* Williams, Alex and Srnicek, Nick. 2013. ‘#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics’. Critical and Legal Thinking.
‘We believe that the most important division in today’s left is between those who hold to a folk politics of localism, direct action and relentless horizontalism, and those who 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 that 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’.
- (Williams and Srnicek, 2013)
0. Geoff Shullenberger:
"In his 2014 book Malign Velocities, political theorist Benjamin Noys defines accelerationism as “the strategy of accelerating through and beyond capitalism.” This “strategy,” he notes, was first outlined by several French philosophers in the 1970s, in particular Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in Anti-Oedipus and Jean-François Lyotard in Libidinal Economy. Confronting the failures of Marxian revolution in the wake of 1968, these thinkers suggested that rather than trying to mitigate the ravages of techno-capitalism, the truly radical choice is a political alignment with the latter’s destabilizing trajectories. Accelerationists thus reject the standard regulatory and compensatory proposals of both the left and right, and repudiate any nostalgia for simpler times, whether that takes the form of a longing for harmony with nature, economic stability, or traditional families or communities. Instead, as Robin Mackay and Armen Avanessian state, they “insist that the only radical political response to capitalism is not to protest, disrupt, or critique, nor to await its demise at the hands of its own contradictions, but to accelerate its uprooting, alienating, decoding, abstractive tendencies.”
1. Robert Jackson:
"Accelerationism is a renewed humanism that seeks to re-master the world. As a “Right-Accelerationist” ... Land wants, accelerating reactionary aristocracy past democratic values (Land’s so-called Dark Enlightenment). As “Left-Accelerationists, Srnicek and Williams declare that only a radical “maximal mastery” of renewed Enlightenment values will secure victory over capital, in an age where modern infrastructure is constituted by complexity and systemic automation." (http://furtherfield.org/features/articles/ordinaryism-alternative-accelerationism-part-1-thanks-nothing)
"Prominent theorists include right-accelerationist Nick Land. The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (Ccru), an unofficial research unit at the University of Warwick from 1995–2003, of which Land was a member, is considered a key progenitor in both left- and right-accelerationist thought. Prominent contemporary left-accelerationists include Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, authors of the "Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics", and the Laboria Cuboniks collective, who authored the manifesto "Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation".
Along accelerationist lines, Paul Mason, in works such as PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future, has tried to speculate about futures after capitalism. He declares that "[a]s with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by postcapitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started." He considers that the rise of collaborative production will eventually help capitalism to kill itself." (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerationism )
By Robert Jackson:
"The doctrine of accelerationism is accelerating, as it should be (Twitter hashtags and all) making giant leaps in art and cultural theory circles. By no means does it signal anything concrete, (at least not yet) than it provokes the insistent beginnings of a modern political doctrine: one that joins up similar threads of interest across disparate thinkers and topics. Of late, it has enjoyed multiple discussions online, a recent symposium in Berlin, the sole topic for an e-flux journal on aesthetics, a forum held last year, and an expectant anthology from Urbanomic.
Coined by Benjamin Noys in The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory, the acceletrationist doctrine takes many forms, but by and large, its aim is to accelerate, conceive, invert and uproot capitalist infrastructures and abstractions using the abstract epistemic resources of capitalism itself. For Marx and Engels this required the dialectical development of capitalist contraction towards its ‘inevitable’ destruction. Deleuze and Guattari famously mused that the process of capital was to be accelerated, and in its darker, more heightened levels (most famously, the macabre futurist machinic practice of Nick Land), it meant pushing the social deterritorialising force of capitalism into its inevitable post-capitalist future.
In its early stages, accelerationism established a darker, more virulently techno-nihilistic strain of theoretical terror. Land was spellbound by the 90s demonic growth of neoliberalism: for it possessed, not just some freaky quality of being utterly impervious to any resistance of leftist critique, but the singular quality of accelerating unparalleled technological progress. Land’s future was a rumbling techno-capital singularity smuggling itself within collapsing human civilisations until the latter would eventually be creamed off. These views eventually drove Land out of academia but remained a curious alternative to other political responses: a darker alternative to fields of protest, against disruption, antonomist intervention, situationist détournement, hackitivism or a resuscitated dialectical antagonism.
Filtering out the hysteric reactionary stupor of Land’s thought, contemporary thinkers have begun to rethink accelerationism beyond the squalid drive of accelerating capitalist contradiction. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, who co-authored the widely circulated Accelerationist Manifesto, have clearly articulated this view, rejecting Land’s singularity but endorsing the use of capitalist quantification techniques, engineering, infrastructure, persuasive models, and advanced computational affordances to accelerate the modern left. Whereas leftist thought has sought to question, undermine or even reverse modernity, Srnicek and Williams suggest that radical thought must accelerate the mediums of capitalist production into a post capitalist future. They proudly assert that “if the political left is to have a future it must be one in which it maximally embraces this suppressed accelerationist tendency.”
Against what Srnicek and Williams term “folk politics” (the title for their forthcoming publication) - defined as “localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism” - an accelerationist politics preserves neoliberal infrastructure, but intends to push its affordances faster than neoliberalism would allow: in particular a basic universal income and the reduction of work (through automation). For them, folk politics has no big picture, nor any infrastructural plan beyond a ‘the party’ or a ‘horizontal network’: no method of effectivity or material advancement. In a separate article they condemn the conservative left for reducing themselves into “trafficking in the politics of fear, rather than the politics of freedom and the project for a more just society”.
Technology is to be used as method of “furthering leftist goals”, that is, building a material platform for a genuine post-capitalist societal framework. The emphasis is on accelerating modernity and progress, not accelerating contradictory speed (the latter evident in, say, high frequency trading), investing an understanding of post-capitalist infrastructure through new economic models and repurposed machinery. There is no wiggle-room here for Srnicek and Williams: either build a post-capitalist future or don’t. Either establish or experiment towards a broad ideological vision for accelerating the future or repeatedly fail. Failure, in their eyes, is not a thing of beauty, but a path towards an alternative future. Instead of leftist faith, Srnicek and Williams advocate alternative means of building an infrastructure of the future.
And there’s a lot here to agree for the most part. The left has instigated a lot of its own irrelevancy by ignoring or rejecting the often affective affordances of technology - rather than changing its use, or learning how to build a more just society. Yet, accelerationism’s major problem concerns itself with peddling a systematic theory to explain the practice of doing all the stuff the left failed to realise. What happens to the ordinary?")
