Robin Mackay + Armen Avanessian
Return to or departure from Marx?
Before closing this introduction, it is worth returning in more detail to Marx, since much of the volume contends with his contributions, whether implicitly or explicitly. The disarray of the Left fundamentally stems from ‘the failure of a future that was thought inevitable’ (Camatte) by Marxism—the failure of capitalism to self-destruct as part of history’s ‘intrinsic organic development’, for the conflict between productive forces and capitalist relations of production to reach a moment of dialectical sublation, or for the proletariat to constitute itself into a revolutionary agent. And theoretical analysis of the resulting situation (real subsumption into the spectacle) seems to offer no positive possibility of opposition, yielding only modes of opposition frozen in cognitive dissonance between the ‘disruptions’ they stage and the inevitability of their recuperation. Accelerationism is significant in the way in which it confronts this plight through a return to a few fundamental questions posed by Marx upstream from various Marxist orthodoxies such as the dialectic, alienation, and the labour theory of value. Indeed one feature of accelerationism is a repeated return to these fundamental insights each time under a set of stringent conditions related to the prevailing political conditions of the epoch, a radical repetition that sometimes demands violent rejections. For, as the map contends, there is an accelerationist strand to Marx’s work which is far from being the result of a tendentious reading.
According to the ‘Fragment’, then, the development of large-scale integrated machine production is a sine qua non of Capital’s universal ascendency (‘not an accidental moment’, says Marx, later positing that intensity of machinic objectification=intensity of capital). Machine production follows directly from, maximally effects, and enters into synergy with capital’s exigency to reduce the need for human labour and to continually increase levels of production. Undoubtedly the absorption of the worker into the burgeoning machine organism more clearly than ever reduces the worker to a tool of capital. And yet, crucially, Marx makes it clear that these two forms of subsumption—under capital, and into a technical system of production—are neither identical nor inseparable in principle.
In the machine system, the unity of labour qua collectivity of living workers as foundation of production is shattered, with human labour appearing as a ‘mere moment […] infinitesimal and vanishing’ of an apparently autonomous production process. And although it reprocesses its original human material into a more satisfactory format for Capital, for Marx the machine system does not preclude the possibility of other relations of production under which it may be employed. It is, however, inseparable from a certain metamorphosis of the human, embedded in a system that is at once social, epistemic (depending on the scientific understanding and control of nature), and technological. Man no longer has a direct connection to production, but one that is mediated by a ramified, accumulated objective social apparatus constructed through the communication, technological embodiment, replication and enhancement of knowledge and skills—what Marx calls the ‘elevation of direct labour into social labour’ wherein ‘general social knowledge […] become[s] a direct force of production’. Once again, however, this estrangement is not identical with alienation through capital; nor is the former, considered apart from the strictures of the latter, necessarily a deplorable consequence. It is precisely at this point that Marx enters the speculative terrain of accelerationism: for in separating these two tendencies—the expanded field of production and the continuing metamorphoses of the human within it, and the monotonous regime of capital as the meta-machine that appropriates and governs this production process and its development—the question arises of whether, and how, the colossal sophistication, use value, and transformative power of one could be effectively freed of the limitations and iniquities of the other.
Such is the kernel of the map’s problematic and a point of divergence between the various strains of accelerationism: Williams and Srnicek, for example, urge us to devise means for a practical realization of this separability, whereas for Nick Land and Iain Hamilton Grant writing in the 90s, Deleuze and Guattari’s immanentization of social and technical machines was to be consummated by rejecting their distinction between technical machines and the capitalist axiomatic.
