Capitalism Politics

We Should Not Wish for Normality, but for Socialism

I, and others like me who were born after a certain point in the late 20th century, have never known anything but the long dark night of neoliberalism. The first time I ever became aware of politics it was Tony Blair’s innocuous grin in the newspaper, perhaps 9/11, the Iraq war.. New Labour, for many now, has been the limitations of our horizons, the extent of what “left” has ever meant. Shorn from the long experience of defeat altogether, is it hardly any wonder that, setting forth on the task of rebuilding leftism practically from the ground up, we struggle and falter?

What is “electability”? Those who often throw it around talk as if it were some kind of impartial judgement delivered from somewhere above, perhaps by some political demigod, but beyond that what can it really designate besides an ideal, a mould against which all politicians are measured? Of course what brings this into much clearer focus is the assembly lines of immaculately coiffured replicants pioneered under the New Labour brand of politics, wherein your average politician was a shiny, branded white male android programmed on demand to deliver a series of relatively believable platitudes to the public and perhaps emote to specifications. Politics appeared as, and was expected to be a branding exercise, a slick, well produced sheen akin to an apple commercial wherein the future was contained in the perfectly ironed folds of a suit and the “relatable” grin of a young prime minister. Tony Blair’s administration very much pioneered this more-human-than-human approach and you can see its innovations all over the off-putting smarm of David Cameron.

What this has done is nothing less than building the image of the ideal politician that now we either wish to escape or return to. It seems reasonable to think that this is a huge reason why Ed Miliband was given such a hard time both as Labour leader and in the 2015 election for reasons often beside his politics. Many references were made to the “wrong brother” being put in that position, and this speaks to a particular expression of the political hegemony. What was it that made David Miliband a supposed preferable option to his brother? Simply put, he looked and seemed correct. David fit perfectly into the model of the New Labour politician, the cloned appearance, free of blemishes or hiccups, the look of a car salesman with a healthy salary. “Red Ed” was simply a faulty model, and deviated from what we were supposed to be looking for in a politician, the effortless PR gloss that reeked of finance capital.

This really seems to lie behind the idea of electability; it is an idea of what we are supposed to expect, a baseline. Tony Blair became a kind of original from which all must be cloned, each time with just enough differences that we mistake them for another person… this vision of the default, the baseline test to ensure we don’t stray too far from our purpose, is something familiar to all of us in the form of the everyday etiquette of work, of interaction, the conformity of ritual that defines the rhythms of postmodern capitalism. It is the ideological hegemony, contained in a million repetitions; kneel and clasp your hands as if in prayer, and you shall believe, to paraphrase Pascal, and once we know nothing but the action of prayer, any deviance from this motion is an unacceptable break in rank..

This model of the politician may no longer hold the sway it did, but it plays into a certain hankering for the times of old, the supposed glory days of the 2000s from which we have been so violently torn. How else could we explain that some in fact think this era was some kind of golden age than that we have no direct experience of anything better than its profound mediocrity?

I disagree with Paul Mason on a lot of things [and will proceed to do so here], but I think his reference to Eric Fromm here is worth picking up on. I think it’s very true that the ruling classes are now very much relying on a deep despair and frustration to consolidate their position. They are gambling on the assumption that we will all be too fed up with the situation surrounding Brexit to do anything to stop them. But then, should our aim here be “the road back to normality”? Bluntly put, no, and I think this is a misstep if we are intending to move forward. The wish to restore normality has been the driving force behind political hegemony for decades now, the pull to the centre. If we have any commitment to the socialist project we must if anything resist the pull of the normal. This return is surely the most reliable gesture of the reactionary?

“Normality” like “Electability” in politics are values we should move away from entirely at this juncture. If there is something the populist right have picked up on and steamrollered ahead with, it is the realisation that these paradigms no longer hold the all-encompassing sway they did. We on the left should not oppose them by countering this realisation, as surely the situation of normality here is, if we are to understand it in terms of power dynamics, hugely damaging. We may look back to the pre-crash era of the 2000s with fondness, when there was the illusion of prosperity [for some], but surely in the long term we must take into account that such recessions are a regular an inherent feature of Capitalism, never mind the bloated debt fuelled economies of today. All we’ve been doing is living on borrowed time, as borrowed time is the only time capital can offer; the time of work, frittered away worrying about whether you can make the next payment, until the next time your landlord decides to up the rate of blood extraction.

