(In which I continue to lecture myself, in continuation of my previous post)
I came into contact with Accelerationism shortly after Occupy the way I imagine many people did – through the writings of former CCRUnaut Mark Fisher, primarily through the fascinating if a little dystopic blog of his, K-Punk. Especially important in this regard was his link to Simon Reynold’s explorations of the CCRU space that was published in 1999 under the title “Renegade Academia”. The material was maddeningly vexing, yet sharply resonant with the theories outlined first in Anti-Oedipus and resurrected again in Empire. At the same time, it contained a contagious intransigence that seemed to be a necessary jolt to the malaise that was rapidly settling. Reynolds recounted how “This gloating delight in capital’s deterritorialising virulence is the CCRU’s reaction to the stuffy complacency of Left-wing academic thought; a sort of rubbing salt in the wounds (as when Land jibes at the ‘senile spectre’) of Socialism, an allusion to The Communist Manifesto).”
I had long been interested in the ability of capitalism to capture the energy and appropriate the aesthetics and ideologies of its opposition. Much of this had come about, for me, with a deep fascination and utter horror at the activities of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a government-funded quasi-NGO that works closely with dissident groups operating in authoritarian states or the so-called “transition zones” that pivot midway between the ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’ world. The NED’s fingerprints can be found across the globe: the revolt against Milosevic, the Orange and Rose Revolutions in Eastern Europe, and as recently as the Arab Spring. It seemed very clear that neoliberalism required not only the forcefulness of hard power to expand itself, but also a fine-tuned apparatus of capture the interacted directly with the actors whose rhetoric and actions might be attempting to move in the opposition direction of the hegemony of the global market. The picture became only more complicated when I begin looking into the birth of the NED during the Reagan administration – alongside the usual foreign policy hawks and representatives from the innumerable alphabet agencies that make up the United States’ regime of enforcement, the major driving force behind the organization’s creations were a close-knit group of former socialists and civil rights activists with deep relations to the AFL-CIO labor union and the hawkish division of the Democratic Party that was personified by Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson. The apparatus of capture, it seemed, runs deep.
If neoliberalism can subvert dynamic tactics and strategies and outright revolutions into its own geopolitical management, what weapons can be deployed to escape this paradigm? One answer seemed to be the wildly horizontal practices utilized in the lineage running from the alter-globalization movement (and its predecessors) down through Occupy. Yet overt horizontalism and the language of spontaneous self-organization seemed, by 2012, to be doomed to failure. Such tactics seemed to presuppose that civil society was able to organize itself in new ways that are outside the system while existing inside its infrastructure, carrying over the logic of exodus that had been theorized first by the Autonomists and in several confusing passages of alter-globalization’s own theoretical expression, Empire.
In his dissertation Escape, Andrew Culp tells us that the traditional notion of exodus – the act of ‘running to the hills’ – is no longer a possibility. There is no way out from inside neoliberalism. Instead, today’s escape one “burrows deeper to the dark underside of the metropolis.” This is what Accelerationism, in its dark and schismatic ambiance, seemed to entail to me. There is absolutely a reading of the CCRU’s work that puts it directly in the context of the neoliberal ideology, as Ray Brassier and Benjamin Noys have argued. But there is another reading, in which the CCRU’s variant of Accelerationism can be recast as a dark poetics that does this act of ‘burrowing’ into the metropolis of capital. While on the surface it all appears as a Deleuze-and-Guattari-meets-sci-fi-meets-Hayek, it’s also worthwhile to note that Sadie Plant’s dissertation was on the Situationists (and more properly, the capture of Situationism strategy by postmodern capitalism), and references to the movement abound in the CCRU’s journal, Abstract Culture. This seemed to indicate, to me at least, that their work was situated in a more cultural and avant-garde direction than one strictly socio-economic and political.
This perspective was only exacerbated more by the fact that the CCRU’s own network was fixed on the peripheries of the tactical media circles that fed directly into the more aesthetically-minded and experimentation wings of the alter-globalization movement. Besides the large commonality in the interest in electronic dance music and rave culture, we can observe the CCRU seems to have had links to media theorists like Howard Slater and Matthew Fuller. Slater had been a member of TechNet, which promoted a politicized reading of rave culture as a proletarian counter-culture that foster the growth of anarchis, post-capitalist economies. Fuller, meanwhile, is a post-media theorist who emerged from the nebulous zone where anarchist tendencies and hacker subculture coagulated together; his 1994 anthology of writngs from this scene, Unnatural: Techno-Theory for a Contaminated Culture, contained a reprint of Land and Plant’s seminal text “Cyberpositive”. If we’re going to continue to rattle off the cross-pollination of ideas between these various groups, the CCRU’s first “Virtual Futures” conference at Warwick University counted among its participants none other than that exemplar of post-left anarchism, Hakim Bey.
