Time is money and money’s time,
We wasted every second dime.A Perfect Circle
Let’s move from use-value and exchange-value and focus on the top circle of the value form – abstract time. To understand it, we’re going to juxtapose it with a different, older kind of time.
Abstract time is clock time. It is linear, measured, and quantifiable. It is the basis of modernity and the fulcrum upon which the world turns. The progress of science can be measured by the fidelity of the clocks that it produces, by the ever greater divisibility and synchronicity of their measurement. Nothing works without abstract time. It is our greatest invention and the curse of history all at once. Abstract time is a god – your god, my god, our god.
Abstract time is what exchange-value measures.
Now concrete time – concrete time is your lived experience. It is infinite, immortal, invaluable, unique, indivisible and unquantifiable. What number could ever be commensurable to this – you. There is no way to measure your concrete experience, no map to this territory, no reference point. Nothing and nobody can ever take this from you: the time of living, the time of life. Concrete time is me. It is you. It is us. Concrete time is the time of miracles.
Concrete time is the time of freedom.
Let me be as clear as I can be about this: abstract time is a contingent socio-historical construct. For most of our history it did not exist. It had to be invented, and then it had to be disseminated. It was not always so, it will not always be so, and it could be otherwise.
What the missionaries and colonizers thought they were bringing to the world was God and Civilization – but what they actually brought with them was the dominion of abstract time and its idiot blunt instrument, the clock.
It was a long time ago, the time before abstract time. Now, things are different. Now, we live in the global dictatorship of abstract time. It is inescapable, it is brutal, and it is utterly unforgiving. Abstract time is nothing less than the forcible, violent colonization of concrete time. Abstract time is unfreedom. It is slavery.
It is money.
The largest qualitative break in the poverty spectrum is this: a life dictated and subsumed by abstract time.
No matter your quality of life, as long as your concrete time is colonized by abstract time, you are not free.
What the bossman gives to you for your abstract time, he takes from you in concrete time. He takes from you your life, so that maybe you can have some stuffs with what’s left of it.
The thing about capital is that, in order to be capital – it must grow. Number must go up! – this is the one commandment, all the gods agree. Because of this, there is never enough abstract time to pump into the machine. It must have more, it will always need more, and it has encircled the globe in search of abstract time to harvest. The struggle is over this, before anything else – the abstract length of the working hour, the working day, the working week, the working month, and the working year. These spans are the measure of the colonization of the concrete by the abstract, the spoils of the war between freedom and slavery.
Concrete Time as a Regulatory Ideal
The delineation of abstract and concrete time gives us a powerful regulatory tool by which to measure the proclamations of the societies we live in. For if it is the case that if concrete time is still colonized by abstract time, then we have been denied the capacity to become fully human. Imagine, the human being we thought we were – something that hasn’t actually happened yet!
The decolonization of time is nothing less than the full achievement and deployment of human individuality and freedom as such. A world where there is only concrete time for everyone – what else could matter? What other ideal is there?
That we do not live in this world and probably will never is a mere factual triviality. With this regulatory ideal we can unilaterally declare: liberal ‘democracy’s’ claims to freedom and individuality for all are a hoax, a sham, and a lie.
With the distinction between concrete and abstract time, we can see exactly how it is that the value form imposes itself on us and chains us to the wheel of accumulation. Any time that isn’t concrete time isn’t really your own. You are selling it to someone or something else, and in doing so you have quantified the infinite unquantifiability of your own lived experience. You are caught up in the commodity form as a commodified being – but you were not always so, and it could be otherwise.
The dominion of abstract time is so totalizing it can even turn the greatest gift into a miserable curse – as anyone who has been given the concrete time of unemployment or street life can testify. To be locked out of exchange value and abstract time is to be excluded from the socius entirely, outside the first paywall that guards all the other paywalls. Concrete time without the possibility of the deployment of a concrete end swiftly turns into a nightmare existence eked out on the margins.
Billions of people are forced to live like this, right now.
Realizing that abstract time is an artificial, contingent, and violent imposition on us immediately orients one towards the lived time of the concrete in the same way that disconnecting from exchange-value turns towards use-value. We could even say that abstract time is the EV side aspect of time, and that concrete time is its UV aspect. All are all tied up together in the value form.
With the help of this conceptual construct, you have already absorbed and understood some incredibly useful delineations to make sense of ourselves and our shared world. You have taken your first steps into the tunnel through ideology, and you have begun to understand that our social order has an objective structure that can be mapped and analyzed.
You might also have noticed that the ability to use concepts like this can be a pretty powerful tool. But the learning goes on forever! There is an enormous body of literature on the value form, much of it quite recent and sophisticated, and I highly recommend diving into that shit. The better your understanding of this conceptual structure, the more resistant you will be to all forms of commodified ideology. Of which, there is a lot, a lot a lot!
Let’s analyze some now!
Would you like to know more?
- Postone – Time, Labor, and Social Domination
- Krisis! – Manifesto Against Labour
- Kurz – The Substance of Capital
- Kliman – Reclaiming Marx’s Capital
- Kliman – The Failure of Capitalist Production
- Roberts – The Long Depression
- Roberts & Carchedi – World in Crisis
- Moseley – Money and Totality
- Jappe – The Writing on the Wall
- Hemmens – The Critique of Work in Modern French Thought
- Vincent – Abstract Labour: A Critique
- Cockshott – How the World Works
- Graeber & Wengrow – The Dawn of Everything