I. Deleuze, Guattari, Accelerationism
There’s been a lot of talk about Deleuze and Guattari around both academic and activist scenes for quite some time. Sometimes they are objects of unfounded derision (decried as “holy fools” by traditionalist socialists like Richard Barbrook), and other times they are the beneficiaries of overtly non-critical praise (see the endless application of their theories to every topic under the sun). They’ve been labeled as secret agents for neoliberal capitalism (as charged by Slavoj Zizek) and as tacticians for revolution in the era of globalization (according to the transnational alter-globalization movement that arose in the 1990s). They’ve been invoked as joyful, hippie celebrants of cosmic emergence (certain points in the recent “new materialism” canon), as forerunners to chaos and complexity theory (Manuel DeLanda), and, perhaps most delightfully, as scribes of a “mad, black communism” that feasts on conspiracy and negativity (Andrew Culp). Before his turn towards neoreaction, Nick Land described Anti-Oedipus, the first volume of their two-part collaboration titled Capitalism and Schizophrenia, as “less a philosophy book than an engineering manual; a package of software implements for hacking into the machinic unconscious, opening invasion channels.”i
With so many different interpretations, which run the gamut from spot-on to the exceedingly problematic, it might seem like an inescapable cul-de-sac to look to their works for elucidating power dynamics in the world today. Their capture by the academy, that assembly-line of homogeneous thought, only compounds this weariness. It is my contention, nonetheless, that Deleuze and Guattari (henceforth D & G) has much to offer us today, and constitute a radical break (or, in their lingo, a schiz) is the annals of leftist theory that points the way towards a vision of the future that is similar to what Benjamin Tucker described as “anarchistic socialist” – or, in the parlance of today, left-wing market anarchism.
The suggestion that D & G’s political praxis overlaps with that of market anarchism, even one that is vehemently anti-capitalist, is bound to rankle many, and will undoubtedly court charges of “accelerationism”. The consummate political heresy of the last decade, accelerationism – a vague term that been applied in numerous, frequently conflict ways – emerges from a pivotal passage in Anti-Oedipus. In the wake of the failures of the left to overcome capitalism during the revolts of the 1960s, and the turn by the ‘Third Worldists’ towards nationalist capitalism, D & G suggest that the proper “revolutionary path” may indeed be one in which we need “[t]o go further still, that is, in the movement of the market… Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process’, as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.”ii
The charge of accelerationism is one that should not be warded off, but embraced, but only with a delicate unpacking. Light readings, lacking in nuance, have attached D & G’s reflections as one-off musing at best, and at worst, an uncritical acceptance of the then-emergent neoliberal capitalism, with its rhetoric of global markets, deregulation, and openness. The identification of accelerationism with the latter should be avoided (as well as the more recent association of accelerationism with state-centric technological development); instead, lets look to the possibility of an accelerationism that is ‘anarchistic-socialistic’ in nature, utilizes markets, and operates in unbridled antagonism to the conditions of the present. To do so, tracing out the positioning of markets against capitalism in D & G’s work should be carried out. What follows a cursory exploration of this, though it is by no means an exhaustive treatment. But first, we must look to D & G’s own stance towards the political itself, as individuals and together.
II. Marxists, Anarchists, Both, or Neither?
Providing a precise set of political coordinates for D & G’s theories, other than a very far-left orientation, is itself a rather difficult task. Like Foucault, Baudrillard, and others lumped together under the problematic sign of ‘post-structuralism’, D & G are often invoked by anarchists, particularly those in insurrectionist, communization, and and post-left currents, but debate over their status as anarchists has persisted over the years.
