Rural Studio Turns 20 (The Bitter Southerner)
“At schools of architecture, very often I wonder why people aren’t more interested in housing,” Freear says. “And housing as a kind of an aggregation. Because it is a challenge, and it’s also difficult. And I think schools of architecture don’t do it because it’s not that sexy. It’s not going to attract students. Tell them we’re going to design a museum and maybe they’ll want to come do it.”
Freear pauses, leaning back in his chair to look at pictures of 20K Houses that cover the walls of his office.
“I’ll go to my grave believing it’s relevant,” he says after a moment.
DIY Homes: Build Your Own Community (Telegraph)
How Robots Can Change Architecture (the next step toward world domination…)
“Significance of the ‘Self-Build’ Movement,” first published in FREEDOM May 17, 1952. Republished in Why Work? Arguments for the Leisure Society. Vernon Richards, editor. London: Aldgate Press, 1983, pp. 125-126.
We have discussed several times in FREEDOM the growing movement for “self-building” houses.
In a broadcast talk on “Building One’s Own House,” last month, Mr. Fello Atkinson, the architect, said:
“It is a sign of the fearful complication of our times that building one’s own house should seem a new idea. What else did our remote ancestors do? And, of course, all primitive and pioneer communities build this way. Grandma Moses, that astonishing ninety-four-year-old American lady who has achieved such fame as a folk painter in the last few years, records in her memoirs how, in her young days, the men of New England wanting to set up home were given land and an axe and set about making their own log cabins. I am certain there are many places where the same thing still happens. The idea is certainly not new but only unusual in modern, highly industrialised communities where each of us, except possibly farmers and sailors, tends to specialise in ever-narrowing fields to the exclusion and even ignorance of all others. The responsibility for housing has now largely passed to government, and there exists a complicated and rigid pattern of planning and building permits, regulations and standards, financing and subsidies.
“But, in spite of this, groups of men are building their own houses in this country to-day; they have been doing so for some time, and they are building them successfully within this complex mechanism. And these ‘self-build groups’, as they are called, are growing in number.”
He went on to describe the activities of groups affiliated to the National Federation of Housing Societies.
This called forth (and it is an indication of the spread of “self-building”), a letter in the Listener from the secretary of a group, who wanted to draw attention to the 194 “self-build” groups affiliated to the London and National Self-Build Housing Association, Birmingham, and to “the difficulties and heartbreak of other groups, already fully trained, with considerable financial resources, who have been ready to build for eighteen months, and who lack one thing only — the cooperation of their local authorities to grant the necessary permission for them to go ahead and build.”
The writer has also paid tribute to the founders of the associations, who “without any prompting, and for no personal gain, have come forward and shown us, for the first time in our lives, how to help ourselves.”
For the first time in our lives, how to help ourselves. This is why we believe the “self-building” movement to be so valuable and important.
For non-French speaking readers, this is what he says:
The opening that I leave in the top of the bread, which we’ll turn over and which will become the underside when it’s in the oven, is what we call la clé* in bread baking.
Just now we were saying that for the leaven I use fresh flour, because I’m looking for a very high energy level. But actually for the bread I like to work with flour that has a bit of age, one or two months, six months or even a year, that doesn’t bother me at all. That’s what I like taste wise. But with the leaven we’re working with energy, and there’s something there that’s very, very energetic, like a kid who’s four, five, six years old, seven or eight years old. Meaning it’s overflowing with energy but it’s not at all controlled. We say, “Don’t do that,” and we turn around, and he goes and does exactly what we just said not to do. And well, flour, like kids, it’s like that. It’s what commands the bakery, it’s the boss in a way. With a flour that’s already a month or two old, we can start being able to work together with it. Like someone who’s forty years old, say.
(after the other guy covers up the loaves with the canvas, which reminds me, I seriously need to get some canvas for my baking): So now we’re going to leave the trays on the shelf, and the bread will rise until 11:30 or 11:45, we’ll see. I’ll check it in a bit, see how it is.
