#ACCELERATE

Is accelerationism a viable political ideology?

POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

7/23/20238 min read

Have you ever had the feeling that modern politics fails to address the crises of this age? Do you think that modern politics retreats to the cultural sphere (i.e. LGBTQ, Feminism, Black Lives Matter) just to be captured and channeled by capitalistic forces e.g. Black Lives Matter T-Shirts, outsourced and made by underpaid wage slave employees, and sold by the new Nike Store down the streets? Do you feel that class revolution has become a fairy tail or a coping mechanism, a story that you tell yourself, to get by? Or do you think this world will destroy itself anyway i.e. global warming?

If you share some of these thoughts, there is a political or for a better term philosophical movement, which builds and expands on these problems - ACCELERATIONISM.

In this essay, I will explain accelerationism, expand on its underpinnings and ask the fundamental question, of whether it could be a new reasonable form of politics to engage with. Most notably I will refer to the peer-reviewed article „Is there a future for accelerationism?“ by Paul Haynes as my main source.

In regard to the history of accelerationism, there are three big waves that paved the way to what accelerationism is today.
The first wave is based on the French post-structuralist tradition. Books like „Anti- Oedipus, Capitalism, and Schizophrenia 1“, written by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, „The Libidinal Economy“ written by Jean-François Lyotard, and last but not least „Symbolic Change and Death“ by Jean Baudrillard, had a major influence on accelerationism. Each of these philosophers accuses the others that their concepts are already immersed and captured by capitalism.

The second wave is based on the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, short CCRU. The main figureheads are the cyber-feminist Sadie Plant and the controversial Nick Land that played a crucial part in the development of accelerationism.
Last but not least, the third wave is paved by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s Manifesto for Accelerationist Politics, short MAP. Here, the division between right-wing accelerationism and left-wing accelerationism is drawn.

These waves and concepts are in themselves fascinating, but they would go way beyond the scope of this essay. I will draw on them if I have to.

After this short introduction to accelerationist history, what should actually be accelerated, and what should we expect from accelerated capitalism?
The article gives us again four different kinds of accelerationism. These four views distinguish themselves by discarding and emphasizing two given variables, modernity, and capitalism.

Modernity here simply can be understood as an epoch constituted by secularization, liberalization, and modernization and mostly driven by humanistic values.
Capitalism, on the other hand, can be understood here in its broadest sense, namely as an economic and political system in which private individuals and businesses own capital goods and services. The production is primarily directed by the flows of the market, supply, and demand.

The first of the four views is the most nihilistic and pessimistic view - also called nihilistic accelerationism. It discards modernity and capitalism completely because the view is that everything after capitalism is annihilation. The earth turned into a complete, uninhabitable wasteland.

The second view wants to maintain both capitalism and modernity. This will be achieved by reforming capitalism. Here lies the emphasis on the utilization of crises. The crisis is an opportunity to make systemic reforms. Therefore, we should compress the intervals between crises as a way of speeding up reformation. We chase the goals of modernity by upgrading capitalism and therefore the whole system.

The third one is called right-wing accelerationism. The figurehead of this movement is Nick Land. Land sees capitalism and modernity as incompatible and discards, therefore, modernity to enter a neo-reactionary paradigm. He wants to intensify the capitalistic project so that a techno-capital future can emerge.

The fourth view is called left-wing accelerationism. In contrast to the right form of accelerationism, this project wants to discard capitalism and keep modernity to enter a techno-fix paradigm. Here, capitalism is seen as a structure unable to release the productive forces of technology. On the other hand, capitalism could be used for transformative ends, e.g. technology. It mainly states that the transformation of capitalism should be accelerated in order to meet modernity’s goals.

In this essay, I will mainly focus on left and right accelerationism, so those views will be later expanded. But before we can dive deeper into the left and right dichotomy, we have to understand the concept of deterritorialization because it is crucial for the understanding of accelerationism. Or as Nick Land put it:

„Deterritorialization is the only thing accelerationism has ever really talked about (Land, 2017).“

Deterritorialization and Reterritorialization is mainly a concept coined by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in it their book A Thousand Plateaus. Deterritorialization & Reterritorialization basically means, the decoding and recoding of an existing code or established identity and therefore transform territories. Capitalism is by itself a deterritorializing machine. It rips everything which has value apart and forms the new codes in the image of the capital. Capitalism immediately transforms old identities into new forms of commodities, which therefore has a price and can thus be sold, bought, and owned. This circumstance makes capitalism so robust. For example, even critics can be channeled and turned into commodities, i.e. Che Guevara T-shirts and stickers. Acclereationists, therefore, admit silent defeat and resignation and see especially traditional left-wing politics as outdated. At best, it is just a cope, but no real sophisticated change. This sentiment is shared between all forms of accelerationism.
In fact, capitalism produced a lot of helpful and disruptive technology that can help, in a left-accelerationist view, to emancipate and liberate humans. For example, Nigeria has a huge police brutality problem, where people stood up against the authoritarian government to fight and revolutionize the corrupt system. The government reacted by simply freezing the bank accounts of the rebels and revolutionaries in order to stop funding and trading between these communities. The rebels acted fast and used a new disruptive technology to become independent of the government and commercial banks, namely blockchain technology aka. Bitcoin. Bitcoin served here as a payment system which is truly decentralized and secure, with no third party, that potentially can be corrupted again. After this action, people could trade and receive funding again in order to fight a broken government. Right now Nigeria is the country where the most flow of bitcoin can be located.3

The "accelerate" in accelerationism is to allow capitalism to run its course, destroy itself and see what we can do in a Post-Capitalistic society.
It is, to its core, a strategic response, so Paul Haynes, to the promise capitalism failed to deliver, namely the efficient and appropriate allocation of resources. The market forces of neoliberal capitalism are unable to unlock the revolutionary potential of new technologies. ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) are being channeled and exploited by mega monopolies for production purposes. ICT, therefore, is highly focussed on advertisement and distributing trivially differentiated goods. Hence, capitalism is more stagnation than dynamic flows. Sure, it rips everything apart. Nothing is holy in front of capitalism, it channels those decoded identities into one single flow. But this flow could potentially be repurposed to open up new forms of thinking and possibilities.

