Nowhere Fast:
What Happened to Accelerationism?
(Part One)

The history of a thing, in general, is the succession of forces which take possession of it and the co-existence of the forces which struggle for possession.

— Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy

It is a difficult task, for the philosopher, to pull names away from a usage that prostitutes them.

— Alain Badiou, Ethics

Accelerationism. Chances are, if you have heard that term before, you don’t think too highly of it. Few do. But even fewer people seem to know what its claims are, and that’s including many of those who self-identify as “accelerationists”.

For the blissfully unaware, “accelerationism” is a promiscuous term; its meaning has changed considerably since it was first coined and debated online by a gathering of bloggers in the late 2000s. At that time, it was a contentious and emergent school of thought, concerned with the inner workings of capitalism and how they are continually “speeding up”, despite the apparent stagnation of culture, wages, etc. It also considered the effects that this contradictory conflict may be having on human subjectivity and society more generally, and how the left specifically can (and, indeed, must) use its knowledge of the disparity between economic and cultural velocities to rethink its own sense of fate, political agency, and thus its own forward momentum.

Most scandalously, it was a critical thought concerned with intervening within capitalism’s control mechanisms by intensifying certain aspects of the system itself – specifically, the production of anti-capitalist sentiments, which capitalism must produce within itself to ensure an illusion of progress, just as it must eventually capture, obstruct, or defuse those same sentiments to ensure its own survival. (Control, as William Burroughs once argued, can never be absolute, or else it ceases to be control; it requires both opposition and acquiescence.) In short, accelerationism considered how we might keep our foot on the throttle, overcoming capitalism’s habits of deintensification and reterritorialization for the sake of new (and, notably, postcapitalist) political aims.

Some readers will, at this point, be confused by what they have just read. If you are already familiar with the term “accelerationism”, you may find this definition wholly unrecognisable. This is because, since the late 2010s, accelerationism has become far more closely associated with the most reactionary tendencies in contemporary society, and better known as a half-baked terroristic strategy championed in the manifestos of white supremacists and on the websites of the far-right’s online agitators.

Among this crowd, accelerationism expresses a commitment to “accelerating” – that is, exacerbating – conflict, contradiction, and other points of societal tension in order to provoke capitalism’s protocols for self-preservation into action. Far-right accelerationists, then, want to exacerbate capitalism’s fault lines, provoking an immune response within the system itself, thereby strengthening it, forestalling the further ascendency of any anti-capitalist sentiment — in particular, a form of “woke capitalism” that they believe kowtows too readily to progressive values.

Whereas one side argues that we must intensify the system’s inadvertent production of alternatives to itself, the other believes we must exacerbate discontent and chaos in order to provoke the system’s self-organising and self-limiting tendencies.

For many, these two accelerationisms are wholly discontinuous and fundamentally opposed to one another; for others, they nonetheless share key influences that cannot be ignored. As a result of this split, accelerationist discourses have since devolved into a lacklustre back-and-forth between those understandably concerned about the rise of far-right reactionary movements across the West and those who wish to salvage some kind of radical and progressive kernel from its rotting remains.

No matter who wins, accelerationism loses. What was once a lively online scene of philosophical discussion, cultural production, and political argumentation has now dried up completely. It has become a dead horse flogged incessantly by critics and adherents alike. For a movement supposedly dedicated to an acceleration away from stasis, it has embarrassingly beaten itself to death with its own riding crop, succumbing to its own conceptual complexity and finding itself stuck in a mess entirely of its own making.

Faced with such a situation, we might undertake a difficult but appropriately contradictory task: the exploration of the emergence, subsequent development, and ultimate demise of the term “accelerationism” in contemporary philosophical, cultural, and political discourses.

Though a project that will no doubt provoke alarm (or perhaps just total disinterest) from some quarters, the reasons for undertaking such a project are twofold:

Firstly, in focusing on accelerationism’s development over the last two decades specifically, we will attempt to dispel certain myths and misunderstandings that have dogged this philosophy since its inception, thanks to various misguided attempts at historicization (which generally welcome in slippery retcons).

This will, secondly, lead to an attempt to clarify accelerationism’s claims about the future, but also – and perhaps most importantly – its continuing implications for our present. Indeed, to understand the rise and fall of accelerationism is, in this blogger’s opinion, to understand something about the character of our age, and the peculiar obstacles that all kinds of political thought in our present moment face.

To understand the implications of accelerationism in this manner is neither an attempt to salvage it for one last outing nor chisel a commiserating epigraph onto its tombstone, but instead to understand the untimely mutations and possessions that occurred between its niche emergence and its popular disavowal. Why? Because there are many other terms and ideological positions that have fallen victim to this mutative process in recent years also – “postmodernism” being perhaps the most obvious example, which has similarly become wholly detached from its original meaning to refer to some nebulous boogieman waiting to tear the world apart.

As such, accelerationism encapsulates, in microcosm, the trials and tribulations faced by any new political thought that is otherwise produced under our late-capitalist system. Furthermore, the speed with which it has emerged and subsequently atrophied helps re-problematise the modernist imperative that it otherwise hoped to re-establish, insisting that we “make it new” whilst at the same time questioning what “the new” really is.

This two-part questioning of the new was first reinvigorated in online discourses by Alain Badiou, who referred to it as our “crisis of the negative” – a crisis since severed from acclerationism’s conceptual genealogy over the course of its short lifetime. “Contrary to Hegel, for whom the negation of the negation produces a new affirmation, I think we must assert that today negativity, properly speaking, does not create anything new”, Badiou argued in 2007. “It destroys the old, of course, but does not give rise to a new creation.”

What constitutes “the new” as such has been a question for philosophy since its inception, but following the financial crash of 2008, when capitalism’s tendency to produce recurrent crises was denounced by both governments and their citizens around the world, this question acquired a new resonance. What was it, at that moment, that stopped a new postcapitalist world from emerging? And if such a crisis were to repeat itself, how might we act differently to ensure that real change is able to occur?

In its first instance, accelerationism was an attempt to engage with this very crisis. It was less a continuation of Nineties postmodern critique (as many have thought about it since) than a response to its contemporary impotence, as capitalism sputtered and choked on its own failures but could not be overcome. This is to say that accelerationism was an attempt to both diagnose our contemporary stuckness and, in the process, propel ourselves towards escape velocity. It was meant to be a tow rope for a generation going nowhere fast, violently spinning wheel and kicking up nothing but mud.

However, like postmodernism before it, accelerationism was a mode of thought that began to show symptoms of the very reactionary disease it first sought to diagnose and describe. It was a thrust towards revolution that tripped and fell on its own sword.

There is considerable irony here. Returning to our opening definition, if we are to understand accelerationism as a philosophical thought interested in the intensification of capitalism’s self-undermining forces, which capitalism cannot help but produce for itself, we might argue that accelerationism has done much the same thing to its own cause: it has produced unforeseen forces that have undermined its own trajectory from within. Whilst many of accelerationism’s initial theorisers were explicit in the precise elements of capitalism that they hoped to intensify, they have failed to control the processual intensification of their own collective thinking. But such a contradiction does not signal the end for this philosophy’s usefulness. One of the founding principles of accelerationist thought, after all, is that nothing has ever died from its contradictions — capitalism in particular — and accelerationism itself is no exception to this rule.

This claim regarding contradictions originates in Anti-Oedipus, the 1972 work by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. In their wide-ranging analysis of desire under capitalism, they introduce a notion that has stalked certain strands of political philosophy ever since. Together, they write:

The death of a social machine has never been heralded by a disharmony or a dysfunction; on the contrary, social machines make a habit of feeding on the contradictions they give rise to, on the crises they provoke, on the anxieties they engender, and on the infernal operations they regenerate.

