PART 3: Society Says Profit Over People: Dare to Think For Yourself.

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”–Nietzsche

 

This is the third and final instalment of a three-part series. Reading Part 1 and Part 2 is essential to best make sense of what follows and I suggest at least scanning through both (in reverse order: Part 2 and then Part 1) before reading this piece.

Part 1 was an attempt to condense the basis of Marxian economic and (therefore) social theory in one essay. I didn’t develop his consequential analyses—for I think exploitation is an open secret you needn’t Karl Marx or anyone else to break to you. In a letter to his friend and coauthor Frederick Engels, Marx wrote that one of the two “best points in my book [Capital]… [is] the two-fold character of labour, according to whether it is expressed in use-value or exchange-value. (All understanding of the facts depends on this.)” [My italics.] Whence my dedication to its explication in Part 1, on which I will recap shortly.

Part 2 was a storytelling: an anecdotal experience with some homeless friends from whom (as always) I learnt much, much I thought worth sharing.

Part 3, frankly, is going to be all over the place.

We’ll start where we started in Part 1—with commodities—and their value. In what sense are commodities/objects/items/things valuable?

They are use-values: the real, existent, useful value of a commodity makes it a use-value. These useful qualities are different for each thing, for each person and as such cannot be quantified. Their use-values are qualitatively expressed in particularity: this particular item has this particular quality; this spade’s used to dig, the pipe to smoke, etcetera.

Historically, this has always been the case. A caveman who sharpens a stone makes a use-value. He has a commodity. As was discussed in Part 1, this means by definition of it being a use-value in a society that recognises it as a use-value, it is also an exchange-value. All well and good so far.

So in this cave-society, Caveys are producing commodities. One caveman grinds a stone; another sharpens a stick; a cavewoman hollows a wooden bowl from a branch. They spend time producing value in the forms of these commodities. Their labour-time makes use-values out of these raw materials: the stone and the tree were not use-values until humans and their labour-time made them into use-values.

As mentioned, if they are use-values they are automatically exchange-values too. Say one caveman has a surplus of sharpened stones and a cavewomen a wooden bowl spare. The surplus commodities are use-values for the other, or exchange-values, so they exchange his two sharpened stones for her bowl.

All well and good, again. They made their commodities to use, didn’t require them and exchanged them for a use-value. Such is the case across the cave-society: each produces and where they have a surplus of a commodity vthat is required by another Cavey, they exchange.

Our cave society develops and develops until it falls into (known) history. Commodities are still produced for their use-value, just now there’s more of them. Commodities are still exchanged for the use-value, just now there’s more of them to exchange. Food and goods are farmed and made throughout the spring and summer seasons, before the autumnal harvest and seasonal festivities. The festival celebrates the culminating harvest and gives occasion to exchange the surpluses of the society. Each exchange what they don’t need for what they do: a social circulation-cum-celebration. Happy days—still all well and good.

Now here comes the trouble.

As more use-values are produced than is required by one family, making a commodity surplus, they are exchanged with other members of that society. You can’t quantify the amount of use-value of each commodity—potatoes versus sharpened stones versus a home—this society just knows that they are useful, so they are exchanged with one another as and when required, as would make sense to do. But as more use-values are produced than can be used by the society, a social commodity surplus is created, and can be exchanged with other societies.

Within the society, trading a half-cart of potatoes for some firewood and a wooden bowl is fine; they care not trying measuring ‘how much’ each is ‘worth’, it wouldn’t make sense to do so. They are useful, they are required—end of.

Outside the society, trade with the neighbours cannot be so laissez-faire a business as to roughly equate large quantities of totally different use-values with one another. So a standard of measure is created—money. Societies then have an equivalent basis on which exchange is made: such and such amounts of potatoes/firewood/sharpened stones equal a specific amount of money—everything now has a price.

