“Capitalist Realism Is Ending”: An Addendum

A little addendum here to my previous post. I was going to make it a short update at the bottom but it ended up not being that short. Instead, here it is as a separate post. I’ll also leave it “after the jump” so as not to clog up the blog.

I was expecting that my previous post would not go down well on Facebook but it seems the response has largely been positive.

However, it has been brought to my attention that the Facebook user known as “Abra Khan” — initially screenshotted in Alex’s tweet — feels quite attacked by all this. That’s understandable but it was not the intention. I would have thought this was clear from the way the previous post abstracts outwards from a single example to speak more generally about how Mark’s work is often deployed on social media.

After the previous post was shared in the “Mark Fisher Memes for Hauntological Teens” Facebook group, AK responded by drawing more attention to the nuance left out of his comments elsewhere — comments I haven’t seen. They are sort of by-the-by though, considering the original visual remains representative of a lot of comments and content many have seen on Facebook and Twitter since this all started. That’s the focus — not the particular views of one individual. To believe that this post is focusing specifically on Abra Khan’s particular complicity or lack thereof is to miss the broader point being made.

Nevertheless, let’s address a few things AK raises in their response just for the sake of clarity…

Abra Khan’s long comment starts like this:

It’s amusing that my FB post, which followed immediately with an except from a liberal economic historian in the comments, can be interpreted as ‘accelerationist fear-mongering’ and ‘hypocrisy’ by Alexandra Chase! [sic]

For what it’s worth, those are my words, not Alex’s, and both instances are hyperlinks to: 1) a Guardian article about “far-right accelerationism”, and 2) a previous blogpost about last week’s Twitter moral panic around Nick Land still being of apparent interest to some people in the art world. Neither of those comments is describing AK’s Facebook post but rather providing some broader context from which Alex is making her astute observation.

As Alex made clear, there is a core similarity between self-described accelerationist’s cheering the downfall of our present system due to Covid-19 and leftist’s cheering the same disruption because it reveals how shaky the system really is. That’s it. That’s the tweet. Regardless of what further nuanced positions are being discussed elsewhere, the optics — a giant banner in a Facebook group that says “Capitalist Realism Is Ending” with a load of fire emojis — do speak to this prevalent position expressed across various platforms. It’s a useful illustration of the cognitive dissonance of a general online leftism and it’s probably best not to take it personally.

And yet…

In trying to reinsert some of their nuance back into the conversation, AK is keen to point out that they previously went on to highlight some comments made by the economist Adam Tooze (presumably from here) that make the case that “capitalist realism is ending” but in more economically technical terms. At least I think that’s the argument being made — the syntax isn’t clear. AK writes:

Tooze, a liberal left economic historical, makes some astute technical observations about the Fed reactions to the [Covid-19] crisis (treasury repo lines, to supplement the limited legacy 2008 forex swap lines, and discusses the test which the Western model is being subjected to (and failing at) through this crisis, versus those societies with a remaining semblance of socialistic institutions left from the post-WW2 social settlement and/or those that invested in space public health capacity against all Thatcherite capitalistic logic.

From here, we shift gear in a bizarre set of parentheses:

(A passing resonance with Land here, although somewhat inverting him, as he assumes economic rationality will always prevail in such competition between societies. Fisher’s ACC/ccru tradition is only one of a few angles which make his work interesting — ACC/ccru was a hole he had largely managed to dig himself out of.)

This is precisely the sort of thing I’m taking about in the previous post.

What makes this kind of reading of a forthcoming economic crisis “Landian” exactly? Is it because it approaches capitalism through a sort of systems-thinking? Accelerationism (in the sense this blog understands it: as a philosophy of time) does that too, I suppose. Is that why it’s still bad?

The underlying assumption seems to be something like “systems-thinking and humanism are different”, which is true, but they’re not incompatible. This is presumably where the belief comes from that Mark moved away from accelerationism. Mark further embraced his humanism but that doesn’t mean he threw out an interest in the inhuman — what do you think The Weird and the Eerie is a celebration of?

Nevertheless, as AK says in those parenthesses, accelerationism and the Ccru “was a hole [Mark] had largely managed to dig himself out of.”

Where this comes from I do not know but it is a suggestion I saw repeatedly when I briefly visited the Facebook archipelago of Mark Fisher groups a few months back. Their vision of Mark’s work is weirdly sanitised in a way that only undermines their own positions and demonstrates the superficiality of their readings, making Mark a somehow one-dimensional thinker stripped of his thornier edges for the sake of making him more palatable to a certain discourse.

(Alex makes a further point on Twitter in relation to this comment: “The endless need to treat CCRU (through Land specifically) as a totally homogenous starting point for the theorists who were part of it is so unbelievably frustrating. And of course, all the gals get ignored”)

This isn’t to try and claim Mark for some murky underground. It’s a point worth making because most of those who have championed Mark since his death couldn’t care less about him when he was alive. Many of us watched this process happen in real time, from immediately after Mark’s death, when the things he was actively working on, with, and through were shorn off so that he fit more neatly into the theoretical armoury of your average member of the commentariat.

