One of my old email accounts that I still check occasionally has, for some reason, been swamped by emails from Quora. (I don’t know why I get emails from that website but, for some reason, I think it has something to do with Autechre.)
The other day, one of the click-bait questions asked was: “Why does Marxism get such a hard time?”
An argument kicked off in the comments and I saw someone post the words: “Marxism is not a political project. It is a materialist analysis of history.” I laughed. I’d heard that sort of phrasing a thousand times before, albeit with people talking about accelerationism, and then a light bulb went on somewhere.
Updated: Somewhat predictably, following these tweets, there were numerous people who did not like the fact that I called Marxism a method of analysis and not a political project.
Is this really that controversial a statement? It’s even the first line of Marxism’s Wikipedia entry, so it can’t be that controversial…
Evidently, none of those Wiki contributors have actually read any Marx. I obviously haven’t either.
I got really, really bored, in the end, of having the same argument over and over. By the third thread in an hour, I just couldn’t be arsed, so I decided to update this post instead.
It was previously a brief and scatterbrained appendix and now I hope it is something with a bit more of an argument.
There were a few replyguys who waddled into the fray of the second tweet. This seemed to be the least controversial, however.
One person added that it all depends on whether you actively or passively want capitalism to end. I don’t think that has anything to do with it. Landian Accelerationism certainly isn’t hoping for an end to capitalism. It’s an analysis of its accelerating detachment from our desires. What we want for it is irrelevant.
This is why U/Acc ends up looking promiscuous, I think. Recognising that Accelerationism, as a philosophy of time, does not describe a process within our control, leads to an anti-praxis which is devoid of any prescribed zone of action, but we are at least capable of a certain amor fati. As Vince wrote on his old blog:
This can hardly mean ‘Do nothing’, of course: that would mean not just to return to the fundamental question of praxis, but to offer perhaps the most numbly tedious answer of all. The unconditional accelerationist, instead, referring to the colossal horrors presented to the human agent all the way from the processes of capital accumulation and social complexification to the underlying structure, or seeming absence of structure, of reality itself, points to the basic unimportance of unidirectional human agency. We ‘hurl defiance to the stars’, but in their silence — when we see them at all — the stars return only crushing contempt. To the question ‘What is to be done?’, then, she can legitimately answer only, ‘Do what thou wilt’ — and ‘Let go.’
I’ve interpreted this, personally, as a rejection of the overarching projects that have attached themselves to Accelerationism on all sides of politics, whilst also leaving room for an accelerationist anethics.
The k-waves of acceleration are surfable, although they seem to be leading to (aptly-named) rapids. It will take a certain vigilance to reach the end of the river.
Capitalism may be indifferent to our desires for its future but, plotted out on a map, the steep curve of acceleration remains accompanied by a Kurtz-gradient.
What about Marxism? Is that a road map of capitalism’s demise?
Marx himself may have predicted it but Marxism as a school of thought is surely limited to describing how capitalism functions? It makes predictions and favours outcomes but these are results of an analysis of class struggle in and of their time.
Other responders to the above tweets seem to think this is pedantic semantics. Why even try to separate the Marxism of Capital from the communism of The Communist Manifesto?
That wasn’t really my intention…
What I am being accused of doing by some of the self-proclaimed “orthodox” Marxists of Twitter is denying Marxism its innately political valences and therefore doing it a disservice. God forbid it is I who brings Marxism into disrepute.
Nonetheless, throwing caution to the wind, I think acknowledging the distinction between analysis and politics — even if it is a superficial distinction to make to those more familiar with Marxism as a whole — is important for retaining a sense of the bigger picture.
Perhaps this is something that comes more from readings of Deleuze than Marx directly. As Deleuze explains in an interview with Antonio Negri:
I think Felix Guattari and I have remained Marxists, in our two different ways, perhaps, but both of us. You see, we think any political philosophy must turn on the analysis of capitalism and the ways it has developed. What we find most interesting in Marx is his analysis of capitalism as an immanent system that’s constantly overcoming its own limitations, and then coming up against them once more in a broader form, because its fundamental limit is Capital itself.
