Accelerationism and Ideological Breakdown:
Notes on Recent Developments

We are excited to announce the formation of the Accelerationism Research Consortium, a brand-new collaborative initiative to bring empirical, in-depth research and creative solutions to the study of insurrectionary accelerationism.

Originally tweeted by Accelerationism Research Consortium (@TheARConsortium) on December 22, 2021.

Yesterday, Dylan recently pointed out the founding of a new research centre dedicated to accelerationism, and my initial reaction was the same one I’ve been having since 2018. Are we due yet another Vox article? But in reading an essay shared by the new research group, I found — for the first time! — that the vague or otherwise implicit connections they were making between the accelerationist blogosphere and a more recent “vulgar accelerationism” weren’t actually as tenuous as one might expect…

In an article for Lawfare on “blurry ideologies and strange coalitions”, Cynthia Miller-Idriss and Brian Hughes note how various (often fatally online) political groups have found themselves in a new proximity during the pandemic. That’s true enough; just the other week we saw the Proud Boys openly embrace Black Hammer in a very peculiar form of “red-brown alliance”. As Miller-Idriss and Hughes explain:

The new coalitions became especially visible as the coronavirus pandemic began, when protests against shutdown orders and mask mandates drew thousands to state capitol buildings. These protests brought together groups whose interests are not typically aligned — heavily-armed unlawful militia members, conspiracy theorists waving QAnon signs, and anti-vaxxers whose traditional base draws primarily from leftist and alternative medicine spaces. They were mobilized by their single common denominator: anti-government sentiment about management of the pandemic. 

So far, so predictable. But it doesn’t stop there…

This breakdown in previous ideological boundaries has continued. Boundaries have melded between those who believe in radical ecology and the preservation of natural ecosystems and those who believe that environmental sustainability is linked to racial entitlement to the land and requires extreme immigration control or deportation. Some “boogaloo” adherents who advocate a new civil war marched alongside racial injustice protesters because of shared anger at law enforcement. Small but highly vocal contingents such as the “post-left” and “national Bolshevik” tendencies have come together to form a cross-ideological anti-capitalist column, which expresses itself in social media churn through disparate fragments of culture war talking points, Stalinism and fascism all tossed together.

In many ways, the phenomenon is nothing new. Extremist scenes and movements have experienced internal fissures, infighting and fragmentation for years due to differences in beliefs about tactics (such as the use of violence), conflicting views on particular parts of their ideology (such as about Jews and whiteness) or restrictions on who can be members (such as women). Increasingly, this conflict is occurring not just across relatively bounded groups but also among a broad muddling of ideological beliefs within domestic and international extremist scenes, movements and individuals. These trends are different from previous iterations of extremist fracture and reformation.

What’s striking about this to me is that, for the first time, and much to my own surprise, I feel a little seen… At least after doing some further digging through their references…

The usual problem with these sorts of think tanks is that their generalizations often betray a liberalist moral crusade. Taking the appropriation of the term “accelerationism” at face value, they inadvertently contribute to its mythologization, but the myth-function of “accelerationism” as a novel signifier has long been an interest in original accelerationist circles.

As Mark Fisher suggests in his 2013 essay on an “aesthetic accelerationism”, the movement was a consciousness response to the “rise of the Right’s ‘realism'” — that is, what he famously called “capitalist realism”; the imposition of capitalist ideology as a kind of “common sense”, to which there is no alternative. It was the rise of that realism that “entailed not only the destruction of particular kinds of dreaming, but the very suppression of the dreaming function of popular culture itself”. It was with this in mind that Alex Williams later insisted that

a reconstituted Left [cannot] simply operate inside the hegemonic coordinates of the possible as established by our current socioeconomic setup. To do so requires the ability to direct preexisting and at present inchoate desires for post-capitalism towards coherent visions of the future. Necessarily, given the experimental nature of such a reconstitution, much of the initial labor must be around the composition of powerful visions able to reorient populist desire away from the libidinal dead end which seeks to identify modernity as such with neoliberalism, and modernizing measures as intrinsically synonymous with neoliberalizing ones (for example, privatization, marketization, and outsourcing). This is to invoke the idea, initially coined [the] Cybernetic Cultural Research Unit, of hyperstition – narratives able to effectuate their own reality through the workings of feedback loops, generating new sociopolitical attractors. This is the aesthetic side of the task of constructing a new sociotechnical hegemony.

