Clever Monkey versus the Accelerationists (1)
Part One: The Grammar of Left Fascism
Twice in the past couple of weeks I Have been accused of being infected with an ideology known as accelerationism. To be honest, I had no idea what accelerationism was and never heard of it until the accusation was made. Nevertheless, I do accept the argument that ignorance of an ideology is no proof of innocence — at least insofar as people will make the accusation based on their criteria, not mine.
It turns out accelerationism is the idea that capitalist development can be sped up and the entire epoch brought to a close more rapidly than it would otherwise by pursuing measures designed to the end. Intrigued by this idea, I spent a few days trying to understand the concept, poring over the criticisms of those who oppose it, and thinking about the relation of this ideology to anything remotely suggested by labor theory.
What follows is my first take on the notion of accelerationism through the argument of one of its fiercest critics, Benjamin Noys, an editor at the venal academic paywall, Historical Materialism.
Bring the Noys
There are two interesting critical examinations by Ben Noys that I think are helpful to understanding accelerationism. The first, a talk entitled “The Grammar of Neoliberalism” (2010), can be found here. The second, “Emergency Brake” (2012) can be found here.
In his presentation in 2010, Ben Noys claimed responsibility for coining the term accelerationism, an ideology he seems to define in the form given to it by an anarcho-capitalist by the name of Nick Land. Land has been described as a former radical ultra-left anarchist, who has since converted to a uncompromising anarcho-capitalist. Of whom, more later.
In his 2010 talk, Noys is dismissive of accelerationism and sounds almost annoyed that it has managed not only to persist as an ideology, and gain purchase as a critique of capitalism that is taken seriously, but also that it does so under the very term he employed to dismiss it. Noys argues Land’s accelerationism is simply a particularly virulent form of neoliberalism. In keeping with his dismissive attitude toward accelerationism, Noys tells us there is nothing about Land’s view we have not already encountered in 80 years of neoliberal development.
“To critique Accelerationism I want to return to a more precise description of neo-liberalism as a form of governmentality…”
Neoliberalism, Noys argues, first emerged as a distinct ideology in Germany in the interwar period, alongside the rise of Nazi fascism. With the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, it finds itself at the center of German politics as partner to what Noys calls (interestingly enough) “American anarcho-capitalism”. Noys makes no further attempt in this paper to trace the connection between German Nazi fascism and the neoliberalist tendency that emerged beside it. Instead, leaning heavily on Foucault, he seems content to explain to us that neoliberalism is not the classical liberalism of Adam Smith. And here we are served up the nonsensical myth story reserved for such occasions:
“What Foucault stresses is the novelty of neo-liberalism compared to classical liberalism – just putting Adam Smith on the £20 note does not claim a real fidelity, but merely a fantasmatic one. Whereas classical liberalism tried to restrict the state’s interference to open up a space for the market, under the schema of laissez-faire, neo-liberalism operates a re-organisation of the state itself which is superimposed by the market. We move from, in Foucault’s words: ‘a state under the supervision of the market rather than a market supervised by the state.’”
The capitalism of Adam Smith’s day, in other words, sought only to liberate the market from the interference of the state. Classical liberalism, therefore, had no pretension to replace the state by the logic of the value-form, of money and commodity production. Neoliberalism, on the other hand, seeks to place the state itself under the management of the market.
This distinction between classical and neo- liberalism is all very pat and complete, but raises two important questions:
- Why does Noys not see the period from Adam Smith to the emergence of neoliberalism as one continuous process of ‘the market’ emerging in opposition to and then coming to dominate the state?
- What the fuck happened to that little embarrassing moment for mankind called fascism?
With regards to the first question, I find it interesting that Noys prefers to refer to the ideology of classical liberalism versus neoliberalism, and to conveniently ignore he is speaking of the emergence and growing dominance of the capitalist mode of production, which provides the only intelligible continuity of the two phases. So what the fuck is up with that Professor Noys? Are we supposed to be speaking of mere ideologies or the development of a mode of production?
