Long reflections

“I Think We're Really Onto Something:” Mark Fisher and My Revolutionary Friends

If you think revolution is impossible, you are looking in the wrong places.

1

Mark Fisher was a revolutionary, but I do not mean his writings were revolutionary (although they were); I mean that Mark Fisher was a revolutionary in a very specific sense of the word, a sense that does not necessarily apply to everyone who happens to be sympathetic to radical ideas or causes. We know this because, over the past two years, we have not just been friends with Mark. A number of us have been, together, in the process of concrete, organized, revolutionary political transformations. These transformations remain somewhat obscure, and before Mark’s death I did not fully comprehend what he and all of us in Plan C have been doing over these past couple of years. But now, for me at least, Mark’s death has been like a flash of emotional lightning that suddenly illuminates a dark forest pulsing with life, revealing with undeniable clarity where one even is. In an email, Mark once wrote to us: “I think we’re really onto something…” I think he was right, in fact I think he was more right than any of us have known what to do with. With Mark’s passing I believe I can see more clearly now than ever what exactly we have been onto. To be honest, I did not know Mark well, and I have only a passing familiarity with his writing; that I have so much to say can only be attributed to the political processes that have been, over the past few years, sweeping a few of us away, together.

2

Mark always struck me as the type whose opposition to the status quo was such that he sincerely thought, felt, and lived as if it could not be so. For some people, opposition to the status quo can be a form of adaptation and survival. For these people, activism provides socio-psychological supports that make the experience of the status quo tolerable. But others are plagued with a humanity that will not go away no matter what you offer it, a certain inability to accept the status quo, an incapacity to integrate oneself into its consistency, resulting in a kind of maladaption risking rather than securing survival. For these types, entry into radical politics is not about making life livable under unlivable conditions, it is about figuring out how to produce genuinely livable conditions at any cost. This is a subtle but crucial difference: the former model waters down the definition of what is considered “living” in order to survive and claim we are “living,” while the latter admits plainly the unfortunate but real challenge of an unjust political order: either overthrow unlivable institutions and make life together possible immediately, or we will already be dead.

In my own view, everything seems to suggest that the truly revolutionary life today must be of the latter type; it would seem that revolutionary politics today could not be anything other than a kind of minimally sustainable, reproducible type of militant maladaption, the capacity to creatively occupy oneself as something that consciously and purposely does not belong to nearly all of that which is currently and falsely called reality. But obviously individual human organisms have limits and this tendency can lead to self-destruction; one question we have therefore been grappling with is, how to sustain this kind of creative maladaption over time, how to make revolutionary maladaption socially reproducible.

It seems to me that, in his intellectual work, Mark sought actively to inhabit this heady, scandalous mental space in which everything people call real is, clearly, not real. Exciting and true, but anyone who has ever sought to engage in radical intellectual work over a period of time learns quickly that this parallax is quite a load on the nervous system, because every interaction in our really existing Boring Dystopia will require far more emotional and cognitive stress than would be required if one simply took the Boring Dystopia to be real. Now, if we have any hope of living a true life together then we must at all cost hold onto this heady, stressful, critical distance. But I think one thing Mark understood was that there do exist tactics and techniques for making true life possible despite everything. I think Mark was a maestro of such tactics, not just because I got to observe him performing them (as I will sketch below), but because to do his kind of radical theory over any period of time. you need them. That he was able to write all of those words on topics such as mental health and capitalism, in that dangerous and difficult mental space he was most known for, is evidence enough that he possessed some mastery of how to power a life that is not being fueled in the conventional way through complacent, adaptive negotiation with the status quo.

I should say at the outset that I am not interested in claiming Mark for any particular thesis or agenda; like any genuine, radical intellectual, I am sure he thought many different things that he never brought to perfect coherence. Yet I do believe, for a number of reasons I will try to articulate, that Mark was especially interested in this question about the interpersonal and social tactics that transform individual and group consciousness into weapons that perform concretely revolutionary work (however slowly and invisibly at first) on even the largest-scale political and economic institutions.