By Andy Beckett:
"Half a century ago, in the great hippie year of 1967, an acclaimed young American science fiction writer, Roger Zelazny, published his third novel. In many ways, Lord of Light was of its time, shaggy with imported Hindu mythology and cosmic dialogue. Yet there were also glints of something more forward-looking and political. One plot strand concerned a group of revolutionaries who wanted to take their society “to a higher level” by suddenly transforming its attitude to technology. Zelazny called them the Accelerationists.
He and the book are largely forgotten now. But as the more enduring sci-fi novelist JG Ballard said in 1971, “what the writers of modern science fiction invent today, you and I will do tomorrow”.
" In some ways, Karl Marx was the first accelerationist. His Communist Manifesto of 1848 was as much awestruck as appalled by capitalism, with its “constant revolutionising of production” and “uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions”. He saw an ever more frantic capitalism as the essential prelude to the moment when the ordinary citizen “is at last compelled to face … his real conditions of life” and start a revolution.
Yet it was in France in the late 1960s that accelerationist ideas were first developed in a sustained way. Shaken by the failure of the leftwing revolt of 1968, and by the seemingly unending postwar economic boom in the west, some French Marxists decided that a new response to capitalism was needed. In 1972, the philosopher Gilles Deleuze and the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari published Anti-Oedipus. It was a restless, sprawling, appealingly ambiguous book, which suggested that, rather than simply oppose capitalism, the left should acknowledge its ability to liberate as well as oppress people, and should seek to strengthen these anarchic tendencies, “to go still further … in the movement of the market … to ‘accelerate the process’”.
Two years later, another disillusioned French Marxist, Jean-François Lyotard, extended the argument even more provocatively. His 1974 book Libidinal Economy declared that even the oppressive aspects of capitalism were “enjoyed” by those whose lives the system reordered and accelerated. And besides, there was no alternative: “The system of capital is, when all’s said and done, natural.”
In France, both books were controversial. Lyotard eventually disowned Libidinal Economy as his “evil book”, and moved on to other subjects. Deleuze and Guattari warned in their next book, A Thousand Plateaus, which was published in 1980 – as relatively benign postwar capitalism was being swept away by the wilder, harsher version of the Thatcher-Reagan era – that too much capitalist acceleration could suck society into “black holes” of fascism and nihilism.
Yet in Britain, Anti-Oedipus and Libidinal Economy acquired a different status. Like much of postwar French philosophy, for decades they were ignored by the academic mainstream, as too foreign in all senses, and were not even translated into English until 1983 and 1993 respectively. But, for a tiny number of British philosophers, the two books were a revelation. Iain Hamilton Grant first came across Libidinal Economy as a master’s student at Warwick in the early 90s. “I couldn’t believe it! For a book by a Marxist to say, ‘There’s no way out of this’, meaning capitalism, and that we are all tiny pieces of engineered desire, that slot into a huge system – that’s a first, as far as I know.” Grant “got hooked”. Instead of writing his dissertation, he spent an obsessive six months producing the first English translation.
Such exploratory philosophy projects were tolerated at Warwick in a way they were not at other British universities. Warwick had been founded in the 1960s as a university that would experiment and engage with the contemporary world. By the 1990s, its slightly isolated out-of-town campus of breeze-block towers and ziggurats looked worn rather than futuristic, but its original ethos lived on in some departments, such as philosophy, where studying avant-garde French writers was the norm. At the centre of this activity was a new young lecturer in the department, Nick Land.
Land was a slight, fragile-looking man with an iron gaze, a soft but compelling voice, and an air of startling intellectual confidence. “Lots of people are clever,” says Grant, “but I’ve never witnessed anyone who could so forensically destroy a thesis.” Robin Mackay, who also became one of Land’s students, remembers: “Nick was always ready to say, ‘Don’t bother reading that.’ But he had read it all!”
By the early 90s Land had distilled his reading, which included Deleuze and Guattari and Lyotard, into a set of ideas and a writing style that, to his students at least, were visionary and thrillingly dangerous. Land wrote in 1992 that capitalism had never been properly unleashed, but instead had always been held back by politics, “the last great sentimental indulgence of mankind”. He dismissed Europe as a sclerotic, increasingly marginal place, “the racial trash-can of Asia”. And he saw civilisation everywhere accelerating towards an apocalypse: “Disorder must increase... Any [human] organisation is ... a mere ... detour in the inexorable death-flow.”
Land gave strange, theatrical lectures: clambering over chairs as he spoke, or sitting hunched over, rocking back and forth. He also spiced his pronouncements with black humour. He would tell lecture audiences, “I work in the field of The Collapse of Western Civilisation Studies.” A quarter of a century on, some former Warwick philosophy students still talk about him with awe. Robin Mackay says, “I think he’s one of the most important philosophers of the last 50 years.”
But for a would-be guide to the future, Land was in some ways quite old-fashioned. Until the late 90s, he used an ancient green-screen Amstrad computer, and his initial Warwick writings contained far more references to 18th- and 19th-century philosophers – Friedrich Nietzsche was a fixation – than to contemporary thinkers or culture. The Warwick version of accelerationism did not crystallise fully until other radicals arrived in the philosophy department in the mid-90s.
Sadie Plant was one of them: a former Birmingham University lecturer in cultural studies, the study of modern popular culture. Mark Fisher, a former student of hers at Birmingham, was another incomer. He was jumpy and intense, while she was warm and approachable. For a time in the early 90s, she and Land were partners.
Like Land, Plant and Fisher had both read the French accelerationists and were increasingly hostile to the hold they felt traditional leftwing and liberal ideas had on British humanities departments, and on the world beyond. Unlike Land, Plant and Fisher were technophiles: she had an early Apple computer, he was an early mobile phone user. “Computers ... pursue accelerating, exponential paths, proliferating, miniaturising, stringing themselves together,” wrote Plant in Zeroes and Ones, a caffeinated 1997 book about the development of computing. Plant and Fisher were also committed fans of the 90s’ increasingly kinetic dance music and action films, which they saw as popular art forms that embodied the possibilities of the new digital era.
With the internet becoming part of everyday life for the first time, and capitalism seemingly triumphant after the collapse of communism in 1989, a belief that the future would be almost entirely shaped by computers and globalisation – the accelerated “movement of the market” that Deleuze and Guattari had called for two decades earlier – spread across British and American academia and politics during the 90s. The Warwick accelerationists were in the vanguard.