With regards to the second question, it is clear the Nazi fascism of the interwar period is the critical pivot point of German history without which understanding any examination of neoliberalism must be incomplete. Marxists, however, have an aversion to any serious examination of fascism — it is a mystery shrouded in a cloud of incoherent narrative that goes something like this:
There was this really bad guy, who, backed by, variously, capitalists or peasants or declassed elements or ‘politically backward’ workers, did a bunch of bad stuff to a lot of people. But the free world kicked his ass. Making the world safe for democracy and quadrennial election cycles.
(This recounting of Marxist inter-war world history is brought to you by The Annenberg Foundation and by the wonderful people of the Oil and Natural Gas industry. And by contributions from my followers like you. Thank you)
It is a convenient part of Noys’ narrative that Germany Nazi period is succeeded by “American Anarcho-Capitalism” and German neoliberalism. It is not succeeded — mind you — by a victorious American fascist state and its allies, who then divide Germany up among themselves and install a German puppet state on both sides of the “iron curtain’.
And isn’t it convenient that following a war that pits Germany’s unique form of Nazi fascism against America’s unique brand of populist fascism, and which leads to the defeat of the German fascist state, there appears on the scene at just the right time an ideology that demands the opening up of German markets to American capital’s penetration? Who could have predicted that — even in retrospect? Certainly not Professor Noys, apparently. This is the bullshit that passes for historical materialism among Marxists today — historically ignorant, self-indulgent, self-delusional bullshit. According to Noys:
“It was the extinction of the Nazi state that made post-war Germany the ideal site to re-found the state in terms of the economic, in which legitimation was achieved through economic growth rather than in political terms. At the same time neo-liberalism solidifies a ‘state-phobia’, by arguing that the tendency of any intervention to a state-controlled economy, planning, and economic interventionism will lead to Nazism or totalitarianism.”
Now think about this statement in the context of the time: Germany is being occupied by the United States and its allies. There is no reason for pity for the German people, they have the blood of millions on their hands and deserve contempt. This aside, however, from the US point of view Germany is laying wide open to penetration by American capital in conditions of absolute overaccumulation.
What, in this circumstance, is accomplished “by arguing that the tendency of any intervention to a state-controlled economy, planning, and economic interventionism will lead to Nazism or totalitarianism”? There was no possibility this could happen. Still, any state planning in this circumstance can only mean an attempt by Germany to rehabilitate its industries as a competitor to the US. And Germany is nothing if it is not a formidable industrial competitor.
Now ask yourself this: Did the occupying powers want Germany to serve as a competitor or as a market for their excess capital? This possibility, however, is not even acknowledged by fucking Noys, who instead blabbers on and on about Foucault’s bullshit “state phobia”. Well, just who had a phobia about the German state and its ability to plan and manage the German economy? Certainly not the working class of Germany, who had been the first among all industrial working classes to experience “full employment” in Europe before the war.
Markets, not capitalism?
“What is the precise nature, then, of neo-liberalism?”, asks Noys. For Noys, the answer is “that neo-liberalism itself is a continual form of state intervention” aimed at intervening in society‘so that competitive mechanisms can play a regulatory role at every moment and every point in society and by intervening in this way its objective will become possible, that is to say, a general regulation of society by the market.’”
Despite the aggressive role the state plays, Noys tells us it misses the point to identify neoliberalism as another form of statism, rather the state subjects society to the economic. Now which “economic” would that be? The only “economic” Noys mentions are competition and the market. To this point in his 2010 paper, Noys has not even discussed capital the social relation itself. The single social relation that connects classical liberalism to fascism to neoliberalism is itself never discussed by Noys.
How the fuck does this happen?
Noys explains, “the state constantly intervenes to construct competition at all levels, so that the market economy is the ‘general index’ for all governmental action”, but Noys never explains that this construction is not ideology driven but aimed at the production of surplus value. What Noys never mentions is that the state itself is acting as the social capitalist and is imposing a capitalist regime on all of society. This is important for Noys to ignore because, despite his actual narrative that this is the action of the fascist state, the real problem identified by Noys is the market. It is not that the state is functioning as society’s capitalist, but that it is doing this by imposing the market on society.
