Philosophical accelerationism is a tendency that first crystallized as a separate intellectual direction in Britain in the mid-1990s. Around the culturally critical collective CCRU (Cybernetic Culture Research Unit) at the University of Warwick in England, a radical and interdisciplinary environment formed that combined avant-garde French theory, science fiction-inspired pop culture, sociology, politics and technology studies in its search for a future ideological project. could correspond to what they perceived as the contemporary need for a new intellectual paradigm.
CCRU was officially established by the cyberfeminist Sadie Plant, who between 1995 and 1997 was employed at the Institute of Philosophy in Warwick. CCRU was a loosely composed group that consisted of both students and staff at the university. Thinkers such as Nick Land, Stephen Metcalf, Mark Fisher, Iain Hamilton Grant, Reza Negarestani, Robin Mackay, Ray Brassier and Kodwo Eshun were at various times associated with the CCRU. In the time after Sadie Plant left the University of Warwick, Nick Land took over as the leader of the collective, and in its active period until 2003, CCRU's work became increasingly experimental and transcendent in relation to the academic standard. CCRU eventually moved its activities to a private apartment and published mainly its works as self-produced fanzines.
Robot and computer technology fascinated
CCRU's accelerationism addressed the growing potential of modern societies for renewal and development and looked ahead. Inspired by the science-fiction literature's speculative foreshadowing of the technological and social possibilities of the future, the political and social realities of today sought to see the germs of the new reality that was manifesting itself at the expense of the old. Robotics and computer technology in particular fascinated the accelerationists deeply, and in CCRU's work a normative imperative emerged to build on everything that could accelerate the development of these technologies, and at the same time attack the contemporary trends that were seen as obstacles to development.
The environment around CCRU mentally prepared for the coming of the new high-tech world through experimenting with new forms of industrial art, music and film and through mind-shifting drugs and rave culture. Based on a reinterpretation of Gilles Deleuze's desire-oriented concept of subject, one sought beyond the self-understanding of classical ideologies in order to identify with the violent revolutionary forces of modernity itself. Deleuze's concept of "libidinous materialism" identified the subjectivity of the drive of desire and explained the essence of the subject as an inner driving force that directed itself at objects of desire outside itself. The transcendent tendency of the subject of desire was linked to the tendency of societies to transcend "territorialized" (stiffened) traditional social structures in modernity, and global capitalism was identified as the metasubjective, collective driving force behind the liberation of growing transforming forces worldwide.
Because capitalism fundamentally reflected the essential characteristics of the object of desire, it was concluded that desire-driven capitalism had to be given free rein so that development could accelerate and leave behind the historically conditioned social structures that stood in the way of maximum development of the collective drive of desire.
The environment around CCRU mentally prepared for the coming of the new high-tech world through experimenting with new forms of industrial art, music and film and through awareness-shifting drugs and rave culture.
One did not just go in to prepare oneself and the culture for the inevitable alienation that was already in the cards, as market interests had recently established a world domination after the fall of the Iron Curtain; one should play along with this alienation, lose oneself in it, and try by all means to help dissolve the structures and norms of the established societies in order to actively meet the cybernetic future. Accelerationism as an ideological project in the sense of the CCRU was therefore opposed to any conservatism, any humanism, collectivist social movements such as traditional socialism and social democracy, environmental movement, nationalism, populism (democracy in general), in short any social project that wanted to protect existing humanist values in meeting with modernization. CCRU's accelerationism therefore came into conflict with what we should call the accelerationist tendencies on the left, where the criteria for judging societal development were dictated by concepts of social justice and human welfare.
In our late modern historical period, we in the West are faced with a serious political problem. This problem is well summed up in Margaret Thatcher's neoliberal statement that "There Is No Alternative", in the undisputed status of market liberalism as a political system and in the title of Francis Fukuyama's infamous 1989 book The End of History and the Last Man (The End of History and The Last Man).
Because it is an established truth that capitalism is the driving force behind renewal, and because the great modern socialist experiments were either discredited by their own collapse, or today by the authoritarian horror scenario that has become China's capitalism with Communist Party values, the progressive left has lost all legitimacy. Or better: the left's project is no longer progressive. The few symbolic "watchdogs" from the far left in the Western parliaments today have the task of uncovering and mobilizing against the most inhuman consequences of the constant march of capital interests forward. The left-wing class warriors have become reactionary and defensive.
It was concluded that lust-driven capitalism had to be given free rein.
Unlike the classical Marxist tradition, which looked to the future and the revolution as the necessary course of events that pointed to the abolition of the internal contradictions of the capitalist social system, today's red front has enough to fight to defend what still exists of welfare. , working life regulation and democratic management of resources. The dynamic ability of capitalism to continually develop new forms of value creation in the form of new business models and new technologies that seek to circumvent the aforementioned "human security system" is today the most transformative force the globe has ever seen.
The current geological epoch is referred to as the "anthropocene", as the epoch in which man is the physical force that has the greatest impact on what the earth as a whole actually looks like. Critics of this concept prefer to call the era "capitalocene", as it is impossible to understand how human ravages on the planet take place without understanding capitalism as a systematic condition of possibility.
