“Marxist accelerationism (Srnicek and Williams 2013) appears to be not about a mere catastrophic acceleration of capital (like in Virilio, Baudrillard, Land), but about an epistemic acceleration and reappropriation of fixed capital as technology and knowledge (a sort of Epistemic Singularity).”
– Matteo Pasquinelli, The Labour of Abstraction: Seven Transitional Theses on Marxism and Accelerationism
The Plan and The Network
Maybe it’s as simple as that: an epistemic mythology rather than ontological fable. Once again I survey Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek (2013) who will in their #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics remark: “As Marx was aware, capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration.”(#Accelerate, 354)1 So let’s take a look at what Marx had to say, which to me will set the stage for what is to come in Accelerationist debates. I’m a little long-winded so may break this post down into several (so forgive me!), but feel this is important to cover. The editors of the accelerationist reader, Mackay and Avanessian, chose a specific essay from the Grundisse ‘Fragment of Machines’. I’ll come to this later. We know that this particular work was sparked by the failed revolutions of 1848:
Shortly after the New Year in 1848, Europe exploded into revolution. From Paris to Frankfurt to Budapest to Naples, liberal protesters rose up against the conservative establishment. To those living through the cataclysmic year, it seemed rather sudden; however, hindsight offers valuable warning signs.
The year 1846 witnessed a severe famine–Europe’s last serious food crisis. Lack of grain drove up food and other prices while wages remained stagnant, thus reducing consumer demand. With consumers buying less and less, profits plummeted, forcing thousands of industrial workers out of their jobs. High unemployment combined with high prices sparked the liberal revolt. The subsequent events in February 1848 in France made Austria’s Prince Clemens von Metternich’s saying seem true: “When France sneezes, Europe catches a cold.”
Moderate liberals–lawyers, doctors, merchants, bourgeoisie–began pushing actively for extension of suffrage through their “banquet campaign,” named thus because its leaders attempted to raise money by giving rousing speeches at subscribed dinners in France’s major urban areas. When on February 22, 1848, Paris officials canceled the scheduled banquet, fearing organized protest by the middle and working classes, Parisian citizens demonstrated against the repression. Skilled workers, factory laborers, and middle class liberals poured into the streets. The National Guard, a citizen militia of bourgeois Parisians, defected from King Louis-Philippe, and the army garrison stationed in Paris joined the revolutionary protesters as well. Louis-Philippe attempted reform, but the workers rejected the halfhearted changes. The king fled and the demonstrators proclaimed the Second Republic on February 24th.
The overthrow of the monarchy set off a wave of protest throughout east and central Europe, led by radical liberals and workers who demanded constitutional reform or complete government change. In March, protests in the German provinces brought swift reform from local princes while Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia yielded to revolts in Berlin by promising to create a Prussian assembly. The collapse of autocracy in Prussia encouraged liberals in the divided Germany provinces to join together at the Frankfurt Assembly to frame a constitution and unite the German nation. Meeting in May 1848, the convention was populated by middle class civil servants, lawyers, and intellectuals dedicated to liberal reform. However, after drawing the boundaries for a German state and offering the crown to Friedrich Wilhelm, the Kaiser refused in March 1849, dooming hopes for a united, liberal Germany.
In Austria, students, workers, and middle class liberals revolted in Vienna, setting up a constituent assembly. In Budapest, the Magyars led a movement of national autonomy, led by patriot Lajos Kossuth. Similarly, in Prague, the Czechs revolted in the name of self-government. In Italy, new constitutions were declared in Tuscany and Piedmont, with the goal of overthrowing their Austrian masters. Here, middle class liberals pushed the concept of Italian unification alongside the defeat of the Austrians with the help of the Young Italy movement, founded in 1831 by nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian patriot who favored a democratic revolution to unify the country. In February 1849, Mazzini led a democratic revolt against the Pope in Rome, becoming head of the Republic of Rome later that month. By attacking the Pope, the democrats went too far. The self-proclaimed protectors of the Pope, the French, moved in and defeated Mazzini’s Roman legion. The Pope was restored and a democratic Italy collapsed, for now.