So working, you know, bread baking, our way, it’s a bit like tightrope walking. We’re tightrope walking bakers. We work with dough that is very, very soft, which means it doesn’t have a whole lot of hold. So it’s necessary that we use certain moves, that we concentrate the dough, that we handle it. And then working with it, since it’s so cumbersome, we don’t have a lot of leeway, maybe a space of twenty minutes when the bread is good to go in the oven, so the oven has to be at just the right temperature. So we’re juggling a bit, you could say. It’s fairly stressful. (checks the temperature of the bread) Okay it’s good.
(walks over to the other guy) Okay lower it to 29. So we’ll light the fire at 9:30.
Right, so the next stage will be lighting the oven. We’re going from fire to water, and then earth. Let’s go over to the oven.
(lights the fire) And there you go. One part of the four elements.
* clé literally means “key” — I wasn’t able to verify that we call it a “key” in English, but like he said it’s the spot where the dough is brought together when folding and forming the loaf
Did my Trade School class! I was pretty nervous the night before, didn’t sleep particularly well, and woke up at one point, around 1 a.m., to realize that (oh crap) I hadn’t mixed the sponge, so I shot out of bed and into the kitchen to mix up a bit of starter with flour and water before going back to bed and continuing to lie awake thinking and rethinking about how to organize the class. Since the process I use to make bread takes place over the course of three days, I wouldn’t be able to do one loaf from start to finish in my two-hour time slot, and so I prepared the various steps in advance to be able to at least show what the steps look and feel like.
As it turned out I had no real reason to be nervous. It went fine. The attendees were great, the bread came out pretty decent despite the weird oven and my apparently kaput cooking thermometer, and everyone left happily with a little bit of my starter which I packaged up in a bunch of glass jars I had saved up at home. I didn’t keep close track of time but I managed to pretty much use the whole two hours — something I was worried about, that I would run out of things to say. At one point after mixing the sponge and the rest of flour and water for the dough, we had to wait about a half an hour for it to rest before adding the salt. I paused for a second and my mind raced through what we could do or talk about during that half hour, and finally I said, “Well, if you’d like I can talk a bit about how modern capitalism has affected wheat cultivation and processing…” Everyone laughed and one woman shouted out “Ye-ah!” so I launched into my rant. The high point for me in all of it was when I mentioned that I’d run across a local collective of people, about twenty in the group, who have organized themselves to make bread — the slow way, over three days, like I do. They pair off each of them once a month to make enough bread for everyone else in the group, which means that each person only has to bake once a month but gets fresh bread throughout the entire month. When I said this there was a glimmer in the eyes of a few of the people in the class who live in the same village, and one of them suggested to the others that they start the same sort of thing where they live. (No bakery in the village, she said. Horrors!) I really hope they get that started — I’m going to ask that they keep me posted if they do.
Some photos from the class:
The dough I prepared in advance. I tried out something new with this one. When I prepared the leaven the Friday night before the class on Sunday, I also mixed together all the flour and water for the dough in a separate bowl, and left that to soak overnight. The next morning I mixed in the leaven and left it to ferment in the fridge for 24 hours. A girl in the Pills and Seeds and Death workshop, an avid baker, shared this tip that soaking whole grain flour prior to baking with it softens the grain, which makes it more digestible and also causes the bread itself to be fluffier, not dense like whole grain bread so often is. I’d been meaning to experiment with the idea, and after reading about it again recently in some information I found about whole grain baking, I was reminded that I hadn’t yet tried it out so I decided to give it a shot for the class. Risking possible failure of course, but such is life when you’re learning something new.
The barter items they brought. To date: the chocolate is eaten, the music is listened to, and the mud mask is magnificent.
Mixing the leaven
Talking about wheat seed anatomy and Integrated World Capitalism
Removing the bread from the pan. Some weird crust action there…
Breaking bread. The flour soaking thing is definitely going to be part of my process from now on — I’ve never before now had this kind of result using all whole grain flour and was really shocked at the difference you get when you soak the flour. The interior was fluffy like a muffin. The ten of us polished off one of the loaves at the end of class, and I cut up the rest and sent a chunk home with everyone. As for the starter I portioned out, I’ve already gotten feedback that it’s alive and well in its new homes.
