Sunday, 22 January 2017

Mark Fisher by Alex Niven + Exiting the Vampire Caste

Mark Fisher, 1968–2017

Mark Fisher gave a moribund left the imaginative jolt it needed to wake from the nightmare of neoliberal complacency.

Mark Fisher. Courtesy of the author

“Dear Mark,” began an email I wrote to a man I had never met in the first days of 2010:
I read your book Capitalist Realism last week and it felt like coming up for air after a long time spent underwater. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving such eloquent expression to pretty much everything that needed to be said, and for providing a reason to hope, when I for one was just about ready to despair.
To those unacquainted with the work of theorist, music writer, journalist, film critic, philosopher, editor, and lecturer Mark Fisher, who sadly took his own life last Friday, the above might seem hyperbolic or sycophantic. It is neither. Like so many other members of my generation, encountering Capitalist Realism at the age of twenty-five transformed my life.
During a tricky period — I had recently suffered a head-on collision with the British music industry — Mark’s writing really did give me a reason to hope. Through his eloquence, his lucidity, but more than that, his ability to get to the heart of what was wrong with late-capitalist culture and right about the putative alternative, he seemed to have cracked some ineffable code. Capitalist Realism made a series of simple points that bypassed years of postmodern hedging to offer a foundation for action; it was a spiritual call to arms, diagnosing the neoliberal problem and reimagining the socialist solution with the force of revelation.
This description runs the risk of casting Mark in the dubious role of countercultural martyr — an archetype he himself returned to repeatedly in his writing, notably the examples of Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis. But Mark’s literary output, Capitalist Realism in particular, always had an aspect of prophecy or at least uncanny prescience. He seemed to have grasped certain truths about the twenty-first century long before anyone else, so much so that, in the wake of last week’s tragedy, people are interpreting posts written under his k-punk alias in the early 2000s as timely commentaries on our present malaise.
Perhaps my sense of Capitalist Realism as a sudden epiphany comes from the fact that I only got to know Mark in his later years, when we worked together at Zero Books and then at Repeater, a period in which he acquired a degree of belated acclaim.
At both publishers, the staff tacitly understood that Mark was the soulful heart of the project, even when he was off the radar for long periods. By some distance, Mark was our best-selling author: a cult hero who gradually attracted the attention of politicians and celebrities from Slavoj Žižek and Laurie Anderson to John McDonnell and Russell Brand.
But he was also nine-tenths of our identity, even as he became increasingly silent over the last year or so. When we left Zero to form Repeater after a long-brewing dispute with our parent company, we knew that whatever the legality of the situation, Mark was Zero, and hence was Repeater, and that ultimately only he had moral ownership of either imprint.
For those who got to know Mark before I did, his rise to intellectual centrality over the last decade appeared as the inevitable outcome of a long and rich trajectory, one that combined the ordinary and the unheimlich.
He was born in 1968 in the East Midlands, an area that sits on an ambiguous fault line between Northern and Southern England. The region has a strong industrial heritage and forged the Luddite risings of the 1810s, yet sits close to the traditional pastoral terrain of southern English writers like Thomas Hardy and M. R. James. Mark regularly alluded to the aftereffects of his origins in this working-class edgeland: in his seminal blog posts on The Fall in 2006-7 and, more controversially, in his 2013 polemic “Exiting the Vampire Castle.” Indeed, Mark wrote about class with more subtlety and vehemence than any other contemporary critic.
But you got the feeling that he was leaving some things unsaid. I always suspected that Mark was building up to some great work on English class identity in the seventies and eighties. In the last couple of years of his life, he was writing about football culture, and I think this subject was the heart of the matter for him.
A little discussed — because little known — fact is that Mark attended Hillsborough Stadium on April 15, 1989, when ninety-six Liverpool fans were crushed to death thanks to police incompetence and manhandling. Wary of overstating his personal involvement — Mark was a Nottingham Forest supporter, so remained at some distance from the stand in which the deaths took place — he rarely talked about Hillsborough. But the tragedy and its subsequent cover-up profoundly impacted his political mindset.
For Mark, the collective traumas of the English proletariat in the seventies and eighties represented crucial — and always painfully immediate — lived experiences. A long section of his 2014 anthology Ghosts of My Life covers seventies British pop culture, and his intellectual project was largely organized around what he termed “pulp modernism” (latterly amended to “popular modernism”).
This project far exceeded garden-variety cultural studies. Mark never gave in to nostalgia for the postwar years (as his melancholic riffs on Joy Division and Jimmy Savile in Ghosts underline), but he did believe that the social-democratic counterculture circa 1965–1997 represented the true culmination of twentieth-century modernism. As such, it signified the zenith of human aesthetic development and studying it became a source of immense radical potential. As Owen Hatherley reminds us, Mark’s foregrounding of pop culture didn’t participate in the ironic postmodern reversals so prevalent at the end of the last century. Mark believed in mass culture’s power with every facet of his intellectual being, and this is one of many things that set him apart from his philosophical predecessors and coevals, Žižek and Jameson especially.
