The Real Movement

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Tag: accelerationism

Is the proletariat the only revolutionary class in society?

This essay by Ben Noys, “Apocalypse, Tendency, Crisis”, got me thinking about that question. If we could extrapolate the accumulation process of the capitalist mode of production indefinitely into the foreseeable future where would it end up?

One huge problem is that there is nothing in Marx’s theory that says the accumulation process necessarily results in a proletarian revolution. Why is this a problem? Most people think communism requires a proletarian revolution. If the accumulation process doesn’t end in a proletarian revolution, there is this big black theoretical hole where we don’t know what happens if accumulation continues but a proletarian revolution never happens. We just don’t know where this process ends up. Read the rest of this entry »

Post-capitalism, Accelerationism, communism and the march of the job-eating killer robots

Two speculative views of what comes after capitalism for those without enough imagination to picture themselves on a beach having group sex.

The first offer some discussion of the so-called Left accelerationist writers Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. Left accelerationism is a sort of awkward nerdy, pimple-faced techno-fetishism that seeks to make Nick Land palatable to Sanders supporters.

The second discusses the even less credible argument, put forward by Channel 4 News in-house radical Paul Mason. Mason is … well, the Channel 4 News’ idea of a radical, if a radical worked for Channel 4 News. Of course no radical actually works for Channel 4 News, but if a radical did work for Channel 4 News, they would likely be a radical just like Paul Mason.

The starting point of these conceptions of life after the class-war, is the now ubiquitous prediction that soon capitalism will no longer generate enough new jobs to go around owing to the replacement of human living labor by machines.

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Marx’s big error

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.

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Apocalypse, accelerationism and the unscrupulous argument of Ben Noys

I.

aggIn his essay, “Apocalypse, tendency, crisis”, Ben Noys begin innocently enough by appropriating the anti-communist charge that several well known Marxists have a religious, even apocalyptic, interpretation of historical materialism. However, he explains, he isn’t going to hold it against them:

“I’m not concerned with the old Cold War trope that Marxism is really a form of religion with its own eschatology.”

After which, bizarrely enough, Noys goes on to accuse these Marxists of being just that:

“I am, however, critiquing the remnants of a religious model of providence, in which we suppose history is necessarily on our side.”

I like how, in the opening paragraph of this essay, Noys employs the words of the anti-communist author, Norman Cohn, to accuse Marxists of having “apocalyptic desires”. It really is a nice touch to see a Marxist editor of the journal, Historical Materialism, basically accuse Marxists of being moonies while slyly distancing himself from the charge.

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Srnicek’s horrifying glimpse into the Left Accelerationist future

If I am reading his essay Navigating Neoliberalism: Political Aesthetics in an Age of Crisis correctly, it seems that Nick Srnicek thinks increased application of technology and art can help the Left to visualize global productive activity as a Nasa-Control-e1376606139231totality and thus render the Left’s politics more coherent and viable.

If I understand his argument correctly, (and I want to emphasize this caveat, because he has told me he doesn’t recognize his argument in my first comments on twitter), he appears to believe that it may have been once possible for the Left “to make our own world intelligible to ourselves through a situational understanding of our own position”, but this is no longer the case:

“Jameson argues that at one time the nature of capitalism was such that one could potentially establish a correspondence between our local phenomenological experiences and the economic structure that determined it.”

However, with a globalized economy:

“We can no longer simply extrapolate from our local experience and develop a map of the global economic system. There is a deficiency of cognitive mapping, that is to say, there is an essential gap between our local phenomenology and the structural conditions which determine it.”

Why would this be a problem for the Left? Again, following this guy Jameson, Srnicek argues it becomes increasingly difficult to develop a socialist politics without the ability to conceptualize the social totality.

“With globalised capitalism having become unbound from any phenomenological coordinates, this possibility for a socialist politics has become increasingly difficult.”

Srnicek thinks it helps explain why, although neoliberalism is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions, the Left has not been able to exploit this collapse to realize an alternative vision of society. There is an “abyssal void at the heart of alternative political thinking”, expressed in the “woefully inadequate” Occupy movement and a regressive longing to return to fascism’s Golden Age of the 1960s.

