David Graeber

February 12, 1961 — September 2, 2020

Revolt Library People David Graeber

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About David Graeber

David Rolfe Graeber (/ˈɡreɪbər/; born February 12, 1961) is an American anthropologist, anarchist activist and author known for his 2011 Debt: The First 5000 Years, 2015 The Utopia of Rules and 2018 Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. He is a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics.

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This person has authored 140 documents, with 1,258,289 words or 7,945,505 characters.

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 ... (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 gun... (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.)
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 ... (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 tur... (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 flun... (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 ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Chapter 7: What Are the Political Effects of Bullshit Jobs, and Is There Anything That Can Be Done About This Situation? I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob (the thought runs) are such low animals that they would be dangerous if they had leisure; it is safer to keep them too busy to think. —George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorized stratum of the, universally r... (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 clea... (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 ... (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... (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 b... (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... (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 prod... (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... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
David Graeber is an anthropologist and activist still, technically, employed as an associate professor at Yale University, though he lives in New York. He has written a number of books, including Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, a forthcoming ethnography of Madagascar entitled Lost People, and an ethnography of direct action called Direct Action: An Ethnography. He is currently active with MDS, the IWW, and various PGA-related projects. Mark Thwaite: Are radical anthropologists all the heirs of Pierre Clastres and Marcel Mauss? And how many of you are there!? David Graeber: Oh, not at all. For many years, Mauss was assumed to be a rather conservative figure (people didn’t... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
What is your first memory of political awareness? I remember a 1960s peace march in Central Park. And another on a beach on Fire Island, of all places. I was carrying a sign that said ‘We want peace’ and some older guy, noticing I was seven years old, asked me if I understood what it meant. I seem to remember telling him that the meaning was self-evident. In your latest book, The Democracy Project, you argue that the Occupy movement was a great success, yet for most of the 99 per cent, life hasn’t demonstrably improved – austerity continues to bite. What makes you so positive? Well it’s not like a social movement will have immediate effects at a policy level – they never do. Moments o... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Answering today’s OFF-SET questions is David Graeber, who teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is the author of “Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value,” “Lost People,” and “Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire.” His new book is entitled “Debt: The First 5,000 Years,” and in it, Graeber indeed examines the historical significance of debt, the struggle between rich and poor, and the moral implications inherent in our ideas about credit and debt. The U.S. Treasury Department last Friday reiterated its Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt ceiling, and urged Congress “to avoid the catastrophic economic and market con... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Abstract The experience of bureaucratic incompetence, confusion, and its ability to cause otherwise intelligent people to behave outright foolishly, opens up a series of questions about the nature of power or, more specifically, structural violence. The unique qualities of violence as a form of action means that human relations ultimately founded on violence create lopsided structures of the imagination, where the responsibility to do the interpretive labor required to allow the powerful to operate oblivious to much of what is going on around them, falls on the powerless, who thus tend to empathize with the powerful far more than the powerful do with them. The bureaucratic imposition of simple categorical schemes on the world is a wa... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
The Axial Age (800 BC – 600 AD) Let us designate this period as the “axial age.” Extraordinary events are crowded into this period. In China lived Confucius and Lao Tse, all the trends in Chinese philosophy arose … In India it was the age of the Upanishads and of Buddha; as in China, all philosophical trends, including skepticism and materialism, sophistry and nihilism, were developed. —Karl Jaspers, Way to Wisdom The phrase "The Axial Age" was coined by the German existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers.[473] In the course of writing a history of philosophy, Jaspers became fascinated by the fact that figures like Pythagoras (570–495 bc), the Buddha (563–483 bc)... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