One reason I know Mark was keen on this point is that he told me so. I remember one time he was telling me about the most recent book project he had been working on. I asked him about the thesis. He summarized it by saying something to the effect of, ”Basically, 1970s socialist feminism had it all figured out.” We can debate what he might have meant by this, but I believe he had in mind especially the feminist consciousness-raising groups prevalent at the time. Even more specifically, I think Mark was interested in how these groups—dedicated to the sharing and making visible of once silent, privatized struggles—really worked, not just for “therapy” or the now more chic “self-care” but as a bona fide methodology for producing large-scale, revolutionary political change at the systemic level. The various movements of this one particular historical moment were crushed, yes, but the point is that it worked, as far as it went. Of course, there will be opponents and enemies, but the basic method is a real, concrete, and reproducible way for even lonely individuals and small groups to immediately begin the overthrow of dominant institutions.

My memory of his characteristic, nervous excitement seemed to be saying, like, “We already know what to do! Next time, this time, we just have to figure out how not to get crushed!” That is, we have to figure out a number of auxilliary questions that our revolutionary predecessors had not fully worked out—such as how to expand, aggregate, and materially reproduce consciousness-raising dynamics against powerful reactionary forces and agents—but as to the basic nature of revolutionary movement, its primary source and destination as an actual activity human beings can do, we already know it. It is the concrete, immanent process of human beings seeking, through each other, their true consciousness. That might sound woo-woo, but I will argue that the status quo reproduces itself in large part by making this proposition seem woo-woo. Our fear of being naïve, our fear of wagering too much on our own immediate shared consciousness—more and more I think this is the enemy, or at least the single most real and vicious tenterhook that status quo institutions have successfully lodged in our bodies. It seems to me that radicals and activists today may be scrambling to find what is already under their noses, in the historical sense that the 1960s already demonstrated how to produce massive, global, political shockwaves, but also in the immediate interpersonal sense that all we need is exactly whoever is right in front of us.

Another minor exhibit. Within the group, I once wrote an essay that argued consciousness-raising is effectively strike action, the real and concrete withdrawal of cognitive and emotional energy from the status quo. The essay was critical of many basic assumptions of contemporary leftism and I know that Mark was sympathetic to the essay. Interestingly, he was very worried about the backlash I might receive, most likely due to his own ghastly experiences taking risks on the internet (which I consider in more detail below). Of course nothing happened, my article received the much harsher fate of a generally tepid response. Nonetheless, this all suggests to me that what I was trying to articulate in that essay overlaps, at least in some degree, with what Mark had been thinking in recent years. Something difficult and apparently sensitive, something that progressive folks either don’t care about or get very angry about. It all seems to indicate that we are getting closer and closer to understanding what exactly we have been onto.

3

When one speaks the words “consciousness-raising,” the connotation is so strongly one of New-Age spiritualism that, from a political perspective, the conversation is usually over before it starts. I think the coming years will show this to be an error. Nonetheless, for this reason, I prefer to speak of the physiological and biochemical effects of consciousness tactics; how shared consciousness—if all parties truly take that shared consciousness to be more real than official reality and allow their future thoughts and behaviors to morph accordingly—produces concrete attitudinal and behavioral effects that immanently decrease the power flowing into the institutional center while increasing the autonomous power circulating in the commune of those who compose it. Even better, these tactics come with the exceptional virtue of being immediately palpable in the body and mind when executed correctly, and so they are self-guiding and self-reinforcing. Relationships conducted in this fashion become veritable collective revolution machines capable of spanning vast distances, but only if they are done correctly. Such relationships can and will take infinitely different forms, but I think there is perhaps one hard rule. There will be various implications from this rule, implications which will have to be identified and dealt with creatively depending on the situation, but only one hard requirement. In my own view, I summarize it with the word “honesty,” similar to “conscience” but more secular and relational, like “truth” but less formal and more pluralistic.

