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Response to Birchall; Response to Sayers’ The Need to Work, with Reply by Sayers

LETTERS

June 1987
Dear Comrades,
Clearly, to judge from his letter in Radical Philosophy 46, my
reviewofSartre’sFreudScenario (Radical Philosophy 44) sorely
provoked Ian Birchall. I intended my remarks to be provocative
but I did not expect them to be so badly misconstrued.

In my review I spoke of a ‘legend’ amongst ‘Sartreans’

concerning this scenario. Birchall says there is no such legend and
that ‘Sartreans’ should trust to the account given in Contat and
Rybalka (Les Ecrits de Sartre). The legend is that Sartre submitted
a single 8 hour script which was too long and too sophisticated for
Huston’s purposes; that its severe editing led Sartre to withdraw
his name from the credits of the eventual film. I said thatPontalis’

account in his ‘Editor’s Preface’ corrected this legend. Pontalis
does indeed speak of ‘how the story is generally told’ (p. vii) and
shows that ‘things happened in a rather more complicated and
even more Sartrean way’ (p. viii). As I wrote, one respect in which

know however of any account of his being subjected to the kind of
abuse Sartre portrays. More importantly for my purposes Sartre
associates this abuse with the reception of Freud’s defence in 1896
of the ‘seduction thesis’ before the Viennese Society for Psychiatry and Neurology. It is a matter now of considerable controversy
as to the precise nature of Freud’s reception and the reasons for it
(see for instance Sulloway and Masson). I stick to my view that
Sartre’s account of Freud’s defence of the ‘seduction thesis’being
greeted only with virulent anti-semitic abuse is a ‘wild and largely
unhelpful distortion of the truth’ .

I am not a naive realist about literary depictions of real
historical figures. The crucial issues are these: are the respects in
which Sartre’s Freud and the ‘real’ Freud do not coincide important for our understanding of Sartre and/or Freud, and why?

Birchall and I agree that the two Freuds do not coincide; we
disagree as to why that matters. He believes that Sartre’s ‘Freud’

is preferable to the real one-largely, as far as I can gather, because
he thinks the latter is a champion of’ determinist passivity’ ,and the
former a defender of freedom. I believe thatSartre’s Freud
scenario tells us nothing new about Freud, and, disappointingly,
not a lot more about Sartre’s Freud. I see no obvious reasons for
preferring Sartre’s to the real Freud; nor do I regard’ determinism’

and ‘human emancipation’ as in obvious and complete contradiction with one another. I am not alone in believing that Freud, and
Marx, were determinists, and that they also both, consistently with
their determinism, believed that human beings could change their
lives for the better. Nothing Ian Birchall says has changed my
mind. I can only regret that he should seek to convince by some
rather ungracious name-calling.

Yours, Dave Archard

things are more complicated is that Huston asked for revisions of
the frrst script which led Sartre to provide a second, longer,
scenario. Clearly Huston and Sartre clashed as personalities and
both had very different ideas as to the kind of film on Freud they
each wanted. However, the ‘legend’ crudifies what took place.

Contat and Rybalka do not mention the second version of the
script. Nor can ‘Sartreans’ rely on their master’s voice. In
interviews with Kenneth Tynan (1961), Michel Contat (June
1975), and New Left Review (1969), Sartre does not mention the
two scripts and suggests only that his difficulties with Huston were
simply a result of the latter’s inability to understand Freud and/or
the concept of the unconscious.

Birchall finds my objection to Sartre’s depiction of antisemitic abuse of Freud naive. I could have been clearer here. I did
not deny that Freud ‘was the victim of anti-Semitism’; I do not

Dear Radical Philosophy
Sean Sayers is surely right to labour the point that work is a human
need (‘The Need to Work’ ,Radical Philosophy 46). For socialists
it is a first principle; it is, as Marx put it, the ‘essential activity’ of
humankind. It is the means to our self-development and livelihood. But what are we to make of Sayers’ claim that ‘the socialist
principle of the “right to work” is a demand for jobs ‘? Admittedly,
the ‘right to work’ is implicitly a demand for jobs, but is it a
principle socialists should work for? Shouldn’t socialists be trying
to transcend that principle?

Work in capitalist society is conducted through the social relationship of wage labour and capital. It is work carried on under this
relationship which causes alienation, because work is not under
human control but is imposed externally by the law of value. It is
this which divides working time into necessary labour (to recoup

47

wages) and surplus labour (surplus value); the purpose of productive activity being the extraction of surplus value through wage
labour and capital accumulation. The upshot of this is that surplus
value takes priority over needs, including the need to work.

