The Death of Capitalist Realism and the Most Reactionary Government in Living Memory

by Odrán Waldron on June 21, 2017

2017 feels, sadly, like the year of Mark Fisher. It should be a year of celebration for Fisher, a year when the political concept he popularised – capitalist realism – came crashing down in his native UK, a year when the people who picketing him from the vampire castles he placed them in finally laid down their arms and some conceded that he had been right when he called out the left for its overreliance on identity politics and its obsession with the destruction of any transgressors in the 21st Century. None of this matters to Fisher himself, because Fisher died in January of this year, taking his own life at the age of 48.

Just eight years after the publication of Fisher’s venerated Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? Jeremy Corbyn has smashed the concept that began in the German art movement of the 50s and 60s. One of late capitalism’s central tenants, following the fall of the Soviet Union, the idea was to make any alternative form of governance seem irresponsible and unrealistic. It has been said that Corbyn filled Fisher with hope for the future, the kind of hope that capitalist realism has usually destroyed throughout the years under the guidance of bodies like the EU or the U.S. Democratic Party extinguishing the flames of Syriza or Bernie Sanders. For readers of Fisher’s work, the unbridled joy of a proper leftist finally breaking through the electoral and parliamentary barriers in a country so central to the neoliberal agenda of the west was salted with a regret that the man who had articulated so much of the hopelessness we felt within late capitalism could not be here to see it.

We should not get ahead of ourselves in our exuberance; Corbyn has not won. He is not the Prime Minister yet. He most certainly will be if Theresa May continues her inane plodding down a path that leads only to the political slaughterhouse that she intended to toss Corbyn, McDonnell, et al. into. First, what he has to deal with, what everyone has to deal with will be the last gasping hope of the Tories. Stripped of the smugness afforded to them by capitalist realism, wherein they knew that Labour victories wouldn’t have any real effect on the market and their ability to hoard wealth,  Theresa May has turned to the Democratic Unionist Party to create the most reactionary government Britain has seen in living memory.

Conservatism is by its very nature reactionary. To be conservative is to want preserve the status quo and thus you can only outline your policies once you know the angles from which the progressives plan to attack, or by stripping back the progressions achieved by previous governments. Any Tory government will obviously be reactionary then, its aim will be to hold onto whatever traditionalist British values it can still wring from the sopping rag of a country it has created. But Ulster Unionism is a special kind of reactionary, one whose main motto has been essentially been the word no since 1985. No to every issue possible: a united Ireland, the earth being a globe, the agreed upon rough age of the earth, the theory of evolution, same-sex marriage, the existence of dinosaurs, the trustworthiness of Muslims, the autonomy of a woman’s body and the changing climate.

Ulster Unionism is the last thread of Irish Unionism, a political movement born in reaction to the push for an Irish republic in the late 1800s. Its sole purpose is to stop anything conducive to a 32-county Irish republic and thus it exists in a permanent state of reaction. It makes sense that the DUP would be the party to grab the flailing hand of the Tories as they slip from the cliff they positioned themselves on. The agreement they eventually arrive at with the Tories will flout the Good Friday Agreement, something they never truly supported, and once again sacrifice peace, at least political peace, for the sake of the union. They will do this because having Corbyn, a lifelong supporter of a united Ireland, as premier would be proof to them of what everybody else already knows: that Britain proper – the actual island – does not care about Ulster or Northern Ireland and most don’t know the difference between the two.

Their acquiescence will not come cheap, however. Being the reactionary wing of a reactionary movement, the demands of theirs that are becoming public are as ludicrous as you’d expect: they want Nigel Farage, the ex-leader of a swamp-cum-political-party with approximately zero MPs, to be given a role in Brexit negotiations, they want stricter time limits on abortion. Of course, they want to march too. The Portadown Loyal Orange Lodge, of which David Simpson MP is a member, want to march on Drumcree, which is fitting given how close the Drumcree conflict came to derailing the peace process. At this rate it, it would not be surprising if Chapo Trap House host Matt Christman’s tweet about DUP demands involving the drone bombing of Glasgow Celtic came to fruition.

The Tory/DUP deal will be met with a level of hostility unheard of in recent times. After Syriza and Sanders threatened to break the youth of what Fisher called reflexive impotence – the knowledge that you’re being treated unfairly while knowing there’s nothing you can do about – Corbyn and Labour have shattered the illusion and filled Britain’s youth with an unfamiliar and uncontainable feeling of potency. Fisher had lamented that the banking crisis of 2008 had not undermined capitalist realism in the way that it should have; he warned, “Without a credible and coherent alternative to capitalism, capitalist realism will continue to rule the political-economic unconscious.” Corbyn is that alternative; credibility and coherence have been the hallmarks of his campaign as the Tories floundered in the wind of our new reality.

Conservatives and reactionaries will make any deal possible to hold onto the power that flees from them with each juttering strong and stable from Theresa May’s jowls. The centrist liberals are either silent or screaming Harry Potterisms into the void. Their backs are up while the left’s tails are. It won’t be long until this feeling leaves Britain’s shores and takes hold elsewhere. It was threatened in Greece, the U.S.A., as well as Spain and France with Podemos and Mélénchon, it can and will threaten again. Capitalist realism is over; the real battle starts now.

Odrán Waldron is a freelance journalist from Ireland who has previously written for sites such as Politics Means Politics and PopMatters. His work can be viewed here as well as on Medium.

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