The Battle of Algiers 2.0

By Ryan Mahan


Jodi Dean, in her memorial lecture to academic and weird/eerie theorist Mark Fisher, takes Frederic Jameson’s lament (largely attributed to Fisher), “It is easier to imagine the end of the world, than the end of capitalism”, a step further:

Capitalism is the end of the world.

Look around. Everyone, from arch-capitalist Hollywood moguls to leftist Extinction Rebellion activists, can not only clearly envision the end of the world, they can also create limitless illustrations of its demise: from flesh-eating zombies to skin-melting environmental human-engineered cataclysms.

It’s clear then that our imaginative and creative faculties are literally overrun with scenes of decay and ruin. And therein lies psychological evidence of Fisher and Jameson’s – and by extension Dean’s – fundamental deadlock.

In the physical sense, capitalism is the end of the world primarily because it must grow infinitely in order to survive. The Earth has finite resources. Human beings are just another set of raw materials for capital’s infinite expansion.

“Capital”, Marx says, “is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”1

Capital can even profit off and live beyond our destruction – what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism”. In this rendering, real-life catastrophes provide opportunities for capital to regenerate and “recuperate profitably”.

According to David Harvey, “You get a disaster, well, you have to rebuild … From the standpoint of humanity, I think that we will not come out of this well at all. But capital is different. Capital can come out of these things …”2

In the psychological world, capitalism can only survive by maintaining a certain “unconscious” screening, becoming so entrenched and naturalised that we have trouble pinpointing the role it plays in our annihilation. This is an ideology of a type that extends beyond Althusser’s definition of Ideological State Apparatuses, which are more or less dependent on the state and its institutions. The whole complex of ideology becomes more like finance capital, less rooted, more nomadic, less fundamentally dependent on physical inputs, like labour or land, and more and more operating with its own monstrous logic. Think of the almost supernatural “existence” of derivatives and other complex financial instruments, which even their creators, finance capitalists, are unable to control or understand.

It follows that capital has worked to generate an “end-thinking”, a new type of “millenarianism”, which not only generates perpetual images of current and future collapse, but also undermines our understanding of temporality, history and time. It’s clear then that capital does not have to rely on pure dystopia to ensure our consent in its perpetual gestation. In fact, it often must mask this very fact.

Popular music, for example – my primary focus as a member of the band Algiers – which is typically seen as somewhat of an artistic glue for the masses in times of decay, suffers from such an assault on its temporal and spatial imagination. Technological innovation has enabled artists to transcend genre, while at the same time preventing us from fully understanding the social conditions and contexts that birth it. This has serious consequences for our ability to recover the radical potential of music, leaving us screened from the various ways music, as a social form, has challenged capital, and trapping us in a purgatory of gesture and cover songs. It is, indeed, a form of cognitive social apocalypse.

Given this, for artists particularly, there is something useful, even subversive, in confronting, manifesting and naming apocalypse. But we must go beyond narratives of collapse and employ Fisher’s injunction: REMEMBER THE FUTURE.

“Emancipatory politics,” according to Fisher, “must always destroy the appearance of a natural order, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.”

Remaining faithful to Fisher’s words includes both a renewed dedication to looking to a future beyond capitalism, but also to reclaiming of a different type of apocalyptic thinking – overthrowing an end times that appears almost necessary and inevitable.

Our band Algiers finds an endless source of this type of thinking in the anti-colonial revolutionary “Third World”. While those residing in the centres of power remain busy imagining the apocalypse, the dispossessed and oppressed of the world – those on the sharp end of capitalism and colonialism – continue to live through dystopia.

The focus on a considerable amount of anti-colonial thought is most assuredly apocalyptic. Cesaire, in his Discourse on Colonialism, relates the West’s abuse of the colonies to Nazi atrocities in Europe. Describing the US, Fanon says: “Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness, and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.”3

Yet for most of this anti-colonial generation it is not enough to simply describe dystopia; this would be little better than modern NGOs’ fetishistic appeals to charity through the graphic portrayal of famine and war. Their objective is to instead, in the words of Fanon, start “a new history of Man” – a move that involves reclaiming both lost pasts and lost futures.

Nowhere is this line of thinking more distilled than in the Third Cinema masterpiece, The Battle of Algiers. A majority of the film is focused on the messy and bloody reality of colonialism and resistance to it. Viewers bear witness to state terrorism, torture and maiming throughout, yet are forced to also contend with the emergence of something entirely new.

While it may be largely historical, The Battle of Algiers relies on an ahistorical turn and a rekindling of a memory of the future to complete its story. It finds emancipation in a people – in this case Algerians – not yet constituted, showing the entire history of colonial brutality to be a mere contingency and making independence appear attainable. The success of this turn can be found in the global response to its screenings, inspiring revolutionaries from Brazil to Gaza.

Our band takes heart from this tradition to attempt to draw out the sound of dispossession and to maintain fidelity to its transcendence. The name itself draws attention to a real yet fictional “other” space where the future dreams of countless revolutionaries, from the Black Panthers to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), could be imagined, while simultaneously drawing out the utter violence at the heart of colonial capital. This also enables us to reclaim music as both a temporal and imaginary social space, which can represent a discursive and collective challenge to capital. Think of Paul Robeson singing the Internationale to dock workers or Pasolini employing African-American gospel music to suggest the revolutionary potential of Jesus Christ.

This is where we must start.

To take this further and to reclaim apocalyptic thinking, we must recognise, in the words of Sohail Daulatzai, that The Battle of Algiers is still being waged – this time on a planetary scale.


Ryan Mahan is a member of the band Algiers. Algiers release their new album in Autumn 2019.


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