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Notes and Commentary:


by Andr6 Gorz
"Full employment," like all indefinite growth of commercial production, will have
been just a parenthesis in contemporary economic history. We have entered the era of
the abolition of work. The fact that the crisis of capitalism gives it the form of a
calamity should not lead us to forget that the abolition of work and the liberation of
time are themes as ancient as work itself. In the sense in which we understand it today,
work did not always exist: it appeared with capitalists and proletarians. Today it
designates an activity that we do (1) for someone else's benefit; (2) in exchange for
pay; (3) according to forms and schedules set by the one who pays us; (4) for ends we
have not chosen ourselves. The truck farmer performs "work;" the child cultivating
his onions in the yard is performing a free activity.
Today work 1 designates primarily a paid activity. The terms work and job have
become interchangeable: "work" is no longer something we do but something we
have. We say "to look for work" or "to create work" in the same sense as "to look for a
job" or "to create jobs."^
A constrained, heterodetermined, heteronomous activity, work is seen by the
majority of those who look for it and those who "have" it as a sale of time whose object
is of little import: we work "at Peugeot" or "at Boussac" and not "to make" cars or
cloth. We "have" a good job or a bad one, however, depending on how much we earn,
and only secondarily according to the nature of the tasks and conditions for
accomplishing them. We can have a "good" job in the armaments industry and a
"bad" job in a health care center.
Work is not liberty, because for both the wage earner and his employer work is just a
means of earning money, not an activity with an end of its own. Of course, all work,
even on the assembly line, presupposes that the workers put something of themselves
into it: if they refuse, everything stops. But this labor necessary for the factory to
function is at the same time negated, repressed by the organization of work. That is
why the idea that we must be liberated in work and not only from work from work
and not only in work is as ancient as wage labor itself. The abolition of work the
abolition of wage labor: the two things were synonymous in the heroic age of the labor
Wage labor differs from self-determined activity in the same way that exchange
value differs from use value: work is performed mainly for a wage that devotes its
utility to society and entitles one to receive a quantity of social work equivalent to the
one we have furnished. To work for a wage thus means to work to be able to buy from
society as a whole as much time as we have furnished it.
Originally published in Les Temps Modernes 416 (March 1981), pp. 1541-1554. This is the
preface to Postindustrial Socialism, to be published by South End Press (Boston) and Pluto Press
(London) next spring. Translated by David J. Parent.
1. The etymology of the French travail is tripalium: a three-posted apparatus whose
activation subjected its operator to torture.
2. The point seems linguistically more convincing in French, where the words are travail and
emploi. Translator's note.

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Self-determined activity, on the contrary, does not have as its principle aim the
exchange of my time for that of others: it is its own end when it is a matter of aesthetic
(i.e., play, including love as play) or artistic activities; when it is a matter of
productive activity it creates objects destined for consumption or use by the same
people who produced them or people close to them.
The abolition of work is a liberation only if it permits the development of
autonomous activities.
To abolish work thus does not mean to abolish the need for effort, the desire for
activity, the love of workmanship, the need to cooperate with others and to make
oneself useful to the collectivity. On the contrary, the abolition of work is just the
progressive, never total, suppression of necessity we find ourselves in of buying our
right to live (practically synonymous with the right to a wage) by selling our time, our
To abolish work and liberate time: to liberate time so that individuals can become
masters of their body, of their own employment, of the choice of their activities, of
their ends, of their works, are exigencies to which the "right to be lazy" has given an
unfortunately reductive translation. The need to "work less" does not have as its
meaning an end "to rest more," but to "live more," which means: to be able to do for
oneself many things that money cannot buy and even a part of those which it currently
Never has this need been so pressing, for a number of reasons that interact,
reinforcing and legitimating one another.
The most directly perceptible reason is that the abolition of work is a process that is
already going on and seems to be accelerating. For each of the three main industrial
countries of Western Europe, independent forecasting institutes have estimated that
automatization will in ten years abolish four million to five million jobs, without a
radical change in the length of work time, in the ends and nature of activity. Keynes is
dead: in the context of the current crisis and technological revolution, it is absolutely
impossible to re-establish full employment by a quantitative economic growth. The
alternative is rather between two ways of managing the abolition of work: one that
leads to a society of unemployment, the other to a society of free time.
The unemployment society is the one that is being progressively installed before our
eyes: on the one hand, a growing mass of the permanently unemployed, on the other,
an aristocracy of protected workers and, between the two, a proletariat of endangered
workers performing the least qualified and least grateful tasks.
The free-time society, however, is emerging only in the interspaces of and as a
counterpoint to the present society: it is based on the principle of "everyone working
less and engaging in more self-activity." In other words, socially useful work, divided
among those who want to work, ceases being the exclusive or main occupation of each
person: the main occupation can be a self-determined activity or group of activities
performed not for money but for the interest, pleasure or advantage we find in them.
The way of managing the abolition of work and its social mastery are central
political stakes of the coming decades.
The social management of the abolition of work presupposes that we put an end to
the confusion that, under the influence of Keynesianism, has arisen between the "right


