Monday, October 20, 2008

Shock Work

As a temporary break from the research that I am so generously publicly funded to do, a few notes and irrelevant digressions on the responses to a - rhetorically brilliant and thought-provoking, if, to put it mildly, problematic - post at Splintering Bone Ashes, from Leniency and K-Punk. Ben Noys coins the term 'accelerationism' to describe this mode of thought - in short, the belief that by accentuating capitalism's most extreme, deterritorialising aspects, a revolutionary moment can come about, either through the new, inhuman non-subject it creates, or perhaps via the opposition this untold destruction would necessarily create. While I really have no interest whatsoever in a political philosophy that appears to claim that the problem with the world today is that there is too much state intervention, and not enough uprooting, cruelty, suffering, chaos and destruction (as if this isn't more than enough), the post has a kernel of politically straightforward truth. If these bailouts and 'nationalisations' (aptly described by K-Punk as a sort of PFI for the financial sector, where capital holds most of the power, but state power provides the majority of the actual capital) hadn't happened, then the entire edifice would literally have fallen to pieces, and by now we'd be looking at the very real possibility of a barter economy.

Other than that, though, as actual political strategy this ends up in little more than the old Stalinist 'Third Period', a sort of Deleuzo-Thaelmannism to go with the Deleuzo-Thatcherism - the belief that if only things get ever worse, then the revolutionary moment will come - a sort of catastrophist Hegelianism, where capital's teleology of disaster elicits a Whig interpretation of apocalypse, or, to be outright mean, a nihilist singularity. Appropriately, Leniency lists Brecht - whose finest works, from Threepenny to The Measures Taken and Kuhle Wampe, are the poetry of the Third Period - as one of a series of possible models of 'Accelerationism', cultural and political. There's another element of Accelerationism, and one which gives Brecht's version of it something of a (very partial) historical explanation. This is something much more sober, on the face of it,than the catastrophic version of Accelerationism that is Xenoeconomics. That is, the belief that an accelerated, anti-humanist capitalism (particularly in the era of the second industrial revolution) produces forms which somehow have socialism promised within them. You can find this in Gramsci's analysis of Taylorism and Fordism, that the new modes of work were more rational, promising a discarding of peasant remnants, the illusion of the survival of craftsmanship under industrial capital, while the ancien regime's last remnants are swept away by the muscular power of blue-collar American capital - Oh, Americanism! Oh Undertaker!

This also puts another possible spin on the anti-humanist thrill of Detroit techno's preference for 'Ford's robots over Berry Gordy's music', in Juan Atkins' immortal phrase. In the unlikely event of the new society, those of us not hanging onto the grim legacy of workerism would surely be in favour of an even more widespread deployment of Ford's robots, delegating the tedious work produced by Fordism to what Paul Lafargue called 'our new race of slaves'. Capital's automation might immiserate now, but it promises the abolition of alienation in the future. This kind of accelerationist socialism has its own application to the Third Industrial Revolution, as this lecture by Richard D Wolff, with its culmination in a proposal for a Communism based on the work practices of silicon valley, would seem to attest. However, the accelerationism of Brecht and his productivist contemporaries was based to a large degree on the erroneous belief that a 'better America', an better application of the technologies of accelerated Fordist capital, was being forged in the blast furnaces of Magnitogorsk. By assuming that capital would provide the outlines of the new society, the latter ended up replicating it in an even more ruthlessly exploitative form. It's one thing for acceleration to progress over the body of capital, but in actuality this merely results in other, softer bodies being run over. 

(not, of course, that anyone is at the moment advocating accelerationism in exactly this manner, as SBA's accelerationism is a very different beast to Brecht's - doing for neoliberalism what he did with Fordism; destructivism, rather than productivism, we could call it. But, off-topic, and as evidence for the aptness of definition of New Labour as 'market Stalinism', it's worth noting exactly what 'public works' Chancellor Darling is planning as a 'Keynesian' measure to deal with recession. It has long been a mistake to attack New Labour for a lack of public spending, but rather for how that money is spent - on PFI schemes as back-door privatisations, expansion of bureaucracy and security, and now, massive bailouts of banks. So instead of say, a council housing scheme, Darling promises the Olympics, a 'new nuclear deterrent', Crossrail, as an infrastructural aid to class cleansing, and some more prisons. Marvellous.)


