If you look just at how things look on paper, the entire world is awash in debt. All governments are in debt. Corporate debt is at historic highs. And so is what economists like to call “household debt” — both in the sense of how many people are in the red, and the sheer quantity of what they owe. There’s a consensus among economists that this is a terrible problem, even if, as usual, economists can’t agree as to why. The mainstream, conventional view is that the “debt overhang” from all three is so vast it is stifling other economic activity. We have to reduce all of them they say, largely by either raising taxes on ordinary people, or cutting their services. (Only on ordinary people, mind you &mda... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) In an essay penned shortly before his death, David Graeber argued that post-pandemic, we can’t slip back into a reality where the way our society is organized — to serve every whim of a small handful of rich people while debasing and degrading the vast majority of us — is seen as sensible or reasonable.
Before he tragically died at the untimely age of fifty-one in September 2020, the anarchist, anthropologist, and organizer David Graeber wrote this essay on what life and politics could look like after the COVID-19 pandemic. Jacobin is proud to publish Graeber’s essay for the first time.
At some point in the next few months, the crisis will be declared over, and we will be able to return to our “n... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) There is a growing feeling, among those who have the responsibility of managing large economies, that the discipline of economics is no longer fit for purpose. It is beginning to look like a science designed to solve problems that no longer exist.
A good example is the obsession with inflation. Economists still teach their students that the primary economic role of government—many would insist, its only really proper economic role—is to guarantee price stability. We must be constantly vigilant over the dangers of inflation. For governments to simply print money is therefore inherently sinful. If, however, inflation is kept at bay through the coordinated action of government and central bankers, the market should find its &ldquo... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) On Saturday, 16th October 2010, some 500 activists gathered at convergence points across London, knowing only that they were about to embark on a direct action called Crude Awakening, aimed against the ecological devastation of the global oil industry, but with no clear idea of what they were about to do. The plan was quite a clever one. Organizers had dropped hints they were intending to hit targets in London itself, but instead, participants—who had been told only to bring full-charged metro cards, lunch, and outdoor clothing—were led in brigades to a commuter train for Essex. At one stop, bags full of white chemical jumpsuits marked with skeletons and dollars, gear, and lock-boxes mysteriously appeared; shortly thereafter, ha... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) Remember those plucky Kurdish forces who so heroically defended the Syrian city of Kobane from Isis? They risk being wiped out by Nato.
The autonomous Kurdish region of Rojava in Northeast Syria, which includes Kobane, faces invasion. A Nato army is amassing on the border, marshaling all the overwhelming firepower and high-tech equipment that only the most advanced military forces can deploy. The commander in chief of those forces says he wants to return Rojava to its “rightful owners” who, he believes, are Arabs, not Kurds.
Last spring, this leader made similar declarations about the westernmost Syrian Kurdish district of Afrin. Following that, the very same Nato army, using German tanks and British helicopter gunships, and b... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) It is becoming increasingly clear that the age of revolutions is not over. It’s becoming equally clear that the global revolutionary movement in the twenty first century, will be one that traces its origins less to the tradition of Marxism, or even of socialism narrowly defined, but of anarchism.
Everywhere from Eastern Europe to Argentina, from Seattle to Bombay, anarchist ideas and principles are generating new radical dreams and visions. Often their exponents do not call themselves “anarchists”. There are a host of other names: autonomism, anti-authoritarianism, horizontality, Zapatismo, direct democracy... Still, everywhere one finds the same core principles: decentralization, voluntary association, mutual aid, the ne... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) It is becoming increasingly clear that the age of revolutions is not over. It’s becoming equally clear that the global revolutionary movement in the twenty first century, will be one that traces its origins less to the tradition of Marxism, or even of socialism narrowly defined, but of anarchism.
