Deleuze and the Accelerationsists

It is the development of an immanent set of criteria along with an immanent political project, which accelerationism claims as its starting point, that allows us to see the guiding thread between Deleuze’s use of Nietzsche, Deleuze and Guattari’s political project in Anti-Oedipus, and the current Left accelerationists.

Class War

We are expected, in the name of Deleuzoguattarian anti-fascism, to embrace capitalism as nihilist machine that has no ‘purpose’, because ‘purpose’=fascism, while forgetting that neoliberalism appeared in Germany as the form of governmentality that would immunize us against fascism by trading the political for the economic.

—Benjamin Noys, ‘The Grammar of Neoliberalism’

Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process’, as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.

—Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

With the recent publication of the Accelerationist reader1 there has been a revived interest in the relationship between the work of Deleuze and Guattari and a particular reading of Marx that emphasizes both Marx’s own dissatisfaction with the inherently exploitative and violent nature of Capital, while remaining convinced that the socially beneficial aspects produced by capitalism serve as productive grounds for Capital’s future dissolution. Within this recent line of thought we are prone to hear repeatedly the oft cited quote from Anti-Oedipus, “Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process’, as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.”2 In this essay I want to mainly focus on the criticisms that have been made regarding the potential of Deleuze and Guattari’s work for any substantive Leftist accelerationism as well as underscore the particular influence Nietzsche exercises over Deleuze and Guattari via Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy. To begin this discussion it is important to understand the merits of such critiques made by people such as Benjamin Noys who, in my estimation, provides a persuasive argument against accelerationism, including its Leftist variant. Afterwards, I want to provide the essential arguments in Deleuze’s treatment of Nietzsche’s concept of the will to power that will allow us to revisit the question of the limits and virtues of accelerationism as Noys has laid out. Lastly, and to summarize, I want to draw our attention to what is missed in any analysis and critique of accelerationism if we forego any understanding of the relationship between Deleuze and Guattari’s deployment of both Nietzsche and Marx in their own work. By interrogating the seemingly off handed invocation of Nietzsche in the popular accelerationist passage, we can begin to understand the nuances at work within accelerationism itself.

Accelerationism and its Critics

To briefly define what is understood by the term ‘accelerationism:’ accelerationism is the idea that any substantive leftist political project should begin from capitalism in its current organization and aim to, in the words of Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, unleash the ‘latent productive forces’ within capitalism itself. Within this simple definition other premises, such as the real subsumption of society and therefore the idea that there is no outside to capital, are contained and taken to be the basis for rethinking politics today. That is to say, accelerationism proposes a vision of politics that looks for the tools of capital’s dissolution within the present situation of capital itself. Taking this definition as our starting point, perhaps the most salient critique of both a left and right accelerationism has been offered by Benjamin Noys.

In his essay ‘The Grammar of Neoliberalism,’ Noys’ wager is that unbeknownst to the accelerationists, their vision of political struggle will reproduce the very conditions of capitalism instead of its overcoming. Thus, this lack of analysis regarding the formation and function of neoliberalism marks a fundamental blind spot in the accelerationist position. Noys turns to Foucault’s account of the rise of neoliberalism to highlight that neoliberalism does not function, does not direct its purposiveness, toward the commodity itself. Rather, and I’m in agreement with Noys here, neoliberalism’s power is exerted at the structural level of the laws and constraints that are the conditions for any markets functioning. As Noys writes, “it seems to me accelerationism, and the critical and theoretical resources it draws upon, fundamentally misunderstands neoliberalism, as a particular form of capitalist governmentality, and capitalism itself, as a social form, and so reproduces them (or their own idealized image).”3 Here it is useful to contrast Noys’ criticisms with Zizek’s criticism of Deleuze and Guattari in his text Bodies without Organs. Unlike Zizek, whose argument equates Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of becoming with the commodity4, Noys’ critique operates at a more fundamental level. The essential point for Noys is that the project inaugurated by Deleuze and Guattari instructs us “ to embrace capitalism as nihilist machine that has no ‘purpose’, because ‘purpose’=fascism, while forgetting that neoliberalism appeared in Germany as the form of governmentality that would immunize us against fascism by trading the political for the economic.”5 This rather tenuous claim rests on the prior assumption that Deleuze and Guattari do in fact equate emancipatory politics with an aimless politics, and understand the concepts of affirmation and becoming as good in-themselves. Thus we are forced to ask, is it the case that what is shared between Nietzsche and Deleuze and Guattari on the one hand, and accelerationists of all stripes on the other, is the conflation between a concept of ‘the good’ and a concept of becoming/immanence?