A random salad of subjects, but I can’t stand having 800 tabs open all at once on my web browser so I’m filing them here.
- The Plant Gang
- Potting on Tomatoes
- Growing Happy Carrots
- Stunt the Growth, by Evgeny Morozov (who also wrote To Save Everything Click Here, which you should also read)
- The Commons as a Template for Transformation
- The Right to Useful Unemployment and Shadow – Work (Ivan Illich)
- Death of the Deodand: Accursed Objects and the Money Value of Life (I might have linked to this already but maybe not.)
(My translation of an article I came across in La revue des Livres n°013 Sept/Oct 2013, p. 77-79.)
A STRAW HOUSE FOR ALL!
By Charlotte Nordmann
Collectif Straw d’la bale: La Maison de paille de Lausanne. Pourquoi nous l’avons construit. Pourquoi elle fut incendiée (The Straw House of Lausanne: Why we built it, why it was burned). Paris: La Lenteur, 2013, 210 p., 12 Euros.
August 2007, Lausanne, a public park in the middle of the city. In a few days, a straw house surged up from the earth, built illegally by activists. Four months later, after the municipality, directed by a member of the Green Party, had tried in vain to impose its demolition, the house was burned to the ground during the night in what could only have been a criminal act.
The story might appear to be anecdotal, a tall tale testifying at most to the audacity and inventivity of idle youth, but not suggesting any way to confront “real” societal and ecological problems; anyway, not everyone is going to go build a straw house on every street corner in the city. Of course not. But even so, there was something important that happened here.
At the beginning of the straw house project, there was an analysis of some of the major problems that affect our societies, and there was the affirmation that ecological questions are intimately linked to political and social ones. Coming from the squatter’s movement, the builders started off with a triple diagnosis.
The first diagnosis was the intentional organization of housing shortages in the capitalist city that allows for guaranteed profits for investors. Faced with capitalism’s intensive investment in urban space (1), we could try to go elsewhere — to go live in the countryside, in a collective house, for example — or we could also band together and look for ways to invest in the cracks of the city, picking up the tattered pieces. That’s the aim of squats — and it was also the aim of the straw house.
The second aspect of the analysis was the fact that the societal model that rules today is directly contradictory to the needs of ecology — needs that come from the fact that the natural resources upon which we depend are limited, and that their indiscriminate use has catastrophic consequences (with the major problem of course being climate change). In the domain of housing, this is shown in a flagrant way by the intensive use of cement, a main culprit in the disappearance of sand (2), for example, and also by the inefficient use of energy for heating buildings, and by the use of such a fundamental resource as fresh water for toilets.
The third was the fact that we are today in a relationship of heteronomy with the world in which we live, to use Ivan Illich’s words (3); we are “put up,” we don’t inhabit the space where we live; “they” provide us with a space in which to live (if we have the means to pay), which, it goes without saying, we don’t have the right to modify. “Please leave the premises in the same state in which you found them” seems to be the general principle, for the renter as for the passer-by (who of course shall not do anything more than “pass by”) in the street or in the neighborhood park. This rapport of heteronomy to our fundamental needs (to have housing, to feed ourselves, to move freely) results in a radical dependence on an ecologically non-viable system founded on exploitation.
To build oneself a home
One response to these problems is to build oneself a home, without administrative authorization and without having “legitimately acquired” the land on which one builds, and to build in a way so as to have minimal impact on the environment and reduce one’s dependence on infrastructure. That is a conclusion drawn from the diagnoses, to become aligned with one’s principles. From there the choice was progressively made to build with straw: a light material, easy to handle, that permits one to build quickly and with only a few helping hands; whose production demands little energy and whose materials are produced locally; which employs a mode of construction without lasting impact on the land (no need for cement foundations thanks to piles); insulated, conserving heat and permitting one to reduce the need for heating systems. If we add dry toilets and a natural waste water filtering system, the dependence on city infrastructure is minimal — which, in the case of an imbalanced power relationship with the mayor’s office, isn’t a negligible issue.
