Accelerationism: So close, and yet so far

What follows is an excerpt from the “Manifesto on Accelerationist Politics” written by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. There’s so much here that I agree with—especially the critique of capitalism/neoliberalism—that I want to republish parts of it. But then it takes an unexpected turn, suggesting that neoliberal capitalism has actually constrained technological growth, which needs to be accelerated.

With my highlights [bolded], I’ve attempted to summarize the parts of the manifesto that I agree with. In the italics and bracketed commentary, I’ll note where Accelerationism and Deep Adaptation diverge like two paths in the woods.

01. INTRODUCTION: On the Conjuncture

1. At the beginning of the second decade of the Twenty-First Century, global civilization faces a new breed of cataclysm. These coming apocalypses ridicule the norms and organisational structures of the politics which were forged in the birth of the nation-state, the rise of capitalism, and a Twentieth Century of unprecedented wars.

2. Most significant is the breakdown of the planetary climatic system. In time, this threatens the continued existence of the present global human population. Though this is the most critical of the threats which face humanity, a series of lesser but potentially equally destabilising problems exist alongside and intersect with it. Terminal resource depletion, especially in water and energy reserves, offers the prospect of mass starvation, collapsing economic paradigms, and new hot and cold wars. Continued financial crisis has led governments to embrace the paralyzing death spiral policies of austerity, privatisation of social welfare services, mass unemployment, and stagnating wages. Increasing automation in production processes including ‘intellectual labour’ is evidence of the secular crisis of capitalism, soon to render it incapable of maintaining current standards of living for even the former middle classes of the global north.

3. In contrast to these ever-accelerating catastrophes, today’s politics is beset by an inability to generate the new ideas and modes of organisation necessary to transform our societies to confront and resolve the coming annihilations. While crisis gathers force and speed, politics withers and retreats. In this paralysis of the political imaginary, the future has been cancelled.

4. Since 1979, the hegemonic global political ideology has been neoliberalism, found in some variant throughout the leading economic powers. In spite of the deep structural challenges the new global problems present to it, most immediately the credit, financial, and fiscal crises since 2007–8, neoliberal programmes have only evolved in the sense of deepening. This continuation of the neoliberal project, or neoliberalism 2.0, has begun to apply another round of structural adjustments, most significantly in the form of encouraging new and aggressive incursions by the private sector into what remains of social democratic institutions and services. This is in spite of the immediately negative economic and social effects of such policies, and the longer term fundamental barriers posed by the new global crises.

5. That the forces of right wing governmental, non-governmental, and corporate power have been able to press forth with neoliberalisation is at least in part a result of the continued paralysis and ineffectual nature of much what remains of the left. Thirty years of neoliberalism have rendered most left-leaning political parties bereft of radical thought, hollowed out, and without a popular mandate. At best they have responded to our present crises with calls for a return to a Keynesian economics, in spite of the evidence that the very conditions which enabled post-war social democracy to occur no longer exist. We cannot return to mass industrial-Fordist labour by fiat, if at all. Even the neosocialist regimes of South America’s Bolivarian Revolution, whilst heartening in their ability to resist the dogmas of contemporary capitalism, remain disappointingly unable to advance an alternative beyond mid-Twentieth Century socialism. Organised labour, being systematically weakened by the changes wrought in the neoliberal project, is sclerotic at an institutional level and — at best — capable only of mildly mitigating the new structural adjustments. But with no systematic approach to building a new economy, or the structural solidarity to push such changes through, for now labour remains relatively impotent. The new social movements which emerged since the end of the Cold War, experiencing a resurgence in the years after 2008, have been similarly unable to devise a new political ideological vision. Instead they expend considerable energy on internal direct-democratic process and affective self-valorisation over strategic efficacy, and frequently propound a variant of neo-primitivist localism, as if to oppose the abstract violence of globalised capital with the flimsy and ephemeral “authenticity” of communal immediacy.

[Note: The last part of the the last sentence (“neo-primitivist localism”) is referring to something which probably includes the Deep Adaptation paradigm described on this site. This will be made more clear further down.]