For example, as I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog and, indeed, in those Facebook groups once upon a time, Mark was still teaching Land’s work at the time of his death and his essay “Post-Capitalist Desire” — that deals with Land’s thought and why the left should read it — remains a key Acid Communism ur-text.

This isn’t to undermine the joy people get from Mark’s work or somehow bring him down in people’s political estimations but surely we have a duty to be honest with ourselves about who people are and what they wrote about? It’s the sort of popularisation that has afflicted countless people over the years and philosophers of all stripes — Nietzsche is the most famous, perhaps; I’ve been writing about D.H. Lawrence myself most recently. It’s a tale as old as time: nobody wants to hear about the complexities of people’s lives — they just want the Cliff Notes.

A rejection of this tendency is important when we think about Mark’s work because it is precisely the sort of impact he brought into the world. This is the Fisher-Function. The beauty of a lot of our cultural history is that there is so much radicality still left to be uncovered in the minutiae of people’s lives; in the cultural artefacts we think we already know; in the music we take for granted. Mark built an entire career off of this. What is The Weird and the Eerie if not the perfect example, implicitly connecting the aesthetics of weird fiction to the lacunae of Capitalism Realism?

This is why reductive readings of Mark will never not rile me up and lead to a big ol’ blog post. I refuse to sanitise Mark’s work and present some monolithic version of his thought, like some smooth leftist suppository. Instead, I will always insist on doing to his work what he did to pop culture and the work of others: find the peculiar valences in it, particularly those at hint at other worlds, and carry them forwards.

Many of these Facebook groups, in particular, seem to miss this point. It’s a point made neatly by AK in another set of disjointed parentheses, in which they write:

Half-formed thought experiments of Fisher’s like [Acid Communism] might have come to something had he lived, but while AC has resonated and reverberated in some places, it has not particularly flourished.

This is true — but why hasn’t it flourished? Precisely because his readers have failed to pick up the torch he left on the ground and follow the path of the work that is out there.

This is why a group of us made the Egress website in 2017 — and it is the sentiment behind this website that later gave its name to my book. We wanted it to be “a site to build (around) an acid communism”.

Long before the k-punk anthology was an idea, a group of us, led by Kodwo Eshun, believed that, whilst the Acid Communism intro left much to be desired, it was nonetheless a project that could be (re)constructed using many of Mark’s more recent blog posts and also his less readily available essays: “Baroque Sunbursts”, “Touchscreen Capture”, “Post-Capitalist Desire”, “No Romance Without Finance”, “Digital Psychedelia”, “Designer Communism”, “Abandon All Hope (Summer Is Coming)”…

We thought, if these texts were more widely available, maybe it would lead to a real shift in our discourses, as Mark’s death led to an explosion of interest in his thought and writings. So, we scanned these articles from Mark’s personal copies of magazines, books and journals, left on the bookshelf in his office at Goldsmiths after his death, and we put them all up online in the hope that this public resource would invigorate people to see where Mark was headed at the time of his death and pick up the torch for themselves — building (around) his acid communism; continuing the thought whilst also collectively putting it to work.

Instead, we got the reductive Jeremy Gilbert gloss, which said more about Gilbert’s preferences and little about what Mark was writing about or teaching at the time of his death.

We made this thing because these essays and blogposts do not paint a picture of a “half-formed” thought but rather a vibrant and illuminating critique of the present, contextualised through the past, and attached to some of the most forward-thinking political projects that Mark had helped midwife and nurture or just publicly supported (including accelerationism, xenofeminism, et al.)

The website did get a lot of traffic in the early days but the momentum petered out. We hoped to collate everything Mark had ever done — every article, every blog post — but we ran out of steam. Many projects like it went much the same way — initially fuelled by grief, they went cold as we tried to move on with our lives.

Nevertheless, all the most recent articles that Mark wrote when developing his Acid Communism, from 2014 to 2016, unpublished elsewhere, remain accessible there and are free to download.

On a final note, AK concludes:

… has putting this group and me in my/our place not just subjected us all to more needless internecine bullshit? Fisher was as an acute observer of Twitter (and the Vampire Castle) as he was of Facebook, so I don’t know why Twitter is being put on such a pedestal.

Why is Twitter put on a pedestal? It’s certainly not a utopia but, compared to Facebook, it certainly offers us more potentials. Nick Land summarises it best in this interview when he described the mind-numbing trajectory that has played out online from the 1990s to now:

There was an extremely exciting wave that was ridden by the Ccru in the early to mid-1990s. You know, the internet basically arrived in those years, there were all kinds of things going on culturally and technologically and economically that were extremely exciting and that just carried this accelerationist current and made it extremely, immediately plausible and convincing to people. Outrageous perhaps, but definitely convincing. It was followed — and I wouldn’t want to put specific dates on this, really — but I think there was an epoch of deep disillusionment. I’d call it the Facebook era, and obviously, for anyone who’s coming in any way out of Deleuze and Guattari, for something called “Facebook” to be the dominant representative of cyberspace is just almost, you know, a comically horrible thing to happen! [Laughs.]

