The Real Movement

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Tag: productive forces

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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Noumena deFanged: Ray Brassier’s toothless critique of Nick Land

180694754Ray Brassier’s take on Nick Land is jaw-droppingly silly for someone whose Wikipedia entry touts him as “one of the foremost philosophers of contemporary Speculative realism interested in providing a robust defense of philosophical realism in the wake of the challenges posed to it by post-Kantian critical idealism, phenomenology, post-modernism, deconstruction, or, more broadly speaking, “correlationism”.”

You would think with those sorts of credentials he could understand Land’s argument at least at the level of a recent entrant to university.

But you would be disappointed.

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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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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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Wertkritik and The State: “It’s complicated”

“The call for the abolition of labor does not have immediate ramifications for Marxist politics.” –Elmar Flatschart, “Marx and Wertkritik”

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie” –Karl Marx “Communist Manifesto”

Okay, so which of those views is right and which is bullshit?

If the abolition of labor doesn’t inform and determine political activity, what remains to inform it? The Left balks at advancing the demand for abolition of labor because it is “unrealistic”. How will the worker pay her miserable 30 year mortgage and service her credit cards if she does not work long hours? Doesn’t this imply that, absent the aim of the abolition of labor to inform politics, politics will be “informed” by poverty and debt?

I think wertkritik has so far failed in its project precisely because it seeks only “to understand society, via a negative critique”, not to change it. We can, in this view, know what we are against, but can never really know what we are for. The failure here is that wertkritik, following the tradition of post-war Marxism, has thus far failed to bring the state in its new role as manager of the national capital into the analysis of the mode of production.

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Jaime Semprun rejects the Manifesto — hilarity ensues

semprun5In an essay written sometime around 2007, “Notes on the manifesto against labor”, the late Jaime Semprun critiqued wertkritik and discovered it was not up to the task because it embraces the most obsolete thesis of the Communist Manifesto: the reappropriation of the productive forces.

What I find interesting in Semprun’s argument is his opening:

“It would seem to be granting too much credit to technological modernization to say that it has made labor “superfluous”. Without even considering the qualitative dimension of labor saving technology (what does “liberation” by machines cause us to lose?), it is quite doubtful that, in the quantitative sense, modernization makes labor obsolete and can only preserve it by increasingly artificial means (the central thesis of the Manifesto).”

This statement was formulated in a style that is typical of the approach taken by intellectuals to the problem of social emancipation. When did Marx say modernization makes labor superfluous? The term modernization is a signifier for a social process that implies a lot more than the mere introduction of machines into the labor process. Capital — a social relation between individuals — not technology or modernization, makes labor superfluous.

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