Labour, Praxis, Poetical, Play


For Milan Kangrga, play is the «result» – «either of labour or creativity, but only the fought for, actively mediated, produced, established «medium», where, as already formed human beings, we can then play and entertain ourselves in a human way in our – meaningful idleness, which is then the established spiritual horizon of self-realization based on creative imagination.» (15) Play is a potential result of labour or creativity, but the nature of labour (creativity) conditions the nature of play. It is one thing to create the possibilities of play by creating a non-working time which is only potentially workers’ free time, and quite another to create play as the realization of man’s playing being. Work can produce a non-working time, but play is only formally possible if man is not capable of playing. Labour which mutilates man’s playing being directly conditions physical abilities, playing skill and imagination – which means the possibility of playing and thus the creation of play. Man whose body is reduced to a machine and who has lost physical qualities that enable the development of the playing, meaning a creative body, does not have a need to play, but to engage in such a physical activity which is conditioned by the properties of a mechanicized body. It not only reduces man’s playing abilities, it reduces the possibility of man experiencing himself as a playing being, and thus the possibility of his playing self-consciousness. A physically crippled man can feel «free» only in those plays in which his mutilated being can be realized. At the same time, he aspires to those plays in which he can find compensation for the constraints in the working process – where he is reduced to an impersonalized working force: playing becomes a psychological response to labour. Most importantly, play is not only a respite, it is a preparation for work, which means that man can develop in play those qualities which enable him both to «keep fit» and keep his job. Alienated labour, where man is reduced to the «working force» and instrumentalized as an impersonalized part of working processes, does not distort only man, but also interpersonal relations – which has a direct influence on the playing imagination. Sport is a typical example: a «sports team» is a capitalistically degenerated form of grouping  people – degenerated sociability. When the playing skill is developed on the basis of a suppressed and distorted humanness, it becomes a compensatory mechanism for a frustrated humanness, a means to escape from reality, for a conflict with other people – as is the case in sport. There is no «formed human being» unless man has developed a need for and ability to play. «Meaningful idleness», «spiritual horizon of self-realization» and «creative imagination» are all conditioned by the development of man’s playing being, his physical powers and acquired playing skills, the conception of man and relation to people. The imagination of a slave is one thing, the imagination of a free man is quite another; a «reasonable» opting for play of a man with a mutilated body and playing being, for whom play is compensation for the alienation in work, is one thing, while «reasonable» opting for play of a man who has a playing (creative) body and playing being and who develops in work his physical and spiritual powers is quite another. At the same time, man should see freedom in play not only in relation to work, but above all in relation to the world in which he lives, which means in relation to the ruling order. The idea that man can realize his playing being in relation to work within the repressive (destructive) capitalist order is illusory. Work is not the only form in which man is alienated from himself as an erotic (playing) being, the whole life is such a form, based on the «technical civilization» which represents the form in which capitalism destroys nature and man as a natural and human being. It is not about the freedom of man reduced to the «worker», it is about the freedom of man in the totality of his social existence. The possibility of play (playing) does not lie in the relation work –play, but in the relation man – ruling order. Libertarian play is not only the result of work or creativity, but above all of the fight for freedom which involves the fight for the creation of a new world. The relation of man to the world, himself, other people, the full humanity he acquires in the fight for survival and freedom – this is the necessary «mediator» which enables the cultivation and development of man’s playing being, his playing skill and human community as a playing community. The theses of a «meaningful idleness» can be productive since it enables the creation of such forms of play through which man will be able to develop his libertarian, creative and social being, which means to stand against the existing world trying to create a new world. Kangrga’s definition of play is close to the idea of libertarian play, but «creative imagination» should have a visionary character and its realization should be part of a political movement which seeks to create a new (humane) world.

