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Clever Monkey versus the Accelerationists (2)

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Part Two: (Nick) Land, Capital and Labor (Theory)

Clever Monkey’s argument against the accelerationists seems to rest on a precise formulaic incantation repeated over and over: the only accelerationism possible is Nick Land’s accelerationism. Thus accelerationism itself is merely a virulent subform of neoliberalist ideology that advocates commodification of all human relations. Which is to say all talk of accelerationism must lead us to embrace anarcho-capitalism, the Thought of Murray Rothbard, and the good folks at the Mises Institute.

But Clever Monkey’s opinion is not the only opinion out there. Some folks, like Joshua Johnson, seems to be attracted by the virulently anti-humanist portrayal of capitalism in Nick Land’s accelerationism. And they trace the origins of the concept of accelerationism itself directly to Marx:

“Accelerationism is the notion that rather than halting the onslaught of capital, it is best to exacerbate its processes to bring forth its inner contradictions and thereby hasten its destruction. As a radical act, the genesis of this idea stretches back to Marx and continues through Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy, Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, and Nick Land’s cybertechnics. I will be focusing largely on Land’s formulation of this perspective, it being among the more recent, and one whose uniquely anti-humanist features I find myself more sympathetic to, particularly because they disrupt the problematic formulation of the subject.”

This raises an important question for us to ponder: Is there an accelerationist possibility fully consistent with labor theory that does not depend on exacerbating capitalism’s most inhumane features? To answer this we can look at a quote from Land employed by Clever Monkey to discredit him:

“Machinic revolution must therefore go in the opposite direction to socialistic regulation; pressing towards ever more uninhibited marketization of the processes that are tearing down the social field, ‘still further’ with ‘the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization’ and ‘one can never go far enough in the direction of deterritorialization: you haven’t seen anything yet’”

The argument here suggest to me Land, like Clever Monkey, has little or no familiarity with labor theory. I found Nick Land’s blog and confirmed my intuition. A post on 25 April says this:

“John Gray reviews Jonathan Sperber’s Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life, and discovers an unfamiliar ‘early Marx’ (who anticipates Augusto Pinochet):

Writing in the Rhineland News in 1842 in his very first piece after taking over as editor, Marx launched a sharp polemic against Germany’s leading newspaper, the Augsburg General News, for publishing articles advocating communism. He did not base his assault on any arguments about communism’s impracticality: it was the very idea that he attacked. Lamenting that “our once blossoming commercial cities are no longer flourishing,” he declared that the spread of Communist ideas would “defeat our intelligence, conquer our sentiments,” an insidious process with no obvious remedy. In contrast, any attempt to realize communism could easily be cut short by force of arms: “practical attempts [to introduce communism], even attempts en masse, can be answered with cannons.”

Perhaps even more disconcertingly, six months after writing the Communist Manifesto: “In a speech to the Cologne Democratic Society in August 1848, Marx rejected revolutionary dictatorship by a single class as ‘nonsense’ …”

And in a final spasm of sanity: “over twenty years later, at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Marx also dismissed any notion of a Paris Commune as ‘nonsense.’”

Just as soon as they find his journal entry dismissing the Labor Theory of Value as nonsense I’ll be returning to right-wing Marxism with a vengeance.”

None of this information about Marx is either new or the least bit shocking, except, apparently, to Land. What it does show, however, is Land’s rejection of, and likely unfamiliarity with labor theory. Clearly if Land were familiar with labor theory he would know there is no Marxism without it — once it is stripped out, we are all Keynesian/neoliberal fascists.

Further, in January this year, Land predicted a collapse by 2025 brought on when “the money runs out, in that we shall have a hyperinflationary crisis, and revert to some other form of money, such as the gold standard.” The money runs out because, “any governmental authority can spend money on anything unless there is near unanimous opposition to them spending money.”

I find it interesting that Land employs the formulation, “Eventually the money runs out…”. It does far more to explain his basic world view vis a vis labor theory. Essentially, Land. like Clever Monkey, thinks the determinant factor in a capitalist economy are the exchange relations, not production relations. This effectively puts him in the same bed with underconsumptionists and he seems simply to be an underconsumptionist perversely turned inside out.

If you think exchange is the determining factor in the mode of production, the logical conclusion is that the mode of production can be ‘accelerated’ simply by the most rapid extension of exchange relations. Land’s leading critics seem to agree that this is the chief defect of Landian accelerationism — it absolute emphasis on expansion of the world market and commodification of all human relations.

