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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Silvia Federici against accelerationism

In the opening lines of her "Caliban and the Witch" (Autonomedia, 2004) Federici writes: "Capitalism was the response of the feudal lords, the patrician merchants, the bishops and popes, to a centuries-long social conflict that, in the end, shook their power, and truly gave 'all the world a big jolt'. Capitalism was the counter-revolution that destroyed the possibilities that had emerged from the anti-feudal struggle - possibilities which, if realized, might have spared us of the immense destruction of lives and the natural environment that has marked he advance of capitalist relations worldwide." She argues that capitalism was a reactionary development that didn't represent any progress and didn't perform any revolution - the emergence of the bourgeois power was accepted by the established elites in order to keep some of their privileges going. Now, this remark challenges the very basis of accelerationism - which is, I take, the claim that capitalism was a move in the revolutionary direction (and therefore capitalism has something to teach about revolutions). In fact, Marx, Engels and other accelerationists have assumed that the flow of capital was progressive and therefore the direction to be preferred is one of flows that move faster. But Federici would have that the elimination of the common property of the land and other forces of production cannot be anything but regressive - capitalism cut people off their human and non-human environment producing poor proletarians out of peasants who where protected by their networks of family and land and therefore farther from poverty. Proletarization cannot be a revolution - it is a shake, but not all shake is a progressive move. It is not about defending the feudal system but rather to indicate how change was defective from the point of view of the peasants who struggled against it and who had some access to means of wealth - and whose lives were not always conceived around work.

To be sure, accelerationists can prefer to call attention to events like the French Revolution against the ancient régime. But this would do only if they consider only the overall end result of the process that indeed was packed with progressive and reactionary steps. Federici points rather towards the witch-hunt that took place in its peak some 150 years before. The destruction of witches, she argues, was a necessary condition for proletarization and an important elements to eliminate the seeds of dissent. In that context, a witchless society was a society of poverty. Federici helps to give insight to a non-accelerationist left: capitalism was just a bad reaction to the peasants' growing power.

That doesn't mean that it didn't open up other alternative routes for resistance or revolution, but it does mean that it cannot itself be a teacher of transgression. Maybe the accelerationist strategy can be seen as an appeal to the idea that we should get rid of all existing social ties in order to build new, so proletarization was a necessary evil. But such line has a blindspot: the ground zero cannot be reached, the proletarized individual is also a (social) product of power.

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