Yet there were two different visions of the future. In the US, confident, rainbow-coloured magazines such as Wired promoted what became known as “the Californian ideology”: the optimistic claim that human potential would be unlocked everywhere by digital technology. In Britain, this optimism influenced New Labour. At Warwick, however, the prophecies were darker. “One of our motives,” says Plant, “was precisely to undermine the cheery utopianism of the 90s, much of which seemed very conservative” – an old-fashioned male desire for salvation through gadgets, in her view. “We wanted a more open, convoluted, complicated world, not a shiny new order.”
The Warwick accelerationists were also influenced by their environment. “Britain in the 90s felt cramped, grey, dilapidated,” says Mackay, “We saw capitalism and technology as these intense forces that were trying to take over a decrepit body.” To observe the process, and help hasten it, in 1995 Plant, Fisher, Land, Mackay and two dozen other Warwick students and academics created a radical new institution: the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU). It would become one of the most mythologised groups in recent British intellectual history.
The CCRU existed as a fully functional entity for less than five years. For some of that time, it was based in a single office in the tight corridors of the Warwick philosophy department, of which it was an unofficial part. Later, the unit’s headquarters was a rented room in the Georgian town centre of nearby Leamington Spa, above a branch of the Body Shop.
For decades, tantalising references to the CCRU have flitted across political and cultural websites, music and art journals, and the more cerebral parts of the style press. “There are groups of students in their 20s who re-enact our practices,” says Robin Mackay. Since 2007, he has run a respected philosophy publishing house, Urbanomic, with limited editions of old CCRU publications and new collections of CCRU writings prominent among its products.
The CCRU was image-conscious from the start. Its name was deliberately hard-edged, with a hint of the military or the robotic, especially once its members began writing and referring to themselves collectively, without a definite article, as “Ccru”. In 1999, it summarised its history to the sympathetic music journalist Simon Reynolds in the terse, disembodied style that was a trademark: “Ccru ... triggers itself from October 1995, when it uses Sadie Plant as a screen and Warwick University as a temporary habitat ... Ccru feeds on graduate students + malfunctioning academic (Nick Land) + independent researchers ...”
Former CCRU members still use its language, and are fiercely attached to the idea that it became a kind of group mind. Land told me in an email: “Ccru was an entity ... irreducible to the agendas, or biographies, of its component sub-agencies ... Utter submission to The Entity was key.”
These days, Iain Hamilton Grant is an affable, middle-aged professor who wears a waistcoat with a pen in the top pocket. Yet when I asked him to describe the CCRU, he said with sudden intensity: “We made up an arrow! There was almost no disharmony. There was no leisure. We tried not to be apart from each other. No one dared let the side down. When everyone is keeping up with everyone else, the collective element increased is speed.”
The CCRU gang formed reading groups and set up conferences and journals. They squeezed into the narrow CCRU room in the philosophy department and gave each other impromptu seminars. Mackay remembers Steve Goodman, a CCRU member who was particularly interested in military technology and how it was transforming civilian life, “drawing yin and yang on the blackboard, and then talking about helicopters. It wasn’t academic point-scoring – that was exactly what we had all got heartily sick of before the CCRU. Instead it was a build-up of shared references.”
Grant explained: “Something would be introduced into the group. Neuromancer [William Gibson’s 1984 novel about the internet and artificial intelligence] got into the philosophy department, and it went viral. You’d find worn-out paperbacks all over the common room.”
Land and Plant’s offices in the department also became CCRU hubs. “They were generous with their time,” said Grant, “And he had good drugs – skunk [cannabis]. Although it could be grim going in there, once he started living in his office. There would be a tower of Pot Noodles and underwear drying on the radiator, which he had washed in the staff loos.”
The Warwick campus stayed open late. When the philosophy department shut for the night, the CCRU decamped to the student union bar across the road, where Land would pay for all the drinks, and then to each other’s houses, where the group mind would continue its labours. “It was like Andy Warhol’s Factory,” said Grant. “Work and production all the time.”
In 1996, the CCRU listed its interests as “cinema, complexity, currencies, dance music, e-cash, encryption, feminism, fiction, images, inorganic life, jungle, markets, matrices, microbiotics, multimedia, networks, numbers, perception, replication, sex, simulation, sound, telecommunications, textiles, texts, trade, video, virtuality, war”. Today, many of these topics are mainstream media and political fixations. Two decades ago, says Grant, “We felt we were the only people on the planet who were taking all this stuff seriously.” The CCRU’s aim was to meld their preoccupations into a groundbreaking, infinitely flexible intellectual alloy – like the shape-shifting cyborg in the 1991 film Terminator 2, a favourite reference point – which would somehow sum up both the present and the future.
The main result of the CCRU’s frantic, promiscuous research was a conveyor belt of cryptic articles, crammed with invented terms, sometimes speculative to the point of being fiction. A typical piece from 1996, “Swarmachines”, included a section on jungle, then the most intense strain of electronic dance music: “Jungle functions as a particle accelerator, seismic bass frequencies engineering a cellular drone which immerses the body ... rewinds and reloads conventional time into silicon blips of speed ... It’s not just music. Jungle is the abstract diagram of planetary inhuman becoming.”
The Warwick accelerationists saw themselves as participants, not traditional academic observers. They bought jungle records, went to clubs and organised DJs to play at eclectic public conferences, which they held at the university to publicise accelerationist ideas and attract like minds. Grant remembers these gatherings, staged in 1994, 1995 and 1996 under the name Virtual Futures, as attracting “every kind of nerd under the sun: science fiction fans, natural scientists, political scientists, philosophers from other universities”, but also cultural trend-spotters: “Someone from [the fashion magazine] the Face came to the first one.”
Like CCRU prose, the conferences could be challenging for non-initiates. Virtual Futures 96 was advertised as “an anti-disciplinary event” and “a conference in the post-humanities”. One session involved Nick Land “lying on the ground, croaking into a mic”, recalls Robin Mackay, while Mackay played jungle records in the background. “Some people were really appalled by it. They wanted a standard talk. One person in the audience stood up, and said, ‘Some of us are still Marxists, you know.’ And walked out.”
Even inside the permissive Warwick philosophy department, the CCRU’s ever more blatant disdain for standard academic practice became an issue. Ray Brassier watched it happen. Now an internationally known philosopher at the American University in Beirut, between 1995 and 2001 he was a part-time mature student at Warwick.