6. In the absence of a radically new social, political, organisational, and economic vision the hegemonic powers of the right will continue to be able to push forward their narrow-minded imaginary, in the face of any and all evidence. At best, the left may be able for a time to partially resist some of the worst incursions. But this is to be Canute against an ultimately irresistible tide. To generate a new left global hegemony entails a recovery of lost possible futures, and indeed the recovery of the future as such.

[Note: These six introductory paragraphs are an excellent diagnosis of our current predicament.]

02. INTEREGNUM: On Accelerationisms

1. If any system has been associated with ideas of acceleration it is capitalism. The essential metabolism of capitalism demands economic growth, with competition between individual capitalist entities setting in motion increasing technological developments in an attempt to achieve competitive advantage, all accompanied by increasing social dislocation. In its neoliberal form, its ideological self-presentation is one of liberating the forces of creative destruction, setting free ever-accelerating technological and social innovations.

4. A deeper tension within neoliberalism is in terms of its self-image as the vehicle of modernity, as literally synonymous with modernisation, whilst promising a future that it is constitutively incapable of providing. Indeed, as neoliberalism has progressed, rather than enabling individual creativity, it has tended towards eliminating cognitive inventiveness in favour of an affective production line of scripted interactions, coupled to global supply chains and a neo-Fordist Eastern production zone. A vanishingly small cognitariat of elite intellectual workers shrinks with each passing year — and increasingly so as algorithmic automation winds its way through the spheres of affective and intellectual labour. Neoliberalism, though positing itself as a necessary historical development, was in fact a merely contingent means to ward off the crisis of value that emerged in the 1970s. Inevitably this was a sublimation of the crisis rather than its ultimate overcoming.

5. … understanding that for all its exploitation and corruption, capitalism remained the most advanced economic system to date. Its gains were not to be reversed, but accelerated beyond the constraints the capitalist value form.

7. … the assessment of left politics as antithetical to technosocial acceleration is also, at least in part, a severe misrepresentation. Indeed, if the political left is to have a future it must be one in which it maximally embraces this suppressed accelerationist tendency.

[Note: Here, in these last two paragraphs, is where Accelerationism starts to diverge from Deep Adaptation.]

03. MANIFEST: On the Future

1. We believe 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. The former remains content with establishing small and temporary spaces of non-capitalist social relations, eschewing the real problems entailed in facing foes which are intrinsically non-local, abstract, and rooted deep in our everyday infrastructure. The failure of such politics has been built-in from the very beginning. By contrast, an accelerationist politics seeks to preserve the gains of late capitalism while going further than its value system, governance structures, and mass pathologies will allow.

[Note: Here is made very clear that the author of the manifesto is taking a different path from Deep Adaptation, which probably fits within the description of “a folk politics of localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism”.]

2. All of us want to work less. It is an intriguing question as to why it was that the world’s leading economist of the post-war era believed that an enlightened capitalism inevitably progressed towards a radical reduction of working hours. In The Economic Prospects for Our Grandchildren (written in 1930), Keynes forecast a capitalist future where individuals would have their work reduced to three hours a day. What has instead occurred is the progressive elimination of the work-life distinction, with work coming to permeate every aspect of the emerging social factory.

3. Capitalism has begun to constrain the productive forces of technology, or at least, direct them towards needlessly narrow ends. Patent wars and idea monopolisation are contemporary phenomena that point to both capital’s need to move beyond competition, and capital’s increasingly retrograde approach to technology. The properly accelerative gains of neoliberalism have not led to less work or less stress. And rather than a world of space travel, future shock, and revolutionary technological potential, we exist in a time where the only thing which develops is marginally better consumer gadgetry. Relentless iterations of the same basic product sustain marginal consumer demand at the expense of human acceleration.

4. We do not want to return to Fordism. There can be no return to Fordism. The capitalist “golden era” was premised on the production paradigm of the orderly factory environment, where (male) workers received security and a basic standard of living in return for a lifetime of stultifying boredom and social repression. Such a system relied upon an international hierarchy of colonies, empires, and an underdeveloped periphery; a national hierarchy of racism and sexism; and a rigid family hierarchy of female subjugation. For all the nostalgia many may feel, this regime is both undesirable and practically impossible to return to.