But the leftist origins of this kind of gesture — related to the “cultural Marxism” of the Frankfurt School as well as Gramscian call for a new cultural hegemony — were seemingly undone by the alt-right in the lead-up to Trump’s election as President of the United States. At that time, a new flank on the right was embracing its own surrealism, arguing that, through “meme magick”, it had effectively “hyperstitioned” President Trump into existence.

This was the left’s first major loss of the new culture war. A new right, native to the internet, seized upon a sort of Gramscian model of political action that began dreaming a new future — a Trumpian future — through myth-functions that the left had long presumed belonged to it alone.

Though it sounds naive now, there was a sense that the war had only just begun. The left was caught off-guard and left reeling. Rather than initially striving to defend its own history, uncertainty and melancholy was seeded everywhere. In London at that time, where I had just moved to do my Masters’ degree, the art scene was afflicted by a potent paranoia, with LD50 Gallery becoming a focal point.

The response wasn’t great. Though the gallery was shut down, some art critics seemed to suggest that art was a neutral zone, where messages and meanings can and should proliferate, no matter how offensive or extreme, as if art is fundamentally a marketplace of ideas and will sort itself out (foregoing the importance of our own agency in establishing a cultural hegemony). As such, this war of words became about whether certain ideas were just right or wrong, and a cultural Darwinism would sort out the chaff. In reality, the right had fought for a renewed sense of ownership over certain ideas and the left had, in its shock, begun to concede its ground. In response to the right’s new seizure of a postmodern surrealism, the left doubled down on its own sense of reason, arguably vacating even further their capacity to dream.

In hindsight, it is hard to know how the left could have responded any differently. Reeling from the successes of Trump and Brexit, it stumbled just long enough for a new right to further establish itself. In the UK, some of this ground was recovered during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, but it wasn’t enough. Cultural forces from the other side — particularly the media establishment — proved too great.

All was not lost, of course. The fight against TERFs has, I think, been the perfect avenue for the left to re-assert a certain capacity to dream. Still, it has been a tough slog to get here. Though the alt-right might have embraced surrealism, the old right was still stuck and stubbornly insisting upon a capitalist (as well other forms of) realism. Fighting a war on two fronts, the left struggled to make advances.

It is arguably this situation that led to the confusing developments of the following years, which I was a vocal part of. On the one hand, attempts to stay true to an older form of accelerationism led to an occasional fidelity with the new right. In the face of capitalist realism and a new capitalist surrealism, the response in these parts was one of fragmentation. Post-Brexit, the idea of the further breakdown of the UK became an interesting notion, and just as the right had poached certain ideas from the left, so a few leftist bloggers, like myself, began provocatively trying to poach ideas from the right. The Moldbuggian idea of “patchwork” was seized upon and reverted back to an older deleuzoguattarian model, for example, emboldened by various emerging independence movements around the world. I genuinely think this led to some interesting developments at the time, even if the left at large was far from convinced. The general idea was: If the myth of an independent Britain had so resonated with the British people at large, with a slim majority coming to believe neoliberalism at home was better than neoliberalism abroad, then why not advance alternatives that were emerging from within our borders, alongside projects in favour of an an independence Scotland or Northumbria or Wales or Cornwall? Why not continue to embolden that sense of “taking back control” to diminish the authority of a capitalist-realist Westminster elite?

Again, with the benefit of hindsight, this all sounds very naive. Though these sentiments have not yet gone away, the manner in which they were discussed did not prove sustainable or useful for too long. The battleground shifted once again. The very idea of an aesthetic or cultural accelerationism was increasingly left by the wayside.

Today, I am less likely to defend the weapons picked up as we fled from what was perceived to be our contemporary impotency. Different things were tried, they had various affects, but the times changed. And that’s fine. But I still think it is important to insist that a battle did take place. even if that battle was not won. It is only by glossing over the problems and questions raised that these extremism research groups end up with a view of accelerationism that is so vulgar.

To return to the article quoted above, we can perhaps see how their definition of “accelerationism” as “a goal and a tactic drawn on by a variety of movements that are united around the objective of overthrowing the country’s prevailing political and social order” is, on the one hand, broadly accurate but, on the other, so generic as to be useless. It is a definition that could arguably apply as readily to Black Lives Matter as it does to a white supremacist organisation; a equivalence that most culture war pundits, centrists and “capitalist realists” would probably be happy with anyway.

But what’s still interesting about this article is that there are a few links here that are nonetheless pertinent. Someone here is clearly doing their research, even if the end results are a bit flat and unenlightening.

Consider the identification of an accelerationist sentiment with a “post-left” contingent, for instance, as in the quote above. This too is accurate, if you ask me, at least when considering the accelerationist blogosphere of the last few years. It was a term uttered often back in 2018 — “post-left is the most left” was a phrase I heard repeatedly. But this has since been coloured by a lot of the splits that were happening at that same time. For example, a number of Justin Murphy’s old hang-outs had a vague “post-left” ethos. The one event I went to in London — his leaving doo after being fired from his university job for calling a student a “retard”, amongst other things — was politically promiscuous. It was populated with people who remain friends today, and who are avowed leftists, albeit with an interest in the more contentious areas of contemporary thought, as well as Tories, TERFs, neo-reactionaries and an actual Nazi who wouldn’t shut up about Heidegger. I certainly didn’t go to another meeting after that one and later got utterly fed up with Justin when he threw our patchwork project under the bus, presenting an unambiguously fascist version of this concept at an event that was ostensibly about leftist approaches to geopolitcal fragmentation. Later, I got in trouble for talking publicly about how some people present at his leaving doo went onto organise a lame series of “salon” events, with invitations extended to the likes of Brendan O’Neill and Toby Young… By then, it was very clear that this was no longer a push beyond the business-as-usual of parliamentary leftism, looking to see what was on the far side of Corbynism — if it ever had been — and was instead nothing more than an edgelord’s approach to culture and politics that was unequivocally reactionary.

As ever, the 2021 version of this contingent looks like various podcast audiences — the Justin Murphy’s of the world sit alongside the Red Scare podcast and Doug Lain’s various hangers-on. But this isn’t another dig at supposedly innocuous differences, as some like to insist when confronted by souring friendships and online call-outs. In fact, the Lawfare article, in mentioning the “post-left”, links directly to an article written by John Ganz which places the podcast-industrial complex of left-right debate bros and contrarian e-girls into a very interesting context.

It is a context that goes a long way to make sense of not only LD50 Gallery but everything that has emerged from the fallout of that moment.

Discussing the contemporary “political economy of reaction”, Ganz begins by admitting he got got by Red Scare’s recent baity photo-op with Alex Jones, before twirling seamlessly into a fascinating essay about “journalism, theatricality, and cultural politics”. I found so much of it resonating with complex feelings I’ve had over the last few years, related specifically to shifting relationships with a lot of quite well-known — to some extent, even “famous” — podcasters, writers and other internet celebrities who’ve made a name for themselves writing about philosophy and politics, often through a performative contrarianism. (Again, once upon a time, that probably included myself also; 2018 was a weird year).

On this point, Ganz recommends Philip Nord’s 2005 book, The Politics of ResentmentShopkeeper Protest in Nineteenth-Century Paris, for its “description of the dynamics of the literary culture of the Third Republic”. Summarising, he writes:

Many of the cultural figures Nord describes tried at careers in the theater, took up political writing and activism, [and] many of them began on the radical or socialist left, [before becoming] right-populists of some sort [or] another, Nationalists, and anti-Dreyfusards. Part of the reason was just the declining prospects on the cultural scene: the boulevard life of writing, cafes, and theaters that once offered career opportunities and the chance for recognition was fading. This gave them an intrinsic cultural conservatism and nostalgia for better days.

He goes on to quote Nord himself, making reference to a moment within French culture that may be vaguely familiar to some readers of this blog. (He describes a left-to-right-wing trajectory that was common at the time, which I have explored in the past via Maurice Blanchot, who is notable because he reversed it, starting as a “Nationalist man of letters” and ending up as a full-blown communist.) Nord writes:

One line of argument views the Nationalist man of letters as a frustrated failure, another as a besieged establishmentarian. The two interpretations, however, can be reconciled. The green-clad Academic and the demimondain journalist represented the twin poles of boulevard life…The eclipse of the boulevard culture brought disappointment to journalists and littérateurs whatever their position in the old hierarchy of success. The marginals could never hope to rise in a world of shrinking opportunities. As for the successful, the emergence of new cultural hierarchies devalued their achievement. They were equally victims of a profound cultural change…

This is certainly how I felt around this time, rocked by Trump, Brexit and the various losses, both personal and political, that defined 2017. Emerging from my postgraduate degree, which was defined by grief and imposter syndrome (socioeconomically if not intellectually speaking), and feeling jilted by various friends who had seemingly all burnt out on each other’s company, I found myself in a dark place where I didn’t really care about the fact I was being increasingly perceived as an edgelord by real-life friends and online interlocutors alike. I was angry and resentful and it came out in a lot of my writing. (Egress was a way out of that, though some of that version of me is probably sprinkled in there in some places, and I barely recognise the man who started that book these days.) I think many of us active in the blogosphere at that time felt a similar way. Eventually, how, it became clear that some people — particularly those who went too far and lost their jobs — felt it a lot more than others did.

