Every time an election happens, I’m left wanting to pen something rousing — win or lose — but it’s impossible. Mark Fisher said it all already.
“Democracy is joy”, he wrote in 2015 (quoting Carl Neville quoting Alexis Tsipras). He notably wrote that after the left, around Europe, had once again been defeated. Today, that statement feels more self-evident. Seeing the joy currently erupting across America over the fact that either Joe Biden has won and/or Donald Trump has been defeated makes that clear. At the risk of contradicting myself two days ago, Fisher’s words nonetheless bear repeating.
Is Biden the ideal candidate for the left? Hardly. But the schadenfreude of Trump losing is euphoric even from this side of the Atlantic.
Most seem pessimistic about the future regardless. At worst, a Biden presidency will reinstate the long shadow of the Obama years — a return to neoliberalism as usual — but 2020 isn’t like 2009-2017; nor is capitalism in 2020 anything like capitalism in 2008. Capitalism has been mutated by this pandemic and the world needs to respond to the changes made. Trump was never going to do that. Will Biden?
I’m hopeful that the next four years will at least be better than they could have been. Maybe it will turn out that this hope — I’m not euphoric enough to be confident — has been misplaced. But I am hopeful because, for the first time in a decade, the usual polarity of “evental politics” is inverted. For Fisher,
the narrative of evental politics since the late 1990s has been reliably repetitious. Euphoric outbursts of dissent are followed by depressive collapse. Eventalism is the manic flipside of the general depressive tendency in boring academic Marxism — in which an ostensible Leninism / Maoism (everything will change after the revolution!) obfuscates a de facto Adornianism (nothing could ever happen, everything is bad, so we might as well keep on taking the state’s pay cheques). The whole rehabilitation of the status of Philosophy itself in the past couple of decades — the reversal of the democratising move to Theory, and the colonisation of what is now called Theory by third-rate obscurantist “Philosophy” and curator-speak babble – is a sideshow, of course, but a symptomatic one. The sour comedy of academic philosophical Leninism and Maoism can now be seen as one of the last acts in a postmodern shadowplay — a pantomime in which we are condemned to the role of interactive audience, tweeting our responses onto the screen behind the main players, who carry on regardless.
In 2020 — the long 2020 — this euphoric outburst follows rather than prefigures our depressive collapse. That’s important, I think. The cynicism on Twitter regarding the side-lining of Theory following Biden’s victory is understandable but also unfortunate. This joyful moment isn’t a mirage to move on from so we can get to work; this joyful moment is where the work should begin, and with a new vitality.
By all means retain your critical eye, but your hard nose helps no one, least of all the left. Politics, like capitalism, is libidinal — for better and for worse. I wager many more people will be excited to get to work now than they would have been if Trump won another term. So, let’s make the best of it.
Fisher again: we shouldn’t get carried away but this moment is nonetheless significant. “If political change doesn’t happen through events alone, there are nevertheless moments which function as thresholds, opening up a new terrain of struggle, and allowing different collective emotions to propagate.” That was what we felt at Goldsmiths, in negative, after Mark’s death. I’m personally very thankful to have a reason to be cheerful for a change.