Okay, why does this matter? Here’s the crux of the waffle: production, society and human history plunged us into an asocial abyss of systematised stupidity the very second that commodities were produced for their exchange and for profit, instead of for use—exploiting our habitat and the humans within it for private profit went from no-no to normal in no time. The ceding catastrophic centuries prove it: explosions in population yet war, abundance yet poverty, humans yet inhumanity. Our time became somebody else’s money; our handiwork for using, somebody else’s for selling; innumerable lives of quiet desperation lived for the sake of some sedentary suit’s salary. When use-value capitulated to exchange-value in toto, we systematically prioritised profit over people. We were communities producing and subsisting for and with each other; now we are individuals producing for our individual selves and some other individual’s profit—“there is no such thing as society’’, one can hear Maggie’s echo shrill. Deeper and more measured in tone we hear a Karl Marx say: “social power becomes the [unaccountable] private power of private persons. The ancients therefore denounced money as subversive of the economic and moral order of things.” Why? Because: “Hard work, saving, and avarice… [as] cardinal virtues” will not build a society as much as oppose its people to each other in competition and decimate community.

But one may justifiably think, what’s your problem? This society has provided for me and you with shelter, warmth, water, electricity, food, work and even play. The point, rather, is: for an alarmingly large and ever increasing minority, simply the opposite is the case. Housing, heating, water and electricity supplies and food are all commodities to exchange for monetary profit, not to provide for human use. So, how does this impact those without the dough? Where charitable shelter and/or services are provided in Brighton, indeed across the country, many of its service users are in housing—viz. they aren’t even homeless—they cannot afford to heat or light their homes, nor to buy the food to eat to live in said unheated and unlit ‘home’. For society’s elderly, they suffer in relative silence, too often dying cold and unimaginably lonely lives; out of sight and mind; many with memories of a time in which people talked to and even helped one another. For families, benefits or not, it’s more work or poverty: food-banks, debt, depression are commonplace. Debt breaks people, it breaks families: it sucks souls through necessitating servility (work, work, work) or (then) homelessness. Plenty of drink and lots of legal and illegal drugs are involved. But there we see a stupid—and I specifically choose the word, stupid—stigma against those suffering from the habits and addictions that often destroy them.

I refer to my home-island by way of demonstration. “I come from Guernsey”, I say, to which this (effect of) reply will be made: “Oh! That’s the tax haven! So you all have your own airplane?!” Rich my island is, one won’t see homeless people dotted depressed in every other doorway. To my knowledge people don’t freeze on its streets or in their unlit homes going to bed hungry. People have ‘good’ jobs with ‘good’ money—so why all the drink and drugs? Because, home or not, money or not, people need something to fill life’s lack. In Guernsey, the crème de la crème of cushy societies, drink and drugs are a constitutive weave in the social coping mechanism. My point is not made to prick, the opposite! These are made out to be individual issues, personal problems, familial failings; I’m trying to tell you that is bollocks. They are symptoms of the society.

Commodity-structured societies that necessitate competitive production and consumption of finite resources for personal profit and self-preservation quickly decompose, degenerate and disgust. Quality gives way to quantity; critical thought to crass cliché; society capitulates to the commodity. Inequality statistics stand mountainously stark in this respect. In fact, they end the debate. Who might attempt justifying a system which allows for the richest 70-odd humans on earth to own wealth equal to the bottom half of humanity, you know, three and a half billion. Incidentally, the poorest, without sanitation, safety, access to clean water and a stable food supply. For me, and I shan’t assume this radicality of my diddy readership: it’s as simple as seeing people shivering outside of empty shops; it’s unjustifiable. Skewing the situation such that they, and not the conditions that reproduce them, are repulsive is stupid.

Have I anything ‘positive’ to say? Plenty—I promise!—just not about the system upon which our societies are organised. People-wise, however, not everything’s ‘stupid’.