What, then, is the solution to this malaise? This is where Marx
comes in, but his contribution to this debate is obscured in Sayers’

article. I do not know which’ socialist tradition’ he refers to when
he calls the ‘right to work’ a ‘traditional socialist principle’ but
nowhere, to my knowledge, does Marx make such a claim. It
would have been inconsistent with his own theories, since the
‘right to work’ – employment – is but a legal expression of the wage
labour and capital relationship. Of course, Sayers calls for the
liberation of the productive forces (including people) from the
fetters of capitalist relations; however, there is a reluctance to
specify what this entails (a problem common to Radical P hilosophy). Instead, we get a celebration of the real as the rational. It is
not particularly illuminating to be told that men and women have
a ‘need’ for employment given that our employers own the
workplace and we are dependent on wages in order to live. This
kind of circular argument gets us nowhere (which is just about
where the labour movement is). Nor can employment be defended
by setting up an Aunt Sally in the form of Andre Gorz’s argument
about employment and leisure. We do not need Gorz to tell us that
the ‘right to work’ is a reactionary and outdated demand; we
already have Marx’s demonstration that this is indeed the case.

‘Instead of the conservative motto, “a fair day’s wage for a fair
day’s work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the
revolutionary watchword, “abolition of the wages system!”
(Wages, Price and Profit).

This is the positive proposal which inevitably follows from
making work central to a social philosophy like Marx’s. Unalienated work is work free from the constraints of wage labour and
capital; it is free conscious activity. This and only this is liberation;
it is activity consonant with human needs and human nature.

As a contribution towards that end, I strongly suggest that you
put the ‘Radical’ back into Radical Philosophy and recognize employment for what it is; servile, exploitative and a denial of our
need to work according to our abilities.

Yours radically, Lewis Higgins
REPLY TO :MR IDGGINS
Writing is a lonely occupation and its results often seem to
disappear into a void. It is pleasing, therefore, to have excited at
least’ a murmur among the zealots’ in the shape of this letter from
Mr Riggins. I will take the opportunity of a reply to clarify my
position on some of the issues that Higgins raises.

In the name of Marxism, he criticizes me for defending the
demand for jobs, for insisting upon the ‘right to work’. However,
I do not argue for the ‘right’ to work. I talk rather of the need to
work, and quite deliberately so. The ‘right to work’ was fIrst used
as a slogan by French workers in 1848. Since then it has become
the main principle under which the labour movement, throughout
the world, has fought unemployment and demanded jobs. Acceptance of this principle now extends far beyond the labour movement. Indeed, an article affirming ‘the right to work … and to protection against unemployment’ (art. 23.1) is included in the
‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ adopted by the United
Nations in 1948.

Riggins is correct in his belief that Marx did not invoke this
principle; but this is not for the reasons he suggests. Marx was
profoundly sceptical of appeals to ‘rights’ and other such suppos-

48

edIy ‘universal’ or ‘eternal’ principles. It is because I share that
scepticism that I talk of the ‘need’ to work, and stress that it is not
a universal but rather a historically developed aspect of human
nature.

Riggins is also correct to say that Marx regards employment the system of wage labour – as characteristic of capitalism, as exploitative’ as alienating, etc; and that he envisages the possibility
– indeed the inevitability – of a higher, socialist form of social
organization. Riggins, however, sees only the negative aspects of
work in modem capitalist industry. He is not alone in this. There
are many on both the Marxist and non-Marxist left who tend to
focus exclusively upon the destructive aspects of modem forms of
work and portray them as purely alienating, deskilling, degrading,
etc. A central purpose of my paper is to suggest that it is necessary
to question such views.

In the frrst place, it is impossible to understand the actual experience of work on this basis. As I show, responses to employment and unemployment are more ambivalent and contradictory
than this simple picture suggests. People – both men and women
– want work (in the form of paid employment), not only as a means
to wages, and suffer when they lack it -even though they often fmd
it irksome and oppressive in many ways.

This is the most evident lesson of unemployment; and it necessitates a rethinking of the purely negative view of employment that
Riggins, Gorz and others share. The basis for this (pace Riggins)
can be found in Marx’s work. For it is a mistake to think that Marx
sees wage labour simply as an evil and inhuman system. On the
contrary, he portrays it in dialectical terms, as a particular historical stage in the development of the social organization of production. As such it has contradictory features; it has both a progressive
and a regressive aspect It is progressive and even, in certain respects, emancipating in relation to earlier, pre-capitalist, domestic
and household forms of production (see Lenin, The Development
of Capitalism in Russia for an extended argument to this effect).

However, it becomes a fetter to social development as the forces
of production develop. The market organization of labour becomes increasingly less able to mobilize” and employ the productive forces – the machinery and particularly the people – which it
itself has brought into being.

This is the position I am defending. It permits us to see that
employment, though undoubtedly burdened with many negative
features, also satisfies human needs. If it is less than 105% critical
of capitalism, so be it. What it may lack in zeal, I hope it makes
up for in practicality and truth. On the other hand, it is both
scientifically absurd and politically childish to sit on the sidelines
and repeat that capitalism is nasty and that everything will be all
right after ‘the revolution’ , as Saint Marx tells us in the specifIed
chapter and verse.

Sean Sayers

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