“I was interested in the CCRU, but sceptical,” Brassier says. “I was a bit older than most of them. The CCRU felt they were plunging into something bigger than academia, and they did put their finger on a lot of things that had started to happen in the world. But their work was also frustrating. They would cheerfully acknowledge the thinness of their research: ‘It’s not about knowledge.’ Yet if thinking is just connecting things, of course it’s exciting, like taking amphetamines. But thinking is also about disconnecting things.”
Brassier says that the CCRU became a “very divisive” presence in the philosophy department. “Most of the department really hated and despised Nick – and that hatred extended to his students.” There were increasingly blunt bureaucratic disputes about the CCRU’s research, and how, if at all, it should be externally regulated and assessed. In 1997, Plant resigned from the university. “The charged personal, political and philosophical dynamics of the CCRU were irresistible to many, but I felt stifled and had to get out,” she told me. She became a full-time writer, and for a few years was the British media’s favourite digital academic, an “IT girl for the 21st century”, as the Independent breathlessly billed her in October 1997.
In 1998, Land resigned from Warwick too. He and half a dozen CCRU members withdrew to the room above the Leamington Spa Body Shop. There they drifted from accelerationism into a vortex of more old-fashioned esoteric ideas, drawn from the occult, numerology, the fathomless novels of the American horror writer HP Lovecraft, and the life of the English mystic Aleister Crowley, who had been born in Leamington, in a cavernous terraced house which several CCRU members moved into.
“The CCRU became quasi-cultish, quasi-religious,” says Mackay. “I left before it descended into sheer madness.” Two of the unit’s key texts had always been the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness and its film adaptation, Apocalypse Now, which made collecting followers and withdrawing from the world and from conventional sanity seem lethally glamorous. In their top-floor room, Land and his students drew occult diagrams on the walls. Grant says a “punishing regime” of too much thinking and drinking drove several members into mental and physical crises. Land himself, after what he later described as “perhaps a year of fanatical abuse” of “the sacred substance amphetamine”, and “prolonged artificial insomnia ... devoted to futile ‘writing’ practices”, suffered a breakdown in the early 2000s, and disappeared from public view.
“The CCRU just vanished,” says Brassier. “And a lot of people – not including me – thought, ‘Good riddance.’”
Half a dozen years later, at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, a mild-mannered political science master’s student, Nick Srnicek, began reading a British blog about pop culture and politics called k-punk. K-punk had been going since 2003, and had acquired a cult following among academics and music critics for its unselfconscious roaming from records and TV shows to recent British history and French philosophy.
K-punk was written by Mark Fisher, formerly of the CCRU. The blog retained some Warwick traits, such as quoting reverently from Deleuze and Guattari, but it gradually shed the CCRU’s aggressive rhetoric and pro-capitalist politics for a more forgiving, more left-leaning take on modernity. Fisher increasingly felt that capitalism was a disappointment to accelerationists, with its cautious, entrenched corporations and endless cycles of essentially the same products. But he was also impatient with the left, which he thought was ignoring new technology when it should have been exploiting it. Srnicek agreed. He and Fisher became friends.
The 2008 financial crisis, and the left’s ineffectual, rather old-fashioned response to it – such as the short-lived street protests of the Occupy movement – further convinced Srnicek that an updated radical politics was needed. In 2013, he and a young British political theorist, Alex Williams, co-wrote a Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics. “Capitalism has begun to constrain the productive forces of technology,” they wrote. “[Our version of] accelerationism is the basic belief that these capacities can and should be let loose … repurposed towards common ends … towards an alternative modernity.”
What that “alternative modernity” might be was barely, but seductively, sketched out, with fleeting references to reduced working hours, to technology being used to reduce social conflict rather than exacerbate it, and to humanity moving “beyond the limitations of the earth and our own immediate bodily forms”. On politics and philosophy blogs from Britain to the US and Italy, the notion spread that Srnicek and Williams had founded a new political philosophy: “left accelerationism”.
Two years later, in 2015, they expanded the manifesto into a slightly more concrete book, Inventing the Future. It argued for an economy based as far as possible on automation, with the jobs, working hours and wages lost replaced by a universal basic income. The book attracted more attention than a speculative leftwing work had for years, with interest and praise from intellectually curious leftists such as the Labour MP Jon Cruddas and the authors Paul Mason and Mike Davis.
Yet the actual word accelerationism did not appear in the book. “We’ve given up on the term now,” Srnicek told me. “It’s been too popularised. And we don’t just want everything to go faster, anyway. Arguing for a shorter working week is arguing for people’s lives to slow down.”
The 2013 manifesto had mentioned Land’s earlier version of accelerationism in passing, describing it as “acute” and “hypnotising”, but also “myopic” and “confused”. When Srnicek and I met – appropriately, he chose a futuristic public space: a cafe in the angular new extension to Tate Modern – I asked how he regarded Land and the CCRU’s work now. “Land’s stuff is a valid reading of Deleuze and Guattari,” he began politely. “But the inhumanism of it all ... And I’m not sure if returning to the CCRU’s texts is that interesting – all that word-play … Using the word ‘cyber’ seems very 90s.”
I asked Land what he thought of left accelerationism. “The notion that self-propelling technology is separable from capitalism,” he said, “is a deep theoretical error.”
After his breakdown, Land left Britain. He moved to Taiwan “early in the new millennium”, he told me, then to Shanghai “a couple of years later”. He still lives there now. “Life as an outsider was a relief.” China was also thrilling. In a 2004 article for the Shanghai Star, an English-language paper, he described the modern Chinese fusion of Marxism and capitalism as “the greatest political engine of social and economic development the world has ever known”. At Warwick, he and the CCRU had often written excitedly, but with little actual detail, about what they called “neo-China”. Once he lived there, Land told me, he realised that “to a massive degree” China was already an accelerationist society: fixated by the future and changing at speed. Presented with the sweeping projects of the Chinese state, his previous, libertarian contempt for the capabilities of governments fell away.
Back in less revolutionary Britain, Land’s Chinese journalism, a strange amalgam of pro-government propaganda, PR hyperbole, and wild CCRU imagery – “At World Expo 2010 Shanghai … parallel tracks melt together, into the largest discrete event in world history” – went either unnoticed or pointedly ignored during the 2000s and early 2010s. Among the steadily rising number of people with an interest in accelerationism, there was a feeling that Land had taken the philosophy in inappropriate directions.
