“Capitalist Realism” – by Mark Fisher

Book Review

A Molotov of a book!

I bought this Molotov cocktail of a book whilst on the South Bank, making my way to an exhibition at Tate Modern.

I was taken by the cover, with its picture of a brutalist glass tower and by the title of the book – “Capitalist Realism – Is There No Alternative”. I was intrigued, too, by the chapter headings: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of Capitalism” and “What if you held a protest and nobody came”.

I had a friend who worked on the 30th floor of Barclays Tower in Canary Wharf – he always told me that competition and the market were part of the natural order of things. I wondered if this book might tell me something different.

I also remembered what I had heard whilst door knocking during the December 2019 General Election. Apart from being an IRA sympathiser and an anti-Semite, Jeremy Corbyn, I was told, was a Communist. He would bankrupt the country and destroy the economy.

Capitalism, it seemed, was part of the natural order of things.

What Fisher does, in this slim volume, is to show us how we have all been beguiled by Capitalism – how it so fills every aspect of our lives and imagination as to blind us to even the possibility of imagining an alternative

Fisher refers to iconic films to illustrate his arguments through vivid metaphors – for example he compares 21st Century Capitalism to the monstrous alien in John Carpenter’s “The Thing”:


Pic: The imposing buildings of the City of London

“(Capitalism is) … very much like the Thing in John Carpenter’s film of the same name: a monstrous, infinitely plastic entity, capable of metabolising and absorbing anything with which it comes into contact”. (1)

New Labour, Fisher writes, “completely capitulated to Capitalism:  gutted, and gutless, its insides (were) replaced by simulacra which once looked lustrous, but now possess all the allure of decade old computer technology.” (2)

Fisher makes use of how we experience dealing with call centres as an illustration of the difference between the promises of 21st Century Capitalism and the reality:

“What exemplifies the failure of the neoliberal world to live up to its own PR better than the Call Centre? “he asks –

“The Call Centre experience distils the political phenomenology of late Capitalism: the boredom and frustration punctuated by cheerily piped PR, the repeating of the same dreary details many times to different poorly trained and badly informed operatives, the building rage that must remain impotent because it can have no legitimate object” (3)

Fisher sets out the sad facts of how so many people live and work in the world of Capitalist Realism: the pointless bureaucracy (for teachers for example), meaningless targets, PR, exponential inequality (the top 1% of income earners doubled their share of the national income, 1982-2000: the ratio of CEOs’ incomes to those of workers rising 30 to 1 in 1970 to nearly 500 to 1 by 2000 in the US), environmental collapse, increasing mental illness and distress, work spilling over into the home, pressure upon family life – a catalogue of ills.

He points out how the banks were bailed out after the 2008 Crash: how attention was focused upon particular and individual bankers, not on the systemic causes of the crisis – nothing must be allowed to challenge Capitalist Realism.

Fisher demonstrates how the world of Capitalist Realism has no space for citizens, only consumers. It is a world solely made up of individuals and their families: there is no call or need for other forms of social organisation.

It is a bleak picture, yet at the very end of the book, Fisher writes some inspiring words:

“The long dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect … (they) can tear a hole in the grey curtain which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen suddenly anything is possible again” (4)

One thinks of Fisher’s concept of “hauntology”: how the present is haunted by the futures we never had. (5)

One thinks, too, perhaps, (as I think we should) of how the Corbyn Project pointed to such a future.


Chris Bradey


(1)P:6 Mark Fisher, “Capitalist Realism – Is There No Alternative?”, Zero Books, 2009, ISBN – 978 1 84694 317 1

(2)As above, P:58

(3)As above, P:64

(4)As above, Pp: 80-81

(5) “Ghosts of my Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures”, Mark Fisher