Mark Fisher's Capitalist "Unrealism"

Image: Alesei Demidov


The English writer got the main thing right: the reflexive impotence of the self-fulfilling prophecy of capitalism

Writer Mark Fisher left us prematurely. Your first book, Capitalist realism, from which I took the pun for the title of this text, is a ray of sunshine in the intellectual darkness of recent decades. Written at the end of the first decade of the XNUMXst century, it is possible that it will remain relevant for a long time to come. However, we have a bad habit of praising the work of the thinker who knew how to be attentive and insightful about the world we live in, but who is no longer among us, without proper criticism of his thinking. I think it is not disloyal to the thinker if this criticism comes transparently, based on what we understand to be correct or not about what he produced. Even because, like him, we are also subject to criticism of what we say.

So let's be direct: Fisher got the main thing right, namely, the reflexive impotence of the self-fulfilling prophecy of capitalism, that there is no alternative to it, along the lines of what Margaret Thatcher professed, as Prime Minister of Great Britain, in the 1980s. XNUMX.(I) However, the answer to why the left has not been able to create a favorable atmosphere for it, especially after the financial crisis of 2008, escapes him. In fact, it is possible to verify throughout the book several moments in which Fisher asks this question.

The impression that remains is that he knew, deep down, the answer, he just didn't realize it. And he didn't even have time for that, unfortunately. For if he were still alive, it is possible, and even probable, that he would end up drinking from the fountain of some other thinkers, who had the same "insight” than him, but who went further and found the answer. I'm talking about thinkers like Robert Kurz and Jacques Rancière, among others. But let's take it easy! Let's put Fisher's main ideas on the table.

Fisher's first contribution was to state that capitalism left the concrete mode of colonization in the recent past to colonize the unconscious of humanity. It is true that there is still a lot of competition for material resources around the planet. The consumerist escalation of fetish capitalism will not end before the resources are depleted, except for a change in the mentality of our species in relation to the finite resources that nature offers us for free.

It turns out that privatizing nature over time required the privatization of the collective conscience in favor of an unscrupulous minority. With the planet showing signs of exhaustion of its resources and saturation of its ruthless private plundering, it is more than natural for most people to perceive that something is very wrong. That is why it is urgent for this capital, which Fisher called "zombie”, interfere in the collective unconscious of the most immediate desires of these same people.

This paradox, very well captured by Fisher, results in the current permanent state of anxiety, anguish and insecurity on the part of all of us. For the way out of the imminent catastrophe of a climate crisis requires the participation of everyone, collectively speaking, without which there will be no future. The time of melancholy resignation and social atomization must be behind us. Otherwise, the end of history may already be close, with the rise of a populism that he called “nihiliberal”,(Ii) as the recent cases in the United States and Brazil, as well as in Hungary, Poland and Russia, among others. The strength of capital in this century will be much more focused on promoting libidinal fantasies in a culture without identity of belonging to anything – land, family, class, work and religion – than on appropriating other people's oil per se, to cite an example.

Fisher's second contribution was the concept of "hyperstition", a neologism coined by him to say that, after all, self-fulfilling prophecies by capital can only take shape through the cybernetic feedback circuits of a life superimposed on the reality of facts. In other words, the ideological blackmail of capital had the collaboration of the human animal to structure a society he called “charitable individuals”, where the living flesh of human beings is transformed into dead work, in the name of a supposed ethical emergency.

This emergency goes beyond everyday politics, even small, among human beings, created by capital itself under the guise of serving society. Says Fisher: “The goal was just to make sure that some of the proceeds from specific transactions went to good causes. The fantasy was that consumerism, far from being intrinsically implicated in systemic global inequality, might instead solve it. All we had to do was buy the right products.” (ob. cit., page 29)

Fisher's third contribution was what he called "enterprise ontology" and its "market Stalinist" consequence. For him, the liberal wave inaugurated by the Thatcher-Reagan duo, and later reinforced by Tony Blair's New Labor, overthrew the illusions about a return to a more idyllic past for humanity. As there was no alternative, and there is no society,(Iii) the world, in fact, is a race of each against all for individual survival. For such a purpose, all instances and institutions of human life must be treated as companies. Hence the inevitable rise of bureaucratic procedures also under capitalism, which were so demonized in technical-scientific market socialism.