Meanwhile, from August 1848, the Austrian army soundly defeated every revolt in its empire. In Vienna, in Budapest, in Prague, the Austrians legions crushed the liberal and democratic movements, returning the empire to the conservative establishment that ruled at the beginning of 1848. Nothing had come of the revolutions of 1848.
The revolutions of 1848 were a “turning point in modern history that modern history failed to turn.” Every one was an utter failure; though minor reforms emerged in the Germany provinces and in Prussia, the conservative regimes that canvassed Europe remained in power. 2
In the aftermath of this failed revolution the original Communist Manifesto emerged as Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels testament and activation of a program that would have repercussions for a future that was as of yet unthought. It was in the failure of those bloody days that these fatal words would spawn a vision:
“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.” Except for a few names and players one would almost think this had been written after all the failed revolutions and utopian states since that time. It’s as if we were reading a contemporary statement rather than a manifesto against the industrial capitalism of another era. Do we not still exist in a world-system governed by the forces of a conservative mark? Even our so called neoliberal conservatives, our grey toned statesmen or Brahmins of conservatism, along with the democratic liberals, are at best a part of what Land terms – The Cathedral: “Is not the Cathedral precisely a name for that apparatus of signs — … academia, media, bureaucracy, politics … — which cannot in principle ever compile? The Cathedral is a secular religion, which has to preach because it does not work.” Yet, Land, and his cohorts would have us believe that these institutions are controlled from within by the communist ideology. Strange that so many conservatives from Mount Pelerin onward have been placed within this matrix as well. This is not a left/right issue: it’s a little more insidious than some ideological battle from the left or right. Whatever drawbacks with C.P. Snow’s two-cultures theory in the Power Elite might have (more explicit about the separation of science culture from mass culture) it did point out a part of an inner history and tendency within the global elite networks of power and distribution toward a new form of sovereignty not of nations but of the power elite themselves.
Stuart Elden in his excellent book The Birth of Territory (2013) tells us ”
Territory should be understood as a political technology, or perhaps better as a bundle of political technologies . Territory is not simply land, in the political-economic sense of rights of use, appropriation, and possession attached to a place; nor is it a narrowly political-strategic question that is closer to a notion of terrain. Territory comprises techniques for measuring land and controlling terrain.3
I would argue that in our new information economy that the Network – our global infosphere as a cartographic immaterial space is the new site of mappings that have already been measured in spatial terms and are already being supplied by certain global governing bodies with regulatory mechanisms of command and control that shape our very cognitive interactions both within the internet and the actual infospheric world itself. These notions of InfoSphere have been around for a while, but it is in the work of Luciano Floridi ( The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is reshaping reality, Philosophy of Information, and The Ethics of Information)and such initiatives as the Onlife Initiative in the European Commision that show where certain elements of the Network Society is heading. I’ll not take time to go into details. It was R.Z. Sheppard who first coined the term: “In much the way that fish cannot conceptualize water or birds the air, man barely understands his infosphere, that encircling layer of electronic and typographical smog composed of cliches from journalism, entertainment, advertising and government.” (“Rock Candy”, Time Magazine, retrieved 2010-05-05)
Floridi would transpose this concept into its present form, saying, “[infosphere:] a term referring to that limited region on our planet that supports life. It denotes the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including informational agents as well), their properties, interactions, processes and mutual relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from cyberspace (which is only one of its sub-regions, as it were), since it also includes off-line and analogue spaces of information. We shall see that it is also an environment (and hence a concept) that is rapidly evolving.” (see L. Floridi, A Look into the Future Impact of ICT on our Lives)
It would be his claim that the new Information and Communications Technologies (ICT’s) are “re-ontologizing the very nature of (and hence what we mean by) the infosphere, and here lies the source of some of the most profound transformations and challenging problems that our information societies will experience in the close future, as far as technology is concerned.”