to work" and (a) the right to a salaried job; (b) the right to an income; (c) the right to
create use values; (d) the right to have access to the tools needed to create use value.
The necessity to distinguish the "right to a job" from the right to an income had
already been stressed at the beginning of the second industrial revolution (Taylorism).
Like today, it seemed at the time that the reduction of work time required for the
production of necessities called for new distribution mechanisms, independent of
market laws as well as of the "law of value": if products fabricated with minimum
quantities of work ought to be purchasable, then the means of payment had to be
distributed to the population without regard to the sales price of work. Ideas like those
of Jacques Duboin, notably, about a distribution money and a social income
guaranteed for life, continue to circulate under various forms mainly in Northern
The social distribution of production in function of needs and not in function of
solvent demand has long been a central demand of the left. It is increasingly ceasing
to be so. The right to "social income" (or "social wages") in part abolishes "forced
wage labor" only in favor of a wage system without work. It replaces or complements,
as the case may be, exploitation with assistance, while perpetuating the dependence,
impotence and subordination of individuals to the central power. This subordination
will be overcome only if the autonomous production of use values becomes a real
possibility for all.
In the future the split between "right" and "left" will be based less on the social wage
than on the right to self-production (autoproduction). The right of self-production is
basically each base community's own right to produce at least a part of the goods and
services it consumes, without therefore having to sell its work to those who hold the
means of production nor to buy goods and services from others.
The right of self-production presupposes the right of access to tools ana their conviviability.-'' It is incompatible with private or state industrial, commercial, and
professional monopolies. It consequently causes a decrease of commercial production
and of the sale of work in favor of autonomous production based on voluntary
cooperation, exchange of services or personal activity.4
Self-production will develop in all fields where the use value of time turns out to be
greater than its exchange value: i.e., where what one can do for oneself in a
determinate time is worth more than what one could buy by working for a wage during
that time.
Only in combination with effective possibilities of self-production will the liberation
of time succeed in overcoming capitalist logic, in withering away the wage system and
market relations. Effective possibilities of self-production can evidently not exist for all
without a policy of collective arrangements aimed at supporting their existence.
Autonomous activity must not be confused with "domestic work." As Ivan Illich has
shown, 5 the notion of domestic work arose only with a type of sexual division of labor
proper to individualism: industrial civilization locked woman in domestic tasks which
were not directly productive so that the man could spend all his waking hours and
S. As opposed to programmed tools, Ivan Illich gives the name "convivial" to "tools which
favor each person's aptitude to pursue his aims in his own inimitable way."
4. On the importance of voluntary association in libertarian communist thought, see Claude
Berger, Marx, VAssociation ouvriere, Vanti-Linine, Vers Vabolition du salariat (Payot, 1974).
5. "La Troisieme Dimension de la Technologic" in Co-Evolution I (Spring 1980), B.P., 43,
75661 Paris Cedex 14.

