In the last decade, a number of thinkers and activists have chosen to call themselves «accelerationists». We at Modern Times Review found this form of liberal-left interesting enough to dedicate a separate section here in our Norwegian newspaper NY TID (pages 27–34). The reason is that two new books will be published by Existenz publishing house in Oslo this March. The book Acceleration, edited by Armen Avanessian, suggests that «first and foremost, accelerationism turns towards various unsightly habits of a well-being-oriented and complacent left-wing side». The contributors believe that the left is falling into both nostalgia and a fetishisation of democratic processes.
Acceleration shows as an anthology several views on accelerationism. Both the affirmative where an open future and freedom follow from or through capitalism and technological development (somewhat similar to Marx’s visions) – and negatively critical, where accelerated desire ends in chaos and destruction. The book begins with Nick Land and his critique of philosophers such as Adorno and Horkheimer (Frankfurt School) as the miserables’ condemnation of time and the future. Such «transcendental miserablists» believe that capitalism is suffering caused by a desire that has gone bankrupt, with unattainable temptations that only lead to loss, disaster, and death. For Land, such miserable, disappointed thinkers will be unhappy no matter what – even if they have an inviolable right to be bored. For Land, anti-capitalism is dying.
This is followed by a manifesto for an accelerationist policy, by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, in which they criticise how 30 years of neoliberalism have eroded left-wing parties and made them unable to think radically – with a relatively powerless labour movement. They also criticise contemporary capitalism for being an «impulse-controlled mass production of pre-programmed interactions, connected to global supply lines and an Asian neo-Fordist mass production sphere» – in which they complain that an elite of intellectual workers is constantly shrinking.
At the same time, they recall that Lenin wrote that «[t]he socialism is inconceivable without capitalist engineering on a large scale», and prefer a policy «that feels at home in the modernity, complexity, globalism and technology of abstraction». They prescribe a «techno-social» future society. In this coming post-capitalist society, revolution is not the thing, one must have a comprehensive plan. I immediately think of the Greek economics professor and former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who with several others has outlined a new plan and policy with DiEM25 (see a number of YouTube interviews: example).
Srnicek and Williams call for creativity and desire, and further criticize the left, as the «usual tactics – to march, carry posters and establish temporary autonomous zones, risk being left as convenient substitutes for real change». Instead of protesters mostly building their own self-esteem or cultivating a fetish of change, they are calling for collective self-government, an intellectual infrastructure, a media reform, and «partial proletarian identities» rather than talking about a global proletariat.
In the manifesto, through capitalism, they will also try to provide funds for comprehensive plans and possible new technological futures – such as space programs, etc. Interestingly, let me add that this is exactly what Elon Musk and his Tesla Motors are doing, space programmes, but also finance: Musk recently bought 13 billion kronor worth of Bitcoin. But is cryptocurrency really more than financial speculation, as bitcoin has now quadrupled its value in a year?
Well, more accelerationist or optimistic (as such blockchain technology is very energy-intensive) civil society is given a separate communicative form of exchange of goods and services, without the use of the banks, which only forces out its profit between state and citizen. Read here our article on cryptocommunism, with the parallel where Luther’s translation of the Bible almost made the exploiting priests superfluous to man’s search for God.
Back to the book. The point is that the accelerationists will win back the future from the narrow capitalist race we now have. They recommend that we on the liberal left – including modern anarchists, I would say – must «acquire technical and political knowledge about the mechanisms of abstraction and mechanisms of dominance.» So how do you take advantage of the possibilities of technology and capitalism without ending up as an automated robot yourself? For as the philosopher Franco «Bifo» Berardi points out in the book: If one is to accelerate further, one may not be aware of the speed and savagery of capitalism itself – that the whole thing can just as easily lead into chaos. If this develops the means of production and financial opportunities, it can – if one does not think wisely and creatively about possible futures, capitalism and technology – spin out of proportions, fall off the hinges, and then collapse. Yes, do we want a kind of disaster strategy à la Jean Baudrillard?
Acceleration is philosophical and inspiring – but can the book be too abstract and rhetorically negating (saying just no)?
No. The point is precisely that abstraction in itself is the problem we must understand – as this is the core of both technology (metadata society algorithms) and capitalism (financialisation). If we do not do that, we are almost devoured by these abstract «machines».
The direction of the book is thus our communicative community (see my review of the Norwegian The Apps’ Planet, page 34) as well as a defense of the collective general intellect and immanent communism – preferably with a background in thinkers such as Deleuze & Guattari and Hardt & Negri. Their philosophy of desire may be the way forward for a vital left, something Mark Fisher also reminds us of (see page xx). Possibly the art can also outline unthinkable, but probable futures, if one only steps into the blind spots of capitalism – or the spaces between.
Does it seem utopian? Well, listen to them, and you might learn something.
This article originally appeared in Norwegian via NY TID
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