In the 1990s, Mark caught the tail end of actually existing popular modernism, as he immersed himself in an intellectual scene that pushed post-structuralism to its natural limit. While writing his PhD at Warwick University, he became involved with Nick Land’s Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (Ccru), an early and sometimes wayward manifestation of the “accelerationist” tendency that has recently been revived under more pragmatic auspices.
With high theory acting as an umbrella, the Ccru cohort grabbed hold of the zeitgeist — drum and bass, cyberpunk, pulp fiction, early internet culture — and ran with it. Here, many of Mark’s key intellectual motifs were synthesized. He even dabbled in music production, first as a member of the jungle collective D-Generation and later as architect of death garage track “Anticlimax (Inhumans Moreerotic Female Orgasm Analog Mix),” the title of which offers a glimpse of Mark’s often undisclosed playful side.
The Ccru period was a time of heady activity, but Mark only really came into his own as a critic after 2000. As the cornerstone of a blogging community that eventually included music journalist Simon Reynolds, philosopher Nina Power, and architecture critic Owen Hatherley, among others, “Mark k-punk” helped develop and popularize a new intellectual sensibility centered around an important recalibration of the concept of “hauntology.”
The term originated as a half-pun in Derrida’s 1994 Spectres of Marx, but Mark used it as a means of foregrounding popular modernism. His k-punk blog posts typically veered between savage dissections of the moribund music scene of the mid-2000s and extensive discussions of how postwar socialist and social-democratic pop culture continued to haunt the present, a time when anticapitalist political alternatives had all but evaporated.
The hauntology concept Mark helped disseminate began as a largely aesthetic category during a period of political stagnation. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, however, it hardened into something more programmatic. With his close friend, novelist Tariq Goddard, he corralled the best of the 2000s blogging scene and founded Zero Books, which became a kind of nursery for the ideas underpinning the revived activism that spread across the United Kingdom — and indeed the world — as the 2000s morphed into the 2010s.
Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism, Nina Power’s One-Dimensional Woman, and Ivor Southwood’s Non-Stop Inertia were early standouts. But it was Capitalist Realism that was in the back pocket of countless demonstrators at the 2010 student protests, and which became the unofficial manifesto for the leftist resurgence of 2011 — the so-called year of dreaming dangerously.
Perhaps we should look more skeptically, from the slightly bleaker vantage point of 2017, at this emphasis on “dreaming,” on that period’s vague promises about another, newly possible, world. To be sure, Capitalist Realism does not offer much in the way of doctrinaire pronouncements, largely refusing to address how capitalism can actually be defeated. The revolution it encouraged in readers was far subtler and, with hindsight, more appropriate for a movement that was, and arguably still is, in the early stages of revival. The first step in the fight against the entrenched desocialization and dysphoria of the twenty-first century, the book argues, must be a simple freeing of consciousness.
This initially sounds like a throwback to the failed leftism of the sixties and seventies, and indeed Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is one of the models for Capitalist Realism. Mark set his argument apart, however, by making contemporary subjectivism the primary site of struggle and ultimately a means of reactivating collectivity. His writings on mental health enacted a series of brilliant inversions. You think you feel bad because of some arbitrary affliction called depression, but might your working conditions have something to do with it? We have been told that neoliberal capitalism liberated us from the horrors of statist dystopias, so why have mental-health problems skyrocketed in recent years? What if we looked beyond our obsession with self for a minute and re-emphasized our sociality? What if you held a protest and everyone came? These were the lyrical, elemental questions Capitalist Realism posed, and they highlight why reading it was such an emotional and transformative experience for so many people.
Perhaps because Mark’s personality and philosophical arguments depended on a kind of radical selflessness, his working life was harder than it should have been, despite his considerable intellectual prowess and achievements. Shockingly, he only acquired a permanent academic post in the last few years, and on either side of this he served as the laureate of precarity as it became a meaningful critical concept.
He regularly bemoaned the sheer volume of bureaucracy that academic work demanded, and he was victim to the call-out culture that has paralyzed left-wing discourse over the last couple of years. He left Twitter in the wake of the controversy provoked by “Exiting the Vampire Castle,” after being bombarded with ridiculous accusations of misogyny and chauvinism. However, while Mark’s great détournement was to reinstate a sociopolitical framework for understanding mental illness, it is evident from the available facts that while social pressures exacerbated his depression, they were not its sole cause.
In our reflection on Mark’s legacy, we should pay close attention to his insistence in “Exiting the Vampire Castle” that we must always operate “in an atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity.” After the organized left’s nadir during the Bush-Blair years, Mark’s work represented, more than anyone else’s, a much-needed leap of faith away from capitalist individualism and into communitarian praxis. At its heart, it called for rock-solid team spirit. Mark practiced this creed in his life and work, and we can pay him some small tribute by following his example.