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energy in the factory or mine. The woman's domestic activity therefore ceased being
autonomous and self-determined: it was both the condition and the subalternate
appendage to the male's wage labor, which itself was considered essential.
The idea that the wage worker should be relieved of domestic tasks, regarded as
base, while wage labor is supposedly noble this idea is typical of capitalist ideology
which carries it to absurd lengths: it does not take into consideration the object,
meaning and nature of an activity but only its wage remuneration. It leads to
considering the housewife's activity vile, and this same activity noble when it is
performed for others and for pay, as in a nursery, on an airplane, or in a night club.
To the extent that working time diminishes in favor of free time, heterodetermined
time tends to become secondary and autonomous activities determinant. A revolution
of customs and an overturning of the system of values thus tend to confer a new
nobility to the family or housekeeping activities and to abolish the sexual division of
tasks. This abolition is well advanced in Protestant countries. The road to women's
liberation is not via wage remuneration for domestic work 6 but via an association and
a cooperation among equals who, within the family and the broadened family, share
all tasks both inside and outside the home and if necessary take turns at various roles.
The abolition of work is neither acceptable nor desirable for all those who identify
with their work, making it the center of their lives and who can or hope to be able to
realize themselves in it. The social subject of the abolition of work will thus not be the
stratum of professional workers who are proud of their trade and aware of the real or
potential power it confers on them. For this stratum, which always was hegemonic in
the organized labor movement, the appropriation of work, of the means of work and
of power over production remain the central strategic objectives. Automation, to the
extent that it undermines the workers' class power over production and the possibility
of identifying with work (or even of identifying work itself) is perceived by the class of
professional workers as a direct attack on their class. Their main concern is to repel
this attack, not to deflect its means toward ends contrary to their assailants'. The
defense of work and of its qualification, not the control of the mode of its abolition,
will thus be the central concern of traditional labor unionism.
This very thing condemns it to the defensive.
The abolition of work is, on the contrary, a central objective for those who,
whatever they have learned to do, feel that their work will never be a source of
personal enjoyment for them, nor the main content of their life as long, at least, as
work will be synonymous with fixed hours, predetermined tasks and limited skills,
assiduous toil for months or years, the impossibility of carrying on their own activities,
etc. These "allergies to work," in Rousselet's expression,7 ought not to be considered
marginal. It is not just a fringe, but the actual or virtual majority of the "actively
employed" who consider their work to be a fastidious necessity in which it is impossible
to become fully involved.
This non-involvement is due in part to the divergent evolution of the cultural level,
on the one hand, to the type of qualification required by the majority of occupations,
on the other: occupations tending to become intellectualized (i.e., to appeal to
mental operations more than to manual ones) yet without stimulating or fulfilling
6. Which would lead merely to replacing the housewife's alienation with that of the domestic
servant, the wife's sexual service with that of the prostitute.
7. Jean Rousselet, L'AUergie au travail (Le Seuil, 1974).


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intellectual capacities. Hence, the impossibility for the workers to identify with their
work and to feel that they belong to the working class.
So, I call this stratum which experiences work as an external obligation by which
"one loses one's life in earning a living," a "non-class" of "non-workers"; its aim is not
the appropriation but the abolition of work and the worker. And this is what makes it
a carrier of the future: the abolition of work has no other possible social subject than
this non-class. I do not imply by this that it is already capable of taking the process of
abolishing work under control and of producing a society of liberated time. But I say
that the latter will not be able to be produced without or against it, but only by or with
it. The objection according to which we cannot see how this "non-class" would take
power is irrelevant: its obvious incapacity to take power proves neither that the
working class itself is capable of it (if that were the case, this would be known) nor that
power ought to be taken, rather than reduced and controlled, if not abolished.
To consider the non-class of non-workers as the potential social subject of the
abolition of work does not relieve one of an ideological or ethical choice: the choice is
not between abolishing work or re-establishing complete trades in which each person
can find happiness. The choice is between the liberating and socially controlled
abolition of work or its oppressive and anti-social abolition.
For it is impossible to reverse the general (social, economic and technological)
evolution in order to reinstate complete trades entirely and for everyone, assuring to
autonomous teams of workers the mastery of production and the product, along with
personal enjoyment. The personal character of work is necessarily blunted to the
extent that the production process is socialized. Its socialization necessarily entails a
division of labor, a normalization and standardization of tools, procedures, tasks and
knowledge. Even if, following the current tendency, relatively small and decentralized
units of production replace the industrial mastodons of the past; even if the
brutalizing repetitive tasks are abolished or, when they cannot be, are divided among
the entire population, socially necessary work will never be comparable to the activity
of master craftsmen or artists: a self-determined activity of which each person or team
sovereignly defines the modalities and the object, the inimitable personal touch that
puts one's particular mark on the product. The socialization of production necessarily
implies that the microprocessors or the ball bearings, the sheet iron or the motor fuels
be interchangeable no matter where they were produced, and thus that work as well as
machines have interchangeable characteristics everywhere.
This interchangeability is, moreover, a fundamental condition for the reduction of
the duration of time and the distribution of the necessary social work among the whole
population. The proposition, as old as the labor movement, that tends to obtain a 20
percent reduction of work time by hiring a corresponding number of supplementary
workers, implicitly supposes the interchangeability of workers and their work. If 1,000
people working 32 hours can do the work for which 800 people working 40 hours
would be enough, this work must not require irreplaceable personal qualities of those
who do it. On the contrary, it is the employers who are opponents of a reduction of
working time who declare it to be technically impossible under the pretext that there
are not enough workers with the required qualities.
The depersonalization, standardization and division of labor are thus at once what
permits the reduction of the working time and what makes it desirable: each person's
work can be reduced because others can do it instead of one, and it ought to be

