Benjamin Noys: Malign Velocities, Zero Books, 2014

By • Nov 6th, 2014 • Category: Liburu Kritikak

turing-cops and cyborg cat-women

By Carl Cederström.

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(image above from “#accelerate”, Diann Bauer, 2014, A single screen video work produced for the launch of #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader published by Urbanomic, 2014. The format of the video is inspired by Spritz high speed reading technology.)

Book review:  Benjamin Noys, Malign Velocities, Zero Books 2014

originally in

3:AM MAGAZINE

accel1I’m not sure we ever got into a conversation or not, but he used to sit there, each Friday, in the corner of the bar, reading a book, waiting for the place to fill with the chatter of disgruntled office-workers. Actually, thinking back more carefully, we could never have spoken, because I don’t think I ever saw him without his headphones on.

He went by the name of Horatius, and he was a local celebrity in the Swedish city Malmö (now immortalized by the detective television series The Bridge). Horatius was known for one thing: Operation Turtle, which took place in 1993. It was a politico-philosophical protest—he would ostentatiously argue—expressed by his pulling the emergency brake on the then relatively new fast train X2000. In the aftermath of the operation he made a few strategic appearances on TV shows, explaining his philosophical message: we need to slow down.

Around the same time as Operation Turtle, the philosopher Nick Land took up a position at Warwick University. While it’s hard to capture the spirit of Land in one sentence, perhaps it would work, as a shorthand description, to say that he was a universe apart from Horatius. Or maybe he was like Horatius turned inside out. An inversion of someone who, desperate to gain media attention, would engage in a publicity stunt in order to express platitudes about the derailing nature of a society defined by blind progress. Land wasn’t just avoiding that sort of media attention—at the end of his time at Warwick he’s said to have only rarely left his office—he was also looking at speed from a radically different angle. In the face of a capitalist train about to lose control, Land wouldn’t want the train to slow down, and to get back on track, but to speed up, and be left to its own machinic power.

Accelerationism—the idea that the appropriate response in the face of capitalist deterritorialization is to speed up rather than to slow down—goes back to Marx, and has since had a complicated conceptual history, passing through Nietzsche, Deleuze and Guattari, Baudrillard and Lyotard before culminating in Land. Accelerationism has an unmistakably excessive character. There is something slightly mad about it—but no madder, one may argue, than the world we’re up against. It is madness against madness. Deterritorialization against deterritorialization. It is, in Land’s words, a machinic revolution that goes against socialistic regulation, seeking ever more marketization so that the social field can be brought down from within.

Benjamin Noys’ new book, Malign Velocities, provides a thoughtful and critical examination of the story of accelerationism. “To be clear from the start”, Noys writes in the preface, “I don’t agree with this story”. One might expect that what follows will be a frontal assault, a furious smack-down of a long line of straw men. But Noys’ book is nothing like that. On the contrary, much of it consists of discussions of rather irresistibly interesting characters. One such character is the proletarian poet Aleksei Gastev, who unreservedly celebrated speed, enthusiastically championed the immersion of the human animal into the machine, and was eager to “plunge into the ‘whirlpool’ of a new epoch”. Despite his best efforts to be a good communist, Gastev was disliked by those in power. He was charged with counter-revolutionary terrorist activities, and killed. Noys nicely sums this up, using a quote from Ustryalov: “The revolution is merciless not only toward those who lag behind it but also those who run ahead of it”.

This register of accelerationist pundits includes many other exciting personalities, including Victor Tausk. William Gibson, Thomas Pynchon, and Jean-Luc Godard. Each of them is examined with nuance and care, as figures who express different accelerationist inclinations. However, the more radical accelerationists, including Land, are treated less favorably, and are held accountable for two fundamental vices. The first is that they subscribe to a quasi-Marxist idea that “the very worst will produce the ‘good’”. This, Noys argues, is a fatal misunderstanding:

Marx welcomed worker struggles to reduce the working day and to struggle against the despotism of the factory; he did not argue that it would be better if factory conditions got worse so workers would be forced into revolt. The fact that history advances by the bad side does not mean we should celebrate the ‘bad side’, but rather recognize this is the ground on which we struggle, which must be negated to constitute a new and just social order.

The second critique that Noys levels against accelerationists is that they have an unfortunate tendency to confuse fantasy with the Real. Or, to be more precise, they collapse the former into the latter. Accelerationists, Noys says, are misguided by “a fantasy of the end of fantasy”—a dream of an unmediated encounter with the ‘Real’, where man, as he becomes machine, gives rise to new productive forces. The fundamental problem with this line of reasoning, Noys goes on to argue, is that it fails to consider the extent to which accelerationism itself is subject to libidinal fantasies.

These allegations have been made before, especially in relation to Žižek and Badiou—both of whom have been accused of slipping into a ‘passion for the real,’ and thus forgetting that the real should be understood as a limitation, a reminder that we are not just incomplete in our own petty subjectivity but that there is an irredeemable limitation at the heart of the social.

This suspicion is justifiable, but perhaps it presents itself too readily—almost by default—whenever the word ‘revolution’ is uttered. Nick Land’s vision of the revolution doesn’t involve a serious examination and contestation of its own libidinal attachments—that’s undeniably true—but such a contestation would distort the Landian project into something very different.

It’s hard to disagree with Noys’ reservations about what he describes as “accelerationist fantasies.” He doesn’t take any cheap shots, and presents his critique in a tempered and sober fashion. Nonetheless, this kind of critique disregards one of the defining features of Land’s work—namely its style; its relentless formal experimentation, which produced a fascinating sort of theory-fiction. Reading Land is an exhilarating experience, as his writing doesn’t just mimic but merges with the processes it tries to describe. This inventive style was one of Land’s two indisputable ‘heresies,’ says Robin Mackay, co-editor of his collected writings, Fanged Noumena, published in 2011. The second heresy, Mackay continues, lay in Land’s “dedication to thinking the real processes of Capital’s insidious takeover of the human,” and his “admitting the laughable impotence of ‘man’ in the face of this process”.

These aspects of Land’s philosophy don’t get much attention during Noys’ otherwise perceptive examinations. We get the well-known quote where Land remixes Deleuze and Guattari:

Machinic revolution must therefore go in the opposite direction to socialistic regulation; pressing towards ever more uninhibited marketization of the process that are tearing down the social field, ‘still further’ with ‘the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization’ and ‘one can never go far enough in the direction of deterriorialization: you haven’t seen anything yet’.

This has become a mini-manifesto of accelerationism. What we don’t get here is Land’s much more satirical vision of what comes next, when the marketplace withers away and we step into cyberspace. This is what Land sees: “The terminal social signal blotted out by technofuck buzz from desiring-machines”. And he goes on, inimitably:

Suddenly it’s everywhere: a virtual envelopment by recyclones, voodoo economics, neo-nightmares, death-trips, skin-swaps, teraflops, Wintermute-wasted Turing-cops, sensitive silicon, socket-head subversion, polymorphic hybridizations, descending data-storms, and cyborg cat­ women stalking amongst the screens.

How should we approach these visions? To be sure, it isn’t easy to subject them to a sober academic analysis, and that’s the mounting difficulty that Noys must have faced and wrestled with as he was working on this book. If, to quote Elvis Costello, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” then what is it like to write about Nick Land? It’s challenging, no doubt. About as challenging as talking sense to Turing-cops, and persuading them that going on a death-trip might not be a good idea.

If we wish to view accelerationism as a story with a set of distinct philosophical premises, based on the assumption that humans can be liberated only by becoming-machine, then it’s a story that calls for suspicion. A world defined by machinic jouissance, ‘descending data-storms’ and ’cyborg cat-women’, is certainly not for everyone. But is the sole point of accelerationism to present a totalitarian metanarrative, characterized by utopian/dystopian visions of the future? When I read Land, I see something else. I can’t help seeing the work of a satirical mind—one which invents outrageously excessive strategies for resistance. In Post Cinematic Affect, Steven Shaviro writes—and I would agree with this—“when we are told that There Is No Alternative… then perhaps there is some value in the exhaustive demonstration [of accelerationism] that what we actually have, right here, right now, is not a viable alternative either”.

