Scattered throughout the writings of the late Mark Fisher is this concept of lost future identified with a stasis buried behind “a superficial frenzy of ‘newness’, of perpetual movement.” This is in agreement with Franco Berardi’s declaration of the slow cancellation of the future as experienced by the psyche in the cultural superstructure. Fisher did not shy away to refer neoliberalism and all its notion of continuity of growth, or what liberal economists, sociologists or development studies academics refer to as “sustainable development,” as the main reason why it seems that in the superstructure touched by neoliberal movements, “there is no present to grasp or articulate anymore.”
For those of us who are living the most apparent symptom of neoliberal attacks, this is true. If there’s any word that can define this decade for a lot of us *younger* urban middle and working class, it is the word precarity. Social security is not our vibe. Or at least, we are not led to mind it because we have a lot of deadlines for unsecured paycheck releases. For us, nothing matters now, our “now” is reserved for a deadline either ahead or already past-due.
Some of us enjoy tenure, but almost always at the mercy of rigid hierarchical bigotry or imperialist plunder of cheap labor. What’s more, this tenure comes with it a paid-for health-maintenance to ensure on-the-dot surplus labor extraction: so that the wetware can support the round-the-clock demands of hardware and software processing. More importantly, we are entertained. Artist Hito Steyerl mentioned a spatial equivalent of Fisher’s lost future: that we are now commonly experiencing groundlessness for our “base metaphysical claims or foundational political myths” and hence, a perpetual state of free falling. “Paradoxically,” Steyerl adds, “while you are falling, you will probably feel as if you are floating.” Momentarily, these moments in lost futures and in free fall are entertaining moments: we’re practically (or at least, metaphysically) floating in mid-air. Ain’t it fun?
But what can be said collectively within these theorizations of the experiences of lost futures and free-falling is that they are grounded within accounts of the determinism of powers outside actual bodies. For mathematician Gilles Chatelet, “in the era of market’s Invisible Hand,” the market’s ghastly digits “applies its pressure everywhere and nowhere” and has neoliberalist ideologues as its voice. Voices that aims to extract from the middle-class “fear, envy, and conformity.” Perhaps, these three elements supplement precarity.
However, it is easy to think of the future being lost from conditions where a certain future was made possible. Having developed capitalism at a more advanced pace, what Fisher and Berardi identified in Europe with these are correct. Perhaps, looking at it from this side of the world, it can only be partly true. Why so? Such historical trajectories can perhaps only be made possible with the same conditions of development in the mode of production. The Philippines, with its semifeudal and semicolonial character, might have captured this sense of development in the superstructure in places wherein capitalism was developed further. The maldevelopment of capitalism in other parts of the Philippines does not guarantee the backwardness of other parts of the country either. Some zones have already captured the future and are living in it, perhaps, within the last 51 years.
Fisher’s formulation of the dominance of capitalist realism — the idea that there’s no more viable economic system than capitalism — can only be partly true for us, as proven by the Red Zones which do not give up, and are standing strong. The future is among us, but this time, it isn’t a matter of when but of where. Where we are, urban middle class, is not the future: capital centers only serve us eternal contemporaneity. Among us is the future that Berardi and Fisher can only be jealous of, and this future is within our grasp.
But how do we make it there? More importantly, who can make it there?
Karl Marx and Frederic Engels called for the working class to unite in their famous manifesto. To dismantle the conditions of enslavement and plunder of their labor, and establish firstly communism. Such is the trajectory of history envisioned by historical materialism as the path to take for actual historical progress. Marxist philosophy itself is not naive to see this as deterministic. Reza Negarestani took note of the epistemological discovery of Marx on how the human being is an “intelligence that treats and intervenes within its own history scientifically.” But how does human intelligence do this? Alexander Kluge and Oskar Negt refer to “labor” — “the human ability to change matter purposefully” — and the commodities – the matter labor changes into – “engenders social relations and develops communities”, ultimately producing history.
To reach that point of future as such in the red zones is not to be trapped in the future Fisher thought was lost or Berardi thought is getting canceled, but to look into the determinations of past, present, and future in the way historical materialism understands historical progress. History is not merely an account of the past. Nor is time a flow from the past to the future. Both are hermeneutically deterministic and are inconsiderate of human intelligence. Negarestani pointed out that Marx’s epistemology transforms man’s “pursuit of understanding and intervention” into a project. To have a history is “to reorient and repurpose that history toward ends unseen by the past, whose recognition should never be an impediment but merely a way to liberate the present.” An end unseen by the past is an end in which all givens of the past have been abolished.
Mao Tse-tung notes: “The people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history.” This is the ultimate goal of our method to “learn from the people.” We learn from the people because as a class which is moderately in-cahoots with the oppressive classes (directly or indirectly), history does not belong to us. We learn from the people not mainly to “help” the people, but the other way around: it is our learnings from the people who help us know how to directly participate in the production of history. What we learn from the people is the way towards becoming the intelligence that directly intervenes with history.
The masses, either with untapped potential or are currently organized, bear with them the future. In some geographical parts, the future is in social laboratories we call the red zones, where conditions for the flourishment and development of this future are being practiced, theorized and developed further. Some may have advanced way further, some may not. In the capital centers, it is not much that the future cannot be enacted or that the mass movements have given it up, however, the greatest contradiction is there: capitalism, which as Fisher rightly put, “obstructs the collective capacity to produce, care and enjoy.”
We have never lost the future, the future always marches along with us. The future are those comrades from the urban poor settlements who smile at you in regular meetings but are fierce at the face of the enemies. The future are those agricultural workers who tirelessly teach you the ways to till and protect the land. The future stands in the assembly line with a final product in mind, producing parts of it, along with others, who sit with the other people in the assembly line to check on each other, and protect each other when needed to. We can never be them, at least not yet. We do what we can to stand in solidarity, to learn as much from them, to struggle with them, to reclaim history that they themselves produce. Until finally, we become one who can produce history along with the people. We march among the futures until we ourselves become one, who can assault the rest of time — the oppressive past and present — altogether.
Chatelet, Gilles. 2014. To Live and Think Like Pigs: The Incitement of Envy and Boredom in Market Democracies. Translated by Robin McKay. Falmouth, UK & New York: Urbanomic Media Ltd. & Sequence Press.
Fisher, Mark. 2017. “Acid Communism.” In K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016). London: Repeater Books.
—. 2014. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Hants: Zer0 Books.
Kluge, Alexander, and Oskar Negt. 2014. History and Obstinacy. Translated by Richard Langston, Cyrus Shahan, Martin Brady, Helen Hughes and Joel Golb. New York: Zone Books.
Negarestani, Reza. 2018. Intelligence and Spirit. Falmouth, UK & New York: Urbanomic Press and Sequence Press.
Steyerl, Hito. 2011. “In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective.” e-flux (24): 1-11. https://www.e-flux.com/journal/24/67860/in-free-fall-a-thought-experiment-on-vertical-perspective/.
Tse-tung, Mao. 1965. Selected Works of Mao Tse Tung. Vol. III. Peking: Foreign Languages Press.