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reduced so that I can have different, more personal activities.
In other words, the heteronomy of work, a consequence of its socialization and its
multiplied production, is also what makes possible and desirable the liberation of
time, the expansion of autonomous activities. To believe that "self-management" can
make work complex, personal and enjoyable for everyone is a dangerous illusion
In every complex society, the nature, modalities and object of work are, to a great
extent, determined by necessities over which individuals and teams have but a feeble
grip. They can, of course, succeed in "self-managing" the production plants, in
self-determining the working conditions, co-determining the conception of machines
and the definition of tasks. But as a whole these remain no less heterodetermined by
the social process of production, i.e., by society insofar as it itself is a big machine.
Workers' control (erroneously called workers' "self-management") in reality consists
only in self-determining the modalities of heterodetermination: the workers apportion
and define their tasks within the framework of a division of labor pre-established on
the level of the whole society. They do not themselves define this division of labor nor,
for example, the manufacturing standards for ball bearings. They can eliminate the
mutilating character of work but not confer on it a character of personal creation.
This kind of alienation is inherent not only in the capitalist relations of production,
but in the socialization of the production process itself: in the functioning of a
complex machine-like society. This alienation can be mitigated in its effects but it
cannot be abolished.
However, it does not have just negative consequences as long as its insurmountable
reality is recognized. And to recognize its reality means above all to recognize that
there cannot be complete coincidence of the individual with his social work, and that,
inversely, social work cannot always be a personal activity which the individual enjoys
completely. "Socialist morality," by demanding that everyone commit himself totally
to his work and confuse it with his personal ends, is oppressive and totalitarian in its
root. It is a morality of accumulation, symmetrical with the bourgeois morality of the
heroic age of capital. It identifies morality with the love of work while at the same time
depersonalizing work by its very industrialization and socialization: it thus demands a
love for depersonalization, i.e., the sacrifice of oneself. It is opposed to the very idea of
the "free development of each person as end and condition of the free development of
all" (Marx). It runs counter to the morality of liberation of our times, which originally
dominated the labor movement.
The reconciliation of individuals with work is made possible by the recognition that,
even subjected to workers' control, work is not and must not be the essential thing in
life. It must be just one of its poles. The liberation of individuals and of society, as well
as the reduction of the wage system and of market relations, is made possible by giving
preponderance to autonomous activities over heteronomous ones.
When I speak of the non-class of non-workers as the (potential) social subject for the
abolition of work, I do not claim to replace Marx's working class by a different class
invested with the same type of historical and social mission. The working class, in
Marx or in the Marxists, had (or has) a theological character by the fact that it is a
subject that transcends its members: it makes history and society through them but
without their knowledge. It is the subject idea by which the workers are thought in


