An uncomfortable question for the Left after SYRIZA’s victory: Was Nick Land right all along?
Rory Scothorne (@shirkerism) tweeted this interesting statement:
“tbh the best way of getting a Scottish Syriza probably would have been via the brutal troika/IMF restructuring following independence”
SYRIZA’s victory in Greece, has only come after years of a brutal austerity regime, where, SYRIZA finance minister Varoufakis once argued, “everyone except the Nazis, the bigots and the misanthropic racists will be a loser”.
Consistent with Varoufakis’ view one tweep (@ParkMacDougald1) sent me this message characterizing Nick Land’s peculiar brand of accelerationism:
“I kinda read [Nick Land] as actively cheering the destruction of humanity or at least thinking that some sort of nazi social arrangement (complete w/ racial hierarchy) is precondition for leaving planet.”
Today, most Leftists think this is what capitalism is doing — destroying humanity and creating some sort of racist, fascist social arrangement. Land has simply taken this typical Left narrative of the process of capitalist development and turned it on its head.
Land has made a very simple but controversial argument: If the working class will only revolt when driven to the point of starvation, why fight capitalism? Why not accelerate capitalism’s own development and hasten the day when the working class will be forced to fight simply to survive?
In Greece this month, we have seen an important real-time unfolding of Land’s argument. SYRIZA’s victory is pretty much the product of a decades-long, sustained, neoliberal assault on the European working class. The question is whether SYRIZA’s in the Greece elections vindicates Land’s argument or not.
And note: Land doesn’t simply call for the Left to sit back and let capital do its thing; he calls for accelerating it; to be more capitalist than the capitalists. To give a Marxist spin to his argument, Land demands the Left should remove all barriers to full-blown capitalist development.
And, frankly, I agree with Land: Being more capitalist than the capitalists is the essence of communism as a political movement.
The problem with (or vulnerability in) this argument is that the Left has always conceived of its own political movement in essentially Luddite terms. (My apologies to the Luddites for this essentially reductionist framing, here. The Left is only a farcical caricature of that immature first expression of class struggle.) Just as the Luddites broke the early machines of industrial capitalism, the Left sees its movement as an extension of that machine breaking: no longer the inanimate object on the shop floor, but the forces of production created by the bourgeois epoch.
Ben Noys captures this idea completely with his anti-Landian argument that socialist revolution is the emergency break to halt development of the productive forces:
“We interrupt to prevent catastrophe, we destroy the tracks to prevent the greater destruction of acceleration.”
And this statement expresses the quintessential Luddite character of Left: to halt the development of the productive forces bound up with the world market; to realize, in its own peculiar fashion, Fukuyama’s end of history. You can see this Luddite view expressed in almost every facet of Leftist anti-capitalism, including its opposition to the EU and the euro common currency.
Here is the thing: to understand the kernel of truth in Landian accelerationism, you would actually have to know in some vague sense what capitalism is doing — something most Leftists (and, perhaps, Land himself) do not possess. If you think capitalism is just the organized and systematic destruction of humanity, like the aliens in War of the Worlds, well you are just not likely to appreciate the nuances of Land’s argument.
And this is because the Left has always focused on the exploitation of the working class and not the formation of the working class; the replacement of labor on the basis of exchange value with directly social labor. If you ask a dumb Leftist today what Capital is about, they will almost invariably tell you it explains how the worker is exploited. As if Marx needed three volumes (even more in his plan) of densely argued text to explain how the worker is exploited.
Marx did that in one chapter. And not even a very long chapter at that.
Capital is about how the relation, capital, the production of surplus value, production for profit, must of necessity end in communism. Capitalism is a revolutionary transitional mode of production that ends in communism; if you accelerate capitalism, as Land suggests, you accelerate this revolutionary transition. And Marx makes this argument without assuming the intervention of a revolutionary subject, but only through the blind working out of the law of value.
Capital, as Marx explains it, is a virulent cancer that invades every sphere of production and converts it into directly social production; while continuously reducing the labor required for production to a progressively diminishing minimum. Thus, when understood within the context of Marx’s Capital, Land’s argument is that this two-sided process can and must be accelerated.
Why is this prospect so horrifying to the Left?
Because capital does not aim at its result, of course — the capitalist does not intend to create communism. Capital is a blind process that immediately only seeks to the production of surplus value, profit. As Marx explains in volume 3:
“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.”
Thus, there is a constant conflict between the immediate aim of capital (profit) and its world historical result (communism). Capital’s own development strips labor of its necessity and renders the worker herself superfluous to the production of material wealth. She is, of necessity, discarded by the very same process that increases her capacity to create social wealth. It is the development of the forces of production that gives the labor power of the worker its value, while, at the same time, constantly reducing its value. Landian Accelerationism simply argues we must accelerate the process by which the worker’s labor is stripped of its value.
But the Obama-loving, ‘humanitarian’, emoprog, NGO-based, social justice warriors on the Left who fancy themselves radicals recoil in horror at this very idea.
“Drive the wages of the working class to zero? But how will we eat? Where will we live? Who will build the roads?”
This is why the Left cannot face the implications of Greece: these are the very questions that gave SYRIZA its victory. The working class could not be forced to face these questions until the nation state itself had been stripped of its sovereign powers and converted into a naked instrument for feeding the insatiable profit-hunger of a ruthless predatory European finance capital.
As Tad Tietze and Elizabeth Humphrys have argued, the whole point of a social revolution is that these questions can no longer be answered by the state, but only by society itself.