“Capitalism Harder!”: Accelerationism as Marxism’s mirror

by Jehu

Left accelerationists have to show why they are not simply repackaging a discredited Marxist political strategy — a charge Nick Land makes forcefully here. The reason I say this is simple: a vulgar interpretation of Marx’s theory would suggest that as the conditions of the working class screen-shot-2012-12-30-at-9-48-52-pm-01-14-57deteriorated, they would be goaded into a socialist revolution. Some variant on this idea regularly becomes very popular among Marxists in the middle of economic downturns.

Of course, this idea is not as blunt as I put it. For instance many  simply assume deteriorating conditions push people into struggle with capital and requires the additional intervention of some sort of advanced or vanguard element to raise the political consciousness of the class. This seems to be the thinking behind the more polished argument made by Michael A. Lebowitz in this passage that crises produces conditions for socialist education:

“But, they are merely open to this understanding. All those actions, demonstrations and struggles in themselves cannot go beyond capitalism. Given that exploitation inherently appears simply as unfairness and that the nature of capital is mystified, these struggles lead only to the demand for fairness, for justice within capitalist relations but not justice beyond capitalism. They generate at best a trade union or social-democratic consciousness—a perspective which is bounded by a continuing sense of dependence upon capital, i.e., bounded by capitalist relations. Given that the spontaneous response of people in motion does not in itself go beyond capital, communication of the essential nature of capitalism is critical to its nonreproduction.”

But it was (and still is) generally held that when conditions deteriorate the working class is pushed in a heightened level of at least defensive conflict with the capitalists and thus become more open to “socialist education”.

Accelerationism simply asks a perfectly reasonable question: If deteriorating conditions allows the working class to become more open to going beyond capitalism, why try to prevent conditions from deteriorating? Why fight for piecemeal reforms that only prop up existing society by maintaining the illusion it can be fixed? If the capitalists are only concerned to push their brutal exploitation of the class to ever more extreme limits, why not welcome this?

Underlying the above notion is the at least tacit assumption that the fight for food stamp socialism only dulls the revolutionary potential of the class. Thus, examined in isolation, Accelerationism appears to be a fairly uncompromising pro-capitalist ideology — a charge many people make against Land — but it actually rests on a silly Marxist hypothesis regarding how the transition to socialism happens.

Acceleration asks, if the working class becomes more open to “socialist ideas” as its conditions worsen, why stop conditions from worsening? And this seems to me to be a pretty valid argument. If I did not think Marxists are complete assholes, who fundamentally have no understanding of Marx’s theory, I might even agree with it. And, if I were so completely ignorant of history that I did not realize this sort of argument leads only to Auschwitz, I might even champion it.

When the big crisis actually hit in the 1930s, the working class split into 3 parts — communist, social democrat and fascist. According to researchers in Germany, 40% of the Nazi Party in pre-war Germany were from the working class. Likewise, in the United States, the working class returned the fascists to power again and again in the form of Roosevelt.

Yet, even today, the Left speaks of the Roosevelt administration as some sort of “social state”, when his administration actually engineered a 40% cut in their wages in the first days of his administration. Startlingly, most Marxists even to this day do not realize Roosevelt did this — nor do they know how he did it. Nor do they seem to realize Roosevelt forced unions under the control of the fascist state on pretext of protecting the right to unionize. Finally, you can count on one hand the number of Marxist writers who know Roosevelt actively fought any attempt to reduce hours of labor in the middle of worst depression in the 20th century.

You would never know any of this if you only read the typical Marxist garbage that passes for a history of the period — and, mind you, I am not talking about “progressives” or “the Left” in general — I am talking about people who call themselves socialists or communists. Even today, we have Marxist academics who routinely refer to the “Golden Age” of fascism, without even realizing this “Age” was built on the ruins of Europe.

Accelerationism seems (to me) to emerge as a reaction to this sort of nonsense. It is the expression of the same impulse as “Vote harder” and “March harder”, but in a peculiar form of negativity: “Capitalism harder”. If, indeed, capitalism gives rise to a new mode of production, more capitalism would appear to be the antidote to capitalism. And, again, if we leave aside the mechanism by which this ‘post-capitalism’ might be achieved, this seems to make perfect sense to me.

“Not so fast!” exclaims Ben Noys, who coined the term, Accelerationism”, for this ideology. According to Noys, the socialist revolution is not a continuation of capitalism, but an attempt to halt capitalism. In Noys opiniion, the proletarian revolution is mankind’s “emergency brake” to halt an otherwise unavoidable catastrophe. As Noys puts it, socialism is an attempt to halt the development of the productive forces at a stage that is still consistent with civilized life.