Deleuze and Guattari hold capitalism firmly in their sights when speaking to such oddly resilient social machines, but the rise and fall of accelerationism nonetheless demonstrates that critiques of capitalism are by no means immune to this insight either. Indeed, we might say that accelerationism’s “demise” functions as a proof of concept. Though we might argue the arguments of the first blogospheric “accelerationists” failed many years ago, this volatile topic has only gotten more famous, even resilient, the more it has failed and failed again. The point this philosophy hoped to make has thus been proven by its own downfall — that is, the ever-accelerating and increasingly entropic spread of information under postmodern capitalism is both a major tool for and obstacle to building any mass political movement that hopes to work against capitalism as the dominant socioeconomic system governing our lives. This is to say that accelerationism was founded on a description of its own cause of death. Its death was foretold from the outset…

Now that accelerationism is “over”, perhaps it is time to draw out this process anew, and reveal how the present contradictory co-existence of a far-left and far-right accelerationism might yet provoke new thought for a new era. The question for us becomes: how can we remain vigilant to this process of rhetorical decay and nonetheless find new modes of attack? As Deleuze famously wrote elsewhere: “It’s not a question of worrying or of hoping for the best, but of finding new weapons.” Once upon a time, accelerationism was one such weapon, but it has now been blunted beyond repair. Nevertheless, it is perhaps only after we have answered that deceptively simple question – “what happened?” — that we will be able to approach the considerably more complex question of “what happens next?”

On 11th May 2017, “accelerationism” properly entered the popular imagination. In a “long read” article for the Guardian, author and journalist Andy Beckett declared that this strange philosophy, rooted in the dialectical materialism of Marxism, as well as some of the more obscure science-fiction novels of the twentieth century, would soon come to define how we think about the past, present, and future — that is, if it hasn’t already.

The term had originally emerged from the feverish posting of an online “blogosphere” ten years earlier — an archipelago of blogs on which a disparate gathering of cultural critics, academics, para-academics, philosophers, and anonymous interlocutors all debated the cultural, political, and intellectual events of the day. As the blogosphere steadily grew, increasing in confidence and scope, it eventually became a generative melting pot for some of the most incendiary thinkers of a new era.

By the early 2010s, this gathering of bloggers had largely graduated from the Internet to the hallowed ground of print media, and there were soon half a dozen books published engaging with the topic of accelerationism in multiple contexts, from politics and philosophy to art and culture, as well as their many points of intersection. Nevertheless, accelerationism remained a somewhat niche para-academic concern, and so it was no less of a surprise when the term eventually found its way inside one of the most famous newspapers in the world. 

In his article for the Guardian, Beckett argues that, before the world even knows what has hit it — such is the nature of the beast — this “new way of thinking about the contemporary world and its potential” will be on the lips of every worker and every government. The general foundation of this “fringe philosophy”, as Beckett explains it, is the observation that our technological development has been accelerating at an alarming rate. This is blatantly apparent — look at any graph attempting to measure civilisation’s technological progress over the last few centuries and you will find an exponential inclination that shows no signs of slacking. [1]

And yet, nothing can keep accelerating forever, can it? And what will be in store for us if the curve starts to decline and flatten? Alternatively, what happens if the incline of that graph reaches its peak, and it is no longer an incline but a cliff face? Will technological progress — and its primary driver, capitalism — stall and plummet? Or will capitalism necessarily transform itself into something entirely different, at least when compared to the socioeconomic system that we have come to know?

This peak – also ominously known as “the Singularity” — is predicted to coincide with the development of an artificial general intelligence. Beyond this technological threshold, computers will not just be able to think for themselves, they will also be capable of doing anything the human mind can. From here on out, the full automation of work and life will be a very real possibility. It is a new technological frontier that many seemingly cannot wait for. [2] But in properly considering this fast-approaching event horizon — nothing short of capitalism producing its own labour revolution — we might ask ourselves some additional questions: Once the singularity has been reached, will we have any need for capitalism any longer? Will capitalism have any need for us?

Whilst the answers to such questions remain shrouded in a kind of sci-fi uncertainty, for better or for worse the nature of the world beyond the Singularity — if we are to take such a concept seriously, and we should note that not everybody does — will undoubtedly contain many new opportunities regarding how we choose (and how we are able) to live our lives. This is precisely why, for many, it is something to be feared. Accelerationism, on the other hand — at least according to Beckett — wants to embrace these opportunities, come what may.

With all this percolating in the background, Beckett frames the de facto accelerationist position as follows:

Accelerationists argue that technology, particularly computer technology, and capitalism, particularly the most aggressive, global variety, should be massively sped up and intensified — either because this is the best way forward for humanity, or because there is no alternative. Accelerationists favour automation. They favour the further merging of the digital and the human. They often favour the deregulation of business, and drastically scaled-back government. They believe that people should stop deluding themselves that economic and technological progress can be controlled. They often believe that social and political upheaval has a value in itself.

The accelerationist gambit, then, seems to be one of libertarian impatience — not just for the sake of free-market capitalists, but for capital itself. Capital is pulling at its human leash; soon enough, something will have to give. For the average card-carrying accelerationist, the faster we get to breaking point the better. “Gotta go fast, man!” But what’s the rush? Beckett does not provide much in the way of an answer — at least not a clear one — but we might argue the case for him as follows:

There is a famous adage that goes: “The future is already here — it is just unevenly distributed.” [3] We might expand upon this adage like so: If technological progress under capitalism is accelerating, it is doing so under the auspices of a capitalist class that is manipulating its development for their own self-interest. As billionaires hold their own private space race, others rely on food banks or work whilst homeless. The very idea of the future becomes an experiential luxury for the few who can afford it, and a mere spectacle that the rest of us plebs should be grateful to witness from the gutter. Whilst many conservative political pundits will claim that we are all — no matter our class, creed, or colour — increasingly better off under capitalism, it seems that, for most people, the futures we were once promised by politicians and poets have plateaued onto an endless expanse of sameness and stagnation. As a result, inequality rises — not simply because conditions are worsening, although in many places they are, but also because “progress” (and an anemic sense of progress at that) is only accessible to a few.

Clear examples of this disparity between future and present, and the blatant curtailing of opportunity that results, are found everywhere today. But so is the fact that capitalism gets many of its best ideas from those who oppose its flimsy universalism. However, capitalism isn’t so slick. An increasingly incompetent establishment does not reterritorialize dissent smoothly but often through a series of embarrassingly U-turns and adaptations. Here we see how the situation described above, though actively maintained by a political establishment, has started to show strain.

Consider the UK Labour Party’s 2019 policy to provide all households with free broadband internet. In a speech given at the University of Lancaster, then leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn announced that his “government will make broadband free for everybody”. Introduced as a key election pledge, Corbyn promised to deliver “Full-fibre broadband to every home, in every part of our country, for free — as a universal public service.” He noted that, outside of the UK, many other countries are far better connected. They recognise that “What was once a luxury is now an essential utility”, and one that is “too important to be left to the corporations.” Under the plan, he would create a new company called “British Broadband” — much like British Telecom, or BT, a once publicly owned company that ran the country’s telephone network before it was privatised in 1984 under Margaret Thatcher. Despite that fate, many of the UK’s most important and cherished institutions began life this way, and it was time, in Corbyn’s view, for a new set of public services that reflected the needs of working people in the twenty-first century.

Denounced in the media as “Broadband Communism”, the policy was ridiculed as a non-starter and a frivolous promise that most people didn’t really care about. However, it was a policy later poached from the Labour Party’s manifesto by an incumbent Conservative government. As the coronavirus pandemic led to millions suddenly working from home, then-prime minister Boris Johnson was forced to acknowledge that Internet access was indeed an essential domestic utility.

Even prior to the pandemic, many on the left were rightly framing the idea of nationalised broadband as akin to the National Health Service before it, which many argued had faced similar resistance at the time. Ash Sarkar, for example, writing for the Guardian, explored how the “idea of the NHS took root in the political imagination less as an example of social entitlement’s victory over private provision, and more as the embodiment of brand Britain.” A year later, when Johnson embraced the idea of “broadband communism”, it was seemingly along these same lines. Broadband isn’t a frivolous luxury but good for business! After a bruising Brexit process, rebuilding “brand Britain” was precisely what was needed.

