“If any system has been associated with ideas of acceleration it is capitalism,” says #Accelerate, unobjectionably. “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.”
As previously noted, of the trends referenced here “economic growth” is easily the most accessible (due to its commercial self-quantification). The technoscientific apprehension of technoscience, while already embryonic at the beginning of the modern epoch, is still some distance from mathematical self-comprehension as a natural event. Its quantification, therefore, poses far more challenging problems, leaving even very basic questions about its trend-lines open to significant controversy. (Self-quantification of development trends in the electronics and biotech sectors merit focused attention at a later stage.) Any attempt to provide a precise and coherent measurement of “social dislocation” is likely to confront even more formidable obstacles.
Capitalism present itself as the exemplary accelerative mega-object because it is self-propelling and (cross-excitedly) self-abstracting. In both its technical and commercial aspects, it tends towards general-purpose potentials that facilitate resource re-allocations (and thus efficient quantifications). Productive capability is plasticized, becoming increasingly responsive to shifting market opportunities, while wealth is fluidized, permitting its rapid speculative mobilization. The same self-reinforcing process that liquidates traditional social forms releases modernizing capital as volatile abstract quantity, flexibly poised between technical applications, and inclined intrinsically towards a ‘decoded’ or economistic apprehension.
Under capital guidance, the modernization of wealth tends to the realization of abstract productive potential, which is of course to say: it tends towards capital itself, in the circuit of self-propulsion that determines it as a genetic (or even teleological) hyper-substance. At this point a complex theoretical fork is reached, from which paths lead in a number of Marxian and decidedly anti-Marxian directions. The primary question is whether the abstract body of capital is susceptible to a consistent mathematical conversion conforming to the Law of Value, which interprets it as a reification of organically composed (variable and fixed, or ‘living’ and ‘dead’) labor power. Can the accelerative thing be practically recognized as the alienated collective capability of a future classless humanity?
#Accelerate considers this question to have been satisfactorily resolved in advance, and answered in the affirmative. Since it provides no supporting references in support of this stance, it has to be considered a left-identitarian document. Only those who affirm the prior closure of its fundamental questions are able to access it at the level of its own rhetoric. It assumes ideological solidarity as an extrinsic, and unmarked, preliminary.
To intrude, nevertheless, from an open problem of capitalist ontology, is to navigate chaos. The relevant passages are found in the second part of the manifesto, which consists of seven numbered paragraphs. Whatever we are told about the accelerative thing has to be extracted from these … or almost everything.
It is remarkable that the first use of ‘accelerate’ in the manifesto is both critical, and almost dismissively casual. In occurs in the third paragraph of the introduction, where it summarizes a set of “ever-accelerating catastrophes”:
… breakdown of the planetary climatic system [which “threatens the continued existence of the present global human population”] … Terminal resource depletion, especially in water and energy reserves [raising “the prospect of mass starvation, collapsing economic paradigms, and new hot and cold wars”] … continued financial crisis [which] has led governments to embrace the paralyzing death spiral policies of austerity, privatisation of social welfare services, mass unemployment, and stagnating wages. [And] Increasing automation in production processes including ‘intellectual labour’ [which] is evidence of the secular crisis of capitalism, soon to render it incapable of maintaining current standards of living for even the former middle classes of the global north.
This, quite clearly, is their lurid introductory portrait of the accelerative thing, as it is in-itself, converging upon a terminal historical singularity, or comprehensive ecological, economic, and technological over-performance crisis. It is both the thing #Accelerate wants to talk about, and the thing it decides explicitly not to talk about — introduced as theatrical stage setting, or a reminder of something before and outside the discussion, which can subsequently be assumed. The rhetorical function is completely unambiguous: this list serves as an enumeration of that which need not be discussed further. It is unfortunate therefore, to say the least, that this seems to be the closest approximation within #Accelerate to the real object of accelerationist attention, “gather[ing] force and speed [as] politics withers and retreats” until “the future” we were promised is “cancelled” (if only through a rectifiable failure of “the political imaginary”). The enemy is an accelerative thing, but #Accelerate will be discussing something else.
Before capitalism drops away entirely into the hazy background of implicit narrative, it is worth taking a brief digression into “the political imaginary” and its suggestion. If there is a single formula that crystallizes the left appropriation of accelerationism as sheer cognitive collapse it is Frederic Jameson’s claim — obsessively repeated across the Left Web — that It is now easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. To grasp the profound mindlessness of this pronouncement it is only necessary to return to the thought of real abstraction, through which the virtualization realized by capitalism is distinguished from any determination of abstraction as a logical property of intellectual representation. Within capitalist futures markets, the non-actual has effective currency. It is not an “imaginary” but an integral part of the virtual body of capital, an operationalized realization of the future. It is scarcely imaginable that the Left is willing to follow the path it has set out upon here, therefore, unless through thoughtlessness of simply staggering proportions, since it necessarily leads to the conclusion: while capital has an increasingly densely-realized future, its leftist enemies have only a manifestly pretend one.
Because #Accelerate Section Two is a tightly-tangled thicket of conceptual outrages, it is worth recalling once again its first two sentences, which are exceptional (in this context) for their soundness:
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.
The primary object of Accelerationism is economic growth, as demonstrated capitalistically, in a process inextricably bound to competition-driven technological development, and also to social disorganization. If #Accelerate concluded here, there would be no case to be made against it. Unfortunately it continues through a string of such radically disordered sentences that no elegant pursuit of its argument is possible. Instead, it demands a piecemeal series of corrections, objections, and re-animations of obscured, half-buried, and arbitrarily suppressed problems.
The descent begins immediately: “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.”
