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What is accelerationism?

If you're befuddled by leftie political terminology, you're not alone. The Staggers dons a tin hat and investigates.

Accelerationism (n)

Accelerationism is the idea that capitalism, or various processes attached to it, should be deepened or “accelerated” in order to prompt radical change.

As Steven Shaviro sums it up,“‘accelerationism’ is the idea that the only way out is through”.

Origin

The concept of accelerationism has been traced back to Karl Marx, but the word was first used prominently by Benjamin Noys in 2010, in his book Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism.

Usage

Some 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. In this basic model, exposing the true evils of late capitalism will lead inevitably to revolt.

You might, for instance, theorize that it’s better to vote for Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton, as the latter will maintain the status quo, while the former’s negative disruptive influence might instigate a true socialist backlash. (Historically, this does not go well).

Yet few philosophers preach anything so simple (or so passive). Of course, there are different varieties of accelerationism. Some philosophers, for instance, focus on repurposing the tools of capitalism, outlining a model for political change opposed to the work of thosw Marxists who seek to entirely reject the suspect tools of, to give one example, knowledge of late capitalist economics.

In this version of accelerationism, the aspects of capitalism which may instigate its own downfall are seized and refashioned to speed up the process of its undoing. As #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader puts it:

Accelerationism is a political heresy: the insistence that the only radical political response to capitalism is not to protest, disrupt, or critique, nor to await its demise at the hands of its own contradictions, but to accelerate its uprooting, alienating, decoding, abstractive tendancies.

If you really want to get into it, it’s possible to see accelerationism as one of two possible models for radical Left-wing action: one rooted in the local (and some would stay nostalgic), and the other in the global, technological and abstract (and some would say alienating). As Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek put it:

The most important division in today’s Left is between those that hold to a folk politics of localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism, and those that outline what must become called an accelerationist politics at ease with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology.

Getting lost? That’s fine. The important thing to know is that plenty of people are going to use “accelerationist” to mean “making things so bad people rebel”. You’ll see people shout them down for this usage – but at least you’ll recognise it.

On the other hand: want to know more? Try this manifesto of accelerationism, and McKenzie Wark’s critique of it here.

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Can Britain’s new powers to investigate unexplained wealth prevent real-life McMafias?

The government is waking up to the fact that global criminals are fond of London. 

The BBC’s McMafia, a story of high-flying Russian mobsters and international money launderers woven into the fabric of London, ended this month. Despite the dramatic TV twists, the subject matter has its basis in reality. As a barrister dealing with cases that involve Russia and former Soviet states, my experience is that politicians and business people use the apparatus of the state to put rivals out of business by any means possible.

In McMafia, previously straight-laced fund manager Alex Godman (played by James Norton) begins transferring money under the cover of a new investment fund. With a click of a button, he can transfer a shady partner’s money around the world. As the Paradise Papers underlined, money can indeed be hidden through the use of complex company structures registered in different countries, many of which do not easily disclose the names of owners and beneficiaries. One company can be owned by another, so the owner of Company A (in Panama) might be Company B (in the Cayman Islands) which is owned by Company C (in the Seychelles) which owns property in London. To find out who owns the property, at least three separate jurisdictions must be contacted and international co-operation arranged – and that’s a simple structure. Many companies will have multiple owners, making it even more difficult to work out who the actual beneficiary is.

I represent individuals before the UK extradition and immigration courts. They are bankers, business people and politicians who have fled persecution in Russia and Ukraine or face fabricated charges in their home country and face extradition or deportation and will often be tortured or put on show trial if we lose. Their opponents will deploy spies, who may pay visits to co-defendants in Russia for “psychological work” (aka torture). Sometimes the threat of torture or ruin against a person’s family is enough to make them confess to crimes they didn’t commit. I have seen family members of my clients issued with threats of explicit violence and the implicit destruction of their life. Outside their close relatives’ homes in Russia, cars have been set on fire. Violence and intimidation are part of the creed that permeates the country’s business and political rivalries.

As in McMafia, London has long played a bit part in these rivalries, but the UK government has been slow to act. In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian security agent turned defector, was killed in London using Polonium 210 – a radioactive substance put into a cup of tea. Although Russian state involvement was suspected from the beginning, the UK government tried to block certain material being released into the public domain, leading his family to complain that the UK’s relations with Russia were being put before the truth. In 2016, a decade after his death, the inquiry finally delivered its verdict: there was a “strong probability” Litvinenko was murdered on the personal orders of Vladimir Putin. Yet in the same breath as condemning the act, David Cameron’s spokeswoman said the UK would have to “weigh carefully” the incident against “the broader need to work with Russia on certain issues”.

The government of Cameron’s successor has however been quick to use McMafia as a spring-board to publicise its new Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO). These new investigatory powers are purportedly to be used to stop the likes of Alex from hiding money from the authorities. Anyone with over £50,000 of property who is politically exposed or suspected of a serious crime, will be forced to disclose the source of their wealth on request. While most British homeowners would own more than £50,000, the individuals are likely to be high profile politicians or under investigation already by the authorities. If they fail to respond punctually, they risk forfeiting their property.

The anti-corruption organisation Transparency International has long campaigned for such measures, highlighting cases such as the first family of Azerbaijan owning property in Hampstead or senior Russian politicians believed to own flats in Whitehall. Previously, confiscating hidden assets has been a lengthy and complex process: when the High Court confiscated an £11m London house belonging to a Kazakh dissident, the legal process took seven years.

The new Unexplained Wealth Orders mean that the onus is shifted to the owner of the property to prove legitimacy and the origin of the wealth. The authorities will have much greater power to investigate where finance and investment originated. But in order for them to work effectively, they will have to be backed up by expert prosecutors. The government still has a long way to go before it makes London a less attractive place to hide money.

Ben Keith is a barrister at 5 St Andrew’s Hill specialising in extradition, immigration, serious fraud, human rights and public law.