The Age of Speed: Accelerationism, Politics, and the Future Present

We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.

– F.T. Marinetti, The Futurist Manifesto

The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street, where for a moment it stops being a cog in the technical machine and itself becomes a motor (machine of attack), in other words a producer of speed.

– Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics

What is at stake in our world today? Should we align ourselves with what one Japanese poet sang: “I pray for the music of the citizens walking.” Is this it? Movement, speed, the future as the force of acceleration? Has accelerationism become the order of the day? Maybe we need something on the order of what Mark Fischer describes, quoting Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: “Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process,’ as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.” Against all those like the Italian Autonomists who as Bifo Berardi (After Future) remarks that the ’future is over’ we should think differently.1 But to give him his due, Berardi was not speaking of temporality, but of ‘psychological perception’, which ‘emerged in the cultural situation of progressive modernity, the cultural expectations that were fabricated during the long period of modern civilization…”(AF 18). So it is against ‘progressive modernity’ that he speaks of future as progressive, as some unending temporal order of succession as a radical Enlightenment Project projected into an endless future of possibility and hope. He says this is over, caput, dead and buried amid the wastelands of modernity strewn around us on this dying earth we all inhabit.

Nick Land was one of the first to take up the battle cry of accelerationism.  For him it was all about thanatropics: ”labour is far harder to control than the live stuff was, which is why the enlightenment project of interring gothic superstition was the royal road to the first truly vampiric civilization, in which death alone comes to rule” (TA, p. 79). Continuing his inquisition he remarks, echoing Nietzsche:

“This is the initial impulse into capital’s religious history; the sacrifice of all dogmatic theology to the ascetic ideal, which is finally consummated in the death of God. The theology of the One, rooted in concrete beliefs and codes that summarize and defend the vital interests of a community, and therefore affiliated to a tenacious anthropomorphism, is gradually corroded down to the impersonal zero of catastrophic religion” (TA, p. 79).

It is in this absolute zero of capital religion that we discover Land’s accelerationism, wherein capital ”attains its own ‘angular momentum’, perpetuating a run-away whirlwind of dissolution, whose hub is the virtual zero of impersonal metropolitan accumulation. At the peak of its productive prowess the human animal is hurled into a new nakedness, as everything stable is progressively liquidated in the storm” (TA, p. 80). Benjamin Noys in his own variation of this interesting doctrine tells us that it is “an exotic variant of la politique du pire: if capitalism generates its own forces of dissolution then the necessity is to radicalise capitalism itself: the worse the better. We can call these positions accelerationist.”  (Accelerationism)

 

The point that Mark Fischer makes is that all our contrary dreams for organic wholeness, our slippage back into some primal time of peace and tribalism, some paganistic mishmash of communal habitability is a fantasy, an unreal possibility. Instead we should accept the accelerationist movement forward. And, for him, it entails three things: 1) Everyone is an accelerationist; 2) Accelerationism has never happened; and, 3)  Marxism is nothing if it is not accelerationist. In a reversal of intent he says we need to return to aspects of both Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy and Deleuze and Guattari Anti-Oedipus: ”the resources of negativity” that the left desperately needs to energize its programs effectively. Doing so we must emphasize “politics as a means to greater libidinal intensification: rather, it’s a question of instrumentalising libido for political purposes”.

Fischer moved on from their to Land’s cyberpunk capitalism: “an accelerationist cyber-culture in which digital sonic production disclosed an inhuman future that was to be relished rather than abominated. Land’s machinic theory-poetry paralleled the digital intensities of 90s jungle, techno and doomcore, which sampled from exactly the same cinematic sources, and also anticipated “impending human extinction becom[ing] accessible as a dance-floor” (Fanged Noumena, 398)”. Fischer sees in Land something the Left needs desperately, because it was the failure on the Left’s part ”to foresee the extent to which pastiche, recapitulation and a hyper-oedipalised neurotic individualism would become the dominant cultural tendencies” that lead to a ”fundamental misjudgement about the dynamics of capitalism”.

He tells us that Land’s failure was to collapse “capitalism into what Deleuze and Guattari call schizophrenia, thus losing their most crucial insight into the way that capitalism operates via simultaneous processes of deterritorialization and compensatory reterritorialization. Capital’s human face is not something that it can eventually set aside, an optional component or sheath-cocoon with which it can ultimately dispense. The abstract processes of decoding that capitalism sets off must be contained by improvised archaisms, lest capitalism cease being capitalism.” The problem is here that Fischer himself could not have foreseen that Land’s abrupt turn to the Right, to a neo-reactionary worldview and ideology that would no longer try to subvert the forces of capital, but would in fact enter into the very accelerating instrumentalism that Fischer himself feared. One sees in many of Land’s works of present note in his current blog Outside In a neo-reactionary stance, as well as a foray into what is termed the Dark Enlightenment (organized on Matt Leslie’s site) here. Without realizing this inner logic of accelerationism as an entry point onto reactionary forces rather than the radical Left Fischer remarked: “accelerationism can function as an anti-capitalist strategy – not the only anti-capitalist strategy (other anti-capitalist strategies are available, as it were) but a strategy that must be part of any political program that calls itself Marxist.” But can this truly be so?

