Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Review of Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Review of Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams

Article excerpt

In May 2013 Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams published a bold and provocative essay '# ACCELERATE Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics', which aimed to push 'towards a future that is more modern, an alternative modernity that neoliberalism is inherently unable to generate' (2013). Philosopher Benjamin Noys first coined the term 'accelerationism' as a disparaging way to describe a strand of post-'68 French theory, and its reinterpretation and development in the '90s by English scholar and current political figure of the far-right Nick Land (Noys, 2010). In their small, ambitious manifesto, Srnicek and Williams claim the term for left political practice, using it to signify a willingness to 'take advantage of every technological and scientific advance made possible by capitalist society' (2013) and push them even further, towards a post-capitalist future. The essay was divisive, received by some as right wing heresy and others as merely following orthodox Marxism's compulsion to amplify the contradictions of capital. Regardless of its reception, it was an influential work, spawning an edited collection of responses and extensions (Avanessian and Mackay, 2014), academic conferences, and countless internet comments.

Despite this surge of interest from esoteric academic enclaves, the authors make no mention of the term accelerationism in their first book length work Inventing the Future (Srnicek and Williams, 2015). Whether this implies a rejection of the label, given where the politics of accelerationism have ended up, with a substantial far-right current embracing technological acceleration to advance the dominance of capital and the coming of the singularity, or a simple wish to broaden their appeal beyond the far corners of leftist theoretical circles, is unclear. This is understandable, given that in just over 200 pages the authors manage to explain the reasons for the essential weakness of the contemporary left, the trajectory of neoliberalism's rise from extremist niche to economic and political orthodoxy, the economics of automation and surplus populations, and propose a strategy out of the current situation that moves resolutely into the future rather than backwards to an idealised past.

The book begins with a critique of the current beliefs and practices of much of the left. Chapters one and two introduce the idea of 'folk politics' as a broad category to cover many of these practices of resistance that are, they argue, destined to fail. In chapter three, the authors present the neoliberal project as an example of a radical political movement that has largely succeeded in its aims, offering some strategic background for the later analysis. Chapter four revisits the conceptual bases of left-wing modernity and universalism, much maligned since the advent of post-structural thought, and argues that for the left to have any hope of matching the success of the radical neoliberal right, these ideas must be embraced. The economic and technological trends towards automation and high unemployment rates are analysed in chapter five, and visions of a future for humanity freed from the constraints of wage labour, made possible by such developments, are laid out in chapter six. Chapter seven discusses the building of a new common sense based on this 'post-work' vision, and chapter eight contains the bones of a political and organizational strategy, drawing from the analysis provided throughout the book, that the authors argue is our best chance for making this imaginary a reality.

Folk politics is perhaps best encapsulated in a quote from Jodi Dean, 'Goldman Sachs doesn't care if you raise chickens' (p. 25). It is, according to Srnicek and Williams, the dominant set of practices and beliefs on the left, which includes a multitude of differentiated and sometimes contradictory positions orbiting around a tactical and strategic privileging of immediacy as the highest virtue. This rejection of any form of mediation has, they argue, formed a new political common sense that unites positions as seemingly diverse as those of Occupy, the slow-food movement, left-communist insurrectionism, ethical consumerism and the localist revolutions of the Zapatistas and the PKK. …

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