Since the ‘new foundation’ created by integrated machine industry is dependent not upon direct labour but upon the application of technique and knowledge, according to Marx it usurps capitalism’s primary foundation of production upon the extortion of surplus labour. Indeed, through it capital ‘works toward its own dissolution’: the total system of production qua complex ramified product of collective social labour tends to counteract the system that produced it. The vast increase in productivity made possible through the compaction of labour into the machine system, of course, ought also to free up time making it possible for individuals to produce themselves as new subjects. How then to reconcile this emancipatory vision of the sociotechnological process with the fact that the worker increasingly becomes a mere abstraction of activity, acted on by an ‘alien power’ that machinically vivisects its body, ruining its unity and tendentially replacing it (a power which, as Marx also notes, is ‘non-correlated’— that is, the worker finds it impossible to cognitively encompass it)? Once again, Marx distinguishes between the machine system as manifestation of capital’s illusory autonomy, confronting the worker as an alien soul whose wishes they must facilitate (just as the worker’s wages confront them as the apparent source of their livelihood), and the machine system seen as a concrete historical product. Even as the process of the subsumption of labour into machine production provides an index of the development of capital, it also indicates the extent to which social production becomes an immediate force in the transformation of social practice. The monstrous power of the industrial assemblage is indissociable from the ‘development of the social individual’: General social knowledge is absorbed as a force of production and thus begins to shape society: ‘the conditions of the process of social life itself […] come under the control of the general intellect and [are] transformed in accordance with it’. Labour then only exists as subordinated to the general interlocking social enterprise into which capital introduces it: Capital produces new subjects, and the development of the social individual is inextricable from the development of the system of mechanised capital.
This suggests that the plasticity of the human and the social nature of technology can be understood as a benchmark for progressive acceleration. Marx’s contention was that Capitalism’s abstraction of the socius generates an undifferentiated social being that can be subjectivated into the proletariat. That is, a situation where the machinic system remained in place and yet human producers no longer faced these means of production as alienating would necessarily entail a further transformation of the human, since, according to Marx, in the machine system humans face the product of their labour through a ramified and complex network of mediation that is cognitively and practically debilitating and disempowering.
This ‘transformative anthropology’ (Negri) is what every communist or commonist (Negri’s or Terranova’s post-operaismo) programme has to take into account. Granted the in-principle separability of machinic production and its capitalist appropriation, the ‘helplessness’ of the worker in the face of social production would have to be resolved through a new social configuration: the worker would still be confronted with this technical edifice and unable to reconcile it with the ‘unity of natural labour’, and yet humans would ‘enter into the direct production process as [a] different subject’, ceasing to suffer from it because they would have attained a collective mastery over the process, the common objectified in the machine system no longer being appropriated by the axiomatic of capital. This participation would thus be a true social project or common task, rather than the endurance of a supposedly natural order of things with which the worker abstractly interfaces through the medium of monetary circulation, the ‘metabolism of capital’, while the capitalist, operating in a completely discontinuous sphere, draws off and accumulates its surplus.
However, as Marx observes (and as Deleuze and Guattari emphasise), capitalism continues to operate as if its necessary assumption were still the ‘miserable’ basis of ‘the theft of labour time’, even as the ‘new foundation’ of machine production provides ‘the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high’. The extortion of human labour still lies at the basis of capitalist production despite the ‘machinic surplus value’ (Deleuze and Guattari) of fixed capital, since the social axiomatic of capital is disinterested in innovation for itself and is under the necessity to extract surplus value as conveniently as possible, and to maintain a reserve army of labour and free-floating capital. The central questions of accelerationism follow: What is the relation between the socially alienating effects of technology and the capitalist value-system? Why and how are the emancipatory effects of the ‘new foundation’ of machine production counteracted by the economic system of capital? What could the social human be if fixed capital were reappropriated within a new postcapitalist socius?
At the core of new accelerationisms, and responding in depth to these questions so as to fill out the map’s outlines, new philosophical frameworks suggested by Negarestani, Singleton and Brassier reaffirm Prometheanism, and bring together a transformative anthropology, a new conception of speculative and practical reason, and a set of schemas through which to understand the inextricably social, symbolic and technological materials from which any postcapitalist order will have to be constructed. They advocate not accelerationism in a supposedly known direction, and even less sheer speed, but, as Reed suggests, ‘eccentrication’ and, as Negarestani, Brassier and Singleton emphasise in various ways, navigation within the spaces opened up through a commitment to the future that truly understands itself as such and acknowledges the nature of its own agency.