Toward the end of this post Fischer tell us that “capitalism has abandoned the future because it can’t deliver it. Nevertheless, the contemporary left’s tendencies towards Canutism, its rhetoric of resistance and obstruction, collude with capital’s anti/meta-narrative that it is the only story left standing”. Yet, isn’t the opposite true, capitalism has not given up on the future, it has only given up the ‘progressive future’, not the hyperintensive future of  climatology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, bioinformatics, and genomics and the transhumanist dreams of a technocapitalistic global empire. That seems very much alive. At the moment it looks more like the future is only over for the Left, that they are more and more failing to gain a foothold in this venture of the future, and for all intents and purposes are living in the past of dead glories, fantasies, and revolutionary rhetoric that is no longer viable in any measure or deed. Why is this? Why has the Left failed? Why is the Left left on the Ouside looking in rather than leading the vanguard into the hope of a future worth living? Is it truly as Derrida suggested that it is the ‘Specter of Marxism’ that haunts us rather than Marxism itself? Are we left with only provocation in such philosophical hijinks as Badiou and Zizek? Is there a Left left?

One critic of Land’s Accelerationism, Jehu Eaves, a self-styled  ”marxist-in-recovery” on Gonzo Times, states that for Land “the determinant factor in a capitalist economy are the exchange relations, not production relations. This effectively puts him in the same bed with underconsumptionists and he seems simply to be an underconsumptionist perversely turned inside out. If you think exchange is the determining factor in the mode of production, the logical conclusion is that the mode of production can be ‘accelerated’ simply by the most rapid extension of exchange relations. Land’s leading critics seem to agree that this is the chief defect of Landian accelerationism — it absolute emphasis on expansion of the world market and commodification of all human relations.” (here)

This same critic says that one argument against such an accelerationism is that there is a fifty-fifty chance that it might lead into an “onrushing catastrophe” rather than some revolution in the system. He also says of Land’s critics, the very Leftists that use his accelerationism to other ends that “we must stop the collapse of civilization, but the working class must first be goaded to do this through an increasing deterioration of its conditions of existence. And none of these cowards wants to be the one to deliver the bad news to the worker as she is just getting off her third job.” He continues stating that the “defect of Land’s argument is to realize it inverts the actual relation between the mode of production and the mode of exchange. Land proposes the mode of production can be accelerated toward its demise by imposing uninhibited commodification on every aspect of social relations. In fact, the opposite is the case: the mode of production is accelerated by compelling capital to become ever more productive, by compelling a constantly rising organic composition of capital.” (ibid.) But I wonder if this is a defect in Land or a misprisioning / misreading of Land by others?

Jehu, in one final bite, remarks:

“The possibility of an entirely communistic accelerationism is already given by labor theory in the very conception of capital as the production of surplus value — the self-expansion of capital being the motive of capital and its only concern. One of the most important empirical observations Marx makes in Capital is that once society imposed limits on hours of labor in England, the introduction of machinery and intensive employment of labor power accelerated. … The conclusion has to be that reduction of hours of labor not only has the effect of freeing the proletariat from the destructive impact of the value form, it actually accelerates the demise of capital. The demand for a reduction of hours of labor, therefore, completes the connection between critique of the value form and elaboration of a practical communist program.(ibid.)

From Land we turn to Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek who have taken up once again the banner of the Accelerationist cause in their “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics”. They seem to envision a terroristic age of climatic upheaval, mass unemployment, terminal resource depletion, and continuing catastrophes in both human and planetary scales unimaginable during previous eras except for the global catastrophes of asteroids, etc. Because of this, they, too, join forces with such as the Autonomists and spouting an end to the future: “In this paralysis of the political imaginary, the future has been cancelled.”

They describe a neoliberalism 2.0 that is reinventing itself, something Land and his neoreactionaries call the ‘Cathedral’. The idea of the State as encompassing Academia, Think-Tanks, Finance, Governance, etc. etc… to the nth power as an all pervading octopus with its tentacles everywhere in our lives with no escape other than that of ludicrous gestures of comic subversion or pathetic terrorism based on mindless and meaningless gestures of inertia. They seem to feel that all of this is the Right’s fault: “In the absence of a radically new social, political, organisational, and economic vision the hegemonic powers of the right will continue to be able to push forward their narrow-minded imaginary, in the face of any and all evidence.” As if the Left were not a part of this neoliberal world (Clinton, Obama) as well. As if the supposed democratic party were absolved of its complicity in this state of affairs. It’s not, it’s as guilty as hell. There can no longer be any justification for either party in its complicity as it allows such a hypercapitalism to slowly cannibalize the world. All the breast beating in the world will no stop this. The Left has failed itself and cannot continue to blame some imaginary Right, when its very own parties enact neoliberal agendas.

