Antonio Negri: Some Reflections on the #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO
Antonio Negri reflects on the recent #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO, insisting upon the re- appropriation and disruption of capitalist modes of development and thought.
The Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics (MAP) opens by noting the depth of the current crisis – “cataclysm” – and a negation of the future by “coming apocalypses”. No need for alarm however: there is nothing political- theological here whatsoever, so those who came looking for that might as well stop reading now. Absent, too, is the usual refrain about the imminent breakdown of the planetary climatic system. Or rather, it is mentioned, its importance, but it is wholly subordinated to industrial politics, and can be addressed only through the critique thereof.
What is essential is instead “the increasing automation of productive processes” – including “intellectual labour” – which is presented as evidence of the crisis of capitalism. Catastrophism? Improper use of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall? I don’t think so. On the contrary this account succeeds in identifying the reality of the crisis, in neoliberalism’s aggression against the entire structure of class relations as they had been organized within the context of the Welfare State of the 19th and 20th Centuries; and the cause of the crisis, in the stalling of productive capacities – a necessary consequence of the new forms of capitalist control against the new form of living labour.
A steely critique of both political right and left follows – the latter often stuck in unlikely Keynsian resistance strategies (even when at its best), and incapable of imagining any radical alternative. What all this has erased is the future: the political imaginary has been totally paralyzed. The crisis will not end spontaneously. Only a systematic class- based approach aimed at the construction of a new economy and of a new political organization of labour will make possible a new hegemony and put proletarian hands on a possible future.
There is still space for subversive knowledge!
This horizon is consistent with the task of communism as it is today. It is a necessary leap forward, resolute and decisive – if one wants to open a new terrain of revolutionary thinking – but above all it gives new form to the movement, where by “form” we should understand an arrangement of things that is constitutive, rich with possibilities, and aimed at breaking the repressive and hierarchic horizon of the State that today informs capitalist power. It is not a matter of the overthrow of the State form – it means rather invoking potential (potenza) against Power (potere), biopolitics against biopower. The only rational premise for a subversive practice lies in this radical opposition; the possibility of an emancipatory future against the present of capitalist domination.
How does the MAP’s theory work? Their hypothesis is that liberation must occur within the evolution of capital; that labour power must move against the blockage caused by capitalism; that a complete reversal of the class relation must be accomplished by the pursuit of constant economic growth and technological evolution (notwithstanding the growing social inequalities that accompany them).
The MAP thus apparently picks up the within- and- against refrain of the operaist (workerist) tradition. The process of liberation can only occur by accelerating capitalism’s development, without however (and this is important) confusing acceleration with speed: acceleration here operates as an engine, as an experimental process of discovery and creation, within the space of the possibilities emanating from capitalism itself. The Marxian concept of tendency is coupled here with a spatial analysis of the parameters of development, recalling Deleuze and Guattari’s insistence on “terra” (territorialization and/ or deterritorialization).
But there’s another central element: the potential of cognitive labour, which capitalism creates but represses; constituting yet attenuating it within the increasing algorithmic automation of domination; valuing it ontologically, yet devaluing it from a monetary and disciplinary perspective (not only within a context of crisis, but also throughout the normal cycles of development, in particular through its management of the State form). This potential does not attach revolutionary possibility to the rebirth of a 20th Century- style working class, but rather to a new and more potent class: that of cognitive labour. It is this class which must be liberated; it is this class which must liberate itself.
Here the recovery of the Marxian and Leninist concept of tendency is complete. And any “futurist” illusion is dispensed with, since it is the class struggle which determines not only the nature of the movement, but also its capacity to turn the highest abstraction into a solid machine for struggle.
The entire MAP is based on this capacity to liberate the productive forces of cognitive labour. One must thus do away with any illusion of a return to a fordist notion of work; realizing once and for all that it is no longer material labour but immaterial labour which is the hegemonic form. Hence, and in light of capitalism’s control of technology, the target must become “capital’s increasingly retrograde approach to technology”. The productive forces are limited by capitalism. The crucial goal is then that of liberating the latent productive forces, such as has always been the aim of revolutionary materialism. These forces require our further consideration.
