Audio version read by George Atherton
In Europe, national governments in the pocket of the IMF are imposing stringent austerity measures meant to deliver us from the present financial crisis. Put crudely, these measures save the banks and make the people pay. This reconsolidation of neoliberal capitalism is being met with differing levels of resistance, but for the most part we are caught between anger and action. Neoliberalism, we say with a sigh and a heavy heart, is here to stay. But why are we so unable to think beyond capitalism? The problem, I want to suggest, is one of possibility – and we must recognize another crisis: of the possible.
For too long we have been told what is and what isn’t possible. Late last year, the British cultural critic Mark Fisher published a book titled Capitalist Realism, that discusses neoliberalism’s propaganda project: its insistence that “there is no alternative.” This message has been hammered into our collective consciousness so consistently for so long that we have come to assume that neoliberal capitalism is our only option, that it constitutes our reality and we find it difficult to imagine anything else. Fisher reminds us of the quip made by both Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.
Everyone seems agreed that revolution is impossible. So what should be our response if not a descent into nihilism? Right now we certainly should argue as loudly as possible that austerity measures that involve the transfer of responsibility from the rich to the poor should be curtailed. But at the same time we need to explore other possibilities for the long term.
“The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the gray curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.”
We need, first of all, a revolution of the possible. We must confront, challenge and condemn the logic of neoliberal capitalism and do all we can to create a space where alternatives are made possible. While we must hold onto ideals of equality and fairness, we don’t want to work toward a glorified image of a utopian future society; that is itself to impose limits, to establish another regime of impossibility when we must open ourselves to all possibilities. By acknowledging how deeply we are immersed in capitalism, how capitalist logic has come to curtail our ability to imagine anything beyond itself, we might open up spaces in which alternative possibilities reveal themselves. We must extend the cracks in capitalism’s self-image to allow some as yet unimaginable possibility to reveal itself.
Sam Cooper is working toward a PhD at the University of Sussex. His research focuses on the adoption of Situationist theory in Britain.