What is accelerationism?

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

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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.