The imposition of markets on society and the state acting as the capitalist are two, apparently, unrelated, disconnected, phenomena. This is important because Noys must make the argument, not that the state is acting as the capitalist, but that it is controlled by market ideologues. The German state has to be explained as the outcome of historical accidents where neoliberal ideologues find themselves in power after Germany’s defeat — rather than as the installed puppets of the occupying state capitals looking to divide German markets among themselves.
In place of a purely moral critique of capitalism, Noys wants to provide us with a purely ideological critique of the capitalist state. The state is capitalist not because it is the ideal representative of the interest of capital but because it has been captured by ideologues. This is the real reason Noys is so dismissive of accelerationism — not because it can be dismissed, but because he must dismiss it. Landian accelerationism posits a state that is absolutely indifferent to BOTH classes, because it operates directly as the capitalist. For this state, the proletarians are merely a source of surplus value, while the bourgeois class are entirely superfluous altogether. In a relevant passage, Noys states:
“In a provocative series of formulations Foucault argues that this ‘state phobia’ permeates modern thought…”
This “state phobia”, says Noys, can be found in the writings of Debord and Marcuse as well as in Sombart. This “state phobia”, he warns, leaves us “vulnerable” to neoliberalist ideology and these writers are simply bending to a long-standing anti-statist wind. Of course, this anti-statist wind appears, first, not in post-war Germany, but in the German Ideology as the communist consciousness of the proletariat — the consciousness of a class of individuals who, in order to assert themselves as individuals, must overthrow the State.
This, of course, is a formulation Noys would not recognize even if someone dropped the fucking book on his head. You really have to mark what fucking Noys is doing here: the communist consciousness of the working class, which is the consciousness of a need for a fundamental revolution, the abolition of the state and a society founded on voluntary association, is here redefined by Noys as a mere “state-phobic” bourgeois ideology. The effort is nothing if it is not the most brazen fucking attempt to redefine an entire historical epoch in favor of a Marxist dead end.
Noys argues, following Foucault, that just because the state plays the critical active role organizing society and imposing market regulation,
“Neo-liberal governmentality is not Keynesian, and contemporary society ‘is not orientated towards the commodity and the uniformity of the commodity, but towards the multiplicity and differentiation of enterprises.’
Which is only to say, under the domination of the American fascist state all other states are denied the tools of fascist management of their economies and forced to open their home markets to penetration by US capital. This is clearly the case historically in post-Nazi Germany, where the state was stripped of all of its capacities to rehabilitate its industries as a single managed national capital, but it is equally the case wherever neoliberal policies have surfaced within the world market.
Nothing to see here, move along
Having rewritten the history of neoliberalism to fit his essentially Left fascist argument, Noys then turns to defining accelerationism as a mere variant of neoliberal ideology. He whines he coined “Accelerationism” as a pejorative term, but is now dismayed to see it “has often been adopted in a valorising fashion”.
Noys has to, above all else, define accelerationism in the form provided by Nick Land, an anarcho-capitalist. Accelerationism, he notes, closely conforms to neoliberalism, first, because it is state-phobic. Second, it wants to subject all of society to the logic of the market. Third, it wants to treat the person as an enterprise. What is interesting here is that the identity of neoliberalism and accelerationism is defined entirely in terms of the mode of exchange. At no point does Noys ever touch on the mode of production, spending his entire time on the question of whether the state acts to impose market relations on society or not.
Why is this such an important feature of neoliberal and anarcho-capitalist ideology? I would argue this is because imposition of market relations is first and foremost of decisive importance for a state capitalist that seeks to free itself from political relations with its citizens. This no-brainer observation never finds its way into Noys’ argument precisely because the state remains, in Noys argument, and instrument over which the two great classes battle for control.
Since, in Noys imagination, the state plays no role in production, but is only a passive instrument wielded by one of the two classes, the imposition by the state of ‘markets relations’ on the whole of society appears in Noys argument as the imposition of an ideology via the state, not that the state is itself the ideal representative of capital. And since, in Noys view, the relations of exchange are everything and the relations of production nothing, his critique of Land’s accelerationism is confined to an argument that it seeks to “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”.
That this increasing commodification of social relations is accompanied by the increasing concentration and centralization of capital under the management of the fascist state in Washington is apparently of no consequences and deserves little or no examination. In both Land’s accelerationist argument and in Noys own anti-accelerationist argument, therefore, the question at hand is only whether increasing “marketization”, i.e., commodification of social relations, accompanies the development of capital — the concentration and centralization of capital doesn’t even make an appearance.
