On #Accelerate (#1)

#Accelerate positions itself very clearly within a Marxian intellectual tradition. In this respect, it remains consistent with the main current of ‘accelerationist’ thinking as it has developed from the Marx of The Communist Manifesto, through Marx’s later writings on imperialism and international relations, and into the ‘Nietzscheanized’ quasi-Marxism of Deleuze, Guattari, and Lyotard. The constant political recommendation across this diverse heritage is alignment with the capitalistic social revolution, in order to realize its ultimate eschatalogical implication. To interrupt capitalistic development is to retard the formation of the final revolutionary class — the radically-industrialized international proletariat (or whatever decoded schizo-swarms it later becomes). Hence the defining imperative slogan of Deleuze & Guattari: Accelerate the process.

Beyond this point, however, obscurity gathers rapidly. In particular, is in entirely unclear which broad trend of Marxist theory is being extrapolated. From the available rhetorical clues, it does not seem as though #Accelerate endorses the wholesale deleuzoguattarian break from classical Marxism — crossing the theoretical catastrophe that includes abandonment of the Law of Value (in an embrace of ‘machinic surplus value’, ‘machinic value of code’, and marginalism); differentiation of ‘capitalism’ and market economics (following Braudel); denunciation of state socialism as a regressive ‘Oriental Despotism’ (following Wittfogel); and a dehumanization of the revolutionary subject without obvious limits (drawing upon sources from Samuel Butler to Antonin Artaud). If this were the vector pursued, it would — surely — be vividly evident?

Assuming, then, that #Accelerate backs into a more recognizable Marxian framework, how is this theoretical structure to be understood? The decisive question internal to the (serious) Marxist tradition concerns the Transformation Problem, since it is only if this is considered soluble that anything like a continuity of classical Marxism (or credible ‘Law of Value’) can be envisaged at all. It is worth recalling that comprehensive critics of Marx — those who find nothing of positive significance to be salvageable from his work — have, beginning with Böhm-Bawerk, taken the Transformation Problem as the completion of Marx’s reductio ad absurdum of the Labor Theory of Value (as inherited from Smith and Ricardo), seeing the rigorous economic meaning of the Marxian system as entirely exhausted in this demonstration. To remain a Marxist in anything other than an absurd sense depends upon some other path having been taken, but which one? #Accelerate offers no obvious indications. (The literature on this is vast, so it would be useful to know where to focus.)

Without a resolution of the Transformation Problem — and even a well-positioned sticking plaster would do provisionally — there can be no consistent concept of exploitation, or even a theoretically significant sense of labor time. This is especially relevant because it plays such a crucial role in Antonio Negri’s response to #Accelerate, which picks up on a tantalizing remark in the manifesto itself:

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.

Is Left Accelerationism promoting itself as the redeemer of Keynes’ empty promise? From the bare descriptiveness of this (vaguely mournful) passage it is hard to know. What we can know, with confidence, is that work time cannot be anything but an axial topic within this entire discussion.

If the Law of Value is to be defended, value production is measured in (labor) time. Marx’s transformation factor is designed to conserve the equation between quantified — timed — work and economic values, as expressed in prices. If this patch fails, the entire analysis of Capital loses application to determinate social fact. There would be no Marxian economics at all (a conclusion Negri and the Autonomists seem willing to accept).

It is hard to see how a Left Accelerationism could be maintained under these conditions. Historical time would no longer have any calculable relation to labor commoditization, working life, or any constructable proletarian class identity. The real time of (capitalistic) modernity — onto which accelerationism latches — could no longer be described as the time of work. At the limit, human work-forces are relegated to “aphidian parasites of the machines”. Once the class struggle over labor time is divorced from a fully-determining role in the production of value, the proletariat is stripped of the potential to incarnate history for-itself, consigning ‘Marxism’ over to an articulation of marginal grievances, and ultimately to the heat death of identity politics. (This, of course, is exactly the trend that has been sociologically apparent.)

One final crude point for now. As a fundamental cybernetic theory, accelerationism is bound to the identification of a socially central, positive feedback loop, through which modernity is propelled. It thus requires — at a minimum — twin quantitative variables entangled in a relation of reciprocal stimulation. Industrial capitalism, with its intrinsic ‘technonomic’ duality of cross-exciting technical and commercial dynamics, makes the application of the cybernetic diagram relatively non-problematic. With or without the Law of Value, the accelerationist schema cannot but interlock tightly with the most prominent contours of modernity.

