[Continued from here]
02. INTEREGNUM: On Accelerationisms
1. If any system has been associated with ideas of acceleration it is capitalism. The essential metabolism of capitalism demands economic growth, with competition between individual capitalist entities setting in motion increasing technological developments in an attempt to achieve competitive advantage, all accompanied by increasing social dislocation. In its neoliberal form, its ideological self-presentation is one of liberating the forces of creative destruction, setting free ever-accelerating technological and social innovations.
The brain-bruising invocation of ‘neoliberalism’ apart, these remarks are all perfectly sound.
2. The philosopher Nick Land captured this most acutely, with a myopic yet hypnotising belief that capitalist speed alone could generate a global transition towards unparalleled technological singularity. In this visioning of capital, the human can eventually be dis-carded as mere drag to an abstract planetary intelligence rapidly constructing itself from the bricolaged fragments of former civilisations. However Landian neoliberalism [each use of this term deepens its senselessness] confuses speed with acceleration. We may be moving fast, but only within a strictly defined set of capitalist parameters that themselves never waver. We experience only the increasing speed of a local horizon, a simple brain-dead onrush rather than an acceleration which is also navigational, an experimental process of discovery within a universal space of possibility. It is the latter mode of acceleration which we hold as essential.
The difference between ‘speed‘ and ‘acceleration’ is that between the zeroth and first derivative. It is rigorous and generally understood. The difference proposed here is something else. I have no clear idea what it is. (It seems to roughly amount to a distinction between Right and Left — i.e. the mere assertion that ‘capitalism’ is comprehensible as an ‘inside’ — with no further identifiable content.)
3. Even worse, as Deleuze and Guattari recognized, from the very beginning what capitalist speed deterritorializes with one hand, it reterritorializes with the other. Progress becomes constrained within a framework of surplus value, a reserve army of labour, and free-floating capital. Modernity is reduced to statistical measures of economic growth and social innovation becomes encrusted with kitsch remainders from our communal past. Thatcherite-Reaganite deregulation sits comfortably alongside Victorian ‘back-to-basics’ family and religious values.
Is not the Left the principle agent of ‘capitalist’ reterritorialization?
4. A deeper tension within neoliberalism is in terms of its self-image as the vehicle of modernity, as literally synonymous with modernisation, whilst promising a future that it is constitutively incapable of providing. Indeed, as neoliberalism has progressed, rather than enabling individual creativity, it has tended towards eliminating cognitive inventiveness in favour of an affective production line of scripted interactions, coupled to global supply chains and a neo-Fordist Eastern production zone. A vanishingly small cognitariat of elite intellectual workers shrinks with each passing year — and increasingly so as algorithmic automation winds its way through the spheres of affective and intellectual labour. Neoliberalism, though positing itself as a necessary historical development, was in fact a merely contingent means to ward off the crisis of value that emerged in the 1970s. Inevitably this was a sublimation of the crisis rather than its ultimate overcoming.
— It is politics that makes promises (capitalism makes deals). If you think ‘capitalism’ ever promised you anything, you may have been listening to a politician.
— What is the mechanism by which ‘cognitive inventiveness’ is progressively eliminated, given that innovation is a source of competitive advantage, which the market selects for?
— Is the ‘cognitariat’ shrinking? The answer to this seems to be a data point social science might provide.
— Why (oh why) are we still talking about ‘neoliberalism’? Isn’t capitalism as such the ‘problem’ that defines this as a Left cultural-political project? This ridiculous word is merely a profession of faith, serving far more as a tribal solidarity signal than an analytical tool. (Ironically, this dripping tap ‘neoliberalism’ tic significantly disrupts the project here. The accelerationist renovation of the Left, like every species of deep modernist renovation, aims to re-activate lines of development dating back to the high-modernism of the early 20th century when — as the authors fully, if perhaps only intuitively, understand the fundamental dynamic of modernity crested and broke. Or are we seriously to believe that “back to the mid-1970s!” is the implicit rallying cry?)
I am of course very strongly inclined to accept that the crippled parody of capitalism existing today under-performs when compared to its potential under conditions of laissez-faire disinhibition — i.e. uncompensated from the Left. But it is Keynes and the 1930s, not ‘neoliberalism’ and the 1970s, that set the terms of capital’s subordination to macroeconomic planning.
5. It is Marx, along with Land, who remains the paradigmatic accelerationist thinker. Contrary to the all-too familiar critique, and even the behaviour of some contemporary Marxians, we must remember that Marx himself used the most advanced theoretical tools and empirical data available in an attempt to fully understand and transform his world. He was not a thinker who resisted modernity, but rather one who sought to analyse and intervene within it, understanding that for all its exploitation and corruption, capitalism remained the most advanced economic system to date. Its gains were not to be reversed, but accelerated beyond the constraints the capitalist value form.
A sound micro-portrait. That the capitalist ‘value form’ (commerce-format quantification) can be realistically described as a ‘constraint’ is the most basic proposition at stake here.
6. Indeed, as even Lenin wrote in the 1918 text “Left Wing” Childishness:
Socialism is inconceivable without large-scale capitalist engineering based on the latest discoveries of modern science. It is inconceivable without planned state organisation which keeps tens of millions of people to the strictest observance of a unified standard in production and distribution. We Marxists have always spoken of this, and it is not worth while wasting two seconds talking to people who do not understand even this (anarchists and a good half of the Left Socialist–Revolutionaries).
Such adherence to the principle of central planning is clarifying.
7. As Marx was aware, capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration. [Argument?] Similarly, the assessment of left politics as antithetical to technosocial acceleration is also, at least in part, a severe misrepresentation. [OK, as long as it is an ‘unknown ideal’ of Left politics that we are talking about.] Indeed, if the political left is to have a future it must be one in which it maximally embraces this suppressed accelerationist tendency.
The final sentence of this section is at once crucial and slippery. What is it — practically — to “embrace” a tendency? How and why was this tendency “suppressed”? Either to “have” or to lose a future would be an interesting thing, so it is the future that comes next …