So we can deduce three main statements from accelerationists. The first one is that global capitalism is too robust and unsustainable. The second one is that contemporary politics, left and right-wing, are out of date. And last but not least, the future must be reimagined, realistically. Hence, this leads us to different views of left and right-wing-accelerationism. For both left and right-wing accelerationism, there is no stopping the capitalistic train, and we should work with what it's left. They both claim to be realistic about the world and its metrics i.e. global warming, tropic forest loss, urbanization, ocean acidification, and energy use. In every single metric, we are already accelerating and even called great accelerationism. It is a new geochronological epoch called the Anthropocene, where humans are the most important factors for biological, geological, and atmospherical processes on Earth. And right now by nearly every single metric we are facing right now, this does not look good for the human species.
But what if the biosphere does not collapse, and we are able to not microwave ourselves due to global warming? Could there be new forms of politics or new forms of seeing the human?

Right-wing accelerationists, especially Nick Land, declare that democracy is an outdated system and that something new will emerge like Neo-feudalism or hyper-rich corporatism. Accelerationism is linked to the philosophical movement of transhumanism, where people can augment their body, their mind, or even their genomes through new forms of technology in order to transcend the human. Land believes that the high elites of techno-capitalism are going to augment their body and genomes in order to become superior to other humans that do have not the capital to buy this new technology. This future is already depicted in famous movies like Ridley Scott's Blade Runner or the cultural genre of Cyberpunk.
And in some sense we are, through our smartphones, already transhuman. A technology that is ubiquitous and an extension of the human body. In contrast to the corporatist future of techno-capital everyone can afford a smartphone, but choosing to not have one comes with a variety of limitations and complications i.e. getting a job. Right now, it is not that dystopian, but in the words of Nick Land, we haven’t seen anything yet. Furthermore, in the future, humans are not the center of the world anymore. The Anthropocene comes to an end and machines, especially a Super-Artificial-Intelligence, will emerge. This sounds like a good sci-fi movie, but through the great acceleration, this could become very much our new reality. Nick Land put it best as he said:

„Machinic desire can seem a little inhuman as it rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities [...] This is because what appears to humanity as the history of capitalism is an invasion from the future by an artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources (Land, 1993, p. 479)“

The machines will not bring a post-capital society, so Land, will intensify capitalism and discards all the values brought by modernity.

Left-Accelerationism on the other hand, is more optimistic of the future than its right-wing counterpart. In the Manifesto for Accelerationist Politics (MAP), Williams and Srnicek both outline a post-capital agenda. The agenda is to repurpose capitalism and its flows to direct resources, technologies, and sociopolitical attention to address existing crises and serve the collective good.

They are doing this by rejecting, what they called, „folk-politics“ and social-movement- type protests in order to emphasize experimentation, especially with technology. This could lead us from the modernity we know to a Promethean-modernity. This new modernity constitutes itself a post-work, post-exploitation, post-capitalism society. For example, universal basic income is one of the many reforms which could lead to this future. In contrast to the more pessimistic view of a Cyberpunk-Future, where everything is corrupted and controlled by evil corporatists, the smug on the streets are so unbearable that you could not see properly and neon-light advertisements can help you to reorient on the streets - a new aesthetic future formed itself, called Solarpunk. This Solarpunk-Future is represented through communes and groups of people that share resources and use blockchain technology outside a state. Direct democracy is on the horizon and buildings are mixed with a wide variety of green trees and plants. Left accelerationist did not want to wait for a proper neoliberal welfare state, they see potential in capitalism and technology to build different forms of societies.

Now where does this leave us with our initial question, if accelerationism is a new reasonable form of politics to engage with?
The author of the article, Paul Haynes, rightfully argues that the future of accelerationism has not been canceled due to a lack of interest. If, however, it fails to engage with and foster concepts, then it becomes little more than a passing fad.
Accelerationism has hardly a political program, but its strengths lie within its analysis and theorizing how to direct the flows of analysis, thereby making new entry points for new concepts like Mark Fisher’s „business ontology“, Nick Lands' „planetary techno-capital singularity“ or Manuel DeLandas „Assemblage-Theory“. This philosophical movement is essentially disruptive and more up-to-date than most other political ideologies and has even the potential to reimagine them. It is a fruitful theory where many new forms of politics can emerge. But one thing I am certain of, accelerationism is not going anywhere.

Sources:

Haynes, P. (January 2021), „Is there a future for accelerationism?“
Roberts, M. (2007), „Capitalism, psychiatry, and schizophrenia: a critical introduction to

Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus“
Land, N. (1993), “Machinic desire”, Textual Practice, Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 471-482.

Land, N. (2017), “A quick and dirty guide to accelerationism”, available at: http:// jacobitemag.com/ 2017/05/25/a-quick-and-dirty-introduction-to-accelerationism/ (accessed 30 November 2019).

Akinwotu, E. (2021), The Guardian: „Out of control and rising: why bitcoin has Nigeria’s government in a panic“, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/jul/ 31/out-of-control-and-rising-why-bitcoin-has-nigerias-government-in-a-panic