their truth; it is unthinkable by them in its subject-unity, just as the organism is
unthinkable by the thousands of cells that compose it or as God is unthinkable by his
creatures. That is why it has been able to have its priests, its prophets, its martyrs, its
churches, its popes and its wars of religion.
The non-class of those refractory to the sacralization of work, on the contrary, is not
a "social subject." It has no transcendental unity or mission, and consequently no
holistic conception of history and society. It is thus, so to speak, without religion or
God, without other reality than that of the people who comprise it: in short, it is not a
class, but a non-class. And precisely for that reason it has no prophetic powers: it does
not proclaim a subject-society by which the individuals will be integrated and saved;
on the contrary it reminds the individuals of the necessity to save themselves and to
define a society compatible with their autonomous existence and their ends.
This is the property of nascent social movements: like the peasant movement, the
Protestant movement and the labor movement, the movement of people who refuse to
be just workers has a libertarian core: it negates order, power, the social system, in the
name of everyone's irrescindable right to his own life.
This right, certainly, can be affirmed only if it corresponds to a power that the
individuals draw not from their integration into society, but from their own existence,
i.e., their autonomy. It is the construction of this autonomous power that defines the
nascent movement in its present phase. Scattered, composite, it is by its nature and
its aims, refractory to organization, programming, the delegation of functions,
integration into a constituted political force. That is its strength as well as its weakness.
Its strength, for a different society, permitting new spaces of autonomy, can be born
only if individuals have first invented and put into practice a new autonomy and new
relations. Every change of society thus presupposes the extra-institutional work of
cultural and ethical change. No new liberty can be conceded from above, by
institutional power, unless it has already been taken and practiced by the citizens
themselves. In the movement's nascent phase, the citizen's distrust of institutions and
established parties reflects essentially its refusal to pose the problems in the habitual
forms and to consider as solely decisive the debates on the better management of the
state by the parties and of society by the state.
Its weakness, however, for the spaces of autonomy conquered from the existing
order will be marginalized, enclaved or subordinated to a dominant rationality unless
there is a transformation and a reconstruction of society, its institutions, and its laws.
The preponderance of autonomous activities over heteronomous work is inconceivable
in a society in which the logic of the marketability, profitability and accumulation of
capital remains dominant.
This preponderance is thus not just an ethical and existential stake but a political
one. Its realization presupposes that the movement not merely open, by people's
practice, some new spaces of autonomy, but that society, its institutions, its
technologies and its laws be made compatible with this expansion of the sphere of
autonomy. The transformation of society in accord with the aims of the movement will
in no way be an automatic effect of the expansion of the movement itself. It
presupposes a specific, i.e., a political, thought, action, and will. The fact that the
post-capitalist, post-industrial, post-socialist society 8 which is aimed for here cannot
8. In the Marxist definition, socialism is the stage of transition to communism. During this
transition, the development and socialization of productive forces are completed, and the wage

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and must not be integrated, regulated and programmed to the same degree as those
that preceded it, this fact does not dispense one from posing the question of the
functioning, the juridical bases and the balance of powers of this type of society.
Non-integrated, diverse, complex, pluralist, libertarian, it is nonetheless a society
among other imaginable ones and needs to be realized by a conscious action.
I do not know what form this action and the political force capable of leading it can
take. I know only that this political force is necessary and that its relations with the
movement will be and ought to be as conflicting and tense as the relations between the
(anarcho-syndicalist) trade union movement and the workers' parties have been. The
subordination of one to the others has always resulted in the bureaucratic sterilization
of both, especially when the parties confuse their political act with their control of the
state apparatus.
I have deliberately left this question open and suspended. In the current phase, one
must dare ask questions to which one does not have the answer and to raise problems
whose solution still remains to be found.
system is retained and even expanded. The abolition of the wage system (as the dominant form of
work, at least) and of market relations is supposed to be realized later, with communism.
In the industrially developed countries a stage beyond socialism has already been reached: the
current political task, as proclaimed already in 1969 in // Manifesto, goes beyond socialism, i.e.,
to communism as originally defined.
The use of these ideas has become difficult because of the perversion and demonetization of
socialism and communism by the regimes and parties that claim to represent them. The crisis of
Marxism, which extends even to language itself, must, however, not lead one to renounce
thinking capitalism, socialism, their crisis and what comes afterward. The conceptual
instruments of Marxism remain irreplaceable and to reject them in toto stems from an attitude as
infantile as to consider Capital to be revealed truth, despite its expansion and its incompleteness.


Atlanta has recently become a focal point of national and international attention
because of a mysterious series of murders of local black children. Reporters have come
from around the world and visitors to the city immediately press Atlantans for news,
inside dope or the latest updates as they express their sympathy and solidarity. The
sentiments no doubt are genuine and the outpouring of befuddled, curious concern is
understandable, especially given the apparent senselessness of the killings. However,
this phenomen has another side beyond the personal and collective tragedy of the
murders themselves.
Indeed, the Atlanta child murders can serve as a micrological window on several
important trends in contemporary American life. These tendencies can be illuminated
by discussing four discrete but related themes. These issues are: (1) the increasingly
consolidated stratification of the black community and the growing subordination of
those Afro-American strata who exist as clients of the social-administrative apparatus;