11-1 | The Politics of Playtime


The Politics of Playtime
Reading Marx through Huizinga on the Desire to Escape from Ordinary Life

Michael J. Roberts


The author offers what he calls an intervention in the Marxist analysis of the relationship between work and play. As an alternative to some Hegelian and sociological readings of Marx that seek to merge work with play as a means to overcome alienation, he provides an interpretation that emphasizes the importance of maintaining the difference between work and play in terms of distinct modes of experience. Reading Marx through Huizinga, the author argues that the goal for Marx is the emancipation from labor not the emancipation of labor. Marx develops this position, the author says, through a close examination of the labor movement’s epic struggle for shorter hours of work. Against a particular Hegelian-Marxist view that play in a capitalist context is trivial because it cannot transform the world, the author claims the pursuit of more time for play through the fight for shorter hours of work does indeed change the world. And he maintains that the fight for shorter hours of work is particularly relevant today as more and more jobs become automated and those who still have jobs find themselves working longer hours for less pay. Key words: alienation; labor; play; work