But first we must note how, significantly, the MAP’s attention turns to the theme of organization. The MAP levels a sharp critique against the “horizontal” or “spontaneous” concepts of organization developed within the movements; and against any conception of “democracy as process”. The MAP maintains that those are fetishistic forms (of democracy) devoid of any practical effect – destituent and/ or constituent – against the institutional forms of capitalist domination. This last claim is perhaps too strong, considering that the movements forcefully combat finance capitalism and its institutional structures – albeit without adequate alternatives or tools. But if one talks of revolutionary transformation, one necessarily requires a strong institutional transition – one stronger than any democratic horizontalism is capable of suggesting. Before or after the revolutionary leap, it will be necessary to plan so as to translate the abstract knowledge of tendency into a constitutent power of future post- capitalist, communist institutions. This “planning”, according to the MAP, should not be the vertical command of the State over the society of workers; rather, productive and directive capacities must converge in the Network. This is the goal: planning the struggle before planning production. But more on this later.
Now, the first step is the liberation of the potential of cognitive labour, which must be wrenched from obscurity: “we surely do not yet know what a modern technosocial body can do”!
Two elements must be underlined. One is what some call the “appropriation of fixed capital”, with the attendant anthropological transformation of the worker subject; the other is the socio- political element, that is, the realization that this new potentiality of bodies is essentially collective and political. In other words, we can say that the surplus – the value added in production and in the development of the potentialities constituted by the appropriation of fixed capital – derives essentially from productive social cooperation. Probably this is the most crucial passage of the Manifesto. Attenuating and sidelining the humanist character of philosophical critique, the MAP insists on the material and technical nature of a reappropriation of fixed capital understood as tangible, in which productive quantification, economic modeling, big data analysis, abstract cognitive models, etc; are appropriated through education, and through the scientific re- elaboration of these forms by worker- subjects. Mathematical models and algorithms do not inherently serve capitalism, so it’s not a problem with mathematics; it’s a problem with power.
It is undeniable that the MAP is somewhat optimistic, which is not very useful for a critique of the highly complex man- machine relation, but it may help make headway into the extremely urgent discussion of organization. Once the discussion becomes a question of power, it leads directly to organization. The MAP suggests that the left must develop sociotechnical hegemony: “material platforms of production, finance, logistics, and consumption can and will be reprogrammed and reformatted towards post- capitalist ends”. Here the MAP entrusts its project to objectivity, materiality, to a sort of Dasein of development – thus somewhat underestimating social, political and cooperative factors. But this underestimation must not prevent us from recognizing the importance of acquiring the most sophisticated techniques of capitalist domination and of the abstraction of labour, so as to return them to a communist administration led by the “things themselves”. By this I understand that it is necessary to develop the complete set of cognitive labour’s productive possibilities in order to be able to propose a new hegemony. The theme of organization re- emerges here. The MAP proposes a shift in focus: against extreme horizontalism it proposes a new configuration of the relation between plan and network; against a peaceful conception of democracy as a process the MAP suggests a shift from means (voting, representation, rule of law etc.) to ends (collective emancipation and self- government).
It is clear that this is not a resurgence of centralist illusions or empty re- interpretations of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. The MAP recognizes the need for greater clarity, proposing a sort of “ecology of organizations”, insisting on the need to envision a plurality of forces able to resonate with one another to produce forms of collective decision- making without any form of sectarianism. This notion might engender doubts, and it is indeed possible to imagine greater difficulties than its sunny outlook seems to assume. Yet this path must be travelled, especially in light of the cycle of struggle, begun in 2011, which despite its vigor and its novel and genuine revolutionary contents, demonstrated insurmountable limitations in the struggle against power given its organizational model,
The MAP proposes three urgent objectives, which are decidedly appropriate and realistic. First, the construction of a sort of intellectual infrastructure tasked with outlining a new ideal project and with studying new economic models. Second, investing heavily on the terrain of mainstream media and communication. The internet and social networks have certainly democratized communication, and can be very useful in a context of struggle; however the strongest traditional forms still dominate communication. The aim, then, is to strive to materially claim control of adequate means of communication. Third, re- invigorating the capacity to build all possible institutional forms of power and class: transitory and permanent, political and syndicalist, global and local. A unified class power will be possible only through the assemblage and the hybridization of experiences developed thus far and new ones still to be invented.