I look outside of society to find what’s a’lacking inside of it. Homeless people are our society’s excess: they aren’t value-producing commodities, therefore, in this society, they are worthless. But they’re worth more in what they’ve to teach us. I met a Somali dude in Paris. He fled from war in Somalia to spend one and a half years in a camp in Italy, “no good”, until an opportunity to high-tail allowed for him to travel north. He’s sleeping on the streets in Paris, and he’s ecstatically chuffed with it. Booming laugh, beaming smile, the man’s just happy to be alive. Couldn’t handle his vino, thought. My friend Drew, years sleeping on and losing friends to these streets, and he can wake up soaked and shivering under a tree, stand a half-day in the cold being blanked by passers-by; after all the throes a day’ll throw at this person, he can sit down and share what little he has, smile with what little he has, knowing it’s no impact on all that he is. Another older lad, Ado, ex-heroin addict who got the cancer: in remission, outta chemo, outta hospital, but out on his ass. “I int ad breakfast like this in years!” He tells me in awe of his full English. Waving at a homeless guy I recognise, forever talking to himself, I’m told that he’s fleeced of his disability allowance by the equally disturbed but wilier homeless. Desperation forces humanity to the extremes: of barbarity in accordance with the barbarous society, and kindness in spite of it. So Ado wakes up at 4am this same morning being kicked, he mentions in passing, as one would if the seagulls had done; then he’s the other extreme with a pissed student buying him a Burger King—then he hits his capacity for kindness realisable in one day, because I spend £7 on a full English. Another friend of a friend, ex-army, two tours in the Balkans and Northern Ireland, advertising for work at latter-said friend’s pitch. He’s guarding it for him whilst he’s off showering at a shelter. Homeless hocking has by comparison rendered fresher’s flu as delicate birdsong, but this guy’s in dire straits. Still, he sits and coughs and waits, suggesting the shelter to those who’ve not heard of it. Another mate down the road, ex-spice addict, saved a blind OAP’s life, snatching them from the path of a moving bus, and returned an iPhone to its owner in the same day. The owner of the iPhone he’d just asked for change, though, so as he says, “Excuse me”, the reply snaps, “I already told you, no!” He’s no time for hassle, says, “Here’s your phone”, and sits back down to be treated similarly by similar social symptoms. He was roused from his dawn-doze by a guy in a wheelchair not long ago, who rolled past and spat on him. “I was too tired to say nuffin.”

Tiring, it is, to be woken up at all hours, be it by police or private persons, harassing and assaulting and insulting you. The homeless are tired because they’ve no shelter, no money, no worth and suffer for it. The homeful are tired because they are working all the time for more hours and less money and suffer for it. Both are socially screwed. That’s an equivalence worth making, one worth realising, one worth consideration. But, we compete and we fight against each other in society’s stupid system; would it not make more sense to fight with one other against society’s stupid system? Or should tit-for-tat, left versus right, alt-christian-right versus anarcho-leninist-feminist, be the way to a prosperous politicking while society unravels itself? The squeeze creates extremes: you love or hate muslims, you are left or right, with or against: such binarism is the superlative stupidity. It’s George Bush saying, “You are either with us or against us”. Legitimate grievances of the homeless and the homeful are artificially rechanneled. You hear a lot about Brexit and terrorism but not so much about the yellow coats looking for perished souls in the tents sprawled in and about the city. More people have died just on these streets of cold, of the weather we smalltalk so much about, in the last two years than of ‘terrorism’ in the last ten in the whole country. All issues capitulate to the more urgent problematic of veganism in Hove, though.

What I suggest to you, oppositional to my own opinions of one year ago, is to do away with the superficiality of divisional politicking and to dare to discover humanity in yourself and others. The most revolutionary thing one can do in a commodity-structured society is to be human and not a commodity. Do something for nothing. Spend time with humans, not money on things. Society often necessitates a selfishness to survive, nurtured by and in the commodity-structure, so to be unselfish matters. To put seeing your grandparent on a Saturday morning above breakfast in bed; or your Sunday morning to volunteer rather than doze off watching Netflix; to help instead of hurry past; these things all really matter. Selfishness is nurtured by and in the commodity-structured society, so to be unselfish matters. Sparing undue and unconstructive judgements of those on the streets, on the right, on the whatever-preformed-political-identity, matters. Being human isn’t about uncritically assuming your opinions from the information purposefully fed to you in newspapers and on television, it’s to construct your own opinion from contact with real humans. Know that they cannot change the condition of their upbringing; or of their society, very easily anyhow. Empathise. Social media will prevent this immediate human relation; it will, true to its name, mediate it. Unfaithfully. A brief excursive example: what was fashionable on my newsfeed before I deleted Facebook was faith-bashing. I was fan. How could you not be? Hitchens and Harris and suchlike: faithfully replicating their rage was all the rage. From where I now stand in this city, apart from news and social media, the religious institutions here are the few with any pretence to dignity and humanity. They help helpless people thanklessly. Harris and Hitchens lent a vacuous verbosity to the evils of churches; but after the pretty wit of their one-liners, the church remains a concrete crutch to many; like meditation and alcoholism does and did for Harris and Hitchens respectively. What’s my point? Don’t think in binaries; but see and speak the good in all. Throwing your lot behind one or the other is, always, dangerous. Saying religion is evil is like saying science is evil, both have and realise their capacities to be good and evil through their practitioners, through people, but instantiations of the bad doesn’t make the whole either good or bad.

