy culture on a daily basis. Artists need financial backers, that is, they need wealthy people to appreciate their art so they must tailor it to certain tastes. As tourists, we are not creating our own works of art, we are spectators, we are voyeurs looking through a window at how the other half live. Even subversive art, created by people with an anti-capitalist outlook is shaped by capitalism.
4. Your freedom is bought by your slavery
You’ve scrimped and saved, you’ve carefully planned and now, finally, you’re living it up just like you’d dreamed. But that scrimping and saving entails you working. Your holiday spending money is just your little share of the labour power you have expended over the last year. And guess what, you’re going to have to do it all again for your next holiday.
5. Before you know it, you’ll be back at work
Holiday communism might make it easier to imagine the end of capitalism, but it sure doesn’t bring the end of capitalism. You’re going to have to go back to that job that you’d rather not do, you’ll have to face the bills and other expenses and all that other stuff that gets in the way of pleasure. Not only that, but while you’re away these thoughts will creep back. As the end of your break draws closer, they’ll get more prominent, you’ll begin to feel less human, less yourself and the fleeting freedom that you bought will slip from your grasp. Look on the bright side though, we can still try and create the real thing.