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Against Accelerationism – For Marxism

By Reid Kane, 23 July 2015

'Jetpack communism' or 'Marxist heresy'? Today's younger red tories (also known as 'left accelerationists') approach capitalism's contradictions and the threat of communism from the perspective of management, reviving a project resembling the ambiguously socialist nationalist and new right discourse of 'planisme' (developed in France and Belgium in the 1930-50s). The last two months have seen the publication of several left critiques of 'accelerationism', by Malcolm Harris and David Cunningham, a response to Harris by Peter Wolfendale, as well as what comes across as a wholly naive and implicit endorsement by Paul Mason heralding the end of capitalism through its non-reproducing technicist apotheosis. In this context, it seems useful to post and reflect upon this succinct response by Reid Kane, from Barbarie della reflessione (AI)


To the extent that left accelerationists draw upon Marx, they are reflecting Marx’s recognition of the positive historical role capitalism can and must play, specifically in its capacity to develop the forces of production, increasing intensively and extensively the productivity of human activity.

Yet insofar as they reject the dialectic, they lose Marx’s crucial *political* insight. This developmental dynamic is intimately tied to the struggle of the working class to increase value of its labor power, and thus to diminish the need to work. Yet technology is employed not to emancipate the worker from the need to work, but from the opportunity to do so, and thus to emancipate the capitalist from the worker. It is employed in order to drive down the value of labor power, precisely to the point at which their labor-power becomes cheaper than “labor-saving” alternatives.

In other words, the development of the productive forces comes into conflict with the existing relations of production. Wage workers, displaced by machinery, are proletarianized, deprived of access to the means of subsistence they collectively produce.

It was precisely this tendency that Marx saw “accelerating” with the completion of the bourgeois revolutions. Yet he did not advocate it simply because it led to technological advancement, but because it forced the proletariat to organize itself to mediate the deprivation they faced. As the population threatened with and afflicted by proletarianization would grow in proportion to industry, the organizations of the proletariat would be forced to express the common interests of the “immense majority” of the population “without distinction of sex or race”, and to face the possibility, and the need, of taking political power. These interests would coincide in the abolition of private property in the means of production, which would be appropriated by the proletarian dictatorship and applied for the common benefit of all.

In other words, the acceleration of the development of productive forces (or “technology”) under capitalism creates a potential for emancipation that manifests negatively – freedom from any means of production of their own – as a problem that can only be solved politically.

“Acceleration” is ambivalent; it is regressive in that it is the mechanism by which the conditions of the working class are forced downwards, but progressive to the extent that this is mediated by political radicalization. The latter can be headed off by compromises that divide the proletariat in different ways (between nations, or within nations on the basis of race, gender, nationality), but in the end dependence on the bourgeoisie for concessions will undermine the impetus for independent proletarian organizations, which erode, in turn undermining the bourgeoisie’s impetus to keep those concessions in place. And so those elements of the working class suspended in the middle strata fall back into the proletariat (e.g. “neoliberalism”).

To the extent that the accelerationists are calling for reforms (most notably, universal basic income) that would subsidize the proletarian condition, they would undermine the very source of the progressive dynamic that Marx sought to “accelerate” – not the advancement of technology, but the advancement of the organizational and political development of the working class. Who, after all, would pass such a reform? What political agency has, or could have, the motive and the capacity to do so? In the context of capitalist society, such a reform would only be a measure of political warfare – not against the working people, but against the working class as self-consciously organized.