In earlier accelerationisms, ‘exploratory mutation’ (Land) was only opened up through the search-space of capital’s forward investment in the future. As Land tells us, ‘long range processes are self-designing, but only in such a way that the self is perpetuated as something redesigned’. However, for cybercultural acceleration, this ‘self’ can be none other than capital’s ‘infinite will’ as it absorbs modernity into its ‘infinite augmentation’, its non-finality. In the account of Negarestani, this non-finality is displaced into the space of reason progressively constructed by the advent of symbolic social technologies and the space of norms they make possible and continually transform, thus providing an underpinning to the map’s aims and a framework within which its technological and social questions can be treated. In Singleton’s understanding of design, the opportunistic and cunning appropriation of the powers of nature progressively ratchets open an uncircumscribable space of freedom, springing human intelligence from its parochial cage and extending it through prostheses and platforms.
Whereas earlier moments of accelerationism had been a matter of a conviction in utopian projects or in the possible imminent collapse of capitalism, and subsequently a delirious summoning of revolutionary forces at work within it, today’s accelerationism, no less optimistic in certain respects, is undoubtedly more sober; a fact that cannot be unconnected to the fact that it emerges in a climate of combined crisis-and-stagnation for capitalism. It is indeed interesting to note that accelerationism reappears at moments when the powers of capitalism appear to be in crisis and alternatives appear thin on the ground. As Fisher insists, today’s crisis provides an opportune point at which to reassess those previous moments.
The destiny of the authors included in the ‘Ferment’ section is instructive here: Deleuze and Guattari arguably diluted the stance of Anti-Oedipus in A Thousand Plateaus with calls for caution in deterritorialization and a more circumspect analysis of capitalism. As Iain Grant recounts, Lyotard was soon to openly deplore his ‘evil’ accelerationist moment, and instead—in effect concurring with Camatte’s pessimism—set out to develop minor strategies of aesthetic resistance. In similar fashion, Lipovetsky’s 1983 collection tellingly entitled The Era of Emptiness5 modulates the revolutionary tone to one of acquiescent approbation: although still concerned with an ‘accelerating destabilisation’, he now sees it largely operating through a ‘process of personalisation’ whose overall liberatory vector is balanced by a contraction into narcissism and the spectacular consumption of ubiquitous ‘communication’.
The cyberculture phase, in extending Lyotard’s own ‘branchingoff’ from Deleuze and Guattari, arguably reproduced his failure to reckon with the powers of antiproduction: Deleuze and Guattari drew attention not just to the ‘positive’ schizophrenia of decoding and deterritorialization but to a certain schizophrenic dissociation within the technical or scientific worker himself, who ‘is so absorbed in capital that the reflux of organized, axiomatized stupidity coincides with him’ (‘Dear, I discovered how to clone people at the lab today. Now we can go skiing in Aspen’, as Firestone puts it). The transformation of surplus value of code into surplus value of flux necessitates that, just as technical knowledge is separated from aesthetics, so the potentially insurrectionary social import of machinically-potentiated errant intelligence is itself ‘split’ and its surplus drawn off safely by capital.
Thus, under capital, individuals are sequestered from the immense forces of production they make possible qua social beings, and feedback is limited to a minimal ‘reflux’, a purchasing ‘power’ qualitatively incommensurable with the massive flows of capital. In ‘Teleoplexy’ Land continues to set store by the crossover between consumer devices and economically-mobilizable technologies within consumer capitalism itself. Yet the earlier expectation that technology would of itself disrupt antiproduction was overoptimistic— in line with the contemporary Thatcherite spirit of free enterprise, which promised to empower every citizen with opportunities for self-realization through access to the market. The explosion in share ownership, consumer credit, and the burgeoning of consumer media and information technology did little to dislodge this dissociative mechanism that, for Deleuze and Guattari, constitutes ‘capitalism’s true police’. Projects such as those of Terranova and Parisi, of examining and rebuilding technological platforms outside this value-system and its ideological assumptions, benefit today from a greater appreciation of the subtlety of antiproduction, and complement the new philosophical resources emerging within contemporary accelerationisms.