Fisher explains: “In its idealized form, the market was supposed to guarantee 'frictionless' exchanges, whereby consumers' desires would be directly satisfied without the need for intervention or mediation by regulatory agencies. However, the insistence on evaluating workers' performance, and measuring forms of work that are by nature refractory to quantification, inevitably ended up generating new layers of bureaucracy and management... representations more than for the official purposes of the work itself. It begins to generate, more than the work itself, a whole system of creation and manipulation of representations”. (ob. cit., page 75)

It is in this sense that “market Stalinism” operates, namely, inverting priorities in what he called late capitalism,(Iv) with the appreciation of the symbols of the result, instead of praising the practical result. Neoliberalism imposes on workers a constant performance of self-criticism that envy the golden times of the Stalinist period of permanent self-surveillance.

Therefore, Fisher understands that “market Stalinism” is not a deviation from the true spirit of capitalism. The omnipresence of the market in consumers' perceptions and expectations makes companies much more successful for what they represent in the capital's fetish society than they actually are. That is why he says, paraphrasing the work of Marx & Engels, that in capitalism “all that is solid melts in public relations” (ob. cit., pp. 77/78). At this point, Fisher understands his “capitalist realism as the Lacanian “big Other” consumer of all public relations and propaganda. It is the collective fiction, the symbolic structure presupposed in every social field. As the big other is never directly encountered, but only its representatives, the current virtual consumer is required to believe in what no individual in person could believe.

However, Fisher is lucid enough to know that realist capitalism is not, so to speak, very popular in the regions of the globe in which it operates. Therefore, the great achievement of this model was never to win the sympathy of its public, but to instill in the collective unconscious that there is no alternative to it. In other words, as expectations of a better life diminish and illusions are frustrated, there is a loss of the dimension of a better, more fertile and less exhausted future. It is here that Fisher borrows Bifo Berardi's expression of a “slow cancellation of the future” to announce the apocalyptic situation of the culture's imaginative infertility at all levels. Despite life having increased its speed in a hyperconnected world, subjects start to repeat a stagnant, infertile and slow culture like true zombies.(V)

Last but not least, it is imperative to rescue Fisher's nonconformity in the face of the world's lack of imagination to take advantage of the capitalist debacle after the 2008 financial crisis. social decomposition”. This is nothing more than the “result of the fragmentation of the class as a collective political subject, and of the disintegration of the forms of conscience and solidarity linked to participation in the class. Fundamentally, neoliberalism itself must be seen as a project oriented to this specific political purpose: to decompose” (ob. cit., p. 189).

In Fisher's understanding, if the working class accepted social democracy as a class conciliation, globalization, with its system of global production and consumption, put an end to this pacification. From the 1980s onwards, what was seen was the intensification of the battle between classes in each country, with the momentary result of the victory of neoliberalism. Fisher illustrates this understanding very well by relating the year 1984, emblematic for being the year of George Orwell's dystopia and the ferocious shift in the capitalist paradigm with the Thatcherist attack against miners in the name of supposed freedom.

Consistently quotes David Harvey (vi) to say that the neoliberal counteroffensive was nothing more than a strategy to seize power definitively, as a class project. Now, if this project is based on the dismantling of labor relations, dramatically implying the economic and social relations existing in the Fordist period, Fisher is saying that neoliberalism sought to decompose what was still left of solidarity and unity in the working class. The lime shovel of this decomposition came with the ability of the new ruling class to seduce people in what they have as their weakest point: the libidinal desire for fetish consumption.

In fact, the great move of neoliberal capitalism was to establish a narrative of autonomy, freedom, flexibility and experimentation for individuals, subjects still solvent and jealous of their social and even family responsibilities, to transform them into predicates consumers/entrepreneurs freed from restrictions and regulations of a distant, weakened and boring State.

