Movement of the Day: Accelerationism

Excerpted from the Accelerationist Manifesto by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek:

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.

2. All of us want to work less. 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.

3. Cap­it­al­ism has begun to con­strain the pro­duct­ive forces of tech­no­logy, or at least, dir­ect them towards need­lessly nar­row ends. Pat­ent wars and idea mono­pol­isa­tion are con­tem­por­ary phe­nom­ena that point to both capital’s need to move bey­ond com­pet­i­tion, and capital’s increas­ingly ret­ro­grade approach to tech­no­logy. The prop­erly accel­er­at­ive gains of neo­lib­er­al­ism have not led to less work or less stress. 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. Relent­less iter­a­tions of the same basic product sus­tain mar­ginal con­sumer demand at the expense of human acceleration.

4. We do not want to return to Ford­ism. There can be no return to Ford­ism. 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 régime is both undesir­able and prac­tic­ally impossible to return to.

5. 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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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. 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.

23. The choice facing us is severe: either a glob­al­ised post-?capitalism or a slow frag­ment­a­tion towards prim­it­iv­ism, per­petual crisis, and plan­et­ary eco­lo­gical collapse.

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. 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. The future must be cracked open once again, unfasten­ing our hori­zons towards the uni­ver­sal pos­sib­il­it­ies of the Outside.”order cialis in united states

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