With ties to the borderline anarchists Autonomia movement in 1970s Italy, Guattari described his project as “autonomous-communist-anarchist”, though neither himself nor Deleuze had much to say on the history of anarchist thought at all. Deleuze’s lecturers made passing reference to Proudhon, though it was undoubtedly the strawman Proudhon of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy (this is unfortunate, as Proudhon’s own ontology of flux and becoming, as detailed in The Philosophy of Progress, clearly foreshadows Deleuze own). Meanwhile, in The Logic of Sense, Deleuze makes passing reference to Max Stirner; while it is hard to say if he was directly influenced by the egoist, Saul Newman has detailed numerous points of overlap between each of their philosophies.iii
It is not, of course, relation to the history of ideas or the name-drops one makes that dictates proximity to anarchism. Aside from tangential relationships with anarchist and quasi-anarchist groups (Guattari through the Autonomists, Deleuze through the Prisoner Information Group, an anti-prison activist network set up by Foucault), it is clear that the philosophy suggested by D & G is teeming with positions and propositions well familiar to anarchists. Among other things the two reject the state, capitalism, the USSR, fascism, the police, democracy, racism, colonialism, taxes, and even nostalgia, managerialism, and fixed identities.
To what extent can D & G be considered Marxists? It is undeniable that Marx holds an important position in their work – particularly in Anti-Oedipus, which sets its revolutionary praxis up as a combination of Nietzsche and Marx. Two decades prior to his collaboration with Deleuze, Guattari could be found in the thick of the two major intellectual tendencies of post-war France: existentialism and Marxist communism. In the late 1940s he was a prominent figure in the French section of the Fourth International of the International Communist Party, itself a band of militant Trotskyites; throughout the 1950s, he would drift towards a more libertarian communist position, working with other radicals and writing detailed critiques of the Soviet Union’s state structure and organizing against the Stalinists in the mainstream of French communist politics. In 1964, when this left opposition began to identify as Maoist, Guattari broke with them and began to move in the direction of the anarchic sectors of the students movement.
Deleuze, on the other hard, had avoided these sorts of politics. While having been an enthusiastic reader of Sartre, existentialism didn’t appeal much to him, nor did the orthodox forms of Marxism. Towards the end of his life he did describe himself as a Marxist (“Felix Guattari and I have remained Marxists, in our two different ways, perhaps”),iv and at the time of his death was preparing to write a monograph on Marx. His late texts such as 1992’s “Postscript on the Societies of Control” were self-described as being Marxist, though it is a very funny kind of Marxism: when notions of resistance briefly raises its head, it isn’t the proletariat seizing factories, but “piracy and the introduction of viruses” into computer networks.v And while one would expect a self-described Marxist writing a Marxist text to use something akin to a Marxist theory of history, Deleuze’s vision of development doesn’t focus on class struggle, but on technological development. Instead of Marx, his point of reference is Foucault – a figure whose on relationship to Marxism is contested and complicated.vi
‘A very funny kind of Marxism’ is probably the best way to describe Anti-Oedipus, as the very subtitle of Capitalism and Schizophrenia signals. The book, as Jean-Francois Lyotard would later argue, might try to remain ostensibly Marxist, but it is an undeniably variant – or more properly, mutant – form. For Lyotard, “the book’s silence on class struggle, the saga of the worker and the function of his party” helps craft a post-Marxism (or anti-?) that is scrubbed of the “[b]ad conscience in Marx himself, and worse and worse in the Marxists.”viiWhat might be the nature of this bad conscience? It is, Lyotard suggests, a feeling of guilt or repulsion for being entranced for elements within the dynamics of market processes – namely, the ability to shake the foundations of the entrenched: “[i]n the figure of Kapital that Deleuze and Guattari propose, we easily recognize what fascinates Marx: the capitalist perversion, the subversion of codes, religions, decency, trades, educations, cuisine, speech…”
III. Behind the Veil of Capital
As far back as the Communist Manifesto, Marx draws our attention, usually through the use of ecstatic and poet imagery, to the positive aspects of capitalism in that it both destabilizes old formers of power while simultaneously carrying out processes of ‘modernization’. “All fixed, fast-frozen relations”, as the famous passage goes, “with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all newly-formed ones become antiquated before they ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of his life, and his relations with his kind.” It is for this reason that D & G use terms like line of flight, deterritorialization, and decoding to describe capitalist relations: “lines of flight” because it follows a snaking trajectory of desire towards the new; “deterritorialization” because it uproots things from where they are stuck and allows them to circulate; and “decoding” because it breaks down codes, that is, the strictures of tradition, identity, culture, and other imposed value systems.