In a nutshell, I would venture a possible definition of consciousness-raising as interpersonal communications, on any scale, motivated by nothing but honesty and unconcerned with consequences. By doing this, conciousness-raising is a form of direct action, immediately available between any two people (or more), that withdraws one’s labour from the status quo and immanently produces what you are welcome to call freedom, energy, joy, or power. At a certain resolution these can all be thought of as interchangeable. While this might sound too simple to be serious revolutionary politics, the truth is it’s very difficult and extremely rare. Consider the extraordinary fact that such an orientation is almost impossible to find in activist circles; almost the entirety of contemporary activism is organized around the pursuit of certain consequences, to such a degree that in activist circles if your thoughts and speech are not perceived as contributing to some future consequence, or if you are not minimally able to produce speech that has certain immediate consequences (e.g. making people feel “hope” or appearing “useful”) then you might as well not even be there.

There is massive problem in the activist instinct to organize your thoughts and actions around producing consequences (a fancier term for this is “instrumental rationality,” and it is basically the rationality of modernity and capitalism). The problem is that, in your attachment to those consequences, you are liable to make mistakes and tell lies without even knowing it. And once errors or lies are circulating, however tiny, everything you try to do with anyone will be doomed. First, it leads to the crucial error that you see other human beings as means to some end, whereas in fact the truth is they are ends unto themselves. Humans are not valuable for some purpose, they are the creators of these odd things called values, and if you think about it, that is one of the main reasons why we believe all humans must be free and equal in the first place. But this error is not merely an ethical mistake that does violence to others, it is a practical political mistake also because it blocks revolutionary dynamics before they even have a chance to begin. The whole problem of alienation under capitalism is that we have all been reduced to objects in a system we have no say in. We have to learn how to become revolutionary, from the starting point of having been born as objects, but when we assume that activism means making yourself an object or instrument useful for the goal of producing social change, then we are prohibiting exactly what we really want and need and the only thing that fuels macro social change anyway.

Therefore, it stands to reason that the only possible first step toward transforming the currently existing social system is to create minimal spaces, with at least one other person, in which both parties serve absolutely no purpose. And the only way to create a zone in which all parties serve no other purpose is by committing to the only criterion than can possibly attune diverse atomized individuals: honesty. Honesty converts the most diverse individuals to the only unification that preserves all of their differences; everyone can be as radically different as they please, and yet attuned around the only thing they truly all share, namely, the objective fact that none are objects to any of the others but all are their own autonomous ends, that all are recognized as the creators of themselves, ultimately subordinate to nothing. If this feels uncmofortably “individualistic” for altruistic types, I need only remind you that this only works as a collective activity, and the truly autonomous individual immediately recognizes this individuality as a gift of the community. If this feels too simple or easy to be a serious revolutionary politics, I need only remind you that this is harder than you think, so accustomed we are to constantly calculate consequences. Yet it is only in this unique situation of purposelessness that one can exit the state of objecthood under capitalism, in order to experience, if only for a minute, what it feels like to be free. It is horrifying but I genuinely believe there are many people today who have never felt what I am talking about, because the constant mental chatter that is constantly calculating consequences has hijacked our experience of each other to such an extraordinary degree that we don’t even realize it.

Nobody wants to admit their mind and body are so fully hijacked (in part because people won’t like you, etc., i.e. the consequences), so we all continue this horrible state of things in which we actively push away from ourselves and others the only really desirable thing. The other reason I believe there exist many people who have never really grasped or cannot remember this experience is that, feeling or even remembering such an experience forces one to be a revolutionary. If you really know or remember this feeling, you cannot not find yourself foaming at the mouth in opposition to the absurdity, stupidity, and brutality of almost everything currently existing under the label of “reality.” That the average person appears to at least publicly speak and behave as if the offical reality is real—that is data supporting the inference that the very experience of true autonomous existing is itself going extinct. Or maybe everyone knows it, but we’re all too afraid to truly speak and act accordingly. Either way, the upshot is the same: revolutionary politics, in the first and perhaps even final analysis, means nothing other than the immanent production of autonomous communal social power through the basic principle of radical honesty, which implies immediate de-objectification followed by all parties becoming whatever they are (i.e. flourishing). By gaining a collective mastery over this production, how it works and how it breaks, we expand the commune indefinitely.