Ultimately, Johnson scrapped the plans. Rather than entertaining the idea of a British Broadband company, he left the plans with private companies who obviously resisted the move, arguing that government subsidies were insufficient to cover the cost of the works required. With residents unable to pay for the necessary work themselves, the plan was shelved. But by that time, public opinion had shifted and embraced universal access to broadband as a no-brainer. Johnson was left embarrassed as the extra provisions argued for by the Labour Party — that a nationalised broadband service would be necessary to counter private enterprise’s constant handwringing about their profits — were validated as corporate handwringing stopped the project in its tracks.

What is most telling about this situation, and what makes it relevant to accelerationism, is that the government’s ideological pivot — from denouncing the plans as virulently anti-capitalist to embracing them as a necessary adaptation for capitalism to make — demonstrates how capitalist ideology routinely lags behind capitalism’s own material conditions. In a bizarre display of hypocrisy, it is system in which the ruling elite increasingly dismisses access to its own elevated standards of living as somehow “communist”. But in insulting policy suggestions that would arguably extend the reach of “communicative capitalism” into untapped markets, it only illustrates how engagement with the shifting landscape of modern life under capitalism has transcended any “classical” capitalist thinking.

This is also true in a negative sense: capitalism not only dismisses its successes as “communist” but also its own failures. A common sight during the coronavirus pandemic, for instance, was empty shelves in Western supermarkets, caused by disrupted supply chains and short-staffed shops. “It’s like living in a communist country”, some would say — a Pavlovian response to images of empty shelves and long queues after they were used for decades to argue that communist countries like Russia or socialist countries like Venezuela are miserable and inefficient. And yet, as others pointed out, since communism was supposedly vanquished some thirty years previously, at the end of the twentieth century, these images were no longer “like communism” but a clear result of capitalist ill-preparedness.

Western incompetence was ignored in favour of old-fashioned Orientalism and red scare tactics, as if the “Wuhan flu” contained a heavy viral load of both SARS-CoV-2 and Chinese communism. In truth, many East Asian countries recovered from the pandemic far quicker than those in the West, not because of some vague sense of communist discipline or subjugation, but because they had put their capitalist infrastructure to better use than other nations, having understood the necessity of such disease control measures following previous outbreaks in the early 2000s. Still, Western capitalism’s paranoia speaks volumes. The suggestion that the West is supposedly surrounded by communism on all sides only further cements the idea that capitalism’s ideological stability — no longer a steady forward movement but a stasis — is wavering from within. It is not simply “communism” banging at the door, but any future beyond contemporary capitalism’s stagnation.

It was precisely this sort of ideological wavering that accelerationism sought to focus on and exploit, acknowledging that the increasing speed of capitalism’s development is accompanied by the diffuse sense that its time is almost up. We, as a society, are ready for the next big thing. Instead, capitalists, buoyed by the confidence that comes from being the owners of the means of production, have begun to tamp the brakes, choosing to languish in a frenetic stasis. By using the latest technological developments to perpetually remake the old rather than push forward towards the new — a tendency most visible in popular culture, particularly cinema and video games, but just as present in politics itself — capitalism encourages a desire for the familiar (even if what is “familiar” is more oppressive than what is newly possible). The reasons why are increasingly obvious. Capitalists are unwilling to take a gamble on “the new” as such, because they know it may lead to capitalism’s radical mutation or ultimate demise. And, if that is the case, who can blame them? After all, their livelihoods depend on an artificial scarcity that they have spent decades, even centuries, cultivating. The arrival of a long-promised “red plenty” would surely be the end of the world as they know it. [4]

Accelerationism is unsympathetic to any kind of cautiously conservative handwringing. Its cyberpunk need for speed is aimed squarely at those forces that wish to hold onto capitalism, refusing to relinquish control and maintaining a tight grip on it, perhaps out of fear, as if they were holding onto the short leash of a rabid dog, pretending they have everything under control. But as they lose their grip, further revealing how any so-called “trickle-down” economy is a thinly veiled lie, accelerationism demands acceleration for all, not just the chosen few. It is a thought that asks those sympathetic to its cause, “if the capitalists are stalling their chosen system’s development for the sake of their continued comfort, hoarding wealth and exploiting workers in order to finance their own planetary escape plans, then how might the rest of us counteract their global filibustering?”

We will make an attempt to answer this question, but let’s return to Beckett’s article and its definition of accelerationism before we forget about it completely.

Unfortunately, Beckett’s article is distinctly lacking in this sort of exposition, or any real interrogation of its implications. Whilst he does capture the fervour of accelerationism’s largely underground online discourse, and the war raging within its politically disparate ranks — particularly with regards to the present status of a revolutionary Marxism, largely diminished in the popular imagination, noting, for instance, that, in 1848, Karl Marx “saw an ever more frantic capitalism as the essential prelude to the moment when the ordinary citizen ‘is at last compelled to face … his real conditions of life’ and start a revolution” — the average reader will likely be left confused and uncertain as to what any of accelerationism’s more contemporary adherents are actually fighting for, beyond a certain interpretation of Marx. It frames accelerationism as something that hardly feels important to the human race, as Beckett suggests it soon will be.

This is not to heap an unnecessary amount of criticism upon Beckett’s article, however. No-one could be expected to offer up a full account of such a fringe philosophy, with its various points of academic contention, and still find a home in a widely read mainstream newspaper. The minutiae of the movement is hardly interesting enough to sustain a Guardian reader through their morning coffee. But many would have at least preferred that the various points of contention were not collapsed onto each other, to the point that accelerationism appeared, to the casual reader at least, to be an utterly impotent and confused political position; an ill thought-out philosophy attributed to some amphetamine casualties and NASCAR enthusiasts.

That being said, accelerationism is certainly a little rough around the edges. But this is because the movement insists upon intervening in any and all present contingencies. It is a difficult thing to appraise in a way that will please everyone precisely because it hopes to kick up the dust, not wait for it to settle. Just as you attempt to grasp its contemporary concerns, it moves swiftly with the times, changing shape and sprouting new variants. This is, of course, not without its problems. The overarching issue here is perhaps that, if Beckett’s article does struggle to provide an accurate disambiguation of accelerationism, it is because even those within accelerationist discourses are still figuring things out for themselves – lest we forget that this apparently new way of thinking about the world is barely into its teens.

Still, accelerationism and its claims needn’t cause us too much confusion. We might note that another British newspaper, the New Statesman, had engaged with accelerationism a year prior to Beckett, exploring the subject in a much shorter but far more accurate article online. This article explains that, whilst some people “understand ‘accelerationism’ as being the process by which capitalism is pushed to its worst excesses as soon as possible in order to provoke an anti-capitalist response … few philosophers preach anything so simple (or so passive).” The focus for many is instead “on repurposing the tools of capitalism, outlining a model for political change opposed to the work of those Marxists who seek to entirely reject the suspect tools of, to give one example, knowledge of late capitalist economics.” This definition is succinct and, to this blogger, broadly agreeable. But it also encapsulates the central point of contention within accelerationist discourses: How far into this vague affirmation of capitalist complicity are we prepared to go? And how can we be certain that encouraging the development and implementation of certain technologies or tendencies will work out in our favour?

History hardly reassures us on this point. Despite this, accelerationism suggests, with an unlikely confidence, that we can still beat the system at its own game. Or we must at least try. What alternative do we have? Capitalism is too far gone to simply be repealed, and new potentials present themselves every day. As such, we should do all that we can to understand contemporary capitalism’s peculiar temperament and strategize accordingly. And yet, as the New Statesman article suggests, whilst this could be viewed as essentially advocating for a better understanding of economic theory, others believe the accelerationist position resembles a kind of “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” cliché, amounting to little more than an intellectualised complicity with capitalist forces, mistaking an understanding of the machinations of the market for an uncritical belief in their potential.

The impotence of such an argument is readily apparent when we reconsider Beckett’s summary of the accelerationist position, previously quoted. Here it is again, for convenience:

Accelerationists argue that technology, particularly computer technology, and capitalism, particularly the most aggressive, global variety, should be massively sped up and intensified – either because this is the best way forward for humanity, or because there is no alternative. Accelerationists favour automation. They favour the further merging of the digital and the human. They often favour the deregulation of business, and drastically scaled-back government. They believe that people should stop deluding themselves that economic and technological progress can be controlled. They often believe that social and political upheaval has a value in itself.

