‘Even Lenin’: In the Vanguard of Accelerationism

I am, as usual, late to the accelerationist party (unlike Dan Barber and Josh Ramey, to whom I am clearly indebted here). Reading the Accelerationist Manifesto properly for the first time recently, I was struck by something. ‘Even Lenin’, we are told, supported the idea that socialism depends upon the technological transformations made possible by capitalism.

‘Even Lenin’ makes it sound as if the great Bolshevik were an unlikely ally. Accelerationism is, after all, positioned as breaking with the Luddite shibboleths of the established left. And yet one of the things which stands out from the manifesto is its seeming commitment to the greatest of all far left shibboleths: vanguardism

Social movements – no doubt Occupy is in the crosshairs here – are dismissed for their fetishisation of democracy-as-process, horizontal organisation, communal immediacy and localism. Instead, we are told that ‘Secrecy, ver­tic­ality, and ex­clu­sion all have their place as well in ef­fective polit­ical ac­tion (though not, of course, an ex­clusive one)’. A left intellectual infrastructure is called for, and the means for this will be a left version of the neoliberal Mont Pelerin Society, ‘tasked with cre­ating a new ideo­logy, eco­nomic and so­cial models, and a vision of the good to re­place and sur­pass the ema­ci­ated ideals that rule our world today.’

For what it is worth, I think the manifesto is right on the money in identifying the crucial factor of the hegemony of neoliberalism and the evident failure of the left to respond. It is also surely correct to argue against a fetishisation of traditional forms of protest, or an aversion to technological change. Why, though, is it apparently prepared to endorse a tactic which has been such self-perpetuating disaster for large parts of the radical left?

Let me give an example close to (my) home. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the UK is a Trotsykite organization of a few thousand members, but it has frequently had a higher profile and impact in left politics and movements than its size would suggest. Over the last few years it has been in turmoil, because of the way it handled allegations of rape and sexual harassment leveled at a senior party member.

This is not the place to go into detail about that case, which is well documented elsewhere. Suffice to say that, for many of us, it exposed the utter failure of a certain kind of politics, in which the ‘ideology’ and ‘vision’ came from the centre, from a Central Committee elected on a slate system which was hugely difficult to budge. As a corollary, the party was woefully ill equipped to take on the lessons of feminism and social movements other than through attempts to co-opt and re-educate them through front organisations.

At this point, it is important to acknowledge that the Manifesto endorses a pluralism of organisations and methods, and a spirit of experimentalism on the left. In an interview, Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek have cited networks such as Plan C alongside feminist initiatives around basic income as essentially working along the right lines. So I am not trying to crudely tarnish accelerationism with the misogyny and bullying found in various far left sects.

However, I become concerned when it is implied that a central hub can be constructed to filter and connect these ideas and practices, since that is just what Central Committees imagine themselves to be doing (even if what is envisaged is much smarter and better funded than a small far left party). And I am especially disturbed by the rather easy characterisation of social movements as obsessed with ‘internal direct-​democratic process and affective self-​valorisation’ as opposed to which ‘Real democracy must be defined by its goal — collective self-​mastery’. How can we simply leave ‘democracy-as-process’ behind, if chauvinistic sectarianism and authoritarian centralism are to be avoided?  (as a footnote: during the SWP crisis, branch meetings were addressed by members of the Central Committee, and representatives of an opposition faction. The Committee member was allowed 30 minutes contribution, the opposition was allowed 5-8 minutes. The justification was that the Committee member was the one who could set the debate in its ‘proper political context’. ‘Democratic centralism’ in action – and this is only one of the most benign examples).

Process matters: if the process of revolution is one of instrumentalising democracy and our desires, then it kills the very thing it longs for. Accelerationism’s recognition of the need for experiment augurs well here, but it should lead to a further realisation: particular shared experiences of non-capitalist space and community matter. They may be local and ephemeral, but it does not follow that they are tied to ‘localism’ or that they are ‘merely’ ephemeral when set alongside ideas of reason. In fact, I’d argue these experiences are indispensable to rationality as a form of embodied discernment.

There is no politics without affect. The manifesto itself sees the need for ‘affectively invigorating’ visions of a transhumanist future. But the notion of constructing affects is fraught with danger, not least the production of future legions of self-intoxicated militants and dictatorial organisers, whose principal affect to date has been one of joyless immersion in sacrifice. Please spare us from the heroic vanguard, speeding ahead to save us from the future they have already grasped.

3 thoughts on “‘Even Lenin’: In the Vanguard of Accelerationism

  1. I think that’s spot on. It isn’t so much doing anything new as it’s crossing two well-established strains of thought that hadn’t previously been merged so intensively: Deleuze-derived/affiliated continental philosophy and old school vanguardist socialism.

    The fact they write ‘even Lenin’ implies that they think their audience is primarily the Deleuze-related philosophy crowd rather than the vanguardists. Probably a wise assumption.

    I applaud their ambition but am unimpressed at the result. Seems to me very much like ‘more of the same’ (in a whole host of respects) overlaid with a thin veneer of fashionable, late-twentieth century nomenclature. I suppose that’s progress over the late-nineteenth century vocabulary that the rest of the hard left is lumbered with but still.

    It’s rationalism in new clothes. It’s an interesting perspective but not one that I’m won over by.

  2. So I’m definitely from the theory camp, but I think it’s important to read Land and even Negarestani in the accelerationist context here as well — in other words, there are definitively “rightist” and I would suggest perhaps even stanger, “non-orientable” political orientations inflecting the space of thought/action around this conjuncture.

    I think that Phillip is precise in saying that accelerationism is a new rationalism; I think it might be more accurate to call it a new Universalism — and here I’m mainly thinking of Negarestani, since in terms of critical depth of analysis I would submit he amounts to something like the “vanguard’s vanguard”; but if anything today deserves the title of a new Universalism, it’s his work; and his influence is evident in Singleton, Srnicek, etc.

    It strikes me there are many different variations of an “accelerationist thesis” expressing themselves, with emphases on different aspects of the functional equation. If the most obvious division is the left/right split (I am tempted to say: dark and light accelerationisms, since the right-accelerationists sometimes talk about ‘dark enlightenments’) perhaps the most interesting one is the ‘intensive’ split, the degree of affective engagement with futurological “signals”, predictive apparatus and so on — that really I think form the core of the ‘infrastructure’ aspect of the left-accelerationist political project. Because of course there are also much more vulgar transhumanist and even singularitarian accounts of a certain relationship with the future; and certainly these accelerationists are more reliable/less pious allies.

    At any rate, some great reflections here. Thanks so much for thinking through this!!

  3. Glad someone else thought that this ‘even’ was odd.

    I don’t like great-man-one-upmanship, but there’s something awry in the Manifesto’s selective reading of Marx, too. He explicitly warned against pushing non-capitalist Russia through capitalism in order to achieve socialism later in life (albeit, I think, in a draft letter – [to Vera Zamulich?] – that wasn’t sent but has been published).

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