The accelerationist strategy, then, consists in demonstrating this deadlock and introducing a sense of inevitable disruption. This is the same kind of strategy that Adam Kotsko employs in Why We Love Sociopaths: the problem is not that we are sociopaths, but that we are not sociopathic enough. Another example is Ivor Southwood’s claim, in Non-Stop Inertia, that we should not disconnect ourselves from the rituals of the workplace but instead act them out, fully and with no discernible distance, so that their untenable nature is exposed. Such strategies acknowledge our laughable impotence in the face of capital’s takeover, and respond with increased impotence. If we are told to be sociopaths, then we will be furiously sociopathic.

I have much more sympathy for these strategies than Noys does. For him, accelerationism is not just a strategy for resistance. It is an ideological fantasy of misery and nostalgia—one which refuses to let go of its libidinal attachment.

This fantasy must be resisted, and as the book draws to an end, Noys begins sketching an alternative. What we need, he says, is a new political sensibility that breaks with fantasies of the Real. The hero of this story is Walter Benjamin. In his essay ‘On the Concept of History’, Benjamin invokes the figure of the emergency brake—although not the same kind of brake that Horatius pulled. Horatius was a forerunner of the ideology of the slow, arguing that we need to calm down, become mindful, spend more time in cafes, grow organic vegetables and cultivate our culinary senses. (For the Swedish election in 1998 Horatius even launched Bakpartiet, a political party that was fighting technological progress by immersing themselves in baking). Needless to say, Benjamin’s emergency brake has a rather different meaning. Instead of nostalgically trying to invoke a bygone era, he used the brake as a figure of interruption. This gave way to a form of interruptive politics that remained attentive to productive forces, and particularly wary, Noys adds, of those forces “that have gone off the rails”. So we should not speed up, and accelerate into destruction. But neither should we simply stop the train and bake cupcakes (we’re all familiar with the spread of “cupcake fascism”). Instead, Noys suggests, we should jump the tracks, in the name of the new. Exactly what “the new” would look like is unclear but one place to start, he suggests, is with the “struggle for decommodification of our lives”.

These suggestions sound reasonably plausible to me. I agree that there might be better ways to respond to the ‘horror of work’ than with the ‘jouissance of machinic desire’. But Noys only tentatively points towards a way forward, suggesting, for example, that the “struggles over the state and condition of labor… have to be fought now”. This is less a book about alternatives to accelerationism, more an attempt at tracing and exposing its fantasmatic core.

Malign Velocities works well as a critical introduction to accelerationism, and is a perfect complement to Mackay and Avanessian’s #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader. It deftly combines academic erudition with a journalistic eye for unexpected details. Accelerationism is not immune from criticism, and Noys’ book is a helpful reminder of that. Still, approaching accelerationism from an academic perspective is problematic. In particular, treating Land’s theories from this standpoint risks overshadowing what we may call his method. “Theory”, Mark Fisher perceptively writes about Land’s approach to philosophy, “wasn’t being ‘applied’ here; it was being plugged in”. As a result, the academic voice was displaced and the homeland of thought blown to pieces.

The work of Nick Land and Sadie Plant at the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU), was conceived against academia. Simon Reynolds describes CCRU as a rogue unit, “the academic equivalent of Kurtz: the general in Apocalypse Now who used unorthodox methods to achieve superior results compared with the tradition-bound US military.” It was perhaps no surprise that the philosophy department at Warwick pushed Land out in the late 1990s. His work was an assault on self-serving academics, who Mark Fisher fittingly calls “careerist sandbaggers”. That isn’t simply an incidental detail; it’s a crucial contextual factor. What Land was part of inventing in the 1990s, and what his followers continued to act out in various contexts, should not be reduced to a libidinally confused and miserable group of postgraduates trapped in wild machinic dreams of overthrowing capitalism. It’s also an intensely imaginative para-academic movement, a fascinating reaction to the professionalization of higher education, a wild force that ceaselessly pushed the limits of thought. Sadly, Land’s recent flirtation with the neo-reactionary work of Mencius Moldbug has made these insights, which are as relevant today as they were then, in the 1990s, all the more difficult to discern.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Carl Cederström is Assistant Professor at Stockholm University, and co-author of Dead Man Working (Zero Books) and The Wellness Syndrome (Polity Press).

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  1. #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics
    by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek • 14 May 2013

    Accel­er­a­tion­ism pushes towards a future that is more mod­ern, an altern­at­ive mod­ern­ity that neo­lib­er­al­ism is inher­ently unable to generate.

    http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/

    01. INTRODUCTION: On the Conjuncture

    1. At the beginning of the second decade of the Twenty-​First Century, global civilization faces a new breed of cataclysm. These coming apocalypses ridicule the norms and organisational structures of the politics which were forged in the birth of the nation-​state, the rise of capitalism, and a Twentieth Century of unprecedented wars.

    2. Most significant is the breakdown of the planetary climatic system. In time, this threatens the continued existence of the present global human population. Though this is the most critical of the threats which face humanity, a series of lesser but potentially equally destabilising problems exist alongside and intersect with it. Terminal resource depletion, especially in water and energy reserves, offers the prospect of mass starvation, collapsing economic paradigms, and new hot and cold wars. Continued financial crisis has led governments to embrace the paralyzing death spiral policies of austerity, privatisation of social welfare services, mass unemployment, and stagnating wages. Increasing automation in production processes including ‘intellectual labour’ 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.

    3. In contrast to these ever-​accelerating catastrophes, today’s politics is beset by an inability to generate the new ideas and modes of organisation necessary to transform our societies to confront and resolve the coming annihilations. While crisis gathers force and speed, politics withers and retreats. In this paralysis of the political imaginary, the future has been cancelled.

    4. Since 1979, the hegemonic global political ideology has been neoliberalism, found in some variant throughout the leading economic powers. In spite of the deep structural challenges the new global problems present to it, most immediately the credit, financial, and fiscal crises since 2007 – 8, neoliberal programmes have only evolved in the sense of deepening. This continuation of the neoliberal project, or neoliberalism 2.0, has begun to apply another round of 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 is in spite of the immediately negative economic and social effects of such policies, and the longer term fundamental barriers posed by the new global crises.

    5. That the forces of right wing governmental, non-​governmental, and corporate power have been able to press forth with neoliberalisation is at least in part a result of the continued paralysis and ineffectual nature of much what remains of the left. Thirty years of neoliberalism have rendered most left-​leaning political parties bereft of radical thought, hollowed out, and without a popular mandate. At best they have responded to our present crises with calls for a return to a Keynesian economics, in spite of the evidence that the very conditions which enabled post-​war social democracy to occur no longer exist. We cannot return to mass industrial-​Fordist labour by fiat, if at all. Even the neosocialist regimes of South America’s Bolivarian Revolution, whilst heartening in their ability to resist the dogmas of contemporary capitalism, remain disappointingly unable to advance an alternative beyond mid-​Twentieth Century socialism. Organised labour, being systematically weakened by the changes wrought in the neoliberal project, is sclerotic at an institutional level and — at best — capable only of mildly mitigating the new structural adjustments. But with no systematic approach to building a new economy, or the structural solidarity to push such changes through, for now labour remains relatively impotent. The new social movements which emerged since the end of the Cold War, experiencing a resurgence in the years after 2008, have been similarly unable to devise a new political ideological vision. Instead they expend considerable energy on internal direct-​democratic process and affective self-​valorisation over strategic efficacy, and frequently propound a variant of neo-​primitivist localism, as if to oppose the abstract violence of globalised capital with the flimsy and ephemeral “authenticity” of communal immediacy.