What follows are a series of brief reflections (part of a much broader work in progress) on debt, credit, and virtual money: topics that are, obviously, of rather pressing concern for many at the current time. There seems little doubt that history, widely rumored to have come to an end a few years ago, has gone into overdrive of late, and is in the process of spitting us into a new political and economic landscape whose contours no one understands. Everyone agrees something has just ended but no one is quite sure what. Neoliberalism? Postmodernism? American hegemony? The rule of finance capital? Capitalism itself (unlikely for the time being)? It’s even more difficult to predict what’s about to be thrown at us, let alone ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Is it possible to become bored with hopelessness? There is reason to believe something like that is beginning to happen in Great Britain. Call it despair fatigue. For nearly half a century, British culture, particularly on the left, has made an art out of despair. This is the land where “No Future for You” became the motto of a generation, and then another generation, and then another. From the crumbling of its empire, to the crumbling of its industrial cities, to the current crumbling of its welfare state, the country seemed to be exploring every possible permutation of despair: despair as rage, despair as resignation, despair as humor, despair as pride or secret pleasure. It’s almost as if it’s finall... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Some people (me, for instance) put a great deal of energy into organizing their lives so that they’ll never have to wear a tie. I’ve often wondered why this should be. Why should ties have such symbolic power? It’s not as if other parts of a formal suit—white shirts, tailored slacks, vests, or blazers—inspire the same sort of indignation. Somehow, it feels as if tying the necktie around your neck marks a final act of closure. It’s the act that transforms all those items into a suit, with all the suit implies, whether it’s the power of the boardroom or the ceremonial formalities of weddings and funerals—that whole world of official business over which men in suits invariably preside. No doubt, ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
CHAPTER 5: DIRECT ACTION, ANARCHISM, DIRECT DEMOCRACY Since this is a book about direct action, it might be best to begin by explaining what that is. I) WHAT IS DIRECT ACTION? Over the years, hundreds of anarchists have tried to answer this question, in pamphlets and broadsides and speeches. Here’s a sampling: Direct action implies one’s acting for one’s self, in a fashion in which one may weigh directly the problem with which you are confronted, and without needing the mediation of politicians or bureaucrats. If you see some bulldozers about to wreck your house, you engage in direct action to directly intervene to try to stop them. Direct action places moral conscience up against the official l... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Abstract Since Frazer’s time, Shilluk kingship has been a flashpoint of anthropological debates about the nature of sovereignty, and while such debates are now considered irrelevant to current debates on the subject, they need not be. This essay presents a detailed analysis of the history, myth, and ritual surrounding the Shilluk institution to propose a new set of distinctions: between “divine kingship” (by which humans can become god through arbitrary violence, reflexively defining their victims as “the people”) and “sacred kingship” (the popular domestication of such figures through ritual), and argues that kingship always represents the image of a temporary, imperfect solution to what is ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
As the rolling catastrophe of what’s already being called the “chicken coup” against the Labor leadership winds down, pretty much all the commentary has focused on the personal qualities, real or imagined, of the principal players. Yet such an approach misses out on almost everything that’s really at stake here. The real battle is not over the personality of one man, or even a couple of hundred politicians. If the opposition to Jeremy Corbyn for the past nine months has been so fierce, and so bitter, it is because his existence as head of a major political party is an assault on the very notion that politics should be primarily about the personal qualities of politicians. It’s an attempt to change the ru... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Anarchism: The name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government—harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being. Peter Kropotkin (Encyclopedia Brittanica) Basically, if you’re not a utopianist, you’re a schmuck. Jonothon Feldman (Indigenous Planning Times) What follows are a series of thoughts, sketche... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Have you noticed how there aren’t any new French intellectuals any more? There was a veritable flood in the late ’70s and early ’80s: Derrida, Foucault, Baudrillard, Kristeva, Lyotard, de Certeau ... but there has been almost no one since. Trendy academics and intellectual hipsters have been forced to endlessly recycle theories now 20 or 30 years old, or turn to countries like Italy or even Slovenia for dazzling meta-theory. Pioneering French anthropologist Marcel Mauss studied “gift economies” like those of the Kwakiutl of British Columbia. His conclusions were startling. There are a lot of reasons for this. One has to do with politics in France itself, where there has been a concerted effort on ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
We seem to have reached an impasse. Capitalism as we know it appears to be coming apart. But as financial institutions stagger and crumble, there is no obvious alternative. Organized resistance appears scattered and incoherent; the global justice movement a shadow of its former self. There is good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism will no longer exist: for the simple reason that it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth forever on a finite planet. Faced with the prospect, the knee-jerk reaction — even of “progressives” — is, often, fear, to cling to capitalism because they simply can’t imagine an alternative that wouldn’t be even worse. The first questi... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