W & S tell us that the present capitalistic 2.0 system ”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.” They situate their own discourse within the slipstream of Landian thought, saying, even his ”myopic yet hypnotising belief that capitalist speed alone could generate a global transition towards unparalleled technological singularity” is not enough. They criticize him saying that “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.” But is this true? Have we not seen many of the new City-States as neocapitalist laboratories, prime examples of the neoliberal vision that seems to be overtaking us in accelerating speed, as sites of possibility that the neoliberals are using as experimental labs of capitalism, allowing the future to permeate their secret lairs as they build their free-trade (criminalized) zones? Isn’t there something like a dark enlightenment going on in this process?

W & S seem to be stuck and fixated in the ‘progressive futurism’ of the past, rather than in accelerationsm as it is: a future coming at us, rather than as some progressive accumulation of past successes and transformations. “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.” How could progress become constrained, when accelerationism is about the implosion of the future in accelerating speed upon the present? Isn’t it Williams and Srnicek themselves who have misunderstood Land, accusing him of myopic vision, when in truth it is they themselves who have become fixated on outdated tools of critical appraisal an Marixian discourse that is no longer viable for what they see in front of them?

W & S would even have us believe that the neoliberal forces have “progressed, rather than enabling individual creativity” and eliminated “cognitive inventiveness in favour of an affective production line of scripted interactions”. What they describe is more like a Ballardian future of affectless psychopaths who have become cyborgs of the new cognitariat of intellectual production who having absolved themselves of freedom live in gated cities secured by the RFID tags stapled to their DNA. They remind us that along with Land we should remember Marx, not as our contemporary Left seem to remember him, but as the prophet of accelerationism he was: “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.”

They even bring Lenin in on this accelerating future: “Socialism is inconceivable without large-scale capitalist engineering based on the latest discoveries of modern science.” Except that for him it was the central motif of Communism that what was required of capitalism was the ‘planned state’ as the driving force behind it, that otherwise it would be impossible to maintain. But isn’t this in itself an admission of failure and stasis, that someone would need to control and govern such energies, that without the iron fist of some central committee to drive such forces they would accelerate beyond reasonable control? Was Lenin always already defeated? That humans could control such impersonal forces? Isn’t this at the heart of what W & S mean when they tell the Left that it must embrace ”suppressed accelerationist tendency” within Marxism itself freed of the entrapments of a planned state?

In their manifesto Williams and Srnicek call for an end to the divisions in the Left, for a folk politics based on “localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism”, and instead they tell the Left that they must embrace instead “an accelerationist politics at ease with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology.” Does this not remind one of the earlier Italian futurists who embraced modernity to the point of “ruinous and incendiary violence”? They tell us that everyone wants to ‘work less’, but that instead we’ve seen the ”progressive elimination of the work-life distinction, with work coming to permeate every aspect of the emerging social factory.”

They complain that instead of real freedom and inventiveness the neoliberalism has brought in its wake constraints that have narrowed the possibilities of work and production in a endless round of the same iterative inanity because of monopolization of those very forces. They tell us a return to the industrial style societies (Fordism) of the nineteenth and early to mid twentieth century are foreclosed to us, that we there is nothing essentially wrong with neoliberalism other than that it needs to be ‘repurposed toward common ends’: “the existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed, but a springboard to launch towards post-capitalism”.

“Who amongst us fully recognizes what untapped potentials await in the technology which has already been developed?” A question W & S ask. They remind us that the true potential of such technologies have yet to be ‘exploited’, that what is needed an acceleration in the ‘process of technological evolution’. Yet, they remind us that this is not some techno-utopian dream, but a way to resolve the current malaise within our world and provide a way to overcome our real ‘social conflicts’. But on the other hand they seem to fall back into old habits of thought telling us that this post-capitalist endeavor will require ‘post-capitalist planning’, that ‘we must develop both a cognitive map of the existing system and a speculative image of the future economic system’. How would that help? Wouldn’t any such effort be a totalizing gesture, a symbolic fiction of simulated mappings in some computer modeling algorithmic constellation based upon outworn Platonic representationlism of past economic systems? This would be to reenter the world of representation by the back door, a return to the past rather than some accelerating future. A sort of have your cake and eat it too methodology. A control system that totalizes everything through some centralized planning committee that leaves nothing to chance. Just another totalitarian regime of knowledge and power controlling the destiny of the earth and her inhabitants.