Ganz implicitly (and I think rightly) suggests that this same resentment has fueled the rise of many a podcasting reactionary. Various writers and thinkers, once comfortable, if probably underappreciated, in an older world of academic research and blogging, have adapted to profound cultural changes by giving themselves fully over to clickbait content-farm conservatism, whilst nonetheless holding onto outdated ideals acquired in the very space they felt unfairly ejected from. This is evidenced by many people’s attempts to develop a proper para-academy of online courses on various topics. (Again, Murphy and Nina Power led the way here.) It is, of course, not the case that anyone looking for a way to make money teaching outside of the academy is a reactionary, but the contradictory approach of many of the “cancelled” who go down this route is clear to see. Many of them, as Ganz notes, are “now involved with an attempt to create a kind of avant-garde academia, a contradiction in terms that reveals the paradoxical type of recognition a lot of these figures seek: at once old-school, establishmentarian, hide-bound, and respectable and radical, outré, and daring.” (Case in point: I’m always amused when Murphy and Power start some new online para-academic venture, proudly outside of any suffocating institution, but continue to trade on their PhDs and other institutional credentials all the same; “I am traditionally qualified to teach my non-traditional courses.”)

The disillusionment at the heart of these shifts isn’t restricted to academics who’ve been given the boot for their bigotry, of course. It is just as applicable to disillusioned artists and other cultural workers. Ganz pays continued attention to Red Scare, for instance:

Red Scare is the product of a fading downtown scene that no longer provides either a sense of exciting place and zeitgeist, viable artistic careers, or much cultural relevance, despite desperate attempts to keep it going. (Funnily enough, one person who I know who loved their provocation [the picture with Alex Jones] is an aging habitué of this downtown bohemia.) Their idol is Camille Paglia and their highest aspiration seems to be to be guests on Bill Maher, figures that belong to the 1990s cultural pantheon.

This sort of contradictory comportment is an easy trap to fall into as a writer or academic who feels at the mercy of a precarious marketplace long bled dry by the long-term comfortable, and Ganz sympathetically distills this experience in his post as well. He writes:

It is possible to make a living, even to be quite successful and gain a degree of fame or intellectual legitimacy and recognition in mediums like podcasts and newsletters, but the threat of irrelevance and obscurity hangs over the cultural producer and the need to publicize, to reach new publics and markets is ever-present. We are sort of cultural small-owners or shopkeepers, and a kind of proletarianization can be the result of a failure to distinguish ourselves: either in the form of real destitution or, just as likely, being swallowed up in the indifferent Grub Street crowd of scribblers, bloggers, podcasters, the relative losers in the struggle for recognition. So it’s imperative to constantly beat home the point that “we” are the really interesting, radical dissenting voices, and “they” are the conformists and cowards. Or that “we” are among the wits and “they” among the pedants, etc.

It is telling, for me at least, that in burning a few bridges over the last few years, this is precisely the line that has been expressed to me. Over the last two years, I’ve had many people declare their disappointment in me, having thought I was a more “original thinker”, more “heterodox”, more “open-minded”. I have outed myself as a cowardly conformist, apparently, in publicly rejecting the online edgelord crowd, who used to be friends or casual interlocutors, instead affirming my left-wing politics with a new militancy.

I don’t mean to make this all about me and the wars I’ve waged, however. I am simply struck by this post, linked on an article about the vulgar definition of accelerationism, that actually resonates deeply with my experiences online in the accelerationist blogosphere over the last four or five years. From this vantage point, there is a clear cross-over between a new breed of online reactionary and the sort of para-academic space that the original accelerationist blogosphere grew out of. But that’s not to suggest that there is, all of a sudden, nothing worth fighting for. On the contrary, for many of us who retain an interest in “accelerationism” and its history, what we despise as much as this flattened, vulgar accelerationism is the vulgar politics and content production of many people who used to be considered allies in the blogosphere. That the two are related is something of a belated epiphany, and unsurprising in hindsight, but it is interesting to see that someone is at least sketching out this cultural shift rather than tarring everyone and every usage with the same uselessly broad brush.