    6. 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. At best, the left may be able for a time to partially resist some of the worst incursions. But this is to be Canute against an ultimately irresistible tide. To generate a new left global hegemony entails a recovery of lost possible futures, and indeed the recovery of the future as such.

    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.

    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 discarded as mere drag to an abstract planetary intelligence rapidly constructing itself from the bricolaged fragments of former civilisations. However 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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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).

    7. As Marx was aware, capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration. Similarly, the assessment of left politics as antithetical to technosocial acceleration is also, at least in part, a severe misrepresentation. Indeed, if the political left is to have a future it must be one in which it maximally embraces this suppressed accelerationist tendency.

    03: MANIFEST: On the Future

    1. We believe the most important division in today’s left is between those that hold to a folk politics of localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism, and those that outline what must become called an accelerationist politics at ease with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology. The former remains content with establishing small and temporary spaces of non-​capitalist social relations, eschewing the real problems entailed in facing foes which are intrinsically non-​local, abstract, and rooted deep in our everyday infrastructure. The failure of such politics has been built-​in from the very beginning. By contrast, an accelerationist politics seeks to preserve the gains of late capitalism while going further than its value system, governance structures, and mass pathologies will allow.

    2. All of us want to work less. It is an intriguing question as to why it was that the world’s leading economist of the post-​war era believed that an enlightened capitalism inevitably progressed towards a radical reduction of working hours. In The Economic Prospects for Our Grandchildren (written in 1930), Keynes forecast a capitalist future where individuals would have their work reduced to three hours a day. What has instead occurred is the progressive elimination of the work-​life distinction, with work coming to permeate every aspect of the emerging social factory.

    3. Capitalism has begun to constrain the productive forces of technology, or at least, direct them towards needlessly narrow ends. Patent wars and idea monopolisation are contemporary phenomena that point to both capital’s need to move beyond competition, and capital’s increasingly retrograde approach to technology. The properly accelerative gains of neoliberalism have not led to less work or less stress. And rather than a world of space travel, future shock, and revolutionary technological potential, we exist in a time where the only thing which develops is marginally better consumer gadgetry. Relentless iterations of the same basic product sustain marginal consumer demand at the expense of human acceleration.

    4. We do not want to return to Fordism. There can be no return to Fordism. The capitalist “golden era” was premised on the production paradigm of the orderly factory environment, where (male) workers received security and a basic standard of living in return for a lifetime of stultifying boredom and social repression. Such a system relied upon an international hierarchy of colonies, empires, and an underdeveloped periphery; a national hierarchy of racism and sexism; and a rigid family hierarchy of female subjugation. For all the nostalgia many may feel, this regime is both undesirable and practically impossible to return to.

    5. Accelerationists want to unleash latent productive forces. In this project, the material platform of neoliberalism does not need to be destroyed. It needs to be repurposed towards common ends. The existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed, but a springboard to launch towards post-​capitalism.

    6. Given the enslavement of technoscience to capitalist objectives (especially since the late 1970s) we surely do not yet know what a modern technosocial body can do. Who amongst us fully recognizes what untapped potentials await in the technology which has already been developed? Our wager is that the true transformative potentials of much of our technological and scientific research remain unexploited, filled with presently redundant features (or pre-​adaptations) that, following a shift beyond the short-​sighted capitalist socius, can become decisive.

    7. We want to accelerate the process of technological evolution. But what we are arguing for is not techno-​utopianism. Never believe that technology will be sufficient to save us. Necessary, yes, but never sufficient without socio-​political action. Technology and the social are intimately bound up with one another, and changes in either potentiate and reinforce changes in the other. Whereas the techno-​utopians argue for acceleration on the basis that it will automatically overcome social conflict, our position is that technology should be accelerated precisely because it is needed in order to win social conflicts.

    8. We believe that any post-​capitalism will require post-​capitalist planning. The faith placed in the idea that, after a revolution, the people will spontaneously constitute a novel socioeconomic system that isn’t simply a return to capitalism is naïve at best, and ignorant at worst. To further this, we must develop both a cognitive map of the existing system and a speculative image of the future economic system.

    9. To do so, the left must take advantage of every technological and scientific advance made possible by capitalist society. We declare that quantification is not an evil to be eliminated, but a tool to be used in the most effective manner possible. Economic modelling is — simply put — a necessity for making intelligible a complex world. The 2008 financial crisis reveals the risks of blindly accepting mathematical models on faith, yet this is a problem of illegitimate authority not of mathematics itself. The tools to be found in social network analysis, agent-​based modelling, big data analytics, and non-​equilibrium economic models, are necessary cognitive mediators for understanding complex systems like the modern economy. The accelerationist left must become literate in these technical fields.

    10. Any transformation of society must involve economic and social experimentation. The Chilean Project Cybersyn is emblematic of this experimental attitude — fusing advanced cybernetic technologies, with sophisticated economic modelling, and a democratic platform instantiated in the technological infrastructure itself. Similar experiments were conducted in 1950s – 1960s Soviet economics as well, employing cybernetics and linear programming in an attempt to overcome the new problems faced by the first communist economy. That both of these were ultimately unsuccessful can be traced to the political and technological constraints these early cyberneticians operated under.

    11. The left must develop sociotechnical hegemony: both in the sphere of ideas, and in the sphere of material platforms. Platforms are the infrastructure of global society. They establish the basic parameters of what is possible, both behaviourally and ideologically. In this sense, they embody the material transcendental of society: they are what make possible particular sets of actions, relationships, and powers. While much of the current global platform is biased towards capitalist social relations, this is not an inevitable necessity. These material platforms of production, finance, logistics, and consumption can and will be reprogrammed and reformatted towards post-​capitalist ends.

    12. We do not believe that direct action is sufficient to achieve any of this. The habitual tactics of marching, holding signs, and establishing temporary autonomous zones risk becoming comforting substitutes for effective success. “At least we have done something” is the rallying cry of those who privilege self-​esteem rather than effective action. The only criterion of a good tactic is whether it enables significant success or not. We must be done with fetishising particular modes of action. Politics must be treated as a set of dynamic systems, riven with conflict, adaptations and counter-​adaptations, and strategic arms races. This means that each individual type of political action becomes blunted and ineffective over time as the other sides adapt. No given mode of political action is historically inviolable. Indeed, over time, there is an increasing need to discard familiar tactics as the forces and entities they are marshalled against learn to defend and counter-​attack them effectively. It is in part the contemporary left’s inability to do so which lies close to the heart of the contemporary malaise.

    13. The overwhelming privileging of democracy-​as-​process needs to be left behind. The fetishisation of openness, horizontality, and inclusion of much of today’s ‘radical’ left set the stage for ineffectiveness. Secrecy, verticality, and exclusion all have their place as well in effective political action (though not, of course, an exclusive one).

    14. Democracy cannot be defined simply by its means — not via voting, discussion, or general assemblies. Real democracy must be defined by its goal — collective self-​mastery. This is a project which must align politics with the legacy of the Enlightenment, to the extent that it is only through harnessing our ability to understand ourselves and our world better (our social, technical, economic, psychological world) that we can come to rule ourselves. 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.

    15. We do not present any particular organisation as the ideal means to embody these vectors. What is needed — what has always been needed — is an ecology of organisations, a pluralism of forces, resonating and feeding back on their comparative strengths. Sectarianism is the death knell of the left as much as centralization is, and in this regard we continue to welcome experimentation with different tactics (even those we disagree with).

    16. We have three medium term concrete goals. First, we need to build an intellectual infrastructure. Mimicking the Mont Pelerin Society of the neoliberal revolution, this is to be tasked with creating 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. This is an infrastructure in the sense of requiring the construction not just of ideas, but institutions and material paths to inculcate, embody and spread them.

    17. We need to construct wide-​scale media reform. In spite of the seeming democratisation offered by the internet and social media, traditional media outlets remain crucial in the selection and framing of narratives, along with possessing the funds to prosecute investigative journalism. Bringing these bodies as close as possible to popular control is crucial to undoing the current presentation of the state of things.