The problem here, considering all we have added to our considerations thus far, is that all of these positions supposedly favoured by accelerationists – automation, deregulation, small government – are just the same tendencies that a post-Fordist libertarian capitalism has spent the last four or five decades selecting for. Beneath the thin gloss of abstruse Continental philosophies, does this not reduce the accelerationist movement to an online gathering of socioeconomic “glory supporters”, cheerleading the market’s abstract choices as and when it makes them? This does not sound like a position that warrants serious investigation by philosophers, artists, and politicians this side of the millennium…

Many of accelerationism’s critics would no doubt agree with this appraisal. Those who retain an interest in its arguments are, to said critics, clueless armchair philosophers who have confused a dogmatic support for the clotting edge of the status quo with a radical and revolutionary sentiment. To the knowing reader, however, the picture Beckett presents of accelerationist interests is missing something. For example, at one point, he describes accelerationism as a “political heresy”, and he is right to do so. But by sidestepping its specific calls to unbound capitalism from bourgeois protectionism, challenging all orthodoxies that speak for stasis (or, at best, a neoliberalist “gradual reform”) within capitalism’s shrinking bounds, accelerationism instead looks like a carpet-bombing of ressentiment, rather than an attempt to generate alternatives to the various political positions otherwise allowed to exist quite comfortably within the scope of capitalism’s promiscuous ideological lens.

The crux of accelerationism’s heresy can be simply described: whereas most anti-capitalist theories imagine a non-capitalist beyond for society to escape into, accelerationism sees the future as necessarily emerging from within capitalism itself. But rather than signalling a complicity with capitalism, as is so often the assumption, the idea is that a vigilance regarding the changing nature of present conditions, events and their potentials is preferrable to any sort of perpetually postponed dream of transcendence.

It is only in this sense that accelerationism, as Beckett describes it, “goes against conservatism, traditional socialism, social democracy, environmentalism, protectionism, populism, nationalism, localism and all the other ideologies that have sought to moderate or reverse the already hugely disruptive, seemingly runaway pace of change in the modern world.” Whilst the intention is perhaps to insinuate the average accelerationist’s bloody-minded refusal to wait patiently for any other political project to win out, or a belief that there is no fighting this runaway pace of change, it also casts accelerationism as a blunt instrument for the uncouth thinker, an unsubtle battering ram for the pseudointellectual, rather than a serious attempt to reckon with the blockages in our political and philosophical thinking, which undermine our progress towards something beyond this broadly unjust and unequal society that we know in the present. On the contrary, accelerationism (in the beginning at least) presented itself as a form of postmodern critique that sought to develop a clear trajectory outward from any position of recognised capture.

To invoke the “postmodern” here is easily dismissed in our present moment. It has also become a kind of conceptual boogieman — something to be readily feared and denounced, despite (or perhaps because of) its lack of any concrete and universally recognised definition. For many contemporary right-wing thinkers, for instance, “postmodernism” has become a useful short-hand for a kind of populist “critical theory” that obfuscates truth in favour of relativism, blaming all the world’s ills on hard-to-define abstract structures and hierarchies. Jordan Peterson has done more than most to popularise this view. In his best-selling book 12 Rules for Life, he equates postmodernism with “the long arm of Marx”, using it as a catch-all term for the dishonest persistence of leftist thought, which lives on in contemporary society despite its successive humiliations during the twentieth century. Leftists thus display a contemptable arrogance in daring to parrot their theories down the years following the unearthing of Stalin’s gulags, he suggests.

Peterson seems aghast that the left has the gall to keep fighting after such a resounding set of defeats. But Peterson also starts to look like a champion who is afraid to have his title contested. Beneath the apparently thin veneer of progressivism, what Peterson calls “postmodern neomarxism” is described in scaremongering terms as a truly “nihilistic and destructive” philosophy. “It puts the act of categorization itself in doubt”, he continues. “It negates the idea that distinctions might be drawn between things for any reasons other than that of raw power.” (An intriguing argument, for a maladapted liberal, that is surely nothing more than a denial of Bacon and Hobbes’ shared adage that “knowledge is power”.) Instead, for the postmodernist, “there are no facts”, he says. As far as Peterson is concerned, capitalism and reality are essentially synonyms. Capitalism does, of course, shape our reality. So does science. But whereas science changes its position depending on contemporary levels of understanding, finding new ways to represent that which is currently hidden from view, Peterson’s brand of capitalist realism is a stubborn ideological position that refuses to update itself according to its own material conditions.

What is further interesting about Peterson’s pseudo-intellectual flailing is that, for some, “postmodernism” has been defined precisely as the limiting of acts of categorization in the computer age. In his seminal exploration of “the postmodern condition”, published in 1979, Jean-François Lyotard described the nature of capitalism’s contemporary stasis very successfully: postmodernism, he argued, was the settling of modernism’s frenzy into a relatively stable configuration; “not modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant.” (We might note that Lyotard’s earlier book, Libidinal Economy, is widely regarded as a key proto-accelerationist text.) This is to say that, under postmodernism, there are differences, there are alternatives, there are arguments for other worlds, but the problem is that these alternatives and arguments are themselves static. They are reified and fixed, like chess pieces with specific characters and moves, caught in an unending stalemate. It is a “frenzied stasis”, as the late Mark Fisher argued, in which things may violently vibrate but nothing ever really moves forwards. Postmodernism, then, is not a response to a contentious present, but the suspension of present contentions altogether.

For Lyotard, the implications of this are not only aesthetic or political but broadly epistemological. In a postmodern world, any newly discovered form of knowledge or expression is immediately subordinated to a totalizing ideological “truth”. This is an unfortunate side-effect of society’s computerisation, he argues. Just as any new programme loaded onto a computer for the first time must nonetheless be rendered in a format that is legible to the operating system at large, so any new perspective on our world must be legible to a pre-existing hegemonic framework — even forms of knowledge that are principally opposed to that framework altogether, and for good reason. This is not simply a function of capitalist society for Lyotard, but any computerised socioeconomic alternative.

We might note that, when Lyotard’s appraisal of postmodernism was written, there was still such a thing as the Soviet Union — a clear alternative to capitalism’s ideological hegemony. The problem is less with the classic formulation of a particular ideology, but the “advanced liberal management” systems used to keep them running. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, this computational stasis is even more apparent today. From that moment onwards, the choice was no longer between capitalism and communism but reduced to a choice between Microsoft and Apple.

Because of this capture of knowledge and the means of its production, many saw the new “postmodern” world as a reduction and a renunciation of what had come before it, with modernism’s pluralist approach to political agency transformed into a one-dimensional consumerism. And yet, at the same time, this reduction of the uses of knowledge necessitated a new commitment to modernism’s pluralism for others. For Lyotard especially, postmodernist critique was a kind of battle cry, signalling “a war on totality” that demands we bear witness “to the unpresentable” — that is, all that cannot be rendered in the computational language of global capital. Here we find Peterson’s critique yet again, but can perhaps now appreciate its ahistoricity: our present methods of categorisation are very recent, very limited, and ultimately disregard so many other ways of being.

This is also another way of arguing that, whilst capitalism is everywhere, not everything is capitalist. Capitalism is fuelled by our desires, for instance, but not everything we desire is necessarily capitalist in essence. It is with great difficulty that we excavate these things from their capitalist encasement, however. But in attempting to do so regardless, we demand of ourselves a new conception of the world that is not impossibly non-capitalist but seductively post-capitalist. As Marx himself argued, we should not forsake wealth as such, but attempt to transform wealth beyond the bounds of capitalism’s regresive value-structure. There is a wealth beyond capitalism. Once we learn to acknowledge that capitalism, in its present stasis, is not capable of providing us with the world we desire, then the future will truly return to us.