What to take from these musings. Right and wrong and good and bad are never just that. I only write of my experience in my little corner here in the UK. The point is to extrapolate, to think bigger. If I’m in one of the richest cities in one of the richest countries in world-history, what much of the world in famine and war and poverty and servility suffers must be unspeakable. So we, as people with a vantage point, from which we can see it’s a structural problem, not individuals or minority groups as is so important for those wielding power to stress; it’s our responsibility to speak of the system, not its symptoms. More than that I can’t offer, so  a quote or two’ll do.

 

“The curse of irresistible progress is irresistible regression.”—Adorno and Horkheimer

“Law and order are always and everywhere the law and order which protect the established hierarchy; it is nonsensical to invoke the absolute authority of this law and this order against those who suffer from it and struggle against it—not for personal advantages and revenge, but for their share of humanity.”—Marcuse


 

Post Scriptum.

This is the third and final of a three-part series.

Part 1 is high theory; Part 2 the lowdown reality; both of which can be read on their own. Part 3 was to be the philosophical convergence of 1 and 2, but quickly went to pot (figuratively). I will look to document the issues with a series of interviews of current and ex-homeless people and those tasked voluntarily and officially with their assistance in the new year.

Again, your time in signing this petition would be helpful and appreciated.

PART 2: Time Without Money: Society and Sleeping Rough

It’s just about light but cold as night, I’m popping up to the graveyard in which Drew sleeps rough. It’s his thirty-somethingth birthday, a couple of days after my own, so I’ve both the reason and means to gift him something other than shrapnel and cider. Opening the gate, I spot him cocooned in a dewy green sleeping-bag, head propped up against a tree and without a tent. I’m a little eager if he’s not yet awake, how he is asleep I don’t know. So I rock up again in the early afternoon, he’s sat chilling in his spot with a small group of homeless lads, a couple of dog-walkers, a young son of one, and their dogs. The dogs love Drew. He’s known and played with many of them since they were walked for their first times as puppies, there’s one who’ll only play catch with Drew, and another who often whiffs and wakes him up first-thing. There are owners whom he knows not their names—nor cares to—but I’m yet to see a dog pass him unidentified.

Drew’s a few birthday presents to say he’s shy to share his age, though not to share in celebrating said ageing. A dog-walker who daily chirps to Drew gave him a good’un: his sleeping-bag back after washing and drying it. To say it didn’t cost her anything, he’s certainly mentioned it a lot! There’s another present from another dog-walker, which he’s not mentioned, I only notice for one of the guys there is pestering Drew for some. It’s a victoria sponge cake bought on offer at Co-Op, it costs as little time as it does money—less so, even. You know the rack of food about to ‘go off’ near the counter? One of those jobbies. Under a quid spent and under the time requisite to consider it time spent: it’s less than an after-thought, it’s an add-on purchase because it’s cheap and there: it’s after-bought. If there were one cake in Brighton he’d refuse to eat, it would be the out-of-date polystyrene jam sandwich that recurrently tests his sense of gratitude each and every time it’s after-bought him. He gave it to the guy, eventually, who took and left with it.

The sun sets to a spot just below the trees, a scattershot of slanted rays give last gasp to the tolerable chill. Drew declares to the remaining dog-walker and his son, that, “There’s lots shit about being homeless, but—“, and flings his arm drunkenly toward the scene, which truly is beautiful, but a rarity and one evermore short-lived. Melancholy can be sublime.

Of the three lads other than Drew there, one looks conspicuously sharp-dressed: mid-twenties, collared shirt with a jumper worn over, trousers; no hat, coat, (proper) bag or beard. After enquiring how long I’ve been homeless, I ask him the same: Luke, twenty-something, sleeping rough in Brighton for half a year. Seemingly in some manner of denial, lacking a coat, hat and the temerity to ask for either despite his shivering. One of the old boys, 50ish, notices he’s cold and unpacks his rucksack to offer him the coat inside. Luke turns it down, again and again, until Drew, waving that gangly drunken arm again, says, “Keep your coat! He’ll learn!” The older man left shortly thereafter, had it not been for a naïve pride on Luke’s part it would have been without his coat.