    18. Finally, we need to reconstitute various forms of class power. Such a reconstitution must move beyond the notion that an organically generated global proletariat already exists. Instead it must seek to knit together a disparate array of partial proletarian identities, often embodied in post-​Fordist forms of precarious labour.

    19. Groups and individuals are already at work on each of these, but each is on their own insufficient. What is required is all three feeding back into one another, with each modifying the contemporary conjunction in such a way that the others become more and more effective. A positive feedback loop of infrastructural, ideological, social and economic transformation, generating a new complex hegemony, a new post-​capitalist technosocial platform. History demonstrates it has always been a broad assemblage of tactics and organisations which has brought about systematic change; these lessons must be learned.

    20. To achieve each of these goals, on the most practical level we hold that the accelerationist left must think more seriously about the flows of resources and money required to build an effective new political infrastructure. Beyond the ‘people power’ of bodies in the street, we require funding, whether from governments, institutions, think tanks, unions, or individual benefactors. We consider the location and conduction of such funding flows essential to begin reconstructing an ecology of effective accelerationist left organizations.

    21. 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. This mastery must be distinguished from that beloved of thinkers of the original Enlightenment. The clockwork universe of Laplace, so easily mastered given sufficient information, is long gone from the agenda of serious scientific understanding. But this is not to align ourselves with the tired residue of postmodernity, decrying mastery as proto-​fascistic or authority as innately illegitimate. Instead we propose that the problems besetting our planet and our species oblige us to refurbish mastery in a newly complex guise; whilst we cannot predict the precise result of our actions, we can determine probabilistically likely ranges of outcomes. What must be coupled to such complex systems analysis is a new form of action: improvisatory and capable of executing a design through a practice which works with the contingencies it discovers only in the course of its acting, in a politics of geosocial artistry and cunning rationality. A form of abductive experimentation that seeks the best means to act in a complex world.

    22. We need to revive the argument that was traditionally made for post-​capitalism: not only is capitalism an unjust and perverted system, but it is also a system that holds back progress. Our technological development is being suppressed by capitalism, as much as it has been unleashed. Accelerationism is the basic belief that these capacities can and should be let loose by moving beyond the limitations imposed by capitalist society. The movement towards a surpassing of our current constraints must include more than simply a struggle for a more rational global society. We believe it must also include recovering the dreams which transfixed many from the middle of the Nineteenth Century until the dawn of the neoliberal era, of the quest of Homo Sapiens towards expansion beyond the limitations of the earth and our immediate bodily forms. These visions are today viewed as relics of a more innocent moment. Yet they both diagnose the staggering lack of imagination in our own time, and offer the promise of a future that is affectively invigorating, as well as intellectually energising. After all, it is only a post-​capitalist society, made possible by an accelerationist politics, which will ever be capable of delivering on the promissory note of the mid-​Twentieth Century’s space programmes, to shift beyond a world of minimal technical upgrades towards all-​encompassing change. Towards a time of collective self-​mastery, and the properly alien future that entails and enables. Towards a completion of the Enlightenment project of self-​criticism and self-​mastery, rather than its elimination.

    23. The choice facing us is severe: either a globalised post-​capitalism or a slow fragmentation towards primitivism, perpetual crisis, and planetary ecological collapse.

    24. The future needs to be constructed. It has been demolished by neoliberal capitalism and reduced to a cut-​price promise of greater inequality, conflict, and chaos. This collapse in the idea of the future is symptomatic of the regressive historical status of our age, rather than, as cynics across the political spectrum would have us believe, a sign of sceptical maturity. What accelerationism pushes towards is a future that 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.

    http://​syntheticedifice​.files​.wordpress​.com/​2​0​1​3​/​0​6​/​a​c​c​e​l​e​r​a​t​e​.​pdf

    Related Posts

    #Accelerationism: Remembering the Future : http://criticallegalthinking.com/2014/02/10/accelerationism-remembering-future/

    Deleuze and the Accelerationsists : http://criticallegalthinking.com/2014/12/10/deleuze-accelerationsists/

    Some Reflections on the #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO : http://criticallegalthinking.com/2014/02/26/reflections-accelerate-manifesto/

  2. Some Reflections on the #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO
    by Antonio Negri • 26 February 2014

    Toni Negri reflects on the recent #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO, insisting upon the re-​appropriation and disruption of capitalist modes of development and thought.

    http://criticallegalthinking.com/2014/02/26/reflections-accelerate-manifesto/
    Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics (MAP) opens by noting the depth of the current crisis – “cataclysm” – and a negation of the future by “coming apocalypses”. No need for alarm however: there is nothing political-​theological here whatsoever, so those who came looking for that might as well stop reading now. Absent, too, is the usual refrain about the imminent breakdown of the planetary climatic system. Or rather, it is mentioned, its importance, but it is wholly subordinated to industrial politics, and can be addressed only through the critique thereof.

    What is essential is instead “the increasing automation of productive processes” – including “intellectual labour” – which is presented as evidence of the crisis of capitalism. Catastrophism? Improper use of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall? I don’t think so. On the contrary this account succeeds in identifying the reality of the crisis, in neoliberalism’s aggression against the entire structure of class relations as they had been organized within the context of the Welfare State of the 19th and 20th Centuries; and the cause of the crisis, in the stalling of productive capacities – a necessary consequence of the new forms of capitalist control against the new form of living labour.

    A steely critique of both political right and left follows – the latter often stuck in unlikely Keynsian resistance strategies (even when at its best), and incapable of imagining any radical alternative. What all this has erased is the future: the political imaginary has been totally paralyzed. The crisis will not end spontaneously. Only a systematic class-​based approach aimed at the construction of a new economy and of a new political organization of labour will make possible a new hegemony and put proletarian hands on a possible future.

    There is still space for subversive knowledge!

    This horizon is consistent with the task of communism as it is today. It is a necessary leap forward, resolute and decisive – if one wants to open a new terrain of revolutionary thinking – but above all it gives new form to the movement, where by “form” we should understand an arrangement of things that is constitutive, rich with possibilities, and aimed at breaking the repressive and hierarchic horizon of the State that today informs capitalist power. It is not a matter of the overthrow of the State form – it means rather invoking potential (potenza) against Power (potere), biopolitics against biopower. The only rational premise for a subversive practice lies in this radical opposition; the possibility of an emancipatory future against the present of capitalist domination.

    How does the MAP’s theory work? Their hypothesis is that liberation must occur within the evolution of capital; that labour power must move against the blockage caused by capitalism; that a complete reversal of the class relation must be accomplished by the pursuit of constant economic growth and technological evolution (notwithstanding the growing social inequalities that accompany them).

    The MAP thus apparently picks up the within-​and-​against refrain of the operaist (workerist) tradition. The process of liberation can only occur by accelerating capitalism’s development, without however (and this is important) confusing acceleration with speed: acceleration here operates as an engine, as an experimental process of discovery and creation, within the space of the possibilities emanating from capitalism itself. The Marxian concept of tendency is coupled here with a spatial analysis of the parameters of development, recalling Deleuze and Guattari’s insistence on “terra” (territorialization and/​or deterritorialization).

    But there’s another central element: the potential of cognitive labour, which capitalism creates but represses; constituting yet attenuating it within the increasing algorithmic automation of domination; valuing it ontologically, yet devaluing it from a monetary and disciplinary perspective (not only within a context of crisis, but also throughout the normal cycles of development, in particular through its management of the State form). This potential does not attach revolutionary possibility to the rebirth of a 20th Century-​style working class, but rather to a new and more potent class: that of cognitive labour. It is this class which must be liberated; it is this class which must liberate itself.

    Here the recovery of the Marxian and Leninist concept of tendency is complete. And any “futurist” illusion is dispensed with, since it is the class struggle which determines not only the nature of the movement, but also its capacity to turn the highest abstraction into a solid machine for struggle.