Exiting the Vampire Castle

This summer, I seriously considered withdrawing from any involvement in politics. Exhausted through overwork, incapable of productive activity, I found myself drifting through social networks, feeling my depression and exhaustion increasing.
‘Left-wing’ Twitter can often be a miserable, dispiriting zone. Earlier this year, there were some high-profile twitterstorms, in which particular left-identifying figures were ‘called out’ and condemned. What these figures had said was sometimes objectionable; but nevertheless, the way in which they were personally vilified and hounded left a horrible residue: the stench of bad conscience and witch-hunting moralism. The reason I didn’t speak out on any of these incidents, I’m ashamed to say, was fear. The bullies were in another part of the playground. I didn’t want to attract their attention to me.
The open savagery of these exchanges was accompanied by something  more pervasive, and for that reason perhaps more debilitating: an atmosphere of snarky resentment. The most frequent object of this resentment is Owen Jones, and the attacks on Jones – the person most responsible for raising class consciousness in the UK in the last few years – were one of the reasons I was so dejected. If this is what happens to a left-winger who is actually succeeding in taking the struggle to the centre ground of British life, why would anyone want to follow him into the mainstream? Is the only way to avoid this drip-feed of abuse to remain in a position of impotent marginality?
One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live. The People’s Assembly had been greeted with the usual sneers and snarks. This was, we were told, a useless stunt, in which media leftists, including Jones, were aggrandising themselves in yet another display of top-down celebrity culture. What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers. But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizontal: media power and charisma could draw people who hadn’t previously been to a political meeting into the room, where they could talk and strategise with seasoned activists. The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog.
Then there was Russell Brand. I’ve long been an admirer of Brand – one of the few big-name comedians on the current scene to come from a working class background. Over the last few years, there has been a gradual but remorseless embourgeoisement of television comedy, with preposterous ultra-posh nincompoop Michael McIntyre and a dreary drizzle of bland graduate chancers dominating the stage.
The day before Brand’s now famous interview with Jeremy Paxman was broadcast on Newsnight, I had seen Brand’s stand-up show the Messiah Complex in Ipswich. The show was defiantly pro-immigrant, pro-communist, anti-homophobic, saturated with working class intelligence and not afraid to show it, and queer in the way that popular culture used to be (i.e. nothing to do with the sour-faced identitarian piety foisted upon us by moralisers on the post-structuralist ‘left’). Malcolm X, Che, politics as a psychedelic dismantling of existing reality: this was communism as something cool, sexy and proletarian, instead of a finger-wagging sermon.
The next night, it was clear that Brand’s appearance had produced a moment of splitting. For some of us, Brand’s forensic take-down of Paxman was intensely moving, miraculous; I couldn’t remember the last time a person from a working class background had been given the space to so consummately destroy a class ‘superior’ using intelligence and reason. This wasn’t Johnny Rotten swearing at Bill Grundy – an act of antagonism which confirmed rather than challenged class stereotypes. Brand had outwitted Paxman – and the use of humour was what separated Brand from the dourness of so much ‘leftism’. Brand makes people feel good about themselves; whereas the moralising left specialises in making people feed bad, and is not happy until their heads are bent in guilt and self-loathing.
The moralising left quickly ensured that the story was not about Brand’s extraordinary breach of the bland conventions of mainstream media ‘debate’, nor about his claim that revolution was going to happen. (This last claim could only be heard by the cloth-eared petit-bourgeois narcissistic ‘left’ as Brand saying that he wanted to lead the revolution – something that they responded to with typical resentment: ‘I don’t need a jumped-up celebrity to lead me‘.) For the moralisers, the dominant story was to be about Brand’s personal conduct – specifically his sexism. In the febrile McCarthyite atmosphere fermented by the moralising left, remarks that could be construed as sexist mean that Brand is a sexist, which also meant that he is a misogynist. Cut and dried, finished, condemned.