Any point of normality we might hanker towards is defined by this, it was never going to last, and was simply the moment of decadence before the fall. What Blair and his cohorts may have sold to us as a time of plenty, what some who still stand by their politics seem to hold as a golden age, was a time, if we look under its surface, thick with the viscous sludge of ruling class excess, an edifice at the brink of collapse. I’m sure some of us would love to simply undo the crash and all its particulars, but this belies its place in the historical continuity of capital, the events that led up to it, ignores the sheer economic despondency, the depressive impotence of the left New Labour represented in all its pomp and hubris. Indeed, we now stand upon the edge of what might, by some accounts, be a global recession many times more serious than that 11 years ago, demonstrating that in all this time we simply pushed forward the inevitable, that all this pretence that underpinned the brutal program of austerity and the “Fiscal responsibility” of successive Tory governments is nothing but a pathetic sham.

9 years. That’s how long we’ve now been under conservative rule, and taking into account the broken promise of new labour, we can reach back through the millennium into the 20th century and find that it may have been at least 4 decades since the left was a meaningful political force in Britain. Given this context, it is indeed understandable why many now believe that New Labour is simply the best we can expect.. what else have we to go on? But it is imperative that we create something new, and glimmers of this already exist today. Of course the surges in leftism among younger people have been imperfect, the organisations and parties they underpin have made mistakes and will continue to do so, but given that we are trying to build something that has lain shattered on the ground in a million pieces for decades, this is understandable and to be expected. Right now we must avoid condemning what little we have to go on for its imperfections and try collectively to move politics to the left. The socialist project today remains fragile and ready to fall apart, but if we ensure its further success into the future we may in fact be able to see something beyond the vapid, empty forms of normality.


Discordant Concordance Part 1: Why I am Not an Accelerationist

I find myself, as I often do at this time of year, away from the perpetually bedraggled kingdom that for now still seems to be holding on for dear life to its browbeaten and blood-soaked photographs of past glories, nestled instead somewhere in the north of Germany where if I’m perfectly honest I haven’t much of an idea what specifically is going on. This said it has already been constructive to peel myself away from the quotidian day-to-day realities of city-life for a little bit; it seems that certain repetitions that prove necessary for a minimum level of survival also tend to channel my thoughts into a kind of analogous Nietzschian eternal return, whereupon I never truly allow myself a moment of commitment or pause to gather together whatever I’ve been working towards. The constant routine, while reassuring somewhat in its similitude, also is punctuated by blockages, pulses of activity that seem to interject and swirl up silt into the currents just as it was on the verge of settling.

Some thoughts that have emerged since I have been here, and as I was reaching the final passages of Fredric Jameson’s monumental Valences of the Dialectic [a book that will no doubt be informing my writing for a while yet and from which I have noted a staggering amount of new reference points] have surrounded as much what I intend to do, leading up tentatively to a potential PHD application in the coming year, as vigorously as what I absolutely want to avoid. Since it seems prudent to undergo a process of elimination before we reach any kind of statement of intent, I will first of all outline the latter in the most euraesthetically despondent way I can.

The Plane of Total Abstraction [No I don’t want to associate with Fascism]

My own experience studying Fine Art at university familiarised me a little too well with the kind of obfuscatory poetic allusion that dominates a certain mode of discourse there. Unfortunately, the same language extends, despite what one might assume, beyond the doors of the art school, as anyone who has encountered the reams and reams of pseudo-deleuzian romanticized creativity porn might attest to. The issue quickly becomes a wider theoretical one, in which you may find yourself buried amid attractively worded poetic and mysteriously aesthetic passages that nonetheless appear to have little to no purchase on anything concrete. This is the plane of total abstraction, where progressive really means reactionary, where emancipation is less desirable than reading ones preferred gothic allusions into Marx & Engels. We here end up at the point where largely online writers congregate, where we find the slippage between the emancipatory and the deeply conservative, where people are intent on transforming commitments to revolutionary/leftist politics into the same grey mulch of word syrup where practically mystical conceptualisations stand in for collective praxis, where “the left” is intoned with the same ironic cynicism as one finds in the worst right wing snake pits. Everywhere in this plane we find an unbearable malice towards those who in reality have good, if perhaps misguided intentions, and you don’t have to walk far through this blasted land to find the bitter, unpleasant aroma of first a general misanthropy, then as the fog thickens more immediately objectionable outbursts of racism, misogyny, the worst kind of reactionary poison until it all coagulates in the viscous sludge of fascism [here come the cries of “everything is fascism now!”].

