For Marx’s Accelerationism – against Post-war Marxism

by Jehu

I didn’t see this post in April when it was first published but I should have: “Against Accelerationism – For Marxism”, by reidkane. According to the writer, accelerationism aims to force down the wages of the working class and thus goad them to organize and fight back:

“‘Acceleration’ is ambivalent; it is regressive in that it is the mechanism by which the conditions of the working class are forced downwards, but progressive to the extent that this is mediated by political radicalization.”

This a quite wrongly stated, at least insofar as the idea can be traced to Marx and Engels.

The accelerationist project as Marx and Engels explained it

szwPygbHere is what I do understand about Accelerationism, and it is all taken from a couple of sentences in the Communist Manifesto, written, as you probably know, by the original accelerationists, Marx and Engels — a couple of guys I tend to trust when it comes to historical materialism because they invented it:

“We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.”

The first part is probably uncontroversial: the proletariat aims to displace the bourgeoisie as the ruling class of society. We can agree with this idea, at least insofar as it implies the previous ruling class is pushed off the stage and forced to get a real job. Leaving aside whether Marx and Engels could get a quorum for this idea is another question, as well as whether this made sense. In any case, they thought it might be nice for the working class to organize itself as the ruling class of society as it first step. They thought this — there is no controversy about this; no one suggests Nick Land came up with the idea of seizing political power on his own.

Next they discuss what the proletariat will do with this power and this comes down to three objectives: a. get control of capital, b. centralize control over it and c. develop it as rapidly as possible. Political power was merely a means to effect these three measures; it was never an end in itself. There is no proletarian political revolution as such, but merely the use of general instruments of coercion to carry out a real revolution. The proletarian revolution is not political per se, but material; the alteration of material relations on a mass scale.

How do we know this?

Because in the very next paragraph Marx and Engels explains all political measures would be economically insufficient and untenable. Once begun, the proletariat would be forced to take additional measures until capital was completely eradicated. Thus, whatever the specific measures were implemented — and, Marx and Engels explained, they may vary by country — it essentially comes down to a. gaining control of capital, b. centralizing its management, and c. developing it as rapidly as possible.

Now, I direct your attention to “c”, i.e., developing the productive forces as rapidly as possible. Weren’t the productive forces already being developed by capitalism? Of course they were. The working class never needed to seize power to develop the productive forces — capitalism could do this itself, but this process was subject to crisis, sudden and unpredictable halts, crashes and even prolonged depressions. The development of the productive forces advanced this way, because capital did not care about development of the productive forces; it is solely concerned with the production of surplus value, production for profit.

As Marx later writes, capitalists won’t ever introduce improved technology unless by doing so they can make more profits. If the working class could gain control of the national capital its development could be freed from this obstacle that is continually reproduced by capital. Thus freed from capitalist relations of production, and managed by conscious application of science, in theory at least, the development of the force of production should not run into any necessary obstacles.

Why might this be of interest to the proletariat? Because we do all the fucking work, of course. And since we do all the fucking work, we have a singular interest in seeing the need for labor reduced as rapidly as possible. In this way, we can spend more time cavorting in the sun and having orgies on the beach.

Capital developed the productive forces, but this development was prone to crises and periodic destruction of the productive forces. Taking the capital from the capitalists made it possible to eliminate this stop and go anarchic development. Thus the development of the productive forces could be sped up — “accelerated”. Perhaps I am missing something here, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about; I really don’t understand why imbeciles like Ben Noys find the idea of accelerating the development of the productive forces so terrifying.

If you look at Greece you see the results of capitalistic development of the productive forces. This form of development of the productive forces is actually taking place right now. Nothing can prevent it. It is not as though if we decide we don’t want to develop the productive forces, the capitalist will also stop doing it; and they just will continue to do it on their own terms, like we saw in the financial collapse of 2008 — that is how capital develops the productive forces. So you have a choice: accept development of the productive forces on capital’s terms or on yours. But let’s be clear: the process doesn’t need your permission; it can easily just keep going without your consent or input.

To call anti-Accelerationism Luddite bullshit is an insult to the Luddites.

The Marxist “dialectic”: starvation

This is just the oddest statement in Reidkane’s article on Accelerationism:

“This developmental dynamic is intimately tied to the struggle of the working class to increase value of its labor power, and thus to diminish the need to work.”

The statement is regarding what Reidkane calls “the dialectic”, which is always and everywhere a bad sign. Any time a Marxist employs “the dialectic” in a discussion, what follows is inevitably some serious bullshit.

What is “the dialectic”?

On the one hand, there is capital’s constant revolutionizing of the forces of production. On the other hand there is, “the struggle of the working class to increase value of its labor power, and thus to diminish the need to work.” How does the working class “increase the value of its labor power”? And why would this effort diminish the need for labor?

First, what is “the value of its labor power”? Is this not the socially necessary labor time required for its production? To increase the socially necessary labor time required for production of labor power means labor time is increasing? Right? Yet, Reidkane argues that by increasing the socially necessary labor time required for production of labor power the working class diminishes “the need to work”.

WTF am I missing here?

This mangled presentation of “the dialectic” can be summarized this way: sooner or later the working class makes enough money to quit their jobs. Reidkane accuses accelerationism of saying If wages rise sufficiently, the working class (somehow) acquires the option to not work. Honestly, I am not sure who is even making this argument among the so-called Left accelerationists, but they should be slapped. It is an argument often enough made by the advocates of UBI, who seem to think income can rise to such a level labor becomes an option.

Okay, people who hold this idea are silly — but what does this have to do with what Marx spoke about in the Communist Manifesto? All varieties of Accelerationism trace their roots to the Manifesto, not UBI.