It is right that Brand, like any of us, should answer for his behaviour and the language that he uses. But such questioning should take place in an atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity, and probably not in public in the first instance – although when Brand was questioned about sexism by Mehdi Hasan, he displayed exactly the kind of good-humoured humility that was entirely lacking in the stony faces of those who had judged him. “I don’t think I’m sexist, But I remember my grandmother, the loveliest person I‘ve ever known, but she was racist, but I don’t think she knew. I don’t know if I have some cultural hangover, I know that I have a great love of proletariat linguistics, like ‘darling’ and ‘bird’, so if women think I’m sexist they’re in a better position to judge than I am, so I’ll work on that.”
Brand’s intervention was not a bid for leadership; it was an inspiration, a call to arms. And I for one was inspired. Where a few months before, I would have stayed silent as the PoshLeft moralisers subjected Brand to their kangaroo courts and character assassinations – with ‘evidence’ usually gleaned from the right-wing press, always available to lend a hand – this time I was prepared to take them on. The response to Brand quickly became as significant as the Paxman exchange itself. As Laura Oldfield Ford pointed out, this was a clarifying moment. And one of the things that was clarified for me was the way in which, in recent years, so much of the self-styled ‘left’ has suppressed the question of class.
Class consciousness is fragile and fleeting. The petit bourgeoisie which dominates the academy and the culture industry has all kinds of subtle deflections and pre-emptions which prevent the topic even coming up, and then, if it does come up, they make one think it is a terrible impertinence, a breach of etiquette, to raise it. I’ve been speaking now at left-wing, anti-capitalist events for years, but I’ve rarely talked – or been asked to talk – about class in public.
But, once class had re-appeared, it was impossible not to see it everywhere in the response to the Brand affair. Brand was quickly judged and-or questioned by at least three ex-private school people on the left. Others told us that Brand couldn’t really be working class, because he was a millionaire. It’s alarming how many ‘leftists’ seemed to fundamentally agree with the drift behind Paxman’s question: ‘What gives this working class person the authority to speak?’ It’s also alarming, actually distressing, that they seem to think that working class people should remain in poverty, obscurity and impotence lest they lose their ‘authenticity’.
Someone passed me a post written about Brand on Facebook. I don’t know the individual who wrote it, and I wouldn’t wish to name them. What’s important is that the post was symptomatic of a set of snobbish and condescending attitudes that it is apparently alright to exhibit while still classifying oneself as left wing. The whole tone was horrifyingly high-handed, as if they were a schoolteacher marking a child’s work, or a psychiatrist assessing a patient. Brand, apparently, is ‘clearly extremely unstable … one bad relationship or career knockback away from collapsing back into drug addiction or worse.’ Although the person claims that they ‘really quite like [Brand]’, it perhaps never occurs to them that one of the reasons that Brand might be ‘unstable’ is just this sort of patronising faux-transcendent ‘assessment’ from the ‘left’ bourgeoisie. There’s also a shocking but revealing aside where the individual casually refers to Brand’s ‘patchy education [and] the often wince-inducing vocab slips characteristic of the auto-didact’ – which, this individual generously says, ‘I have no problem with at all’ – how very good of them! This isn’t some colonial bureaucrat writing about his attempts to teach some ‘natives’ the English language in the nineteenth century, or a Victorian schoolmaster at some private institution describing a scholarship boy, it’s a ‘leftist’ writing a few weeks ago.
Where to go from here? It is first of all necessary to identify the features of the discourses and the desires which have led us to this grim and demoralising pass, where class has disappeared, but moralism is everywhere, where solidarity is impossible, but guilt and fear are omnipresent – and not because we are terrorised by the right, but because we have allowed bourgeois modes of subjectivity to contaminate our movement. I think there are two libidinal-discursive configurations which have brought this situation about. They call themselves left wing, but – as the Brand episode has made clear – they are many ways a sign that the left – defined as an agent in a class struggle – has all but disappeared.