At some point the CCRU began posting on the Nettime emailing list, the transnational forum of net-artists, post media operators, and alter-globalization activists that had launched in part by Geert Lovink, himself a veteran of the Dutch anarcho/Autonomist squatters scene. Nettime’s own participant list is impressive: since its start in 1995, emailers have included Julian Assange, Bifo, Hakim Bey, the Critical Art Ensemble, Matthew Fuller, Alexander Galloway, Brian Holmes, Douglas Rushkoff, Howard Slater, DJ Spooky, Bruce Sterling, Tiziana Terranova, Eugene Thacker, McKenzie Wark, and the Yes Men. Given the climate of the times and the shifting approaches to cultural theory (particularly the importance of participatory media’s rising prominence), to be included in such a list isn’t surprising. I only highlight it because of another actor in the Nettime network: the Slovenian art collective Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK).
The roots of the NSK, far too involved to give anything other than a cursory glimpse here, lay in the opposition to the Stalinist government of Tito. Instead of clearly defining themselves in the typical aesthetic formulas of an opposition group, the NSK amplified the statist imagery, cobbling symbols and codeworks and programs from both the autocratic left and the authoritarian right, blending Soviet imagery with fascist energies into a powerful platform that overidentified with the vertically organized stateform and bureaucratic government. The resulting negation of statist identitiy can best be felt in the performances of the NSK’s musical wing Laibach, which held concerns that tapped into the libidinal ego of authoritarianism while stripping it of its compulsion to blind obedience. After Tito died and the Soviet Union collapsed, Slovenia’s traditional parameters – like much of the globe – became subjected to the wild deterritorializations of neoliberalism. The NSK responded by forming itself into a state that was not fixed to a geographical local, but one that existed as a state in time. This itself was another sort overidentification, this time with the strange contradiction eating at neoliberalism, where on one hand the state itself became dissolved while also being restructured in a way to manage the flows of capital, goods, and populations.
Reading the writings of the CCRU back in 2012 I wondered – as I do now – if Land’s Accelerationism had more than a few elements of overidentification at play in it. Regardless, retrospection reminds me now that the post-Occupy interest in Accelerationist tactics were something of a molecular zeitgeist. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams soon unleashed their own variant of the politics in their #Accelerate: A Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics. The two touched only on Land’s Accelerationism, and when they did it was only briefly, equating it explicitly with neoliberalism and chastising it as a politics of frantic speed. Their Accelerationism, by contrast, was of navigation, of being able to steer things into new directions.
Besides Land, they also called into question the politics – which they perhaps unfairly dub ‘folk politics’ – of the alter-globalist lineage: “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.” They count themselves amongst the latter, calling for a rational and “collective self-mastery” that is capable of enabling the Left to reclaim the future and generate alternative horizons for a new modernity.
When the manifesto first began making the rounds, I had strong misgivings about the project. If Landian Acceleration spoke to neoliberal impulse of rapid deterritorialization, Srnicek and William’s Left Accelerationism seemed at first blush to reflect the complimentary aspect of state form and managerialism that empowered and enforced this deterritorialization. The language of rationalization and self-mastery was particularly troubling: digging into neoliberalism’s past, one finds the repeat sloganing of rationalize! as part of the move to provide an intellectual underpinning to this economic system (cybernetics, game theory, rational choice theory, public choice theory, and rational actor theory are the best examples of this). That they cited the Mont Pelerein Society, the place where Austrian economics and Ordoliberal theory collided with these forms, as a model for promoting Left Accelerationism only exacerbated the fear that this was a political program tailor-made for the apparatus of capture.
