This is a dialogue conducted over email by Mark Fisher, author of the widely-read Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative and Jeremy Gilbert, editor of New Formations. The discussion touches on issues raised by Fisher's book, by some of Gilbert's work as a theorist and analyst, by some of the political commentary in which each has engaged at various times (online and in print), as well as by the recent prevalence of a certain identification with anarchist ideas and methods amongst activists and online commentators whose intellectual and political reference points are otherwise very close to those of Fisher and Gilbert. It considers the concept of 'capitalist realism' as a way of understanding neoliberal ideology and hegemony; the role of bureaucracy in neoliberal culture and the 'societies of control'; the types of political and cultural strategy that might be required to challenge their hegemonic position; the relationship between political strategies which do and do not focus on conventional party politics; the general condition of politics in the UK today. Although largely concerned with a specifically British (and, arguably, English) political context, its consideration of abstract issues around the theorisation of ideology and neoliberalism and the nature of political strategy have far wider applicability.
JG: Your use of the term 'capitalist realism' seems to designate, at its simplest, both the conviction that there is no alternative to capitalism as a paradigm for social organisation, and the mechanisms which are used to disseminate and reproduce that conviction amongst large populations. As such it would seem to be both a 'structure of feeling', in Williams' terms (or perhaps an 'affective regime' in a slightly more contemporary register) and, in quite a classical sense, a hegemonic ideology, operating as all hegemonic ideologies do, to try to efface their own historicity and the contingency of the social arrangements which they legitimate. Is that right? Could you correct and/or expand on that explication of the term and say a little bit about its genesis and its specific implications?
MF: I don't think there's anything to correct in your description. I think, though, that we can say that capitalist realism has effaced not only its own historicity and contingency, but also its own existence as an ideological constellation. You could say that effacement is what defines capitalist realism. The hegemonic field which capitalist realism secures and intensifies is one in which politics itself has been 'disappeared'. What capitalist realism consolidates is the idea that we are in the era of the post-political--that the big ideological conflicts are over, and the issues that remain largely concern who is to administrate the new consensus. Of course, there's nothing more ideological than the idea that we've moved beyond ideology. It has become increasingly clear over the last few years, especially since 2008, that the (essentially 1990s) idea of the post-political and the post-ideological was always a cover for neoliberal hegemony. The increased use of the term neoliberalism since 2000 is a symptom of the weakening power of neoliberalism. The more it is named, the less its doctrines can pose as post-political.
Nevertheless, the notion of the post-political isn't just an ideological ruse. Membership of political parties and trade unions really is declining. It's a commonplace that the major political parties in the UK and the US are scarcely distinguishable from one another. Very few people identify themselves as political. Given this context, there's something misleading about describing capitalist realism, as I myself often tend to, as the belief that capitalism is the only viable political economic system. Capitalist realism could perhaps better be seen as a set of behaviours and affects that arise from this 'belief'. The dominance of capitalism, the inability to imagine an alternative to it, now constitute a sort of invisible horizon. …