The approach here is the same as in the squat movement from which the initiators of the straw house came; collectively take that which we need and which capital refuses us, and organize in order to better resist attempts at reappropriation by the powers that be. To this may be added something that is in fact already present in squats, but less visible and above all less developed: the capacity to acquire know-how, to transmit it, and to accumulate it. The book (La maison de paille de Lausanne) participates itself in this diffusion of knowledge by indicating a number of resources (web sites, books, films) about DIY(T) building, and in attempting to explain in detail the construction of the straw house, thanks to which we might learn a whole vocabulary, useful and poetic — from “pisoir” (note: I’ll let you decipher that one) to “l’enduit de corps” (can’t figure this one out… something spackle??) by way of “chaux aérienne” (whitewash?). The construction of the straw house was in this way preceded by the experiences of autonomously run spaces, Lausanne squats, and notably the organization of a squatted garden in the same park where the straw house was built (an experience that itself led to a new relationship with the spaces we inhabit) — but preceded also by several “learning by doing” house building/teaching sites, as well as the experiences of the “temporary villages” of climate camps and anti globalization movements.
Too much collective power?
The efficiency with which the project got going is clearly remarkable — to build a solid and livable house in a space of two days, out of recuperated material and bales of straw, was quite a feat in itself. What this shows is at once the value of know-how acquired by the people who conceived of and carried out the project — know-how that was partly of traditional techniques, today considered to be outmoded — but also their capacity to work together, to coordinate, and most of all the power of the collective intelligence called for by this project. (One might make the connection between this and the Transition Town (4) projects with their techniques of empowerment and mobilization of group intelligence.)
We can therefore say that, in a sense, the straw house was a rousing success — and at the same time, we must add that it was as well a failure, and a failure to be expected. The attempt to create something long-term – several years at least — in which to live, and in particular to live in an alternative way, and to have this space be a long-lasting center for discussion, exchanges, and knowledge sharing: this attempt failed. The allowance taken by “the power of the people” from capitalism’s investments in space, from grid-like compartmentalization, is always precarious and in this case was, without a doubt, too visible — right in the heart of Lausanne! — to be tolerated for long. Such an example of reappropriation of public space clearly must be erased right away; it suggests that there might be an alternative to the privatization of space and the wholesale delegation of its management to a power supposedly catering to the interests of the general public (5) — a power that, on the contrary, makes clear each and every day that its goal is to guarantee the continuance of the capitalist system. Projects of the sort of the straw house also without a doubt show too clearly the lack of grounding there is in the belief that we are incapable of meeting our needs in a more autonomous way.
The straw house sustained three sorts of attacks.
The first — and the most clever, as it seemed at first glace to be friendly support – was when certain media outlets contrasted the straw house to the squat movement; on the one side, a constructive project, inventive and “positive,” and on the other side, the “antiestablishment,” without respect for the well-being of others. In artificially isolating two sorts of action, and in disappearing the critique of the capitalist city, which was the very grounding for the house’s construction, we see sense being turned upside down.
The second attack was carried out by the municipality and consisted in demanding — nearly at the same time as its construction — the demolition of the illegally built straw house. It was enough to call up the all-powerful specter of anarchy — “Imagine if everyone started building his own straw house wherever he wanted!” — and to invoke the importance of the rules of urbanism, “the sole protection against an excess of real estate developers,” to make the situation understood. As we’ve already mentioned, the municipality of Lausanne is led by a member of the Green Party, the head of a pink-green coalition. (Note: “pink” refers to the Socialist Party.) In this case as in many others, their position well illustrates what we can expect from a party upholding the ideology of “sustainable development,” which defends a “balance between ecology and the market economy” (in the words of one elected official). We need not further explain the deception inherent in an “ecology” that has among its goals an allowance for the pursuit of “growth” (pardon us — “green growth”) in a world with finite resources.