Guy Debord and the Situationists would have termed this the Society of the Spectacle: “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.” He would add that this is the “historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life.” The difference between Marx and Debord is one of metaphor, for Marx the machine encompassed the human, while for Debord “rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” 4
For Jean Baudrillard it would take on an even more ominous tone, one in which we were immersed in a hyperreality, folded into a simulated realm of images that denied all access to the real. This hyperreality happens when the difference between reality and representation collapses and we are no longer able to see an image as reflecting anything other than a symbolic trade of signifiers in culture, not the real world. In the chapter from his now famous Simulacra and Simulation “Precession of Simulacra” Baudrillard describes three orders of simulacra. The first in which reality is represented by the image (map represents territory). The second order of simulacra is one in which the distinction between reality and representation is blurred. The third order of simulacra is that of simulation which replaces the relationship between reality and representation. Reality itself is thus lost in favor of a hyperreality.5
It’s within the context of this all-encompassing Network (Williams and Srinicek) or Infosphere (Floridi) that the next battle for our future begins today. Marx would be the first to describe a new cyborgization of the worker in his essay ‘Fragment of Machines‘. A process of machinic automation in which the workers themselves are “cast merely as its conscious linkages”. It would be here in this essay that Marx would develop his notions of alienation:
“The worker’s activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of machinery, and not the opposite. The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power of the machine itself.” (italics mine) It’s as if from the beginning machines were already becoming autonomous, with lives of their own beyond mere workers, and at the expense of the workers themselves who were mere appendages of the machine rather than the other way about. The invasion from the future of some alien and alienating process was already being marked and indexed by Marx himself. “The transformation of the means of labor into machinery, and of living labor into a mere living accessory of the machinery, as the means of its action, also posits the absorption of the labour process in its material character as a mere moment of the realization process of capital” (54). (italics mine) Humans as living labor, as mere accessories, being absorbed into the process of capital as technological agents and engines of process itself, as well as alienated by the very machinic processes of material extraction that makes them disposable units within its ongoing teleonomic pathology is the core of any Marxian cyborg theory. We are expendable to capital, we are nothing but mere units or objects to be plugged in or removed as the need arises: biomachines in our own right whose only purpose is to support capital’s ongoing teleodeterminate plan. We’ve always used that metaphor “capital” as a mask to hide the insidious truth from ourselves: the power of that hidden force that drives us mercilessly onward in an accelerating pace that has no limits beyond the limits we impose upon it. Yet, in our time this AI machine that is capital drives us till we break (i.e., our supposed crisis of capital is only our inability to fulfill capital’s accelerating force: ergo the crash of 2007, etc.).
Marx would tells us that this turn of events was not by accident at all, but was part of a deeply planned initiative within the traditional matrix of capitalism as a machinic process: “The accumulation of knowledge and skills, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital” (55). Is capital a metaphor for the AI from the future who has already long ago invaded our Anthroposcene era and through its own incorporation of human desire channeled us unknowingly, absorbing us into its planned designs? Are we mere appendages of the machine of capital to be sloughed off the moment the posthuman future is enabled and adequate to the task? Of course this sound crazy, sounds like a hyperstitional theory-fiction, but is it really… didn’t Marx himself already uncover many of our current and contemporary programs long ago? Is Marx truly already and always ahead of us rather than some 19th Century theorist of Industrial capitalism? As Borges might say isn’t Marx creating his own dark precursors out of us his progeny? Have we even begun to read Marx, or should we say: misprision him into our moment of discourse?
It’s also in this essay that both Antonio Negri and Williams+Srnicek would agree that a major task for the left and this program is in the need to reappropriate ‘fixed capital’ as Marx would say: “Machinery appears, then, as the most adequate form of fixed capital, and fixed capital, in so far as capital’s relations with itself are concerned, appears as the most adequate form of capital as such” (55). Negri would modify Marx’s figure of ‘machinery’ with an added note: “productive quantification, economic modeling, big data analysis, and the most abstract cognitive models are all appropriated by worker-subjects through education and science” (370). It would be this whole nexus of Network capitalist machinery that would remain fixed which would need to be reappropriated by any Marxian acclerationist program to become effective.