Moreover, and this is extremely important, nowhere does Marx discuss developing the forces of production as rapidly as possible (accelerating development) in relation to the existing state; this is a project undertaken by the new proletarian power once it is established. The new proletarian power gradually brings all capital under its control, centralizes its management and speeds up its development.

Accelerationism and proletarian political power

Thus it makes absolutely no sense for Reidkane to write: “technology is employed not to emancipate the worker from the need to work, but from the opportunity to do so”. Who, in Marx’s argument, is employing the technology to accelerate its development? Isn’t this the new proletarian power? Why would this new proletarian power be trying to lock itself out from the opportunity to work?

Marx is talking about what takes place after a proletarian political revolution, while Reidkane appears to be talking about what takes place before it. This seems to be a recurrent error in the discussion of Accelerationism: it is entirely unclear who is in charge of the process. Nick Land is often accused of wanting to push the boundaries of capital to its ultimate limits: no borders, no regulations, no food stamp socialism, etc. Marx, however, clearly was not talking about anything like this in the Manifesto. What neoliberals is doing today and what Marx proposed in the Communist Manifesto are two entirely different things.

It is true both processes produce communism in the end, but they follow two distinct paths. Luxemburg called these two paths, “socialism or barbarism”. Both arrive at communism, but the latter one is pretty rough on us getting there.

And this is the point: Marxists deny neoliberalism is the political expression of a process that ends in communism. They don’t believe capitalism — of itself and with no other forces involved — directly results in communism. For Marxists, communism requires a period of proletarian rule and cannot be achieved without a period of proletarian rule, but this was never Marx’s argument and has no relation to Marx’s argument.

Proletarian political rule is a contingent event as Luxemburg put it; not a necessity. It is the outcome of a proletarian class that had acquired some definite level of political consciousness. Nothing said the proletarians would reached this level of political consciousness and (frankly) everything pointed to it being an unlikely event.

How unlikely?

Between 1914 and 1945, the proletariat slaughtered 100 million workers and almost completely exterminated several peoples. It seriously tried to level Europe and Asia following its own bourgeoisis into wars of redivision. These proletarians did not act like proletarians at all, but like Americans, Germans, Frenchmen, Englishmen.

This bizarre behavior of the class can’t be blamed on social democrats, or the labor aristocracy, or opportunism, or any other such nonsense; this was the behavior of the class itself. Social democrats and labor leaders and opportunism were simply political expressions of the class’s own consciousness, not its cause. The class suffers a serious “defect” that it does not see itself as a class. It exists split up and at odds with itself in an environment of universal hostility and competition.

As Marx and Engels explained: Labor can only exist on the basis of this fragmentation. Overcoming this actual and real fragmentation requires some definite level of a political consciousness.

In any case, whether this consciousness was acquired is a matter of contingency, and is not directly given in the mode of production itself. We can always aim for the slogan, “Workers have no country”, but this does not in any way necessarily mean this ideal is realized on the battlefield.

The trajectory of capitalism is toward communism

I went off on this tangent to establish one fact: What Marx and Engels called communism — the real movement of society — was not this political contingency. Like all contingencies it might happen or it might not happen, but Marx and Engels saw communism as a historical necessity not a contingency. If the working class acquired a sufficient level of political consciousness and if it successfully seized power, Marx and Engels argued it could accelerate the development of the productive forces and emancipate itself from class society..

That is a lot of ifs.

But even if the working class never got it together, communism was still the direct result of the historical trajectory of capitalism itself. The working class could accelerate it and the capitalists could retard it, but nothing in society could prevent it.

Thus, to put this in the simplest possible terms, as Marx and Engels discuss this idea, accelerationism requires that the proletariat has already become the ruling class of society. You cannot have an accelerationism that is premised on the existing state, the capitalist state. It is a strategy or project undertaken by the working class to put an end to class society in the shortest possible time.

Reidkane is horribly wrong to describe accelerationism this way:

“Wage workers, displaced by machinery, are proletarianized, deprived of access to the means of subsistence they collectively produce. It was precisely this tendency that Marx saw “accelerating” with the completion of the bourgeois revolutions.

This is NOT Accelerationism as Marx and Engels described it — this is the normal operation of the capitalist mode of production. This is what you get when the proletarian political revolution fails and we embark on the path of barbarism, of fascism. To equate accelerationism with barbarism or fascism is a tactic first employed by Ben Noyes. Now, it is impossible to have a discussion of the subject without Marxists evoking images of working class babies starving in a polluted concentration camp.

Our attention is diverted from a discussion of how to achieve the swiftest possible end to class society, to the idea you can force the working class to take power by starving it. And Reidkane adds his voice to this silly discussion:

“Yet [Marx] did not advocate it simply because it led to technological advancement, but because it forced the proletariat to organize itself to mediate the deprivation they faced.”

Marx made no such argument and it is just unforgivable that a Marxist would ever suggest he advocated driving down the wages of the working class to goad it into organizing itself! At no point in his career did he ever suggest this sort of nonsense. In Marx’s theory, it is capital and big industry that brings organization to the proletariat, not starvation.

Indeed, if the working class has to be in power to effect an accelerationist project, how could this be based on starvation? Reidkane conflates Marx and Engels discussion of how to speed up development of the productive forces with what happens if capital is left in charge of society. If a biologist got Darwin’s argument as mangled as Marxists get Marx’s argument, she would be laughed out of her field as a creationist.

Somehow, we are supposed to believe Marx thought you could develop the productive forces as rapidly as possible by implementing the very measure that cause capitalism to collapse into crises? Really? How the fuck does that work? Somebody has to explain the mechanism by which periodic destruction of the productive forces on a mass scale accelerates development of the productive forces.