Power contra Nihilism

While Noys’ concerns ought to be taken into account since they are essentially concerns about the prospect of reproducing even greater forms of violence under the guise of liberation, it is precisely this task of differentiating between kinds of becomings that Nietzsche, and Deleuze after him, undertook. To say that Nietzsche and Deleuze fail to distinguish between kinds of becoming amounts to saying, for instance, that what is intended in the concept of the will to power is the idea of a will who wants power. Every time there arises in the works of Nietzsche and Deleuze, a concept or character type that expresses the desire for power there always follows a negative assessment. As ‘Zarathoustra says: “The desire to dominate: now who would call that a desire?”’6 Thus, while Nietzsche acknowledges expressions of force and domination as expressions of the will to power, he also acknowledges that not all expressions of force carry the same merit. This is why, for instance, we can understand Nietzsche’s fascination but ultimate disdain with the rise of Christianity and the ‘slave revolt of morality;’ where his fascination stems from the success and spread of Christian values and his disdain comes from his view that Luther marks the Event of the internalization of man.

It is for this very reason that Deleuze will carry out his reading of the will to power according to a tripartite distinction: 1). There is the will to power understood as the process of vital and historical change (Pure Becoming); 2). There is the will to power understood as the expression of the subject (collective/individual) who tends toward their own self-overcoming and hence a future (Joy); 3). And there is the will to power understood to be the expression of the subject (collective/individual) who not only desires power and the domination of others, but those who redefine the very ideas of ‘growth’ and ‘change’ as something which preserves, instead of abolishes, a decadent culture (Nihilism). In the first instance, the will to power functions as a metaphysical principle; in the second, the will to power is affirmation; and in the third, the will to power becomes the will to nothingness, or nihilism.

Regarding the will to power as metaphysical principle Deleuze writes, “[T]he will to power is, indeed, never separable from particular determined forces, from their quantities, qualities and directions. It is never superior to the ways that it determines a relation between forces, it is always plastic and changing” (NP, 50).7 Important for us here, is the idea that the metaphysical instantiation of the will to power not only denotes a sense of change, but it also includes the idea of ‘productivity,’ the productivity which is both a continuous destruction and creation of values. Thus, the will to power is the strictly immanent principle of change as it is generated out of the social and historical forces of society.

The main insight Deleuze extracts from the will to power understood metaphysically is the formula of “willing=creating” (NP, 84). That is to say, prior to any further determination as to what organization of society is expressed through the process of production, the grounding principle for any understanding of society is what and how it creates and produces both forms of life and society itself. The moment of denial, the moment of ressentiment, that comes to figure as the will to nothingness is the negative quality of the ‘one who wills in the will.’ In other words, the will to nothingness is also productive and creative. However, what is found to be reprehensible in the existence of a will to nothingness, in the embodiment of ressentiment, is that this kind of will finds its source of both hatred and piety in a static totality – i.e., its creative deed is the repetition of sameness and not difference. What is characteristic of any expression of the will to nothingness is the creation of values which are grounded in particular circumstances but made to serve as universal principles. Thus, we can say that the concept of the will to nothingness diagnoses the feeble attempt to understand the world and human relations according to ‘metaphors which we have forgotten were metaphors’ and have ‘mistaken for truth.’

Additionally, the will to nothingness serves as one antipode in Nietzsche’s ‘play of forces.’ If the will to power is expressive and productive, the will to nothingness designates what Deleuze will call the betrayal of the will to power as such. The will to nothingness cannot be confused with the will to power even though the will to nothingness is a quality of the will to power which expresses and signifies the nihilism of a social body (NP, 64). Thus, writing against nihilism, Nietzsche’s disdain for and attempts to dispense with the will to nothingness is founded on the idea of the will to power as both process of creation and productive of the qualities of the relations of force – where one possible quality of the will to power is nihilism itself.

For Deleuze, the will to nothingness as nihilism is expressive of fundamental social relations: ‘the imputation of wrongs and responsibilities, the bitter recrimination, the perpetual accusation, the ressentiment’(NP, 21) which characterizes the organization of society. Moreover – and this is what brings Nietzsche in close proximity with Marx – nihilism isn’t simply a psychological phenomena. Nihilism, in its most profound sense, refers to the “fundamental categories…of our way of thinking and interpreting existence in general” (NP, 21). It is because nihilism expresses this fundamental quality of social relations, and not merely personal orientations in the world, that Deleuze and Guattari will invoke Nietzsche’s principle of the will to power as a critique of Capital.

Thus, the gains made through the concept of the will to power are due to the fact that the will to power is the abstraction necessary to grasp the full weight of Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of capitalism’s characterization as nihilistic. Not only does the will to nothingness err in terms of misunderstanding the historical place of human beings (e.g., science, Christianity); it is through this error that the social manifestations of nihilism are made actual.