Why is the term ‘creative destruction’ (coined by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942) being associated with ‘neoliberalism‘ here? Schumpeter considered it applicable to capitalism in general, with abundant reason, and #Accelerate articulates no objection to this standard usage. If ‘neoliberalism’ is the ideology of creative destruction, it is the ideology of capitalism in general.
In the introduction we were told that “since 1979” neoliberalism has been “the hegemonic global political ideology … found in some variant throughout the leading economic powers.” It is characterized, apparently, by “structural adjustments … most significantly in the form of encouraging new and aggressive incursions by the private sector into what remains of social democratic institutions and services.” This, too, sounds like simple capitalism (as does “Landian neoliberalism”). The emptiness of the term only re-echoes sonorously with each succeeding use. ‘Neoliberalism’ is criticized because it is nothing other than capitalism (post-1979), and it is criticized for no other reason. In #Accelerate, if not elsewhere, it has no ideological content distinguishable from classical liberalism, making it a perfectly useless word. The opacity serves only to smuggle through two preposterous suggestions:
(1) The cacophony of leftist critics of ‘neoliberalism’ share some coherent core of economic and political analysis.
(2) Classical liberal socio-economic ideas enjoy an essentially unperturbed hegemony over the present world order. (Didn’t you know that Keynes was dead, and Libertarians rule the earth?)
(So why not start calling today’s fundamentalist Marxists ‘neo-collectivists’? while implying that Stalinist industrial central-planning is the world’s dominant economic arrangement? — Because it would be patently ridiculous and senselessly annoying, but actually no more so than the ‘neoliberal’ alternative.)
This ‘neoliberal’ tic, while infuriating in its smug idiocy, is actually so vacuous that it matters little to the #Accelerate argument. Its effect is merely to serve as a sleight of hand, presenting a cartoon opponent to distract from the absence of concentrated attention upon the target of realistic analysis and criticism: the accelerative thing. The second theoretical diversion to appear is scarcely less evasive, which is to slide off the core ontological problem into a ‘conceptual clarification’ of astounding sloppiness.
We know from the children’s dictionary that acceleration is a change in speed over time, which does not prevent #Accelerate claiming (without any obvious evidence):
The philosopher Nick Land captured this [capital dynamic or neoliberal ideology?] most acutely, with a myopic yet hypnotising belief that capitalist speed alone could generate a global transition towards unparalleled technological singularity. … Landian neoliberalism 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.
(1) Speed is not acceleration.
(2) Approaching singularity is marked by acceleration, not constant velocity.
(3) Who has ever spoken about “moving fast” in this context? It lacks even the dignity of a straw-man. What does ‘fast’ mean? Acceleration need not even be ‘fast’ (only ‘getting faster’).
(4) The appeal to something beyond “a strictly defined set of capitalist parameters” is mere hand-waving. Economic functionality is a confining ‘parameter’ (for acceleration)? There is clearly an attempt at some kind of transcendental argument here, marked by the appeal to “capitalist parameters that themselves never waver.” ‘Parameter’ itself wavers between a logical usage and an empirical one, one conceptually defining, and the other materially constraining. If #Accelerate thinks it can produce a meaningful concept of acceleration without parameters, it would be a thrilling thing to see (time, terrestrial mass, physical laws, biogeological inheritance … are all ‘parameters’). Capitalist ‘parameters’ (undefined) are for some reason to be accepted as especially constraining, however. Argument? Of course not, this is an article of undisputed faith.
(5) If anyone knows what “the increasing speed of a local horizon” means, please let me know. At least it is some kind of “increasing speed” though, i.e. an acceleration. Is this a sign that #Accelerate thinks the difference between speed and acceleration is too trivial to acknowledge, so that its discussion of acceleration is actually not about acceleration at, but about something much deeper and ‘post-parametric’? Perhaps, because …
(6) Beyond the “simple brain-dead onrush” (something is certainly ‘brain-dead’) …
(7) There is “an acceleration which is also navigational, an experimental process of discovery within a universal space of possibility.” … and this is somehow connected to, measurable as, or explained in terms of some rigorously determinable process of acceleration (even roughly) how?
(8) Regardless: “It is the latter mode of acceleration which we hold as essential.”
This sort of thing is the straightforward, radical destruction of intelligence. We began with a defined concept (‘acceleration’) and a topic of investigation or critique (the accelerative thing). Now, less than halfway through #Accelerate, we have neither. Instead, we are left with some kind of super-parametric trans-horizonal imaginary “mode of acceleration” that has been deliberately destituted of both sense and reference. The only theoretical achievement has been to crudely chisel this conceptually and ontologically ineffable political idea away from the only historically-evidenced process of accelerating navigation, experiment, and discovery known to human history, in order to cast it into a mystically-inspiring beyond. Beginning with a cybernetically-intelligible self-propelling sociotechnical machine, we end with nothing but the adamant declaration that whatever ‘it’ (historical acceleration) is, it is not this, or anything we can understand, despite the fact that what we know of ‘it’ is entirely extracted from the cumulative reality being abandoned.
As Marx was aware, capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration.
On the contrary. The only “agent of true acceleration” recognized by Marx is the revolutionary bourgeoisie — his humanistic proxy for the agency of capital. The proletariat accelerates nothing, except in its function as labor power under capital imperatives. It inherits a completed, accelerative pre-history, at the point of its own revolutionary auto-dissolution into a universal humanity.
Unlike #Accelerate, Marx labored under no illusion that the accelerative thing was capital, whose mechanism he devoted himself to understanding, to the near-perfect exclusion of all other topics. In turning back to Marx’s understanding of this thing [next week], we partially withdraw from the chaotic errors of current Left Accelerationism, while perhaps remaining close enough to irritate it.