# Accelerate! Manifesto for an accelerationist policy
Accelerationist tendencies therefore meant something different for the early revolutionary left than what we put into the term today. What can be called accelerationist features of classical, high-modern Marxism is the understanding that history was on its way to a new stage, because the conditions produced by capitalism by its own logic were so untenable that the people would eventually have to revolt to save themselves. self. For them, any progress for capitalism was at the same time a step towards its own finality. It just had to be bad enough before it could really get good. The more brutal the class antagonisms came to light, the more capitalism showed its true face, the easier it would be to recruit activists and radicalize the masses.
The Left Party's project is no longer progressive.
But if capitalist history has no end in sight, what about the political left? Yes, it takes the form of a defensive bulwark for human dignity and the preservation of what still makes human life worth living. It tunes in a moralistic and sentimental tone and reminds us of the old solidarity ideals that haunt us as insubstantial ghosts, while we compete with each other for the privilege of being exploited in the internationalized labor market. But in this way of having to go against the flow and try to hold back the general trend of development worldwide, is an ungrateful position to be in. It is not sexy to be a party brake, and maybe it is not at all possible to win in the long run.
This situation has inspired the authors of the New Accelerationist Manifesto Accelerate! Manifesto for an accelerationist policy from 2013, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, who claims that no serious policy in our time can remain defensive if it is to win, and encourages the reader to once again see the possibilities for a liberated and solidary future in continuation of the capitalist-driven development. If we fail to invent new ways of imagining the future, the result will simply be that we will have no future, and the cataclysmic effects of the destruction of natural resources, as well as the possibility of new high-tech wars, will lead to the common doom of civilizations. .
The first of these challenges is to remove the progressive mask of capitalism.
The progressive mask of capitalism
The manifesto diagnoses that the imagination is paralyzed. In a new alliance between Enlightenment thinking and science fiction, we who think about politics must give ourselves the task of inventing a possible future that corresponds to the challenges that our time presents us with. The first of these challenges is to remove the progressive mask of capitalism: capitalism must be uncovered as a parasite on development that perverts the ability to prioritize and leads to enormous waste of resources.
The Manifesto claims that in today's capitalist system we can not even sense the potential inherent in the technology that has already been developed. We must win back the argument that capitalism is not only unjust and destructive, but that capitalism is actually holding back development. Societies could have been organized more rationally, new useful technology could have been distributed and implemented freely and fairly in a world without private property rights. The physical and mental conditions people live under in a competitive everyday life are not the best for creative thinking and innovative expression. We must maintain that the goal of a post-capitalist democratic society is collective self-control, not economic growth. The accelerationist left thus argues that capitalism in our stage of history prevents us from becoming even more modern.
The left must therefore become a platform that constitutes a complex organizational ecology, where a diversity of organizational forms complement each other and together can meet the social, technical, economic and psychological demands of the struggle against capitalism. This organizational ecology must itself constitute a microcosm and a model for the new society. The Left must show in practice that progress has better conditions for growth outside capitalism, and it must be able to acquire any technological and scientific progress developed under capitalism, in order to show that these can be realized more effectively in a non-capitalist context. The accelerationist left must therefore be able to analyze social networks, actor-based modeling, analysis of big data, and advanced economic models, so that the effective tools developed by modern science and technology do not remain in the hands of the capital interests that today holds the hegemony. Only in this way can the sword of capitalism be turned against capitalism itself, and a high-tech alternative to capitalism can emerge as a speculative cognitive mapping for the future.
After the optimism of high modernity?
Self-undermining doomsday prophecy unfortunately seems like a project that has greater resonance in our imaginatively paralyzed times than the more optimistic idea of hyperstition, which Armen Avanessian takes over from the 90s accelerationists in the CCRU. The idea of "hyperstition" (juxtaposition of the terms hype and superstition) argues that renewal must take place in the delight of speculation, that the future must flow out of the belief in the possibilities of the future through a forward-looking anticipation of the present. The fact that in today's desperate intellectual climate one longs for the new "hype" which speculatively anticipates a new possible future, does not mean that we are thus able to predict the real consequences of the new projects we are implementing. In our precarious situation, it is perhaps better to therefore indulge in a via negative and focus on avoiding the worst disasters that are already identifiable and imminent. A bit like a rehabilitating drug addict, we need to focus on what specific therapeutic strategies we can implement here and now, so that we do not end up reproducing the vicious circles we are caught in today. Can one go so far as to call the accelerationist the craving for the next "hype" for a kind of spiritual abstinence syndrome that lingers on the optimism of high modernity? We have to find a new way of being as a human being, both technologically and politically. But because the question of this new way of being is an increasingly acute "to be or not to be", we who live late in modernity must exercise enormous caution when we dare to fantasize about the future.
Printed with permission from the publisher Existenz, an excerpt from the afterword to the anthology Acceleration (2021). The book is edited by Armen Avanessian, and translated into Norwegian by Anders Dunker.