Conflating Cause and Effect

First, it is clear Land, like Clever Monkey, inverts the actual process here, since he basically agrees with Clever Monkey that the mode of exchange determines the mode of production. But this is not at all the case: the mode of production determines exchange, and the mode itself leads to concentration and centralization of capital. The uninhibited marketization, the movement of the market, the deterritorialization are all just processes unleashed by the same process that leads to concentration and centralization of capital: namely the rising organic composition of capital and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

A fall in the rate of profit is the critical condition that leads both to concentration and centralization and to constant outward expansion by capital into the less developed regions of the world market. I will argue that it is possible to compel the increase in the organic composition of capital without in any way ending up in bed with the fascists and neoliberals. And this strategy would be completely consistent with labor theory.

The first step is to argue uninhibited marketization is nothing more than the flip side of concentration and centralization of capital. The second step would be to link concentration and centralization of capital (uninhibited commodification of human relations) to the rising organic composition of capital. The last step would be to show there is a way to force the increase in the organic composition of capital that is entirely consistent with communist aims.

Land is conflating market relations with capital — this, on the surface, appears justified, since capital needs markets. But the aim of capital is not just the buying and selling of commodities, nor even just the production of commodities, but the production of surplus value, which requires not just markets, but the constant expansion of the world market. The accumulation of capital is always and everywhere associated with the extension of the world market — so it is easy to conflate here.

Bourgeois economists and more than a few Marxists alike confuse the extension of the world market as the cause, not the result of the development of the mode of production. In particular bourgeois and Marxists consider the imposition of market relations as identical with the expansion of capitalist relations. In much of the popular literature, if the Acropolis is ‘privatized’, for instance, or pensions are converted to 401Ks, or education is funded by vouchers, suddenly society has become more capitalistic because more things have price tags. This, in fact, is not the least bit true.

Capital is the production of surplus value, it is not that things which did not have a price now have a price tag or get privatized. Privatizing the Acropolis does absolutely nothing to turn it into capital — it just turns it into private property. To become capital, the Acropolis must absorb living labor and produce surplus value through this absorption. The state, as owner of the Acropolis, can produce surplus value with it just as easily as can a private capitalist. The Soviet Union, for example, had no private property at all, but produced surplus value despite this. Selling off No. 10 shoe factory in Anzhero-Sudzhensk would not make it capital, because it was already capital when it was state-owned. So the Landian idea that capital can be accelerated by simply commodifying everything is not first and foremost “inhuman”, but wrong.

Since Nick Land rejects labor theory, it is unlikely he could come up with an idea for how to accelerate capitalism. Moreover, ninety nine percent of the negative Marxist reaction to his ideas stems from the complete misunderstanding Marxists have of labor theory. If they had even bothered to evaluate Land’s ideas in terms of labor theory, it would be obvious his ideas had no merit at all and could be safely ignored.

This is the failure of both Ray Brassier and the Clever Monkey Benjamin Noys in their criticisms of Land: they never point to the obvious theoretical defect of his argument. Brassier spends his time engaging Land in a nonsensical philosophical debate; and Clever Monkey spends his time trying to show Land is a neoliberal. Really, who gives a fuck that Land is philosophically inconsistent or that he agrees with Obama and Merkel? The question posed by Land’s argument is whether it is possible to accelerate capitalism the way he proposes: uninhibited commodification of human relations.

The answer, as the euro-zone is finding, despite all of its privatization efforts, is no. This really isn’t a debate, since, if Clever Monkey is correct, Land’s idea are being put into practice by the neoliberals in the euro-zone right now.

Accelerating toward the Abyss?

The remaining question posed by Land’s argument is whether there is another realistic route to accelerate the demise of capitalism? Which is to say, another route that does not rely on the so-called revolutionary subject, who is nowhere to be found. The only way to determine this is to look at the actual theory of capitalist crisis to discover some hidden lever to intensify the crisis. Since labor theory is the only theory I know of that predicts the collapse of capitalism, it is likely the only one that provides an answer.

But this is not all we need to figure out: we also need to answer the question: Accelerate toward what? What is the expected endpoint? Toward what end result would capital arrive if it were accelerated? This is not at all clear in Marxist literature, since Marxists almost overwhelmingly assume communism is not a given outcome of the bourgeois epoch.