Clever monkey crushes accelerationism
Laughably, in this vain, in a bizarre concession to anarcho-capitalism, Noys tells us markets have the most amazing resiliency: they existed before capitalism and could be “re-assembled (to use Nicole Pepperell’s formulation) for socialism or communism”. Markets just may outlast capital. What a clever fucking monkey, this Noys guy! Noys, like anarcho-capitalism itself, can even envision markets without either money or commodity production.
How the fuck does that happen, Professor Noys? Is there any wonder that Landian accelerationism has an appeal to some Marxists when even Marxist scholars don’t realize you can’t have markets under a non-commodity producing society?
Having conceded the markets may thrive under a money-less communist society, Noys sets out to crush the accelerationists on this basis. His criticism is that accelerationism misunderstands neoliberalism as a form of state, capital as a social from, and wants to reproduce both. He then has the gall to implicate Marx in this misunderstanding:
“capitalism is presented as the sorcerer’s apprentice that unleashes forces it cannot control, not in the figure of the proletariat, but within its own ‘productive forces’. Once we have shucked-off this parasite we can get on with the business of fully inhabiting inhuman capitalist jouissance.”
If Noys is to be believed, then, Marx thought markets could exist in the absence of money and communism would be just like capitalism without the capitalists.
Please, if you are sitting next to Noys right now, just bitch-slap that asshole.
Capital, Noys goes on to lecture us,
“penetrates and shapes existence horizontally and vertically”; its “forms of production, accumulation … are capitalist through-and-through”, accelerationism fails to grasp “the fundamental stasis of capitalism; how its accumulation is not fundamentally ‘creative’, but rather an ‘inertial’ drift. Capitalism is deflated into mere integument, and inflated in its creative power.”
I have no fucking clue what Noys means by these statements, but this argument, of course, fails to mention that Land’s accelerationist argument makes no attempt to theoretically penetrate capital as a social relation — he expressly stated this in a discussion with Ray Brassier. Says Brassier:
“I once had a conversation with him, which consisted of a disagreement whereby he insisted I kept translating what he took to be pragmatic issues, issues of what he called “machinic practice”, into conceptual issues. He accused me of philosophical conservatism, by insisting on translating what he took to be the pragmatic back into the theoretical.”
From the point of view of Landian accelerationism, the entire society is one single undifferentiated capitalist mass. Land, therefore, already assumes the whole of society is penetrated and shaped by the value-form; really subsumed by capitalist relations, and that the forces of production are already entirely capitalistic. In this conception all that remains is to bring the total social capital of the world market under the control of a single state capitalist, the United States — which is to say, the world market must be perfected.
The emphasis, both in Noys critique and in Landian accelerationism itself, on the extension of market relations, is a meaningless distraction. The mode of exchange must necessarily follow the mode of production and be entirely determined by the mode of production. During the whole of the capitalist epoch, the mode of production is at war with exchange, compelling it to submit to the needs of capital’s self-expansion. The extension of market relations everywhere, uninhibited commodifcation of human social relations, is just how the needs of the mode of production appear in the minds of underconsumptionist.
What is important here is not markets, but that all barriers to concentration and centralization of capital must and will be overcome. This is why, as Noys observes, the financial crisis has done nothing to slow the neoliberal agenda nor slow the attempt to impose commodity relations everywhere. Indeed, the impulse has been strengthened, with calls everywhere to balance national budgets and restructure labor. In the EU, in particular, we see attempts to advance the neoliberal agenda in the form of various proposals to more closely integrate the euro-zone countries and establish a free trade regime between North America and Europe. These developments appear in Noys inverted narrative as a “poverty of a theoretical imagination unable to reconstruct any rationality in the present”, not as the drive, produced by absolute overaccumulation, toward further concentration and centralization of capital, and, therefore, wholly explained by labor theory.
The real poverty in Noys’ paper is in his embarrassingly piss poor grasp of labor theory, and his obsession with the ideology of neoliberalism, rather than real relations of production.