If Deleuze and Guattari are proto-accelerationist thinkers, it is perhaps because they apprehend Marxism as being in a state of becoming in itself. To rest solely on Marx’s late-nineteenth century analyses is to do yourself a disservice. Read them but also pay attention to what capitalism is doing today.
I’d wager that those taking issue with this tweet aren’t so good at doing that.
Accelerationism here comes a DeleuzoGuattarian-Marxism where the ever-shrinking kernel of capitalism’s self-overcoming reaches closer and closer to a kind of technocapitalist singularity. Are we entering a phase where capitalism breaks free from capital? Breaks free from the human? Or becomes wholly immanent to those things?…
As with responses to Accelerationism, the various political projects of Marxism emerge by putting an initial analysis to work under certain conditions. Leninism and Stalinist and Maoism et al. each emphasise different prescriptions and readings of this analysis. In the process — and this is probably a lot more true today online than in these historical examples — the analysis itself gets lost in the fighting over the particulars of praxis. You only need to look at some of the replies to this first tweet to see the usual suspects of Marxist replyguys missing the point in order to keep splitting my provocatively split hairs.
Accelerationism is going much the same way as Marxism online. Atrocities are disowned whilst generalisations abound and, all the while, fewer and fewer people seem interested in ascertaining what is happening to us today and why — which is what the Accelerationist bloggers of the 2000s hoped for.
The same is certainly true of leftist apolitics of recent decades. Defending the particulars of what Marxism wants to do has not stopped class politics from being broadly dismantled, for instance — a perception of which we have only begun to recover within the popular imagination over the last ten years.
It is the return of the analysis that is now making a difference to the political projects of our time. It is also the analysis that Marxism’s opponents fear the most. They’ve had to emphasise so-called “Cultural Marxism” in order to draw attention to the political power of having a critical framework.
Once you are in possession of this, the distinctions become less important — but at the peril of a wider movement. Retain the distinctions so that more people are better prepared for a future to come. Capitalism will adapt accordingly, how can we expect our theories to if we flatten them into superficial dogmatisms?
What is a Kurtz-gradient please, Matt? You’ve have used this phrase before, forgive me if you’ve defined it but I couldn’t piece it together. I’m interested in understanding the ‘anti-praxis’ of U/Acc, this idea that the “revolutionary path” is to become immanent with the acceleration that already occurs in the depth of things, impersonally, and without condition (I paraphrase you/D&G). In practice, if (again paraphrasing your quoting Vince Garton) U/ACC is merely ‘amor fati’, that ‘the unconditional accelerationist… points to the… unimportance of… human agency,” doesn’t that justify just about anything, politically, ethically? Isn’t it just the like conquistadors, fuelled by debt to break new worlds in their own image? Can’t anyone just say they went along with all the “colossal horrors presented to the human agent… from the processes of capital accumulation and social complexification to the underlying structure” just because? Is it nihilism? Is there an imaginary U/ACC can take us to? If U/ACC is a ‘transcendental consideration of time pressure’ in the same sense that Marxism ‘is a materialist analysis of history’ can it be deployed for any collective human endeavour in a way even comparable with Marxism (which arguably lost its efficacy in 20th century, but it sure inspired a lot of human agency)?
Genuinely trying to understand.
I’m looking forward to your book on Mark Fisher’s whose ideas I find pretty inspirational. Though Fisher wallowed in some of the same nihilism I am perhaps unfairly attributing to U/ACC, he seemed to then (philosophically) extricate himself. One of the reasons I like his (you’re right, more complex than sometimes rendered) ideas of acid communism, hauntology etc. are that they offer a glimmer of hope for positive imaginaries, for human agency…
A couple of people have asked about Kurtz-gradients recently so I reckon I’ll do a post on it. I appreciate your questions very much but they are big ones so bear with me and I’ll address all of the above in a post in a couple days time.