Does this not, however, fall rather short from the reality of capitalism? Marx was able to somewhat chart a course between being enthralled by the intertwining of economic circulation and exploitation, on one side of things, and the exploitation and violence on the other – though he still fell victim to series of critical inconsistencies that ultimately helped in undermining much of his project, be it confusion between the state and the market (as drawn out by Kevin Carson in Studies in Mutualist Political Economy),viii his repugnant and Eurocentric support for British imperialism in India, or the ambiguous relationship between capitalist development and liberation in the core of his philosophy of history – discussions surround which helped shape the paths taken following the Bolshevik revolution.ix
D & G offer an escape from these inconsistencies and ambiguities, but it is an escape route that changes the very nature of the Marxist analysis of capitalism, and with it, the revolutionary goals that this analysis is intended to point towards. What is essential to note is that the elements that are identified as being ‘positive’ in capitalism – lines of flight, deterritorialization, decoding – are also the very things that become associated with liberatory politics. To wage a non-fascist revolt against the world – which is indeed the very goal of a book like Anti-Oedipus – is to revolt against the old in order to break open the possibility for new forms to arise. For Deleuze and Guattari it is desire itself that motors this process, just as it is desire that motivates all attempts at to move along a line of flight, to deterritorialize, and decode. Similarly, forces like deterritorialization and decoding put into play new desires that were not previously there. Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of desire is productive and tends towards excess and circulation, as opposed to the notions of desire rooted lack (as offered in earlier psychoanalytic discourses of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan).
Does this mean that capitalism can be identified as the expression of desire itself, a suggestion that sounds remarkably close to the rambling utterances of the vulgar libertarians and “anarcho”-capitalists? Not exactly. D & G argue for an understanding of capitalism not simply as a system, but as a constantly unfolding process. This process is not merely a reflection of desire filtered through the exchange patterns of the market, but a host of social relations tangled up in immanent relations of power and domination. No matter how flexible power relations may become, they always require some sort of rigid and fixed foundation at their base, some territory in which their codes operate. It would seem then that the elements of explosive creativity exhibited capitalist entrepreneurship and circulation – the market processes themselves, in other words – would stand opposed to this power, yet it does not. This is because, D & G argue, deterritorialization and decoding are only half of the capitalist process, and are conjoined with the reciprocal processes of reterritorialization and recoding. What’s more is that reterritorialization and recoding are presented as ‘stabilization mechanisms’ of sorts for the system itself, without which capitalism itself would cease to be. To quote them at length, …capitalism constantly counteracts, constantly inhibits this tendency [towards dissolution] while at the same time allowing it it free rein; it continually seeks to avoid reaching its limit while simultaneously tending towards that limit. Capitalism institutes or restores all sorts of residual and artificial, individual, imaginary, or symbolic territorialities, thereby attempting, as best it can, to recode, to rechannel persons who have been defined in terms of abstract quantities. Everything returns or recurs: States, nations, families. This what makes the ideology of capitalism “a motley painting of everything that has ever been believed”… The more the capitalist machine deterritorializes, decoding and axiomatizing flows in order to extract surplus value from them, the more the ancillary apparatuses, such as government bureaucracies and the forces of law and order, do their utmost to reterritorialize, absorbing in the process a larger and larger share of surplus value.x
That capitalism requires a state to maintain itself is no new revelation (nor is anything in the paragraph above). The best of Marx’s writings laid out, in incredible detail, the way the evolution of the modern state played a fundamental role in the birth of capitalism, while Benjamin Tucker’s excellent analysis showed how state action built up capitalism, as opposed to deterring it. The post-Marxist Regulation of School, which includes figures like Michel Aglietta and Bob Jessop, has conducted numerous studies of the way regulatory systems allow capitalism to ‘reproduce’ its relations. What D & G are describing here dovetails with these various analyses, but they are concerned with a very specific function: the way the state ‘seizes’ or ‘captures’ increasingly larger and larger elements in the forces that are being unleashed as a means of maintaining the entities that profit from this unleashing. While this might sound somewhat esoteric (and counterintuitive, especially in the face of traditional economic discourses), this process is more or less a depiction of networks of power relations being ‘reproduced’ by the constant co-production of capitalism and the state.
