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Tag Archives: Anarchism

Graeber’s New Book is Out: Direct Action: An Ethnography

For those who have read closely here, I am an inspiree of David Graeber’s ethnographic Anarchism work. And his new book has just been released by A K Press, found here. Yet to sample it of course, though he was kind enough to share with me some of the theoretical issues he has recently been facing and his possible solutions, so it surely is to touch on some of the necessarily non-Marxist responses to contemporary society, in particular an address of the relative dearth of anarchistic theorizing, here taken on in practical terms (let’s face it, Anarchists don’t really like to over-determine political action with the kinds of principles and discussion that most academics love to quibble endlessly about). By means of recommendation David himself says that he has read it, and its not so bad.

From the publisher:

In the best tradition of participant-observation, anthropologist David Graeber undertakes the first detailed ethnographic study of the global justice movement. Starting from the assumption that, when dealing with possibilities of global transformation and emerging political forms, a disinterested, “objective” perspective is impossible, he writes as both scholar and activist. At the same time, his experiment in the application of ethnographic methods to important ongoing political events is a serious and unique contribution to the field of anthropology, as well as an inquiry into anthropology’s political implications.

The case study at the center of Direct Action is the organizing and events that led to the dramatic protest against the Summit of the Americas in Québec City in 2001. Written in a clear, accessible style (with a minimum of academic jargon), this study brings readers behind the scenes of a movement that has changed the terms of debate about world power relations. From informal conversations in coffee shops to large “spokescouncil” planning meetings and teargas-drenched street actions, Graeber paints a vivid and fascinating picture. Along the way, he addresses matters of deep interest to anthropologists: meeting structure and process, language, symbolism, representation, the specific rituals of activist culture, and much more.

David Graeber is an anthropologist and activist who teaches at the University of London. Active in numerous direct-action political organizations, he is the author of Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology; Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value; and Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire.

“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.


Nostalgia + Kantianism = Revolution?

Narrating the Left: Residual Marxism

Dead Voles has a very nice paragraph on the problem of the Left and Critical Theory, in particular the seeming failure of Americans to hold the nostalgia that Europe does (more than a paragraph, but that is what I repeat here):

Europe is a couple of generations closer than we are to a real left. The critical theorists are hopelessly wrapped around their own fannies confined to dealing with Habermas’ Kantianism, but they still occasionally remember what it’s all supposed to be about. The residual Marxists are wandering around forlornly trying to make sense of themselves in the world of Merkle, Sarcoszy, and Berlusconi, but they still retain a nostalgic sense of loss that some of them can still connect. Here in the US there are no such memories (oh, the odd blog) and no such nostalgia; and more important, not a clue about connection. Sociology was the most obvious academic victim of the cold war. At Brandeis (read “exile from New York”) I was the beneficiary of the death struggle – the end of ideology or the triumph of the will, depending who you talk to. As you said, theory decoupled from practice is meaningless, and by the end of the sixties the decoupling was essentially complete. In its place came the hodgepodge of single issue special interests you’ve talked about so many times.

What is in a Name? Does The Rose Smell as Sweet?

Perhaps this points us toward the historical and DNA difference between Anarchism and Marxism: there was a time in the history of the early 20th century that both conceptual frameworks were providing political paths divergent from growing Industrialized Capitalism. This is the difference between the love of the author versus the love of practice. As David Graeber notes in his Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology [click here]:

Even if one compares the historical schools of Marxism, and anarchism, one can see we are dealing with a fundamentally different sort of project. Marxist schools have authors. Just as Marxism sprang from the mind of Marx, so we have Leninists, Maoists, Trotksyites, Gramscians, Althusserians… (Note how the list starts with heads of state and grades almost seamlessly into French professors.) Pierre Bourdieu once noted that, if the academic field is a game in which scholars strive for dominance, then you know you have won when other scholars start wondering how to make an adjective out of your name…

…Now consider the different schools of anarchism. There are Anarcho-Syndicalists, Anarcho- Communists, Insurrectionists, Cooperativists, Individualists, Platformists… None are named after some Great Thinker; instead, they are invariably named either after some kind of practice, or most often, organizational principle. (Significantly, those Marxist tendencies which are not named after individuals, like Autonomism or Council Communism, are also the ones closest to anarchism.) Anarchists like to distinguish themselves by what they do, and how they organize themselves to go about doing it (4)

This tradition of naming, the emphasis on authors and therefore text once pointed out becomes jarring. I love these texts actually, because I am a writer, but one also has to take the content of these texts, their reported aims and ethical footing seriously, and ask oneself, who or what is one writing for? What processes and structures are actually being supported in this text-terminology production, and to what ends? It is interesting that Carl at Dead Voles comes to his rumination from a post of his tracing the 25 most influential authors on his life, not to mention that most readers of this kind of blog are necessarily logophiles, as I am. 

To divert into an important and repeated trope, must not every text connect to the textile of the body? Is that not philosophy’s greatest question, text vs. textile? Who makes it and what does it signify? And what are we weaving now? These are the threads, that is the loom…a powerful and lasting analogy.

It is not that we need to get away from books, but perhaps get into them. Into the strands of their fabrics. Into what they are made of. Into the pulp, ink and hand, and trace them out, beyond, into their materiality.