They even hint of such a tyrannical gesture when that tell the Left that they “must develop sociotechnical hegemony: both in the sphere of ideas, and in the sphere of material platforms”. In fact they tell us that democratic processes are not enough, that “direct action is sufficient to achieve any of this,” that the ”habitual tactics of marching, holding signs, and establishing temporary autonomous zones risk becoming comforting substitutes for effective success.” In fact, more pointedly that tell us that the ”overwhelming privileging of democracy-as-process needs to be left behind”. Is this so? Hmmm… Instead of an open society they tell us that “secrecy, verticality, and exclusion all have their place as well in effective political action”. Again, is this so? Is this the future of the Left? In a bold statement they reiterate: “Real democracy must be defined by its goal – collective self-mastery.” Such Nietzscheism seems quite different from what the Left has usually been associated. Yet, in a gesture of equivocation they try to wiggle out of such totalitarian centralization, saying:

We need to posit a collectively controlled legitimate vertical authority in addition to distributed horizontal forms of sociality, to avoid becoming the slaves of either a tyrannical totalitarian centralism or a capricious emergent order beyond our control. The command of The Plan must be married to the improvised order of The Network.

Instead of sectarianism and in-fighting that ensues with centralized planning they hope to evolve an “ecology of organisations, a pluralism of forces, resonating and feeding back on their comparative strengths.”

Out of this process they hope to achieve three goals: 1) Intellectual Infrastructure: “a new ideology, economic and social models, and a vision of the good to replace and surpass the emaciated ideals that rule our world today”; 2) Media Infrastructure: “wide-scale media reform” to bring media ”as close as possible to popular control is crucial to undoing the current presentation of the state of things”; and, 3) Class Infrastructure: “reconstitute various forms of class power”. All of these enfolded within each other will produce they suggest a “positive feedback loop of infrastructural, ideological, social and economic transformation, generating a new complex hegemony, a new post-capitalist technosocial platform”. And, of course, it all comes down to money: “we require funding, whether from governments, institutions, think tanks, unions, or individual benefactors”. Without this such a project will be a pipe-dream for ludicrous activists. Like the titans of old they hope to overthrow capital like some new vanguard of hardened veterans: “We declare that only a Promethean politics of maximal mastery over society and its environment is capable of either dealing with global problems or achieving victory over capital.” With such Nietzschean aspirations of ‘maximal mastery over society and its environment’ whose worried about their fears of capitalism. They seem to be ready to bulldoze over history itself with such Promethean aspirations.

If as they tell us “accelerationism is the basic belief that these capacities can and should be let loose by moving beyond the limitations imposed by capitalist society” what does such a letting loose portend? In Manichean terms they tell us we only have two choices ahead: “either a globalised post-capitalism or a slow fragmentation towards primitivism, perpetual crisis, and planetary ecological collapse.” And like the true constructionists they are they tell us the “future needs to be constructed,” that the failure of neoliberalism is that it fell into history, not that it ended history; and, that now the future that we seek is more modern – ”an alternative modernity that neoliberalism is inherently unable to generate. The future must be cracked open once again, unfastening our horizons towards the universal possibilities of the Outside.” Out of what magic box will we ‘generate’ this future? Is the future like heaven, a gate we must storm, a wall to surmount, an ocean or abyss to plumb? And what form shall such a unversalism take that seeks the possibilities of an ‘Outside’?

What they offer is a resurgent modernism or metamodernism, a postfuturism that unbinds us from the constraints  of neoliberalism yet reterritorializes us within a planned economy controlled by a new elite. And what is this ‘Outside’? Is this another return to the old outmoded transcendental ethics and realisms of the past?  There are many contradictions in the manifesto of Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek which need a complete rewrite to absolve it of its staid and outworn creeds of older misplaced ontologies and defunct political critiques dressed up in accelerationist garb.  That there is a need to free us of the entrapments of the neoliberal system is one thing, but to suggest that we will be induced to find support for such a project from the  “governments, institutions, think tanks, unions, or individual benefactors” seems a little far-fetched. Where are these to be found? As for their supposed move beyond a tyrannical central system how can you incorporate such a Promethiansim and Nietzschean self-mastery, as well as hegemonic control while working outside the very control mechanisms that support the platforms and infrastructures of such a projected planned society?  And are we truly only left with two alternatives: a devolution into primitive barbarism and dark age, or a post-capitalist hegemony? Are there other as of yet unthought possibilities on the horizon? Or should we return to the real movement of communism of which Marx once said:

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.

http://darkecologies.com/2013/05/26/the-age-of-speed-accelerationism-politics-and-the-future/

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