D & G take this notion from two primary sources. The first is the study of money that was carried out by Foucault and presented as part of his series of 1970-1971 lectures at the College de France on “the will to know”. In these lectures, Foucault illustrates how ‘fixed money’ – money that imposed by the state, as opposed to the ‘spontaneous currency’ that appears to occur naturally – in ancient Greece operated as a regulatory mechanism for the whole of society. Money in Greek society “prevents excess, pleonexia, having too much… But it also prevents excessive poverty…”xi Taxation, for Foucault, is an essential aspect of the function of fixed money, and not some aberration to its evolution or something applied later by unscrupulous bureaucrats. Instead, it was created with taxation in mind, as something that could create a taxonomy of classes, help keep class structures stay relatively rigid in their make-up (primarily through debt accrued by the lower classes and the upward flow of tax money to the upper classes), and to facilitate public work projects necessary for the expansive of economic interests beyond their natural scope. Looking the modern era, D & G write that “the Greeks discovered in their own way what the Americans discovered after the New Deal: that heavy taxes are good for business… In a word, money – the circulation of money – is the means of rendering the debt infinite.”xii
The second source is the position of the neo-Marxist Monthly Review school put, as put forward by Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy in their book Monopoly Capital. Controversial in the annals of Marxism for their transgression of many of the central tenets of Marxist orthodoxy (such as the tendency for the rate of profit to fall), Baran and Sweezy were primarily concerned with the increasingly ‘organized capitalism’ that had grown in period running from the 1880s through the 1960s. This stage of capitalist development was marked by high levels of centralization of economic power in small handfuls of firms, the market activity between which could only be best described as monopolistic competition. Such a system becomes intractably top-heavy, Baran and Sweezy argue, making the economy tend towards stagnation by running up too much excess production and by slowing money’s circulation through the economy. Thus the state comes to pick up the slack, absorbing excess production and capital to ‘pump energy’ back into the economy, be it through welfare programs, infrastructure renewal, military spending, or any other ‘productive’ form of taxpayer-funded government enterprise. Sounding a bit like Foucault in his study of money, Baran and Sweezy suggest that …since large-scale government spending enables the economy to operate much closer to capacity, the net effect on the magnitude of private surplus is both positive and large… To [the ‘big businessman’], government spending means more effective demand, and he senses that he can shift most of the associated taxes onto consumers or backwards onto workers. In addition… the intricacies of the tax system, specially tailored to fit the needs of all sorts of special interests, open up endless opportunities for speculative and windfall gains. All in all, the decisive sector of the American ruling class is well on the way to becoming a convinced believer in the beneficent nature of government spending.xiii
D & G expand these insights into a more generalized phenomenon, which they dub “capitalist” or “social axiomatics”. A mechanic process essential to the functioning of capitalism, these axiomatics are the means through which anything deterritorialized or decoded is rerouted back into the state-capitalism assemblage. It applies not only to the capture of monetary flows by the state via taxation, or the much earlier capture of exchange and circulation itself by the overcoding of spontaneous currencies with fixed money, but to things like the recuperation and co-optation of oppositional forms into the logic of power, so on and so forth. “There is a tendency within capitalism”, say D &G in A Thousand Plateaus, “to continually more axioms. After the end of World War I, the joint influence of the world depression and the Russian revolution forced capitalism to multiply its axioms, to invent new ones dealing with the working class, unemployment, union organizations, social institutions, the role of the State, the foreign and domestic markets, Keynesian economics, and the New Deal were axiom laboratories. Examples of the creations of new axioms after the Second World War: the Marshall Plan, forms of assistance and lending, transformation in the monetary system.”xiv
As is plain to see, sitting at the center of these interrelated concepts and models – reterritorialization, recoding, the addition/subtraction of axioms – is the state itself. D & G’s conception of capitalism is like a hydraulic system, where everything, be it capital, goods, people, and even desire, moves in flows that are constantly productive. Yet at the center of this system is the regulator that makes it work: “The state, its police, and its army form a gigantic enterprise of antiproduction, but at the heart of production itself, and conditioning this production.”xv
IV. Against the State
In A Thousand Plateaus, these dynamics get recast as a struggle between state apparatuses and war machines. In Anti-Oedipus, divergent, deterritorialized and decoded flows and forces are treated as having “nomadic” qualities; the “war machine” is the next stage of this analysis, focusing on the more intransigent and conflict-driven aspects of their functions. War machines, in other words, make exactly what their name implies, and the target of this war is the state itself (D & G here were drawing on the anthropological work of Pierre Clastres, which analyzed the way certain indigenous societies made the repelling of the state the very rationale of their social quasi-orders). War machines come in many different forms: your affinity group is a war machine, the agorist is a war machine, street gangs and pirates, even certain kinds of commercial organizations. Not all war machines are positive: they’re capable of being darkly violent, tribalistic, even fascistic. While much could be said about this, it is the specific confluence of the war machine with particular economic functions that concerns us here.
