New Accelerationism and Imperial Protocol

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Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek have recently unveiled their “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics,” announcing the much-needed revitalization of the concept and dragging it out of the fractured quagmire that Nick Land’s philosophy (intentionally) put it. They offer some short critiques of Land – his confusion of speed and acceleration, the miscalculation of power’s ability at reterritorialization, and the basic (yet mutable) parameters of development that capitalism establishes, which ultimately undo the apocalyptic free-for-all that Landian accelerationism foretold. Most importantly, they strive to ‘retarget’ that which the philosophy postulates will accelerate. Land had taken Deleuze and Guattari’s own emphasis on the accelerated deterritorialization of desiring flows as identical to capitalism’s own deterritorialization, sidestepping the important factor that capitalism’s flows follow in the wake of desire and only seek to overcode them for the power system’s own ends. Williams and Srnicek, on the other hand, see that to accelerate the desires bundled up into capitalism’s internal logic means that one has alter the mechanical foundations of capitalism in order to liberate them:

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 infastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed, but a springboard to be launched towards post-capitalism.1

While differing in various ways, there are certain respects in which their accelerationist politics tie nicely into the strains of post-Autonomia thought, particularly those that were laid forth in Hardt and Negri’s Empire. Hardt and Negri too saw that the existing infrastructure of the transnational neoliberal complex was assembled from the multitude’s own desires and General Intellect (rendered by Williams and Srnicek as the procession of “technological evolution” that is captured in the machinic enslavement of “capitalist objectives”) and as such held innate potentials for appropriate and redistribution through the actualization of positive biopower. “…we must push Empire to come out the other side,” as we read in Empire.2 Tiqqun’s critique of the Imperial hypothesis illustrates quite clearly the dynamic relationship between their understanding of neoliberalism and its opposition:

The three watchwords typical of political Negrism – for all its strength lies in its ability to provide informal neo-militants with issues on which to focus their demands – are the ‘citizens dividend,’ the right to free movement (‘Papers for Everyone!’), and the right to creativity, especially if computer-assisted. In this sense, the Negrist perspective is in no way different from the imperial perspective but rather a mere instance of perfectionism within it… It wants Biopolitics without police, communication without Spectacle, peace without war to get it. Strictly speaking, Negrism does not coincide with imperial thought, it is simply the idealist face of political thought.3

Negative connotations aside, this is a perfect summation of how “Empire” operates: the creative powers of anti-Fordist resistance of the 1960s has become unleashed, and reciprocated into the methodologies of Control that operates on the visceral sensation of having every single desire that floats across our minds immediately fulfilled – within the operational parameters set by the system. It is not so much as putting an “idealist face” over Empire’s skeleton, as Tiqqun charges, but an aim to devastate the parameters through the acceleration of the things held within. But Hardt and Negri, following Deleuze and Foucault, point out that because these parameters have become dispersed globally and been made invisible, existing in computer networks, unspoken dictates, and programmed self-regulation, this limit-crossing will not arise from local populism: “Empire cannot be resisted by a project aimed at a limited, local autonomy. We cannot move back to any previous social form, nor move forward in isolation.”4 Williams and Srnicek find themselves in congruence with this at two points. First, there is no return, despite the abundance of nostalgia, to the factory-as-social base situation of Fordism – “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.”5 Second is the rejection of local political platforms as a medium for change:

We believe the most important division in today’s left is between those who 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 with facing foes which are intrinsically non-local, abstract, and rooted in our everyday infrastructure.6

I think that are some immediate problems of this approach. While agreeing with the inability of localism to triumph over a transnational complex, it seems to me that Williams and Srnicek have a tendency to look at the ongoing crisis from the vantage point of the macro-sphere. But, to use the model developed in part by Brian Holmes, capitalism and power formations are presently effecting us across five scales: the global, the continental, national, territorial, and intimate. Thus, a macropolitical resistance must be coupled with a Guattarian micropolitical revolution in order for any successes to be made; otherwise the regulated subjectivity emerged from the intersections of our “everyday infrastructure” (which is something that we encounter on a local level, no?) Micropolitical revolution does not necessary mean local or folk politics, though it can take on this form – it means the profound transformation of the local, be it the localized community, activist group, or individual.