This is exciting and also quite unnerving. It opens up the possibility of finally having a real conversation about what happened to accelerationism and the way that political thought, outside the mainstream, has sought to address the issues we all face. But it also brings certain issues, like the Christchurch shooting of 2019, terrifyingly closer to home.

Indeed, the Christchurch shooting remains the event that changed everything. The blogosphere was never the same after that. It was an act that felt so utterly alien to our principles. This was not a kind of Gramscian revolution of cultural acceleration but instead an explosion of terroristic violence. That had nothing to do with us. But Ganz, most troublingly, makes some connections here as well.

In describing the various factions of edgelords and contrarians who have driven a (neo)reactionary “post-left” tendency online in recent years, Ganz suggests that

Some of these people are roughly associated with what I … call the Sorelian Left, or anti-dreyfusard left, and [what I have] at [other] times called Bohemian criticism.

Here, Ganz links to an earlier post of his entitled “Gramscians vs. Sorelians”, in which he quotes Jacob Siegel — citation needed; I’d be interested to the source — who has apparently asserted that “The American Right has left its Gramscian period and entered its Sorelian Period.” Ganz interprets this to mean “that the Right is no longer seeking hegemony over cultural and political institutions, like it pursued during most of the history of the conservative movement, but has now shifted to a model of political action centered on myth and the redemptive power of violence.” But this right-wing nonetheless often finds itself aligned to what he calls the “Sorelian left”.

This is a reference to the French theory Georges Sorel, who wrote, in his controversial work Reflections on Violence, that violence was itself an act of creation. It is a thought that is common to many leftist and, indeed, explicitly Marxist philosophies — Maoism most infamously. On the surface, it is an obvious point. You can’t create the new without first destroying the old. But beyond that, Sorel is also addressing the general disassociation of violence from political struggle. It is a sentiment we are familiar with every time violence does erupt in the streets, often with wildly divergent results and subject to wildly different responses. Violence employed by the state or its “representatives”, for instance — both actual and symbolic; I’m thinking here of the thin line between Derek Chauvin and Kyle Rittenhouse — is excused and legitimated at every turn, whereas violence employed against the state is always utterly unconscionable.

Sorel considered how “an ethics of violence” was still integral to any future revolution and also how this violence had to be buoyed by a certain “myth”; a story that led people to their goals. Though we’ve already referenced Simon O’Sullivan’s research into myth0functions — which, I should add, just to be clear, has no violent orientation — I’m further reminded of Schelling, for whom “mythological representations have been generated not with the intent to assert or teach something, but rather only in order to satisfy a (of course, at first incomprehensible) poetic drive for invention.” Myths are the kind of grand speculations that inspire and drive us to act. They are generative myths, rather than restrictive myths — for example, like a parable.

For Sorel, the galvanising myth of the proletariat was the idea of a “general strike”. As Ganz explains:

The Sorelian left has as its “myth” the notion of a spontaneous revolt against the system by the alienated mass of American workers. Anything suggestive of that revolt is potentially or actually legitimate. This Sorelian left can’t accept the official, liberal account of the riots as something deplorable or dangerous; it has to find within it some kernel of virtuous behavior and just regrets that the energy was not directed in a slightly different direction.

There is, of course, a counter to the “official, liberal account” of not just riots but collective action in general. Consider a phenomenon like Live 8, for example — Bob Geldoff’s vanity festival to end world poverty. Mark Fisher wrote about Live 8’s impotence and its reliance on a neutered version of the general strike myth, transformed into a kind of “libidinal fallacy”, because it removes the “strike” element and any violent connotations that the word might harbour. Fisher writes:

It is not that Live 8 is a ‘degraded’ form of protest. On the contrary, it [is] in Live 8 that the logic of the Protest is revealed in its purest form. The Protest impulse of the 60s posited a Malevolent Father, the harbinger of a Reality Principle that (supposedly) cruelly and arbitrarily denies the ‘right’ to total enjoyment. This Father has unlimited access to resources, but he selfishly — and senselessly — hoards them. Yet it is not capitalism but Protest itself which depends upon this figuration of the Father. It goes without saying that the psychological origins of this imagery lie in the earliest phases of infancy. The hippies’ bucolic imagery and ‘dirty Protest’ — filth as a rejection of adult grooming — both originate in the ‘unlimited demands’ of the infant. A consequence of the infant’s belief in the Father’s omnipotence is the conviction that all suffering could be eliminated if only the Father wished it. (In terms of Live 8: if only those 8 men yield to our demands, all poverty could be eliminated forever!) The demand for total enjoyment is actually pretty indiscriminate: the Protest could just easily be against war (bummer maaaan) or against being charged for going into a festival (hey, breadheadzzzzzzz, don’t be heaveeeee….)