It is worth remembering that the world-historical revolution of capitalism itself, which overthrew feudalism, operated on precisely these terms. Whatever we might say about the inhumane consequences of capitalism, the pioneering individuals whose attitudes and behaviors would lead to generalized capitalist society were: highly creative, courageous individuals (in the sense of defying social expectations) who met in new and uncharted zones (the cities), who acted to manipulate the nature of reality by leveraging new forms of knowledge and new forms of technology that the traditional status quo repressed. They started in small groups, sometimes as individuals and sometimes in small networks of oath-bound individuals. Fearlessness, creativity, trust, and the purposeful alteration of social reality in a way that no one’s ever done before, produced a world-historical revolution. There’s no reason capitalism can’t be overthrown by the same type of operations, this time geared toward the the truth of our being rather than dishonest material interests in commanding nature and each other.

4

Most of what most people do generates nothing but their own misery, and bad faith converts this misery into only a minimally tolerable survival (and even this minimum appears increasingly hard to maintain). Almost everything that passes for education today is essentially false. Most human relationships, at least in the overdeveloped world, range from empty to shit, as the number of our weak relationships has increased and the number of our deep relationships has decreased. And even the best benefits you can get from the status quo—if you’re really lucky, privileged, and/or do everything by the rules—don’t even give you that much security nowadays. These are some reasons why today, it is in some of our own lived relationships that we see not merely potential, but rather the site of currently unfolding revolutionary dynamics we are only beginning to decipher.

I am writing this on the day that Donald Trump is being inaugurated as the President of the United States. There is something significant in the fact that I’m thinking far more about Mark Fisher and my revolutionary friends than I am about Donald Trump and the government of the United States.

There’s this long-standing assumption that educated, progressive individuals should pay close attention to national and international news, but if high-level politics and what is called the news are both institutionally and ideologically locked down to an unprecedented degree—as I would argue they are—then I believe that today, educated and progressive individuals will increasingly learn the courage to unhinge their attunement from what is effectively at this point mere noise in the social system. I think one of the discoveries some of us have been making recently is that, when you do this, in conjunction with doubling down on your attunement to dearest friends and comrades, so long as they are also honestly attuned to you, then fundamentally new energies emerge into this new collective entity-machine-project that feels quite literally out of this world. I don’t mean this in a woo-woo, spiritual way, I mean fundamental physiological, biochemical effects are triggered that then ripple out into speech and behaviors in organic ways tending to the overthrow of institutions.

For people who see short and easy proclamations on social media as the key gauge of someone’s political life, I am happy to give you 30 seconds to type that I think Donald Trump is very bad and, whatever it is, I’m against it. But I’m conserving my energy for larger projects; for my living, intimate accomplices and my revolutionary friends dead and alive. The big center is a massive, empty zone filled with little more than the fears of those who incorrectly believe there is still something there. Mark’s death is teaching me that, more and more I want to wager everything on my friends, and that means moving investments away from the big empty center of this dead society into the spaces, times, and experiences that you have the concrete ability to fill with power. None of this is an attack on other styles, it’s just to remind everyone that silence is not always complicity and indeed it is sometimes the mark of a groundswell you may just not know how to interpret.

That Mark and many of us have been onto something different, ever so slightly different but crucially, categorically different, is nicely measured by the reception of Mark’s infamous essay on the Vampire’s Castle. First, I think time has shown that essay to be way more correct than incorrect. I’m very sorry but anyone I know who has half-honestly watched the sociology of left internet discourse evolve over the past few years will agree on this point in private. Many remain afraid to say it, but with Mark’s passing this feels more important than ever to just put on the record. I remember following the whole fiasco when it happened, before I even knew Mark, and I thought it was absurd but I didn’t dare to say so. That’s shameful and embarrassing. Any self-respecting adult has to call bullshit wherever they honestly see bullshit, in public, without apologies. I know way too many people, myself included (although I’m trying to end this), who won’t say in public really important thoughts and feelings they have about various habits and tendencies prevalent in what passes for radical or progressive politics today. I won’t argue it here, because anyone who would be offended by what I’m suggesting almost certainly won’t be convinced and most people whose opinions and judgments I know and respect know what I’m talking about or at least accept and respect my comradely right to say what I think without apology. And here’s where this gets real: the truth is I wouldn’t even be writing this if I wasn’t at this very moment embedded in real liberatory dynamics with others who I know have my back because they are themselves flying on the same winds.

