Malcolm's Reviews > Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?

Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher
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's review
Jul 24, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: marxism-and-the-left
Read in September, 2010

So, what do you do about capitalism if you live in a world where, as both Jameson & Žižek have noted, it is easier to imagine the end of the world then the end of capitalism, or as Fisher puts it in the short, engaging, and entertaining book, if there is a "widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it"?

First up, disagree: I can imagine a viable alternative to capitalism (Alain Badiou's The Communist Hypothesis helped me there). I like to think I am helping to build a viable alternative to capitalism, but I am aware that there are not many people on the construction site with me, and it is I admit really hard to envisage exactly what my imaginary alternative looks like – except it is collectivist, social, equal, democratic (and I don't mean there are electoral rituals that perpetuate the power of a small group, but participatory) and does not require the alienation of humans from their being to work in the service of someone else.

Then, to agree: I don't see my imaginary viable alternative as all that likely, and am acutely aware that Fisher is correct when he argues that the 'reality' of capitalism hides the Real, its actual form, so that the accept capitalism's reality is to miss its essential form and character (he does get a little Lacanian at one stage, I suspect his debt to Žižek). More notably, I am also aware that in my everyday work as an academic and as a university manager I am not only complicit in but actively perpetuate late capitalism's surveillance culture where we control and discipline ourselves.

The analysis here, of mental health as a social disease, of the dyslexia epidemic as post-lexia (the condition of life in a world where reading is unnecessary), of neo-liberalism's love of a specific type of big state – the surveillance state – but hatred of the welfare state as not a paradox but as essential to late capitalism, packs an awful lot into 81 pages. What he doesn't do, and where Fisher shows how bad we have got at imagining not only an alternative to capitalism but also ways to resist it, is suggest anything more meaningful than a call to stop bickering over the past and find ways to, as much as possible, withdraw from doing capitalism's surveillance work for it.

In short, this is a fabulous analysis – but we have plenty of them (notably Jodi Dean's Democracy and Other Neo-Liberal Fantasies, Ellen Meiksins Wood's Empire of Capital, Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine): by all means read this and those three titles, but look also for ways to move beyond the analysis – and for me you can't go far past Marta Harnecker's Rebuilding the Left, or in the UK the political project best represented by Red Pepper magazine.
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message 1: by Petra Eggs (new)

Petra Eggs I lived in several kibbutzim in my teens. From small ones, to ones with thousands of people. It was interesting to see communism in action and to see that it worked only because everyone actually wanted to be there and that they worked tirelessly to make sure that no one person or group could have either more power or more material goods than anyone else. Not being materialistic I loved living on them, but being an anarchist and an artist, that side of me did not!

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