Unfortunately I find that despite the moment of cyber-futurism that led to what is called Accelerationism holding some degree of historical interest now, I would take aim at a good portion of the online communities around what now carries that label. Am I saying they’re all fascists? No. What I’m saying is that I have less than zero interest in reactionary politics, in maintaining social relations with “ironic” fascists, or people who form their online identity around an obnoxious edginess and occulted language. In terms of actually effecting the world, in considering others, in any form of democracy, empowerment or collective joy, these online cultures are a lead weight, a choking cloud of dust, at worst actually dragging people down to their level and emptying them of blood. Their aloofness, objection to emancipatory desire, insistence on removing themselves from the social and political particulars, remaining behind the veil at all costs, make them little better than the academic professors they often so despise, and even on a surface level all that we really find here is a universal ironic dismissal where everything is weightless, nothing forms unless around the individual ego…

So where do I stand here. No doubt there is no small degree of abstraction per se in the sometimes labyrinthine texts I’m approaching, so it’s not the abstract itself clearly that I object to, lest I be accused here of a monumental hypocrisy. Where the problem intervenes, and shows itself time and again online, is in the failure to bridge the gap from here to the particular. Something is wrong, quite simply, when what is objected to in the work of a political thinker is precisely the point at which they directly engaged with politics, the point where Lefebvre becomes actively involved with the production of space he wrote about, the point, in other words, where theory intersects with praxis. The whole idea of praxis in this regard becomes lost in the plane of total abstraction, a place where a concept shared between a few clued-in people somehow stands for a whole process of collective engagement.

The issue here is a shortcut taken in between conceptualisation and realisation that unfortunately must be somehow bridged, whether in potentiality or actuality. We can’t progress, for instance, from some extensive pontification on “exit” towards a genuine radical redress of social reality without at some stage theorising how this in the starkest terms translates into material processes and affects. This of course means not simply from the position of the individual subject, but also the ripples we can perceive across the totality, by which I mean the vast webs of cause/effect that criss-cross the reality beyond direct experience and can largely be accessed through a kind of narrative topology, or in some sense a conceptualization, whether that be explicitly through the avenues of theory or the no less effective dreamworks of cultural collage and social imagination. Either way, the shortcuts taken in this regard often lead into an effervescent confusion in which the entirety of the political and historical processes that form the socialist project and horizon becomes transmuted into something… fuzzy. In this no-mans land, discussion of political strategy becomes unfashionable, so it is not approached, anything as concrete or dry as history becomes something more sexy to some perhaps, but loses its hold on particular reality.

