People have always worked to produce useful things. But under capitalism, labor becomes the basis of all social relationships. Marx tried to describe this novelty with his distinction between abstract and concrete labor. In every kind of society, people perform concrete labor — for example, turning a piece of leather into a shoe. In a capitalist economy, people also work in order to acquire the products of other people’s labor. The shoemaker makes shoes so that he can buy a car, produced by autoworkers he will never meet. This form of social organization — in which workers essentially trade their labor — requires that every form of concrete labor be measurable according to a common metric, as if all were products of “abstract labor,” or labor as such. For Marx, this metric is labor time. Workers receive an hourly wage, which they use to buy products whose prices reflect labor costs. Firms compete over the relative cost of their products, forcing them to minimize labor costs and maximize productivity. Society as a whole comes to be organized around the production of value generally, not specific use-values to satisfy specific human needs, and the labor process is constantly reshaped and degraded by the imperative to produce efficiently. Given this reading, socialism would be not a giant factory, but a world where wealth and value no longer took the form of congealed labor time. (The positive form it would take has never been clear.) Here, Endnotes found a German rhyme for the French ultraleft position that workers need to leave the workplace, not seize it.