The sun’s retire has left Drew, Derek, Luke and I to wine (a present received on my own birthday) to do the warming, which works, but November cold is a nagging cold. Derek, who’s fifty-four, has a nifty little portable speaker, but no-one a phone flashy enough to play music, so my same-old tune selection from however-many years ago is at Drew’s birthday mercy: he and all like Metallica and Queens of the Stone Age, so happy days. Drew whacks out another of his gifts: a box of biscuits, posh and ludicrously sweet, from M&S, courtesy of a friend from the bench—a prolifically effectual small-time shoplifter.

With the last vestiges of light and sound judgement fast fading, Drew asks for help with putting up his tent. He’s got the routine internalised, but dark and drink complicate actualising it, as any festival-goer might well have experienced. I shine my phone light and Derek kneels to lend him a hand. Drew is befuddled by the tent, and booze. Knackered after a day that he started underneath a tree, spent most of stood like a tree, branching his Big-Issue arm out to passers-by, he succumbs to complaint. Derek, ever the chirper but candid after a couple of cans, tells of his long-term stint in a jail up north, his heroin addiction, and a recent death in his close family. I think there’s something amiss: I don’t doubt he’s turned things around, but he’s so… chirpy. His family-member died the last week; he was a junkie mere months ago. Likes to drink—well, I say that, it’s somewhat necessitated by and for rough sleeping—and to have the odd smoke, but none of the hard stuff (meaning crack, heroin and spice¹). Caring for family on their way out, in his words, “changed me”. Cooking for and wiping the ass of a dying loved one is, in a word, formative. There’s inheritance to be had down the line and, more importantly for him, he’s as good and contented a person as he’s ever been for the experience. He’s a happy man and a good person—worth twice the twat looking down upon him. Drew’s complaining all of a sudden, by design, seems silly, remiss.

Being the only one with money and enamoured by these humans, I run down the road to buy a couple of four-packs. (Quick detour:) The guy at the cornershop is sound as the proverbial pound. In the evenings he blasts happy hardcore or drum and bass louder than any open venue, he forever looks high as fuck and we always have the chirp. He doesn’t like homeless people, though; he looks at and speaks to them like shit. I remember having thought in that moment: what’s separated me from them? Perhaps I don’t look as homeless as some of the homeless themselves suppose, maybe I’ve bought enough from him to be considered homeful, maybe I sound posh, or maybe he’s had issues before which’ve tainted his view? Maybe, one day, when his high-eyes aren’t bleeding at me, I shall ask him.

Drew’s set up shelter with him pleasingly inside of it. Sitting on the grass beside the one-man tent, the cold and conversation are somber but both wholly bearable. The cans coax a coy catharsis; hearing Derek and Drew’s past lives doesn’t feel in the least bit awkward, nor would it matter if I did feel so. One’s excess thought, be it in the form of worry or wanting to impress or thinking what to say, is highlighted in its absence. One can just be. Luke is looking less shivery, nursing a tin. Derek’s fiddling around with his late family-member’s flashy penknife; like my own, but double the size, with a magnifying glass, through which we all pissedly attempt to peer. Drew cracks a can in his tent and, with that arm, hurls some beer round the side of it. I’ve seen Drew in some states, but I’ve never seen him open a container without taking a second to pour one for those passed—six or seven friends he’s lost to the streets—fortunately for Luke, perplexed at his “wasting beer”, Drew’s in a state such as he can spare him with a growl, “for the fallen”.

I wish I could verbatim recall or even adequately paraphrase what words were thence spoke. But Derek, leaning forward, holding out his loved-one’s swanky Q-gadget penknife, says to Drew in his warm northern drawl: here you go lad, this is yours now, happy birthday.

 


  1. Spice is one of many ex-legal highs consumed in Brighton and is, with crack and heroin, considered at rock-bottom. It’s interesting to note, and will be a discussion for another time, how my generation in Guernsey could not legally purchase marijuana (non-lethal cancer-curing plant) but could and did legally purchase the drugs which now ravage the lives of Brighton’s underclass. I’ve witnessed officers at once confiscate spice and ‘blind-eye’ hash—respect!

Post Scriptum

This is the second in a three-part series.

The story here retold in part was of an afternoon and evening spent with some friends and friends of friends in Brighton, using pseudonyms for obvious reasons.

Part 1 is high theory; Part 2 the lowdown reality; both of which can be read on their own. Part 3 will be the philosophical convergence of 1 and 2 and will require reading 1+2 for context.