But Fisher did not fall into the trap of the neoliberal discourse of eternal human development. He knows that capitalism never proposed the autonomy of the market in relation to the State. On the contrary, the incessant pursuit of technological progress by capital is in line with the capture of the “demonized” State by this same capital. For if the generalized “atomization” of people is the aspiration of capital, it is not because it desires the true emancipation of the human species. The aim of capital has always been to turn people into a commodity. And he has succeeded. Today we are less than a commodity. We are disposable trash for capital. He, the capital, just doesn't know what to do with so much garbage.(vii)

It's really unfortunate that Fisher didn't take the time to answer the questions that came up. When faced with the bureaucracy accelerated by neoliberalism, he sought, astonished, an answer that would propose an alternative to such a model. He didn't know where to start. He did know that we are still far from the end of history, as proposed by Fukuyama.(Viii) However, he was trapped in the archetypes of mainstream neoliberal, namely, in the classic concepts of hegemony, utopia, pragmatism and freedom, in addition to the old class dispute.

Perhaps because of the debilitating form of depression that plagued him,(Ix) was incapable of perceiving that human ontology, through the bias of “Heideggerianism”, provides multiple existences for the being, and not just social markings. He himself was an example of this, since his social condition was not so faulty. The postmodern world is beyond the mere resubordination of the less favored classes. Even aware of the collective depression that afflicts a large part of the civilized world, Fisher himself did not know how to propose solutions for new forms of political involvement. He simply attested to his inability to channel what he called “politicized rage” at the development of the human species. It is here that the thinkers cited at the beginning of this text should appear.

Before, however, we can introduce some pertinent ideas of these thinkers, it is necessary to be clear about the limitations of Fisher's thought.

Fisher argues that the world left needs to denounce neoliberalism for having failed to promise a “massive reduction in bureaucracy”. He goes on to say that “what is needed is to wage a new battle around work and its control” (ob. Cit., p. 131). His explicit belief is in the sense that the worker can still have autonomy against certain types of work, while “New forms of industrial action must be instituted against managerialism” (idem). However, not even he knew how to say what kind of political subject would need to be composed for that purpose. This imposed self-deception illustrates well the difficulty we all have, and have had, whenever an old world structure has eclipsed in favor of another.

In fact, for a man accustomed to dealing with cybernetic culture, it is even surprising that he has not come to theorize a new world of work (almost) without formal and face-to-face workers. A Skynet of movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger was already being conceived well before the advent of the internet of things. the trilogy Matrix it just corroborated with the world's unconscious, to stay only in Fisher's field, that something much bigger was behind so many changes brought about by technological progress. If we could summarize in one scene the message that this trilogy passed, perhaps the scene would be that the “Matrix” turned us into piles (x). In this vein, human labor will be less and less necessary in the “new forms of industrial action”, simply because there will be no human labor on the factory floor in a few decades.

The other limitation of Fisher's thought is the question of the ethereal reconquest of the State, along the lines of what has already been discussed in the last two centuries. Indeed, even though he questions the rigidity of traditional left-wing thinking, which always seeks to take over the State for itself, the truth is that Fisher remains fixed in a posture that he considers more malleable of resuming the State with a view to what he called “resuscitating the state itself”. concept of general will” (ob. cit., p. 128). Well, if the philosopher Wendy Brown, quoted by him in her book, says that democracy does not succeed in the State,(xi) it is at least inconsistent that Fisher remains with the belief in an abstract entity – the State – as subordinate to this general will that can revive, and modernize, in his words, “the idea of ​​a public space that is not reducible to an aggregate of individuals and their interests” (idem, p. 128).

In the early 1990s, the German essayist Robert Kurz (1943 – 2012) produced a text that would become a key element in understanding the collapse of the Soviet bloc. In general terms, Kurz predicts an unhappy end for human society, if it insists on remaining with the current system of perpetual commodity production. With the socialist regimes crumbling due to the partial, even momentary, victory of the market economy, sung in verse and prose by the ideologues of liberalism, nobody realized, except Marx, that the debacle mentioned above would represent the beginning of the ruin of the capitalist system itself. Thus, for Kurz, the two systems, namely statism and (neo)liberalism, were nothing more than parts of the same global system of commodity production. Therefore, the fall of one would necessarily affect the other.