The story we have been telling ourselves about our origins is wrong, and perpetuates the idea of inevitable social inequality. David Graeber and David Wengrow ask why the myth of 'agricultural revolution' remains so persistent, and argue that there is a whole lot more we can learn from our ancestors. 1. In the beginning was the word For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality. For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilization properly speaking. Civilization meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriar... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
This is a very difficult column for me to write because it’s about my mother. A week or two after the then IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested for sexually assaulting a chambermaid in a posh New York hotel in 2011, there was another case when an Egyptian businessman was briefly arrested for a similar assault at another such New York hotel. This first struck me as puzzling. It could hardly be a copycat crime; considering the drama surrounding the arrest and travails of DSK, it was inconceivable that anyone would see this and say: “Oh good idea, I’ll attack a chambermaid as well.” Then it dawned on me. The only logical explanation was that businessmen, politicians, officials and... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Sometimes—not very often—a particularly cogent argument against reigning political common sense presents such a shock to the system that it becomes necessary to create an entire body of theory to refute it. Such interventions are themselves events, in the philosophical sense; that is, they reveal aspects of reality that had been largely invisi-ble but, once revealed, seem so entirely obvious that they can never be unseen. Much of the work of the intellectual Right is identifying, and heading off, such challenges. Let us offer three examples. In the 1680s, a Huron-Wendat statesman named Kondiaronk, who had been to Europe and was intimately familiar with French and English settler society, engaged in a series of deba... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Any theoretical term is an implicit statement about human nature. Anthropologists tend to be uncomfortable with this fact but it is nonetheless true. Even if one were to make a statement as apparently innocuous as “ritual can take many forms in many places,” one is still asserting that “ritual” is a meaningful cross-cultural category, implying—as pretty much any anthropological discussion of ritual invariably does imply—that we can assume all human beings have engaged in some kind of ritual activity at some point or another, that ritual is an inherent aspect of human sociality, even if there’s no scholarly consensus whatsoever as to what, precisely, a ritual is or what it says about us that we are a... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
First of all allow me to remark how touched and honored I am to be put on the same list as James Mooney, who I’ve always admired, and Edmund Leach, who may have been the man who most inspired me to take up an anthropological career. Leach for me always been a model of intellectual freedom. I hadn’t heard that Dimitra Doukas hasn’t been given a proper job and am outraged to hear it; the fact that she hasn’t it seems to me also answers the question with which the essay ends, of why US anthropology didn’t foreseen Trump, since her work is specifically about using ethnographic tools to understand right-wing populism. I was myself writing about similar issues—in Harpers, since Anthropology didn’t ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
It’s hard to think of another time when there has been such a gulf between intellectuals and activists; between theorists of revolution and its practitioners. Writers who for years have been publishing essays that sound like position papers for vast social movements that do not in fact exist seem seized with confusion or worse, dismissive contempt, now that real ones are everywhere emerging. It’s particularly scandalous in the case of what’s still, for no particularly good reason, referred to as the ‘anti-globalization’ movement, one that has in a mere two or three years managed to transform completely the sense of historical possibilities for millions across the planet. This may be the result of sheer ignoranc... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
It affects every aspect of our lives, is often said to be the root of all evil, and the analysis of the world that it makes possible – what we call “the economy” – is so important to us that economists have become the high priests of our society. Yet, oddly, there is absolutely no consensus among economists about what money really is. Some see it primarily as a commodity traded against other commodities, others as a promise, an IOU, and still others as a government edict, or a kind of ration coupon. Most see it as a kind of chaotic amalgam of all of these. Economics textbooks, whose aim is to reassure us that everything is under control, boil money down to three things: it’s a “medium of exchange&r... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
As the history of past movements all make clear, nothing terrifies those running America more than the danger of true democracy breaking out. As we see in Chicago, Portland, Oakland, and right now in New York City, the immediate response to even a modest spark of democratically organized civil disobedience is a panicked combination of concessions and brutality. Our rulers, anyway, seem to labor under a lingering fear that if any significant number of Americans do find out what anarchism really is, they may well decide that rulers of any sort are unnecessary. Almost every time I’m interviewed by a mainstream journalist about OWS, I get some variation of the same lecture: “How are you going to get anywhere if you... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