Communism, in the typical Marxist stylized narrative, is the outcome of a political event that interrupts capitalist development, rather than completing it. The assumption in this narrative is that unless capitalism is interrupted it will continue to loop through crises indefinitely. At best, the looping will end with catastrophic collapse of civilization itself. Acceleration in this stylized narrative would only accelerate the collapse of civilization. Who the fuck wants that? I mean seriously? Who wants some replay of the holocaust on a global scale?

So here is the problem: assume capital loops endlessly through crises until it is interrupted by a revolution or catastrophe. It doesn’t make sense to accelerate this indefinite looping since there is at least a fifty-fifty chance it leads to a global catastrophe. This is the first argument against accelerationism: you are probably only accelerating an onrushing catastrophe.

The only opportunity to avoid this catastrophe is revolution, right? The revolution acts, as Noys put it in a paper last year, as an emergency brake on an out of control locomotive:

“The conclusion is that the emergency brake is not merely calling to a halt for the sake of it, some static stopping at a particular point in capitalist history (say Swedish Social Democracy – which the American Republican Right now takes as the true horror of ‘socialism’). Neither is it a return back to some utopian pre-capitalist moment, which would fall foul of Marx and Engels’s anathemas against ‘feudal socialism’. Rather, Benjamin argues that: ‘Classless society is not the final goal of historical progress but its frequently miscarried, ultimately [endlich] achieved interruption.’ (Benjamin 2003: 402) We interrupt to prevent catastrophe, we destroy the tracks to prevent the greater destruction of acceleration.

In this sense the emergency brake is the operator of Benjamin’s non-teleological politics of temporality predicated on the wresting away of the classless society from the continuing dialectic of production/destruction that is the constant ‘state of emergency’ (Benjamin 2003: 392).”

In Clever Monkey’s argument, if the brake is not activated, a disaster is inevitable. The revolution interrupts mankind’s headlong plunge into the abyss

However, the problem with this argument is that to activate the emergency brake, most Marxist explanations of labor theory state, requires a political revolution. And this revolution is produced when the conditions of the working class so deteriorate they are faced with the choice: revolution or starvation. This is not my argument, but the argument of mainstream Marxism, which has long proposed a crisis of such profound impact the working class is awakened to its historical ask to seize power and manage society on its own behalf. As, for instance, described by Bertell Ollman:

“Despite these varied explanations (or, perhaps, because of them), most socialists from Marx onward have approached each crisis in capitalism with the certainty that this time the proletariat will become class-conscious.”

Forget, for a moment, the argument about whether this is actually happening — this is the mainstream Marxist scenario. Up pops Nick Land who says: “Go for it, starve them until they revolt.” That is Land’s accelerationism and nothing our Clever Monkey, Ben Noys, can say will change this is just how Noys also looks at things. Which is why he considers revolution an emergency brake, and why he is so aghast at Nick Land’s ideas. Simply stated, Nick Land calls Ben Noys bluff and raises him 100 million bodies.

Soft ‘Land’ing?

Our Clever Monkey is trying to run away from Nick Land, because secretly he thinks Land is right. All these motherfucking Marxists think Land is right: we must stop the collapse of civilization, but the working class must first be goaded to do this through an increasing deterioration of its conditions of existence. And none of these cowards wants to be the one to deliver the bad news to the worker as she is just getting off her third job.

This is the basic hypocrisy of Nick Land’s critics: they all secretly fear he is right, but none will admit it. They all hedge around the issue, employing metaphors like out of control locomotives, but this is really what they mean. Unless the conditions of the working class deteriorate enough to goad it into action, these assholes think civilization will collapse.

This is a simple enough conclusion to be drawn from the fact that Marxists have no other realistic mechanism for a political revolution. The revolution is political and it is driven by the suffering of the working class, who rises in revolt against this suffering. When Joshua Johnson states accelerationism disrupts “the problematic formulation of the subject”, he means just this.

Accelerationism brings to the surface a profound defect in the very conception of revolution in Marxism. The defect, even if it is not expressed as repugnantly as Land does, still has Marxists looking to crises as the opportunity for revolution — although hope fades with each new business cycle. They are almost seduced into hoping for increasing deterioration of the conditions of the working class sufficient to move it into action. This sort of “soft Landianism” is morally bankrupt and intolerable.

