What is Left Accelerationism?

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(A talk held for the now defunct Association for the Design of History)

My short introduction is informed by the #Accelerate reader published by Urbanomic, by the German Akzeleration readers one and two, published by Merve, by Williams’ and Srnicek’s Inventing the Future and by a blog post by Pete Wolfendale which he published on his deontologistics blog and that the next speaker today, Sam, translated for our website. You can find the English orignal here:

So what is Left-Accelerationism

Accelerationism is a strategy of the left. It is not a comprehensive analysis of Capitalism and it is not an ontology or a theory in the philosophical sense. Rather it is a set of critiques and prescriptions for a more successful left.

The Accelerationist Manifesto published in 2013 by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams emerged in the wake of the Occupy protests. Occupy was a highly horizontal, decentralized, neo-anarchist movement that was wary of power, organisation and hierarchy. Williams and Scnicek argued that the inability of the left to challenge Neoliberalism during and after the financial crisis was “at least in part a result of the continued paralysis and ineffectual nature of much what remains of the left.”

At best, the left wants to return to Keynesian Fordism and the golden era of Social democracy in the 50s and 60s. The left has abandoned the future.

All the while capital continues with its blind dynamic of commodification, narrow innovation and disruption and thereby produces a future that Hollywood depicts in countless Dystopias and that Nick Land the most prominent proponent of Right Accelerationism hopes will usher in Singularity to which we can come back later in the discussion. The crucial differences of the right and left acc are its relation to modernity. Right Accelerationism equates capitalism and modernity, whereas left accelerationism wants to overcome capitalism to follow through with modernity.

So Left Accelerationism wants to break with this ubiquitous defeatism that permeates our culture, but in order to do so we must accelerate our game so to say. We must meet Capital at eye level.

I will argue that Left Accelerationism consists of three strands: Epistemic Acceleration, Acceleration of Tactics and Means and the Acceleration of end or Utopia.

First and foremost this means that we need to challenge the brain-dead intensification of capital with true epistemic acceleration, with a navigational process of exploration. Where and who are we? What do we want? What is going to happen? How can we model feedback processes and the whole system’s dynamics and reactions to our interventions? How can we use this knowledge to gain power and stay ahead of our enemies? How does power emerge and stabilize?

This is the first pillar of Accelerationism. State of the Art cognitive mapping and constant revision and amelioration of our findings.

What does this mean in praxis? Does that mean we should just feed a supercomputer with data and let it crunch it? For the time being, we have not found a universal function approximator or a meta learning algorithm, but mathematical and graphical modeling surely is conducive to cognition for a lot of domains. But you still need a theory to make sense of it, which is for now provided by human intelligence. So, where are we? In some ways the time has never been better for communists. The development of the productive forces most likely allows for complex planning, real time allocation of resources, direct democracy and full automation. Although there are major setbacks anti-racism and feminism are becoming mainstream. So why are there no powerful leftist organizations? We believe that we still suffer from the defeat of the left in neoliberalism. The unions and social democratic parties have lost faith in themselves. It is our aim to change that and break the spell of capitalist realism.

Where are we heading? We are all aware of the climate crisis. If we don’t act decisively in the next 10 to 20 years, major irreparable damage will be done. But there is another challenge facing us, which I think the left is not addressing adequately yet, which is AI. Artificial intelligence is kind of a geeky meme topic which is not taken too seriously outside Silicon Valley and Hollywood, but I think this is a mistake. Hollywood making bad films about it doesn’t make it less real. There are at least three risks involved. Firstly, if full automation sets in before communism, the proletariat loses its most potent weapon: the strike. Secondly autonomous robots and drones could be used ubiquitously to police us and thirdly algorithms that are a magnitude smarter than existing ones could outcompete us in several domains with which we are struggling already, namely the control of corporations, of our attention and the financial markets. If we have no global oversight which controsl the incentives and fields of application of the algorithms, we possibly face disaster, but to end on a conciliatory or even encouraging note: Global communication for organization and education could be the nervous system of an emerging planetary human sentience. Communism could also be framed as the becoming conscious of civilisation, so let’s make sure we get there before the machines.

The second pillar concerns our means of organization and intervention. While Capital is abstract and global, some on the left still fetishize local direct action. This can be an effective tactic at times, but Accelerationism contends that local action should be embedded in a grander strategy and must be supplemented with globally effective networks and organizations. Those organizations need not necessarily prefigure the world to come but could also be elitist, secretive or even hierarchical in nature. Sam will talk more about what is means for us to be an accelerationisst organization.

In order to challenge capital most effectively we need to appropriate its technologies and use them to our ends. Media production is an obvious example, but one could also think of hacking, open source software, cryptography and platforms or even enterprises.

Lastly Accelerationism envisions a complex future. To quote Srnicek and Williams: “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.“ Capitalism today in part hinders innovation with patent wars and copyright. It massively misdirects money, resources and most importantly human talent away from common benefit, fundamental research and spacetravel and into marketing departments of surveillance corporations. Against Capitals’ Addiction to short time profit, Accelerationism posits the idea of the plan. A plan of a future economy but also in a more general sense a plan of conscious intervention into reality, which can be called Prometheanism. Prometheanism is the heir of the enlightenment and Modernity. While those concepts are mostly associated with Liberalism and Capititalism, we argue that both already contain the seeds, assumptions and premises that, if followed through consistently must entail communism.

To plagiarize Pete Wolfendale ( https://youtu.be/BMpIbWQspGo) shamelessly once again, Prometheanism can be opposed to fatalism and messianism. As fatalists we resign in the face of the urgent challenges of today and instead commit to a politics of ammelioration to smoothe off the the edges. In messianism we also reject the historical urgency and the possibility of understanding our trajectory and instead cultivate hope for the best possible outcome.

This stance is well suited to the subject of fetishist disavowal, which knows very well but still doesn’t act and the fetishization of the hope of redemption helps it to gloss over reality.

While fatalism aovercomes our lack of imagination with respects to the future, it narrowly entrenches the scope of possible political intervention. Messianism is unable to envision the development of time and resorts to wishful thinking.

Only prometheanism believes in the possibility of willfully intervening into reality and thereby planning the future and designing history.

The transformation of capitalism to communism is akin to to conversion of feudalism into capitalism. It is a completely qualitatively different society that emerges by accelerating capitalism’s inherent tendencies to overcome itself. This transition is not guaranteed but a point of political contestation.

The utopia it envisions is radically rationalist and rejects the myth of the given. Some of its pillars are pretty much agreed on. We need a resource based economy, a high degree of automation, new media and education systems and a sustainable infrastructure. The administration will be aided by algorithms. But there are also more contested issued.

For example gender could be overcome if we decide it is harmful. Even sexual reproduction could be questioned. Accelerationism doesn’t spell out a monolithic structure we have to erect, but there are some guiding principles.

There is no going backward to some kind of innocent primitive state nor is there to social democracy in the 50s and 60s. We should strive for collective self mastery which means the establishment of an agency of control of our common destiny. For this we need hegemony and political power.

The ADH is a project dedicated to organizing and coordinating this collective capacity to act.

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