You can tell a lot about the moral quality of a society by what is, and is not, considered news. From last Tuesday, Parliament Square was wrapped in wire mesh. In one of the more surreal scenes in recent British political history, officers with trained German shepherds stand sentinel each day, at calculated distances across the lawn, surrounded by a giant box of fences, three meters high – all to ensure that no citizen enters to illegally practice democracy. Yet few major news outlets feel this is much of a story. Occupy Democracy, a new incarnation of Occupy London, has attempted to use the space for an experiment in democratic organizing. The idea was to turn Parliament Square back to the purposes to which it was, by m... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Why are people occupying Wall Street? Why has the occupation – despite the latest police crackdown – sent out sparks across America, within days, inspiring hundreds of people to send pizzas, money, equipment and, now, to start their own movements called OccupyChicago, OccupyFlorida, in OccupyDenver or OccupyLA? There are obvious reasons. We are watching the beginnings of the defiant self-assertion of a new generation of Americans, a generation who are looking forward to finishing their education with no jobs, no future, but still saddled with enormous and unforgivable debt. Most, I found, were of working-class or otherwise modest backgrounds, kids who did exactly what they were told they should: studied, got into college,... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
New York, NY — Almost every time I’m interviewed by a mainstream journalist about Occupy Wall Street I get some variation of the same lecture: “How are you going to get anywhere if you refuse to create a leadership structure or make a practical list of demands? And what’s with all this anarchist nonsense — the consensus, the sparkly fingers? Don’t you realize all this radical language is going to alienate people? You’re never going to be able to reach regular, mainstream Americans with this sort of thing!” If one were compiling a scrapbook of worst advice ever given, this sort of thing might well merit an honorable place. After all, since the financial crash of 2007, ther... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
The US press seems to have decided that the Occupy movement is no longer a story. Pretty much no matter what we do. In New York, on May Day, something between 50,000 and 100,000 people marched through the streets – we don’t know the exact numbers because most papers didn’t report the event at all, and therefore, didn’t bother to make estimates. In California, there were blockades and walkouts. In Seattle, one band of protesters relived the famous Black Bloc actions of November 1999, smashing many of the same corporate windows – and even that didn’t make national news! But in a way it hardly matters. Occupy is shedding its liberal accretions and rapidly turning into something with much deeper roots,... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
A secret question hovers over us, a sense of disappointment, a broken promise we were given as children about what our adult world was supposed to be like. I am referring not to the standard false promises that children are always given (about how the world is fair, or how those who work hard shall be rewarded), but to a particular generational promise—given to those who were children in the fifties, sixties, seventies, or eighties—one that was never quite articulated as a promise but rather as a set of assumptions about what our adult world would be like. And since it was never quite promised, now that it has failed to come true, we’re left confused: indignant, but at the same time, embarrassed at our own indignation, ash... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Last week, Robert F. Murphy published a piece on the webpage of the Von Mises Institute responding to some points I made in a recent interview on Naked Capitalism, where I mentioned that the standard economic accounts of the emergence of money from barter appears to be wildly wrong. Since this contradicted a position taken by one of the gods of the Austrian pantheon, the 19th century economist Carl Menger, Murphy apparently felt honor-bound to respond. In a way, Murphy’s essay barely merits response. In the interview I’m simply referring to arguments made in my book, ‘Debt: The First 5000 Years’. In his response, Murphy didn’t even consult the book; in fact he later admitted he was responding at least in... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
What follows is an essay of interpretation. It is about direct action in North America, about the mass mobilizations organized by the so called “anti-globalization movement”, and especially, about the war of images that has surrounded it. It begins with a simple observation. I think it’s fair to say that if the average American knows just two things about these mobilizations, they are, first of all, that there are often people dressed in black who break windows; second, that they involve colorful giant puppets. I want to start by asking why these images in particular appear to have so struck the popular imagination. I also want to ask why it is that of the two, American police seem to hate the puppets more. As many ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century's end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There's every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn't happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Part II — Provisional Autonomous Zone: Dilemmas of Authority in Rural Madagascar 5 — Provisional Autonomous Zone: or, The Ghost-State in Madagascar Shortly before I left for Madagascar I was talking to Henry Wright, an archaeologist who had worked there for more than a decade. “You have to be careful,” he said, “poking around the countryside.” State authority was dissolving. In many parts of the island, he said, it had effectively ceased to exist. Even in the region around the capital there were reports of fokon’olona—village assemblies—beginning to carry out executions. This was one of the many concerns forgotten almost as soon as I actually arrived in Madagascar. In th... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