Other members of the Warwick diaspora made less controversial accommodations with the modern world. Suzanne Livingston, a former CCRU member, joined the international branding agency Wolff Olins, and used PhD work she had done at Warwick on robotics and artificial intelligence to help technology corporations such as Sony and Ericsson. Steve Goodman set up the electronic music label Hyperdub in 2004, and began releasing skeletal, ominous dubstep records, by the lauded south London artist Burial among others, sometimes with accelerationist messages deep within. “It’s like an onion,” he says. “Our audience are welcome to peel off as many layers as they want – some will make their eyes water, so we don’t force feed.”
Between 2002 and 2014, Goodman also lectured in music culture at the University of East London (UEL), which, along with Goldsmiths College in south London, is a frequent employer of former CCRU members. “The Warwick lot are still a group of friends, devoted and loyal to each other,” says a former UEL colleague of Goodman’s. “That’s the good way of putting it. The other way is to say that the CCRU cult thing never stopped.”
Whether British accelerationism is a cult or not, Robin Mackay is at the centre of it. Besides publishing its key texts through Urbanomic, he has kept in touch with most of his former Warwick comrades, even Land, who he has known, and often defended, for 25 years. But Mackay is a less unsettling presence. Forty-three now, he has lived for a decade in a plain village in inland Cornwall. He met me at the nearest station, wearing a severe black shirt and playing complicated techno on his car stereo, with one of his children in the back.
In the living room of his half-renovated cottage, blinds down against the lovely spring day, Mackay talked about accelerationism and its serpentine history for hours, smoking throughout – an old CCRU habit – and blinking slowly between his long sentences, so deliberately and regularly you could see him thinking. Near the end, he said: “Accelerationism is a machine for countering pessimism. In considering untapped possibilities, you can feel less gloomy about the present.” Mackay said he had experienced periods of depression. His close friend, Mark Fisher, who also had depression, took his own life this January.
Towards the end of his life, Fisher was increasingly preoccupied by the idea that Britain was not heading towards some great leap forward, but stasis. For all the freneticism of modern life, in some ways even the most developed countries still live in the opposite of accelerated times: the same parties seemingly perpetually in power; the same sluggish capitalism, still struggling for momentum a decade after the financial crisis; the same yearnings for the good old days, expressed by elderly Brexit voters and nostalgic leftists alike.
Even the thinking of the arch-accelerationist Nick Land, who is 55 now, may be slowing down. Since 2013, he has become a guru for the US-based far-right movement neoreaction, or NRx as it often calls itself. Neoreactionaries believe in the replacement of modern nation-states, democracy and government bureaucracies by authoritarian city states, which on neoreaction blogs sound as much like idealised medieval kingdoms as they do modern enclaves such as Singapore.
In 2013, Land wrote a long online essay about the movement, titled with typical theatricality “The Dark Enlightenment”, which has become widely seen as one of neoreraction’s founding documents. Land argues now that neoreaction, like Trump and Brexit, is something that accelerationists should support, in order to hasten the end of the status quo. Yet the analyst of accelerationism Ray Brassier is unconvinced: “Nick Land has gone from arguing ‘Politics is dead’, 20 years ago, to this completely old-fashioned, standard reactionary stuff.” Neoreaction has a faith in technology and a following in Silicon Valley, but in other ways it seems a backward-looking cause for accelerationists to ally themselves with.
Without a dynamic capitalism to feed off, as Deleuze and Guattari had in the early 70s, and the Warwick philosophers had in the 90s, it may be that accelerationism just races up blind alleys. In his 2014 book about the movement, Malign Velocities, Benjamin Noys accuses it of offering “false” solutions to current technological and economic dilemmas. With accelerationism, he writes, a breakthrough to a better future is “always promised and always just out of reach”."
"What gives the Left accelerationists an injection of substance is not merely repeating Marxist demands that capitalism is an unjust, unequal system which promotes corpulent wealth, but that it primarily holds back the progressive and explanatory capacities of inhuman reasoning and technological progress (or at least that Voice, under this view, can only ever be the immediate starting point for an inhuman ascension).
Simply put, Left-accelerationism recognises both the lack of freedom and rationality and seeks to restore both in a more contemporary guise: the normative aim of constructing political freedom in ever greater inhuman measures. Thus the additional impulsion of Srnicek and Williams’ project stresses that the only method of overcoming capitalism is to self-master our epistemological knowledge of it , in order to apply methods that structure leverage towards rational self-determination. Here one almost tastes the accelerationist contempt for Leftist skepticism, and all of its appeals to doubt that have become complicit in contemporary forms of political action undermining progressive futurist thought. Skepticism for them, only bestows reason with a staggering lack of imagination and of lives that entirely accept the limits of neo-liberal stupor wrought by epistemic immediacy and affirmationist philosophies (distancing itself from the vitalist aspects of Deleuze and Guattari plays a key developmental role here).
The philosophical appeal toward a universal rationalist epistemology supports accelerationism’s desire to reengage with the Enlightenment project, where freedom becomes the binding of oneself to a universal rational rule (that must include and surpass capitalist and economic development) together with an adherence to that rule. More importantly the universalisation required must be a movement of Promethean ascension which promotes, as Williams puts it alongside Srnicek in an interview with Mohammed Salemy: “the idea that through our knowledge of the world and through political struggle, too, we can open new ways of being free that were unavailable to us before.” Inhuman Exit is rescued from the libertarian darkness of the NR-x hand, and into the clutches of unending rigorous collective reasoning. Inhuman freedom is repurposed away from compulsive slavery of alien market forces, to an alien rationality of a free rational subject that might exit from capital. The only alien demand is an inhuman demand to self-master our own possibilities towards rejecting capitalism (towards a post-capitalist future)."
Left vs Right Accelerationism
"Despite its rejection of the standard left- and right-wing political nostrums, accelerationism has divided into left and right factions. For the left flank, “[a]ccelerationism seeks to side with the emancipatory dynamic that broke the chains of feudalism and ushered in the constantly ramifying range of practical possibilities characteristic of modernity” (Mackay and Avanessian 4). The authors of the 2013 “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics” align themselves with a “Promethean politics of maximal mastery over society and its environment,” and assert that “technological development is being suppressed by capitalism.” Accordingly, “[a]ccelerationism is the basic belief that these capacities can and should be let loose by moving beyond the limitations imposed by capitalist society” (Mackay and Avanessian 360-1). Conversely, according to the premier right accelerationist, the philosopher Nick Land, the left-accelerationist project depends on “a wholly artificial distinction between capitalism and modernistic technological acceleration” (“Quick and Dirty Guide”). Against this distinction, Land asserts that “[c]apital . . . is nothing beside the abstract accelerative social factor . . . [A]nything able to consistently feed socio-historical acceleration will necessarily, or by essence, be capital.” It follows that “[a]ccelerationism is simply the self-awareness of capitalism.” Accelerationists of the right and the left both align their political visions with the maximal development of technological capacity. However, they disagree on whether the purpose of this development is the transcendence of the capitalist order or its realization."