This understanding by Kurz, which we consider correct, and which is clearly revealed in the current breakdown of the winning system thirty years later, may not be the only explanation for the limitations of Fisher's thinking, but it is certainly one of them. Really, looking for a new self-employed worker in the current ultra-technological “managerialism” makes no sense, as capital desperately seeks to get rid of these same workers through the exponential increase in technological progress.

In this sense, the political subject that Fisher did not know how to define can never come from the former model of life derived from Fordism. And more: how the economic sphere advanced on top of the political arena of human society, co-opting it and then capturing it, for Kurz the misconception of all of the traditional left, Fisher even in his late moment, characteristic of the so-called “real socialism” , was to consider the work category as the supra-historical essence of modern man.

But it still remains, even with the near elimination of gay faber, the figure of the State, that abstract entity, about which Hobbes spoke in his famous book. He says: “And art goes still further, imitating that rational creature, the most excellent work of nature, Man. Because by art is created that great Leviathan which is called REPUBLIC, or State (in Latin CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural man, for whose protection and defense it was designed. And in which sovereignty is an artificial soul, as it gives life and motion to the whole body.” (ob. cit., page 11)

Now, what kind of State will really survive in a society without the category of work as the first symbol of capitalist contemporaneity? Fisher did not want to abandon the State, but to capture it. However, a State without flesh and blood workers is the same as a machine without software. Hobbes' artificial man is the pungent, deliberative and productive society he called the Republic or State. His artificial soul, understood by him as sovereignty, is the ability of subjects to be integrated within a specific community that welcomes them and gives meaning to them in a given space and time. When that same society, or State/Republic, loses one of these characteristics, namely, the productive capacity of its citizens, it runs the serious risk of dismantling itself into a set of amorphous, irrelevant and disposable living beings.

It's good to clarify. It is not about praising the work for its own sake. The human animal has always needed to be productive in order to survive. Since the days of hunter-gathering, we humans have always needed to form diverse work groups to optimize the natural resources at our disposal. Only recently, with the advent of our sedentary lifestyle and the advancement of technological progress, have we given up on waste. But waste has turned against us, in the fetish form of rampant consumption. Thus, at the same time that we were losing the original meaning of human productivity, we fell into the trap of excess. The work that once guided us ontologically as a creative, aggregating and socially welcoming species, gave way to an individualistic, selfish and nihilistic society.

Consequently, the capitalist state can no longer be captured by a society that has lost its soul. Fisher is right when he says that, despite neoliberalism having lost its feverish momentum, especially after the financial crisis of 2008, it “still staggers like a zombie” (ob. cit., p. 142). But this zombie does more than just stagger. Indeed, it continues to influence a global society that only sees this hybrid system of economics and politics as the only alternative.

Fisher's capitalist “unrealism” is to think that there are policies available to rescue the neoliberal zombie and make him human again. He should have known from his cultural preferences that zombies cannot be revived, only exterminated. Just as hybrid neoliberalism will need to be annihilated from people's hearts and minds if we are to reverse our future extinction as a species. There is not the slightest possibility that a mutant hybrid system such as neoliberalism – along the lines of the character cyborg of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Science Fiction Films Terminator – be transformed into a new system of planetary social integration. It – neoliberalism – will always say the same as the aforementioned actor in the aforementioned series: “I will be back".(xii)

I will end this article with the Algerian-French philosopher Jacques Rancière and his important work on the hatred of democracy. I think it is opportune to briefly discuss what he wrote, not to speak about that regime of government so sung in verse and prose over the centuries, but ineffective in practice, but to point out how the late Fisher was limited in his thinking, as we are demonstrate in this text.

In view of this, if for Fisher it is still possible to rebuild class consciousness through the invention of new forms of political involvement that revitalize already decadent institutions, as he himself says: “converting privatized discontent into politicized anger” (ob. cit. , page 141); for Rancière, what is posited by the hybrid-mutant system of neoliberalism is an anti-democratic feeling, because, according to him: “there is only a good democracy, the one that represses the catastrophe of democratic civilization” (ob. cit., p. 11) .