At the same time, the manifesto reflected some incredibly important necessities for grappling with building new horizons. The Left needs to be fully knowledgeable, and comfortable with, the issues of complexity, technology, and the speed of the world. Maybe theory had wallowed in the cultural sphere for far too long, and resistance focused too much on the aesthetics. Somewhere we lost out on large-scale economic theory; by and far the most vocal perspectives to leak past the walls of academia to the broader population were those by quasi-Keynesian economists like Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs and Robert Reich – and none of these scholars go nearly far enough. The Left readily deployed information technology to aid its struggles, but somewhere along the way the critical questions that needed to be asked started being asked less and less. Besides the blockading of ports in Oakland, we didn’t really talk about infrastructure and space – beyond the small space we needed to carry out our horizontal experiments. Besides small pockets, we certainly didn’t probe how we got to where we are now, and we definitely didn’t to take it for all its dizzying complexity. We didn’t necessarily need a program, but we did need a broader vision, because in the void of it we can find ourselves slipping too quickly not into folk politics, but meme politics.
What interests me is the rapid (re)emergence of Accelerationism after the decline of Occupy in America, and the overall elimination of 2011’s momentary promises. What I’m referring to here is not necessarily the questions raised above, but the common specter of Accelerationism itself, which appears as at certain crisis-points in Leftist history. The collapse of 2011 was one such crisis. Another would be the revolution of May ’68, which ended, as the famous saying going without a shot fired. Within four years the socialist government of Salvador Allende would be overthrown and the Bretton Woods system collapsed under the Nixon Shock; neoliberalism itself would be emerging right at the point of the global counterculture’s failures.
It was here, in this disjointed set of maneuvers, that we would see the reshuffling of thought and practice that would become known as the Accelerationist tendency. First, in the year zero of neoliberalism, was Anti-Oedipus, with its pondering on the revolutionary path: to Third Worldist developmentalism and insulated, bordered progressivism, or the freeform flux of the world market? The countercultures of the 1960s took the Fordist-Keynesian state as its target as much as capital; now capital itself came forth to unhinge the supremacy of liberal managerialism. Would the schizoid subjectivities that were unleashed in capitalism’s decoding of trading boundaries be capable of generating a revolutionary break? Lyotard retorted with his insistence that the only libidinal desire that existed was that of capital, and that capital always had and always would unleash itself, with the worker’s subjectivities locked into this framework with masochistic jouissance. Finally, Baudrillard called their game but pushed it on further: desire was for one thing, death, and it was on this ground that we must challenge capital to fulfill its thanatropic promise in a play of ‘fatal strategies’. In each maneuver the stakes get higher and the possibilities for revolutionary transformation become more and more abstracted. Each turn reads less like a diagnosis and a praxis and more like a hysterical fiction based on that present-past.
If this “1st wave” of Accelerationist was a theoretical response to both the new modes of production and the failures of the left, then the 2nd wave too came at just such a critical conjuncture: this time the dual collapse of the socialist grand narrative and the capture of leftist discourse in academica, and the victory of neoliberalism over its opposing forms and its consolidation into a global network of information and flexible production. Like its predecessors it looked towards the energies of capitalism itself for the revolutionary motor; against the Hegelian arguments of Francis Fukuyama, who deemed the advent of neoliberalism as the “End of History”, Land and the CCRU saw the state of deterritorialization as a system where the future undid the past. As noted above there is a certain proximity to the anti-capitalist tactical media networks – at the same time, the CCRU was putting a rather nihilistic, cyberpunk spin the “California Ideology” developing in the United States – that is, the belief that information technology plus market economies would deliver a frictionless world of trade and technological ascension. In this particular regard, we can compare them with evolution of San Francisco subcultural groups like the Suicide Club and the Cacophony Society, who redressed Situationist ideas with neopagan accoutrements (this puts them in line with not only the milieu of the CCRU, but also Hakim Bey). These groups were the soil from which the Burning Man festival, described at various points as a Dadaesque ‘happening’, a construction of Situations, and a Temporary Autonomous Zone. Unlike Bey but like the CCRU, these events were not formulated to challenge capitalism but have served, in the long run, to empower its technopolitical dimensions: as Fred Turner has convincingly shown, Burning Man has served as a social networking platform and creative laboratory for the tech industries operating in Silicon Valley.