The future must be constructed: this enlightenment aspiration pervades the entire MAP, along with a Promethean humanist politics. This humanism however, insofar as it wishes to break the limits imposed by capitalist society, is open to the post- human and to a scientific utopia. Indeed the MAP recuperates the 20th Century’s dreams of outer space, for example; and indeed wishes to build increasingly more effective walls against death and all of life’s misfortunes. Rational imagination must be accompanied by a collective fantasy of new worlds, so as to organize a strong “self- valorization” of labour and of the social. The most modern epoch we have experienced showed us that there can only be an inside ofglobalization, there is no longer any outside – yet today, considering the problem of the construction of the future, we must fortify the inside by bringing the outside in – an opportunity we most certainly possess.
So, what can be said of this document? Some think of it as an Anglo- Saxon complement to post- operaism, thus perhaps less ready to re- elaborate a socialist humanism but more capable of developing a positive one. The name, “accelerationism”, is certainly unfortunate, as it suggests a “futurist” affiliation it doesn’t in fact have. The document is undoubtedly timely in its critique of existing socialism and social- democracy, and also, importantly, of the movements of and since 2011. It forcefully emphasizes the theme of the tendency of capitalist development, of the necessity of its re- appropriation and disruption. On this basis then it advances the construction of a communist program. These are strong legs on which to walk forward.
Some criticisms may however be useful in the interests of catalyzing further discussion and understanding. First, this project seems too deterministic, as far as both technology and politics are concerned. Its relation to historicity (or simply to history, the present and praxis), must reluctantly be identified as teleological. The role of singularities seems to me to have been undervalued – that is, the need to regard tendency as virtual (a matter of singularities) and material determination (which fosters that tendency) as the power of subjectivisation: tendency can only be defined as an open, constitutive relation, animated by class subjects. It may be objected that insisting on this openness could bring about some perverse consequences, such as a landscape so heterogeneous as to be chaotic and incapable of any resolution; a giant multiplicity leading infinitely nowhere at all. Indeed post- operaism, or Mille plateaux, sometimeslead us to believe this. This is a crucial and difficult passage, and it requires further consideration.
The MAP, it must be noted, has arrived at a good solution in this respect: it approaches the relation of subject and object (which in more familiar terminology I would call the relation between the technical and political composition of the proletariat) through a transformative anthropology of the bodies of the workers. The degenerative risk of pluralism can thus be avoided. Yet it is equally true that, if one wants to engage further on this decisively important terrain, then at some level one must disrupt the relentless productive progression to which the MAP points. Some “thresholds” of development must be identified; thresholds which, with Deleuze and Guattari, can be called consolidations, collective assemblagesimplicated in the re- appropriation of fixed capital, and in the transformation of the labour force, of anthropologies, languages and activities. These thresholds come about through the relation between the technical and political composition of the proletariat and become historically fixed. Without them, any program – even a transient one – becomes impossible. It is precisely because of our current failure to define this kind of relation that at times we find ourselves methodologically helpless and politically impotent. By contrast, it is the determinacy of a historical threshold, and the coming to an awareness of a particular manner of relation between the technical and the political, which allows an organizational process to be devised and an adequate program to be defined..
In posing this problem, however, another problem is implicitly raised: how to better define the process by which the relation between a singularity and the common is formed and consolidated, keeping in mind the progressive nature of the productive tendency. We must specify the commonality that lies in any technological connection, by a targeted deepening of the anthropology of production.
This is, again, a question of the re- appropriation of fixed capital. I have already mentioned that the MAP underestimates the cooperative dimension of production (and even more so the production of subjectivities), in favor of technological and material factors that will constitute not only the parameters of productivity, but also any anthropological transformation of the labour- force. It is indeed in considering the whole range of languages, algorithms, technological functions and know- how that constitute today’s proletariat, that the dimension of cooperativity acquires a central role, and may reveal hegemonic possibilities. This claim follows from the realization that the very structure of capitalist exploitation has changed. Capital indeed continues to exploit, but it does so in ways that are more limited, paradoxically, than its power of extraction of surplus value from society as a whole might allow. Becoming aware of this change means realizing that fixed capital – that part of capital directly implicated in the production of surplus value – refers to, or in fact is essentially a matter of, that surplus which is generated through cooperation; that immeasurable dimension which, as Marx said, does not consist in the surplus labour of two or more workers, but the surplus that arises from the fact that they work together: the surplus beyond their arithmetic total.
