Capitalism Realism: Challenges for the Left (talk)


Anticapitalist Initiative supporters Simon Hardy and Luke Cooper introduce their paper ‘Capitalism Realism: Challenges for the Left’ at this year’s Historical Materialism conference. The panel of their session, Resistance Today, was shared with Jonny Jones (ISJ) and Christian Garland (U. of Bedfordshire), and chaired by Sebastian Budgen (HM).

The talk precedes the launch of their upcoming book ‘Beyond Capitalism? The Future of Radical Politics‘ (Zero Books, 2013).

You can see Simon and Luke speak about Capitalism Realism and their new book at Up the Anti, on 1 December, at 1pm. See timetable here.



  1. November 23, 2012 at 1:52 am · Reply

    If anyone would prefer to read this, I have transcribed it here, editing slightly for text:

  2. Brian S
    November 23, 2012 at 7:08 pm · Reply

    I’ve posted this comment on the Northstar website, but thought I’d repost it here as well, as I know that even in the cyber-age ideas struggle to cross the Atlantic:
    A useful opening of a very necessary discussion. I must confess that Mark Fisher’s essay caught my eye some time ago and is sitting on my bookshelf – but as yet unread. I will reprioritise it and may return to this discussion once I have taken it in, and certainly once I have had an opportunity to assimilate Simon and Luke’s book.
    In the meantime, some preliminary comments:
    I identify with many of the points made in this post (importance of collapse of Soviet Union; Marcuse’s insights; need to revisit libertarian / social democratic legacies) .But I also think it is necessary to return to and re-evaluate the foundational concepts of the Marxist framework and its derivatives. The post refers to the need to “understand the extent of the transformations in working class culture that we’ve seen since the 1970s”. I would suggest that first we need to understand the transformations in working class STRUCTURE in that period., and their significance.
    A key opening question: to what extent was the “proletariat” of Marx (the “class with radical chains”) an “overdetermined” category – i.e. to what extent was its claimed historical role a product of its location at the universal contradiction of capitalism (the extraction of surplus value) and to what extent the product of historically more limited sociological factors (the large factory; the assembly line; the company town; Fordism). If we take the latter out of the equation (as post-Fordism does in the West) what exactly are we left with, how does its social dynamic work, and what are its political implications.? Is it time to revisit the Mallet-Gorz “new working class” or do we need to travel into new territories?
    I look forward to the discussion.

    • Luke Cooper
      November 26, 2012 at 4:07 pm · Reply

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments. I do agree that we need to understand these transformations in working class organisation sociologically. So I guess, my ‘strong answer’ to you would be to say that Marxism is a theory of ‘human culture’, i.e. a theory of the reproduction and transformation of life, and this process involves reproducing material relations *and* also the cultural, ideological and social meanings conditioning the way in which we reproduce these relations.

      My weak answer would be to say that we need take care not to narrow the ‘working class value producer’ to a series of cultural and historically specific properties found in its earliest forms, in the manner that post-Fordist literature tends to do, and this has implications for where we look to find the social agency capable of realising anti-capitalist change (the ‘working class subject’). I guess I’m sympathetic to a lot of the empirical arguments used by post-Fordist / new left writers on the cultural transformations in the working class, but think the classical Marxist position on the special role of working class agency – the coupling of social power with social interest – holds as much force today as it ever did.

      A lot of the classical Marxist literature that has critiqued concepts like ‘the precariat’ has basically tried to deny the existence of the emprically-observable cultural / structural transformations in working class life that we have seen in the post-Fordist period. I don’t think there’s not much to be gained from doing that either. We have to respond to these cultural changes. Not all of which are negative by any stretch of the imagination (eg entry of women in huge numbers into workforce) but simply pose fresh challenges for left wing politics, in particular to rebuild a radical politics rooted in the workplace.

      Thanks again for your comments and sorry for not spotting them on North Star.

      Best wishes,


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