However, over the decades since Lyotard wrote his critique, capitalism has become an increasingly dynamic and pluralist system in its own right, to the extent that it can readily accommodate most political or subjective positions within its bounds. This is often to the chagrin of its loudest cheerleaders: those who like and hope to endlessly maintain (a certain period of or, most notably, an idealised and ultimately nonexistent version of) capitalism.

This is most visible within so-called “identity politics”. For someone like Jordan Peterson, there is a stubbornness to accept differing positions within an established framework, as if those people now fighting for representation are trying to expand the purview of the system at large. Why this is a bad thing is unclear on the surface; the most obvious reason is that it takes the spotlight off Peterson and others like him. His specific refusal to use someone’s preferred gender pronouns, for instance — at least if they differ from what he expects — is a child’s stubborn refusal that does not want other ways of being to be acknowledged because then they can never be accommodated, shaking up a present hierarchy. Although many have come to recently accept that simple “male” and “female” categories are, in fact, socially oppressive and fail to account for the plurality of human experience, for Peterson the splitting of these categories means that those who feel uncomfortable in an expanding world lose their hegemonic footing within it. (The sound of tiny violins begins to swell.) As such, Peterson’s work is fundamentally based on a fear of change and instability, which goes some way to explain the irony of his emotional instability: his own life has been changed unimaginably by global fame; now he lives a life of contradictions and harsh exposure that does not collapse as he believes society would if such vast changes were available to all. In my opinion, it is this sense of internal change, as he continues to rant about his particular brand of conservatism, that leads him to cry tears of social confusion in front of Joe Rogan or Piers Morgan or whoever wants to lick his boots.

Anyway, the overarching point here is that, for those who dismiss the issue of non-binary pronouns as identity politics gone too far, it suggests that their chosen system is not as total and robust as they think it is. If reactionaries feel that certain minorities have increased their sway, is it not because capitalism itself is making room for new forms of life? But if there is no outside to capitalism, then where are these people coming from? They come from within, enacting a previously unthinkable kind of political agency.

And yet, from the other side, there are those who critique the present state of “identity politics” as simply demanding the system include you when, in fact, there is strength to be found in being part of what Lyotard calls “the unpresentable”. It is ultimately a hollowing-out of alternatives forms of life — particularly queer life, in this context — which results in the knowledge and perspectives these positions represent being assimilated and transformed into commodities to squabble over without anything really being at stake. But this process, if it is happening, has not been absolute. Whilst activists fight for dignity and basic human rights, for a certain level of recognition within the system, the resistance they meet is clearly upsetting, but it also confirms the ways that certain forms of life remain on the fringes. This is also something to affirm — which is difficult, but worthwhile nonetheless.

Indeed, a third position, somewhere between the two, suggests that any radical response to capitalism cannot simply refute commodification or computerisation in an attempt to return to pre-digital high-modernist ideals. We are more than capable of acknowledging how certain minoritarian subject positions, though gathering traction in our capitalist world, remain wholly other to its machinations. We must instead acknowledge that the world has changed and is changing, and it is in such spaces of contention that we can not just achieve progress within the system but also perforate its narrow purview, forcing it to not just adapt but be utterly transformed.

Accelerationism likewise hopes to intervene in this kind of highly contentious and indeterminate space. It hopes to radically represent the unpresentable, but not simply to any capitalist gaze for the sake of consumption and capture. It recognises that certain new radical subjectivities can be produce from within capitalism’s bounds, and it hopes to further intensify their influence. It hopes to use computerisation and categorisation to build new worlds, to see how outsider identities and politics nonetheless function within the system at large so that they might defiantly affect it, rather than be at its mercy. This is to say that it is not just the forms of technology that capitalism produces that might give rise to postcapitalist futures, but forms of subjectivity as well, and accelerationism considers how both are forms of techne capable of generating the new. As Fredric Jameson once argued, any

new political art (if it is indeed possible at all) will have to hold to the truth of postmodernism, that is to say, to its fundamental object — the world space of multinational capital — at the same time at which it achieves a breakthrough to some as yet unimaginable new mode of representing this last, in which we may again begin to grasp our positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spatial as well as our social confusion.

This mode of accelerationist thinking was exemplified by the writer and blogger Mark Fisher, who repeatedly put forward a view of accelerationism that was less entangled in its own contradictions and likewise less prone to the “social confusion” that has since come to define its discussion online. In a 2013 essay for the online journal e-flux, for instance, he expresses his frustrations with the many appraisals of accelerationist discourse in such a way that it now seems to criticise Beckett’s journalistic reading of the accelerationist position, albeit four years ahead of time. Fisher writes:

A certain, perhaps now dominant, take on accelerationism has it that the position amounts to a cheerleading for the intensification of any capitalist process whatsoever, particularly the “worst,” in the hope that this will bring the system to a point of terminal crisis… This formulation, however, is question-begging in that it assumes what accelerationism rejects — the idea that everything produced “under” capitalism fully belongs to capitalism. By contrast, accelerationism maintains that there are desires and processes which capitalism gives rise to and feeds upon, but which it cannot contain; and it is the acceleration of these processes that will push capitalism beyond its limits.

In light of this more nuanced articulation, accelerationists do not simply favour post-human automation uncritically for the sake of change, as Beckett suggests; they instead favour the potentials that these innovations uncover, which capitalism produces for itself but then must repress later on. For all its injustices, for all of its subjugations and oppressions, capitalism has nonetheless encouraged the development of ways of living that give an inchoate form to worlds radically different to our own. It has similarly encouraged the development of emancipatory technologies that might produce the utopian worlds we have been promised for generations. Indeed, technology has already alleviated many forms of suffering that previous generations once saw as inevitable and unavoidable. But again, are these technological developments purely capitalist in nature? To stick with a prior example, we might consider capitalism’s attempts to streamline and cheapen the production of commodities through automation. As a result of this essentially capitalistic drive to innovate on the factory floor, capitalism has inadvertently produced a glimmer of a world without work. However, this glimmer has then been necessarily obscured by the capitalist class themselves — the bourgeoisie; the owners of the means of production — so as not to encourage the emergence of this other (postcapitalist) world any further. Workers, rather than liberated, live in an enforced precarity. Capitalism has long spent far too much time curtailing its own radicality. We live at a time when this kind of self-sabotage has never been more egregious and hard to believe.

It was Fisher’s position, then — shared amongst all accelerationists at that time and now hopefully quite familiar to us — that what must be accelerated are the tendencies within capitalism that the system itself produces but which it must always also obstruct within itself, for the sake of its own survival. It is a political and philosophical position that does not simply cheerlead speed but remains vigilant to those opportune moments when capitalism tamps its own brakes, or assimilates positions that have been historically antithetical to its aims. The rallying cry for the accelerationist, then, is that we must stop capitalism from purposefully stunting its own growth, and the growth of other progressive moments around it. We must instead encourage its development, allowing it (and us) to mutate into something new.

Two years after the publication of Beckett’s article, none of this would matter. On 15th March 2019, a 28-year-old heavily armed Australian man, Brenton Tarrant, travelled to two separate mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, opening fire on those both inside and out, killing 51 worshippers and passers-by, and injuring 40 more.

Prior to the attack, which he also livestreamed on Facebook, Tarrant uploaded a digital manifesto to the online imageboard 8chan. The document is a peculiar sign of the times, littered with references to memes and examples of “copypasta”, whilst at the same time expressing concern about the climate crisis and modern capitalism’s apparent indifference towards society more generally. Though ideologically promiscuous — no doubt intentionally so, stoking further confusion and division — the bottom line for Tarrant was not achieving social justice or unearthing a wealth beyond capitalism but spreading hate and racism. If he despises, in his words, our “globalist, capitalist, egalitarian” world order, it is because it encourages global migration, diluting gene pools and further eradicating any dream of a white ethno-state. Indeed, his eco-fascist worldview is vehemently anti-conservative, but only because, in his opinion, nothing is being adequately conserved — not the planet, nor an idealised way of life, nor a pure white race.

