03: MANIFEST: On the Future
1. We believe the most important division in today’s left is between those that hold to a folk politics of localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism, and those that outline what must become called an accelerationist politics at ease with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology. The former remains content with establishing small and temporary spaces of non-capitalist social relations, eschewing the real problems entailed in facing foes which are intrinsically non-local, abstract, and rooted deep in our everyday infrastructure. The failure of such politics has been built-in from the very beginning. By contrast, an accelerationist politics seeks to preserve the gains of late capitalism while going further than its value system, governance structures, and mass pathologies will allow.
(Without wanting to insert myself into a family squabble, from outside, the distinction drawn here between flavors of anti-capitalism makes sense.)
2. All of us want to work less. [Entrepreneurs of all kinds excepted.] 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.
Getting to Keynes has to be a good thing, as far as theoretical and historical substance is concerned, and this criticism seems solid.
3. Capitalism has begun to constrain the productive forces of technology [The crucial thesis, but merely asserted], or at least, direct them towards needlessly narrow ends. [A deliberate obfuscation of the difference between political and technical ‘narrowness’ is the principal achievement here.] Patent wars and idea monopolisation are contemporary phenomena [Yes, IP is complicated] that point to both capital’s need to move beyond competition [impossible by definition], and capital’s increasingly retrograde approach to technology [unsupported assertion]. The properly accelerative gains of neoliberalism [= remainder capitalism] have not led to less work or less stress [of course, because work and stress are the socio-biological registers of acceleration]. 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 [Since 1979? The information revolution didn’t happen?]. Relentless iterations of the same basic product sustain marginal consumer demand at the expense of human acceleration. [Containerization, satellite communications, personal computing, mobile telephony, Internet, cable TV, World Wide Web, social media, genomics, drone robotics, 3D film, NewSpace, Bitcoin … what exactly is “the same basic product”?]
4. We do not want to return to Fordism. [OK] There can be no return to Fordism. [Right] The capitalist “golden era” was premised on the production paradigm of the orderly factory environment, where (male) workers received security and a basic standard of living in return for a lifetime of stultifying boredom and social repression. Such a system relied upon an international hierarchy of colonies, empires, and an underdeveloped periphery; a national hierarchy of racism and sexism; and a rigid family hierarchy of female subjugation. For all the nostalgia many may feel, this regime is both undesirable and practically impossible to return to. [Is Fordism being identified with the (final) ‘golden era’ of capitalism here? With ‘neoliberalism’ as something else? So a system of computerized, entrepreneurial, high-intensity capital accumulation, based fundamentally upon competition and economic incentives, would in some way not count as properly ‘capitalist’? Such an extraordinary theoretical claim surely deserves an argument?]
5. Accelerationists want to unleash latent productive forces. [Indeed — an excellent and impressively ideo-neutral definition of normative Accelerationism.] 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. [There is no conceptual continuity between this political rallying cry and the first sentence whatsoever.]
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.
No reason has been given to think ‘technoscience’ is in any real way independent of ‘capitalist objectives’, so the rhetoric of ‘enslavement’ is perfectly empty. An(other) experiment in ‘post-capitalist’ technosocial acceleration conducted alongside capitalism, and in competition with it, would be a fascinating thing to see. (I doubt this arrangement would be considered acceptable by the Left. As far as the Right is concerned, it has already been undertaken on numerous occasions, with consistent results.)
7. We want to accelerate the process of technological evolution. [Great.] But what we are arguing for is not techno-utopianism. Never believe that technology will be sufficient to save us. [How did soteriology become the issue?] 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 [who?] 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.
How do these three goals interconnect and hierarchize?
(a) Acceleration of technological evolution
(b) Overcoming social conflict
(c) Prevailing in social conflict
If, as seems to be the case, (c) dominates, then acceleration is merely an instrumental sub-objective. So can we call Left Accelerationism ‘conditional accelerationism’ (in contrast to an unconditional Right Accelerationism)?
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.
Conditional accelerationism again. (It’s beginning to look as if accelerated technoscience is a giant ideological cookie jar).
10. Any transformation of society must involve economic and social experimentation. [OK, but I suspect ‘transformation’ is pre-contaminated by totalitarian aspirations.] 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. [I know this isn’t meant to be comical …]
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. [There’s enough hand-waving here to communicate an Obama speech to the deaf.]
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.
(Family squabbling. I’ll shut up until it stops.)
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.
“A positive feedback loop” — finally, a theoretical connection to the topic of acceleration. Having bypassed any serious analysis of the actual capitalist positive feedback loop — upon which the entire historical topic of acceleration rests — it is now introduced in purely speculative fashion, in relation to yet-non-existent Left Accelerationist program. The parasitical structure of this argument (seizing real achievements in order to spend them on dreams) says much more than it intends to.
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.
“We want money — but without capitalist incentives please.”
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.
“We want money, and then mastery.”
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. [Still entirely unsubstantiated.] Our technological development is being suppressed by capitalism, as much as it has been unleashed. [Ditto.] Accelerationism is the basic belief that these capacities can and should be let loose by moving beyond the limitations imposed by capitalist society. [Ditto.] 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.
Enslave technosocial acceleration to ‘collective self mastery’? That seems to be the dream. Do we get to lock in the ‘conditional accelerationism’ label yet?
23. The choice facing us is severe: either a globalised post-capitalism or a slow fragmentation towards primitivism, perpetual crisis, and planetary ecological collapse. [Neither outcome sounds remotely plausible, but we’re deep into religion by this stage, so it probably doesn’t matter.]
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. [Why does ‘the future’ exclude ‘inequality, conflict, and chaos’? On the contrary …] 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. [A last spasm of hand-waving.] The future must be cracked open once again, unfastening our horizons towards the universal possibilities of the Outside. [‘Must’ means nothing, and ‘universal’ adds nothing, but otherwise a great sentence — culmination in a rush of ideo-neutral excitement.]
Naturally, the really big question: What comes next …?