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari conflate a kind of “facialisation” to a particular strain of fascism — a novel idea back then, perhaps, but one that has become (technologically speaking, at least) more and more relevant. What is Anonymous if not the most famous rejection of this online tendency? It also goes someway towards explaining the cyclone of avatars, signals and meat puppets that populate the Ccru’s mythos. Anonymous likens themselves to Legion; the Ccru, inspired by the Situationists, similarly spoke in favour of swarmachines. (Mark remained interested in this line of thinking explicitly — see, for instance, a presentation called “Practical Eliminativism: Getting Out of the Face, Again”, published by Urbanomic in late 2014.)

We shouldn’t put Twitter on a pedestal but we should be able to recognise that Facebook absolutely represents the very worst of what cyberspace has to offer.

AK continues:

So, comrades, — to evoke Jodi Dean’s Fisher Memorial lecture — where is any of this getting us, huh? Nowhere from which we can press the advantages that this unprecedented historical moment might give us, that’s for sure.

It seems we have to look in other corners of the internet for that.

This is something else we should really get out of the habit of doing. Being subject to a critique does not make one the victim of the Vampire Castle. Yes, reading that you’ve been (abstractly) put on blast on the internet does feel like your energy is being sucked out into some cybernetic void. However, as I’ve already mentioned, the intention was not to come for AK specifically — the group is absolutely cringe, on the whole, but this is not a expression of any personal beef with any individual users.

The point being made is that Mark’s thought deserves the kind of approach that he brought to the world at large, not some glossed over, sanitised bullshit used to perpetuate a feedback loop of bad takes. That’s the vampire I want to drive a stake through: the one that sucks all the vitality out of Mark’s work, sanitising it so it can be sent through the infrastructures of “communicative capitalism” that Mark was a frequent critic of.

That’s where we go from here: we cut that bullshit out.

I should probably just let it go and quick fighting the same fight over and over again but maybe this goes a little further with regards to an articulation of why it’s annoying as fuck.


  1. I find AK’s references to Tooze’s analysis as a means of illustrating the decline of capitalist realism to be rather confusing. To fail in comparison to more mixed or socially-oriented market economies isn’t a mark of the decline of ‘capitalist realism’ — it could instead reinforce it in perhaps its most virulent and braindead form. The Trump administration has put in motion the specter of things that break with the sort of retrograde, finance-oriented mode of capitalist development that we’re been stuck in for five decades (which brings to the static cultural formations that the CR concepts draw attention to the foreground): he’s invoked an act that allows the Federal government to potentially steer private industry to their own ends, the temporary quasi-nationalization of businesses needing bailout, hints of UBI, etc. But in each case the opposite has emerged from each point: the Defense Production Act has been used only to seize goods that have been produced before the reach the destination of their buyers (see: the US seizing masks slated for Germany at the Bangkok airport), while in the case of the bail-outs the government has the *option* to take equity stake in the businesses in question, minus the voting powers that this would normally include. Finally, UBI has been turned into what is probably a one-time check of $1200. These latter two don’t break any new ground: they’re exactly the sort of responses that were mobilized in 2008. In the case of the DPA and seizures, this looks less a dynamic overcoming and more like bitter state failure.

    The Fed’s operations are interesting and as Tooze has shown in painstaking detail, go beyond (in terms of both structure and cost) what they did in 2008. But what is happening is that the Fed is trending towards becoming the ‘market maker of last resort’, where the central bank becomes the entity that keeps the dying economy artificially going. In cases where this is already the case — take Japan, for example — it’s clear that while it can help hold off a deep collapse, it maintains the economy in a state of stagnation.

    Between these two directions, the future here seems to be suspended between two paths:

    1) The slow-churn of a horrifying Dead-Undead capitalism, lumbering monstrously along under the brrr of the Fed’s money printer.
    2) The inability of these measures to prevent the really real threat of Depression, in which the US — and by extension, the rest of the world — is plunged into something truly nightmarish.

    If the first path comes to fruition, measuring the failures of the US administrative state again the relative successes of social states won’t mean much of anything. At the macropolitical level, the capitols of capital — the US and the EU (and the UK?) will grind on. CR intensifies in the shadow of the long night of zombie capitalism. (Though there might be outliers where novelty may still emerge, but they won’t liked by the left-liberal temperament: euroskeptic states, China…)

    If the second path is what happens, then these social democracies will find their welfare programs and whatnot on the chopping block, much the way that the radiating spirals of economic contraction triggered by the Great Recession unleashed a regime of austerity against the world.

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