Capitalist Realism itself, is basically the cultural condition in which, with Marx, we stare with clear eyes at “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation” (4) but yet…keep calm and carry on. We are not unmoved exactly; but yet still we do nothing. The details of why and how, and the ramifications in various domains, are the object of the book.
The following excerpt comes from a stimulating review of a book by Mark Fischer, “Capitalist Realism”, positively estimated by the author of the fascinating and stimulating Angel Economics blog, which is quite aligned to our thinking at the P2P Foundation.
Here he responds to one of the observations of the author:
Thesis by Mark Fischer:
“For most people under twenty in Europe and North America, the lack of alternatives to capitalism is no longer even an issue”
Response by Angel Economics:
“To some degree this is true. However, a closer look would reveal that throughout this stratum, within numerous subgroups – each in their different ways – there are explorations taking place of ways of doing things which go beyond capitalism. Most do not explicitly or self-consciously see things in those terms of course – to provide that awareness of the wider context and meaning, is the role of a movement (see below). But still. Thriving knitting groups; shared amateur photography (with a high degree of editing skill and artistic vision); open-source software; filesharing (the engine for this comes from the young, and many take this source of acquiring data simply as axiomatic); all sorts of geeky DIY, from biotechnology, pharmacology, permaculture, health analysis and augmentation, robotics; binraiding (shops throw out great stuff); swapping and ‘freecycling’ consumer goods; etc etc. There is a homebrew industrial revolution, and the young are often on its leading edge.”
This discussion is followed up by another one, about the extraordinary power of capital to coopt resistance. It does this either by creating a split between thinking and acting, it doesn’t care what you think, as long as you don’t take action (for example it can rejoice in the anticapitalist Avatar bringing in $500m or more, as long as it is not associated with concrete action); or, by interpreting your resistance as a spectacular performance which it can capitalize on.
Capitalism does not merely appropriate but actually sets about producing cultural artifacts with pre-packed anti-capitalism in them. Taking a recent example, Fisher notes that “[a] film like Wall-E exemplifies what Robert Pfaller has called ‘interpassivity’: the film performs our anti-capitalism for us, allowing us to continue to consume with impunity”
This leads AE to call for a more explicit anticapitalism as an answer against cooptation:
“All it would take for artistic works to become un-commodifiable in a stronger sense, would be the existence of a genuine anticapitalist political movement to which they could attach themselves. If there were such a movement which threatened capital, and it was generally known that some work expressed its aspirations, you can be sure it would become indigestible by MTV, the Wellcome Trust, or any other 400ft disembodied capitalist throat.
Putting this in other words: insofar as anti-capitalism is merely expressed or performed or displayed, it is not, truly, anti-capitalism.”
He concludes that:
“A proper political movement needs to be constituted with the basic aim of fundamentally restructuring socioeconomic relations.” (and even mentions current plans to create a ‘fifth international’)
And yet he must concede (as does this other blog author):
“The hard Left is peculiar at the moment. Popular discontent with the social status quo runs extremely deep and wide, and, in fact, is even often very clear about the identity or cause of its problems, viz. capitalism. And yet the hard Left virtually never seems able to tap into this.”
I would suggest that this condition is terminal, because the left as we understand it, is a movement of resistance against, but also co-evolving with industrial capitalism. While it can be proud of having achieved a redistributive welfare state (only partially dismantled under neoliberalism), it has a very long and consistent record of failure as anti-capitalist movement.
I would suggest the analogy with marriage, in order to explain the different feeling-tone of the P2P Foundation’s attempt to create a new type of peer to peer social movement, that is substantially different from the approach of the traditional left.
Think about a forced marriage, which nevertheless was acceptable because both partners benefitted (capital and labour). The relationship is fundamentally contradictory and conflictual, but fighting occurs only as long as the partners see a future in the relationship. As long as you fight against, but within the framework posed by capital as the dominant system, it actually means you are still attached to it. This is for me what anticapitalism signifies, beyond the radical but powerless demands to mouth a total opposition to the system of capital (in this, the radical left ressembles the catholic church and its demand to accept the credo first and above all). It is not only rather powerless and has a record of failure, but actually signifies a taking serious of capital as the central issue of life. Paradoxically, it feeds the beast that it wants to bring down.
Post-capitalism though is different. It is already profoundly convinced that the system of capital is dying, because it knows that an infinite growth machine is a logical and physical impossibility in a finite worth that is now seriously subject to biospheric destruction. But it also knows that empty radical stances are powerless. And it knows from the record of history, that whenever new hyperproductive alternatives of value production occured, as it now does with peer production, governance and property, they were at first used by the previously dominant but dying core system, before replacing it. So, we essentially do not worry that forces of capital use open, participative, and commons oriented modalities to strengthen themselves, because by doing so they actually strengthen the post-capitalist alternatives. What matters most is not the fear of cooptation, but rather the protection of the autonomy of the post-capitalist peer to peer logics that we apply amongst ourselves as peer producers. If we live this core relationship in the core of the value production modality, and the market players use the commons to create added value for the market, this is acceptable to us to the degree that the core functioning remains possible. Only when market players use their dominance to subvert the core logic, say by creating ‘fake distorted commons’ (as explained by Massimo de Angelis), do we worry and fight back.
Therefore as post-capitalists, we know that we have to build and construct alternatives, but the core of our consciousness is not directed against a powerful enemy (because we know the Emperor is already naked), but rather to insure the conditions for the survival and thriving of the human race, in the period of terminal transition. We also know that demanding acceptance of a credo, is counterproductive and isolating, though we do have social charters, that state clearly the minimal demands for operating in a commons. We just ask that you behave in that equipotential way, not that you sign up to a anticapitalist credo. Rather we work with everyone which agrees in the positivity of the alternative, and do not care that they may say they support capitalism, as this can means so many different things to so many different people. In fact, since we are able to divorce the market from capitalism, we know that many market players are natural allies, as they themselves already subverting the core logic of accumulation of capital. Fair trade, socially responsible investments, social enterpreneurs and the like, are already subsuming the forms of capital, to logics which are no longer about accumulation but about the production of social goods. These enterpreneurs are not the enemies of peer producing communities, but allies. They are groping towards the chaotic attractor that is the peer to peer logic of partnership in the creation of value. As peer producing communities we must choose to preferentially treat with those market forces that respect our autonomy, and have formats that are maximally aligned with our own ethos, but we accept all those that respect our autonomy and core functioning as a commons. This in my view can create a much wider alliance of social forces, than a mere anti-capitalist alliance, which is in the current configuration, usually a marginal affair of true believers.
The importance is to maximize those type of social relations, in my view ‘peer to peer’, which go beyond the greed and mere exchange of the capitalist marketplace, and make us live today, the social logic which we want to become the core of the new society and civilization of tomorrow. Post-capitalism means living our values today, and creating the institutions to strengthen and defend it, without waiting for capitalism to die. As previous systems which had become parasitic, and were faced with a more socially productive alternative, invariably did. This does emphatically not mean a passeist or non-political attitude, just a more judicious management of our transformative energies. The wounded beast has outlived its usefullness, let’s move on.
To conclude, another challenge to the traditional left strategy, by John Robb:
dated nostalgia for populist movements and progressive government reform — that legacy thinking is utterly useless, as a strategy for success, given the rise of a dominant and sovereign global system that doesn’t have any governing body to appeal to
What do you think?