Mayday is the workers’ day and thus this is written on a Friday, scheduled via automaton. Our writers and editors have set down quill, doused keyboard, darkened shop, and will be spending their time precisely how they like. An anomaly, based on a story told of Martyrs, a stillness from a section of the public who treat it more as a sacred tradition than a right and a goal of all peoples.
It has been a long time, hasn’t it, since the idea of a truly quiet day held sway.
For those of us too young to have benefitted from the protection of real working class power the idea of quiet surety, of pottering about, is long since replaced with a constant performance of business.
Retirement? It’s for the already old, the privileged, the public schoolies. For the rest there is no rest, the logic of commerce infecting our every waking moment. Days “off”? They must be paid for with labour, allowed by the master if they decide your time is low enough in value right at that moment, and will be filled right quick with Jobs That Need Doing. Workplace ecosystems fill our personal devices, workplace rota blades whirr invisibly in the cloud that surrounds us. Bosses may lash us with whapps at any time of their choosing, spill fury on our vulnerable human resource files should we scorn their advances.
Are you making profit right now? What do you mean you’ve not set up a Patreon for your hobby yet, are you giving away your time and energy and enthusiasm like some sort of fool? What about your Definitely Necessary Personal Brand, floating aimlessly through Social like a snarky self-promoting zeppelin? Have you sanitised it for the sake of future employment? Only in consumption may you find guilty absolution. Watch something mindless. Listen to something devised by one of the billion hobbyists who did set up that Patreon.
For all of our lives, everyone from the centenarian to the toddler, we have been told that within our system of greed and individualism there is the dynamo of progress. Towards what, has ever been the question. The conservative has dual, irreconcilable visions of great wealth providing the means to preserve heritage within a life of leisure while simultaneously covering the world in glass, steel and concrete for the benefit of a tiny class of Winners. The leftist and ecologist meanwhile may talk of Apocalypse. Climate chaos. Plastic pollution. Poison air. Dystopias of inequality.
But those are merely more products. They aren’t what capitalism drives towards. It is not a vision, utopian or dystopian, but a process. One which, like water, fills every crack in our physical and intellectual worlds that it can. It enclosed and tamed the land. It catalogued and raked the sea. It parcels out our water and exploits our very air. Everything must be boxed, labelled and sold. “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is made flesh as the lines between work and play are gamified and blurred into an unending “hustle culture.” Every idea and passing fancy could make us millionaires Rodney, every creation is jealously paywalled and doled out from that necessary position of power and strength. Rather than listen we loan emotional bandwidth, friendships and communities degenerating into just more commodities where exchanges are databased and toted up on the abacus.
We, the left, have always said this cannot last. That the regulated devastation of mystery, romance and happiness plants the seeds of its own destruction. But that is not true. In fact capitalism destroys itself daily, and left to its own momentum it will end only when the world does. The only way out is through the strength of our own characters. Only when the working classes, those who make and remake capitalism in the face of its own contradictions, who even now mistake the impotent whine of servers and tip-tap of phone screens for social resistance, rise off their knees will the means be there to halt the commercialisation of all life.
Mayday is not and should not be a marker of the left’s fetishisation of a distant past – a memory of when people stood rather than crawled. It should be the lodestone of our ambition, of spending our time precisely how we like with those we love, free of beep and ding and ring as the machine cools in our absence. Take the day off. Really take it off. Deny capitalism a meal and then, one day and one moment of joy at a time, begin rebuilding the dams that have broken. It must not be allowed to devour the best of what we are.