Your time in signing this petition would be helpful and appreciated.

PART 1: Time is Money so Life is Work: Economy and Society

“The Enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing their sovereignty. Yet the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant.”—Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer¹

Why do I, in one of the richest cities in one of the richest countries in world-history, find myself sensually inundated with social destitution, societal despair? Homelessness in this city is at 14%; the suicide rate is 50% higher than the national average; 99% of as-you-go conversations made are about football or the weather—what went wrong?

There are a multitude of multifaceted explanations what and how and why things went tits-up—a quagmire I shan’t enter. What I propose to do is offer one irrefutably valuable theoretical toolkit with which one can better understand our society: it’s not right or wrong, left or right, up or down—anymore than biology is left-wing or math is wrong—it is a scientific-conceptual canvas that describes and demystifies that word upon which societies are raised and I’ve conveniently avoided hereto…

Economy: the bedrock and circulatory system of society. Don’t, if you want to survive this piece, think stock-market derivatives: for that comes way, way after. Ancient Babylon and Classical Greece survived without them just fine. The real basis of a society is much more, well, basic.

One hundred years ago, a man proposed at that “stage in the history of mankind there is no problem that does not ultimately lead back… to the riddle of commodity-structure… the problem of commodities must not be considered in isolation… but as the central, structural problem of capitalist society in all its aspects.”² It’s as bold and ridiculous-sounding a statement as actually quite simple and intuitive: the problems in society are structural; its structure is the commodity-structure; therefore social problems derive therefrom. Commodity exchange is our society’s economy: it runs on commodity production and commodity consumption. The commodity-structure is constitutive of this society and its members and so should incur some blame for the problems of each. That’s the shorthand. It tells us, at this stage, nothing—it might even sound a little silly or farfetched or plain confusing.

What I propose to do is provide, in as palatable a manner as possible, a theory by which you can not only make sense of the above, of society and its commodity-driven economy, but of what flows beneath the high-theory, the reality of our social situation (which will be further developed in parts two and three).

So! What is a commodity? A… thing! Something. Anything? Anything that by its properties satisfies some human want, need or fancy. Commodities are useful as physical, useful, usable things.

A commodity’s utility, what the object itself is useful for, makes its use-value. Chocolate’s use-value is it being food to eat; a spade’s is to dig; a pipe’s to smoke; etcetera and so on. Use-value is the real quality that makes a commodity useful.

In our society, commodities aren’t just what they are, though: they aren’t just valuable as a use-value. Chocolate isn’t worth just its edibility; a spade isn’t merely worth its help digging; a pipe is more than the thing on which you puff: they are exchange-values too. Now exchange-value doesn’t necessitate exchange. The computer from which you’re gifted these words has (in our society) an exchange-value, but that doesn’t mean that you want to or even ever will exchange it. Your computer has a use-value, it works for you and is of potential utility to others, thus making it automatically an exchange-value; it is equatable with and exchangeable for other commodities in our society.

Such would in simpler times, to a lesser extent and with quite dissimilar objects, be the case for cavemen. Say one has a sharpened stone and another a wooden bowl. Both use-values: one for shanking and the other slurping: both exchange-values, then. But how or who’s to decide what value the commodity ‘has’? Who is to decide if a sharpened stone or a wooden bowl or a bar of chocolate or a supercar has more or less value? You’re thinking the supercar, but the caveman’s thinking the stone—and there’s a dude deserted on a desert-island thinking it’s the chocolate.

How do you quantify exchange-value, when any commodity is (qualitatively) worth more or less to each person as a use-value? What is it that allows us to set a value, even a price, for these things when they are all totally different, utterly incommensurable and separate things?

Well, one man made a “scientific discovery, that the products of human labour [commodities], so far as they are values, are but material expressions of the human labour spent in their production”³—What qualitatively different commodities have in common, what allows us to determine exchange-value and set prices on anything from silk to sex to sandwiches, is the human labour put into them: the human time spent sourcing and spinning silk, servicing a customer or making that sandwich is what gives to each their value. We’ll recap before pushing this further.

The use-value is private, it has a real existence and is determined by the actual thing itself: you use chocolate for its edibleness. It is private because social forces do not affect its use-value, it being edible; say, inflation or a hike in the price of cocoa, won’t change its use-value in reality (though you might fancy better savouring or selling it!).