This sort of reappropriation of ecological issues goes hand in hand with the growth of individual dispossession, of their heteronomy vis à vis their conditions of existence. Thus it happened — and this is the third attack that the straw house sustained, this time after its destruction — that the city of Lausanne inaugurated in 2011 its own “straw house”: a construction that claimed to be a “model” in the domain, built at a cost of 1.8 million Swiss francs! Built by professionals, with cement foundations, it was meant to show that the city of Lausanne is itself a model for “sustainable development” (no argument there, even if we still doubt the concept), and was but a cover for business as usual.
(The city of Lausanne’s straw house)
To return to the sense and value of the straw house, it’s clear that it is not on its own a “solution.” It will not be thanks to a proliferation of straw houses that we will halt the continuation of the capitalist system and the destruction it perpetuates. The idea that such projects can have ripple effects, that they might grow in number and send out shoots, is not enough to resolve the problem, because the temporality of this extension is not on the same scale as what is necessary to respond proportionately to ecological problems. Never mind that the capitalist system does everything it can to limit the multiplication of these alternatives, helped if necessary by regulations zealously imposed by the State (such as, for example, those who oppose the creation of local currencies, or who obstruct the development of CSAs.
Conversely, the importance of the straw house, and what continues in its own way in the book that came about from the experience, is that it created a margin in a space that tends to be saturated, by creating a space that, in addition to offering a roof to all those who lived there, allowed for knowledge sharing, experiences, discussions, and exchanges. The choice to build in the city, importantly, came from the desire for this sort of place, even if its continuation was of course much more difficult than it would have been had it been built elsewhere.
This place existed, as the book, photos, and sketches testify — and it existed for a lot of different kinds of people, evidenced by the variety of stories scattered throughout the book — as the incarnation of a place in which to live differently. I said further up that this place demonstrated the power that can come from a collective, that it contradicts the belief in our individual and collective impotence. But the demonstration of power here is not only directed toward the outside. This power is important for those individuals – and I count myself among them — who believe in it and yet at the same time don’t, and who therefore need to have the experience in order to believe, and to act. Such a place demonstrates what we are missing by not living collectively in the spaces where we live, and what we have to gain through inventing new ways of being and doing.
(1) Described in detail by David Harvey in Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution.
(2) See the recent documentary by Denis Delestrac, Enquête sur une disparition (2013).
(3) Ivan Illich is a major reference for the collective. At a 2007 protest, a squatter’s movement in Geneva reedited one of his texts, “Tools for Conviviality.”
(4) See also my (Nordmann’s) review of the Manuel for transition by Rob Hopkins (Ecosocieté, 2010), which appeared in La Revue internationale des livres et des idées, “L’après-pétrole; survivre ou vivre autrement?” Article available online (in French).
(5) Contradicting the idea of the “tragedy of the commons” (Garrett Hardin, 1968), according to which a resource used collectively is fated to disappear due to its over exploitation by all the people who use it.
Another round of experiments with slowed fermentation. This time I used less flour so it was a slightly wetter dough than the last time.
Kneaded for ten minutes until it was firm but tacky to the touch — when I pressed my hand to it and pulled away it was sticky but nothing stuck to my hand. Like the feeling of walking on a floor where a toddler spilled Kool Aid. Something like that.
It was a beautiful thing. The crust was good and crunchy, the interior was soft and fluffy, and the sourness was not too sour. (Note the past tense, indicating that it has already been eaten by a horde of friends and colleagues.) My best result to date, and just in time, too, because this morning I received the following email:
I am emailing you from Trade School Geneva about your upcoming class on Sunday, April 13 at Le Secheron. The class is scheduled to take place from 13h-15h in the large room/kitchen in the basement of the building. I will meet you in the entrance 15-20 minutes before the class starts to let you in and show you around, and also help with any preparation. We are so excited for you to be part of Trade School Geneva’s first month of classes!!
