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“Suddenly the Anarchists are Back”: the 1880s all over again

I’ve already linked it, as has Anodynelite, but I thought in view of recent discussion of Marxism it would be good to post a brief bit of the Charlie Rose David Graeber interview, in particular to the historical rise and fall (and possibly rise again) of anarchism as a viable counter-Capitalist mode of moral critique. David Graeber rests something of his hopefulness of the viability of anarchist principles on the idea that history has return somewhat to the possibilities that inhabited the pre-20th century, and that we simply cannot afford to revisit the State brutalities, and World Wars of our recent past. While Marxists now tell us, “give us one more chance, we’ll get it right,” David Graeber seems to suggest that our return to the pre-Marxist conditions actually allow us a different future than the one we already chose, a non-Marxist address. This telling parallels well the passage I quoted from Graeber’s book in my last post on the alternative critique of Capitalist society, and Marx, provided by Mauss.

Interview here

Charlie Rose: Does anarchy have future?

David Graeber: I think so. Why, I mean…I think we are at a really interesting historical moment. I think in a lot of ways we’ve kind of returned to what was happening a century ago. If you think about the sort of classic days of anarchism, say 1870s, 1880s, 1890s… up to World War I basically, that was a period of relative global peace, and it was a periord much like the age of Globalization. People used to say things like…I remember reading someone writing in 1901 saying, “Its hard for us to remember those days, but there used be these things called ‘passports’ and some people had to show them at borders.” I mean people were just moving around much more freely. The idea of war between what where considered civilized countries seemed to be a thing of the past. And during that period anarchism became the center of this sort of imaginative revolutionary Left.

All of a sudden you had World War I, and…which as everybody represents it was one of the most foolish wars in history. It wasn’t really about anything….and, suddenly anarchism disappears and Marxism is everywhere, and seems much more plausible. If you think about the reasons for that, it seems to me…the 20th century – most historians today think that the 20th century ran from about 1914 to maybe 1991, “The Short 20th Century” they sometimes call it – well the 20th century was probably the most violent century in human history…It was almost entirely made up of either fighting World Wars or preparing for World Wars. And, during that period, certainly I would say that anarchism didn’t look particularly realistic because one thing that anarchist would never be good at is building gigantic, mechanized, killing machines: armies. (I think that is altogether to our credit.) …On the other hand, Marxist regimes, often that was about the only thing they were particularly good at, so…

Charlie Rose: [chuckles]

David Graeber: [chuckles too]…they were pretty good at it…But, you get 1989, 1991, the wall falls, those regimes fall apart…suddenly you’re back at an age where it seems like you’re back in the 1890s. It looks like war between industrialized countries isn’t possible, you have globalization again, suddenly the anarchists are back.


2 responses to ““Suddenly the Anarchists are Back”: the 1880s all over again

  1. lettrist April 3, 2009 at 4:49 am

    That’s a good interview. I haven’t read any of his books, but I think he came out with some new ones…

  2. kvond April 3, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Its an excellent interview. One of the few times academics simply come off expressing germane, easy to understand principle, in the mainstream media. I”ve read both his Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (which I’ve pdf’d), and his more in depth Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. He’s currently writing a new book, a draft chapter of which I’ve read through. All thus far provide an alternate view of value that takes us away from the elementary Capitalist/Marxist binary.

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