     Marcuse cites Marx’s view on how free time affects man: „Free time transforms its possessor into a different Subject, and as a different Subject he enters the process of immediate production“. (16) Here it should be added: as a potentially changed subject – provided that it is really about free time, and not about apparent «free time» where the ruling relations and values are reproduced, as is the case with the ruling forms of play. Leisure time does not have an abstract, but a concrete historical nature: non-working time is «free» from work, but not from capitalism nor from the consequences of work for man (mutilation of his erotic being, physical and mental deformation of man and interpersonal relations …). In the «consumer society» both working and non-working time have become constituent parts of the capitalist time: time of production and time of consumption. At the same time, the content of non-working time is conditioned by class relations, which means by the struggle for the instrumentalization of non-working time for the purpose of protecting the ruling order. The bourgeoisie tries to prevent by all means the non-working time from becoming the free time of the oppressed. Stadiums, designed according to the Roman Coliseum, were built at the end of the XIX century, when workers managed to obtain the eight-hour working time, in order to keep the «working masses» under control during non-working hours. The ruling forms of play, which were to become the cheapest and chief spiritual food for workers, occupied most of the non-working time and as such were «free time» imposed on workers by the bourgeoisie: non-working time became the means for the integration of workers into the spiritual orbit of capitalism. Marx himself unintentionally encourages that when he recommends that young workers, in their free time, do gymnastic exercises, which were done by the bourgeois youth and which had a mechanical form and militaristic nature, meaning that they were reduced to a physical drill mutilating man’s erotic, and thus, his playing nature. (17)

The establishment of the relation between work and praxis enables us to attain the notion of true play. Mihailo Marković says on that: «In principle, work is different from praxis. Work is instrumental, praxis is the end in itself. Praxis is a free, spontaneous, creative activity where each individual realizes his unique, specifically human powers.» (18) For Kangrga, praxis is a «free self-realization of man as the universal generic being. This involves the process of man’s historical self-becoming in the totality of his manifestation as the only purpose or the unique purpose (meaning) of his life.» (19) Praxis, as the «total way of the appropriation of the world (and oneself in it)» (20) by man is the «natural» basis of play. In this context, particularly important is the connection between praxis and poiesis: “Historical novum in terms of the epochal change in the essence of praxis proceeds not only through a practical determination of the theory which is heading for its realization, but even more: through the identification of praxis and poiesis, whereas in the very definition of the modern concept of practice poiesis obtains not only a constitutive but also a prevailing character». (21) The alienated labour is possible because man is «more» that that he is reduced to as the labour tool and hired worker. It involves a distance to labour from the point of view of man as a libertarian and universally creative (playing) being. By working, man has put chains on himself and became alienated from his authentic playing being, but at the same time he developed his creative powers which enable him to acquire a libertarian and creative self-conscious. The dialectic of praxis is based on the conflict between the acquired creative powers and the (im) possibility of realizing them in a way which would affirm him as a human being, which means of creating a humane world. This is one of the most important reasons why the capitalist propaganda machinery and entertainment industry increasingly try to destroy man’s libertarian self-conscious. Non-working time must not become the time for development of workers’ self-conscious, but the means for their integration into the spiritual orbit of the bourgeoisie and reproduction of capital, which means a consumer time. It is particularly important today when, due to the imposed dynamics of innovation as the basic requirement for survival on the market, man, instead of factories and machines, has become the most important «investment». The creative mind has become the driving force of contemporary capitalism, which indicates that there are objective possibilities for a libertarian totalization of the world by a (liberated) man.

Writing in the «Capital» on the freedom in work Marx concludes: «Freedom in this area can only exist in the associated man’s, associated producers’ rational organization of their exchange of matter with nature, in bringing it under their joined control, instead of its dominating them as a blind force; in executing it with the least possible expenditure of energy and under the conditions which are the most worthy of and adequate to their human nature. But this always remains the realm of necessity. Beyond it begins the development of the human power, which is the purpose for itself, the real realm of freedom, but which can thrive only in that realm of necessity as its foundation. The reduction of the working time is the primary condition.» (22) Analyzing the process of the automatisation of work Marcuse says: „In the technique of pacification, aesthetic categories would enter to the degree to which the productive machinery is constructed with a view of the free play of faculties. But against all ‘technological Eros’ and similar misconceptions, ‘labor cannot become play…’ Marx’s statement precludes rigidly all romantic interpretation of the ‘abolition of labor’. The idea of such a millennium is as ideological in advanced industrial civilization as it was in the Middle Ages, and perhaps even more so. For man’s struggle with Nature is increasingly a struggle with his society, whose powers over the individual become more ‘rational’ and therefore more necessary than ever before. However, while the realm of necessity continues, its organization with a view of qualitatively different ends would change not only the mode, but also the extent of socially necessary production. And this change in turn would affect the human agents of production and their needs..“ (23) By becoming a total and global order of destruction, capitalism has posed, in a new and far more dramatic way, the question of necessity and freedom, and thus the question of the relation between work and play. No longer is work as such man’s most important existential duty, but the fight for preserving the life on earth (and the appropriate work). The struggle for survival has become the modern «realm of necessity» and man will develop on its foundation as a totalizing life-creating being. Modern capitalism «has united» the existential and essential spheres: the struggle for freedom becomes an existential necessity, and the struggle for survival is the basic libertarian challenge. It means that the starting point of libertarian practice are no longer the spheres of work, art and play – it is man as a totalizing life-creating being which sees his whole life at the existential-essential level, and this means in the context of the fight against capitalism which has turned social institutions, the laws of nature and man into the means for annihilation of life. In this context, work, which realizes man’s (life) creative powers and creates a genuine human world, becomes the basic essential activity. Just as today the production of goods (commodities) is at the same time the destruction of life, so in a future society the production of goods will at the same time be the production of healthy living conditions and the creation of a healthy man.