What is a revolution? We used to think we knew. Revolutions were seizures of power by popular forces aiming to transform the very nature of the political, social, and economic system in the country in which the revolution took place, usually according to some visionary dream of a just society. Nowadays, we live in an age when, if rebel armies do come sweeping into a city, or mass uprisings overthrow a dictator, it’s unlikely to have any such implications; when profound social transformation does occur—as with, say, the rise of feminism—it’s likely to take an entirely different form. It’s not that revolutionary dreams aren’t out there. But contemporary revolutionaries rarely think they can bring them into ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Some years ago, an anarchist calling himself E.G. Eccarius wrote a novel, The Last Days of Jesus Christ, Vampire. Admittedly Buffy the Vampire Slayer, TV cult sensation, does not aspire to quite this level of subversiveness. But there are times when it comes close. It’s also quite possibly the best show on television. Quick background. Hoards of demons menace mankind. They tend to accumulate in the white-bread suburb of Sunnydale, California, mainly because the Hellmouth, a kind of font of bad mystic energy, is located directly beneath Sunnydale High. In Sunnydale, mysterious deaths and disappearances are an almost daily occurrence. Arrives one Buffy Summers, recently expelled from school in L.A. for burning down the gym... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Revolution in Reverse (or, on the conflict between political ontologies of violence and political ontologies of the imagination) “All power to the imagination.” “Be realistic, demand the impossible...” Anyone involved in radical politics has heard these expressions a thousand times. Usually they charm and excite the first time one encounters them, then eventually become so familiar as to seem hackneyed, or just disappear into the ambient background noise of radical life. Rarely if ever are they the object of serious theoretical reflection. It seems to me that at the current historical juncture, some such reflection wouldn’t be a bad idea. We are at a moment, after all, when received definitions ha... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Roy Bhaskar, who has died aged 70 of heart failure, turned to philosophy only after becoming an economics lecturer at Oxford University in the late 1960s. Feeling that economic science had virtually nothing useful to say about real-world issues of global wealth and poverty, he embarked on research that led to the foundation of the philosophical school known as critical realism. The Oxford curriculum for PPE – philosophy, politics and economics – provided a training for would-be politicians and civil servants who were more likely to contain or even reinforce society’s problems than resolve them. Roy wanted to provide the tools for understanding society’s problems in a deeper, structural sense that might allow w... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
On the 19th of January, several of the heavyweights of Italian post-Workerist theory — Toni Negri, Bifo Berardi, Maurizio Lazzarato, and Judith Revel — appeared at the Tate Modern to talk about art. This is a review. Or, it is a review in a certain sense. I want to give an account of what happened. But I also want to talk about why I think what happened was interesting and important. For me at least, this means addressing not only what was said but just as much, perhaps, what wasn’t; and asking questions like “why immaterial labor ?”, and “why did it make sense to all concerned to bring a group of revolutionary theorists over from Italy to talk about art history in the first place?” As... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Back in the 90s, I used to get into arguments with Russian friends about capitalism. This was a time when most young eastern European intellectuals were avidly embracing everything associated with that particular economic system, even as the proletarian masses of their countries remained deeply suspicious. Whenever I’d remark on some criminal excess of the oligarchs and crooked politicians who were privatizing their countries into their own pockets, they would simply shrug. “If you look at America, there were all sorts of scams like that back in the 19th century with railroads and the like,” I remember one cheerful, bespectacled Russian twentysomething explaining to me. “We are still in the savage stage. It al... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
The biggest problem facing direct action movements is that we don’t know how to handle victory. This might seem an odd thing to say because of a lot of us haven’t been feeling particularly victorious of late. Most anarchists today feel the global justice movement was kind of a blip: inspiring, certainly, while it lasted, but not a movement that succeeded either in putting down lasting organizational roots or transforming the contours of power in the world. The anti-war movement was even more frustrating, since anarchists and anarchist tactics were largely marginalized. The war will end, of course, but that’s just because wars always do. No one is feeling they contributed much to it. I want to suggest an alter... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
This exchange is from a conversation in Paris between David Graeber and Thomas Piketty, discoursing on the deep shit we’re all in and what we might do about climbing out. It was held at the École Normale Supérieure; moderated by Joseph Confavreux and Jade Lindgaard; edited by Edwy Plenel; first published by the French magazine Mediapart last October; and translated from the French for The Baffler by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Moderators: You both appear to think that the prevailing economic and financial system has run its course, and cannot endure much longer in its present form. I would like to ask each of you to explain why. Thomas Piketty: I am not sure that we are on the eve of a collapse of the system, a... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