5. Accelerationists want to unleash latent productive forces. In this project, the material platform of neoliberalism does not need to be destroyed. It needs to be repurposed towards common ends. The existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed, but a springboard to launch towards post-capitalism.

[Note: I was right with the authors through the noted failures of capitalism in paragraphs 2, 3, and 4 immediately above, but this paragraph 5 gave me whiplash. Neoliberal capitalism is bad, bad, bad … so we need more of it?]

6. Given the enslavement of technoscience to capitalist objectives (especially since the late 1970s) we surely do not yet know what a modern technosocial body can do. Who amongst us fully recognizes what untapped potentials await in the technology which has already been developed? Our wager is that the true transformative potentials of much of our technological and scientific research remain unexploited, filled with presently redundant features (or pre-adaptations) that, following a shift beyond the short-sighted capitalist socius, can become decisive.

[Note: Here it finally becomes clear what Accelerationism is: techno-optimism.]

7. We want to accelerate the process of technological evolution. But what we are arguing for is not techno-utopianism. Never believe that technology will be sufficient to save us. Necessary, yes, but never sufficient without socio-political action. Technology and the social are intimately bound up with one another, and changes in either potentiate and reinforce changes in the other. Whereas the techno-utopians argue for acceleration on the basis that it will automatically overcome social conflict, our position is that technology should be accelerated precisely because it is needed in order to win social conflicts.

[Note: That’s still techno-utopianism. What follows in the next four omitted paragraphs dives into the weeds of this techno-utopian paradigm.]

12. We do not believe that direct action is sufficient to achieve any of this. The habitual tactics of marching, holding signs, and establishing temporary autonomous zones risk becoming comforting substitutes for effective success. “At least we have done something” is the rallying cry of those who privilege self-esteem rather than effective action. The only criterion of a good tactic is whether it enables significant success or not. We must be done with fetishising particular modes of action. Politics must be treated as a set of dynamic systems, riven with conflict, adaptations and counter-adaptations, and strategic arms races. This means that each individual type of political action becomes blunted and ineffective over time as the other sides adapt. No given mode of political action is historically inviolable. Indeed, over time, there is an increasing need to discard familiar tactics as the forces and entities they are marshalled against learn to defend and counter-attack them effectively. It is in part the contemporary left’s inability to do so which lies close to the heart of the contemporary malaise.

[Note: I agree wholeheartedly about progressive politics. Over the next eight omitted paragraphs, the authors proceed to plunge again into the weeds of the accelerationist plan. It’s all very vague and aspirational. I leave it out here, because my point is not to argue the specifics, but to highlight where Accelerationism diverges from Deep Adaptation.]

21. We declare that only a Promethean politics of maximal mastery over society and its environment is capable of either dealing with global problems or achieving victory over capital. This mastery must be distinguished from that beloved of thinkers of the original Enlightenment. The clockwork universe of Laplace, so easily mastered given sufficient information, is long gone from the agenda of serious scientific understanding. But this is not to align ourselves with the tired residue of postmodernity, decrying mastery as proto-fascistic or authority as innately illegitimate. Instead we propose that the problems besetting our planet and our species oblige us to refurbish mastery in a newly complex guise; whilst we cannot predict the precise result of our actions, we can determine probabilistically likely ranges of outcomes. …

22. We need to revive the argument that was traditionally made for post-capitalism: not only is capitalism an unjust and perverted system, but it is also a system that holds back progress. Our technological development is being suppressed by capitalism, as much as it has been unleashed. Accelerationism is the basic belief that these capacities can and should be let loose by moving beyond the limitations imposed by capitalist society. The movement towards a surpassing of our current constraints must include more than simply a struggle for a more rational global society. We believe it must also include recovering the dreams which transfixed many from the middle of the Nineteenth Century until the dawn of the neoliberal era, of the quest of Homo Sapiens towards expansion beyond the limitations of the earth and our immediate bodily forms. These visions are today viewed as relics of a more innocent moment. Yet they both diagnose the staggering lack of imagination in our own time, and offer the promise of a future that is affectively invigorating, as well as intellectually energising. After all, it is only a post-capitalist society, made possible by an accelerationist politics, which will ever be capable of delivering on the promissory note of the mid-Twentieth Century’s space programmes, to shift beyond a world of minimal technical upgrades towards all-encompassing change. Towards a time of collective self-mastery, and the properly alien future that entails and enables. Towards a completion of the Enlightenment project of self-criticism and self-mastery, rather than its elimination.