The exchange-value is social, it has an ideal—not real—existence and is not determined by the mere thing itself, the “material envelope”, but by “the human labour spent on it.”³ It is social because social forces (inflation, cocoa prices, war) affect exchange-values; the chocolate itself has and will not change in reality, but in ideality its exchange-value will fluctuate. Remember 2008? Or, on a smaller scale, a bag of cashews at the Co-Op: just shot up from £2.79 to £3 without a gram’s worth of extra cashew to show for it. Nothing happened to cashew’s use-value, its nutty om-nomminess which really exists, just to its imaginary exchange-value, which ideally ‘exists’. An imaginary quantity changes without any real quality changed. (They’ve lost this cashew customer.)

So we’ve determined what commodities are and how they are valuable: they are valuable in themselves, in their capacity as things, as use-values; and, in our society, they are valuable as manifestations of one and the same substance, human labour, thereby as exchange-values. You can’t quantify eating and digging and driving as values; you can quantify their underlying commonality, as products of human labour.

We’ve investigated commodities and their value: their values are more than their useful quality; they are valuable by way of quantity, the amount of human labour put into them. So pure value, not tied to any particular thing like a car or chocolate, is human time—labour-time—spent producing.

But, time is money, isn’t it? Yes, but don’t let’s be suckers for this shorthand shirk, let’s delve into an old cliché and see what’s to discern.

Time. Time is pure value. The content of time’s value is real human labour: your time is valuable; time in-itself has no real value—or existence for that matter. What makes time valuable, in the sense that money is valuable, resides in the human relation to it, then; that which we work towards in time—say, the chocolate bar—is but the product, the material realisation of the value of time, or rather human labour-time. Time is only valuable with humans.

Let’s continue down this line of thought to figure out the content of money’s value, then. If time is money, and what ‘time’ really means is in fact our time, then money is—human labour-time, again?!

Precisely. Money’s value exists only for it’s being “the socially recognised incarnation of human labour”³. Money is society’s standardised labour-time-token: you give it and get it to get things and things done. Like time, money is by itself valueless; it is a vacuous medium for human relations. Money is nothing without humans, without the social acceptance and normalcy it requires for its existence as value, and not as papery Pokéman cards. Try using coinage from another country to buy your pint! You’ll see how valueless money really is and how valuable money ideally is—the idea in the heads of the people with whom you share society makes the money valuable.

So, herein lies the real basis of economics, what constitutes and underlies (and undermines) modern society: value is life spent working, labour-time—the superlative value. (N.B. Machines can save on value-expenditure, on paying for human time.) “The determination of the magnitude [the amount] of value by labour-time is therefore a secret, hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative values of commodities”³. The reason a gold bar is worth more than its ore and a matured smoked meat more than it raw: more time has been spent on the finished product than its raw material.

So whether it’s our chocolate bar, a bike or a boat “what is common to them all”, Karl Marx tells us, is ”human labour… congelation of homogeneous human labour, of labour-power expended… [and] embodied in them. When looked at as crystals of this social substance [labour-time], common to them all, they are—Values.”³

This isn’t ‘just an opinion’ or ‘just a theory’; nor, as I note is on trend to say, ‘just your ideology’. What, as a certain song instructs us, makes the world go round is money (crystallised-value; our labour-time-tokens). Money decides whether you get to buy a meal or have to steal; whether your head lies on a pillow or pavement. Your value as a human being matters not in our society, unless you ‘real’-ise it by prostituting your time for money, or inherit it—end of.

So, let’s rejig ye olde ‘time is money’ cliché: Value is labour-time is money.

So, so what? Why does it matter, what’s the issue, who cares? What is valuable in our society is us, we, our time; we are farmed of our time, our value, a fraction of which we are ‘waged’, but it’s not our time we’re given back, it’s money. So, so there is an issue: we start thinking value lies, not in our time, but in money and the things one buys with it. Value lies, indeed, it lies; it wears a guise, a cloak, it “does not stalk about with a label describing what it is”³. We start to think the value resides in commodities, but it doesn’t, they are but artefacts, crystals, freeze-frames of actual value: human life, time.

This is why economy is such a scary word, a purposively confusing and obfuscated concept. The hard kernel of liberating truth right at the heart of our analysis of the commodity-structure of our economy is: time is the most valuable thing.