If not time-denominated (‘living’ and ‘dead’) labor, however, what is the variable being cumulated? That’s the question to carry forwards. The question for now: if labor is the cumulative factor in the accelerationist analysis, how can a practical critique of labor time be anything other than a politics of deceleration?

(Urban Future‘s initial annotated #Accelerate walk-through is here: 1, 2, 3.)

ADDED: Sometimes I worry that Wikipedia might be taking the spirit of strict neutrality to extremes (from the link already given): “Once again, the bourgeois theorists manage to impress us with their erudition while completely sidestepping the substance of the debate.”

10 thoughts on “On #Accelerate (#1)

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  2. I think that Deleuze and Guattari schizoanalytic activism is not a Nietzscheanized quasi-Marxism. Because this is to say that it had the aim to be a marxism but could not be. This is not quite so: D&G’s schizoanalytic project enhances marxism to the point of an ideological rupture, so it overcomes marxism without dismissing it. Schizoanalysis is a stake for a Nietzschean communism, it is only by defect that it can be considered a branch of marxism. If it is Nietzscheanized then it cannot be just a ‘quasi’. It is easier if we leave all narrative effects alone to speak things just as we think are such. Or we might be too ideologically ‘accelerated’ for that.

    • “… this is to say that it had the aim to be a marxism but could not be …” — That wasn’t the intended meaning. It was a quick-and-dirty reference to the fact that D&G can ‘pass’ as Marxist, but not in a way that survives close examination.

      There are probably numerous ways to argue over this. I’m assuming the Law of Value is an indispensable commitment for anything wanting to call itself Marxist and have that taken seriously — but it’s abundantly clear this isn’t an uncontroversial position to hold.

      • Thanks for your reply. Of course, I understood the quick and dirty interpelation. But then again if D&G can ‘pass’ as marxist it is only by defect and only if we conceal a superflous reading of schizoanalysis. Thus, a bad reading in this sense -which is prone to a certain degree- would always tend to a ‘close examination’. However, if we are giving sense to their Nietzscheanism, there is no necessity then to sanction them taking marxism as reference, not even as Nietzscheanized.

        It is still more interesting the perspective of a Nietzschean communism if one gets to grasp it right where they pretended to flag it, say, from a complete realization of nihilism. What would be more ‘common’ than life itself? Thus, the idea is to build an ethical point of view far from any ideology, not from the old and sedimented morals, but from a material orientation to the full intensity of life, if so. Yet, to unleash a body of intensities from our groundings, to object life from our body, is still too prude for any marxist. So I think that meanwhile, it is worth to make the respective margins. I am sure that you do get the sense of what I mean to clarify here, what moved me in first place to share my comment.

        • [Oh well, an accelerated errata: I wrote ‘is still too prude for any marxist’ but I really meant ‘is still NOT too prude for any marxist’.]

        • How abstract can life be made? Any suspicion of uninterrogated anthropomorphism is an opportunity (for something) to pounce.

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  5. I’m reading these things again now, probably for the third time. So, sorry for the 3-year late comment XD

    Regarding this: “If the Law of Value is to be defended, value production is measured in (labor) time.”

    Kevin Carson has sketched a *Subjective* Labour Theory of Value (here, Part One: http://kevinacarson.org/mpe/). The point that has bearing here is: what if Smithean (rather than Ricardean) “labour-value” prevailed? What if value varies according to the necessary *compensation* for convincing a labourer to expend energy on labour? The Transformation Problem goes away smoothly – the prices in a *really* free market simply are the best approximation (absent supply or demand shocks) to the true equilibrium value (to which prices always tend) – but the Law of Value remains: value only increases when work is added. This makes some sense even in physical terms (a force needs to exert work on a particle for it to increase it’s potential energy).

    Don’t know if this SLTV has any influence on accelerationism (left or right), since it’s made to fit well into marginalist theories and is probably just an aesthetic change, but thought I should add it here, since it is a distinctively non-Marxian left-leaning theory.

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