Against the war machine, D & G suggest, is the “apparatus of capture”, which is a function of the state that seizes or appropriates the divergent movement and makes it a part of itself. Such a force fits quickly comfortably along the treatment of reterritorialization, recoding, and axiomatics; indeed, D & G identify the apparatus of capture with the “megamachine”, which was Lewis Mumford’s term for large, stae-organized ‘socio-technical’ system that regiment and discipline the people bound up within it.xvi Importantly, they draw a further correlation between the megamachine and certain economic and political phenomena and mechanisms: the apparatus of capture “functions in three modes…: rent, profit, and taxation.” This schema, D & G tell us, is a recasting of Marx’s famous “trinity formula”, which he used to the describe the way the relations of capital become social relations. What makes D & G’s treatment different from Marx’s is twofold: first, because it positions the state, not the pure economic logic of capitalism, at the center of things; and second, because it is no longer a question of how capitalism becomes a social relation, but how things outside of the purview of the state become enmeshed in these various power relations. “It is not the State that presupposes a mode of production”, they write, “quite the opposite, it is the State that makes production a ‘mode.’”xvii
Of taxation we’ve already said quite a bit, so it is rent and profit that must be addressed. While taxation is obviously correlated to state function, for many the suggestion that rent and profit – two fundamental aspects of the capitalist market economy – arise from the functions of the state might appear as absolutely erroneous. But consider the little-acknowledged understanding, even in conventional economic discourses, that the more open the systems of exchange and circulation are, the more the capacity to maintain rates of profit accumulation in the long-term falls. With the capacity to enter freely, or to subtract entire sets of relations, from market systems, the ability for certain actors to assume an inordinate share of the market becomes untenable – which is precisely why reliance on state-granted and enforced monopolies becomes necessary for entrenched power structures to shore themselves up against this deterritorializing tide.