Accelerationism as a new enlightenment
"Accelerationism then, is not just a new doctrine for the left whom have failed to reignite the dream for a better future, endlessly squabbling over moralistic games of trumpery, but a renewed praxis (and only that) of enlightened self-knowledge. Accelerationism is a renewed humanism that seeks to re-master the world. As a “Right-Accelerationist” this is as much as Land wants, accelerating reactionary aristocracy past democratic values (Land’s so-called Dark Enlightenment). As “Left-Accelerationists, Srnicek and Williams declare that only a radical “maximal mastery” of renewed Enlightenment values will secure victory over capital, in an age where modern infrastructure is constituted by complexity and systemic automation.
“This mastery must be distinguished from that beloved of thinkers of the original Enlightenment. […] 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.”
In this guise (as well as Land's), accelerationism resumes the Enlightenment’s dictum of ‘dare to know’ - to pursue moral knowledge under the name of rational universalism, to which the ‘daring’ or ‘cunning’ part isn’t limited to empirically tracking or modelling post-capital infrastructures, nor of resuscitating the modern ethos (quite why Enlightenment thinkers are assumed to be beloved isn’t addressed, but hey ho). Instead, their task consists in expanding human rationality beyond its current epistemic state and limit, to test the critical faculties of human knowledge, and extend them without apologising, without any dint of skepticism. That it really could demonstrate the “best means” of acting in a post-industrial society. It aims to accelerate the human mastery of the concepts as well as the technical infrastructures to which it cohabits. The human ‘we’ must be self-constructed, such that - in their words - we “collectively come to grasp our world such that we might change it.”
Such a grasping or understanding wants to, at the bottom of everything, reduce or eliminate the ordinary. Thus capitalist infrastructure isn’t just an infrastructure but also a manifest limit of what it means to be familiar in a community: within that it must be universally unified into a rational community of self-knowledge. It is our concepts and rational freedom, our everyday experience which is to be extended, sustained, accelerated, even beyond the pale vagaries of our solar system. The ordinary is inherently set to be eliminated in accelerationism: and this becomes a problem."
Michel Bauwens, Chiang Mai, January 10, 2016
Regarding the book:
- Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. Verso, 2015
I must confess, I have not read the book yet, but I am familiar with various ‘accelerationist’ manifestos, with reviews and discussions on the book, etc .. There is probably not a single book that has been recommended to me so many times by p2p friends, usually in the context of the book that has to be read in conjunction with Paul Mason’s PostCapitalism, which I am in the process of reading, and appreciating.
Is believe though that it is fair to say that the authors criticise the dominant ‘left’ on two points
- that the left has become localist , and that his is wrong
- that the left has become negative in its vision of the future, and must positively re-embrace technology and its emancipatory potential
It proposes that two demands should become a priority for change agents: full automation and the universal basic income.
Here then is my commentary on how I believe the p2p/commons movement should position themselves regarding ‘accelerationism’.
First of all, though we do share the critique of localism, it is perhaps not from the same perspective.
it is very important, in a conjuncture of global and national ‘blockage’, that local re-organizing of life and livelihoods take place. It is very necessary to re-organize the supply chains of the basic stuffs needed for life, even as we no that we will never be able to do it ‘just locally’. It is in other words, necessary but not sufficient. What is also necessary, and vital, is to combine the local with the global, not just naturally, because the local is now in any case ‘glocal’, through the networks, but consciously. It is important to organize knowledge, even as it is locally embodied, in global and open productive communities which can share knowledge, expertise and experience. It is just as important to create global phyles, i.e. ethical livelihood organisations that are organized our commons and create power and scale for the alternatives. And it is just as necessary to connect his with social and political movements that are able to scale to any level of governance. In other words, it is entirely counter-productive to see localism and localists as misguided or even as enemies. On the contrary, they are taking the first important steps in a reorganizing of our mode of production.
A second important remark is about the role of technology and automation. In my opinion, most of the debates are very misguided. Of course, it is useless to deny that there is a new push towards automation, especially as it targets the more routine aspects of knowledge and service work, and risks displacing millions of people. But that has happened before and each time, a new economic wave replaced the old one creating new jobs in new sectors. And the reason is simple, automation does not just destroy, it liberates human energy and resources to do entirely different things. Hence the problem is never just automation, but the economic structure in which this automation is embedded. And under neoliberal capitalism, the gains are not re-invested in any new productive economy. The problem therefore is the economic system and the prevailing social contract, not the ongoing automation. But does that mean that we should just embrace automation. This seems to me a very dubious proposition. Technology and technological systems are areas of contention and conflict, and serve material interests. In my opinion, the shift towards sustainable and organic agriculture, which is absolutely vital to feed the world population (it is more productive that extractive industrial agriculture), and is also vital for soil restoration , carbon sequestration and hence reversing climate change. It is highly doubtful that such a transformation requires anything as simplistic as full automation. It does require automation, if that is what farmers desire, that is entirely subsumed to the goals of the organic farmer. What they need is ‘appropriate technology’, with human participation in its design and deployment. So the ‘p2p’ approach is one that combines technological development by open productive communities who share their knowledge, freely appropriate by local communities and entities which embody these technologies in their context. refusing them if necessary. I am far from certain that in truly democratic societies, there will be the same push for full automation than under contemporary capitalism, where it is motivated by the desire to obtain more productivity for gain. Can the dream of the commoners, really be the same as the dream of capital, which is to free itself from labor entirely ? In peer production, where work is driven by intrinsic motivation and passion, work may precisely not be seen as a drudgery to be liberated from.
Finally, we must briefly discuss the basic income. I am in favour of the basic income, but also see grave difficulties. First, there is the danger of considering it as a magic mantra, that will solve everything, while concretely, we do not have and it may be unlikely to achieve it. Secondly, the basic income leaves untouched the remaining logic of the commercial and extractive economy, but precisely because it takes away labor as a commodity, it may be unpalatable as a reform measure. Let us not be misled by the current basic income experiments slated in the Netherlands and Finland, which appear first and foremost as projects to eliminate the welfare state. 800 Euro does not even cover rental needs in a country like Finland.