On the other hand, when a deteriorating situation still doesn’t move the class, as at present in the euro-zone, or moves it further into the arms of the enemy, this causes outright despair among Marxists and other communists. This pessimism is expressed in both Marxist praxis — the passive waiting in anticipation of ‘the big one’, which they call ‘the event’ — and in a search for a substitute for the class in the role of the “revolutionary subject”.

One of the most important reasons Marxists cannot come to grip with fascism is that all their theory led them to believe a crisis like the Great Depression would lead the working class to seize power, but instead they voted for the fascists. It turns out workers are no different than anyone else, after a disaster they want to reassemble the life they had before it: a life, unfortunately, where they were wage slaves. They don’t look to the middle of the worst depression in memory to begin revolutionizing society.

What horrifies Marxists is that Land argues merely for a less circumspect version of this strategy and actually proposes nothing new. The soft Landianism of Marxists and the Left, however, is infected entirely by the same defects that can be found in Land’s overt ideology.

One, if by Land; Two, if by Labor Theory

Critical to understanding the defect of Land’s argument is to realize it inverts the actual relation between the mode of production and the mode of exchange. Land proposes the mode of production can be accelerated toward its demise by imposing uninhibited commodification on every aspect of social relations. In fact, the opposite is the case: the mode of production is accelerated by compelling capital to become ever more productive, by compelling a constantly rising organic composition of capital.

It is the rising organic composition of capital that leads both to increasing concentration and centralization of capital and which forces capital to constantly expand beyond the existing field of production, i.e., to constantly expand the world market. A rising organic composition of capital, in other words, leads to “uninhibited marketization”. Stated simply, uninhibited marketization is not, as that Clever Monkey, Ben Noys, might want us to believe, the cause, but the effect of capitalist development. The production of surplus value requires the constant extension of the world market and the commodification of all human relations.

In this sense, what Marxists, Landian accelerationism and neoliberalism all have in common is that they treat the symptom as the disease. This is not at all unusual, in medicine, when doctors cannot properly diagnose a disease, or have no cure for it, they will very often try to manage the symptoms produced by the disease. This is just what the Marxist critique of Landian accelerationism and neoliberalism is doing: trying to manage the symptoms of capitalism.

It should be noted in this regards that labor theory argues this process is “something over which they [the proletariat], as separate individuals, have no control, and over which no social organisation can give them control.” (German Ideology) Which is to say, control over this process cannot be accomplished by seizing control of any state or group of states. This is precisely why once the fascist state seizes control of the total national capital, this immediately gives rise to a tendency toward the emergence of the neoliberalist ideology of “free markets”. The state emerges as the culmination of a phase of historical development of increasingly sophisticated socialized management, but soon becomes, in its turn, a fetter on the further development of capital.

What is humorous about this is that I didn’t have to come to this conclusion by some exhaustive study of the mode of production on my own. Engels made it in 1880, long before the tendency even emerged:

“The more [the state] proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over.” (Socialism, Utopian and Scientific)

Once the state takes over management of the mode of production — fascism — it seals the fate of what that Clever Monkey, Ben Noys, calls “governmentality”. By the very act of seizing control of the management of the national capital, the fascist state becomes subject to the law of value as would be the case for any other form of capital. The ideological expression of this process may be neoliberalism, but neoliberalism is not itself the process. It is only how the process appears in the consciousness of both bourgeois apologists and dumb-ass fucking Marxist professors.

Accelerationism as Political Revolution

The question we have to address is this: where does the rising organic composition of capital, that produces both concentration and centralization of capital and uninhibited commodification, lead to? And can this rising organic composition itself be accelerated?

If the answer to the first question is “It leads to a catastrophic collapse of civilization.”, then obviously we might want to avoid it. The mainstream Marxist argument used to be that it leads to the deterioration of the working class, its increasing destitution, and, eventually, to its political revolt against the capitalist ruling class. In this argument, revolution acts, as Ben Noys put it, as a sort of “emergency brake” that halts the process before the disaster occurs.

I think this entire argument is flawed. Historically speaking, we saw just this in the Great Depression with all of its ugly consequences. I don’t think we could risk a replay of it, even if it were the only possible route to communism. I would suggest, instead, that the rising organic composition of capital has to lead itself to communism without any other cause. This is because the only real product of the capitalist mode of production is not markets and uninhibited commodification but the directly social producer. Directly social production is the material precondition for communism, and in it is implied all the necessary features of a communist society: cooperation, association, and the end of the law of value.