Inside the Vampires’ Castle

The first configuration is what I came to call the Vampires’ Castle. The Vampires’ Castle specialises in propagating guilt. It is driven by a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd. The danger in attacking the Vampires’ Castle is that it can look as if – and it will do everything it can to reinforce this thought – that one is also attacking the struggles against racism, sexism, heterosexism. But, far from being the only legitimate expression of such struggles, the Vampires’ Castle is best understood as a bourgeois-liberal perversion and appropriation of the energy of these movements. The Vampires’ Castle was born the moment when the struggle not to be defined by identitarian categories became the quest to have ‘identities’ recognised by a bourgeois big Other.
The privilege I certainly enjoy as a white male consists in part in my not being aware of my ethnicity and my gender, and it is a sobering and revelatory experience to occasionally be made aware of these blind-spots. But, rather than seeking a world in which everyone achieves freedom from identitarian classification, the Vampires’ Castle seeks to corral people back into identi-camps, where they are forever defined in the terms set by dominant power, crippled by self-consciousness and isolated by a logic of solipsism which insists that we cannot understand one another unless we belong to the same identity group.
I’ve noticed a fascinating magical inversion projection-disavowal mechanism whereby the sheer mention of class is now automatically treated as if that means one is trying to downgrade the importance of race and gender. In fact, the exact opposite is the case, as the Vampires’ Castle uses an ultimately liberal understanding of race and gender to obfuscate class.  In all of the absurd and traumatic twitterstorms about privilege earlier this year it was noticeable that the discussion of class privilege was entirely absent.  The task, as ever, remains the articulation of class, gender and race  – but the founding move of the Vampires’ Castle is the dis-articulation of class from other categories.
The problem that the Vampires’ Castle was set up to solve is this: how do you hold immense wealth and power while also appearing as a victim, marginal and oppositional? The solution was already there – in the Christian Church. So the VC has recourse to all the infernal strategies, dark pathologies and psychological torture instruments Christianity invented, and which Nietzsche described in The Genealogy of Morals. This priesthood of bad conscience, this nest of pious guilt-mongers, is exactly what Nietzsche predicted when he said that something worse than Christianity was already on the way. Now, here it is …
The Vampires’ Castle feeds on the energy and anxieties and vulnerabilities of young students, but most of all it lives by converting the suffering of particular groups – the more ‘marginal’ the better – into academic capital. The most lauded figures in the Vampires’ Castle are those who have spotted a new market in suffering – those who can find a group more oppressed and subjugated than any previously exploited will find themselves promoted through the ranks very quickly.
The first law of the Vampires’ Castle is: individualise and privatise everything. While in theory it claims to be in favour of structural critique, in practice it never focuses on anything except individual behaviour. Some of these working class types are not terribly well brought up, and can be very rude at times. Remember: condemning individuals is always more important than paying attention to impersonal structures. The actual ruling class propagates ideologies of individualism, while tending to act as a class. (Many of what we call ‘conspiracies’ are the ruling class showing class solidarity.) The VC, as dupe-servants of the ruling class, does the opposite: it pays lip service to ‘solidarity’ and ‘collectivity’, while always acting as if the individualist categories imposed by power really hold. Because they are petit-bourgeois to the core, the members of the Vampires’ Castle are intensely competitive, but this is repressed in the passive aggressive manner typical of the bourgeoisie. What holds them together is not solidarity, but mutual fear – the fear that they will be the next one to be outed, exposed, condemned.
The second law of the Vampires’ Castle is: make thought and action appear very, very difficult. There must be no lightness, and certainly no humour. Humour isn’t serious, by definition, right? Thought is hard work, for people with posh voices and furrowed brows. Where there is confidence, introduce scepticism. Say: don’t be hasty, we have to think more deeply about this. Remember: having convictions is oppressive, and might lead to gulags.
The third law of the Vampires’ Castle ispropagate as much guilt as you can. The more guilt the better. People must feel bad: it is a sign that they understand the gravity of things. It’s OK to be class-privileged if you feel guilty about privilege and make others in a subordinate class position to you feel guilty too. You do some good works for the poor, too, right?
The fourth law of the Vampires’ Castle is: essentialize. While fluidity of identity, pluarity and multiplicity are always claimed on behalf of the VC members – partly to cover up their own invariably wealthy, privileged or bourgeois-assimilationist background – the enemy is always to be essentialized. Since the desires animating the VC are in large part priests’ desires to excommunicate and condemn, there has to be a strong distinction between Good and Evil, with the latter essentialized. Notice the tactics. X has made a remark/ has behaved in a particular way – these remarks/ this behaviour might be construed as transphobic/ sexist etc. So far, OK. But it’s the next move which is the kicker. X then becomes defined as a transphobe/ sexist etc. Their whole identity becomes defined by one ill-judged remark or behavioural slip. Once the VC has mustered its witch-hunt, the victim (often from a working class background, and not schooled in the passive aggressive etiquette of the bourgeoisie) can reliably be goaded into losing their temper, further securing their position as pariah/ latest to be consumed in feeding frenzy.
The fifth law of the Vampires’ Castle: think like a liberal (because you are one). The VC’s work of constantly stoking up reactive outrage consists of endlessly pointing out the screamingly obvious: capital behaves like capital (it’s not very nice!), repressive state apparatuses are repressive. We must protest!