What is seems to be in the end, is that the combined demand for full automation and the basic income, functions as an utopia, and while utopias are very useful to free the mind and the desires and show possibilities, they are also dangerous. They appear to be a political program to unite a variety of forces, who win power and then, afterwards, can start changing things. But what if we do not gain power this way ?
At the P2P Foundation, we see that a bit differently. The first task is to create prefigurative livelihoods which actually embody different post-capitalist logics, and to build social and political forces around this concrete transformative change. The Commons Transition Plan outlines some of the proposals we see emerging for a transition program for future political majorities. This is something that Paul Mason, who does not follow the emergence of these productive communities and their ethical entrepreneurial coalitions as closely as we do, nevertheless clearly sees in his book.
Readers of Inventing the Future are welcome to tell us what part of peer to peer dynamics and commons development are part of their story. And of course, I promise to read the book soon-ish and not to have misinterpreted too many things in this critique.
It is of course not a question to seek to place ourselves in opposition to Accelerationism, but simply to clarify some of the differences in the underlying approach. Technology obviously plays a big role in our approach. We believe that the technological basis of commons-based peer production, the capacity to share knowledge universally and globally, to create a knowledge-intensive mode of production with the knowledge embodied in the machines (as the designs are in 3D printing), around global platforms for sustainable living and production, will be a key to a free, fair and sustainable world. In that sense to productively marry technological possibilities with new forms of social and productive organisation, we may well be aligned with the accelerationists."
A critique by the Telekommunisten
"The bold demands on the cover of Inventing the Future by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams generated much popular discussion on the Left. Sadly, none of these demands will serve to provide better auspices for the great majority of humanity. These demands are worthy of attention because of the apparent sincerity with which they are declared, not because they are ambitious, but because they are not nearly ambitious enough.
- Demand full automation:
As long as the automation is monopolized by capital it will first and foremost serve to precaritize and exploit labourers and their class.
Capitalism will not automate itself out of existence. It will not eliminate the workforce, and it will not even try. What it will do is create a deskilled workforce, ever more dependent on capital for the ability to produce, and create a divided workforce, that does not share a common proletarian consciousness, thus diffusing its class power. And, for when and where discontent does bubble up, it will automate the deadly force required to repress uprisings. The brutal Enforcement Droid is much more viable than the pleasant robot servant.
- Demand Universal Basic Income: This is a neo-liberal ruse to side-track more fundamental demands for socially provisioned basic needs, such as health care, housing, and education.
UBI is increasingly advocated by the Silicon Valley elite precisely because it enables more of the neoliberal withdrawal of state provisioning of social necessities. If you ‘choose’ to spend your UBI on fast food and gambling and then end up unable to pay your rent, have a pension, or have health care, its your problem, because there are no more social services to provide for you. UBI will have made it politically tenable to do away with them.
- Demand the Future:
The Future can only ever emerge from the present. Left concern for the Future requires the thoroughest concern with the conditions of the vast majority of humanity on earth right now. When Full Automation is advocated with only a vague reckoning of the destruction automation has historically wrought for humanity up to this day, S&W are clearly not with us here today on the ground but off in high concept.
The left imagination, it is claimed, has been invigorated by S&W’s provocations. Such vigor would be well channeled then towards elaborating practices and politics which can fundamentally improve the lot of the great majority of people on the earth right now. Part of this will require us to look soberly at the kinds of technologies we are told are inevitable and evaluate their applicability towards the general emancipation we demand." (http://telekommunisten.net/2016/04/01/inventing-the-present/)
Why Left Accelerationism makes no sense
1. Park Macdougald:
" for all the good intentions of the Left-Accels, Land’s “right” version of Accelerationism is the only authentic and logically consistent form of Accelerationism, as well as the only one that helps us understand anything about the dynamics of capitalism. For Landian Accelerationism, capitalism is a machinic, ‘techonomic’ (technological-economic) explosion, whose self-reinforcing, self-excitatory mechanism is best modelled as a runaway cybernetic feedback loop (it should be said that if you’re a cyberneticist, everything is best modelled as a feedback loop). This just means that the immanent dynamics of capital push necessarily towards the ever-greater expansion of capital – Marx’s M-C-M’ circuit is cybernetic runaway par excellence – and immanent within that expansion is a necessary co-dependence of technological and economic advance, including ever-increasing powers of abstraction and computation. As ‘capital’ expands in both space and time (imperialism, futures’ markets), the market, understood in its Misesian sense as catallactic, itself becomes a sort of distributed computer for the calculation of prices, spontaneously generating collective intelligence far in excess of what humans are consciously capable of mastering. Thus, the market an sich is a form of ‘artificial superintelligence’ long before the computer is even invented. This is, in part, what Land means by the “teleological identity of capitalism and artificial intelligence.”
There is a certain perversity inherent in this runaway which animates Marx and much subsequent critique of capitalism: exchange is ‘supposed’ to serve human ends by allowing us to trade useful items, yet capitalism makes exchange an end in itself, to which humans are then subjected; the abstraction makes itself real, supplanting the ‘real thing’ itself. As a beneficial side-effect, we’ve gotten richer, and our science, medicine, and diet have advanced to the point that we’re smarter, healthier, and live longer, but we are no longer masters of our own destiny in any meaningful sense (whether we ever where is another question altogether). This critique of capital in the name of human self-control tends to split into (at least) two political tendencies: the ‘machine-breakers,’ who want to simply abort capitalism/industrial society for some previous social arrangement (this can be a form either of nostalgist leftism or conservatism), and the futurists, such as orthodox Marxists and the Left-Accelerationists, who think that we can overcome (sublate/aufheben) alienated industrial society and build a non-alienated utopia that nonetheless retains the myriad benefits of industrial society.
Machine-breaking might be a viable, though dangerous political program. The left-futurism is, in my view, a delusion, that can itself only end in another form of machine-breaking. For Land, as for Marx, as for Weber, the entire point of capitalism is that it is not amenable to human aims. ‘Capital’ is in a sense an abstraction, as there is no such thing existing in the world, and Marxists are quick to point out that capitalism, as a mode of production, is a totality of social relations between humans that nevertheless imposes itself upon us as if it were a real thing – it is ‘reified,’ it is, a ‘social construct.’ Yet it is not any less real for being a construct, and its constructedness does not imply an ability to de- or re-construct it in accordance with our intentions. A sandcastle is a social construct, but there are ways you can build them, and ways you can’t, no matter how much solidarity you are able to mobilize on behalf of better sandcastles.