The thesis that play is possible only relative to work means that the point of departure is play as an area, and not man as the playing being and thus the subject of totalization (humanization) of social life and nature, which includes work as an interpersonal relation and man’s self-creating activity. Instead of work and play as areas alienated from man, the starting point is man as a universal creative being, who treats work in the totality of its totalizing libertarian-creative (life-creative) practice. Then it will be impossible to apply the mechanistic scheme on the «feedback that play has on work», man being only a mediator between the social spheres alienated from him. It is about the domination of man and humanizing interpersonal relations over all social processes; about the humanization of the world through an ever fuller realization of man’s playing being; about the totalization of the world through man’s (life) creative practice, whereas work, art and «sheer» play («production» of the human in an immediate form) are but forms in which true human powers are realized. From the «adaptive» and instrumentalized working force we have come to man as the totalizing subject of the entire social life. The abolishment of the dualism of work and play abolishes the dualism of man as homo faber and homo ludens and man becomes the emancipated homo libertas.

Fourier has attained the notion of work as play departing from man’s erotic nature and emphasizing interpersonal relations, and in that context man’s relation to work. Marx criticizes the work which is imposed on man from outside, and where man is a hired worker, and argues for the work of free people, which has become man’s «primary life need». Engels, in «Anti‑Dühring», speaks of the «productive work» which «instead of being the means for suppression, becomes the means for people’s liberation, giving a chance to each individual to perfect his abilities, both physical and spiritual and apply them in all areas, and where work thus turns into pleasure instead of being a burden». (24) Following Marx, Jean Divigno insists on the abolishment of the gap between mental and physical work, and thus the question of the relation between work and play is posed in an essentially different way: «When this difference is abolished, we will get a new picture, new conception of work, and thus of play, and this is something we cannot even imagine now, but we can fight for it. For I believe that things can move in that direction. When man (…), who developed his esthetical, imaginative, and thus productive powers, no longer distinguishes between mental and physical world, imaginativeness will become a common property, while everyday life will be enriched by unimaginable powers that for the time being are the privilege of a small number of people.» (25) Creative work represents the overcoming of the classical division of work and a partial man reduced to a «specialized working force». Instead of being reduced to an operationalized intellect, which means to the technical means for producing «innovations» and reproducing the capital, the creative mind becomes the basis of creative work and the basis of social integration. It is not only the production of useful goods, but also of the visionary: the creation of humanum becomes the creation of the novum and vice versa. Creative work involves realizing the human in a humane way and ensuring the existence by transforming nature in a way which is not destructive and which cultivates man’s natural being… A need for work becomes a need for developing creative powers and interpersonal relations and for dealing with the consequences of destroying nature and man as a biological being. It overcomes the partial man and enables the integration of mankind on the basis of the creative mind. Ultimately, work becomes not only a way of ensuring existence, but also of enriching interpersonal relations and of returning man to his human essence. Creative work is a direct form of the production of society as the community of emancipated individuals, which means creative and totalizing sociability. The results of creative work, just as in artistic work, cannot be measured. They cannot be private property, but only the «property» of mankind. Creative work is by its nature limitless both in terms of the development of man’s creative powers and in terms of its time and spatial effect. It is the basic form of the totalizing practice which produces an endless (human) world. Creative work is opposed to the capitalist work which is based on destructive irrationalism. It involves not only the creation of useful goods and the creation of man as a universal creative being, but also the creation of life. Creation is the common denominator of man’s universal life-creative activism, while creative effort makes the essence of work and play. The genuine play is the result of man’s creative development and at the same time the highest and most direct form in which man produces the human. In that sense, play overcomes art. A creative effort is man’s true condition, just as the constant life creative activity of vital organs is the true condition of the organism and the basic condition of life. A playing effort is the most authentic form of the realization of man’s life – his creating force, his will to be human… On it a flight towards new worlds is based. The true result of the creative effort is the development of man’s playing being and interpersonal relations, which means the liberation of the playing and the development of a need and ability to play. A constant creation of the human – this is the way in which man’s life-creating pulse should beat.

