The Creative Destruction school of Marxist-Leninist thought — Or, dreams come true

In No Speed Limit, author and cultural analyst Steven Shaviro writes,

“In his science fiction novel Pop Apocalypse, Lee Konstantinou imagines the existence of a “Creative Destruction” school of Marxist-Leninist thought. The adherents of this school “interpret Marx’s writings as literal predictions of the future, so they consider it their mission to help capitalist markets spread to every corner of the world, because that’s the necessary precondition for a truly socialist revolution.” This means that the Creative Destruction Marxists are indistinguishable, in terms of actual practice, from the most ruthless capitalists. Their actions coincide with those of a group of investors who have concluded that “there’s money to be made off the destruction of the world” and that in fact apocalyptic destruction constitutes “an unprecedented business opportunity.”

They therefore seek to precipitate a worldwide nuclear conflagration: “On behalf of our investors, we’re obligated to take every step we can to insure that we corner the Apocalypse market before anyone else does.” Let this stand as an introductory parable of accelerationism.

The term has become quite popular in the last few years, but it seems to be one of those words that has a different meaning for each person who uses it. As far as I am concerned, accelerationism is best defined—in political, aesthetic, and philosophical terms—as the argument that the only way out is the way through. In order to overcome globalized neoliberal capitalism, we need to drain it to the dregs, push it to its most extreme point, follow it into its furthest and strangest consequences. As Bertolt Brecht put it years ago, “Don’t start from the good old things but the bad new ones.”

The “futurity that haunts the present”

The hope is that, by exacerbating our current conditions of existence, we will finally be able to make them explode, and thereby move beyond them. Konstantinou’s description of the “Creative Destruction” Marxists is, of course, a deliberate caricature. Pop Apocalypse is satire, not prophecy. More generally, science fiction as a genre does not claim to actually predict the future. Rather, it works to extrapolate elements of the present, to consider what these elements might lead to if allowed to reach their full potential.

That is to say, science fiction is not about the actual future but about the futurity that haunts the present. It grasps, and brings to visibility, what Deleuze calls the virtual dimension of existence, or what Marx calls tendential processes. Science fiction takes up certain implicit conditions of our personal and social lives, and makes these conditions fully explicit in narrative. It picks out “futuristic” trends that are already embedded within our actual social and technological situation.

These trends are not literal matters of fact, but they really exist as tendencies or potentialities. In the words of Deleuze, they are “real without being actual, ideal without being abstract, and symbolic without being fictional.” They are potentials for change, growth, or decay, but they have not fully expressed themselves or done all that they can do. And they may not ever do so, since (as Marx points out) a tendency is always accompanied by “counteracting factors” that can inhibit or even reverse it.

In sum, the present moment contains elements of futurity, but the unfolding of these elements as actual future events is contingent and not guaranteed. A match has the potential to start a fire, but there will not be a fire if the match is never struck, or if, when struck, it is blown out by the wind. Science fiction imagines the flame, and the ensuing conflagration. It provides us with narratives in which these potentials of futurity are fully actualized, unfolding their powers to the utmost. In this way, we might say that science fiction is the accelerationist art par excellence, accelerationist in its very nature.

The Entire Globalized Neoliberal Capitalist Order

Accelerationism is a speculative movement that seeks to extrapolate the entire globalized neoliberal capitalist order. This means that it is necessarily an aesthetic movement as well as a political one. The hope driving accelerationism is that, in fully expressing the potentialities of capitalism, we will be able to exhaust it and thereby open up access to something beyond it.

Understood in this way, accelerationism has deep roots in classical Marxism. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels describe the production-enhancing and globalizing effects of capitalism:

In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature…

Utopia, Everyone Knows, Means Nowhere

Marx is notorious for only giving a vague sense of what life beyond the capitalist order would be like. He leaves it open as a realm for speculation, rather than giving detailed plans in the way that some of his “utopian socialist” predecessors did. By virtue of its very openness, Marx’s analyses have more in common with extrapolative science fiction than they do with either Hegelian systematics or naturalistic fiction. Given the failure of economism, many Marxists have instead gone to the opposite extreme: they have embraced a kind of voluntarism. Capitalism can be abolished by sheer force of will—as long as this is supplemented by proper methods of organization and mobilization.

We see this sort of approach in the Leninist doctrine of the vanguard party, and also, I think, in the ultra-leftism of such contemporary thinkers as Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou.

But it seems obvious to me that, over the course of the twentieth century, the voluntaristic approach fared as badly as the fatalistic one. It resulted not in human emancipation but in the horrors of Stalinism, the sclerotic tyranny of the later USSR, and the deadly convulsions of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

from No Speed Limit: Three Essays on Accelerationism (Forerunners: Ideas First)” by Steven Shaviro.

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