Everywhere from Eastern Europe to Argentina, from Seattle to Bombay, anarchist ideas and principles are generating new radical dreams and visions. Often their exponents do not call themselves “anarchists”. There are a host of other names: autonomism, anti-authoritarianism, horizontality, Zapatismo, direct democracy... Still, everywhere one finds the same core principles: decentralization, voluntary association, mutual aid, ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) Part 1: Art Communism and Artificial Scarcity
We would like to offer some initial thoughts on exactly how the art world can operate simultaneously as a dream of liberation, and a structure of exclusion; how its guiding principle is both that everyone should really be an artist, and that this is absolutely and irrevocably not the case. The art world is still founded on Romantic principles; these have never gone away; but the Romantic legacy contains two notions, one, a kind of democratic notion of genius as an essential aspect of any human being, even if it can only be realized in some collective way, and another, that those things that really matter are always the product of some individual heroic genius. The art world, essentially, ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) THE BIG PICTURE is David Graeber’s picture: An anthropologist, anarchist, and activist based at Goldsmiths, University of London, Graeber adopts a bracingly wide-angle view in our era of specialization. His acclaimed 2011 book Debt: The First 5,000 Years poses a sweeping rereading of obligation, exchange, and value; his numerous writings on the alternative political models provided by direct democracy and direct action have found a wide audience beyond the social sciences. He has also put his voice to use, having long participated in global protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street and its myriad national and international offshoots (for which he has become a somewhat reluctant icon). Here, Graeber talks to Artforum editor Michelle... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) Abstract
Many of the internal changes within anthropology as a discipline—particularly the “postmodern turn” of the 1980s—can only be understood in the context of broader changes in the class composition of the societies in which university departments exist, and, in particular, the role of the university in the reproduction of a professional-managerial class that has come to displace any working-class elements in what pass for mainstream “left” political parties. Reflexivity, and what I call “vulgar Foucauldianism,” while dressed up as activism, seem instead to represent above all the consciousness of this class. In its place, the essay proposes a politics combining support for social move... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) Chances are you have already heard something about who anarchists are and what they are supposed to believe. Chances are almost everything you have heard is nonsense. Many people seem to think that anarchists are proponents of violence, chaos, and destruction, that they are against all forms of order and organization, or that they are crazed nihilists who just want to blow everything up. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Anarchists are simply people who believe human beings are capable of behaving in a reasonable fashion without having to be forced to. It is really a very simple notion. But it’s one that the rich and powerful have always found extremely dangerous.
At their very simplest, anarchist beliefs turn on t... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) I would like to write about the bullshitization of academic life: that is, the degree to which those involved in teaching and academic management spend more and more of their time involved in tasks which they secretly — or not so secretly — believe to be entirely pointless.
For a number of years now, I have been conducting research on forms of employment seen as utterly pointless by those who perform them. The proportion of these jobs is startlingly high. Surveys in Britain and Holland reveal that 37 to 40 percent of all workers there are convinced that their jobs make no meaningful contribution to the world. And there seems every reason to believe that numbers in other wealthy countries are much the same. There would app... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.
John Kerry (D-Mass.)
Kerry owes an apology to the many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq, who answered their country’s call because they are patriots and not because of any deficiencies in their education.
John McCain (R-Ariz.)
THE ONE FLEETING MOMENT OF HOPE FOR REPUBLICANS DURING the lead-up to the 2006 congressional elections came was afforded by a lame joke by Senator John Kerry – a joke pretty obviously aimed at George Bush – which they took to suggest that Kerry thought that only those who flunked out of school end up ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) My first reaction when asked to contribute to this volume is that an auto-ethnography of anthropology would simply be impossible.
My logic was this. During the ’80s, we all became used to the idea of reflexive anthropology, the effort to probe behind the apparent authority of ethnographic texts to reveal the complex relations of power and domination that went into making them. The result was an outpouring of ethnographic meditations on the politics of fieldwork. But even as a graduate student, it always seemed to me there was something oddly missing here. Ethnographic texts, after all, are not actually written in the field. They are written at universities. Reflexive anthropology, however, almost never had anything to say about... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) Let me begin with a brief story about bureaucracy.
Over the last year my mother had a series of strokes. It soon became obvious that she would eventually be incapable of living at home without assistance; since her insurance would not cover home care, a series of social workers advised us to put in for Medicaid. To qualify for Medicaid however, one’s total worth can only amount to six thousand dollars. We arranged to transfer her savings—this was, I suppose, technically a scam, though it’s a peculiar sort of scam since the government employs thousands of social workers whose main work seems to be telling citizens how to do it—but shortly thereafter, she had another, very serious stroke, and found herself in a nursin... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) Ethnohistory: Emerging Histories in Madagascar. Jeffrey C. Kaufinann, ed. Ethnohistory, special issue, vol. 48, nos. 1–2. Durham, N.C., Duke University Press, 2001, 379 pp. $15.00, paper.