Moving in the other direction, back into the folds of the alter-globalization movement, we can find a certain resonance between the CCRU’s theories of cultural transformation and tactical media strategies that were utilized in the heyday of the Carnival Against Capitalism. The CCRU speaks of hyperstition, a ‘science of self-fulfilling prophecies’, the ability to generate fictions that bleed into the present with the capabilities of transforming it. For Land, capitalism itself was a hyperstitional machine: “Capitalism incarnates hyperstitional dynamics at an unprecedented and unsurpassable level of intensity, turning mundane economic ‘speculation’ into an effective world-historical force.” From an anti-capitalist perspective, these ideas had appeared earlier in the Autonomist movement, with their observation that “false information produces real events”. By the 1990s, the Autonomist perspective had been reworked into mythopoesis, the tactical utilization of ‘open myths’ that confounded the linearity of the media and sent its codes into disarray. To quote one prominent practioneer:
Mythopoesis is the social process of constructing myths, by which we do not mean “false stories,” we mean stories that are told and shared, re-told and manipulated, by a vast and multifarious community, stories that may give shape to some kind of ritual, some sense of continuity between what we do and what other people did in the past. A tradition. In Latin the verb “tradere” simply meant “to hand down something,” it did not entail any narrow-mindedness, conservatism or forced respect for the past. Revolutions and radical movements have always found and told their own myths.
Perhaps the most famous of these was Luther Blissett, an ‘open name’ that could be freely used by anyone for aesthetic or political interventions; the strategy itself had been first cultivated in the mail-art networks that came out of the Fluxus movement, and deepened by mail art’s mutant offspring, Neoism. The commonalities between hyperstition and mythopoesis are clear: each takes culture as its target, uses media as its apparatus, and each concerns itself with the nonexistent transforming the existent. Certain mythopoetic “groups”, such as the Association for Autonomous Astronauts (who famously partook in many of the Carnivals Against Capitalism), trend even closer to Accelerationist characteristics. 2nd wave Accelerationism, for all its talk of the future, seems, in retrospect, to be very much of its time, taking part in the political ferment critiqued by the 3rd wave Accelerationism of Srnicek and Williams.
This brings us to the present. Srnicek is clear when he grounds his politics in the collapse of the global resistance glimpsed in 2011:
While neoliberalism has seen its foundations collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, the ground below it remains uninhabited. Movements like Occupy have arisen, but have promoted woefully inadequate localist and horizontalist solutions to global problems. In Jodi Dean’s pithy critique, “Goldman Sachs doesn’t care if you raise chickens.” Meanwhile, mainstream alternatives have remained wedded to obsolete visions of a capitalist golden age –advocating a return to the classical Keynesian economics of the 1960s. This of course ignores the changes in social composition, the changes in technological infrastructure, and the changes in the global balance of power.
For Srnicek the problem, following Frederic Jameson, is that the Left (in the overdeveloped world at least) lacks the adequate means to form a cognitive mapping, that is, that it cannot comprehend the totality of the hyperobject that is neoliberal capitalism. Caught up too much in the dialogue of the past and the apparent inability to think past capitalism’s constraints, the horizon that it articulates is far too grounded in regional concerns, the issue of representation in the liberal system, and ineffectual in the face of systemic crises such as the continued decline of available jobs and global climate change.
There’s absolutely something to be said about this critique, which I feel addresses the fact that in scrambling for tactics to use against a maddeningly flexible system, tactics – not overarching strategies – have become confused with the endpoints of perspective revolutionary movements. Much of this has to do with the emphasis on culture as the hotbed of revolutionary action, itself understandable that across the 1990s and early 2000s neoliberalism was a cultural machine, constantly requiring the input of creativity for increased surplus value extraction. The cruel joke was that cultural resistance, in the end, came to be a nutrient for the apparatus of capture itself. Without going too far down the rabbit (for the time being), an instructive thing to do might be to turn to the writings of Karen Barad, who sees the linguistic and cultural turns as elements in a representationalist paradigm that privileges abstracted language games over the materiality of matter itself. She writes:
Representationalism is so deeply entrenched within Western culture that it has taken on a commonsense appeal. It seems inescapable, if not downright natural. But representationalism (like “nature itself,” not merely our representations of it!) has a history. Hacking traces the philosophical problem of representations to the Democritean dream of atoms and the void. According to [Ian] Hacking’s anthropological philosophy, representations were unproblematic prior to Democritus: “the word ‘real’ first meant just unqualified likeness”. With Democritus’s atomic theory emerges the possibility of a gap between representations and represented—“appearance” makes its first appearance. Is the table a solid mass made of wood or an aggregate of discrete entities moving in the void? Atomism poses the question of which representation is real. The problem of realism in philosophy is a product of the atomistic worldview.