Deleuze, Guattari & The Accelerationists

Given the preceding remarks on the difference between the will to power and the will to nothingness (nihilism), the philosophical purchase made on the part of Deleuze and Guattari by taking up a Nietzschean theme in Anti-Oedipus must be understood through its conjunction with their reading of Marx. If the concept of nihilism corresponds to fundamental categories of experience grounded in social relations, Deleuze and Guattari’s reading of Marx seeks to connect this idea with the concept of the relations of production. As Marx himself writes in an often cited passage:

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will… The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness (A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy).

It is due to the conceptual link between the concepts of the will to power and the will to nothingness on the one hand, and Marx’s understanding of the relationship between social existence and the self-consciousness of individuals on the other, that we can begin to see the necessary differences between those who claim to be either ‘Left accelerationists,’ or ‘ultra-Left/Right accelerationists.’ That is to say, if the task is to ‘accelerate the process,’ the obviously critical question arises: which process exactly?

To start, what both the concept of the will to power and the ‘left accelerationists’ affirm is the idea of the ontological indeterminacy of the elements of society. For both Deleuze and Guattari, and Srnicek and Williams, there is no a priori reason to disavow or maintain a skepticism regarding the use of technology for Leftist politics since each set of thinkers begins from the context of real subsumption. This stands perfectly in line with Marx’s claim that “while capital gives itself its adequate form as use value… only in the form of machinery and other material manifestations of fixed capital… Machinery does not lose its use value as soon as it ceases to be capital” (Grundrisse, 699, my emphasis).

While this ontological indeterminacy is affirmed by accelerationists, both on the Right and the Left, the differences emerge when we consider what exactly is affirmed, or thought to be the seat of radical change. For someone like Nick Land, the locus of radical change lies in the inherent character of capitalism’s innovative, productive, and deterritorializing process. That is to say, for Land, emancipatory change and a political project adequate for its realization ought to develop the currently existing relations of production to their logical conclusion. On his account, this is the meaning of Deleuze and Guattari’s statement that “the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.” Alternatively, Srnicek and Williams begin their accelerationist politics with a break from the Landian position:

However Landian neoliberalism confuses speed with acceleration. We may be moving fast, but only within a strictly defined set of capitalist parameters that themselves never waver. We experience only the increasing speed of a local horizon, a simple brain-dead onrush rather than an acceleration which is also navigational, an experimental process of discovery within a universal space of possibility (MAP).

Regarding the philosophical register of Land’s accelerationism, the error and untenability of his project not only stems from the conflation of capitalism as a process of deterritorialization, axiomatics, and creative destruction on the one hand, and a more general process of becoming and production underscored by Deleuze and Guattari. Land also underestimates the very relationship between the absorption of technological innovation into Capital and technological innovation itself as it exists within specific domains of society (e.g., silicon valley, universities, think tanks). On the relation between the innovation of technology and capitalism Deleuze and Guattari themselves claim that “An innovation is adopted only from the perspective of the rate of profit its investment will offer by the lowering of production costs; without this prospect, the capitalist will keep the existing equipment…”8 It is in this sense that there is a break between Land’s accelerationism and the accelerationism proposed by Williams and Srnicek. Thus, to confuse speed with acceleration means a specific vision of an accelerationism that has not escaped the universal axiom of capital (overall profitability of industry in relation to the market), and insofar as Land bases his politics in the acceleration of the existing relations of production, his thought can only conceptualize the reproduction of greater crises and further displacements of capital as its own limit.

In short, to valorize the kind of creativity realized by capital as such is to perpetuate an understanding of creativity under the concept of the will to nothingness. Without this distinction, accelerationism would fall back into, as Marx wrote, “the accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain” only for it to be “absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital…in so far as it enters into the production process as a means of production proper” (G, 694).

The merits of the ‘left accelerationist’ approach, and their critique of Land, is in their aim to make the conceptual distinction between productivity, creativity, and innovation as it is absorbed into Capital and the potential for the fruits of capital to benefit a politics which seeks to return these gains to Labor. Hence the statement from the MAP: “Accelerationists want to unleash latent productive forces…It needs to be repurposed towards common ends. The existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed, but a springboard to launch toward post-capitalism” (MAP, 03.5).

On Nihilism: Preliminary Conclusion

If we reconsider the concept of nihilism as developed by Noys and Deleuze and Guattari, the tension regarding accelerationism comes into high relief. The conceptual distinction between a will to power and a will to nothingness gains importance in Deleuze and Guattari’s project of diagnosing the organization of society under capital. In this way, we are not told by Deleuze and Guattari to embrace capitalism as nihilism simply because ‘purpose,’ or purposive social action is a priori reprehensible. Rather, we are told to embrace capitalism as nihilism because nihilism designates the way in which subjects are constituted as subjects under capitalism, while simultaneously drawing our attention to the fact that the processes of socialization/subjectification present under capitalism only make possible forms of life which are nihilistic through and through.