A little story I haven’t told many people. I have this draft book manuscript and Mark once invited me to share it with him. He was one of the first people I had ever shared it with, and honestly it is a pretty scrappy and highly idiosyncratic project that I could not have imagined appealing to anyone. But of course he loved it, or at least pretended to love it. His encouragement could not have come at a better time, it was a really long and dark period of nothing but rejections and failures on all other fronts, intellectual and personal. His interest in the book was maybe my most positive achievement I had in the entire year of 2014 – 2015. And again, where many people might only see a minor act of kindness, I think there is something much more substantial, if we can learn to see it.

Dispensing encouragement to younger people can be a world-transforming political action. And if there’s one thing that emerges from all of the beautiful tributes that have been written recently, Mark appears to have done this on an almost industrial scale. I was somewhat humbled to learn I am not so special, but impressed to learn that Mark appears to have been on some kind of mission to push forward everyone he possibly could. And you know what, lots of notable radicals or intellectuals or academics are nice people and they try their best to be “supportive” of others, but there are levels to this. This is where, if you look closely enough, you’ll see that people like Mark are not just kind or supportive; he was practicing a revolutionary politics much harder and far more interesting than just being kind.

If you meet someone you admire and they give you some general positive feedback or words of encouragement, the actual transforming effect is going to be conditional on a series of other factors. Typically, you might find it vaguely uplifting and inspiring for a little while. But when someone you admire goes to the same political meetings as you, and sits around before and after just like you, somewhat awkward, somewhat terrified of recent news, and personally, vulnerably desperate to change everything that currently exists, with you, well you know what? It changes everything. The effect is totally different, far more powerful, far more lasting. And it matters when radicals are also respected in more status quo hierarches—while of course there is so much to criticize about those hierarchies. When people such as Mark, who could be off writing cool books or seeking an academic promotion, are going to the same meetings as you because they genuinely want to make revolution now, it produces a unique effect. And I think that’s because no matter how radical we are, we cannot help but be affected differently depending on where a signal is coming from within the social status hierarchy. Placement in the social status hierarchy should mean nothing whatsoever for how we value or treat each other, my point is just that when people possess status quo cultural capital and they are choosing to invest themselves in the hard work of organized revolutionary politics, this is something relatively rare and it produces unique effects that deserve to be appreciated.

It is these types of interpersonal activities that generate irrevocable anthropological transformations. Mark’s interest in my book was not just “encouraging”—it effectively supported my entire will for almost a year at a time when so many rejections were really making me wonder whether I was maybe just dumb or crazy. But also it altered the course of my life, to make me more invested in the real, immediate actualization of revolutionary political change, because our relationship was one defined by a revolutionary organization and if I felt indebted to Mark’s support what that really meant was I was indebted to keep figuring out how to make revolution. I’m fully aware how absurd this might sound to others, but think about it. Since that time, I’ve had some modest academic success in my bullshit bourgeois career, which means my precious ego and income are pretty secure at the moment, so this is exactly when most people start to drift from their youthful radical politics toward a comfortable integration with the status quo. I have every social, financial, and cultural reason to now just kick back and enjoy my permanent academic post. But now I can’t do that, and I’m happy I can’t do that, but the reason is because through my revolutionary friends I am increasingly and irrevocably indebted to figuring out how to make revolution—to pursue my own liberation means pursuing the liberation of those others who are the concrete, direct generators of the power that has animated me over the past two years.

This is what we are onto. True attention and care, radical honesty and making shared/public that which is hidden, not to make a watered-down life possible within unlivable conditions but as a necessary path to making true life occur now. The politics of “consciousness-raising” is the material process of overthrowing oppressive political institutions at the only point they really exist (where they enter our bodies), by treating each other honestly and never as instruments, thereby generating irrevocably bonded yet autonomous agents and collectives incapable of being consistent with status quo institutions. In my tiny little corner of contemporary Western radical politics, this is exactly what I’ve been doing with Mark and a number of others.