It is important, if provocative, to insert Mark Fisher into things again at this point, as this sort of libidinal fallacy was precisely what he and the original blogosphere wanted to challenge in the 2000s. Protest had been detached from any notion of class struggle or post-capitalist imagination. This was Alain Badiou’s argument also, who argued that any notion of a Sorelian left — although he does not make reference to Sorel, to my knowledge — was dead. This was made readily apparent in the aftermath of Occupy. The left was infatuated with the idea of destroying the old, but was no incapable of generating the new, he argued. This is a point I’ve emphasised repeatedly over the last year, and for multiple reasons — the central one being that, rather than this supposedly Sorelian imperative being a hangover from Nick Land’s once-promiscuous politics, it was directly influenced by Alain Badiou’s increased popularity as his work was widely translated into English during the 2000s. A large part of Badiou’s thought was concerned with the establishment of a new leftist militancy and, indeed, a re-problematizing of our understanding of violence in the midst of the War on Terror.

There is an excellent essay here by Mwenda L. W. Kailemia, which summarises these issues very succinctly. In short, our contemporary understanding of what “terrorism” is comes from the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but we should remain vigilant to how restrictive and ill-fitting this understanding is — because of, for example, how it is broadly racialised and how it is used, particularly in the context of the “War on Terror”, to obfuscate the terroristic violence perpetuated by states themselves. This suggestion was understandably controversial in the mid-2000s, and it remains so today.

Kailemia remarks that, although

there is broad agreement that terrorism involves the use of violence to achieve political ends, what is political — or for that matter, violent — is itself the subject of debate. As Zizek posits: Is ‘structural’ violence, for example the destruction of ecosystems by dumping of toxic waste, or rising child poverty from deliberate shrinkage of the welfare state, any less violent than a gun attack? The point here is: Contextual constraints can make it difficult to analyse, much less to ascribe meanings to terrorism.

Such is the problem with most contemporary analyses of accelerationism. And indeed, if there was a pervasive sense, from the Christchurch shooting onwards (if not before), that the new right has transitioned from a Gramscian to a Sorelian politics, many in the accelerationist blogosphere were busy theorising this for themselves, explicitly from the left.

It is for this reason that Ganz gesturing towards a “Sorelian left” further piqued my interest, as Sorel was a figure that many in the U/Acc blogosphere were researching at one time or another over the last few years as well, particularly Ed Berger and Vincent Garton. When inaugurating his new blog, for instance, Ed announced that Sorel was someone who he wanted to look at further, in terms that are clearly aligned with the non-vulgar definition of accelerationism:

There’s a tendency in Marxism that looks at the nonlinear connection between class struggle and the technological side of economic development. Marx notes this repeatedly, particularly in the first volume of Capital, and it appears later in Georges Sorel’s Reflections on Violence, where he proposes that the cessation of class struggle has led [to[ technological and economic ‘decadence’. A more concrete form appears in the studies of Italian workerists like Raniero Panzieri and Mario Tronti, who theorized a give-and-take between class struggle and the technologies and techniques developed by capital to break and/or route around it. A complimentary analysis comes from world-system theorists like Beverly Silver, who emphasize the connection between organized struggle and the spatial reconfiguration of capital. I hope to dive more into these theories in the coming months, which seem like a natural compliment to work on the tendency for the rate of profit to fall—though I’ve yet to see these two really get put into alignment.

