For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Accursed Share

by Bataille, Georges (1988)


For some years, being obliged on occasion to answer the question" What are you working on?" I was embarrassed to have to say," A book of political economy." Coming from me, this venture was disconcerting, at least to those who did not know me well.(The interest that is …

Key Passage

Communism and Man's Adequation to the Utility of Things:  A radical position, to which the working-class world has given its political consequences, emerges from the above. In a sense it is a  strange position. It is  first of all a  radical affirmation of real material forces, and a no less radical negation of spiritual values. The communists always give precedence to things, as against that which dares not have their subordinate character. This attitude is  based solidly on the tastes of the proletarians, who commonly lack a sense of spiritual values, who of their own accord reduce man's interest to interest pure and simple, and who see the human universe as a  system of things subordinated to one another: the plow ploughs the field, the field produces wheat, the wheat feeds the blacksmith, who forges the plow. This in no way excludes the higher aspirations, but these are changeable, vague, open, by con­trast with those of the old type of populations, which are usu­ally traditional and immutable. Indeed, the proletarians undertake man's liberation starting from things (to which they were reduced by a world whose values were almost inaccessible to them). They do not involve him in ambitious projects; they do not construct a rich and variegated world, modelled on the ancient mythologies or the medieval theologies. Their attention is apt to be limited to what is there, but they are not closely bound by the elevated phrases that express their feelings. In their universe there is no firm limit opposed to the general linkage of things subordinating one another. A rigorously practical politics, a brutal politics, reduc­ing its reasons to strict reality, is still what best corresponds to their passion, a  polities that reveals the intentions of a  selfish group, and is all the more ruthless. A militant of this persuasion is easily reduced to a strict subordination. He readily accepts being finally reduced, by the work of liberation, to the condition of a thing, which is the case, for example, when discipline prescribes two contradictory slogans in succession. This radical attitude has a strange consequence: It  gives to the bourgeois, to the exploita­tion which the workers want to abolish, the feeling of uphold­ing freedom for mankind, of avoiding the reduction of individuals to things. And yet, what is involved is only an enormous effort whose aim is self-determination. In actual fact, the bourgeois cannot really forget that the free­dom of their world is the freedom of confusion. In the end they are merely helpless. The immense results of working-class poli­tics, the generalized provisional servitude that is its only sure consequence, frightens them, but they can only bemoan the situation. They no longer have a  sense of their historical mission; the fact is that as a  response to the ascendant movement of the commu­nists, they cannot give rise to the least hope. (p.141)


Bataille, Nietzsche, French, Political Economy, Economic Theory, Moral Philosophy


The Accursed Share, Bataille Citations

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