The capitalist, though himself a human, in order to exist as capitalist must act in accordance with the laws imposed by the logic of the system (i.e. the profit motive). These laws according to which he acts, however, are not the ‘laws’ of e.g. a central bureaucratic state, but the emergent properties of a vastly complex and decentralized system of interactions, whose outward manifestations (like ‘prices’) are the products of distributed calculations that exceed any single agent or group of agents’ capacity to calculate. This is why central planning doesn’t work – elite financiers hardly understand the market, and it would be absurd to expect a government agency to do so. While the conditions, or parameters, for these interactions are not ‘given’ – one can certainly destroy an institutional structure, or design it poorly enough that it ceases to support market mechanisms – that is not the same thing as saying that you can tweak the parameters to make them give you any desired outcome. And as we see with things like Bitcoin and shadow-banking, localized efforts to (re-)direct capital towards consciously-chosen human aims are simply obstacles that Capital routes around. To stop this you would need something like a Hegelian world-state, but even then, its unclear how you dodge the calculation problems.
The intractability of capitalism is something that Marx understood, and was accordingly derisive of voluntaristic attempts to reform the system. However, within the orthodox Marxist schema, the labor theory of value (LTV) provided a built-in theoretical escape hatch from capitalism in the form of the revolutionary proletarian subject. Both Landian Accelerationism and orthodox Marxism acknowledge that the technological drive of the capitalism leads towards the increasing superfluousness of human labor to economic production. Within the LTV frame, however, as living human labor is the ultimate source of all value, the abolition of human labor from the productive process is ultimately the abolition of the law of value itself: a work free, high-tech Eden, the end of mankind’s prehistory, communism. Yet absent the LTV – which has grown increasingly difficult to maintain in the 20th and 21st centuries, and which Left Accelerationism makes no serious attempt to defend – the entire schema falls apart. " (https://pmacdougald.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/accelerationism-left-and-right/)
2. Mat Dryhurst on why it can be useful anyway:
" It is also clear that the game has shifted in accordance with the neoliberal hegemony you describe, but we cannot wince at that, as it is too crucial.
It’s one of the things, I think, that excites us most about the group of characters you could crudely describe as the left accelerationists—this idea of surveying emerging relations and shifting modes of power and attempting to modulate our activities to antagonize or exploit those new channels. We are obsessed with YouTube stars, not always for the quality of the work being made, but for how distant the rules of engagement are with anything that has existed previously in an arts context. I see most contemporary artists now as simply curators of phenomena that they have witnessed existing in the real cultural battlefield—snippets of something happening in Eastern Europe, a font from here, a reference to an obscure YouTube trend from kids with cell phones in Chicago. This is an indeterminate, prostrate state—one that normally ends in a conclusion of “IDK WTF to do. There is just too much, but this looks nice.”
The challenge is to not simply observe this world from the outside, and congratulate ourselves for the conversations we follow, but to participate within that culture and exercise some of the ideas and models we believe in within an arena that has legitimate impact. This is really hard, but ought to be the goal. The great opportunity, as you described, is that this new environment is pretty open to things that traditionally may have been marginalized—Metahaven and others have talked about how comedy, for example, won the web.4—and in a sense this new landscape favors sharp minds with the ability to produce work quickly and pointedly—which is why I find Ben Singleton’s works on Metis5 and the introduction of Francois Jullien’s Treatise on Efficacy6 to be so essential. It’s also part of the motivation behind my Saga project,7 which prioritizes time and context specific expression (a comedic trait) and also the need for us to begin to start dealing with the new era of personalization that has been ushered in by a web driven by advertising and the desire to target us as individuals."
The Accelerationist Manifesto
Excerpted from Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek:
"If the political left is to have a future it must be one in which it maximally embraces this suppressed accelerationist tendency.
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 régime 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."
"It points to a historical process by which capital as a whole becomes increasingly circulatory. Production, marketing and financialization become increasingly tightly integrated; ever larger ratios of waged labour are devoted to logistical, marketing and financial (i.e. “circulation1”) rather than production activities; the “annihilation of space by time” (Marx 1973, 539), the mission of the circulation1, is intensified by production operations at the scale of the world market and the whole ensemble is increasingly governed by the logics of velocity.
The oscillating semantics of circulation this point to the accelerationist tendencies of capital. Acceleration, in both its left and right variants, is often thought as a rocket-like ascension of technological powers, blasting towards some fatal or utopian destination. That ascending, dynamic is, however, propelled by, and in turn propels, the rotational velocity of capital’s globalized circulation. The technological medium, both product and cause, of this circulatory intensification is provided through the successive revolutionizing of industrial processes by capital, of which the latest is the so-called third or fourth industrial revolution of mobile communication, high speed 5G networks, artificial intelligences, and advanced automation (see Manzerolle and Kjøsen 2012 and 2014; Kjøsen 2016). This is the process for which Big Tech (and, increasingly, its Chinese capitalist competitors) are capitalism’s vanguard, and circulation is the concept that we will use as to connect the ascendancy of platform capitalism with the rise of populist electoral parties, a global pandemic, and worldwide riot. The thread of circulation links platforms, populisms, pandemics and riots."
- original manifesto at http://syntheticedifice.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/accelerate.pdf
- the reader: Accelerate
- The series by Kevin Carson on Techno-Utopianism, discusses Accelerationism, here at # [Techno-Utopianism, Counterfeit and Real 6: Accelerationism https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/techno-utopianism-counterfeit-real-6-accelerationism-non-capitalist-techno-utopianisms/2016/04/02]
- How is accelerationism linked to cybernetic philosophy and the theory of mimetic desire by Rene Girard, https://outsidertheory.com/accelerationism-and-mimetic-theory/
- the series on 'True Accelerationism' at the P2P Foundation blog, exemplifies the particular critique and approach at the P2P Foundation:
- Michel Bauwens on P2P and Accelerationism (1) 
- True Accelerationism (2): How Soil-Based Carbon Capture Can Reverse Climate Change 
- True Accelerationism (3): Abundance is the basis of civilization, on the scale economics of renewable energy 
- True Accelerationism (4): The LM3D, the first system of sustainable distributed manufacturing may be ready by 2017 
- True Accelerationism (5): John D. Liu on Large-Scale Ecosystem Restoration Projects 
- True Accelerationism (6): Rehabiliting the importance of change at the local level 2016/01/27]