5

Something about all of the lovely tributes that has given me pause is the tendency to see Mark with somewhat rose-tinted glasses. Don’t get me wrong, Mark was a first-class intellect, an excellent writer, and he made quite an impact on a sizable audience. Many people knew Mark and his work much better than I do, but from where I’m sitting I don’t even see Mark as primarily a writer. To me, Mark was an active revolutionary first and foremost, he just happened to write a lot of things down. I think this is really important because, how do you think anyone becomes an important writer? It’s certainly not by choosing to become an important writer; it is by having some above-average source of interest or energy toward certain questions and writing things down along the way because you need to make sense of things as you go. Personally, I think Mark was interested in how such a rotten set of institutions can perpetuate themselves, and of course the question of how to overthrow them. I see his writings as by-products of the much larger qualities, attitudes and behaviors that made Mark the uniquely important figure he was.

In a comradely way, I would even wonder if there is not something possibly ideological in some of the glowing obituaries of Mark as a writer. As if his obscure, independent k-punk blog became so valuable and influential because of his way with words? I doubt that. And if you want to grow up to be cool and valuable and influential then just start an obscure, independent blog with good words? Maybe, but I think the real reason Mark made a lasting contributon to late 20th century British culture is because he fucking hated capitalism and it was killing him and he actually dared to say so, and to explain how and why, and to actively find others with whom he might take an honest shot at changing everything. If that’s the type of person you are, if that’s how you live, then anything you scribble on the back of a napkin is going to be fascinating, inspiring, useful, and impressive. Not because you’re a good “writer” but almost the opposite, because you care so much more about seeking liberation than being a successful “writer” that you have the freedom and energy to do something real with words. This is a crucial lesson for those interested in pursuing their own path of radical cultural production, but it’s one that tends to be erased in the tropes our cultural industry uses to describe important writers.

No doubt I liked and admired Mark’s writings, but I think Mark would understand my wish to make clear that he was not some sort of super rare genius talent. He wasn’t: he was you. Of course he was smart, and a good writer, but he was also weird and awkward and nervous, like you, like me. I have met certain towering intellects whose mental function is in fact probably something incomparable to what you and I have. Mark was not that type, he was something far more dangerous. He would often say interesting and brilliant things and also things I hardly understood or did not agree with or did not find interesting. I’ve heard people call him a great speaker, and he was certainly quite a speaker, but “great speaker” risks a crucial misunderstanding. He was great fun to listen to and talk with, but he was not a great speaker in the classic sense most people associate with that phrase. He was often quite disorganized, mentally cluttered, elliptical, stuttering, longwinded, and—if we are being honest, and of course we are—sometimes downright incomprehensible.

I remember at a Plan C Congress he gave a talk on some ideas from Operaismo and I left the room with almost no idea what he was trying to say. But the radical insight here is that that can be more politically powerful and sometimes even more fun and cool than “great speakers.” This is exactly the political-psychological mechanics of punk, where it is a lack of certain skills combined with a kind of passionate carelessness that triggers real excitement and empowerment in others, more so than mastery. So to call Mark a “great speaker” risks the very same media-spectacle recuperation that pacified Punk. I’m overjoyed to see Mark becoming a legend even sooner than I would’ve predicted, given the remarkable outpouring of acclaim in the aftermath of his death. But if the effect is to increase the perceived cognitive or performative distance between the average reader and Mark, then that would be unfortunate. What made Mark so interesting and powerful was that he thought what he thought, and he said what he said, because he wanted to, because he was irrepressibly moved to overthrow an intolerable state of things. And he said what he said despite that he had all of the shortcomings and deficiencies of the average person. To hear someone like Mark think all this radical shit, and make all these crazy statements, was so politically electrifying exactly because he was not super gifted and had to struggle against obvious normal difficulties. But he didn’t give a fuck, because he was a revolutionary, and that could be you tomorrow, today.