This volume is the latest avatar of a great tradition in the anthropology of Madagascar, which has for many years regularly produced innovative, theoretically insightful, even brilliant studies, which, however, in the end have almost no influence on the rest of anthropology because hardly anyone notices they exist.
I am not quite sure why this is. Perhaps it’s because the academics who police disciplinary boundaries have never known quite what to do with Madagascar, a place which seems at once terribly insular-it is, after all, an... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order. James Ferguson. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006, 257 pp. $21.95
Anthropologists often seem to convince themselves they are in a position to grant things they are not, in fact, in a position to grant. Take for example the concept of “modernity.” We all live in the modem world, of course at least in the sense that no one on earth is actually living in the past. Yet for many, “modernity” is an ideal, and for many on the planet, Africans have become the very paradigm of those who least live up to it. Anthropologists, used to endless battle against racist and evolutionary assumptions, tend to insist, in good relativist style, that this is nonsense. We are si... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) British public life has always been riddled with taboos, and nowhere is this more true than in the realm of economics. You can say anything you like about sex nowadays, but the moment the topic turns to fiscal policy, there are endless things that everyone knows, that are even written up in textbooks and scholarly articles, but no one is supposed to talk about in public. It’s a real problem. Because of these taboos, it’s impossible to talk about the real reasons for the 2008 crash, and this makes it almost certain something like it will happen again.
I’d like to talk today about the greatest taboo of all. Let’s call it the Peter-Paul principle: the less the government is in debt, the more everybody else is. I ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) Chapter 4: What Is It Like to Have a Bullshit Job? (On Spiritual Violence, Part 2)
The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who aren’t free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smallest details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to higher-ups, public or private. Either way, dissent or disobedience are punished. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing.
And so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace.
—Bob Bl... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) In February and early March 1991, during the first Gulf War, U.S. forces bombed, shelled, and otherwise set fire to thousands of young Iraqi men who were trying to flee Kuwait. There were a series of such incidents—the “Highway of Death,” “Highway 8,” the “Battle of Rumaila”—in which U.S. air power cut off columns of retreating Iraqis and engaged in what the military refers to as a “turkey shoot,” where trapped soldiers are simply slaughtered in their vehicles. Images of charred bodies trying desperately to crawl from their trucks became iconic symbols of the war.
I have never understood why this mass slaughter of Iraqi men isn’t considered a war crime. It’s clear that... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) America is a country made possible by hucksterism and carnival bunkum. It is the birthplace of both modern PR and advertising, the first place on earth to apply techniques of commercial marketing to politics, and a country where, for at least thirty years, the economy has been driven by the engine of finance—that is, by the magical creation of wealth through financial securities and derivatives. When you consider that those U.S. companies that still produce commodities now devote themselves mainly to developing brands and images, you realize that American capitalism conjures value into being chiefly by convincing everyone it’s there.
On some level, we understand that this kind of magic is everywhere. However, we’ve grown ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) I.
Politicians are by definition dishonest. All politicians lie. But many observers of American politics agree that over the last few years, there has been something of a qualitative change in the magnitude of political dishonesty. In certain party precincts, at least, there seems to have been a conscious attempt to change the rules to allow for a level of flagrant, over-the-top lying about political opponents that we rarely see in other countries. Sarah Palin and her “death panels” pioneered the new style, but Michele Bachmann quickly took things to even more spectacular heights with her wild claims of government plots to impose sharia law on the United States or secret plans to abandon the dollar and replace it with the Chi... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) “What I can’t understand is, why aren’t people rioting in the streets?” I hear this, now and then, from people of wealthy and powerful backgrounds. There is a kind of incredulity. “After all,” the subtext seems to read, “we scream bloody murder when anyone so much as threatens our tax shelters; if someone were to go after my access to food or shelter, I’d sure as hell be burning banks and storming parliament. What’s wrong with these people?”