Ed promised and further delivered in a number of posts that I highly recommend to anyone who has made it this far. In a post titled “Repetition, Innovation, Class War”, for example, Ed responds to some of my own burgeoning research on Badiouian accelerationism by discussing in more detail many of the figures mentioned above. In conclusion, he writes that this turn to a Sorelian politics arguably makes sense today for both sides of politics, precisely because the resentment felt by Third Republic reactionaries, who were left resentful in the face of the diminishing opportunities of the cultural sphere, is today (to varying degrees) felt by us all. This is because this resentment has been generalised by the post-Fordist turn, Ed argues, which was constituted by “the destruction of labor, but … also served to undercut the vital driver of development itself.” It is worth emphasising, however, that there is nothing to suggest that post-leftist edgelordism or violent white supremacy are inevitable responses to this situation. In fact, they are abjectly improper responses, that enflame our tendency to destroy the old, but further highlight our inability to generate the new. As Ed continues:

The formless nebula of the eternal now, with its soft technocracy and vicious cycles of modulation and incremental, mostly pointless change, is the poisoned condition created by this trap. To escape it—which is the precondition for the realization of the new—turns about on the re-activation of the impossible class war, and the rekindling of the transvaluation on the horizon.

This “transvaluation” of values is, one could argue, increasingly visible today. But is is also distinctly absent from the post-left and the new right. On the contrary, whether related to gender essentialism or white supremacy, the most visible and vulgar forms of Sorelian politics are fundamentally miserablist and reactionary today, because they are trapped in what Vince Garton calls a kind of “aesthetic desperation: the search for the smallest piece of beautiful scrap, the most vanishing hint of a serious ideology, that has not yet been brutally subsumed, commoditised, disenchanted, and ground to dust.” (Hence my problem with certain interpretations of Mark Fisher that declare him a transcendental miserablist, emphasising his hauntological writings whilst ignoring the psychedelic collorary of his accelerationist turn.)

If there is a future for accelerationism, it remains here. Though we might, with all of the above in mind, argue that there is more of a developed connection between a vulgar and aesthetic accalerationism — a Gramsican-Sorelian accelerationism?; or perhaps just a Gramscian one, since Gramsci himself was inspired by Sorel in the first place — just because some edgelords and racists woke up and chose violence, doesn’t mean the answer to the perennial question of “what is to be done?” remains a foregone conclusion. In fact, from the midst of the pandemic, the problems that arose in the aftermath of the financial crash have only been further compounded by the last two years.

As Alex Williams argued in 2008:

In the bending of all history against that impassable perimeter of the Postmodern terminus even radical leftism is fundamentally a mere shuffling of a pre-existing deck of possibilities, hopeless, haunted, an echo, homeless, nostalgic. It must be feared that for as long as it is thus the left remains incapable of defeating the status quo, or achieving much beyond the establishment of briefly extant semi-autonomous zones, all-too rapidly snuffed out.

Something must be still done. The heinous actions of others must not stop us from considering what that is. As Benjamin Noys wrote on Facebook following the Christchurch shooting: “while trivial in the face of the horror of that act, which is so despicable, not allowing this ‘chaos’ to spread into all our signifiers is something.”


  1. Another great post, Matt, and another in the long tradition of spurring an overly-long reply on my part that is probably better suited for a blog post…

    There’s probably many places to begin, but maybe with a small digression. Ganz, as you point out, describes a process of transition on the part of the “American right”—one from a ‘Gramscian moment’ to a ‘Sorelian moment’. This is a movement from a politics of hegemony to a politics of myth and violence, which can be decomposed further into the passage from a ‘rational’ (though misguided) politics of strategy to an ‘irrational’ politics of abandon, even an anti-politics. Setting aside the question of the rational and irrational, there’s a kind of irony here embedded within the intellectual history binding Sorel and Gramsci that begins to problematize certain aspects of what is being formulated here. Simply put: Gramsci’s notion of hegemony is intimately bound to his concept of the ‘historical bloc’, which—as far as I can tell lol—is the matrix of historically-bound social, cultural, economic, and psychological conditions through which hegemonic politics are instantiated.

    Fascinatingly, when Gramsci first began writing of the historical bloc, he attributed it to Sorel. This is despite the fact that the term “historical bloc” does *not* appear in Sorel! This interjection of Sorel occurs in the context of a discussion of Marx’s base and superstructure and the way that their relationship is productive of historical reality, which has led some intellectual historians to read the “historical bloc” as Gramsci taking up the Sorelian myth in the context of this older Marxian schema. Here, the motivating myth has a historical existence and a historical ground, overriding conditions that act as the soil bed from which these swirling, phantasmic images sprout. Since the myth is motivational, generative of social forces that push back against the great weight of the conditions that produce them, it can thus be read as the first inklings of particular modes of consciousness—and by extension, the first scaffolding towards hegemony. The Ganz scenario runs backwards: we begin in the world of myth, and climb towards hegemony…