    The entire MAP is based on this capacity to liberate the productive forces of cognitive labour. One must thus do away with any illusion of a return to a fordist notion of work; realizing once and for all that it is no longer material labour but immaterial labour which is the hegemonic form. Hence, and in light of capitalism’s control of technology, the target must become “capital’s increasingly retrograde approach to technology”. The productive forces are limited by capitalism. The crucial goal is then that of liberating the latent productive forces, such as has always been the aim of revolutionary materialism. These forces require our further consideration.

    But first we must note how, significantly, the MAP’s attention turns to the theme of organization. The MAP levels a sharp critique against the “horizontal” or “spontaneous” concepts of organization developed within the movements; and against any conception of “democracy as process”. The MAP maintains that those are fetishistic forms (of democracy) devoid of any practical effect – destituent and/​or constituent – against the institutional forms of capitalist domination. This last claim is perhaps too strong, considering that the movements forcefully combat finance capitalism and its institutional structures – albeit without adequate alternatives or tools. But if one talks of revolutionary transformation, one necessarily requires a strong institutional transition – one stronger than any democratic horizontalism is capable of suggesting. Before or after the revolutionary leap, it will be necessary to plan so as to translate the abstract knowledge of tendency into a constitutent power of future post-​capitalist, communist institutions. This “planning”, according to the MAP, should not be the vertical command of the State over the society of workers; rather, productive and directive capacities must converge in the Network. This is the goal: planning the struggle before planning production. But more on this later.

    Now, the first step is the liberation of the potential of cognitive labour, which must be wrenched from obscurity: “we surely do not yet know what a modern technosocial body can do”!

    Two elements must be underlined. One is what some call the “appropriation of fixed capital”, with the attendant anthropological transformation of the worker subject; the other is the socio-​political element, that is, the realization that this new potentiality of bodies is essentially collective and political. In other words, we can say that the surplus – the value added in production and in the development of the potentialities constituted by the appropriation of fixed capital – derives essentially from productive social cooperation. Probably this is the most crucial passage of the Manifesto. Attenuating and sidelining the humanist character of philosophical critique, the MAP insists on the material and technical nature of a reappropriation of fixed capital understood as tangible, in which productive quantification, economic modeling, big data analysis, abstract cognitive models, etc; are appropriated through education, and through the scientific re-​elaboration of these forms by worker-​subjects. Mathematical models and algorithms do not inherently serve capitalism, so it’s not a problem with mathematics; it’s a problem with power.

    It is undeniable that the MAP is somewhat optimistic, which is not very useful for a critique of the highly complex man-​machine relation, but it may help make headway into the extremely urgent discussion of organization. Once the discussion becomes a question of power, it leads directly to organization. The MAP suggests that the left must develop sociotechnical hegemony: “material platforms of production, finance, logistics, and consumption can and will be reprogrammed and reformatted towards post-​capitalist ends”. Here the MAP entrusts its project to objectivity, materiality, to a sort of Dasein of development – thus somewhat underestimating social, political and cooperative factors. But this underestimation must not prevent us from recognizing the importance of acquiring the most sophisticated techniques of capitalist domination and of the abstraction of labour, so as to return them to a communist administration led by the “things themselves”. By this I understand that it is necessary to develop the complete set of cognitive labour’s productive possibilities in order to be able to propose a new hegemony. The theme of organization re-​emerges here. The MAP proposes a shift in focus: against extreme horizontalism it proposes a new configuration of the relation between plan and network; against a peaceful conception of democracy as a process the MAP suggests a shift from means (voting, representation, rule of law etc.) to ends (collective emancipation and self-​government).

    It is clear that this is not a resurgence of centralist illusions or empty re-​interpretations of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. The MAP recognizes the need for greater clarity, proposing a sort of “ecology of organizations”, insisting on the need to envision a plurality of forces able to resonate with one another to produce forms of collective decision-​making without any form of sectarianism. This notion might engender doubts, and it is indeed possible to imagine greater difficulties than its sunny outlook seems to assume. Yet this path must be travelled, especially in light of the cycle of struggle, begun in 2011, which despite its vigor and its novel and genuine revolutionary contents, demonstrated insurmountable limitations in the struggle against power given its organizational model,

    The MAP proposes three urgent objectives, which are decidedly appropriate and realistic. First, the construction of a sort of intellectual infrastructure tasked with outlining a new ideal project and with studying new economic models. Second, investing heavily on the terrain of mainstream media and communication. The internet and social networks have certainly democratized communication, and can be very useful in a context of struggle; however the strongest traditional forms still dominate communication. The aim, then, is to strive to materially claim control of adequate means of communication. Third, re-​invigorating the capacity to build all possible institutional forms of power and class: transitory and permanent, political and syndicalist, global and local. A unified class power will be possible only through the assemblage and the hybridization of experiences developed thus far and new ones still to be invented.

    The future must be constructed: this enlightenment aspiration pervades the entire MAP, along with a Promethean humanist politics. This humanism however, insofar as it wishes to break the limits imposed by capitalist society, is open to the post-​human and to a scientific utopia. Indeed the MAP recuperates the 20th Century’s dreams of outer space, for example; and indeed wishes to build increasingly more effective walls against death and all of life’s misfortunes. Rational imagination must be accompanied by a collective fantasy of new worlds, so as to organize a strong “self-​valorization” of labour and of the social. The most modern epoch we have experienced showed us that there can only be an inside of globalization, there is no longer any outside – yet today, considering the problem of the construction of the future, we must fortify the inside by bringing the outside in – an opportunity we most certainly possess.

    So, what can be said of this document? Some think of it as an Anglo-​Saxon complement to post-​operaism, thus perhaps less ready to re-​elaborate a socialist humanism but more capable of developing a positive one. The name, “accelerationism”, is certainly unfortunate, as it suggests a “futurist” affiliation it doesn’t in fact have. The document is undoubtedly timely in its critique of existing socialism and social-​democracy, and also, importantly, of the movements of and since 2011. It forcefully emphasizes the theme of the tendency of capitalist development, of the necessity of its re-​appropriation and disruption. On this basis then it advances the construction of a communist program. These are strong legs on which to walk forward.

    Some criticisms may however be useful in the interests of catalyzing further discussion and understanding. First, this project seems too deterministic, as far as both technology and politics are concerned. Its relation to historicity (or simply to history, the present and praxis), must reluctantly be identified as teleological. The role of singularities seems to me to have been undervalued – that is, the need to regard tendency as virtual (a matter of singularities) and material determination (which fosters that tendency) as the power of subjectivisation: tendency can only be defined as an open, constitutive relation, animated by class subjects. It may be objected that insisting on this openness could bring about some perverse consequences, such as a landscape so heterogeneous as to be chaotic and incapable of any resolution; a giant multiplicity leading infinitely nowhere at all. Indeed post-​operaism, or Mille plateaux, sometimes lead us to believe this. This is a crucial and difficult passage, and it requires further consideration.

    The MAP, it must be noted, has arrived at a good solution in this respect: it approaches the relation of subject and object (which in more familiar terminology I would call the relation between the technical and political composition of the proletariat) through a transformative anthropology of the bodies of the workers. The degenerative risk of pluralism can thus be avoided. Yet it is equally true that, if one wants to engage further on this decisively important terrain, then at some level one must disrupt the relentless productive progression to which the MAP points. Some “thresholds” of development must be identified; thresholds which, with Deleuze and Guattari, can be called consolidations, collective assemblages implicated in the re-​appropriation of fixed capital, and in the transformation of the labour force, of anthropologies, languages and activities. These thresholds come about through the relation between the technical and political composition of the proletariat and become historically fixed. Without them, any program – even a transient one – becomes impossible. It is precisely because of our current failure to define this kind of relation that at times we find ourselves methodologically helpless and politically impotent. By contrast, it is the determinacy of a historical threshold, and the coming to an awareness of a particular manner of relation between the technical and the political, which allows an organizational process to be devised and an adequate program to be defined..