The problem with accelerationists

Even worse is the perturbation from these spheres to anyone who dares “misunderstand” their chosen buzzword. Let me for example take the term “accelerationism”. I repeatedly see protestations from people who to a certain extent identify with accelerationism as a term, often in the form of a modifier such as U/acc. Much of accelerationism it must be said keeps itself intentionally occulted, vague, easy to appropriate into a million different forms, but let’s be honest, upon hearing it our first associations will likely come from the word “accelerate”. In both senses it becomes patently absurd when people connected to this term complain in the most vociferous, hard-done-by-terms about the association with speed. I’m not one usually these days to attach to a term concrete and unmovable definitions, but we choose a certain language for certain reasons, and if we don’t want our philosophy [or project, or politics, or whatever it is] to be associated with a concept like speed I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest you probably don’t use a word of which the dominant connotation is precisely to “go faster”. If we look towards the singular [and relatively brief] moment of the 90s in which the current usage of the term online largely arose from, there is a general quickfire, heightened aesthetic and lifestyle and way of writing that is indelibly connected to it and formed its dominant mode. Even extending to the use of amphetamines, or “speed” no less, the heightening suggested in this cyber-futurism was dominated by the implications contained in the term accelerationism itself, it was either an injunction, a prediction, a wish perhaps, for something faster, more intense, bigger, more total. Now of course before I am accused here of wilfully misinterpreting anything I’m acutely aware that many do not actively pursue it in this way, but in lieu of that it must be said it’s not particularly clear what’s being offered. A theory of time? Perhaps, in fact quite likely, but frankly if acc-heads don’t want their philosophy or label to become so frequently appropriated or misused according to their own ideal interpretations I might advise setting forth something a little bit clearer about what precisely it is supposed to be.. what it really is, what implications it has, other than some kind of easily ignored teleology. If it is not a political project for instance, or just another, cooler word for futurism what is it? The more you read about it, the less clear it gets. In the plane of total abstraction, things are made to be misinterpreted.

And here I reach what really becomes uncomfortable territory for anyone who calls themselves in some regard an accelerationist, and another regard in which I have seen hand-waving protestations, as if one is nothing but a troll for bringing this up in the first place, and that is the nigh-constant flirtations with the reactionary right. The proximity of the acc sphere to Nrx isn’t difficult to ascertain after a small amount of research, and not just because one of it’s primary progenitors Nick Land now spends most of his time spouting exceedingly dull neoconservative talking points on twitter and penned some of the primary literature for what has become known as neoreaction, or Nrx for short [none of this lessens the interest of his early work, but it does bring it into perspective], but because of the consistent allusions, friendly banter, politesse, compromise and praise for right or reactionary ideas and figures. When coupled with a certain brand of misanthropy, irony and the sneering attitude towards left action and politics, one begins to legitimately question the political aims here. Of course if you are more inclined towards the reactionary right, and make no bones about it, then fair enough on your part, but I don’t really have much of a reason or desire to share your predilections.

This is far from some complete denunciation of anything at all connected with the realms of theory I’m here discussing; in fact if it is anything it is my cry of frustration at the state of theory as it is discussed and formulated online at the present moment. Accelerationism as it exists online, in twitter communities and elsewhere, is in some sense merely a symptom for the wider issue I might now connect back to the plane of total abstraction, that discourse that really does seem to result in nothing besides an aesthetic commitment. Of course if we are to hold that aesthetics, or rather the manner of presentation matters, then how can we avoid the conclusion that people who wallow in an aesthetic of mysterious cyber-allusion/gothic darkness/scrambled poetics/irony to some degree are actively resisting interpretation. And, if indeed this is the aim, more power to them, but in this regard, why protest misinterpretation? Is it only the horror at being connected via the term to violent murders that provokes this? And if so, shouldn’t this provoke some reflection, shouldn’t the question be asked “why is it so easy to misinterpret?”, instead of the usual comments on the idiocy of those doing the misinterpreting? Why, even, is the aesthetic of accelerationism, the term itself even, attractive to such people who would commit such acts? Is the fault here not with the misuse of the term, but the lack of feasable interpretation, of structure, of explicit implication?

If this has proved a little negative, I promise soon a more positive affirmation of what I do intend to do; before I did that however I have found it constructive to get these issues out of my system, as the contradictory dominance online of a discourse that claims for itself a fringe status, the constant and unwelcome appearances of reactionary sentiment and abstract edginess, has become on the whole quite irritating, not to mention the consistent hostility towards open and unambiguous leftism. Some of the same problems I would argue extend more generally to people who adhere to a kind of vulgar-deleuzian language and philosophy, who deliver passages that for all the world could have been uttered from the mouth of your local weed-head, but here I wanted to outline specifically some of my issues with accelerationism as it appears and is seen today, precisely to illustrate the sum of what I want to avoid in my own work. It is all too easy to dissolve oneself into the plane of abstraction, to avoid any sense of commitment to a cause and to immerse oneself in a kind of constant deferral of intent. After some time however, perhaps all this effort should be reverted into a single question; why?