Almost a century prior it was the maverick Bolshevik Alexander Bogdanov who took charge at the atomist perspective, arguing that its perspective of science – and the technological apparatuses it spawned – conditioned certain cultural conditions through organized the capitalist modes of productions. While Marx was quick to place culture in the “base” level, subjected to the evolution of the modes of production in the “superstructure” level, Bogdanov schizes this by short-circuiting the relationship between the base and superstructure by calling attention to the relationship between science and technology, technology and culture, culture and experience, experience and organization, organization and production. What he argues for foreshadows Barad’s own notions of intra-agency: “phenomena do not merely mark the epistemological inseparability of ‘observer’ and ‘observed’; rather, phenomena are the ontological inseparability of agentially intra-acting ‘components.’ That is, phenomena are ontologically primitive relations—relations without preexisting relata.” For Bogdanov, this paradigm meant that a new approach to science, one at ease with complexity and interconnection, had to be developed. Calling it “tectology”, it was to be a science of totalities that would help the proletariat rebuild civilization. Such a program, today, would be of absolute necessity to beginning approaching answers to the questions Srnicek and Williams raise.
It is overstating things a little to say that the Left has consistently failed to produce visions for the future, or even analyses into the conditions of the totality. There have been a plethora of project, critical research endeavors and tactical coteries that have been addressing these problems in full. It’s unfair not to recognize the incredible work that so many have done in mapping out the whole of the neoliberal system, from its technological networks and supply chains to its convoluted history. In his appraisal of Srnicek and William’s manifesto, McKenzie Wark writes that “We need a new temporal jazz connecting pasts-presents-futures. But let’s think in a more plural fashion with those actual others who think that temporal jazz. Let’s put accelerationism together with the afrofuturism of Kodwo Eshun, the gender de-engineering of Beatriz Preciado, the techno-feminism of the late Shulamith Firestone and many others.” Let’s also put these things together with the pockets of critical research, critical development, and post-capitalist tweaking of production. Let’s find ways to recreate the Eternal Network in ways that grapple with the present and our potentially lost future. Maybe it is only then that we can hone in on the postliberal pluralism that our direct predecessors have struggled towards, and discern a set of political coordinates there.
 Simon Reynolds “Renegade Academia: The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit” http://energyflashbysimonreynolds.blogspot.com/2009/11/renegade-academia-cybernetic-culture.html
 Andrew Culp “Escape” Ohio State University, 2013, https://www.academia.edu/5516631/Escape_Dissertation_
 Matthew Fuller Unnatural: Techno-Theory for a Contaminated Culture Underground, 1994
 For an excellence history of the NSK and Laibach, see Alexai Monroe Interrogation Machine: Laibach and NSK MIT Press, 2005
 Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams “#Accelerate: A Manifesto for Accelerationist Politics” Critical Legal Thinking, May 14th, 2013 http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/
 See Fred Turner “Burning Man at Google: a cultural infrastructure for new media production” New Media Society 2009, http://web.stanford.edu/~fturner/Turner%20Burning%20Man%20at%20Google%20NMS.pdf
 “Hyperstition: An Introduction – Delphi Cartsens interviews Nick Land” http://merliquify.com/blog/articles/hyperstition-an-introduction/#.VRLAb_x4rFE
 Quoted in Marco Deseriis “Lots of Money Because I Am Many: The Luther Blissett Project and the Multiple-Use Name Strategy” Thamyris/Intersecting No. 21, 2010, pg.79 http://autonomousuniversity.org/sites/default/files/Deseriis_Blissett_Cultural_Activism.pdf
 “…it would be interesting to trace, and reconstruct, the genealogy of this divergent trajectory – from the Underground magazine backwards to other scenes (to the Association of Autonomous Astronauts for example – themselves an interesting variation, and fictionalisation, on the accelerationist attention given to space travel), and from there to other ultra left/anarchist groups), not least as, from the evidence of the aforementioned edited collection, much of the libidinal intensity of the Warwick scene clearly came from this direction.” Simon O’Sullivan “The Missing Subject of Accelerationism” September 12th, 2014 http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/missing-subject-accelerationism
 Nick Srnicek “Navigating Neoliberalism: Political Aesthetics in an Age of Crisis” pg. 2, https://www.academia.edu/1925994/Navigating_Neoliberalism_Political_Aesthetics_in_an_Age_of_Crisis
 Karen Barad “Posthuman Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter” Signs, Spring, 2003, pg. 806http://humweb.ucsc.edu/feministstudies/faculty/barad/barad-posthumanist.pdf
 Ibid, pg. 815
 McKenzie Wark “Accelerationism” Public Seminar, November 18th, 2013 http://www.publicseminar.org/2013/11/accelerationism/#.VRLVCfx4rFE