Neo-anarchy in the UK

The second libidinal formation is neo-anarchism. By neo-anarchists I definitely do not mean anarchists or syndicalists involved in actual workplace organisation, such as the Solidarity Federation. I mean, rather, those who identify as anarchists but whose involvement in politics extends little beyond student protests and occupations, and commenting on Twitter. Like the denizens of the Vampires’ Castle, neo-anarchists usually come from a petit-bourgeois background, if not from somewhere even more class-privileged.
They are also overwhelmingly young: in their twenties or at most their early thirties, and what informs the neo-anarchist position is a narrow historical horizon. Neo-anarchists have experienced nothing but capitalist realism. By the time the neo-anarchists had come to political consciousness – and many of them have come to political consciousness remarkably recently, given the level of bullish swagger they sometimes display – the Labour Party had become a Blairite shell, implementing neo-liberalism with a small dose of social justice on the side. But the problem with neo-anarchism is that it unthinkingly reflects this historical moment rather than offering any escape from it. It forgets, or perhaps is genuinely unaware of, the Labour Party’s role in nationalising major industries and utilities or founding the National Health Service. Neo-anarchists will assert that ‘parliamentary politics never changed anything’, or the ‘Labour Party was always useless’ while attending protests about the NHS, or retweeting complaints about the dismantling of what remains of the welfare state. There’s a strange implicit rule here: it’s OK to protest against what parliament has done, but it’s not alright to enter into parliament or the mass media to attempt to engineer change from there. Mainstream media is to be disdained, but BBC Question Time is to be watched and moaned about on Twitter. Purism shades into fatalism; better not to be in any way tainted by the corruption of the mainstream, better to uselessly ‘resist’ than to risk getting your hands dirty.
It’s not surprising, then, that so many neo-anarchists come across as depressed. This depression is no doubt reinforced by the anxieties of postgraduate life, since, like the Vampires’ Castle, neo-anarchism has its natural home in universities, and is usually propagated by those studying for postgraduate qualifications, or those who have recently graduated from such study.