Having offered up a bizarre range of reasons for why he has committed this devastating act of terrorism, Tarrant goes on to incite others to commit similar acts by embracing tactics of “destabilisation and accelerationism”. He insists that, if a white supremacist way of life is to be preserved, he and others like him must show people what they risk losing in a coming race war. It is in this sense that he argues a “vote for a radical candidate that opposes your values and incites agitation or anxiety in your own people works far more in your favour than a vote for a milquetoast political candidate that has no ability or wish to enact radical change.” And so, if we are to solve this crisis of whiteness, things are going to have to get worse before they can get better. “Stability and comfort are the enemies of revolutionary change”, he argues, essentially contradicting his own fascistic conservatism. If the right is to restabilise white power, they must first “destabilize and discomfort society where ever possible.” [sic]

Although the word “accelerationism” only appears once across the manifesto’s eighty-seven pages, journalists and researchers immediately homed in on this unfamiliar term. It was later revealed that Tarrant was not the first white supremacist to act upon this “accelerationist” worldview. In fact, numerous murders and attacks upon minorities had been perpetrated in the name of “accelerationism” by several far-right sects, all recently established in the US and Europe throughout the late 2010s. Some groups, like The Base – no doubt an ironic reference to the Islamist terror organisation of the same name, al-Qaeda – and the Atomwaffen Division, had even become established as international organisations with their own training camps and militias. Though Tarrant was the most high-profile individual to commit an act of terror in support of this cause, it soon became clear that he was not alone. This growing movement of far-right accelerationists was clearly something for the world to be worried about.

Unsurprisingly, from this moment on, a very different kind of article about accelerationism came to dominate in the media and elsewhere. Eight months after the shootings, journalist Zack Beauchamp wrote what was perhaps the most widely read and cited article about the term for Vox, which contrasted Beckett’s Guardian article in the starkest of terms. Whereas the subtitle of Beckett’s piece promised to explain “how a fringe philosophy predicted the world in which we live”, Beauchamp instead derides accelerationism as “the obscure idea inspiring white supremacist killers around the world”. His summary of accelerationism, read side-by-side with Beckett’s, previously cited, makes explicit the extent to which this fringe philosophy had drastically fallen from grace. [5] Beauchamp declares:

Accelerationists reject any effort to seize political power through the ballot box, dismissing the alt-right’s attempts to engage in mass politics as pointless. If one votes, one should vote for the most extreme candidate, left or right, to intensify points of political and social conflict within Western societies. Their preferred tactic for heightening these contradictions, however, is not voting, but violence — attacking racial minorities and Jews as a way of bringing us closer to a race war, and using firearms to spark divisive fights over gun control. The ultimate goal is to collapse the government itself; they hope for a white-dominated future after that.

We might assume these conflicting definitions of accelerationism are simply the result of an etymological misfortune — that is, two disparate movements sharing a name. Some have, more recently, made attempts to separate the two, but the definitions are still confused. For example, in 2020, Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Centre, wrote that, “In most scholarly contexts, the term [accelerationism] is used to describe a movement separate from the white supremacist variation [that seeks] to push beyond capitalism by bringing it to its most oppressive and divisive form, prompting a movement to build a just economic system in response.” But as we have already seen, this is simply not true either.

This misreading has nonetheless dogged accelerationist discourses for years. As far back as 2014, Malcolm Harris described accelerationism as the belief that “we should attempt to speed the system toward its inevitable doom.” Pete Wolfendale, a frequent contributor to the accelerationist blogosphere, argued in response that “this is not a position that anyone has ever held.” Indeed, it was a deeply frustrating misreading for many, including those who disliked accelerationism as an idea, because, as Wolfendale argues, when people “attack straw men versions of their opponents … this leaves us all the poorer for having less productive disagreement.”

This stubborn misreading, denounced by all who first theorised accelerationism, somehow continually came to the fore. But researchers did not have to look far to find some connection that corroborated a “scholarly” accelerationism’s proximity to the far-right… A familiar name appears in both Beauchamp’s and Beckett’s articles: Nick Land.

Nick Land is often referred to as “the father of accelerationism”. Having taught several of the original accelerationist bloggers at the University of Warwick in the 1990s, his influence is undeniable. As a lecturer, he enjoyed a certain notoriety on campus as an eccentric and unorthodox teacher, but the mythology surrounding his work and conduct as an academic has led to a personality cult forming around him, distorting the indirect ways that Land influenced his students at the time.

For example, though much is made of his teaching methods and general academic conduct today, much less attention is given to Land’s own (presumably former) areas of expertise. Along with his colleague, Keith Ansell-Pearson, Land taught on two philosophy courses — “Recent Continental Philosophy”, focussing on figures like Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jacques Derrida; and “Current French Philosophy”, which explored the work of Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, François Laruelle and others.

These latter three figures (Deleuze, Badiou, Laruelle) are of central importance to accelerationism’s development, with many within the accelerationist blogosphere arguing, for instance, that the “most productive area of conceptual discordance is that between Badiou and Deleuze-Guattari”, wherein philosophy is newly understood “as a theory of action, not a substitute for it”. If Land was previously an inspirational teacher, it was perhaps because he seemed to affirm and live by this sentiment more forcefully than any other member of staff. Indeed, the emphasis placed on Warwick’s interest in current philosophy fed into a culture of active philosophical production at the university. Philosophy was not just something to study but something to do, and it was this attitude that endeared students to Land at that time, who encouraged not a passive fidelity to the curriculum but the active questioning and extension of its insights and claims. As Robin Mackay writes, recalling his first interactions with Land as an undergraduate in 1992:

One could not help but be impressed by the sense of a man whose entire being was invested in his work; for whom philosophy was neither a nine-to-five affair nor a straightforwardly life-affirming labor; and who took seriously the ridiculously megalomaniacal aspiration of philosophy to synopsize everything that is known into a grand speculative framework. He was uniquely able to open up students’ minds to the conceptual resources of the history of philosophy in a way that made philosophical thinking seem urgent and concrete: a cache of weapons for ‘making trouble,’ a toolkit for escaping from everything dismal, inhibiting, and tedious.

Having once took on a stuffy academic tradition and its outmoded values, today Land simply scorns the world. He continues to have a considerable impact on young and impressionable minds, it seems, but he has rejected philosophy as a theory of action absolutely. As such, few among the original accelerationists believe he is worth paying much attention to. (As Iain Hamilton Grant — whose translation of Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy might be just as significant a precursor to the rise of accelerationism — comments to Becket for the Guardian: “I try not to read his stuff. Folk [in the accelerationist movement] are embarrassed. They think he’s sounding like a thug.”) He is now best known as the author of a range of pro-capitalist and anti-Marxist texts, which “bait the liberal” and attempt to humiliate a right-thinking, moral-political orthodoxy by emphasising capitalism’s utter indifference to humanity. He is also a proponent of scientific racism and an open supporter of technocratic regimes around the world, making him a persona non grata on the academic left. But for those interested in accelerationism, his work from the 1990s retains a provocative allure and he is regularly cited as the author of some of accelerationism’s key ur-texts.

His 1994 essay-fiction “Meltdown”, for instance, paints an apocalyptic picture of our planet “captured by a technocapital singularity”. Writing in a poetic cyberpunk prose characteristic of the era, “capital” is taken to be an outdated moniker for a cosmic virus that is now inseparable from its chosen host, dissolving the Earth’s biosphere into its ever-expanding technosphere, which repeatedly sends humanity into paroxysms, triggering increasingly feverish immune responses. His position is, essentially, an extension of Lyotard’s analysis of the postmodern condition — or perhaps more akin to the analyses of Fredric Jameson — albeit affirmed and embraced. Society has experienced full “computerisation” and now it is only a matter of time before this infrastructural transition makes the jump to our anatomies. “It might still be a few decades before artificial intelligences surpass the horizon of biological ones,” Land writes, “but it is utterly superstitious to imagine that the human dominion of terrestrial culture is still marked out in centuries, let alone in some metaphysical perpetuity.” In this way, Land’s philosophy resembles a restaging of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, swapping the VHS tape out for the dial-up modem. “Love live the New Flesh!” It is a philosophy that “aligns itself with the replicants”, as found in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner — “rather than placing a personal unconscious within the organism, it places the organism within the machinic unconscious”; it is not about the mind inside the body, but the body inside the capitalist machine. As Mark Fisher later wrote, it was an understanding of postmodern capitalism “as a future shock absorber as well as a scorched earth terminator of all traditions and archaisms, operating in a time of anachronistic conjunctions (genetic engineering labs next to lovingly reconstructed nineteenth-century village greens).”