If one assumes the primacy of extractive capital over the capital that exploits (while including the latter in the former), some very interesting conclusions can be reached. Let me point to one. The transition from fordism to post- fordism was typically described in terms of the application of automation in the factory and of the managed computerization of the social field. The latter is greatly important in the process leading up to the complete subsumption of society under capital – information technology leads this tendency, and as such is more important than automation which, in impacting only partially and precariously on the production process, did not genuinely characterize the new social form of the time.
Today we are well beyond that point, as the MAP clarifies and as experience amply attests. The information- technologization of productive society is now global. Moreover, this digitized social world is itself re- organized by automation, according to new criteria for the division of labour (in the management of the labour market) and new hierarchies for the management of society.
When production fully permeates society – through cognitive labour, and through social knowledge – information- technologization remains capitalism’s most valuable form of fixed capital, but automation (that is, the technological structuration of the direct control of production, which no longer operates only in the factory, but in the social activity of the producers) becomes the glue of capitalist organization, which attempts to commandeer both information technology (as its tool) and the entire digitized society as its machinic prosthesis.
Information technologies thus become subordinated to automation. The control exerted by capitalist algorithms marks the transformation of the control of production, and with it a new level of real subsumption. Hence the great importance of logistics, which, when automated, begin to configure every territorial aspect of capitalist control, and to establish internal borders and hierarchies within the global space. Logistics likewise organize and delineate all the algorithmic mechanizations which, through varying degrees of abstraction and across fields of knowledge, concentrate and control the complex ensemble of knowledges also known as the General Intellect.
Now, if extractive capitalism expands its exploitative capacity extensively to every social infrastructure, and is applied intensively to every degree of abstraction within the productive machine (that is, to every level of organization of the global financial mode of production), it will be necessary to re- align any discussion on the appropriation of fixed capital to this entire theoretical and practical space. The way we construct the struggle must be equal to this space. Fixed capital can in fact be re- appropriated by proletarians. And it is this potential that must be liberated.
I wish to address one last theme, not discussed in the MAP, yet fully consistent with its theoretical framework: the currency of the commons. The authors of the MAP are certainly aware of the role money has today: an abstract machine that functions as the measure of all values extracted from society through society’s subsumption under capital. Now, it is the same schema leading to the extraction- exploitation of social labour that makes money so prevalent: money as measure, as hierarchy and as program. But this monetary abstraction, as the tendential result of the hegemonic dynamics of financial capital, alludes to new potential forms of resistance and of subversion located at the same high level. It is on this terrain that the communist program for a post- capitalist future must be elaborated, and not only by proposing the proletarian re- appropriation of wealth, but by constructing hegemonic capacity – hence working on the “common” that underlies both the highest form of the extraction- abstraction of labour value, and its universal translation into currency.
This means then discussing a “currency of the common”. This is no utopian ideal, but rather a paradigmatic and programmatic suggestion for how to envisage an attack on capitalism’s measure of labour, on the hierarchies dominating the relation of necessary and surplus labour (directly imposed by owners), and on the general social distribution of income controlled by the capitalist State. On this front much work remains to be done.
To conclude – though there’s still so much to be said! – what does it mean to follow the tendency to its conclusion and beat capital in the process? One example: it means to revive the phrase “the refusal of work”. The struggle against the automated algorithm must grasp the increased productivity it brings about, and impose radical reductions in the amount of time disciplined and/ or controlled for each worker by and within machines. It must also result in ever more significant salary increases.
On the one hand, time at the service of automatons must be regulated equally for all (in the post- capitalist epoch, but as an objective of struggle it must be formulated now). On the other, a significant basic income must be introduced so as to recognize how everyone participates equally, through every form of labour, in the construction of the commonwealth. Everyone will then be able to develop freely her joie de vivre (to recall Marx’s appreciation of Fourier). This too must be demanded immediately as a priority of the struggle. However, here a new theme arises: the production of subjectivities, the agonistic use of passions, and the historical dialectic that this use opens against sovereign and capitalist control.