The same could be said for rent, which is contingent, in the capitalist system at least, on private property rights backed by the state and rendered in the form of standardized titles. Perhaps the relationship between rent and the state is even more obvious than that of the state and property, given the undeniable role of the state in partitioning older property systems, and setting them into a circulation beneficial to economic, social, and political elites. The assault on rent that would occur in the void of the state was summed up best by Robert Anton Wilson: “Of course, since Austrian ideas exist as factors in human behavior, I will admit that people, hoodwinked by these ideas, will continue to pay rent even in freedom, for a while at least. But I think that, after a time, observing that their Tuckerite neighbors are not submitting to this imposture, they would come to their senses and cease paying tribute to the self-elected ‘owners’… I myself would not pay rent one day beyond the point at which the police… are at hand to collect it via ‘argument per blunt instrument’.”xviii
So who or what are the war machines that are captured in these three mechanisms of capture, tax, rent, and profit? D & G spend a significant amount of time discussing figures that would be dismissed in the annals of Marxism as ‘petty-bourgeois’: artisans, craftsmen, stone masons, metallurgists, merchants, etc. The existence of these figure does not, of course, remove from the picture of the exploitation of the peasant – and later proletarian – classes, but for D & G it is their nomadic and autonomous nature, “since their existence did not entirely depend on a surplus accumulated by a local State apparatus”, that makes them attractive for prefiguring new political ways of thinking and acting that escape from and attack the state. Referencing the historical development of metallurgy, D & G emphasize the way that the state’s drive to monopolize economies and maintain the status quo of power linked the capture of these actors to the exploitation of the lower classes: “State overcoding keeps the metallurgists, both craft and mercantile, within strict bounds, under powerful bureaucratic control, with monopolistic foreign trade in the service of the ruling class, so that the peasants themselves benefit little from the State innovations.”xix
A more contemporary example of these dynamics in action would be the way 1) tinkerers and hackers produced paradigm-shifting innovations in information-communication technology; 2) the subsequent capture of these innovations under the state’s enforcement of IP laws and their service to large, top-heavy multinational corporations; and 3) the way further innovations from these developments are obstructed. Thus we can suggest a direct continuity between the reflections on artisans, craftsmen and metallurgists in A Thousand Plateaus to the musings on piracy and hacking in “Postscript on the Societies of Control” alluded to earlier.
So what we ultimately have, stepping back looking over these various tracings, is a contested space, a space of conflict, on one side of which is the state, capitalism, and the multi-scaled ecology of power that runs through these formations. On the other: autonomous movement, dynamic exchange and circulation, creative ecologies driven by desire. The former makes the latter the raw materials for itself, makes desire, creativity, the impulse to flee and transgress traditional territories, borders, and limits (is to destabilize not the most fundamental desire there is?), something that upholds more imperceptible forms of domination by way its various mechanisms and apparatuses. The most egregious of these is the way in which these ecologies force so many would-be breaks to simply fold inwards, and return to supporting the systems they supposedly contest. Liberation from capitalism is often synonymous with the retreat to social democratic variants of the same, which is no break from capitalism, but the strengthening of it by calling on the full forces of the state to flex its power. When we leave the question of blood-and-soil identity and aesthetic accouterments to the side, how different can we honestly saw these basic mechanics of the social democratic state are from the fascist state? With this in mind, let us return to the notorious accelerationist passage in Anti-Oedipus, which hopefully by this point take on a new appearance:[W]hich is the revolutionary path? Is there one? – to withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go further still, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process”, as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.
Is this not a vision of militant, leftist (or even post-leftist) articulation of how systems of exchange and circulation, operating on a global level, can undermine dominant ecologies of power, and that crude brutalism they inexorably tend towards – fascism? It is not a secret ode to neoliberal globalization, or the breakthrough of the capitalist world market; following their vision of the state and capitalism as forces bound up together as a common, modular, and reactive assemblage, ‘neoliberalization’ and all that comes with it (the slippering sloganeering of ‘privatization’, ‘deregulation’, ‘austerity’, ‘structural adjustment’, etc.) is nothing more than the next unfolding of the processes of adding and subtracting axioms. A positive left-wing anarchist accelerationism would have to position the horizon of their political activity beyond axiomatics, in a future space that breaks apart these ecologies. This is a future where desire operates at the “molecular” level, not at the level of some abstract collectivity.
It would be utterly incorrect to say that the entirety of D & G’s praxis is about some ‘free-market communism’, as it has been described by Eugene Holland.xx It would be equally incorrect , however, to pretend that the relationship between markets and liberation does not matter in the great scheme of their work (as so many leftist commentators, be they academic or not, have done). Any market anarchist elements that are gleamed must be married to their wider gamut of concerns – futurity, globality, the unleashing of desires to their fullest extent, the dissolution of all externals and internal dynamics of power, on and on. As the late Mark Fisher described, the accelerationism of D & G was “about accelerating certain tendencies which capitalism itself has to keep at bay… when those tendencies are accelerated, we go beyond those standard forms of subjectivities, life, and work that capitalism depends upon.”xxi