The Poverty of Acceleration
We are supposed to be inside a speeding train, the train being capitalism accelerating as ever. If there is supposed to be no outside to capitalism, then we are all by necessity aboard the machine of capital. It is easy to imagine here that labor is placed inside this speeding machine. Labor, as Marx once emphasized, is the actual figure of freedom whose purpose is to free itself from necessity (capital being the actual figure of the latter). And yet, it is also easy to agree that labor has never been successful in reversing the order; it has always been capital determining it. In a rather odd complement, for the scientific socialist that was Marx, the whole idea of communism in which labor wins the battle against capital would have to remain as such, an idea. And here, philosophy has always been our constant companion.
Meanwhile, the Accelerationist Manifesto would have us acknowledge that labor and capital have always been complementing one another, provided that we can see through the inner workings of history. There must be a singular approach here which is quite familiar. If history would be our guide, the approach is to assume the position of capital which has been representing history as far as it can be conceived. One has to have a comprehensive scan of what’s going on, which can only be a view from above. By analogy, one must assume the putative ‘function’ of the brain. Localism would be the equivalent of organs or bodies which have disjunctive relations to intelligence. Organs or bodies can only produce, but not create. Creation must have a preconception of boundaries. Production is quite different—it knows no limit. It may just be the thing that’s really accelerating without end. By a familiar metaphysical route, acceleration would have us recognize the primacy of creation over production, to regularize production which seems to be the one that is more prone to excess.
What we may not be allowed to suspect is that human acceleration prefers a cognitive approach to emancipation, which brings us back to philosophy, our constant companion with respect to speculating about possibilities for production to overturn creation (perhaps, one reason philosophy is always attracted to atheism), bodies claiming the place of intelligence. But one can always find in philosophy a nagging asymmetry between thinking and bodies, conception and production, etc, which makes this constant companion of ours the most misunderstood knowledge form. And it sure has its own share of blame. Philosophy never seems to have learned from its own confusion by appealing to production which, though limitless, is limitless rather within the present. By taking production (actuality) out of time (into the future, into possibility), philosophy deprives productive bodies of their temporal life, hence, skinning these bodies alive until nothing but its ideal form (the thought that counts for a revolutionary) remains. A philosopher is thus a revolutionary in this sense.
But today philosophy would like us to acknowledge its new name, acceleration, which may mean the fastest way to take production out of time at the same time that the possibilities for production to overturn creation are repurposed to make these possibilities realizable within the present. In acceleration, we may mistake philosophy to have learned its lesson alas. Marx was actually the first one to proclaim philosophy’s poverty by advocating for a proto-acceleration of the means of production to draw capitalism to its logical conclusion, so the Accelerationist Manifesto says. For Marx, philosophy was no solution; possibility must be tamed by the actual, production by creation, limitlessness by design. Marx relied on the working class—bodies of production—to realize this conclusion without having to turn bodies into brains, or workers into capitalists. Workers are entrusted with the historical mission to finish the design of capital by dissolving itself in labor, arguably the real capital. If production did not accelerate in Marx’s time, today, however, we have reasons to believe, so we are told, that it is accelerating, and yet, like a body it is proceeding without design, regularity and discipline. One must be ready to accept the new challenge here, which is to imagine, in the most radical way possible, how production can cease to function as bodies, how it can create itself according to design, planning and purposefulness.
Capitalism has actually done us a favor by cognitivizing production, so we need not imagine that much really. Our new task is to radicalize this cognitive direction to a position in which production becomes intelligent design. In this radical mode of imagination, production fuses with creation. It is philosophy coalescing with production by regressing to the present to repurpose its design. The key for a renewed philosophy though is to realize bodies outside of the design of capital which is not accelerating on behalf of bodies, rather on behalf of creation without bodies. Going back to acceleration, one has to imagine that bodies are the ones steering the speeding train, giving the value added impression that bodies are responsible for the speed as well as the upkeep of the train as it accelerates.
They in fact do except that these bodies do not realize, as the new Accelerationism proponents believe, that they are already creating the Outside to capital. They are unaware that they are philosophers. But let us remind ourselves here that once the Outside had been the privileged object of analysis of philosophy until capital stole that object, becoming philosophy itself. Capital is now turning the dream of production and limitlessness into creation as mastery of the Outside, the future. If Marx was a proponent of acceleration, as the manifesto would have us acknowledge, it is to his credit that philosophy must be abandoned, if the goal is to construct the future that capitalism has already foreclosed, in favor of real concrete actions. In an unlikely twist, Marx and capitalism can both sing and dance to the tune of, most familiar to Marxists though, the poverty of philosophy. Its poverty lies in the fact that it does not want to regress, which bespeaks of its hubris, its illusion of being progressive, revolutionary, and axiomatic. What this goes down to in the last instance is that Marx knew there is no alternative to capitalism. Philosophy would never allow itself to regress to the present to change the order of things. But if capitalism can do philosophy, philosophy can become richer by all of history’s combined wealth. And indeed, it is to Marx’s credit that philosophical capitalism will be compelled to accelerate, hence, the emancipation of bodies from their lack of purpose.
Real concrete actions may thus mean changing the way philosophy has been hitherto done. This is perhaps the original contribution of the Accelerationist Manifesto. Following Marx through its timely intervention in contemporary left politics, we can now say that the object of change is not the world vis-à-vis the many interpretations that have been made about its ontological status. Rather, it is how we can do philosophy this time (through a radical unity with bodies, or rather, production, by means of which philosophy regresses to the present which it has until now consistently avoided with its characteristic obsession with possibilities, with option contracts, least to say, under the general rubric of speculative future) which must first presuppose that the world, nonetheless, must not change, if only for philosophical creation, regressing to the present from out of the future, to catch up with the world, that is to say, the actual. Apropos of the famous last thesis of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, our attention draws closer to its secret: Philosophy must either imitate capitalism or become capitalism itself.
In this new light, and arguably so, labor can be emancipated. It can free itself from the illusion of the future—hope, in simple terms—for the future, once a possibility, has reached a dead-end, which is its own actuality, namely, the accelerating present. This, of course, will be made possible by philosophy abandoning the future, the Outside in favor of the pragmatic concerns of the revolution. If this is what Marx meant by the poverty of philosophy, Marxists should take the gesture at its most instructive, namely, and rightly so, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.
NB: See Joseph Weissmann on his unique take on accelerationism, certainly a critical contribution to the topic, though different from ours: