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Mandatory Redistribution Party

Capitalist Realism

Over a decade since the publication of Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism, are we better equipped to imagine an alternative to capitalism? 

Capitalist Realism mandos

Imagination is finite.

As much as inspiration can strike and new thoughts can seemingly appear from nowhere, each idea is dependent on those that came before. It’s why no one in the Renaissance came up with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch. It’d be a nightmare to even get them close. You can only build a bridge to what could be from the secure footholds of what already is.

As much as it’s nice to imagine all of human development as part of a grand teleology stretching from cave paintings to a robot that does the washing up, the reality is that the limits of human imagination can go in any direction at any time. When certain realities are closed down for long enough, they don’t just become unfeasible, but eventually they’re scrubbed from the collective consciousness.

It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism

That is the opening sentence of Mark Fisher’s 2009 book Capitalist Realism, a book which set the stage for a decade free from alternatives.

Today, there exists no solution to capitalism. Capitalism is not presented as a choice, but a fundamental part of life. Any semblance of resistance can now be absorbed directly into capitalism again, including anti-capitalism.

Capitalism will happily buy and sell products about the evils of capitalism. Even Disney produced Wall-E, a film about how consumer capitalism has destroyed the planets and transformed humanity into infantilised consumers. Capitalism is not weakened by protest; it welcomes protest, the existence of which advertises its liberal tolerance of dissent. In 2009, Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ was Christmas number one.

Capitalism is both unavoidable and inexorably tied to climate collapse. Accordingly, it is difficult to imagine a future which isn’t scarred by ultraviolet radiation or naked authoritarianism – or both! The 1960s gave rise to both Star Trek and The Jetsons, two depictions of a post-scarcity utopia fuelled by technological progress. Two of the most significant films from last year were Parasite, about a man who is abandoned by society and kills his boss, and Joker, about a man who is abandoned by society and kills Robert De Niro.

A decade after Capitalist Realism, we’re living through the results of having no alternatives: a global pandemic, recessions caused by an unregulated banking sector, soaring child poverty, climate change, automation-led mass redundancy. You might imagine these problems would force a solution, other than cranking the profit machine until its whirs become deafening and plumes of scalding steam burst through cracks in the warped metal. You would be wrong.

Today, everyone with their hands at the controls is united by one idea, an untidy crayon drawing of Margaret Thatcher’s ghost. All organised resistance has been delegitimised where possible, or crushed where necessary.

The last bastion of opposition is the tide of public imagination. Are we still able to imagine that another world is possible?

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