[Note: The divergence of Accelerationism becomes clear in these last two paragraphs, where the author presents techno-utopian dream of “mastery” of nature and human transcendence in the form of space travel and transhumanism.]

23. The choice facing us is severe: either a globalised post-capitalism or a slow fragmentation towards primitivism, perpetual crisis, and planetary ecological collapse.

[Note: Collapse isn’t a choice. It’s an inevitability, precisely because of “globalized post-capitalism”.]

24. The future needs to be constructed. It has been demolished by neoliberal capitalism and reduced to a cut-price promise of greater inequality, conflict, and chaos. This collapse in the idea of the future is symptomatic of the regressive historical status of our age, rather than, as cynics across the political spectrum would have us believe, a sign of sceptical maturity. What accelerationism pushes towards is a future that is more modern — an alternative modernity that neoliberalism is inherently unable to generate. The future must be cracked open once again, unfastening our horizons towards the universal possibilities of the Outside.

I find the Accelerationist Manifesto (which represents a left-wing version of accelerationism) fascinating, because I agree with so much of it, including the diagnosis of our civilizational predicament, the critique of capitalism, and impotence of much of progressive and Leftist politics. But then the authors take the unexpected turn of suggesting that we need to double down on the same forces that created this crisis: unrestrained growth, faith in technological progress, and the dream of human transcendence. As Nick Land has noted (and this may be all that I agree with Land about nowadays), the Manifesto “introduc[es] a wholly artificial distinction between capitalism and modernistic technological acceleration”.

* Note: The philosophy of Accelerationism indirectly influenced some on the far-right who advocate the acceleration of societal collapse through violence. But from what I can tell there is only the loosest of theoretical connections between the techno-capitalist philosophy of Accelerationism and the “accelerationism” of White nationalists. For more on the latter, see this article from the Anti-Defamation League.

Published by John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of *Another End of the World is Possible*, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post,, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of John also facilitates climate grief support groups climate grief support groups affiliated with the Good Grief Network.

One thought on “Accelerationism: So close, and yet so far

  1. Oh my word, that people can still think in terms of doing more of the same and expecting a different result!

    Absolute bonkers! Even if the critiques of our current systems is correct.

    I have been looking at the 1947 drought that is little known about, which caused harvests around the world to be reduced. If you think about it, WW2 was the last time we had accelerationist economics – basically technological development was pushed as fast and deep as possible, sparing no expense, as well as no limits on energy spending. The Axis were defeated because they ran out of resources (both human labour and essential resources like oil, tungsten, etc) before the Allies did.
    We don’t tend to remember that a B24 or B17 bomber used 200 gallons of petrol per hour, and they might be in the air 8-10 hours. a 1000 bomber raid by 1944 was quite normal.

    In other words WW2 was they only period in modern history where such policies as advocated in the article above actually happened.

    The results were the atom bomb and the severe winter of 1946-1947, with droughts world wide in 1947, when mass movements of people occurred across Europe. The details of which I’ve only ever seen in the 1947 Coast Guard Appropriations Bill (!)

    which you’ll have to search through to find details of how many nations harvests were reduced and the US managed to step in and feed the world. I think it’s too much of a coincidence that we had an energy burn spike 1939-45 followed by an adverse climate affect world wide for the connection to be dismissed out of hand.

    This is what would happen if the “creative technological potential” of 7.9 billion humans was unleashed, with no limits on capital and energy expenditure – you would certainly get accelerationism, and a few unlucky bastards might get exiled to Mars, but the only accelerationism going on would be ecological collapse, pollution and then societal collapse. Come to think of it, the Limits to Growth book of 1972 shows this. They had an example of unlimited free energy, and the pollution curve just went up even steeper than currently, thereby accelerating the collapse.

    Liked by 1 person

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