What is to be done?

Why have these two configurations come to the fore?  The first reason is that they have been allowed to prosper by capital because they serve its interests. Capital subdued the organised working class by decomposing class consciousness, viciously subjugating trade unions while seducing ‘hard working families’ into identifying with their own narrowly defined interests instead of the interests of the wider class; but why would capital be concerned about a ‘left’ that replaces class politics with a moralising individualism, and that, far from building solidarity, spreads fear and insecurity?
The second reason is what Jodi Dean has called communicative capitalism. It might have been possible to ignore the Vampires’ Castle and the neo-anarchists if it weren’t for capitalist cyberspace. The VC’s pious moralising has been a feature of a certain ‘left’ for many years – but, if one wasn’t a member of this particular church, its sermons could be avoided. Social media means that this is no longer the case, and there is little protection from the  psychic pathologies propagated by these discourses.
So what can we do now? First of all, it is imperative to reject identitarianism, and to recognise that there are no identities, only desires, interests and identifications. Part of the importance of the British Cultural Studies project – as revealed so powerfully and so movingly in John Akomfrah’s installation The Unfinished Conversation (currently in Tate Britain) and his film The Stuart Hall Project – was to have resisted identitarian essentialism. Instead of freezing people into chains of already-existing equivalences, the point was to treat any articulation as provisional and plastic. New articulations can always be created. No-one is essentially anything. Sadly, the right act on this insight more effectively than the left does.  The bourgeois-identitarian left knows how to propagate guilt and conduct a witch hunt, but it doesn’t know how to make converts. But that, after all, is not the point. The aim is not to popularise a leftist position, or to win people over to it, but to remain in a position of elite superiority, but now with class superiority redoubled by moral superiority too. ‘How dare you talk – it’s we who speak for those who suffer!’
But the rejection of identitarianism can only be achieved by the re-assertion of class. A left that does not have class at its core can only be a liberal pressure group. Class consciousness is always double: it involves a simultaneous knowledge of the way in which class frames and shapes all experience, and a knowledge of the particular position that we occupy in the class structure. It must be remembered that the aim of our struggle is not recognition by the bourgeoisie, nor even the destruction of the bourgeoisie itself. It is the class structure – a structure that wounds everyone, even those who materially profit from it – that must be destroyed. The interests of the working class are the interests of all; the interests of the bourgeoisie are the interests of capital, which are the interests of no-one. Our struggle must be towards the construction of a new and surprising world, not the preservation of identities shaped and distorted by capital.
If this seems like a forbidding and daunting task, it is. But we can start to engage in many prefigurative activities right now. Actually, such activities would go beyond pre-figuration – they could start a virtuous cycle, a self-fulfilling prophecy in which bourgeois modes of subjectivity are dismantled and a new universality starts to build itself. We need to learn, or re-learn, how to build comradeship and solidarity instead of doing capital’s work for it by condemning and abusing each other. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must always agree – on the contrary, we must create conditions where disagreement can take place without fear of exclusion and excommunication. We need to think very strategically about how to use social media – always remembering that, despite the egalitarianism claimed for social media by capital’s libidinal engineers, that this is currently an enemy territory, dedicated to the reproduction of capital. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t occupy the terrain and start to use it for the purposes of producing class consciousness. We must break out of the ‘debate’ that communicative capitalism in which capital is endlessly cajoling us to participate in, and remember that we are involved in a class struggle. The goal is not to ‘be’ an activist, but to aid the working class to activate – and transform – itself. Outside the Vampires’ Castle, anything is possible.

Mark Fisher is the author of Capitalist Realism and the forthcoming Ghosts of my Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (both published by Zer0 books, where he is now a Commissioning Editor). His writing has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Film QuarterlyThe WireThe Guardian and Frieze. He is Programme Leader of the MA in Aural and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London and a lecturer at the University of East London.

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