Marx’s big error

by Jehu

post-work2I came across this comment by JD Taylor on accelerationism, in a post that seems to adopt Ben Noys’ argument in toto:

“Secondly, a tactic like Accelerationism acts either as a ludicrous and fatalistic defence of Capital, or a strategy that is just too vague to implement and which, in whatever small cases it is worked, will mainly serve to alienate others and get that person sacked, making the Left look even more obscure and confusing.”

There is, says the writer, some big problems with accelerationism:

“There’s some clear flaws with Accelerationism. The Marxist logic itself, for one. Ok, we defeat Capitalism (hurrah hurrah implied, but why would we want to do this though?) by pushing its inherent contradictions – it’s gonna blow anyway, with a religious redemptive revolution at the end of it, let’s push it faster, exacerbate the conditions for revolution! So does that mean, as local govt employees, we actually strive to make living conditions worse?”

And this conceals an even bigger set of problems:

“Secondly, why do we assume history is on our side? This is something Alex Williams is particularly guilt of in his dual-analysis of ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ accelerationism, in another post on his blog, Splintering Bone Ashes. Weak Accelerationism drives capitalism towards point of communist revolution by foregrounding its internal contradictions, which in real terms means making things worse, which presupposes that the proletariat might not just rise up against their middle-class and marginal left-wing overlords who are acting to manipulate the markets and criticise trade unionism. Strong Accelerationism in contrast poses whether accelerated processes of Capital itself might fundamentally alter them, and in doing so alter subjectivity towards the inhuman, beyond any revolution.”

The problems posed by the writer points to a huge error Marx probably had not anticipated in his theory:

Marxists would be too dumb to figure anything out on their own.

They would, instead, simply circle around the same old arguments over and over again until capitalism just finally collapsed on its own without their help.

Historical materialist accelerationism

So, let me see if I can do what almost all dumb Marxists seem unable to do, despite having Marx’s writings at their disposal for more than a hundred years: Show how accelerationism works completely within the premises of historical materialism and the labor theory of value. For this purpose, I will only employ Capital itself — Marx’s most important work.

In “Capital”, Marx makes a pertinent comment on the problem of accelerating the development of the productive forces under bourgeois rule. It is an argument that lends support to the idea that accelerationism is not limited to just a situation where the working class holds power. And, as Nick Land has already indicated in his criticism of ‘Left accelerationism’, the basis for this sort of accelerationism is premised on the effort to impose limits on the social labor day.

Two comments in particular seem to be relevant here, both in chapter 15, “Machinery and Modern Industry”. In the first comment Marx explicitly argues the shortening of the social labor day had the effect of speeding up the adoption of improved means of production:

“There cannot be the slightest doubt that the tendency that urges capital, so soon as a prolongation of the hours of labour is once for all forbidden, to compensate itself, by a systematic heightening of the intensity of labour, and to convert every improvement in machinery into a more perfect means of exhausting the workman, must soon lead to a state of things in which a reduction of the hours of labour will again be inevitable. On the other hand, the rapid advance of English industry between 1848 and the present time, under the influence of a day of 10 hours, surpasses the advance made between 1833 and 1847, when the day was 12 hours long, by far more than the latter surpasses the advance made during the half century after the first introduction of the factory system, when the working-day was without limits.”

If I understand this passage correctly, efforts to limit hours of labor forced the capitalist to introduce machinery to intensify the labor process, which had to, at some point, leads to the further reduction of the social labor day. By limiting the labor time at the disposal of the capitalist class, then, the working class could spur further improvements in the productivity of labor that must enable a further reduction of the social labor.

In the second comment, Marx argues the introduction of shorter hours of labor had the effect of accelerating changes in the relations of production, in particular the concentration and centralization of capitals:

“If the general extension of factory legislation to all trades for the purpose of protecting the working-class both in mind and body has become inevitable, on the other hand, as we have already pointed out, that extension hastens on the general conversion of numerous isolated small industries into a few combined industries carried on upon a large scale; it therefore accelerates the concentration of capital and the exclusive predominance of the factory system. It destroys both the ancient and the transitional forms, behind which the dominion of capital is still in part concealed, and replaces them by the direct and open sway of capital; but thereby it also generalises the direct opposition to this sway. While in each individual workshop it enforces uniformity, regularity, order, and economy, it increases by the immense spur which the limitation and regulation of the working-day give to technical improvement, the anarchy and the catastrophes of capitalist production as a whole, the intensity of labour, and the competition of machinery with the labourer. By the destruction of petty and domestic industries it destroys the last resort of the “redundant population,” and with it the sole remaining safety-valve of the whole social mechanism. By maturing the material conditions, and the combination on a social scale of the processes of production, it matures the contradictions and antagonisms of the capitalist form of production, and thereby provides, along with the elements for the formation of a new society, the forces for exploding the old one.

It seems that Marx had a fully developed argument for accelerationism in Capital — an accelerationism that forcibly imposed changes both on the forces of production (through introduction of improved machinery) and the relations of production (through concentration and centralization of capital).

Moreover, the argument Marx relied on does not in any way rely on ‘things getting worse’ for the working class in any sense of that term. By reducing the labor day and by introducing protection for the working class, the development of the productive forces could be accelerated

It turns out Nick Land is correct twice: accelerationism is possible and labor theory holds the key to a Marxist argument for why he is.

Since Marx’s argument has been sitting right there, unaltered, for more than 140 years, the question is why do Marxists themselves believe accelerationism can only occur if the conditions of the working class deteriorate?

Marx’s argument suggests that even without proletarians holding political power, an accelerationist strategy can be adopted. Yet, Marxists like the unscrupulous editor of Historical Materialism, Ben Noys, argue accelerationism assumes, ‘things get better by getting worse’. Marx makes no such assumption in Capital; in fact, he proposes both a reduction of hours of labor and improved social protections for the working class. Moreover he argues this strategy has the effect of driving capitalism to its demise:

By forcibly maturing the productive forces, and the forcibly concentrating and centralizing capital into fewer hands, these sorts of measures mature the contradictions inherent in the capitalist mode of production;facilitating both the formation of the material requirements of communism, and creating the conditions leading to the demise of capital.

All of this, mind you, is directly stated in chapter 15 of Capital — unlike Ben Noys, I did not have to infer some apocalyptic tone to Marx.

I just had to read Capital.