Mark Fisher’s unfinished philosophy challenges us to imagine new ways of imagining the future.
Acid Communism was the proposed title and last substantial philosophy of the late Mark Fisher. The unfinished nature of acid communism has left a tremendous amount of debate and hypothesising about the nuances of concept. This lack of clarification has also had an unfortunate side-effect, with people taking the phrase, “acid communism,” at face value.
Acid communism is not a doctrine of hippy-esque communal living and psychoactive drugs. The commune, and psychoactive substances, have a role to play in the philosophy of acid communism, but acid communism is not a valorisation of a hedonistic, hallucinogenic culture. In my opinion, acid communism is an evolution of thought, following from Fisher’s work on the hauntology of culture and capitalist realism. To grasp what acid communism is, therefore, we need to understand these preceding ideas.
Amongst the many things Mark Fisher did so well was his ability to distil complex ideas into brief but powerful summaries. Hauntology is the belief that the future has been cancelled. Capitalist realism is the belief that there is no alternative to capitalism. It is from these statements I will begin.
What does it mean to say that the future is cancelled? For Fisher, it meant an inability to imagine anything new. His work on cyberpunk is a testament to this. The cyberpunk aesthetic we all understand is one that meshes advanced technology with late-stage capitalism. But to build that aesthetic, the familiar yet alien are transposed into the scene: the Japanese culture of Blade Runner, for example, may adorn the futuristic scenery, but its presence is a product of 1970s/1980s American xenophobia of the Japanese economic miracle subsuming their own. The great pyramids, skyscrapers and flying cars are all futuristic, but it’s retro-futuristic. It is how we used to imagine the future.
This is hauntology. In a world where the future has been cancelled, where we are unable to imagine new futures (we will get onto why shortly), society and culture is forced to look back onto the imaginings of previous generations. This, I would argue, is as good an explanation for the proliferation of everything nostalgia within the West; of the ever more salient culture of reboot and remake.
Hauntology is easily misconstrued as a much lesser idea; the lamentable critic calling out Hollywood-types for their lack of creativity and originality. Fisher’s hauntology, however, goes beyond this criticism. For Fisher, the ill of nostalgia (algia literally means sickness, ache, pain etc) does not come from a choice not to imagine new futures, but from an almost pathological inability to do so. Now we turn to capitalist realism.
Capitalist realism is the belief that there is no alternative to capitalism. Another phrase often associated with capitalist realism is, “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” I’ve written previously about how these statements are related via the depressive forces the former implies. Namely, no matter how bad capitalism gets, it’s always better than the alternative. And if there is no alternative, we quickly arrive at the end of the world.
What does capitalist realism have to do with hauntology, or acid communism? Firstly, of course, there’s the parallel between the constrained thought which is a symptom of hauntology, and the constrained thought which is the primary feature of capitalist realism. But I think this can be explored further.
I’ve argued, though Oli Mould’s Against Creativity argues much better, that capitalism constrains creativity and innovation. Within capitalism, creativity must be profitable. This separates the creative from the creative industry; in the creative, the only limits are one’s imagination, in the creative industry, the only limit is one’s value ‘creation.’ This idea quickly descends into a rehash of the lazy idea above: that Hollywood-types choose to not imagine new futures because they’re just interested in money.
But for Fisher, under capitalist realism, this explanation misses the point by assuming choice rather than pathology. It is not that creatives choose profit, it is that they must choose profit, and given such coercion, they abandon the notion of any choice at all. Thus, we arrive at hauntology, where the pathology of capitalist realism leads to an inability to imagine the future: the future hasn’t just been cancelled, it was never planned from the start.
The evidence? Let’s return to Blade Runner, only this time let us note that amongst the familiar and yet alien(ating) that we transpose onto our vision of the future is capitalism itself. Even in our imagined future — a future borrowed from the past — we cannot imagine a world without capitalism. We are trapped within the haunting realm of capitalist realism.
Acid communism emerges from Fisher’s constant cry within Capitalist Realism to imagine a new future. The communism element is debatably symbolic, simply representing a philosophy that goes beyond capitalist realism, and thus into a world that could go beyond capitalism itself. There is an interesting discussion to be had about the communistic nature of our possible future, by for now, let us not linger.
The, ‘acid,’ part of acid communism is the means to fulfil Fisher’s desire to imagine the future. Of course, some people take a superficial view of this part, though I think Fisher choose Acid Communism partly for the advantage this superficiality provides. Acid communism is about ways of imagining a world after capitalist realism, and for Fisher, one of the ways to escape this reality is psychoactive drugs. The programme of acid communism is not to condone psychoactive drug use, but as an example this activity captures the philosophy of acid communism excellently.
To imagine new futures, we have to find ways to break out of our present myopia. Fisher’s acid communism is unique primarily for placing this goal above all others. For example, Marx’s call for class consciousness is a very acid communist idea, but the means of achieving class consciousness (the critiques and contradictions of capital) dominated much of Marx’s contribution. If Fisher had had more time, perhaps this would have been the fate of acid communism too, attempting to imagine new ways of achieving acidic or post-capitalist realist thought.
Instead, acid communism leaves us with a simple message. The future has been cancelled because we are unable to imagine anything other than the present. To invent the future, to escape our myopia, we have to go beyond the present bounds of our imagination. This is acid communism.