Consequently, what was enthroned subliminally in the collective unconscious was not the democratic practice of voting by positive citizens for this purpose, since capital itself managed to circumvent the traps of periodic elections that could put it in trouble. According to Rancière, the heralds of neoliberalism became the spokesmen of the “crisis of democracy”, as it “means the irresistible increase in demands that put pressure on governments, entail the decline of authority and make individuals and groups rebellious to the discipline and sacrifices required for the common interest” (ob. cit., p. 15).

Therefore, democracy itself never came to concern governments around the world, but the “intensity of democratic life”. That is why the remedy to assuage this democratic intensity managed to have an effect in capitalism, by diverting it to material life deprived of social bonds between equals. Individual happiness was potentiated so that the new citizens of the last two centuries became indifferent to the public good, and undermined governmental authority by the spiral of demands coming from society.

Fisher was brilliant more for his concerns than for the solutions he proposed. But we cannot fail to credit him, just for not having advanced in his elaborations on the misfortunes of contemporary life. He was not a social scientist, but a worker who dared to see beyond what our Matrix offers us. In this regard, he failed to see the democratic paradox that had presented itself to conservative scholars since the turbulent years of the French Revolution, namely, excess democracy as the bane of democratic government.

It has been precisely this excess of popular participation, which is seen by the elites of the historic ranks as the form of government – ​​democracy – of “ungovernables”, which must be restrained by the government so that it is not corrupted. As Rancière says: “First of all, let's replace 'selfish individuals' with 'eager consumers', which should not come as a surprise. Let us identify these avid consumers with a historical social species, 'the democratic man'. Let us finally remember that democracy is the regime of equality and we can conclude: selfish individuals are democratic men. And the generalization of mercantile relations, whose emblem is the rights of man, is nothing more than the realization of the feverish demand for equality that torments democratic individuals and ruins the pursuit of the common good embodied in the State” (idem, p. 28) .

* André Márcio Neves Soares is a doctoral candidate in social policies and citizenship at the Catholic University of Salvador (UCSAL).



FISHER, Mark. Capitalist realism. São Paulo. Literary Autonomy. 2020;

MARX, Karl & ENGELS, Friedrich. communist manifesto. São Paulo. Boitempo. 2017;

KURZ, Robert. The collapse of modernization. Rio de Janeiro. Peace and Earth. 1992;

HOBBES, Thomas. Leviathan. São Paulo. Martins Fontes. 2019;

RANCIÈRE, Jacques. Hatred of Democracy. São Paulo. Boitempo. 2014.



i – There is no alternative (TINA);

ii – A mixture of nihilism and neoliberalism;

iii – “There is no such thing as society”. Another expression coined by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher;

iv – In fact, Fisher borrowed this expression from Fredric Jameson, in his writings on postmodernism;

v- When commenting on the financial crisis of 2008, Fisher states that neoliberalism was discredited in every sense. However, as the neoliberal ideology does not yet have a worthy rival, it remains on the offensive, inertialy, as a “desmorto”, that is, a living-dead;

vi – Specifically the book by HARVEY, David. Neoliberalism. São Paulo. Loyola Editions. 2008;

vii – In fact, capital already knows its escape route very well. The increase in space travel and research indicates that the way out envisaged by him as the most viable is cosmic exploration. But this topic will be developed in another article;

viii – FUKUYAMA, Francis. The last man and the end of history. Rio de Janeiro. Rocco Publisher. 1992;

ix – According to the appendix of the book in question, pages 137-141;

x – In the 1999 film “Matrix”, by the brothers (today sisters) Wachowski, humanity was enslaved by an omnipresent and omniscient machinery in a virtual world of which it is not aware, in addition to serving as the main product of energy production, in the fields cultured from newborns;

xi – BROWN, Wendy. The ruins of neoliberalism. São Paulo. Philosophical Publisher Politeia. 2019, pg. 36;

xii – “I will return”


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