The process of alienation needs to be resuscitated for our time. Marx more or less outlines it in this statement, and I quote at length:
“This is not the place to go into the development of machinery in detail; rather only in its general aspect: in so far as the means of labour, as a physical thing loses its direct form, becomes fixed capital, and confronts the worker physically as capital. In machinery, knowledge appears as alien, external to him, and living labour [as] subsumed under self-activating objectified labour. The worker as superfluous to the extent that his action is not determined by [capital] requirements. (56)” It’s here that labor itself loses its direct form, become virtual or immaterial as capital and then confronts the worker through the machine as the physical manifestation of capital itself. Even knowledge as data externalized, and the worker as living labour subsumed within this objectified process of capital as machininc process, expendable beyond the actions needed to supplement the machine. All this would forecast our own information processing era of computer information theory. I would say that Marx was himself one of the foremost information theorists of his day incorporating a an immaterial materialism of knowledge and flows or machinic processes at the center of his critique of capital.
Some might confuse Marx as a technological determinist, yet it not he but capital itself that is the determining culprit in this technological enforcement through science: “the entire production process appears as not subsumed under the direct skillfulness of the worker, but rather as the technological application of science; hence, the tendency of capital to give production a scientific character; direct labour is reduced to a mere moment of this process. (56). Over and over we see humans (workers) as living labour are but mere appendages to the ongoing processes of the machine, servants and slave of its work for capital, nothing more. Humans are expendable, machines are not. This is the message Marx relays.
It is also in this essay that Marx would go to the center of capitals contradiction: “Capital itself is the moving contradiction, in that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure of source and wealth” (63). After a full critique of this contradiction between the reduction of labour time and it being the sole measure of source and wealth on the other Marx will expound an important point:
“Real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time. Labour time as the means of value posits wealth itself as founded on poverty, and disposable time as existing in and because of the antithesis to surplus labour time; or, the positing of an individual’s entire time as labour time, and his degradation therefore to mere worker, subsumption under labour. The most developed machinery thus forces the worker to work longer than the savage does, or than he himself did with the simplest crudest tools. (65)”
Overwork constitutes a new historical category according to my friend Jehu over at The Real Movement (here). As he tells it following Moishe Postone (Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory) the category of overwork consists of: labor time that can be converted into disposable time, i.e., time away from labor for the vast majority of society. This superfluous labor cannot be employed by either class nor both of them together, but is superfluous to the needs of society as a whole. This labor time can only be employed by individual members of society as their disposable time for purposes they alone consider important. Superfluous labor time is the potential for self-activity of the members of society as it must appear within the limits of the capitalist mode of production — within the limits of a mode of production premised on labor, on production of surplus value, on production for profit.”
Marx himself would confirm this notion saying that “saving labour time is equal to an increase of free time, i.e., time for the full development of the individual… Free time … has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as a different subject. This process is then both discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming and, at the same time, practice, experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulation of knowledge of society. (66)”
All of this may be old hat to many, but I think it was a needed exercise as we explore the unfolding and accelerating notions of capitalism before us. For at the heart of it is that originally this free time would open up for all workers the potential to expand their knowledge base and allow them to participate equitably in the full gamut of social relations, but this is not how it turned out for as we know from Marx himself what happened was that the power of the State and Corporations began to impose and constrain the free time of workers back into the very slavery of the machinic processes of capital to extract from their disposable time surplus value (i.e., profit for the corporations, stockholders, etc.).
What accelerationism potentially hopes to do is expose this contradiction at the heart of capital between reduced labor time – that frees it up for creative self-activity of the worker; while eliminating the positing of labour time, on the other side, as sole measure of source and wealth. Of course it is also so many more things than this, too. A program, a plan for action, a call to the cognitariat to arms, a opening gambit in a debate about temporality and the disposable time of labour, etc.
In Part Two: Section Two I’ll summarize the manifesto through the eyes of Antonio Negri, then will move on to essays by Tiziana Terranova, Luciana Parisi, Reza Negarestani, Ray Brassier, Benedict Singleton and Patricia Reed; along, with a final gambit or rebuttal from Nick Land in his Teleoplexy: Notes on Acceleration within this same volume.
Next post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section Two
Previous post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part One
1. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
2. Europe: The Revolutions of 1848 (1848-1871)
3. Elden, Stuart (2013-09-09). The Birth of Territory (Kindle Location 7656). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
4. Debord, Guy (2011-03-15). Society of the Spectacle. (Soul Bay Press. Kindle Edition.)
5. see the cultural studies reader (here)