    This sort of brings us to my main point, which is that the fate suffered by Sorel and the fate being suffered by Accelerationism—the transformation into a discursive scapegoat, the sign under which all things wrong can be stacked—are the same and have operated by a similar logic. Just as there are self-proclaimed Accelerationists who carry out extreme and horrifying acts of violence, there were self-appointed Sorelians of the right who re-worked the myth into a national image through which violence and consolidation of class hierarchies could be justified (few have taken the time to consider that Sorel’s proletarian politics draws the sharpest of lines between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and scorns the class collaboration of parliamentary reformers—how can this be a proto-fascist politics of class consolidation?). In both cases, the analysis of fundamental principles is collapsed into the more specific political imperatives. In the case of Sorel, there is his assessment that political movements contained a myth(opoetic) dimension or substrate, and his alignment with the proletarian myth of the general strike. For the self-declared Sorelians and their critics, that proletarian evaporates and we’re left with the floating myth. Likewise, in the case of Accelerationism, one can make an Accelerationist analysis without being an ‘Accelerationist’ in politics, or one can be an Accelerationist in the sense of seeking particular intensifications. But these nuances, for the self-declared Accelerationists and their critics, all falls away.

    There might even be parallels between the ‘critics’. Vince G. has talked before about how the narrative of Sorel as irrationalist and enthusiast for redemptive violence comes from what he has called the “Cold War liberal reading”. This reading was advanced by a Cold War intelligentsia that tended to be center-left, though militantly anti-communist, cosmopolitan, culturally sophisticated and inclined towards what we could call (with allusions to Daniel Bell) the “end of ideology thesis”. Simply put, with the end of the Second World War with the defeat of fascism, and the rise of market democracies anchored by global trade abroad and social safety nets at home, the rational organization of society had been discovered. Ideology was rendered obsolete, and communism in the east appeared merely as a retrograde phenomena that needed to be overcome.

    The Cold War liberal intelligentsia incubated within academia and within networks of interlacing think-tanks, received funding from well-oiled capitalist philanthropies with curious alignments to Western security services, and hung about in international conferences free-thinking, spontaneous culture against the rigidities of life and art in the socialist world. These are the direct forerunners of today’s odd webs of think-tanks and NGOs, a subsector of which is this strange cottage industry of cultural analysts and ‘radicalization trackers’ that have, among other things, have spread the vulgar accelerationism memeplex far and wide.

    Like you point out, “The usual problem with these sorts of think tanks is that their generalizations often betray a liberalist moral crusade”. I woud suggest their moral outlook is analogous to their Cold War predecessors, resulting from their shared class position.

    There are ofc limits to these comparisons. The world of today certainly is not the world of the postwar era. The historical bloc has shifted its gears. But despite this, what’s interesting to me is the relationship between the intellectual critical-critics and their opposition. The people who promoted the end of ideology were themselves ideologues, partisans in the simmering conflict between the capitalist West and communist East. Just as America and Western Europe’s nuclear armaments established an apocalyptic firewall between the two zones and things like the Marshall Plan carried out an economic partioning of the world, the intellectuals sought to engender an ideological barrier. The end of ideology, in other words, presupposed the existence of multiple, alternative historical-ideological formations locked in dire competition with one another.

    But today it’s different, isn’t it? Political and ideological differentiation has despatialized underneath a regime of economic homogenization, and the stakes are no longer locked in the realm of “great politics”. They are diffused into everyday life with a new kind of immediacy.

    One of the things that has interested me a great deal since the start of the pandemic is paranoia, and I ended up writing a couple of posts on the topic on the blog (this was the first of them: Without digressing too much, it seems to me that paranoia is a natural response to the present society, and is not something that we should necessarily disregard outright (this isn’t to say that paranoia is a ‘good’, it’s something more generalized…). But the spread of paranoia is one of the great bugaboos of this NGO cottage industry, perceiving (in some cases accurately) the internal linkage between paranoia and violent extremism. It’s clear why: when articulated, paranoia becomes a suspicion of dominant social narratives and codes. It is the shoring up of these very narratives and codes that is the imperative of these new anti-radicalization NGOs.

    So by stripping beyond the particulars (the now-free float of Sorel, Accelerationism, post-left, new right, radical ecologies, so on and so forth), it seems to me that we reach a particularly virulent image of the current historical moment: the heady, chaotic and confused disintegration of the socius, giving rise to both incredible lines of flight and the most nihilistic of reactions, and the new class of experts, managers, social scientists and intellectuals to diagnose and cure society’s ills.

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