Or consider what is probably his most famous work, Capitalist Realism. It’s a totally cool little book that’s fun to read and I think it was really useful to a lot of people. But it’s crucial to celebrate it for the right reasons, and avoid those that distort Mark’s unique powers. It was not super original, certainly not systematic or comprehensive, and it gave very little direction on what any of us should do next. Mark wasn’t a genius, he was an interested, passionate, creative person on a search for something real, and that’s so much more revolutionary than mere genius. Again, his work was something you could do, if only you could find the courage and energy to pay attention to what really interests you, and write down what you think, for your friends, precisely without really giving a fuck if its original or systematic or impressive. This is the secret recipe of radical culture that actually produces effects on people, and I’m pretty sure Mark would not mind me reminding people of this.

From my view, I think Mark had a few key insights and I would summarize them as follows. All of this is temporary and it’s not supposed to be like this, but if you look closely you can always find glimmers of life. And it’s necessary to find those glimmers of life and invest in them, and if we all do this honestly and openly than we can and will find a way to change everything. These insights are insights that many of us have deep down inside, he just went after them as if it were a matter of life and death, because it was a matter of life and death, just as it is for us today, whether we feel like facing it now or later.

6

Mark’s death is teaching me that our revolutionary moment today is so much more real than I thought. Not an abstract potential, but something that is already operating wherever radically true relationships are being formed, if you only know how to pay attention, be honest with yourself and others, and invest your energies wisely. The more you take your attention and energies away from status quo fixations, and divert them into those people genuinely attuned to liberation, then as the dynamics of genuine bonding and belonging take hold, larger collectives can be spun from the two, to the three, and so on. If Mark’s readers trust him as an authority on the political nature of depression, then we should also trust him as an authority on the real and immediately available road to revolutionary transformation that he and I and others have been stumbling down together for the past few years.

There’s nothing magical or sacred about Plan C, which is only one particular group trying to figure these things out; it’s about the discoveries many people are making and are continuing to make, discoveries which anyone can pursue in their own way and on their own terms with anyone around them. This is not a vague appeal for everyone to “come together in love” with everyone around them, not that at all: it is an appeal to break away from all that is wrong and false with ony those you can trust to make of yourselves whatever it is you need to make of yourselves in order that life may occur together now. Not a universal love, but a highly careful and discriminating love—which might very well produce some enemies in the short term—based rigorously only on those principles you honestly believe to produce real dynamics of liberation, and an unflinching refusal of anything else. Not a circle of people singing kumbaya, but a real uprising that honestly feels like an uprising and which creates, almost out of thin air, the very thing you have been seeking all along.

At least for me, this is how it’s working. It’s sad to say, but it might’ve been Mark’s death that has really driven this home to me once and for all. During my last visit to the Plan C group in London, I had the good fortune of spending some quality time with several of my closest friends in that group. In a few moments, spread throughout my visit, I had the distinct feeling that, with those people, I’m truly embedded in a life or death struggle, but at the same time, in those very moments, I felt fully 100% alive and doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. You can’t call it liberation or revolution exactly, because no one is liberated until everyone is liberated, but it was a really unique and overpowering quality or experience of life that I used to think was something that would only come after the revolution, as it were. In these moments I sincerely felt like it was already here, or presently swelling like a wave, like it was actually happening in my body, like we are really doing the only thing that revolution could possibly be: our radically honest best, together. Interestingly, the only time I can remember having this feeling was in the headiest days of Occupy. The reason this is remarkable, and more evidence that indeed we are onto something, is that feelings of revolutionary power are supposedly short-term, fleeting, unsustainable rushes that only come about in rare insurrectionary upsurges such as Occupy—but here I am feeling them in a random pub with E, in another pub with N and A and J and W, on the overground to Tottenham with S, with C and T and A and J and A and S and everyone else at the same Misty Moon where I first met Mark Fisher before a Plan C meeting in 2014. And I still feel them right now, weeks later, even though to the naked eye “nothing is happening.”