    In posing this problem, however, another problem is implicitly raised: how to better define the process by which the relation between a singularity and the common is formed and consolidated, keeping in mind the progressive nature of the productive tendency. We must specify the commonality that lies in any technological connection, by a targeted deepening of the anthropology of production.

    This is, again, a question of the re-​appropriation of fixed capital. I have already mentioned that the MAP underestimates the cooperative dimension of production (and even more so the production of subjectivities), in favor of technological and material factors that will constitute not only the parameters of productivity, but also any anthropological transformation of the labour-​force. It is indeed in considering the whole range of languages, algorithms, technological functions and know-​how that constitute today’s proletariat, that the dimension of cooperativity acquires a central role, and may reveal hegemonic possibilities. This claim follows from the realization that the very structure of capitalist exploitation has changed. Capital indeed continues to exploit, but it does so in ways that are more limited, paradoxically, than its power of extraction of surplus value from society as a whole might allow. Becoming aware of this change means realizing that fixed capital – that part of capital directly implicated in the production of surplus value – refers to, or in fact is essentially a matter of, that surplus which is generated through cooperation; that immeasurable dimension which, as Marx said, does not consist in the surplus labour of two or more workers, but the surplus that arises from the fact that they work together: the surplus beyond their arithmetic total.

    If one assumes the primacy of extractive capital over the capital that exploits (while including the latter in the former), some very interesting conclusions can be reached. Let me point to one. The transition from fordism to post-​fordism was typically described in terms of the application of automation in the factory and of the managed computerization of the social field. The latter is greatly important in the process leading up to the complete subsumption of society under capital – information technology leads this tendency, and as such is more important than automation which, in impacting only partially and precariously on the production process, did not genuinely characterize the new social form of the time.

    Today we are well beyond that point, as the MAP clarifies and as experience amply attests. The information-​technologization of productive society is now global. Moreover, this digitized social world is itself re-​organized by automation, according to new criteria for the division of labour (in the management of the labour market) and new hierarchies for the management of society.

    When production fully permeates society – through cognitive labour, and through social knowledge – information-​technologization remains capitalism’s most valuable form of fixed capital, but automation (that is, the technological structuration of the direct control of production, which no longer operates only in the factory, but in the social activity of the producers) becomes the glue of capitalist organization, which attempts to commandeer both information technology (as its tool) and the entire digitized society as its machinic prosthesis.

    Information technologies thus become subordinated to automation. The control exerted by capitalist algorithms marks the transformation of the control of production, and with it a new level of real subsumption. Hence the great importance of logistics, which, when automated, begin to configure every territorial aspect of capitalist control, and to establish internal borders and hierarchies within the global space. Logistics likewise organize and delineate all the algorithmic mechanizations which, through varying degrees of abstraction and across fields of knowledge, concentrate and control the complex ensemble of knowledges also known as the General Intellect.

    Now, if extractive capitalism expands its exploitative capacity extensively to every social infrastructure, and is applied intensively to every degree of abstraction within the productive machine (that is, to every level of organization of the global financial mode of production), it will be necessary to re-​align any discussion on the appropriation of fixed capital to this entire theoretical and practical space. The way we construct the struggle must be equal to this space. Fixed capital can in fact be re-​appropriated by proletarians. And it is this potential that must be liberated.

    I wish to address one last theme, not discussed in the MAP, yet fully consistent with its theoretical framework: the currency of the commons. The authors of the MAP are certainly aware of the role money has today: an abstract machine that functions as the measure of all values extracted from society through society’s subsumption under capital. Now, it is the same schema leading to the extraction-​exploitation of social labour that makes money so prevalent: money as measure, as hierarchy and as program. But this monetary abstraction, as the tendential result of the hegemonic dynamics of financial capital, alludes to new potential forms of resistance and of subversion located at the same high level. It is on this terrain that the communist program for a post-​capitalist future must be elaborated, and not only by proposing the proletarian re-​appropriation of wealth, but by constructing hegemonic capacity – hence working on the “common” that underlies both the highest form of the extraction-​abstraction of labour value, and its universal translation into currency.

    This means then discussing a “currency of the common”. This is no utopian ideal, but rather a paradigmatic and programmatic suggestion for how to envisage an attack on capitalism’s measure of labour, on the hierarchies dominating the relation of necessary and surplus labour (directly imposed by owners), and on the general social distribution of income controlled by the capitalist State. On this front much work remains to be done.

    To conclude – though there’s still so much to be said! – what does it mean to follow the tendency to its conclusion and beat capital in the process? One example: it means to revive the phrase “the refusal of work”. The struggle against the automated algorithm must grasp the increased productivity it brings about, and impose radical reductions in the amount of time disciplined and/​or controlled for each worker by and within machines. It must also result in ever more significant salary increases.

    On the one hand, time at the service of automatons must be regulated equally for all (in the post-​capitalist epoch, but as an objective of struggle it must be formulated now). On the other, a significant basic income must be introduced so as to recognize how everyone participates equally, through every form of labour, in the construction of the commonwealth. Everyone will then be able to develop freely her joie de vivre (to recall Marx’s appreciation of Fourier). This too must be demanded immediately as a priority of the struggle. However, here a new theme arises: the production of subjectivities, the agonistic use of passions, and the historical dialectic that this use opens against sovereign and capitalist control.

    Translated from Italian by Vito De Lucia (University of Tromso) and Connal Parsley (University of Kent)

    Related Posts

    #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics : http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/

    Deleuze and the Accelerationsists : http://criticallegalthinking.com/2014/12/10/deleuze-accelerationsists/

  3. Deleuze and the Accelerationsists
    by Jose Rosales • 10 December 2014

    It is the development of an immanent set of criteria along with an immanent political project, which accelerationism claims as its starting point, that allows us to see the guiding thread between Deleuze’s use of Nietzsche, Deleuze and Guattari’s political project in Anti-​Oedipus, and the current Left accelerationists.

    http://criticallegalthinking.com/2014/12/10/deleuze-accelerationsists/

    We are expected, in the name of Deleuzoguattarian anti-​fascism, to embrace capitalism as nihilist machine that has no ‘purpose’, because ‘purpose’=fascism, while forgetting that neoliberalism appeared in Germany as the form of governmentality that would immunize us against fascism by trading the political for the economic.

    —Benjamin Noys, ‘The Grammar of Neoliberalism’

    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.

    —Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-​Oedipus

    With the recent publication of the Accelerationist reader1 there has been a revived interest in the relationship between the work of Deleuze and Guattari and a particular reading of Marx that emphasizes both Marx’s own dissatisfaction with the inherently exploitative and violent nature of Capital, while remaining convinced that the socially beneficial aspects produced by capitalism serve as productive grounds for Capital’s future dissolution. Within this recent line of thought we are prone to hear repeatedly the oft cited quote from 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.”2 In this essay I want to mainly focus on the criticisms that have been made regarding the potential of Deleuze and Guattari’s work for any substantive Leftist accelerationism as well as underscore the particular influence Nietzsche exercises over Deleuze and Guattari via Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy. To begin this discussion it is important to understand the merits of such critiques made by people such as Benjamin Noys who, in my estimation, provides a persuasive argument against accelerationism, including its Leftist variant. Afterwards, I want to provide the essential arguments in Deleuze’s treatment of Nietzsche’s concept of the will to power that will allow us to revisit the question of the limits and virtues of accelerationism as Noys has laid out. Lastly, and to summarize, I want to draw our attention to what is missed in any analysis and critique of accelerationism if we forego any understanding of the relationship between Deleuze and Guattari’s deployment of both Nietzsche and Marx in their own work. By interrogating the seemingly off handed invocation of Nietzsche in the popular accelerationist passage, we can begin to understand the nuances at work within accelerationism itself.

