Paul Lafargue

The Right To Be Lazy



M. Thiers, at a private session of the commission on primary education of 1849, said: “I wish to make the influence of the clergy all powerful because I count upon it to propagate that good philosophy which teaches man that he is here below to suffer, and not that other philosophy which on the contrary bids man to enjoy.” M. Thiers was stating the ethics of the capitalist class, whose fierce egoism and narrow intelligence he incarnated.

The Bourgeoisie, when it was struggling against the nobility sustained by the clergy, hoisted the flag of free thought and atheism; but once triumphant, it changed its tone and manner and today it uses religion to support its economic and political supremacy. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it had joyfully taken up the pagan tradition and glorified the flesh and its passions, reproved by Christianity; in our days, gorged with goods and with pleasures, it denies the teachings of its thinkers like Rabelais and Diderot, and preaches abstinence to the wageworkers. Capitalist ethics, a pitiful parody on Christian ethics, strikes with its anathema the flesh of the laborer; its ideal is to reduce the producer to the smallest number of needs, to suppress his joys and his passions and to condemn him to play the part of a machine turning out work without respite and without thanks.

The revolutionary socialists must take up again the battle fought by the philosophers and pamphleteers of the bourgeoisie; they must march up to the assault of the ethics and the social theories of capitalism; they must demolish in the heads of the class which they call to action the prejudices sown in them by the ruling class; they must proclaim in the faces of the hypocrites of all ethical systems that the earth shall cease to be the vale of tears for the laborer; that in the communist society of the future, which we shall establish “peaceably if we may, forcibly if we must,” the impulses of men will be given a free rein, for “all these impulses are by nature good, we have nothing to avoid but their misuse and their excesses,” and they will not be avoided except by their mutual counter-balancing, by the harmonious development of the human organism, for as Dr. Beddoe says, “It is only when a race reaches its maximum of physical development, that it arrives at its highest point of energy and moral vigor.” Such was also the opinion of the great naturalist Charles Darwin.

This refutation of the “Right to Work” which I am republishing with some additional notes appeared in the weekly Egalité, 1880, second series.




Sainte-Pélagie Prison, 1883.

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Last updated on 16.9.2003