In a way that I wouldn’t have said even two weeks ago, it really now does seem to me that we are already doing it. I’ve never seen it so clearly. I do not feel any hope for the future, which I firmly believe is a conservative affect. What I have is an interpretation of where I am and what is going on around me and who exactly are these different people. And I have increasing reasons to believe that my interpretation is true, while the socially dominant interpretation is false. What I also have are concrete tools, reproducible tactics and techniques to make energies flow inside our bodies, tactics I have discovered with my revolutionary friends, whether we have fully realized it or not, tactics that I can now creatively employ to remake every part of the world that I touch. What’s even more remarkable is a peculiar strategic assymetry about these tactics: these are tools that only real revolutionaries can learn, for the simple reason that today one must enter a revolutionary attitude to even access certain basic human experiences prohibited by what is currently called normalcy. Not least of these basic experiences is the one I mentioned above regarding “consciousness-raising,” that most primordial experience of being present with others for no ulterior purpose whatsoever.

That simple and immediately available place of radical honesty and being-unto-ourselves, easy as it sounds, is available only to individuals and groups able to see that it is effectively barred to normal humans adapted to the status quo. Also it is only through radical relationships, attuned and bonded around the honest search for liberation, that currently atomized individuals can gain the courage to take the risks necessary for shooting down this path. When I speak of risks I don’t mean anything grand, I mean even just that blog post you’ve been meaning to write but for some reason you’re just vaguely afraid to post. With honestly revolutionary friends, you stop caring what the Big Other will think, and you say a little more, do a little more, than you normally would—because you actually believe you’re onto something, as your friends are onto it also, and you might be crazy or stupid but you can’t all be crazy and stupid.

Last but not least, you begin to realize that even if everything fails and everything goes wrong, nobody can really touch you, because the truth is most people won’t even know what you’re talking about. At first one’s fear is always that people will respond negatively and punish you for sticking your neck out, but as you learn to do so, buoyed by revolutionary friends, you realize something at once more horrifying and liberating: you are much more likely to be ignored or misunderstood, possibly forever, than maligned and punished. If you’re honest path brings malice against you then you should count yourself lucky, for it means you are certainly onto something. See the Vampire’s Castle. Of course you could also be veering toward evil, always a risk, but again that’s why you’ve invested so much into your revolutionary friends. They will keep you honest without oppressing you.

And let me tell you one of the most beautiful things. If I haven’t made myself clear or you just don’t understand what I’m talking about, I am sorry about that but I also don’t need to care or worry because I know with certainty that at least a few of my comrades will. I’m able to know this with certainty because the only reason I’m able to write this is because of them, so almost by definition they will find themselves in it. Radical political groups are often mocked for being self-referential little spheres, but the only reason this is mock-worthy is because we feel like we have to be accountable to something or someone else outside of those circles. So the inside of those circles can feel sad and guilty and lacking something. What exactly are they lacking, though? Nobody can ever say. We feel like we need to do something more, or do something bigger or better outside of ourselves, and we mock ourselves for being tiny and self-referential only because we judge ourselves from the perspective of some stranger in the big dead center who in fact is not looking at us, and never looks at us. Ironically, the really perverse thing about our little circles is that they are not radically circular enough.

There’s nothing wrong with a small group that makes time and space to see nothing but itself. But the crucial condition for this to become revolutionary, the condition which is so hard to meet, is that such a circle must dare to make its own judgments about what is true and not true, real and not real (not in the sense of one objective truth but in the sense of diverse honesties or consciences), without apology and without paranoia and with absolutely zero respect for the millions of idiotic responses that might come from the massive dead center of society. And then it must dare to really believe and live by those judgments. The capacity to generate charmed circles is an extraordinary political power. All that is necessary from there is to make that circle expandable with a scalable membrane, not to self-loathe the inherently circular nature of a shared world, constantly fearing that we are not already enough for each other.

Cite this post: RIS Citation BibTeX Entry

Murphy, Justin. 2017. "“I Think We're Really Onto Something:” Mark Fisher and My Revolutionary Friends," http://jmrphy.net/blog/2017/01/27/mark-fisher-and-my-revolutionary-friends/ (August 13, 2017).