We learned with a series of neutered revolutions – running from the Bolshevik revolution through to Chavez’s Venezuela – that forsaking emphasis on the micro for the macro leads to both a re-emphasis on the continental and national scales (the Soviet’s “Internationalism” bracketed by nationalism, Chavez’s own continental capitalism and national management existing outside the greater world market), and an outright rejection of really-existing autonomy. Under Lenin, the Bolshevik form of this overcoding came at the forced collectivization of the peasantry, the glorification of Fordist and Taylorist industrial paradigms, and the destruction of communal power. Furthermore, the Bolshevik supremacy came at the expense of various other radical movements, many inclined towards anarchism; these other forms of dissent were captured and utilized to produce the panopticonic state of the USSR.

In the West, the ways in which the Leninist current organized itself – secret cells, vanguardism – was picked up by a group of neo-classical economists (including F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman) and utilized to implement a truly international revolution, this time in the service of capitalism. This, of course, was the neoliberal revolution, and the group I’m referring to is the Mont Pelerin Society. This society made itself into a strict intellectual vanguard, spanning hundreds of think-tanks, forums, university and government appointments around the globe to convince both the public and the private that free-market capitalism was not only right, but that is was natural. This promise of a frictionless and open world of trade, much like the dream of the proletariat’s utopia in Russia, led instead to the proliferation of bureaucracy, of tedium, and of boundless exploitation. Thus, when we read in the Accelerationist manifesto that there needs to be a “mimicking of the Mont Pelerin Society,” there might be cause to be wary.

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Mont Pelerin: the birthplace of neoliberalism

This is not to say that Williams and Srnicek’s proposal is inherently Leninist; much of what they discuss reflects the amorphous and rhizomatic tendencies involved in articulating resistance to the present powers. We can explore this by returning to the similarities between their work and Hardt and Negri’s. Speaking of post-capitalist social organization, they write:

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.7

This model is strikingly close to the way that Hardt and Negri visualize Empire’s own structure:

The new paradigm is both a system and hierarchy, centralized construction of norms and far-reaching production of legitimacy, spread out over world space. It is configured ab initio as a dynamic and flexible structure that is articulated horizontally. 8

This, however, is not counter-intuitive to resistance to the Control Society, for its structure is also its weakness as well as its greatest strength. Alexander Galloway has illustrated that Hardt and Negri’s discourse on Imperial structure finds its reflection within the internet protocol, where there are hierarchical, bureaucratic, and despotic gatekeepers that allow access to the dispersed and distributed – and ultimately anarchic – networks of the internet itself. But it is with great difficulty that we “speak about protocol in a negative light,” Galloway writes, “for its very success preclude outside positions.”9 Resistance to protocol is not only futile, but it is ultimately impossible: “Opposing protocol is like opposing gravity – there is nothing to say that it can’t be done, but such a pursuit is surely misguided and in the end hasn’t hurt gravity much.” Instead, the protocol is a construct of pure biopolitical production: born from the General Intellect, it is a logic of control that operates on the very principles of openness and vitality that life demands of itself. But what was it that Foucault himself, alongside Deleuze, Hardt, and Negri, said of biopower? While it is the supreme articulation of control, it is also the nexus of resistance.

Galloway aims to show this through a conversation with about, individuals who utilize the code and adhere to that sense of openness that control claims to provide. In the early days, hacking moved through spheres with a frictionless ease that only Thomas Friedman and Bill Gates could dream of for their digital capitalism; it uses all the rhetoric of the new technotropic age and the adjacent tools it provides to actually give form to these dreams – promises that in turn became resistance. With Hardt and Negri’s thoughts on pushing “through Empire to the other side” in mind, Galloway argues that “By knowing protocol better than anyone else, hackers push protocol into a state of hypertrophy, hoping to come out the other side. So in a sense, hackers are created by protocol, but in another, hackers are protocological actors par excellence.”10 Galloway’s wording immediately brings to mind acceleration, and rightfully so. What we are all dealing with is the fabric of contemporary life itself, and the critical question of how autonomy and enslavement can no longer be opposed but are now synonymous with one another. If Williams and Srnicek’s post-capitalist model reflects the Empire model, it is because “Empire” reflects the essential factors for the informal structures of the living multitude. Hence their insistence that the “vertical authority” be “collectively controlled”; by pushing this into even more mutable and hybridized forms, by making this into more of a radical dissensus, the multitude’s constituent power over this authority would pretty much render their vertical power inert – protocol reworked in the service of life, not for its harnessing.

1Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics” http://accelerationism.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/williams-and-srnicek.pdf

2Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 206

3Tiqqun This is Not a Program Semiotext(e), 2011, pgs. 117-118

4Hardt, Negri Empire, pg. 206

5Williams and Srnicek “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics”

6Ibid

7Ibid

8Hardt and Negri Empire pg. 13

9Alexander Galloway Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization MIT Press, 2004, pg. 147

10Ibid, pg. 158

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7 Responses to New Accelerationism and Imperial Protocol

  1. noir-realism says:

    If as Yann Moulier Boutang has suggested “Google has become the emblem of our new cognitive capitalism because it has invented a new economic model relying on the controlled development of collective intelligence networks.” Our only resistance to this new control mechanism will be through creating other viable yet open source pollinators that subvert the filters of these collective engines of desire.

    One of the things I think they missed in their manifesto is that control is no longer top/down, no longer veridical, no longer sponsored from a central command center, it is built into the system itself as its DNA: it floats among the neuralfibers of our collective intelligence channels, synapses, nodes like a pollinator that feeds our desires subtly and invisibly with new encodings/decodings. It plays on our wants and needs through its continuous feedback loops that in process track our desires in an endless parade of offers, promotions, adverts, deals, and suasions. Like drones we feed the hive our intelligence through blogging, wiki, facbook, twitter, etc. and get nothing back in return; yet it is our intelligence that keeps the vampires happy.

    • edmundberger says:

      Yeah, one gets the impression from points in the manifesto that they want to turn back the clock, assault a monolithic power with an equally monolithic counter-power. I worry that the borderline fetishization of specialization and planning would foster a Leninist vanguard, even if the dualing vertical/horizontal structures are meant to scramble this – will we be delivered to a post-capitalism by an avant-garde party of socially-aware intellectuals wielding science and technology? I don’t think so. We need those things that escape from control’s grasps and modelization, we need the excess of language, and we also need to rekindle solidarity in a society where solidarity has been replaced by the citizen as the consumer and self-entrepreneur.

      • noir-realism says:

        Yea, I keep rethinking the influx of creativity in Paris ala 1920’s of the Modernists: the time of art and thought and painting… It’s like the open cafes and the street talk that it spawned were accelerationism in practice. We have at the moment no attractor, no magnet, no site or place onto which to gather the counterpower of the earth. Why? This is what we need more than ever: the pollination of creativity and inventiveness that spurred the early moderns from 1915 through the late 30’s. We seem so distanced and abstract. I almost want to say with Whtiman and Henry Miller: back to the streets… forget literature, art, etc. Except in our age the streets are the byways and outposts of the internet, rather than the asphalt jungles of New York and Paris.

  2. edmundberger says:

    I think you make a great point there, that the creative social of modernity was acceleration in practice, because in so many ways our postmodern condition is the negative realization of modernism’s wants. I think of Arthur Rimbaud and his one made crusade against his time’s symbolic order, and how he urged a DEREGULATION in order to become-nomadic… and of course there is Henry Miller, the great reader of Rimbaud, who I think is the model (alongside Kerouac) of Deleuze and Guattari’s own conception of nomadism. Miller moved from place to place, rejecting territories and circulating his desiring-flows, and what is contemporary capitalism but this?

    To find this creativity again means that we have to recreate the sense of otherness that has disappeared… but how? What will be the information age’s Cabaret Voltaire?

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