In his earliest essays, the subjects most capable of intervening in such a space were ostensibly cyberpunk radicals. However, as Ray Brassier notes, whilst Land may have once argued that “it’s radical guerrilla militant lesbian feminists who are the only revolutionary subjects”, over the years since he has moved away from such a position. Now he is no longer “willing to endorse or affirm radicals” and “his critique of the Marxist left is that it’s not radical, revolutionary, or critical enough”. Today,

he seems to realize there is no bearer of revolutionary intensification left. Therefore, politics must be displaced, it must be deputized, and all you can do is endorse or affirm impersonal processes, which at least harbour the promise of generating or ushering in the next phase of deterritorialization.

Land himself does not mince words. In 2013, he argued that the system works best when we leave it well alone. “Do nothing”, he says. “Despair. Subside into horror.” Join the ranks of capitalism’s glory-supporters. “Hostility to coercive egalitarianism and a sense that Western civilization is going to hell will probably suffice to get you into the club.” That club is the neoreactionary movement, or NRx — a movement driven by a conservative fatalism that “frustrates all familiar demands for activism.” Because there is no need to fight for capitalism. It is doing just fine on its own. Renewing our faith in its impersonal machinations is all that is required of us. “Rather than attempting to make something happen, fatality restores something that cannot be stopped.”

From this position, Land began pouring scorn on both the left and the right. (More recently, he has allowed the alt-right to take him under his wing.) He no doubt sees Brenton Tarrant, for example, as just a straight-forward reactionary flailing against his own irrelevance. But the left, too, in refusing to engage with the right on these fatalist grounds, are sleep-walking into a demise all of their own. Both outcomes are fine by Land. Ultimately, capitalism isn’t interested in either side’s parochial concerns. It’s got bigger plans. As Land suggests, “racists and anti-racists can be expected to eventually bond in a defensive fraternity, when they recognize that traditionally-differentiated human populations are being torn asunder on an axis of variation that dwarfs all of their established concerns.” Tarrant’s desired “race war” is an unlikely outcome — capitalism is mutating contemporary subjectivity in far more nuanced ways than encouraging the innocuous proliferation of racially diverse neighbourhoods and mixed-race families. “Miscegenation doesn’t get close to the issue”, Land writes — “whatever emerges from the dialectics of racial terror remains trapped in trivialities.” Our evolutionary future holds much more in store for us than that, he argues. “Think face tentacles.”

Following on from this mutating of our very subjectivities, capitalism and philosophy are made almost interchangeable in Land’s thought. Philosophy “is any culture’s pole of maximum abstraction, or intrinsically experimental intelligence, expressing the liberation of cognitive capabilities from immediate practical application, and their testing against ‘ultimate’ problems at the horizon of understanding.” By this definition, capitalism comes to represent the pole of maximum abstraction uncoupled from the human. “Capital only retains anthropological characteristics as a symptom of underdevelopment”, he writes. “Man is something for it to overcome: a problem, drag.” It is in response to this idea that Land produces not a critical philosophy of capitalism but a capitalist philosophy; asking not what we think about capitalism but instead asking what capitalism thinks about us.

Though this might make Tarrant just a garden-variety xenophobe in his eyes, Land’s thought nonetheless pulls towards a belief in “scientific racism” and the darker side of “evolutionary psychology”. He argues certain revolutionary sentiments are genetically instantiated, and capitalism is busy picking a winning team. (Human breeding habits are nothing if not another kind of “free market”, in this sense.) As such, to read Land’s work generously — a controversial suggestion in and of itself — the argument to be extracted from his most infamous writings on race is perhaps that all science and politics, in the twenty-first century, is innately eugenic. Capitalism does not just select for policies and products but for subjectivities, making capitalism itself a “hyper-racist” entity within the free market of “human biodiversity”, selecting for factors like high IQ or a predisposition to certain ideological positions. Land’s defence of this point is often that, whilst he appreciates capitalism’s innate racism, he is far from a white supremacist. On the contrary, the future is not white and Western. If far-right extremists like Tarrant are afraid for the future of white people, maybe it’s because they have also noticed capitalism is not selecting for their biopolitical traits any longer.

None of this exposition is intended to diminish Land’s penchant for racism. But it does show how, following the utter eclipsing of any left-wing accelerationism in 2019, not even present-day Land has anything in common with its terroristic variant. Land himself knew this, but whereas he had quietly gloated about the left’s attempts to reinvigorate a politics of agency based on influential works he’d long since renounced, Land soon found himself on the backfoot. Despite the fact his writings on race and the decline of Western civilisation contain attempts at a kind of Lovecraftian gallows humour, he was clearly spooked by the actions of the Christchurch shooter, as so many were. This is evident when we compare all of the provocative comments above with his exceedingly well-behaved email responses to Beauchamp’s journalistic inquiries, relayed in the 2019 Vox article. In fact, Beauchamp’s summary of Land’s philosophical position is surprisingly accurate — albeit tamed, in this instance, or perhaps just cunningly reduced to a dog-whistle. “Land argued that capitalist technological advancement was transforming not just our societies, but our very selves,” Beauchamp explains. For Land, the self “was being dissolved by the increasing speed and pace of modern life — the individual was becoming less important than the techno-capitalist system it found itself in.”

Showing a questionable level of restraint, Land’s description of the dissolution of the individual self encapsulates the crux of accelerationism’s biopolitical stance in the broadest terms. It is applicable to most accelerationist thinkers and their antecedents — Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus especially. The dissolution of the individual was something similarly called for by leftist thinkers like Mark Fisher, who argued in his first book Capitalist Realism, that capitalism’s “mandatory individualism” is the greatest obstacle to the re-instantiation of the “required subject — a collective subject — [which] does not exist, yet the crisis, like all the other global crises we’re now facing, demands that it be constructed.” But Land’s definition is also notable for the subtle — arguably too subtle — way in which it undermines his own far-right bastard offspring, who he is otherwise being invited to comment upon. Indeed, whilst Land may hold left-wing anti-capitalism in open contempt, he makes it clear that this is because he supports this process of subjective fragmentation and dissolution that globalised capitalism encourages. Meanwhile, Brenton Tarrant and those like him, quite explicitly, do not.

Still, this is not to defend Land’s response. As sensationalist as Beauchamp’s article is, it only makes Land’s response appear more lacking. In his “characteristically cryptic” explanations of what accelerationism represents, he insists that its task is simply to explore “what ‘the process’ wants (i.e. spontaneously promotes) and what resistances it provokes.” This cold, academic detachment, like that of an impartial observer, feels far from characteristic of the Nick Land most know from Twitter, who resembles some Frankensteinian amalgam of Tucker Carlson and Peter Thiel.

Perhaps Land hoped that Beauchamp would do his due diligence, but in the end Beauchamp fails to properly interrogate the argument he has transcribed here, and does not compare it to Tarrant’s worldview in any recognisable sense. He simply makes false equivalences. “The story starts with a bunch of Deleuzian British philosophers theorizing techno-capitalism in the 90s”, he wrote on Twitter shortly after the article was published. “It ends with the past two years of extreme right killings.” These are certainly the two bizarre poles of accelerationism’s trajectory, but the insinuation is that there is some general concordance between the two is nothing more than sensationalism.