It’s a good question. One would think a government that has inflicted such suffering on those with the least resources to resist, without even turning the economy around, would have been at risk of political suicide. Instead, the basic l... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) Politics, in wealthy countries, is increasingly becoming a war between the generations. While the support for smaller parties in the UK (Liberal Democrats, Greens, the Scottish National Party, even Brexit) is constant across ages, the split between Labor and Conservative is almost entirely based on age cohort:
The result, according to YouGov opinion polling data from 2018, is that if only Britons over the age of sixty-five were allowed to vote, the Labor Party would be all but wiped out, whereas if only Britons under twenty-five were allowed to vote, there would simply be no Tory MPs whatsoever.
This is particularly striking when one takes into consideration that the left Labor policies the young so overwhelmingly voted for in the 2017 an... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) Communism may be divided into two chief varieties, which I will call ‘mythic’ and ‘everyday’ communism. They might as easily be referred to as ‘ideal’ and ‘empirical’ or even ‘transcendent’ and ‘immanent’ versions of communism.
Mythic Communism (with a capital C) is a theory of history, of a classless society that once existed and will, it is hoped, someday return again. It is notoriously messianic in its form. It also relies on a certain notion of totality: once upon a time there were tribes, some day there will be nations, organized entirely on communistic principles: that is, where ‘society’ — the totality itself — regulates social production... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) I am writing this on the premise that you are a well-meaning person who wishes Occupy Wall Street to succeed. I am also writing as someone who was deeply involved in the early stages of planning Occupy in New York.
I am also an anarchist who has participated in many Black Blocs. While I have never personally engaged in acts of property destruction, I have on more than one occasion taken part in Blocs where property damage has occurred. (I have taken part in even more Blocs that did not engage in such tactics. It is a common fallacy that this is what Black Blocs are all about. It isn’t.)
I was hardly the only Black Bloc veteran who took part in planning the initial strategy for Occupy Wall Street. In fact, anarchists like myself were... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) Beginning in the 1980s, anthropologists began to be bombarded with endless—and often strangely moralistic—exhortations to acknowledge the importance of something referred to as “consumption.” The exhortations were effective; for the past 2 decades, the term has become a staple of theoretical discourse. Rarely, however, do anthropologists examine it: asking themselves why it is that almost all forms of human self-expression or enjoyment are now being seen as analogous to eating food. This essay seeks to investigate how this came about, beginning with medieval European theories of desire and culminating in the argument that the notion of consumption ultimately resolves certain conceptual problems in possessive individu... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) Notes: What I would like to do in this essay is to talk about cultural comparison as an active force in history. That is, I want to address the degree to which cultures are not just conceptions of what the world is like, not just ways of being and acting in the world, but active political projects which often operate by the explicit rejection of other ones.
Many aspects of culture that we are used to interpreting in essentialist or even tacitly evolutionist terms might better be seen as acts of self-conscious rejection, or as formed through a schizmogenetic process of mutual definition against the values of neighboring societies. What have been called ‘heroic societies’, for instance, seem to have formed in conscious reje... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) One day, the wall shelves in my office collapsed. This left books scattered all over the floor and a jagged, half-dislocated metal frame that once held the shelves in place dangling over my desk. I’m a professor of anthropology at a university. A carpenter appeared an hour later to inspect the damage, and announced gravely that, as there were books all over the floor, safety rules prevented him from entering the room or taking further action. I would have to stack the books and not touch anything else, whereupon he would return at the earliest available opportunity.
The carpenter never reappeared. Each day, someone in the anthropology department would call, often multiple times, to ask about the fate of the carpenter, who always turn... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.) One day, the wall shelves in my office collapsed. This left books scattered all over the floor and a jagged, half-dislocated metal frame that once held the shelves in place dangling over my desk. I’m a professor of anthropology at a university. A carpenter appeared an hour later to inspect the damage, and announced gravely that, as there were books all over the floor, safety rules prevented him from entering the room or taking further action. I would have to stack the books and not touch anything else, whereupon he would return at the earliest available opportunity.
The carpenter never reappeared. Each day, someone in the anthropology department would call, often multiple times, to ask about the fate of the carpenter, who alway... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)