Time is money: hence why we never have any—of either. Around the Industrial Revolution, the movers and (money) shakers realised this and then time became money, life became work, work and work. I went into (note the terminology:) fulltime employment in Guernsey, the crème de la crème of cushy societies, with twenty days of holiday allowance a year. Two hundred and fifty years ago, there were thirty-six public holidays a year. Imagine having that now: more than a month off in Bank Holidays a year, the whole society! What do we have now? We have the commodity-structure, the commodification of everything; alienating people and decomposing society. Festivals used to be free and frequent with real musicians playing real instruments with real meaning; now one pays several hundred pounds to be assaulted by commodified food, merchandise and vacuous words looped over prerecorded music. I attend such events myself, but I don’t ever for a nanosecond think that Dark Side of the Moon can even be grovelled at by House Every Weekend. Likewise, I think it’s silly we either pay for private healthcare insurance or are left to wait two weeks for a set-ten minutes with a doctor more interested in the value of the time than of the human seen to in it. Likewise I think a childhood of play and discovery is priceless in comparison with the system of demeaning standardisation (of looks, behaviour, knowledge, opinion) that prevails in primary and secondary education⁴; paying £9,000 fees each year of university is ludicrous, and true education could and should be free again, instead of its shadow serving cowboy capitalists⁵. Likewise again with socialising: I want a face looking at my own in conversation if I’m to ‘like’ it, not down at a phone flicking through a Facebook commodifying private life in exchange for likes, faux-value for the faux-self. Likewise, lastly, I don’t think a piss should cost me 50p and, vaulting the machine telling me it costs just that, I tell the high-vis haranguing me who replies that “it’s not fair on everyone else”. You hear the cliché becoming writ through its repetition? Charging people to urinate isn’t unfair, it’s the people not paying who make everyone else’s life an expensive misery. The done thing becomes the right thing because it’s always been the done thing: “Thats just the way it is”.

What’s not fair for everyone and anyone is living in a social system debasing humankind to quantitative value, that determines the worth of human beings by way of their money or how much of it can be farmed from or charged of them. If the objective core of society is the commodity; the subjective reflection, the human, will be likewise a commodity, just a thing, a mere value—they even then become disposable. Society is a commodity-structure; humans become commodities. Our society “endows commodities with the values which decide the behaviour of people” when it should be the other way around. “The countless agencies of mass production and its culture impress standardised behaviour on the individual as the only natural, decent, and rational one. Individuals define themselves now only as things, statistical elements, successes or failures.”¹ Society, run by the heartless commodity, becomes full of both: commodities and heartlessness. One out of sixty-nine human-commodities in this rich city aren’t value-producing, much as they’d prefer to be; instead they shiver on our streets; set on fire, spat on and ‘moved along’ by some of the sick society’s heartless reflections. Demonising and punishing and suppressing social symptoms, sending council workers in search of perished souls instead of sheltering them, does nothing for the sickness or its cause. They are society’s excess, and that’s precisely why and where we’ll find some brighter Brighton in Part Two.

“The mythical scientific respect of peoples for the given reality, which they themselves constantly create, finally becomes itself a positive fact, a fortress before which even the revolutionary imagination feels shamed as utopianism, and degenerates to a compliant trust”—Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer¹


  1. Dialectic of Enlightenment by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1944)
  2. History and Class Consciousness by Georgy Lukács (1923)
  3. Capital by Karl Marx (1867)
  4. I dearly wish for those, like I, who don’t and won’t do a shred of homework in their school life to feel liberated by their doing so: refusing an unnecessary practice and incurring guilt for their insistence on being human is an unsung tragedy of today’s youth.
  5. I here refer to the economic accounting of the Conservative government of the UK: the students foot the bills of those who crashed and continue to crash the economy with tuition fees for courses increasingly professionalised and work-related, paying and suffering and educated, quite literally, for capital’s sake.

Post Scriptum

This is the first in a three-part series.

The theory here discussed was taught in the first semester of the second year of my university course. What I’ve attempted above is to condense and explain some foundational Marxian economic theory in a single essay; that being said, I guarantee it being an enormously rewarding effort to read and reread.

Part 1 is high theory; Part 2 the lowdown reality; both of which can be read on their own. Part 3 will be the philosophical convergence of 1 and 2 and will require reading 1+2 for context.

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