Blogger roger said...

Well, Brecht's Weimar Republic had a very strong socialist component, so the idea that capitalism should be run as an experiment that would fail had, at least, a social context in which that wasn't an altogether bad idea. Similarly, in the Russia of 1905, socialism was the only alternative to the Czar's anti-semitic fuckup. So Lenin, to whom the strategy of accelerating the contradictions is mythically attributed, was making a cool calculation about the forces already in play.

Since, today, that exists not at all outside of the state of West Bengal, however, it would be a pretty senseless experiment - or, rather, something on the order of an alchemical experiment a la Volpone.

4:30 am  
Anonymous Curtis said...

'This is something much more sober, on the face of it,than the catastrophic version of Accelerationism that is Xenoeconomics. That is, the belief that an accelerated, anti-humanist capitalism (particularly in the era of the second industrial revolution) produces forms which somehow have socialism promised within them.'

Ah, this is something I've been thinking of recently and which can be seen in the most blatant terms in differences in sports organisation in America and Europe. Soccer is by far the most capitalistic game in the world in which impartial, rootless global mega-teams compete in the free market to acquire similarly rootless global mega stars at wildly inflated prices.

(Christiano Ronaldo rumours as to his £85million move to Real Madrid are first to spring to mind. Even if an individual scored 300 goals and the team for which he did it won every competition going, their annual turnover would maybe increase by 10% and at any rate such a transfer fee, not to mention wages, would consume about 35% of said annual turnover.)

The NFL, on the other hand, runs by the maxim that the league as a whole is only as strong as its weakest team. While wages can be even more astronomical than those of soccer players, each team is wage-capped at a rate considered conducive to any given team's economic health, in consideration of money brought in by being part of the franchise. In my admittedly scant research I haven't found a single NFL team who has spent its way into destitution like a Leed United, or been hit with points deductions and enforced relegations like Rotherham, Luton etc. have for financial reasons.

Moreover, the problem of transfer fees and the success of those teams able to afford them is eliminated by no cash-for-player dealings; only player-for-player trades are admitted so sides can only trade in percieved equivalent worth. Effective hostile takeover of players is out of the question.

This, to my mind, is a more rational, fair system of running a sports organisation simply by virtue of the fact it is newer, the league having been set up in the early '20's. 'Fairness' and parity of competition are very often touted as the virtues of the American sports system, and Americans will proudly espouse these virtues in terms not too unfamiliar from those a socialist may use on the organisation of life itself.

This brings up two points of interest: That socialism and all its underlying foundations prove to be a logical end in more minds than the media would have one believe, (and this is particularly noteworthy as expressed discretely through sport by Americans.) To my feeling there are forms which have socialism promised within them, at the very least in the imagination of the clear-headed mind of one who believes in fairness, and that paradigmatic technological shifts such as Fordism open up a space wherein radical re-structure of concepts of fairness and competition might be enacted in the same way that they have proved able in the relatively low stakes game of organising a sports league.

Secondly, that the marketeers' notion of the 'naturalism' of the market and any regulation thereof as a barrier to competition is exploded: Parity of trade, elimination of the prospect of capital accumulation leading to near monopolisation of a league comprised of dozens by a lucky handful, central planning to the mutual health of all of the companies in the league; these are in fact stimulators to the productiveness of an outfit, and dare I say it, real and true competition.

The problem with competition to me hasn't been the idea in itself but the advocacy of competition by those who are already the winners, 'the free fox in the free chicken coop' as it were. Sports give us an accessible and popular line of argument into concepts of 'competition' and how fair one judges strands of competition to really be.

That said, I share your reluctance to go in for a solution where one makes things worse in the hope that they get better, which appears as a symptom of Marxist exasperation. For all the talk of Marxism being a 19th-century mode of criticism, a technique could and should be found whereby we get through that Thatcher had long term effects on Britain beyond mass employment during her premiership; that real wages have declined since the '70's despite the time being characterised as some sort of Bolshy Dark Age. We face a formidable and monolithic opponent in the hostile 21st-century media armed with unprecedented power, but is it so absurd to try to take it on, convince people with internally persuasive dialogue as Bakhtin would have it, of capitalism's failure in 2008 being systemic and to the majority's great detriment?
I only invoke the chiche manic street preacher where the alternative seems to be a scorched earth policy.

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