I am happy to answer any questions you have about the venue, process, etc.. Please feel free to be in touch.
Have a great Friday!!
So, this is good news for the people coming to my class. (Yes, you, I know you’ve been checking out this blog. Nicola told me the night of the TSG launch party, to which I showed up very late, bourré de fondue from the dinner I had the same night, sorry I missed you!) I manage just fine with sourdough bread made from a mix of white and wheat, but I wanted to get somewhere with this new experiment using all whole grain flour so I could share the results with everyone. And these past few weeks experimenting with all things spelt and kamut hadn’t been going particularly well, until now. All praise the microbial world. Our class will not leave hungry.
I included a link to this back in one of my weekly link posts but we talked about it the other day at CCC so I wanted to give it another read and also post it in its entirety here.
#ACCERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics
Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek
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.
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.
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.
2. The philosopher Nick Land captured this most acutely, with a myopic yet hypnotising belief that capitalist speed alone could generate a global transition towards unparalleled technological singularity. In this visioning of capital, the human can eventually be discarded as mere drag to an abstract planetary intelligence rapidly constructing itself from the bricolaged fragments of former civilisations. 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. It is the latter mode of acceleration which we hold as essential.
3. Even worse, as Deleuze and Guattari recognized, from the very beginning what capitalist speed deterritorializes with one hand, it reterritorializes with the other. Progress becomes constrained within a framework of surplus value, a reserve army of labour, and free-floating capital. Modernity is reduced to statistical measures of economic growth and social innovation becomes encrusted with kitsch remainders from our communal past. Thatcherite-Reaganite deregulation sits comfortably alongside Victorian ‘back-to-basics’ family and religious values.
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. It is Marx, along with Land, who remains the paradigmatic accelerationist thinker. Contrary to the all-too familiar critique, and even the behaviour of some contemporary Marxians, we must remember that Marx himself used the most advanced theoretical tools and empirical data available in an attempt to fully understand and transform his world. He was not a thinker who resisted modernity, but rather one who sought to analyse and intervene within it, 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.
6. Indeed, as even Lenin wrote in the 1918 text “Left Wing” Childishness:
Socialism is inconceivable without large-scale capitalist engineering based on the latest discoveries of modern science. It is inconceivable without planned state organisation which keeps tens of millions of people to the strictest observance of a unified standard in production and distribution. We Marxists have always spoken of this, and it is not worth while wasting two seconds talking to people who do not understand even this (anarchists and a good half of the Left Socialist– Revolutionaries).
7. As Marx was aware, capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration. Similarly, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
8. We believe that any post-capitalism will require post-capitalist planning. The faith placed in the idea that, after a revolution, the people will spontaneously constitute a novel socioeconomic system that isn’t simply a return to capitalism is naïve at best, and ignorant at worst. To further this, we must develop both a cognitive map of the existing system and a speculative image of the future economic system.
9. To do so, the left must take advantage of every technological and scientific advance made possible by capitalist society. We declare that quantification is not an evil to be eliminated, but a tool to be used in the most effective manner possible. Economic modelling is — simply put — a necessity for making intelligible a complex world. The 2008 financial crisis reveals the risks of blindly accepting mathematical models on faith, yet this is a problem of illegitimate authority not of mathematics itself. The tools to be found in social network analysis, agent-based modelling, big data analytics, and non-equilibrium economic models, are necessary cognitive mediators for understanding complex systems like the modern economy. The accelerationist left must become literate in these technical fields.
10. Any transformation of society must involve economic and social experimentation. The Chilean Project Cybersyn is emblematic of this experimental attitude — fusing advanced cybernetic technologies, with sophisticated economic modelling, and a democratic platform instantiated in the technological infrastructure itself. Similar experiments were conducted in 1950s – 1960s Soviet economics as well, employing cybernetics and linear programming in an attempt to overcome the new problems faced by the first communist economy. That both of these were ultimately unsuccessful can be traced to the political and technological constraints these early cyberneticians operated under.