There is a certain type of joy only felt the first time one makes history, and you can’t really describe to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. Yesterday about 10,000 young people from across the country discovered what it’s like. 19 November 2014, the date of the Free Education march, will surely be remembered as the start of a new student movement. Without the support of any major party or institution, abandoned even by their own National Union of Students, organizers nonetheless managed to mobilize thousands, including teenage college students and schoolchildren, supported by a smattering of veterans from the mobilizations of 2010. Still, unlike the occupiers in 2010, this was not a defensive action, not a c... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
I. Let me clarify one thing from the start: Christopher Nolan’s Batman: The Dark Knight Rises really is a piece of anti-Occupy propaganda. Nolan, the director, claims the script was written before the movement even started, and that the famous scenes of the occupation of New York (“Gotham”) were really inspired by Dickens’ account of the French Revolution. This is probably true, but it’s disingenuous. Everyone knows Hollywood scripts are continually being rewritten while movies are in production, and that when it comes to messaging, even details like where a scene is shot (“I know, let’s have the cops face off with Bane’s followers right in front of the New York Stock Exchange!&r... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
What follows emerges largely from my own experience of the alternative globalization movement, where issues of democracy have been very much at the center of debate. Anarchists in Europe or North America and indigenous organizations in the Global South have found themselves locked in remarkably similar arguments. Is “democracy” an inherently Western concept? Does it refer a form of governance (a mode of communal self-organization), or a form of govern ment (one particular way of organizing a state apparatus) ? Does democracy necessarily imply majority rule? Is representative democracy really democracy at all? Is the word permanently tainted by its origins in Athens, a militaristic, slave-owning society founded on the systematic ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Everyone already knows how much of Theresa May’s platform, policies and even rhetoric are directly stolen from Ukip. Nigel Farage himself publicly pointed it out this Sunday: not only had May taken Ukip’s major policy issues (immigration, grammar schools, bashing EU bureaucrats), he said, “She is using exactly the same words and phrases that I have been using for 20 years.” The general line from Ukip about its recent electoral wipeout is that if the Conservatives beat Ukip, it’s only because the ruling party now effectively is Ukip. So perhaps their work is done. Less remarked on is the fact that May is playing the exact same game with the Labor left. Corbyn insiders note with dismay how they regularly s... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
The intellectual justification for austerity lies in ruins. It turns out that Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, who originally framed the argument that too high a “debt-to-GDP ratio” will always, necessarily, lead to economic contraction – and who had aggressively promoted it during Rogoff’s tenure as chief economist for the IMF –, had based their entire argument on a spreadsheet error. The premise behind the cuts turns out to be faulty. There is now no definite proof that high levels of debt necessarily lead to recession. Will we, then, see a reversal of policy? A sea of mea culpas from politicians who have spent the last few years telling disabled pensioners to give up their bus passes... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Payment Due For thousands of years, the struggle between rich and poor has largely taken the form of conflicts between creditors and debtors—of arguments about the rights and wrongs of interest payments, debt peonage, amnesty, repossession, restitution, the sequestering of sheep, the seizing of vineyards, and the selling of debtors’ children into slavery. By the same token, for the past five thousand years, with remarkable regularity, popular insurrections have begun the same way: with the ritual destruction of debt records—tablets, papyri, ledgers; whatever form they might have taken in any particular time and place. In the throes of the recent economic crisis, with the very defining institutions of capitalism crum... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Our society is addicted to work. If there’s anything left and right both seem to agree on, it’s that jobs are good. Everyone should have a job. Work is our badge of moral citizenship. We seem to have convinced ourselves as a society that anyone who isn’t working harder than they would like to be working, at something they don’t enjoy, is a bad, unworthy person. As a result, work comes to absorb ever greater proportions of our energy and time. Much of this work is entirely pointless. Whole industries (think telemarketers, corporate law, private equity) whole lines of work (middle management, brand strategists, high-level hospital or school administrators, editors of in-house corporate magazines) exist primarily... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
A Few Words by Way of Introduction When I originally set out to write this book, the goals I had in mind were relatively modest. I was interested, first of all, in making a contribution to anthropological theories of value. Many anthropologists have long felt we really should have a theory of value: that is, one that seeks to move from understanding how different cultures define the world in radically different ways (which anthropologists have always been good at describing) to how, at the same time, they define what is beautiful, or worthwhile, or important about it. To see how meaning, one might say, turns into desire. To be able to do so promises to resolve a lot of notoriously thorny problems not only in anthropology but a... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Back in the 1930s, Henry Ford is supposed to have remarked that it was a good thing that most Americans didn’t know how banking really works, because if they did, “there’d be a revolution before tomorrow morning”. Last week, something remarkable happened. The Bank of England let the cat out of the bag. In a paper called “Money Creation in the Modern Economy”, coauthored by three economists from the Bank’s Monetary Analysis Directorate, they stated outright that most common assumptions of how banking works are simply wrong, and that the kind of populist, heterodox positions more ordinarily associated with groups such as Occupy Wall Street are correct. In doing so, they have effectively thrown ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
