lunedì 7 luglio 2014

Nick Srnicek: Folk Politics and the Future of the Left @ Transmodern Philosophy blog (2014)

Nick Srnicek: Folk Politics and the Future of the Left @ Transmodern Philosophy blog (2014)

Today’s session brought us directly into the political domain of navigation through Nick Srnicek’s work on Folk Politics and accelerationism. The day began with an examination of what Nick in his work with Alex Williams calls “Folk Politics” (FP), which he defined roughly as a collective and historically constructed mode of political common sense among leftist movements today, which has become increasingly inadequate for dealing effectively with mechanisms of global power. This mode of common sense tends to fetishize locality and immediacy as the “authentic” spaces of politics and to promote ephemeral or defensive actions that fail to produce lasting changes that challenge neoliberal structures of power. While the term has resonated with many as an accurate diagnosis as many problematic tendencies within leftist practice today, it has also been one of the main points of controversy emerging from the Accelerate Manifesto published over a year ago. Nick’s talk today attempted to dispel certain interpretations that read the Manifesto as an outright rejection of FP and advocacy of a technocratic approach to politics disconnected from the concerns of local movements. He offered three important qualifications of the term: for one, FP does not name a specific position taken up by leftist movements but rather a set of tendencies that are instantiated to varying degrees within concrete political positions. Secondly, the problem with FP is not that it starts from the local, but that it is content to remain at that level and takes it to be sufficient. In this sense, the point is not to reject FP, but to see it as a necessary yet insufficient moment for effective political action. And finally, FP is only a problem for a particular kind of politics (namely large-scale collective mobilization against capitalist structures of power), though it can be sufficient for other smaller scale projects, such as daily battles against evictions and foreclosures. While the emergence of FP as a mode of political common sense among the left can be seen as a reasonable response to the failures of actually existing communism and the social democratic left in Europe, it’s strategies of horizontalism, localism, and direct action are incapable of addressing the global complexities of contemporary capitalism. Rather than avoiding these complexities by focusing on political action at the local scale, Nick argues that the left must grapple head on with global complexity and develop long-term strategy if it is to have any real chance of success beyond ephemeral defensive stands against neoliberal encroachment.
Accelerationism as a political strategy therefore aims to integrate various local movements into a global strategy aimed at the development of socio-technical hegemony. Rather than dismissing hegemonic ambitions as inherently corrupt or instrumentalizing, Nick argues that to give up on them is basically to give up on political struggle. What is needed however is not a complete blueprint or teleology that would be imposed on local movements by an accelerationist avant-garde, which Nick and Alex have often been accused of supporting, but rather an open-ended strategy that navigates between the false dichotomy of teleology and emergent spontaneity. This navigational strategy emphasizes first of all the building of platforms, which Nick calls the basic material and ideational infrastructure of a society. Platforms don’t exhaustively determine society, and shouldn’t be seen as inherently capitalist; rather, they constitute what Nick and Alex call the “material transcendental of society”, which simultaneously constrains and enables various navigational possibilities. The goal of accelerationism in this sense is not to determine an end goal to which all other leftist aims would be subordinated, but to develop and repurpose socio-technical platforms to widen the social possibility space to pursue social goals beyond capital accumulation. Such a practice must necessarily be experimental, heterogeneous, and abductive, and its contours can only be known over the course of practice.

One of the noticeable shifts between the last years Manifesto and Nick’s talk today was a greater emphasis on the affective dimension of leftist mobilization. While the manifesto emphasized the need for a rationalist political program in order to criticize and move beyond tendencies in political theory to valorize the production of affect as a political end in itself, the talk today took a more balanced approach to questions involving reason and affect by highlighting the role of the latter in developing socio-technical hegemony. Nick discussed the value of utopian thinking as a way of imagining future possibilities rooted in present material conditions, cognitively estranging ourselves from aspects of the present that are otherwise taken for granted, and modulating collective desire, or teaching it to desire more than is offered by contemporary capitalism. Accelerationism in this way is not only about renewing the project of reason as the emancipatory vector of civilization but also the utopian imagination in order to widen the space of collective desire and promote forms of human flourishing yet unimagined. While many basic questions remain (obviously) regarding the practical implementation of an accelerationist politics and how it can effectively navigate between the local and global scales, Nick’s talk persuasively reiterated that only a leftist project with globalizing ambitions will have any chance of challenging neoliberal capitalism and enabling a future that is worth living for the majority of human beings.

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