Center for a Stateless Society
A Left Market Anarchist Think Tank & Media Center
Accelerationism — Other Non-Capitalist Techno-Utopianisms

Download a PDF copy of Kevin Carson’s full C4SS Study: Center for a Stateless Society Paper No. 20 (Spring 2016)

Techno-Utopianism, Counterfeit and Real (With Special Regard to Paul Mason’sPost-Capitalism)

I. Capitalist Techno-Utopianism from Daniel Bell On
II. Categories of Leftist Techno-Utopianism
III. Other Non-Capitalist Techno-Utopianisms

John Holloway
Michel Bauwens
Accelerationism

IV. Analysis: Comparison of the Two Strands of Techno-Utopianism

Areas of commonality

V. Paul Mason
VI. Left-Wing Critiques of Mason

Stephanie McMillan
Kate Aronoff

Conclusion

The Accelerationist movement is roughly divided between right-Accelerationism (closely associated with Nick Land, who went on to be a major figure in the neo-Reactionary movement), which envisions capitalist technological development culminating in a Singularity, and left-Accelerationism. My remarks here refer to the latter exclusively.

Accelerationism, like autonomism and commons-based peer production, aims at unleashing productive forces from their capitalist institutional constraints, and achieving a world without work.

…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. Our technological development is being suppressed by capitalism, as much as it has been unleashed. Accelerationism is the basic belief that these capacities can and should be let loose by moving beyond the limitations imposed by capitalist society. [89]

7. As Marx was aware, capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration. Similarly, the assessment of left politics as antithetical to technosocial acceleration is also, at least in part, a severe misrepresentation. Indeed, if the political left is to have a future it must be one in which it maximally embraces this suppressed accelerationist tendency. [90]

Its main shortcoming is a failure to understand the significance of the technologies it sees as the basis for the post-capitalist system. Although Accelerationism celebrates advances in cybernetic technology and network communications as the building blocks of post-scarcity communism, it is tone deaf when it comes to the specific nature of the promise offered by these technologies, and actually runs directly counter to them. This failure includes a lazy conflation of localism and horizontalism with primitivism and backwardness (to the point of treating “neo-primitivist localism” as a single phrase), and a lionization of verticality, centralism and planning.

5. … The new social movements which emerged since the end of the Cold War, experiencing a resurgence in the years after 2008, have been similarly unable to devise a new political ideological vision. Instead they expend considerable energy on internal direct-democratic process and affective self-valorisation over strategic efficacy, and frequently propound a variant of neo-primitivist localism, as if to if to oppose the abstract violence of globalised capital with the flimsy and ephemeral “authenticity” of communal immediacy. …

6. Indeed, as even Lenin wrote in the 1918 text “Left Wing” Childishness:

“Socialism is inconceivable without large-scale capitalist engineering based on the latest discoveries of modern science. It is inconceivable without planned state organisation which keeps tens of millions of people to the strictest observance of a unified standard in production and distribution. We Marxists have always spoken of this, and it is not worth while wasting two seconds talking to people who do not understand even this (anarchists and a good half of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries).”

* * *

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. …

7. We want to accelerate the process of technological evolution. But what we are arguing for is not techno-utopianism. Never believe that technology will be sufficient to save us. 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 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.

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.

10. Any transformation of society must involve economic and social experimentation. 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.

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.

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. …

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. … 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. [91]

Given the amount of straw consumed in these passages it’s a wonder Nebraska has any left. To begin at the end, equating the stigmergic order of networks to “improvisation” is about as clueless as it’s humanly possible to be. And reducing the tactics of the horizontalist movements to “marching, holding signs, and establishing temporary autonomous zones” is an insult to the enormous effort of building counter-institutions by activists in M15,
Syntagma, Occupy and all over the world.

That the authors see global financial and logistical platforms as progressive contributions of capitalism to be preserved under post-capitalism also says a great deal. Rather than seeing global supply chains and the present international division of labor as subsidized inefficiencies of transnational capitalism — as business models that are profitable only thanks to the socialization of costs — the Accelerationists see them as inherently efficient.

But the main “efficiency” of global supply and distribution chains is access to cheap labor and friendly authoritarian governments for enforcing work discipline. And far from being a throwback to hippie Luddism, relocalized production is the optimal way to capitalize on the potential of advanced CNC micro-manufacturing technology.

The Accelerationist view is directly analogous to that of the Old Left on the inherent efficiencies of capital-intensive mass-production technology in the early and mid-20th century.

The claim that “techno-utopians” believe technological advances “will automatically overcome social conflict” — as opposed to the Accelerationist view of new technology as a weapon “to win social conflicts” — is particularly disingenuous. It conflates left-wing techno-utopianism with the technocratic managerialism of the Tofflers, Newt Gingrich and Jack Kemp. It also conflates “political action” as such with an insurrectionist or parliamentary politics aimed at seizure of the state. But in fact the autonomist Exodus is very much a class struggle, and also treats technology as a political weapon insofar as it frees self-organized social labor from dependence on the enormous heaps of obsolescent capital controlled by the ruling class.

Michel Bauwens compares the Accelerationist approach to politics to that of the P2P Foundation:

What is seems to be in the end, is that the combined demand for full automation and the basic income, functions as an utopia, and while utopias are very useful to free the mind and the desires and show possibilities, they are also dangerous. They appear to be a political program to unite a variety of forces, who win power and then, afterwards, can start changing things. But what if we do not gain power this way?

At the P2P Foundation, we see that a bit differently. The first task is to create prefigurative livelihoods which actually embody different post-capitalist logics, and to build social and political forces around this concrete transformative change. …

In the end, asking for two utopian demands that are extremely hard to achieve and impose, seems an expression of the traditional leftist strategy, that we must first win power, and then ‘we will change everything’. The alternative is to build the future right now, to change the mode and relations of production where we can, right now, and to build political power and transition proposals on the basis of a counter-hegemony that has already changed reality through its practice and strength. [92]

Notes:

89. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics,” Critical Legal Thinking, May 14, 2013 <https://syntheticedifice.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/accelerate.pdf>
90. Ibid.
91. Ibid.
92. Michel Bauwens, “Michel Bauwens on P2P and Accelerationism (1),” P2P Foundation Blog, January 14, 2016 <https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/53466-2/2016/01/14>.

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