Malleable Time: the working week

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POSTED: October 11, 2019

Judith Shulevitz has written an article called Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore in The Atlantic, about social engineering, and the ways that we have learned to perform social engineering on ourselves, and allowed our employers to engineer us to their requirements.

In the article she mentions an historical experiment conducted in the USSR, that ought to garner more attention than it does.

In place of the weekend, a new system of respite was introduced in 1929. The government divided workers into five groups, and assigned each to a different day off. On any given day, four-fifths of the proletariat would show up to their factories and work while the other fifth rested. Each laborer received a colored slip of paper—yellow, orange, red, purple, or green—that signified his or her group. The staggered schedule was known as nepreryvka, or the “continuous workweek,” since production never stopped.

Socially, the nepreryvka was a disaster. People had no time to see friends; instead they associated by color: purple people with purple people, orange with orange, and so on. Managers were supposed to assign husbands and wives to the same color but rarely did. The Communist Party saw these dislocations as a feature, not a bug, of the new system. The Party wanted to undermine the family, that bourgeois institution. “Lenin’s widow, in good Marxist fashion, regarded Sunday family reunions as a good enough reason to abolish that day,” according to E. G. Richards, the author of Mapping Time, a history of the calendar.

Workers complained that they could never see their family, and people found themselves forced to socialise with a random bunch of people who happened to have the same colours as they did.

The staggered workweek didn’t last long. Officials worried that it affected attendance at workers’ meetings, which were essential for a Marxist education. In 1931, Stalin declared that the nepreryvka had been implemented “too hastily,” leading to a “depersonalized labor process” and the mass breakage of overtaxed machines. That year, the government added a day of collective rest. The seven-day week was not restored until 1940.

Here comes the weekend!