Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Positive Accelerationism

(I refuse to give a spoiler warning for the film Inception when it's been out for 7 years... and now I've done it anyway) 

In the film Inception the main character Cobb and his wife Mal get trapped in a dream world limbo for decades. Eventually Cobb realises that the only way to wake up is to die in the dream. He has to convince his wife that the world they've lived in for all those years was just a dream and to get back to reality they have to kill themselves. The idea becomes so powerful that it won't go away, even once they've awoken again in the real world it comes to absolutely define Mal, leading her to commit suicide for real in a vain effort to wake up for real.

The idea of accelerationism grew out of a tiny seed of truth implanted deep within the minds of those who first came up with it but it's grown well beyond it now.

The idea is:

Capitalism produces the conditions that will eventually destroy it.



 The gravediggers of Capitalism

The unthinking assumption about the sequence of events made by adherents of accelerationism is that capitalism makes people's lives unbearable and brings them to a point where they have nothing left to lose. They then revolt in huge numbers, this snowballs into a revolution and capitalism, just when it was at it's most crushingly brutal, is suddenly brought to it's knees.

It's a somewhat convincing tale at first. When people's quality of life is reasonable what real incentive is there to risk death in a revolution? That's why our protests become more and more docile the more comfortable everyone's lives are, right? That's why a lot of people are totally disengaged with politics and the struggle altogether right? Because their lives are basically fine?

The trouble with this is that it really is an assumption and it takes no account of some huge problems that should be obvious:
  • Capitalism in recent years has destroyed most of the horizontal links between the working class. From freindly neighbourhoods looking out for each other to trade unions to even our families everything is melting away. We're becoming scared, isolated individuals that accept the blame for our miserable lives and believe that we deserve what we get. 
  • As capitalism progresses, our jobs and our homes become precarious, stepping out of line can lead to anything we've managed to hold together in life from our mental health to our bank balance or a relatively pleasant life for our children being wrecked.
  • In recent years we've seen that as capitalism cannibalises the welfare state that was put in place to stabilise it people are going hungry and not getting the health care they need. Even life expectancy is beginning to fall. Every person who hasn't eaten properly for months or is walking about waiting for an operation is another person who is going to have difficulty concentrating or carrying out any kind of revolutionary actions.
  • Every step that capitalism strides forwards involves working class resistance to it being crushed. Every cut to vital services that was resisted but happened anyway or every strike that never achieved what it intended to do and was broken is a defeat and eventually after enough of this people just give up.
  • The less disposable income people have the less they can travel around to protest/ meet people/ fund actions. 


It also ignores the historical evidence. During the 1950s and 60s when conditions we're rapidly getting better people wern't pacified at all. With a sense of security from full employment and rapidly expanding social housing, a few 'wins' under their belts to give them some hope the unions were powerful, the youth were getting militant and the authorities were worried. 

As conditions began levelling off and then deteriorating during the 1970s, 80s and 90s there were some extremely bitter struggles (e.g. miners strike and poll tax resistance) but I would argue that these were so furious and bitter because people had glimpsed that a different way of living was possible and many people still had a certain level of community solidarity and security that had been built up during that period and the collective memory of winning a number of previous struggles convinced them that it was worth having a go.

Since then in the 00s and the 10s we've been in a funny stage. Since the crash and recession post '08 there certainly has been a return to struggle but it's hardly been a mass movement. We haven't even been able to convince people to vote the Conservatives out yet because they've been so ground down, betrayed and atomised that even after a huge spike in homelessness and millions of people being pushed into relying on food-aid and insecure work no one seems to really believe that we can do much about it, or they have come to interpret it as basically the fault of the homeless and hungry and just hope that they can keep their own heads above the water.

Positive Accelerationism

Anyone who is really serious about accelerating towards a revolution should look carefully into the evidence about what kinds of conditions are right and necessary for it to come about. I doubt they will find that there is a sure fire recipe but there is certainly some evidence from history that it's not revolts due to total desperation that are likely to snowball into revolution but the experience of progressive 'wins' that build confidence and improve people's material conditions and teach them about who's got the same interests as them and who will fight them all the way, that could turn into something much bigger. 

Why not think of this as positive accelerationism? The idea that trying to accelerate the demise of capitalism is a noble thing but this belief that the rise of fascists or total domination of conservatives politically will provoke it is probably not justifiable. 

In positive accelerationism it's all much more straightforward, wins are wins and are to be celebrated. The eventual revolution in this model will occur when we provoke desperate revolt from the ruling class because we've pushed too far - not the other way around. They will attempt a coup or a massive repression not because they're confident they can get away with anything but as a last hope. This then provokes seasoned confident individuals used to struggling together to smash it once and for all.