I reproduce here a short post by my friend Reid Kane critiquing the fundamental premises of “left accelerationism.” For those unfamiliar with this theoretical formation, I advise they check out #Accelerate: An Accelerationist Reader, which presents its self-selected antecedents as well as some original materials written by proponents of the movement. Benjamin Noys’ book Malign Velocities, which is brief but quite good, is also worth looking into for anyone seeking a more critical perspective. McKenzie Wark, Antonio Negri, and numerous others have written responses as well. A few months back I summarized a debate between Peter Wolfendale and Anthony Paul Smith and added some of my own thoughts on “The Future of Enlightenment.” Then later I wrote a bit defending the Promethean aspect of Marx’s thought, “Against Inadvertent Climate Change.”
My only other remark regarding Reid’s piece is that it is usefully supplemented by another short document, this time by Karl Marx. His “Speech on the Tenth Anniversary of the People’s Paper“ is available at the Marxists internet archive, and is to my mind the most concise summary of Marx’s contribution to political thought outside of the Manifesto. In it, he unleashes a series of compact dialectical inversions that capture the ambivalence of capitalist development that Reid is driving at. An adumbrated version of its main points appears below:
The so-called revolutions of 1848 were but poor incidents — small fractures and fissures in the dry crust of European society. However, they denounced the abyss. Beneath the apparently solid surface, they betrayed oceans of liquid matter, only needing expansion to rend into fragments continents of hard rock. Noisily and confusedly they proclaimed the emancipation of the proletarian, i.e. the secret of the nineteenth century, and of the revolution of that century.
That social revolution, it is true, was no novelty invented in 1848. Steam, electricity, and the self-acting mule were revolutionists of a rather more dangerous character than even citizens Barbés, Raspail, and Blanqui…On the one hand, there have started into life industrial and scientific forces, which no epoch of the former human history had ever suspected. On the other hand, there exist symptoms of decay, far surpassing the horrors recorded of the latter times of the Roman Empire. In our days, everything seems pregnant with its contrary: Machinery, gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labor, we behold starving and overworking it; the newfangled sources of wealth, by some strange weird spell, are turned into sources of want; The victories of art seem bought by the loss of character.
At the same pace that mankind masters nature, man seems to become enslaved to other men or to his own infamy. Even the pure light of science seems unable to shine but on the dark background of ignorance. All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force.
This antagonism between modern industry and science on the one hand, modern misery and dissolution on the other hand; this antagonism between the productive powers and the social relations of our epoch is a fact, palpable, overwhelming, and not to be controverted. Some parties may wail over it; others may wish to get rid of modern arts, in order to get rid of modern conflicts. Or they may imagine that so signal a progress in industry wants to be completed by as signal a regress in politics. On our part, we do not mistake the shape of the shrewd spirit that continues to mark all these contradictions. We know that to work well the newfangled forces of society, they only want to be mastered by newfangled men — and such are the working men. They are as much the invention of modern time as machinery itself.
History is the judge. Its executioner, the proletarian.
Enjoy Reid’s article, along with some images from productions of the Czech playwright Karel Čapek’s RUR (or Rossum’s Universal Robots).
Reblogged from barbarie della reflessione
To the extent that left accelerationists draw upon Marx, they are reflecting Marx’s recognition of the positive historical role capitalism can and must play, specifically in its capacity to develop the forces of production, increasing intensively and extensively the productivity of human activity.
Yet insofar as they reject the dialectic, they lose Marx’s crucial political insight. This developmental dynamic is intimately tied to the struggle of the working class to increase value of its labor power, and thus to diminish the need to work. Yet technology is employed not to emancipate the worker from the need to work, but from the opportunity to do so, and thus to emancipate the capitalist from the worker. It is employed in order to drive down the value of labor power, precisely to the point at which their labor-power becomes cheaper than “labor-saving” alternatives.
In other words, the development of the productive forces comes into conflict with the existing relations of production. Wage workers, displaced by machinery, are proletarianized, deprived of access to the means of subsistence they collectively produce.
It was precisely this tendency that Marx saw “accelerating” with the completion of the bourgeois revolutions. Yet he did not advocate it simply because it led to technological advancement, but because it forced the proletariat to organize itself to mediate the deprivation they faced. As the population threatened with and afflicted by proletarianization would grow in proportion to industry, the organizations of the proletariat would be forced to express the common interests of the “immense majority” of the population “without distinction of sex or race,” and to face the possibility, and the need, of taking political power. These interests would coincide in the abolition of private property in the means of production, which would be appropriated by the proletarian dictatorship and applied for the common benefit of all.
In other words, the acceleration of the development of productive forces (or “technology”) under capitalism creates a potential for emancipation that manifests negatively — freedom from any means of production of their own — as a problem that can only be solved politically.
“Acceleration” is ambivalent; it is regressive in that it is the mechanism by which the conditions of the working class are forced downwards, but progressive to the extent that this is mediated by political radicalization. The latter can be headed off by compromises that divide the proletariat in different ways (between nations, or within nations on the basis of race, gender, nationality), but in the end dependence on the bourgeoisie for concessions will undermine the impetus for independent proletarian organizations, which erode, in turn undermining the bourgeoisie’s impetus to keep those concessions in place. And so those elements of the working class suspended in the middle strata fall back into the proletariat (e.g. “neoliberalism”).
To the extent that the accelerationists are calling for reforms (most notably, universal basic income) that would subsidize the proletarian condition, they would undermine the very source of the progressive dynamic that Marx sought to “accelerate” — not the advancement of technology, but the advancement of the organizational and political development of the working class. Who, after all, would pass such a reform? What political agency has, or could have, the motive and the capacity to do so? In the context of capitalist society, such a reform would only be a measure of political warfare — not against the working people, but against the working class as self-consciously organized.
Against Accelerationism – For Marxism.