Towards the end of the nineteenth century, terrorism was an increasingly popular political tool deployed against Russian absolutism. It had proved effective in the past. Russian nihilists — revolutionaries who preached the absolute negation of absolutism — assassinated Alexander II in 1881. A year later, another band of revolutionaries would make an attempt on the life of his son, Alexander III.
Amongst those hanged for the conspiracy against the new tsar was Aleksandr Ulyanov, the older brother of Vladimir Lenin. Though Lenin himself was not an advocate of terrorism — once describing terrorists as “liberals with bombs”, exchanging the word for the deed in their propaganda machine — his brother’s execution was a major factor in his own radicalisation.
Lenin’s brother, who was a firm believer in his cause, did not want to die for it. At his trial, prior to sentencing, he had made a rousing speech regarding the necessity of their actions when faced with the towering inequality present in Russia at that time. “Terror is that form of struggle which has been created by the nineteenth century,” he declared, “the only form of self-defence in which a minority, strong only through its spiritual force and the awareness of its righteousness, can resort against the majority’s awareness of physical force.” As his mother wept, he continued:
Of course terror is not the intelligentsia’s weapon in organised struggle. It is only a road that some individuals take spontaneously when their discontent reaches extremity. Thus viewed, terrorism is an expression of the popular struggle and will last as long as the nation’s needs are not satisfied.
Though perhaps convincing to discontented young men at that time, it was not a practice that resonated with Aleksandr’s younger brother. As Tariq Ali notes in The Dilemmas of Lenin, for the future leader of the USSR:
Terrorism as a political act could not be resuscitated. It simply did not work. It was an inefficient substitute for mass action. It concentrated on individuals while leaving the system in tact, which is why it had long ceased to interest or attract the bulk of the intelligentsia.
Lenin was, on the contrary, something of an accelerationist. Whilst accelerationism and terrorism have become synonymous in the twenty-first century, in Lenin’s time they were explicitly counterpoised to one another. The lessons the early Marxists took from their more terroristic anarchist forebears was that absolute negation of the existing order was only possible collectively. Nothing is ever destroyed by the limited actions of a few, no matter how explosive and deadly they may be.
Of course, “accelerationism” is clearly a term of no use to Tariq Ali, but we might note how familiar Lenin’s view of revolutionary praxis will be to many an accelerationist when he writes that, for Lenin, “the coming revolution would be based on the growing strength of the proletariat, aided by the quickening pace of capitalist development and therefore bourgeois democratic in character.” The further capitalism spreads, the more proletariat there are. Capitalism, in its expedience, recruits more enemies than it does adherents. And so, for Lenin, “untrammelled capitalist development … would increase the size and weight of the proletariat, thus bringing it face to face with its enemy.”
Is this the kind of action Alex Williams is referring to when he advocates for a kind of “meta-terrorism” in response to the squalid stasis of late-capitalism? In the twenty-first century, terrorism is an act that has been vetoed by any moral-political orthodoxy. In postmodernity, this is perhaps because there is no singular entity to fight against. Islamic terrorists wage war against the amorphous targets of a shape-shifting Western hemisphere in the hope of carving out a space for their Islamist absolutism. Capitalism, on the contrary, spreads best through dissolidarity, and yet becomes absolutist in its global multiplicity. Then how might we accelerate capitalism’s development further still? So that it might start to dissolve itself in its own acidic consistency? Williams writes:
Instead of flying the planes into symbols of western capitalism, we plunge the financial-capitalistic contents of the towers into the human world itself, dissolving, sundering, shattering…
The question of what form the praxis necessary to destabilise the current state-capital bond [might take] has already been answered in part — a kind of meta-terrorism, operating on the plane of capital itself (ideally, in the conception which has obsessed me for some time, in the form of a capitalist surrealism, the exploitation of credit-based financial systems for their primary destructive potential. This destruction is not merely to be thought on the ability to trigger vast crashes, which is readily apparent, but further their capacity to destabilise the consistency of value itself). That this consists in taking more seriously the claims of finance capital than even its own agents is the very point itself, and is in a sense an actualisation of Lyotard’s gestures towards a ‘nihilist theory of credit’. Further we might conceptualise the collective forms necessary to actualise this praxis as being very much in the mode of the kind of Maoist party delineated by Badiou in Théorie du Sujet, an institutional actor capable of allowing the ephemeral vanishing term of history (now surrealist avant-capital, rather than the proletariat of course) to cohere, for as long as required to enable it to achieve the absolute dissolution of all structuration, including itself.
Further excavation is needed to locate Lyotard’s “nihilist theory of credit” and Badiou’s Maoist agitations, but we might note how the establishment has already mastered the meta-terrorist gesture in the last two decades? The definition of the term “meta-terrorism” already in circulation refers to the exacerbation of panic and consternation when a terrorist attack occurs. We see this deployed by the right all the time. Islamists attack the West, the West ensures that all fear and outrage is directed towards othered minorities who are otherwise “representative” of the “enemy” — no doubt fueling further terrorism. Just as terrorism itself is ineffective in its targeting of individuals by individuals, so is meta-terrorism ineffective in its targeting of minorities already rebelling under the cosh of globalist capitalism.
Is the argument, then, that the only meta-terrorism worth pursuing is system against system? When capitalism experiences one of its many market paroxysms, even one that is ultimately inconsequential in nature, it should be utilised to inflame dissent against the capitalist class. Treat capitalism how capitalism treats the Islamic faith; use their attempts to terrorise the proletariat against themselves, fueling hatred of their hypocrisies and injustices. Many are already doing this, of course, although not under the “accelerationist” mantle. But connecting the dots between revolutionary movements can’t hurt.