    Accelerationism and its Critics

    To briefly define what is understood by the term ‘accelerationism:’ accelerationism is the idea that any substantive leftist political project should begin from capitalism in its current organization and aim to, in the words of Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, unleash the ‘latent productive forces’ within capitalism itself. Within this simple definition other premises, such as the real subsumption of society and therefore the idea that there is no outside to capital, are contained and taken to be the basis for rethinking politics today. That is to say, accelerationism proposes a vision of politics that looks for the tools of capital’s dissolution within the present situation of capital itself. Taking this definition as our starting point, perhaps the most salient critique of both a left and right accelerationism has been offered by Benjamin Noys.

    In his essay ‘The Grammar of Neoliberalism,’ Noys’ wager is that unbeknownst to the accelerationists, their vision of political struggle will reproduce the very conditions of capitalism instead of its overcoming. Thus, this lack of analysis regarding the formation and function of neoliberalism marks a fundamental blind spot in the accelerationist position. Noys turns to Foucault’s account of the rise of neoliberalism to highlight that neoliberalism does not function, does not direct its purposiveness, toward the commodity itself. Rather, and I’m in agreement with Noys here, neoliberalism’s power is exerted at the structural level of the laws and constraints that are the conditions for any markets functioning. As Noys writes, “it seems to me accelerationism, and the critical and theoretical resources it draws upon, fundamentally misunderstands neoliberalism, as a particular form of capitalist governmentality, and capitalism itself, as a social form, and so reproduces them (or their own idealized image).”3 Here it is useful to contrast Noys’ criticisms with Zizek’s criticism of Deleuze and Guattari in his text Bodies without Organs. Unlike Zizek, whose argument equates Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of becoming with the commodity4, Noys’ critique operates at a more fundamental level. The essential point for Noys is that the project inaugurated by Deleuze and Guattari instructs us “ to embrace capitalism as nihilist machine that has no ‘purpose’, because ‘purpose’=fascism, while forgetting that neoliberalism appeared in Germany as the form of governmentality that would immunize us against fascism by trading the political for the economic.”5 This rather tenuous claim rests on the prior assumption that Deleuze and Guattari do in fact equate emancipatory politics with an aimless politics, and understand the concepts of affirmation and becoming as good in-​themselves. Thus we are forced to ask, is it the case that what is shared between Nietzsche and Deleuze and Guattari on the one hand, and accelerationists of all stripes on the other, is the conflation between a concept of ‘the good’ and a concept of becoming/​immanence?

    Power contra Nihilism

    While Noys’ concerns ought to be taken into account since they are essentially concerns about the prospect of reproducing even greater forms of violence under the guise of liberation, it is precisely this task of differentiating between kinds of becomings that Nietzsche, and Deleuze after him, undertook. To say that Nietzsche and Deleuze fail to distinguish between kinds of becoming amounts to saying, for instance, that what is intended in the concept of the will to power is the idea of a will who wants power. Every time there arises in the works of Nietzsche and Deleuze, a concept or character type that expresses the desire for power there always follows a negative assessment. As ‘Zarathoustra says: “The desire to dominate: now who would call that a desire?”’6 Thus, while Nietzsche acknowledges expressions of force and domination as expressions of the will to power, he also acknowledges that not all expressions of force carry the same merit. This is why, for instance, we can understand Nietzsche’s fascination but ultimate disdain with the rise of Christianity and the ‘slave revolt of morality;’ where his fascination stems from the success and spread of Christian values and his disdain comes from his view that Luther marks the Event of the internalization of man.

    It is for this very reason that Deleuze will carry out his reading of the will to power according to a tripartite distinction: 1). There is the will to power understood as the process of vital and historical change (Pure Becoming); 2). There is the will to power understood as the expression of the subject (collective/​individual) who tends toward their own self-​overcoming and hence a future (Joy); 3). And there is the will to power understood to be the expression of the subject (collective/​individual) who not only desires power and the domination of others, but those who redefine the very ideas of ‘growth’ and ‘change’ as something which preserves, instead of abolishes, a decadent culture (Nihilism). In the first instance, the will to power functions as a metaphysical principle; in the second, the will to power is affirmation; and in the third, the will to power becomes the will to nothingness, or nihilism.

    Regarding the will to power as metaphysical principle Deleuze writes, “[T]he will to power is, indeed, never separable from particular determined forces, from their quantities, qualities and directions. It is never superior to the ways that it determines a relation between forces, it is always plastic and changing” (NP, 50).7 Important for us here, is the idea that the metaphysical instantiation of the will to power not only denotes a sense of change, but it also includes the idea of ‘productivity,’ the productivity which is both a continuous destruction and creation of values. Thus, the will to power is the strictly immanent principle of change as it is generated out of the social and historical forces of society.

    The main insight Deleuze extracts from the will to power understood metaphysically is the formula of “willing=creating” (NP, 84). That is to say, prior to any further determination as to what organization of society is expressed through the process of production, the grounding principle for any understanding of society is what and how it creates and produces both forms of life and society itself. The moment of denial, the moment of ressentiment, that comes to figure as the will to nothingness is the negative quality of the ‘one who wills in the will.’ In other words, the will to nothingness is also productive and creative. However, what is found to be reprehensible in the existence of a will to nothingness, in the embodiment of ressentiment, is that this kind of will finds its source of both hatred and piety in a static totality — i.e., its creative deed is the repetition of sameness and not difference. What is characteristic of any expression of the will to nothingness is the creation of values which are grounded in particular circumstances but made to serve as universal principles. Thus, we can say that the concept of the will to nothingness diagnoses the feeble attempt to understand the world and human relations according to ‘metaphors which we have forgotten were metaphors’ and have ‘mistaken for truth.’

    Additionally, the will to nothingness serves as one antipode in Nietzsche’s ‘play of forces.’ If the will to power is expressive and productive, the will to nothingness designates what Deleuze will call the betrayal of the will to power as such. The will to nothingness cannot be confused with the will to power even though the will to nothingness is a quality of the will to power which expresses and signifies the nihilism of a social body (NP, 64). Thus, writing against nihilism, Nietzsche’s disdain for and attempts to dispense with the will to nothingness is founded on the idea of the will to power as both process of creation and productive of the qualities of the relations of force – where one possible quality of the will to power is nihilism itself.

    For Deleuze, the will to nothingness as nihilism is expressive of fundamental social relations: ‘the imputation of wrongs and responsibilities, the bitter recrimination, the perpetual accusation, the ressentiment’(NP, 21) which characterizes the organization of society. Moreover — and this is what brings Nietzsche in close proximity with Marx — nihilism isn’t simply a psychological phenomena. Nihilism, in its most profound sense, refers to the “fundamental categories…of our way of thinking and interpreting existence in general” (NP, 21). It is because nihilism expresses this fundamental quality of social relations, and not merely personal orientations in the world, that Deleuze and Guattari will invoke Nietzsche’s principle of the will to power as a critique of Capital.

    Thus, the gains made through the concept of the will to power are due to the fact that the will to power is the abstraction necessary to grasp the full weight of Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of capitalism’s characterization as nihilistic. Not only does the will to nothingness err in terms of misunderstanding the historical place of human beings (e.g., science, Christianity); it is through this error that the social manifestations of nihilism are made actual.

    Deleuze, Guattari & The Accelerationists

    Given the preceding remarks on the difference between the will to power and the will to nothingness (nihilism), the philosophical purchase made on the part of Deleuze and Guattari by taking up a Nietzschean theme in Anti-​Oedipus must be understood through its conjunction with their reading of Marx. If the concept of nihilism corresponds to fundamental categories of experience grounded in social relations, Deleuze and Guattari’s reading of Marx seeks to connect this idea with the concept of the relations of production. As Marx himself writes in an often cited passage:

    In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will… The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness (A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy).

    It is due to the conceptual link between the concepts of the will to power and the will to nothingness on the one hand, and Marx’s understanding of the relationship between social existence and the self-​consciousness of individuals on the other, that we can begin to see the necessary differences between those who claim to be either ‘Left accelerationists,’ or ‘ultra-​Left/​Right accelerationists.’ That is to say, if the task is to ‘accelerate the process,’ the obviously critical question arises: which process exactly?