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Land, Accelerationism and the “impending human extinction”

If you want to make the case against Nick Land, you could not do it more completely than the case made against him by Alex Williams. According to Williams, Land seeks to dissolve humanity “in a technological apotheosis”. The terminology is just completely over the top: Land has ‘hijacked’ Deleuze and Guattari, “bringing out an implicit inhuman pro-capitalism.”

16l0i3aNote Williams admit this so-called “inhuman pro-capitalism” is already implicit in  Deleuze and Guattari. He cannot possibly accuse Land of having invented it as I have so often accused Marxists of inventing ideas said to originate with Marx. If Land has done anything, it is only to tease out of Deluze and Guattari an inhuman pro-capitalism that was already present.

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An exchange with a Left Accelerationist

I had a short exchange with a Left Accelerationist, @nervemeter, on Twitter this week. It was an interesting discussion, so I am publishing it here. The original context is on my twitter account. I have made some edits to it for clarification.

Nervemeter: I don’t think [Nick Land] thinks the “blind process” is at all communism-bound. & I don’t think he thinks we can drive it there.

Jehu: And you accept that conclusion?

social_anxiety_1Nervemeter: Well, not entirely, but that there is one of the major dividing lines between [Right and Left Acelerationism]. I’m skeptical about the 1st part, but generally agree with the second. We can (I hope) find ways to steer blind cosmic-scale processes. But I don’t quite think capitalism is a machine fated to produce communism of its own momentum. It might create *conditions* for communism, that is, it might make communism *possible*, but never *necessary*. That’s my very sketchy take on it, anyway.

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Left Accelerationism as product re-branding

Indian_call_centerWhat makes Land’s Accelerationism the purest and only valid existing expression of Accelerationism today?

Well, at least in part, it is because Land’s self-styled critics, such as, for instance, Alex Williams, write shit like this:

Where Deleuze and Guattari ultimately counseled caution, to accelerate with care to avoid total destruction, Land favored an absolute process of acceleration and deterritorialization, identifying capitalism as the ultimate agent of history. As Land puts it, “Capitalism has no external limit, it has consumed life and biological intelligence, [and it is] vast beyond human anticipation.” Here, the deregulation, privatization, and commodification of neoliberal capitalism will serve to destroy all stratification within society, generating in the process unheard of novelties. Politics and all morality, particularly of the leftist variety, are a blockage to this fundamental historical process. Land had a hypnotizing belief that capitalist speed alone could generate a global transition towards unparalleled technological singularity. In this visioning of capital, even the human itself can eventually be discarded as mere drag to an abstract planetary intelligence rapidly constructing itself from the bricolaged fragments of former civilizations. As Land has it, through the acceleration of global capitalism the human will be dissolved in a technological apotheosis, effectively experiencing a species-wide suicide as the ultimate stimulant head rush.

Marxists look at Land and they are scandalized by his writing; writings that violate their petty bourgeois sensibilities.

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

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?

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By way of reply to the author of the essay “So, Accelerationism, what’s all that about?”

apple_ceo_steve_jobs_holds_the_new_ipad_during_the_launch_of_the_new_tablet_computing_device_in_san_francisco_wednesdayThe post mentioned in the title of this blog post has a rather different take on Nick Land’s Accelerationism (because, in any case, Land is the boogeyman we should all fear) and its Leftist expression. In this view, no Left accelerationist advocates accelerating capitalism because it will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. Any such idea is a straw man.

“Not even Nick Land? No. Not even Nick Land. He likes capitalism. He wants to accelerate it, but not because it will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. What about Deleuze and Guattari? No. According to them ‘nothing has ever died of contradictions’, and so whatever deterritorialising force they aim to accelerate, and whatever end they aim to accelerate it towards, neither is a contradiction or its inevitable collapse. What about Srnicek and Williams? No. Much of what they do can be seen as breaking with D&G (and a fortiori with Land), and returning to a much more Marxist position, but they explicitly refuse to see the transition between capitalism and post-capitalism as a dialectical sublation brought about by the intensification of contradictions.”

“Well, what about Marx then?!”, the author asks. Not surprising, at this point the author wants to change the subject:

“Just how much Marx is invested in a substantive notion of contradiction as the metaphysical driving force of history is a question up for debate, and I’m not about to stumble into that particular hermeneutic hornets’ nest.”

Really? You’re shitting me, right?

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