In this argument, a political revolution must be situated within this general tendency as an attempt made by classical Marxism to ‘accelerate’ the transition to communism, not as its only route. The idea of a political revolution was a noble, but ultimately failed, attempt precisely to accelerate capital’s own inner logic.

This is, in my opinion, the only way to interpret the ten point program advanced in the Communist Manifesto. The ten point program suggests Marx and Engels believed the end result of the development of capitalism was communism and that this process could be accelerated by measures undertaken for precisely that end. Based on this assumption, Marx and Engels argue in the Communist Manifesto that,

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.”

The point here is that the political revolution is undertaken not to exit from the process of social development begun by capital as our Clever Monkey regressively proposes — the transition from individual production and exchange to directly social production — but to remove what Marx would later explain (in Capital Volume 3) were the barriers to this social development placed in the path by capital itself:

“The periodical depreciation of existing capital — one of the means immanent in capitalist production to check the fall of the rate of profit and hasten accumulation of capital-value through formation of new capital — disturbs the given conditions, within which the process of circulation and reproduction of capital takes place, and is therefore accompanied by sudden stoppages and crises in the production process.

The decrease of variable in relation to constant capital, which goes hand in hand with the development of the productive forces, stimulates the growth of the labouring population, while continually creating an artificial over-population. The accumulation of capital in terms of value is slowed down by the falling rate of profit, to hasten still more the accumulation of use-values, while this, in its turn, adds new momentum to accumulation in terms of value.

Capitalist production seeks continually to overcome these immanent barriers, but overcomes them only by means which again place these barriers in its way and on a more formidable scale.

The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the purpose of production; that production is only production for capital and not vice versa, the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers. The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move — these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour. The means — unconditional development of the productive forces of society — comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital. The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world-market and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production.”

The aim of a communist program, as outlined by Marx was to precisely do everything capital was already doing with an eye to accelerating the process by removing the barriers to the development of the productivity of labor placed in the way of this development by capital itself. It was not intended, as Clever Monkey boy, Ben Noys, argues, to interrupt it. Noys is wrong about markets and communism; he is wrong on about communism being, in Marx’s view, just like capitalism without the capitalists; And he is wrong about the concept accelerating capitalism itself.

Hours of Labor and the Organic Composition of Capital

The possibility of an entirely communistic accelerationism is already given by labor theory in the very conception of capital as the production of surplus value — the self-expansion of capital being the motive of capital and its only concern. One of the most important empirical observations Marx makes in Capital is that once society imposed limits on hours of labor in England, the introduction of machinery and intensive employment of labor power accelerated. The limits on hours of labor, therefore, has the effect of forcing an increase in the organic composition of capital. Such an increase could not but accelerate a fall in the rate of profit, which itself leads both to concentration and centralization of capital and accelerated expansion into the world market.

As Marx explains in Capital, volume 1, this single-minded focus on self-expansion leads to the result that any attempt to limit hours of labor has the paradoxical effect of driving capital to further increase the productivity of labor:

“There cannot be the slightest doubt that the tendency that urges capital, so soon as a prolongation of the hours of labour is once for all forbidden, to compensate itself, by a systematic heightening of the intensity of labour, and to convert every improvement in machinery into a more perfect means of exhausting the workman, must soon lead to a state of things in which a reduction of the hours of labour will again be inevitable. On the other hand, the rapid advance of English industry between 1848 and the present time, under the influence of a day of 10 hours, surpasses the advance made between 1833 and 1847, when the day was 12 hours long, by far more than the latter surpasses the advance made during the half century after the first introduction of the factory system, when the working-day was without limits.”

Once society begins to limit the uninhibited extension of hours of labor, the inherent tendency of capital is to try to offset this reduction by increasing the intensive exploitation of labor by any number of means, but most important, buy further increasing the organic composition of capital. The result is that, despite imposed limits on hours of labor, the actual capacity of labor to produce is increased.

The conclusion has to be that reduction of hours of labor not only has the effect of freeing the proletariat from the destructive impact of the value form, it actually accelerates the demise of capital. The demand for a reduction of hours of labor, therefore, completes the connection between critique of the value form and elaboration of a practical communist program.

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  1. May 18, 2013 at 8:30 am

    I think you might find this book-length essay by Paresh Chattopadhyay interesting:

    http://libcom.org/library/paresh-chattopadhyay-marxian-concept-capital-soviet-experience

    John

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