Ultimately, the conjunction of Nietzsche and Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘accelerationist’ Marxism does not amount to a simple fusion, or collapse of each into the other – as if Marx were to become a Nietzschean ubermensch and Nietzsche becomes some type of communist poster child. The use of Nietzsche alongside Marx, in my opinion, is much more subtle. It rests on what (mainly) Deleuze pulls out of Nietzsche – the necessary criteria by which we adjudicate and differentiate between different kinds of becomings, which cannot be sought in any a priori condition. Rather, and this is the upshot of Deleuze’s analysis of the concept of the will to power, the criteria of differentiating between an ‘affirmative/active’ becoming and a ‘negative/reactive’ becoming is found in the deeds, or the things produced/effected by the very process under examination. It is at this point that we begin to see the development of Deleuze’s emphasis on the role of immanence throughout his work in general, and how it particularly is articulated in respect to Nietzsche. If we take this conception of the development of an immanent criteria of differentiation, along with one of their other foundational ideas of the real subsumption of capital, then what these conceptual distinctions between the will to power and nihilism offer us is an immanent method of developing criteria for assessing the ‘creative deeds’ of capital; for the assessment of the merits and shortcomings of any political project on its own terms, and as it unfolds within a context. It is the development of an immanent set of criteria (abstractions)9 along with an immanent political project, which accelerationism claims as its starting point, that allows us to see the guiding thread between Deleuze’s use of Nietzsche, Deleuze and Guattari’s political project in Anti-Oedipus, and the current Left accelerationists.

Show 9 footnotes

  1. #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader, ed. Robin Mackay and Armen Avanessian, (Windsor Quarry, United Kingdom: Urbanomic, 2014)
  2. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972), trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, University of Minnesota Press, 1983, p.xxx
  3. Benjamin Noys, “The Grammar of Neoliberalism”, 2010; printed in Dark Trajectories: Politics of the Outside, ed. Joshua Johnson, Miami: Name, Aug 2013. Talk given at the Accelerationism workshop at Goldsmiths on 14 Sep 2010.
  4. Zizek writes, “And what about the so-called Transformer or Animorph toys, a car or a plane that can be transformed into a humanoid robot, an animal that can be morphed into a human or robot-is this not Deleuzian? There are no “metaphorics” here: the point is not that the machinic or animal form is revealed as a mask containing a human shape but, rather, as the “becoming-machine” or “becoming-animal”of the human.” (Slavoj Zizek, Bodies without Organs, {xxxxx}, p. 184)
  5. Dark Trajectories, p. 51
  6. Gilles Deleuze, ‘On The Will To Power and The Eternal Return’, Desert Islands And Other Texts (xxxxxxx) p. 119
  7. This is in line with Nietzsche’s own elaboration of ‘becoming as always equivalent to itself;’ becoming being the only measure of itself, as already beyond ‘all measure.’ This is the ‘beyond good and evil’ aspect of the status of change. With Nietzsche, as with Deleuze, it would be senseless to take the very idea of historical change as the basis for any morality, since as Nietzsche shows through genealogy, it is the very stability of the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that is eroded over the course of time. To be ‘beyond good and evil’ is not, here, a moral imperative. Rather, it is the necessary methodological starting point for any attempt for subjects and collectives to understand their relationship to desire, time, morality, politics, history, etc.
  8. #Accelerate, p. 154
  9. As Deleuze writes regarding Foucault’s treatment of Nietzsche: “As Mr. Foucault has shown us… every interpretation is already the interpretation of an interpretation ad infinitum. Not that every interpretation therefore has the same value and occupies the same plane – on the contrary, they are stacked or layered in the new depth. But they no longer have the true and the false as criteria. The noble and the vile, the high and the low, become the immanent principles of interpretations and evaluations.” (Desert Islands, p. 118)
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  1 comment for “Deleuze and the Accelerationsists

  1. rogueacademic
    14 December 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Está interesante el artículo, pero tu incapacidad para cuestionar las bases humanistas de tus propias premisas éticas y políticas no te permite comprender con claridad el argumento de Land. No creo que él esté plantenado nigún tipo de política. La intensificación del capital apunta a lograr que, más temprano que tarde, este pueda desechar la maldición de que su desarrollo tenga que estar atado a las necesidades, los deseos y el trabajo humano. De allí se sigue el interés de Land por la inteligencia artificial.

    ¿Es posible un capitalismo sin humanos? ¿Es posible extender el capital autónomo más allá de los límites del planeta Tierra? Land piensa que sí y creo que en Lure of the Void podrías encontrar algunos de esos argumentos.

    Finalmente, nunca termino de comprender el afán de los académicos por querer: 1) emancipar y 2) resistirse a una resignación nihilista del pensamiento. Realmente esas actitudes no tienen otro sentido que el de necesidades moralistas. ¿A qué se aferran? ¿Tanto desean ser humanos?

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