Mark Fischer in his book Capitalist Realism outlines the titular concept, summed up in the phrase “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”. In a recent Twitter outburst, this is the concept Novara co-founder Aaron Bastani reached for in retort to people reacting to his tweet about trade under a Corbyn-led Labour government:
“Bilateral trade deals under a Corbyn government: Brazilian food & coffee; Cuban healthcare workers; Venezuelan gas. All while helping them in value-added areas like pharma, hi-tech manufacturing & aviation. Cheap mojitos, a well staffed NHS, assisting the global south. Winning.”
He proceeds to accuse his critics of tearing their hair out at the thought of anyone thinking along these lines. According to Bastani, this is because it represents such a break from their worldview so tinged by Capitalist Realism.
Whether this is the basis of many people’s objections: that these trade deals are, in peoples minds, so removed from their concept of the functions of capitalism seems secondary to the question of whether Bastani’s policy outlook would in fact represent a break from capitalism.
Bastani’s idea of a socialist trade policy, if this is what his tweet represents, actually speaks very little to socialism of any sort, even of the reformist bent that Bastani so often favours when speaking in practical terms. It can be most fairly described as a view of socialism which amounts simply to capitalism with a shift in foreign policy orientation.
Making bilateral trade deals with states, particularly ones that repress independent organisation as Cuba, Venezuela and a Bolsonaro-led Brazilian state, does nothing to improve the existing balance of class power that exists within those countries.
Even without delving too far into the implications of Bastani advocating fossil fuel based trade deals at a time of global ecological crisis and talking of Cuban doctors as goods with no agency to be traded across borders in exchange for British goods and services, it is clear that Bastani’s view of socialism is entirely void of any conception of class struggle. It is socialism to be administered from above by a mildly Social Democratic government through a shift in trade policy.
Fischer’s concept Capitalist Realism is perhaps proven most strongly by Bastani’s own attitude, even in his most vivid imaginations of what a socialist future might look like, he imagines not the end of capitalism, but its altered continuity.