11. The left must develop sociotechnical hegemony: both in the sphere of ideas, and in the sphere of material platforms. Platforms are the infrastructure of global society. They establish the basic parameters of what is possible, both behaviourally and ideologically. In this sense, they embody the material transcendental of society: they are what make possible particular sets of actions, relationships, and powers. While much of the current global platform is biased towards capitalist social relations, this is not an inevitable necessity. These material platforms of production, finance, logistics, and consumption can and will be reprogrammed and reformatted towards post-capitalist ends.
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.
13. The overwhelming privileging of democracy-as-process needs to be left behind. The fetishisation of openness, horizontality, and inclusion of much of today’s ‘radical’ left set the stage for ineffectiveness. Secrecy, verticality, and exclusion all have their place as well in effective political action (though not, of course, an exclusive one).
14. Democracy cannot be defined simply by its means — not via voting, discussion, or general assemblies. Real democracy must be defined by its goal — collective self-mastery. This is a project which must align politics with the legacy of the Enlightenment, to the extent that it is only through harnessing our ability to understand ourselves and our world better (our social, technical, economic, psychological world) that we can come to rule ourselves. We need to posit a collectively controlled legitimate vertical authority in addition to distributed horizontal forms of sociality, to avoid becoming the slaves of either a tyrannical totalitarian centralism or a capricious emergent order beyond our control. The command of The Plan must be married to the improvised order of The Network.
15. We do not present any particular organisation as the ideal means to embody these vectors. What is needed — what has always been needed — is an ecology of organisations, a pluralism of forces, resonating and feeding back on their comparative strengths. Sectarianism is the death knell of the left as much as centralization is, and in this regard we continue to welcome experimentation with different tactics (even those we disagree with).
16. We have three medium term concrete goals. First, we need to build an intellectual infrastructure. Mimicking the Mont Pelerin Society of the neoliberal revolution, this is to be tasked with creating a new ideology, economic and social models, and a vision of the good to replace and surpass the emaciated ideals that rule our world today. This is an infrastructure in the sense of requiring the construction not just of ideas, but institutions and material paths to inculcate, embody and spread them.
17. We need to construct wide-scale media reform. In spite of the seeming democratisation offered by the internet and social media, traditional media outlets remain crucial in the selection and framing of narratives, along with possessing the funds to prosecute investigative journalism. Bringing these bodies as close as possible to popular control is crucial to undoing the current presentation of the state of things.
18. Finally, we need to reconstitute various forms of class power. Such a reconstitution must move beyond the notion that an organically generated global proletariat already exists. Instead it must seek to knit together a disparate array of partial proletarian identities, often embodied in post-Fordist forms of precarious labour.
19. Groups and individuals are already at work on each of these, but each is on their own insufficient. What is required is all three feeding back into one another, with each modifying the contemporary conjunction in such a way that the others become more and more effective. A positive feedback loop of infrastructural, ideological, social and economic transformation, generating a new complex hegemony, a new post-capitalist technosocial platform. History demonstrates it has always been a broad assemblage of tactics and organisations which has brought about systematic change; these lessons must be learned.
20. To achieve each of these goals, on the most practical level we hold that the accelerationist left must think more seriously about the flows of resources and money required to build an effective new political infrastructure. Beyond the ‘people power’ of bodies in the street, we require funding, whether from governments, institutions, think tanks, unions, or individual benefactors. We consider the location and conduction of such funding flows essential to begin reconstructing an ecology of effective accelerationist left organizations.
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. What must be coupled to such complex systems analysis is a new form of action: improvisatory and capable of executing a design through a practice which works with the contingencies it discovers only in the course of its acting, in a politics of geosocial artistry and cunning rationality. A form of abductive experimentation that seeks the best means to act in a complex world.
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.
23. The choice facing us is severe: either a globalised post-capitalism or a slow fragmentation towards primitivism, perpetual crisis, and planetary ecological collapse.
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.