But another class of reasoners hold the opinion that there is no such relation between capital and labor, as assumed; and that there is no such thing as a freeman being fatally fixed for life, in the condition of a hired laborer, that both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them groundless. They hold that labor is prior to, and independent of, capital; that, in fact, capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed---that labor can exist without capital, but that capital could never have existed without labor. Hence they hold that labor is the superior---greatly the superior---of capital.Lots of talk these days about accelerationism. What this appears to mean is analogous to the Situationist approach to art: take capitalism and simultaneously realize and destroy it. Capitalism deterritorializes, it melts all that is solid into air and profanes all that's holy. But it does not go far enough, it congeals and paralyzes, transforms into structures of oppression--so use its own essence against it! In fact, accelerationism is one of Marxism's most legitimate heirs. After all, what distinguished Marx from his precessors was not his "scientific" approach or his materialism but above all his lack of nostalgia for the bygone utopias capitalism had swept away. The way for him was always forward, towards a realization of capitalism's revolutionary impulse.
They do not deny that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital. The error, as they hold, is in assuming that the whole labor of the world exists within that relation. A few men own capital; and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital, hire, or buy, another few to labor for them ... Again, as has already been said, the opponents of the "mud-sill" theory insist that there is not, of necessity, any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. There is demonstration for saying this. Many independent men, in this assembly, doubtless a few years ago were hired laborers. And their case is almost if not quite the general rule.
The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, say its advocates, is free labor---the just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all---gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all. If any continue through life in the condition of the hired laborer, it is not the fault of the system, but because of either a dependent nature which prefers it, or improvidence, folly, or singular misfortune.
- Abraham Lincoln, address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society (1859)
What does Lincoln have to say to us about accelerationism? His speech, of course, embodies the very liberating claims that grounded revolutionary capitalism to begin with. And while we may laugh at the naive liberalism of the assertion that "it is not the fault of the system," it is undeniable that his vision is much more appealing than the neo-feudalism of the "mud-sill theory." What animates the thought of Lincoln, like that of Thoreau, is the inherent potentiality of any structural arrangement: to be a hired laborer is not simply that, it is to be a hired laborer with the potential to become an employer. This means that no particular position has any specific value or worthlessness except insofar as it is a token in the generalized economy of social advancement.
Here, however, Lincoln runs aground without noticing it. For the operative metaphor is not at all the stream of history, pushing mankind forward to greater and greater heights; rather, it is the wheel of samsara or Fortuna. The economy of free labor is fundamentally circular. The system exists only to reproduce itself, to enable another generation to enter an identical cycle. Because the lowliness of the hired laborer is redeemable only by his potential for progress, any structural change or breakdown in the system would mean that it becomes monstrous. It is fitting that Lincoln's audience is the Agricultural Society of Wisconsin, because his rhetoric is firmly situated in (Bakhtin's) chronotope of the countryside. The irreversible time of capitalism is thus revealed as pseudo-cyclical (as Debord would put it).
Perhaps this little quandary is of no relevance whatsoever to accelerationism. Yet I think that if the latter is really to produce a coherent praxis, rather than a species of Chardin-esque metaphysical bloviation, it must account for a generalized form of the problem. When we think we are deterritorializing, maybe we are only reproducing a cycle? Is the escape from the cycle part of another cycle? Like Ptolemaic astronomy, accelerationism is in danger of suffering from epicyclical degeneration. We cannot, indeed, make a step in any new theory of politics without plunging into the realm of the recurrent. The denial of this is the characteristic lie of our perishing modernity.