Noys never shows that this is possible, he simply asserts it as the aim of the social revolution. The problem with his argument is that rapid development of capitalism is the best condition for the development of the very working class who is to serve as the revolutionary subject of his interruption of modernity.

Like its counter-part, Marxism, Accelerationism takes as it starting point the Communist Manifesto. There, Marx and Engels argued the working class would take power to speed up the development of the productive forces. On the surface, at least, Noys poses a task that is diametrically opposed to both the letter and the spirit of the Manifesto; while Accelerationism at least has the validity that it attempts to realize that aim.

But notice that in the Manifesto, Marx and Engels state the working class takes power in order to speed up development of the productive forces. In no way do they appear to argue the taking of power itself by the class can be facilitated or aided by speeding up the productive forces. In the accelerationist argument, an inversion has taken place in the two events: taking power and accelerating development of the productive forces. While taking power might facilitate accelerating the development of the productive forces, nothing Marx or Engels write suggests the opposite is also true.

And why is this?

Simple: In the capitalist mode of production, capitalism is a barrier to itself. Capitalism aims at absolute development of the productive forces, but, aims at this development for its own limited aim. As Marx puts it:

“The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the purpose of production; that production is only production for capital and not vice versa, the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers. The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move — these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour. The means — unconditional development of the productive forces of society — comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital. The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world-market and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production.”

It is impossible to go from accelerating the development of the productive forces to the rule of society by a commune of producers — and this is because the aim of capitalistic development is capital itself, not its overcoming.

The fallacy contained in both Accelerationism and its “mirror”, Marxism, is the idea development of the productive forces can ever lead to proletarian rule. This is true either when we consider the working class as mere means for self-expansion of capital, as merely variable capital, and when we consider the working class as a political formation in society. This implies that no amount of deterioration of material conditions of the class is sufficient to produce the hoped for socialist revolution

A socialist revolution is always an external, merely political, event; and no amount of capitalist development of the productive forces can lead to a socialist revolution. This is true whether we are consider it from the standpoint of facilitating neoliberal globalization and from the point of view of the impact of these fascist policies on the conditions of the working class. Thus both Accelerationism and Marxism, both of which tacitly anticipate just such a development, share the same fallacious premise.

If historical experience has any validity at all to these assholes, they have to know they are looking not at an increasing potential for a proletarian revolution, but at the increasing likelihood of an unimaginable social and natural catastrophe.

Moreover, it is an onrushing catastrophe for which there is no emergency brake as Noys argues for. This would be obvious to anyone who, for a single second, thought Noys’, Accelerationism’s and Marxism’s arguments through. The conditions for the most rapid development of the productive forces are the same as that for the unalloyed rule of capital: Namely, the absolute subordination of the workers to capital. The very means by which the working class is subjected to the most cruel materials conditions imply it is wholly subordinated to the rule of capital.

How, on this basis, can the working class establish its rule over capital? We are then facing a paradox: in the Marxist and Accelerationist arguments, the most advantageous conditions for socialist education among the working class imply the class’ absolute subordination to capital.

Marxists have subjected Capital to every possible interpretation; but not once have they ever asked themselves why there is no working class agency involved in the collapse of capitalism in Marx’s greatest work, Capital. Why is that Marx, who allegedly believed overcoming capitalism results from a class consciousness proletariat, never once introduced this class consciousness proletarit into his discussion as the revolutionary subject in that overcoming?

How the fuck does Marx arrive at the conclusion that the expropriators are expropriated without once mentioning a “revolutionary subject”? The greatest puzzle of 21st Century Marxism, the identity of the “revolutionary subject”, appears nowhere in Capital. And why is this? The answer is simple. There is no fucking revolutionary subject; it is a load of horse-shit introduced by some fucking useless academic. You Marxists are so full of shit, it is just staggering. Some fucking academic invents the idea of a revolutionary subject and you all begin echoing this shit — as if it had any validity at all.

If Marx believed communism required a revolutionary subject, why didn’t he say this? Marx arrives at the conclusion that the expropriators are expropriated without ever once mentioning the proletariat in this process. His entire discussion is premised on the operation of the mode of production itself, with no reference whatsoever to a class struggle. Yet, one Marxist after another explains to me (as if I were a dull-witted pupil) that proletarian political action is required to effect the end of capitalism. They offer no evidence for this assertion; it is just asserted as an article of the faith.

The situation is precisely the opposite: even assuming the absolute subordination of the proletariat to the unrestrained rule of capital, capitalism still collapses. The outcome of the class struggle has nothing whatsoever to do with the collapse of capitalism. The idea class struggle in any way affects the outcome of the capitalist mode of production is a hoax perpetrated by bourgeois ideologists and Marxists alike on the working class.