The development of automatization creates the possibility of perceiving the relation between work and play in a completely different way. Marcuse: „Complete automation in the realm of necessity would open the dimension of free time as the one in which man’s private and societal existence would constitute itself. This would be the historical transcendence toward a new civilization.“ (26) He also argues: “Progress is not a neutral term; it moves toward specific ends, and these ends are defined by the possibilities of ameliorating the human condition. Advanced industrial society is approaching the stage where continued progress would demand the radical subversion of the prevailing direction and organization of progress. This stage would be reached when material production (including the necessary services) becomes automated to the extent that all vital needs can be satisfied while necessary labor time is reduced to marginal time. From this point on, technical progress would transcend the realm of necessity, where it served as the instrument of domination and exploitation which thereby limited its rationality; technique would become subject to the free play of faculties in the struggle for the pacification of nature and of society. (…) Such a state is envisioned in Marx’s notion of the ‘abolition of labor’.“ (27) The shift of industrial labour towards automatization is the greatest contribution of capitalism to the future. However, automatization in itself does not abolish repression but makes it, in the current state of capitalist reproduction, more impersonal and efficient. Limitless possibilities of scientific and technological advances are not founded on limitless possibilities of the development of capitalism, but on the limitless possibilities of the development of man’s creative capabilities. Capitalism has set those capabilities into motion and has directed the effects of their development to the destruction of life. The «power of technique» has become  from men alienated and capitalistically instrumentalized creative power. The real value of the technological development is not in the creation of «material wealth» but in the development of man’s creative powers that enable the preservation and humanization of life. In this context, the genuine play becomes possible.

Man’s playing being can be fully developed only when work becomes a form of the free expression of man’s universal creative powers. Then play will not be opposed to work and thus a compensatory activity for a lack of humanity, but a creative activity complementary to work, which means the highest form of man’s spontaneous realization as a creative being. The more man is capable to freely express in work his creative personality, the more freely and completely will his playing being express itself in play – and this will be a new incentive to a humanistic innovation of working processes. The fact that work is a purposeful and rational activity does not mean that the way of achieving the given effects cannot contribute to man’s humanization, which means that work should acquire increasingly artistic character. Even work which involves the possibility of man’s creative expression can be play, but it will not be as complete and spontaneous as a play in which man fully affirms his playing being – as in the love play which is the creation of the human in a pure sense. What is relative is the «degree» of spontaneity in the expression of man’s playing being. Plays are graded according to the possibilities they offer for the expression and development of man’s playing being. Love play is the highest form of realization of the playing being, but in it spontaneity and intensity of experiencing the human are not always the same.

Work, as a creative human activity which enables the survival of society, is not a negative but a positive foundation of the genuine physical culture based on Rousseau’s principle homo homini homo. The industrial as well as the scientific (post-industrial) work have a collectivistic character and are based on cooperation and solidarity. With work becoming not only an existential but also an essential activity – not only the creation of conditions for freedom but also the affirmation of man as a libertarian being – the dualism of work and play is abolished, which means that man becomes a unique libertarian-creative being, and work and play are only specific forms of realizing his indivisible human nature. It is not about discarding the principle of performance, it is about its being «placed» into the framework of creativity, that is, of satisfying genuine human needs (instead of producing for the sake of profit). The real result of creativity is not the production of objectiveness, but of men playing being and society as a playing community in an immediate form. The poetical does not only denote the nature of creativity, but also the nature of the one who creates and of that which is created. To reach the level of one’s true human powers means to be a free man.

The question of genuine play as a concrete social (historical) phenomenon can be posed only departing from the ruling destructive tendency of the development of the world, in the context of the life-creating praxis which is to win a new world. It is about the libertarian play expressing the emancipatory heritage of modern society and the vision of a future world – through the development of the playing being and man’s need of another man. This is what capitalism (by way of sport also) destroys: man’s need of another man. Life-creativeness is the essence of a genuine praxis, while the creation of a human world and ever greater certainty of its survival are its direct and most important result.

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