Herein lies the real divergence between Land’s consolidated rightaccelerationism and the burgeoning left-accelerationisms: whereas one continues to see an ever increasing accumulation of both collective intelligence and collective freedom, bound together in the monstrous form of Capital itself, the other, as it develops, is proving more speculative and more ambitious in its conception of both ‘intelligence’ and ‘freedom’, seeing Capital as neither an inhuman hyperintelligence nor the one true agent of history, but rather as an idiot savant driven to squander collective cognitive potential by redirecting it from any nascent process of collective self-determination back into the selfreinforcing libidinal dynamics of market mechanisms. In this respect, the work of Negarestani and Brassier forms the conceptual bulwark preventing left-accelerationism from collapsing back into schizoid anarchy or technocapitalist fatalism. By reviving the constitutive link between freedom and reason at the heart of German idealism (Kant and Hegel), reconfigured and repurposed by pragmatist functionalism (Sellars and Brandom), they not only provide a dynamic measure of the emancipatory promise of modernity at odds with Capital’s own monotonous modes of valuation, but equally demonstrate how its progressive realization implies, in contrast to the blind idiot cyborgod of Kapital, the constitution of a genuine collective political agency.
This dialectic parallels that played out in artificial intelligence research between dominant strains developing AI capable of parochial problem solving and those increasingly concerned with characterising artificial general intelligence (AGI). The shift from conceiving intelligence as a quantitatively homogeneous measure of adaptive problem solving to conceiving it as a qualitatively differentiated typology of reasoning capacities is the properly philosophical condition of the shift from the hyperstitional invocation of machinic intelligence of the Cyberculture era to the active design of new systems of collective intelligence proposed by MAP.
The labour of constructing an accelerationist politics, its machines and its humans, is a matter, as Marx says, of ‘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 accumulated knowledge of society’. If this space of speculation outside of capital is not a mirage, if ‘we surely do not yet know what a modern technosocial body can do’, isn’t this labour of the inhuman not just a rationalist, but also a vitalist one in the Spinozist sense, concerning the indissolubly technical and social human--homo sive machina—in the two aspects of its collective labour upon its world and itself: Homo hominans and homo hominata?
Robin Mackay + Armen Avanessian
Truro + Berlin, April 2014
Speculating Freedom: Addiction, Control and Rescriptive Subjectivity in the Work of William S. Burroughs
Jose Rosales - ON THE END OF HISTORY & THE DEATH OF DESIRE (NOTES ON TIME AND NEGATIVITY IN BATAILLE’S ‘LETTRE Á X.’)
Jose Rosales - BERGSONIAN SCIENCE-FICTION: KODWO ESHUN, GILLES DELEUZE, & THINKING THE REALITY OF TIME
Obsolete Capitalism - THE STRONG OF THE FUTURE. NIETZSCHE’S ACCELERATIONIST FRAGMENT IN DELEUZE AND GUATTARI’S ANTI-OEDIPUS
Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 1)
Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 2)
Obsolete Capitalism: Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 3)
Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 4)
Obsolete Capitalism: Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 5)
Steven Craig Hickman - The Carnival of Globalisation: Hyperstition, Surveillance, and the Empire of Reason
Steven Craig Hickman - Shaviro On The Neoliberal Strategy: Transgression and Accelerationist Aesthetics
Steven Craig Hickman - Hyperstition: Technorevisionism – Influencing, Modifying and Updating Reality
Terence Blake - CONCEPTS OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Notes on Deleuze and Guattari’s “What is Philosophy?” (2)
Terence Blake - GUATTARI’S LINES OF FLIGHT (2): transversal vs transferential approaches to the reading contract
Himanshu Damle - Games and Virtual Environments: Playing in the Dark. Could These be Havens for Criminal Networks?
Himanshu Damle - Hegelian Marxism of Lukács: Philosophy as Systematization of Ideology and Politics as Manipulation of Ideology.
Nick Land - The unconscious is not an aspirational unity but an operative swarm, a population of 'preindividual and prepersonal singularities'