Land himself could have done more to defend himself from this, but in cowardly refusing to fully give his political views an airing, as well as a refusal to openly condemn Tarrant’s actions, he tacitly welcomed his association with the term and made the overall quality of the conversation poorer for the rest of us. Maybe he did this as part of a general grift, but Land’s resentment has found a voice over the years since Vox drastically increased his online infamy. For example, Land has taken to denouncing much of their journalistic output. “Vox pretending that ‘the narrative’ is some external social phenomenon they’re dispassionately observing is roughly as ludicrous as things get”, he tweeted a few years later, decrying an unrelated Vox article on race politics in the US that repeatedly reference “the narrative” of race relations whilst implicitly denying the fact, in Land’s view, that they were at all responsible for shaping it… The irony of this tweet is so blatant to be laughable, for a man who hides from the fact his worshipping of the impersonal forces of capital has influenced some of the most deplorable people in the world. The fact remains, whilst Land liked to play up the horror for laughs on his blog (before it was hacked and annihilated), when real horror reared its head, he brushed aside any suggestion he might share some of the responsibility for its emergence.

Whereas Land seemed flummoxed by all the sudden press attention, it soon became clear that a supposedly “original” accelerationism simply washing its hands of its violent offspring, no matter how errant and unrecognisable it may have been, was not enough. No “nuanced” position was worth a damn if it couldn’t account for the very real violence that had been enacted in its name. In its inability to respond to Christchurch – as if it were not already obvious, given the philosophical preamble above – accelerationism only demonstrated how it had lost its defining sense of urgency. A new and uncomfortable question emerged that few seemed ready to approach and deal with: What good is any kind of semantic opposition to certain forces under capitalism when faced with the abject reality of the Christchurch massacre? Put even more simply, the question that needed to be asked was an already familiar one: What is to be done?

Following a period of reflection, it soon became clear that there remained much work to be done to counter this far-right variant of accelerationism and society’s stagnation more generally. We can accept that the name “accelerationism” is now tainted beyond any hope of redemption, but we can still insist upon the post-capitalist futures that accelerationism first sought to welcome with open arms, by utilising the strategies and provocations that accelerationist discourses first introduced to a new generation of political thinkers. As Benjamin Noys, the academic and writer who first coined the term “accelerationism”, argued in a Facebook post shortly after the Christchurch massacre: “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.” But this chaos is precisely the point. The chaos of capitalism, if not far-right terrorism, has spread into all our signifiers. Though he might affirm it, if Land’s philosophy is good for anything it is the vibrant and sheering way in which he informs us of this strange immanence. And it affects far more than the academic fortunes of accelerationism alone.

The extent to which we are able to take responsibility for the chaos around us is a question that must remain at the heart of any future accelerationist discourse (if such a thing is possible). Giving Land the benefit of the doubt — not that he deserves it — we might ask ourselves: To what extent are we responsible for the meanings that our works accrue when spread throughout capitalism’s disinformation engine? Looking at the bigger picture, we might ask: To what extent are we individually responsible for systemic phenomena like the climate crisis or racism? Land’s response, as already mentioned, is to care less and do nothing. But his free-floating response does not invalidate the question in itself.

The problem of agency was, in fact, one of accelerationism’s founding concerns — it was precisely what separated accelerationism (in Alex Williams’ initial formulation) from Landianism. As Mark Fisher wrote at the moment of accelerationism’s emergence:

One major difference between [Alex Williams’] accelerationism and Landianism is over the question of agency: for Landianism, Capital is the only agent of note, whereas for [Alex], Capital must be assisted to become something else. But what form would this assistance take? As per [Mario] Tronti’s question about the left after the demise of the workers’ movements, what group subject could emerge which would be both willing and able to offer it? In the lack of a collective agent, wouldn’t we be back to a kind of theoretical parlour game that has no consequences?

It is a problem that is not limited to accelerationism but any contemporary political movement, which hopes to move beyond a mandatory individualism (and the magical voluntarism that results) and instead towards a collective movement properly conceived. The main obstacle here isn’t simply how we think about ourselves but how the system at large atomises us regardless. This is a problem that dates back to the Protestant reformation, when the attributing of individual responsibility began to let social institutions and their growing totalising systems off the hook. And this remains the very paradox of our age. As Fisher later wrote in Capitalist Realism, referring to the climate crisis:

Now, when the appeal to individual ethical responsibility has never been more clamorous — in her book Frames Of War, Judith Butler uses the term ‘responsibilization’ to refer to this phenomenon — it is necessary to wager instead on structure at its most totalizing. Instead of saying that everyone — i.e. every one — is responsible for climate change, we all have to do our bit, it would be better to say that no-one is, and that’s the very problem. The cause of eco-catastrophe is an impersonal structure which, even though it is capable of producing all manner of effects, is precisely not a subject capable of exercising responsibility.

But what are we supposed to do in that sort of situation? It is in response to this that Fisher argues we need a “collective subject”, but still, what can we, as individuals, do to nurture this subject-to-come, the establishment of which is so necessary if we are to properly refute the demands that capitalism places on individual subjectivity? How do we forsake a particular form of personal responsibility that diminishes how the system itself is set up, whilst at the same time affirming our collective or social responsibility to fight for justice and change within its bounds?

Lyotard’s postmodern critique returns once again. We can acknowledge that there is no outside to capitalism in its totality, but we can demand one nonetheless. How we go about that remains an open question to many. Land’s position may clear, Tarrant’s also, but both are bullshit. The response is not and cannot be “do nothing”, nor can it be to exacerbate the worst injustices society proliferates. The affirmation of impotence is not a response worthy of our time, and accelerationism has always fought against such a suggestion. We should remember this. In fact, there is nothing more important for us to remember.

Accelerationism may be dead. It died when it collided with an event, a crisis, a massacre, that it could not produce an adequate response to. But accelerationism was also born from just such a situation. That is, it was born of a crisis within capitalism that the left struggled to generate any effective response to. An event without a subject: the 2008 financial crash.

To be continued…


[1] There are various ways of measuring technological progress. One of the most common is the tracking of Moore’s Law – the suggestion made by Intel CEO Gordon Moore that the number of transistors in “integrated circuit” computer chips tends to double every two years. In 1972, the number of transistors within the average IC chip was around 2000; in 2018, it was 25,000,000,000. Other ways of measuring progress are available and they are often far more explicitly capitalistic, using historical financial data – perhaps the only reliable data set that could be used to make claims about such an abstract notion over such a long period of time – in order to measure rates of global productivity. For an example of this measurement, consider this very telling graph produced by the multinational investment bank Barclays plc in 2018.

[2] In his book The Singularity is Near, for example. Ray Kurzweil argues strongly in favour of the “ongoing acceleration of technology” in this regard, which he sees as

the implication and inevitable result of what I call the law of accelerating returns, which describes the acceleration of the pace of and the exponential growth of the products of an evolutionary process. These products include, in particular, information-bearing technologies such as computation, and their acceleration extends substantially beyond the predictions made by what has become known as Moore’s Law.

The book is a considerable tome, and not without its critics, but it certainly offers a series of fascinating speculations regarding the avenues currently open to science that may allow us to fully (re)model and understand “the computational capacity of the human brain”, before then exceeding it.

[3] Though often attributed to the science-fiction writer William Gibson, even he has forgotten precisely when and where he first used it.

[4] The phrase “red plenty” is often used in socialist circles to refer to the Soviet idea of a “planned economy” that could “beat capitalism on its own terms.” As Francis Spufford explains it in his 2010 book Red Plenty:

Because the whole system of production and distribution in the USSR was owned by the state, because all Russia was (in Lenin’s words) “one office, one factory”, it could be directed, as capitalism could not, to the fastest, most lavish fulfilment of human needs. Therefore it would easily out-produce the wasteful chaos of the marketplace. Planning would be the USSR’s own self-turning millstone, its own self-victualling tablecloth.

Unfortunately, the Soviet Union failed to live up to its own dream, but that dream — much like the dream of communism more generally — nonetheless lives on beyond its failures.

[5] Over the years since the Christchurch shooting, it is interesting to note that “Accelerationism” has also become a staple not only in the mainstream media but also in academic papers and journals tasked with understanding contemporary extremism and terrorism. For example, in early 2020, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a UK-based extremism thinktank, published a report on the spread of disinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic. It found that crises “like Covid-19 are playing into ‘accelerationism’ on the extreme right, which promotes the idea that democracy is a failure and that groups should accelerate [to] its end through mobilising social conflict and violence”.


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