    To start, what both the concept of the will to power and the ‘left accelerationists’ affirm is the idea of the ontological indeterminacy of the elements of society. For both Deleuze and Guattari, and Srnicek and Williams, there is no a priori reason to disavow or maintain a skepticism regarding the use of technology for Leftist politics since each set of thinkers begins from the context of real subsumption. This stands perfectly in line with Marx’s claim that “while capital gives itself its adequate form as use value… only in the form of machinery and other material manifestations of fixed capital… Machinery does not lose its use value as soon as it ceases to be capital” (Grundrisse, 699, my emphasis).

    While this ontological indeterminacy is affirmed by accelerationists, both on the Right and the Left, the differences emerge when we consider what exactly is affirmed, or thought to be the seat of radical change. For someone like Nick Land, the locus of radical change lies in the inherent character of capitalism’s innovative, productive, and deterritorializing process. That is to say, for Land, emancipatory change and a political project adequate for its realization ought to develop the currently existing relations of production to their logical conclusion. On his account, this is the meaning of Deleuze and Guattari’s statement that “the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.” Alternatively, Srnicek and Williams begin their accelerationist politics with a break from the Landian position:

    However 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 (MAP).

    Regarding the philosophical register of Land’s accelerationism, the error and untenability of his project not only stems from the conflation of capitalism as a process of deterritorialization, axiomatics, and creative destruction on the one hand, and a more general process of becoming and production underscored by Deleuze and Guattari. Land also underestimates the very relationship between the absorption of technological innovation into Capital and technological innovation itself as it exists within specific domains of society (e.g., silicon valley, universities, think tanks). On the relation between the innovation of technology and capitalism Deleuze and Guattari themselves claim that “An innovation is adopted only from the perspective of the rate of profit its investment will offer by the lowering of production costs; without this prospect, the capitalist will keep the existing equipment…”8 It is in this sense that there is a break between Land’s accelerationism and the accelerationism proposed by Williams and Srnicek. Thus, to confuse speed with acceleration means a specific vision of an accelerationism that has not escaped the universal axiom of capital (overall profitability of industry in relation to the market), and insofar as Land bases his politics in the acceleration of the existing relations of production, his thought can only conceptualize the reproduction of greater crises and further displacements of capital as its own limit.

    In short, to valorize the kind of creativity realized by capital as such is to perpetuate an understanding of creativity under the concept of the will to nothingness. Without this distinction, accelerationism would fall back into, as Marx wrote, “the accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain” only for it to be “absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital…in so far as it enters into the production process as a means of production proper” (G, 694).

    The merits of the ‘left accelerationist’ approach, and their critique of Land, is in their aim to make the conceptual distinction between productivity, creativity, and innovation as it is absorbed into Capital and the potential for the fruits of capital to benefit a politics which seeks to return these gains to Labor. Hence the statement from the MAP: “Accelerationists want to unleash latent productive forces…It needs to be repurposed towards common ends. The existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed, but a springboard to launch toward post-​capitalism” (MAP, 03.5).

    On Nihilism: Preliminary Conclusion

    If we reconsider the concept of nihilism as developed by Noys and Deleuze and Guattari, the tension regarding accelerationism comes into high relief. The conceptual distinction between a will to power and a will to nothingness gains importance in Deleuze and Guattari’s project of diagnosing the organization of society under capital. In this way, we are not told by Deleuze and Guattari to embrace capitalism as nihilism simply because ‘purpose,’ or purposive social action is a priori reprehensible. Rather, we are told to embrace capitalism as nihilism because nihilism designates the way in which subjects are constituted as subjects under capitalism, while simultaneously drawing our attention to the fact that the processes of socialization/​subjectification present under capitalism only make possible forms of life which are nihilistic through and through.

    Ultimately, the conjunction of Nietzsche and Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘accelerationist’ Marxism does not amount to a simple fusion, or collapse of each into the other — as if Marx were to become a Nietzschean ubermensch and Nietzsche becomes some type of communist poster child. The use of Nietzsche alongside Marx, in my opinion, is much more subtle. It rests on what (mainly) Deleuze pulls out of Nietzsche – the necessary criteria by which we adjudicate and differentiate between different kinds of becomings, which cannot be sought in any a priori condition. Rather, and this is the upshot of Deleuze’s analysis of the concept of the will to power, the criteria of differentiating between an ‘affirmative/​active’ becoming and a ‘negative/​reactive’ becoming is found in the deeds, or the things produced/​effected by the very process under examination. It is at this point that we begin to see the development of Deleuze’s emphasis on the role of immanence throughout his work in general, and how it particularly is articulated in respect to Nietzsche. If we take this conception of the development of an immanent criteria of differentiation, along with one of their other foundational ideas of the real subsumption of capital, then what these conceptual distinctions between the will to power and nihilism offer us is an immanent method of developing criteria for assessing the ‘creative deeds’ of capital; for the assessment of the merits and shortcomings of any political project on its own terms, and as it unfolds within a context. It is the development of an immanent set of criteria (abstractions)9 along with an immanent political project, which accelerationism claims as its starting point, that allows us to see the guiding thread between Deleuze’s use of Nietzsche, Deleuze and Guattari’s political project in Anti-​Oedipus, and the current Left accelerationists.

    1- #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader, ed. Robin Mackay and Armen Avanessian, (Windsor Quarry, United Kingdom: Urbanomic, 2014) ↩
    2- Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-​Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972), trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, University of Minnesota Press, 1983, p.xxx ↩
    3- Benjamin Noys, “The Grammar of Neoliberalism”, 2010; printed in Dark Trajectories: Politics of the Outside, ed. Joshua Johnson, Miami: Name, Aug 2013. Talk given at the Accelerationism workshop at Goldsmiths on 14 Sep 2010. ↩ https://www.academia.edu/327085/The_Grammar_of_Neoliberalism
    4- Zizek writes, “And what about the so-​called Transformer or Animorph toys, a car or a plane that can be transformed into a humanoid robot, an animal that can be morphed into a human or robot-​is this not Deleuzian? There are no “metaphorics” here: the point is not that the machinic or animal form is revealed as a mask containing a human shape but, rather, as the “becoming-​machine” or “becoming-animal”of the human.” (Slavoj Zizek, Bodies without Organs, {xxxxx}, p. 184) ↩
    5- Dark Trajectories, p. 51 ↩
    6- Gilles Deleuze, ‘On The Will To Power and The Eternal Return’, Desert Islands And Other Texts (xxxxxxx) p. 119 ↩
    7- This is in line with Nietzsche’s own elaboration of ‘becoming as always equivalent to itself;’ becoming being the only measure of itself, as already beyond ‘all measure.’ This is the ‘beyond good and evil’ aspect of the status of change. With Nietzsche, as with Deleuze, it would be senseless to take the very idea of historical change as the basis for any morality, since as Nietzsche shows through genealogy, it is the very stability of the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that is eroded over the course of time. To be ‘beyond good and evil’ is not, here, a moral imperative. Rather, it is the necessary methodological starting point for any attempt for subjects and collectives to understand their relationship to desire, time, morality, politics, history, etc. ↩
    8- #Accelerate, p. 154 ↩
    9- As Deleuze writes regarding Foucault’s treatment of Nietzsche: “As Mr. Foucault has shown us… every interpretation is already the interpretation of an interpretation ad infinitum. Not that every interpretation therefore has the same value and occupies the same plane — on the contrary, they are stacked or layered in the new depth. But they no longer have the true and the false as criteria. The noble and the vile, the high and the low, become the immanent principles of interpretations and evaluations.” (Desert Islands, p. 118) ↩

    Related Posts

    #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics : http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/

    Some Reflections on the #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO : http://criticallegalthinking.com/2014/02/26/reflections-accelerate-manifesto/

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