In the wake of the murderous attacks in Paris, we can expect western heads of state to do what they always do in such circumstances: declare total and unremitting war on those who brought it about. They don’t actually mean it. They’ve had the means to uproot and destroy Islamic State within their hands for over a year now. They’ve simply refused to make use of it. In fact, as the world watched leaders making statements of implacable resolve at the G20 summit in Antalaya, these same leaders are hobnobbing with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a man whose tacit political, economic, and even military support contributed to Isis’s ability to perpetrate the atrocities in Paris, not to mention an endless... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Abstract: Marxist theory has by now largely abandoned the (seriously flawed) notion of the ‘mode of production’, but doing so has only encouraged a trend to abandon much of what was radical about it and naturalize capitalist categories. This article argues a better conceived notion of a mode of production – one that recognizes the primacy of human production, and hence a more sophisticated notion of materialism – might still have something to show us: notably, that capitalism, or at least industrial capitalism, has far more in common with, and is historically more closely linked with, chattel slavery than most of us had ever imagined. What follows is really just the summary of a much longer argument I hope to... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Revolutionary thinkers have been saying that the age of vanguardism is over for most of a century now. Outside of a handful of tiny sectarian groups, it’s almost impossible to find a radical intellectuals seriously believe that their role should be to determine the correct historical analysis of the world situation, so as to lead the masses along in the one true revolutionary direction. But (rather like the idea of progress itself, to which it’s obviously connected), it seems much easier to renounce the principle than to shake the accompanying habits of thought. Vanguardist, even, sectarian attitudes have become deeply ingrained in academic radicalism it’s hard to say what it would mean to think outside them. The d... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
2. Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit “Contemporary reality is the beta-version of a science fiction dream.” —Richard Barbrook There is a secret shame hovering over all us in the twenty-first century. No one seems to want to acknowledge it. For those in what should be the high point of their lives, in their forties and fifties, it is particularly acute, but in a broader sense it affects everyone. The feeling is rooted in a profound sense of disappointment about the nature of the world we live in, a sense of a broken promise—of a solemn promise we felt we were given as children about what our adult world was supposed to be like. I am referring here not to the standard f... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
My friend June Thunderstorm and I once spent a half an hour sitting in a meadow by a mountain lake, watching an inchworm dangle from the top of a stalk of grass, twist about in every possible direction, and then leap to the next stalk and do the same thing. And so it proceeded, in a vast circle, with what must have been a vast expenditure of energy, for what seemed like absolutely no reason at all. “All animals play,” June had once said to me. “Even ants.” She’d spent many years working as a professional gardener and had plenty of incidents like this to observe and ponder. “Look,” she said, with an air of modest triumph. “See what I mean?” Most of us, hearing this story, wo... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Three years ago the world watched a ragtag band of men and women fighters in the Syrian town of Kobane, most armed only with Kalashnikovs, hold off a vast army of Islamist militants with tanks, artillery and overwhelming logistical superiority. The defenders insisted they were acting in the name of revolutionary feminist democracy. The Islamist fighters vowed to exterminate them for that very reason. When Kobane’s defenders won, it was widely hailed as the closest one can come, in the contemporary world, to a clear confrontation of good against evil. Today, exactly same thing is happening again. Except this time, world powers are firmly on the side of the aggressors. In a bizarre twist, those aggressors seem to have convinced k... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
In 1937, my father volunteered to fight in the International Brigades in defense of the Spanish Republic. A would-be fascist coup had been temporarily halted by a worker’s uprising, spearheaded by anarchists and socialists, and in much of Spain a genuine social revolution ensued, leading to whole cities under directly democratic management, industries under worker control, and the radical empowerment of women. Spanish revolutionaries hoped to create a vision of a free society that the entire world might follow. Instead, world powers declared a policy of “nonintervention” and maintained a rigorous blockade on the republic, even after Hitler and Mussolini, ostensible signatories, began pouring in troops and weapons to... (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.)

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