David Graeber is dead

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Entdinglichung's picture
Entdinglichung
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Sep 3 2020 13:28
David Graeber is dead

very sad

https://twitter.com/nikadubrovsky/status/1301504647769792512

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Yesterday the best person in a world, my husband and my friend .@davidgraeber
died in a hospital in Venice.

Working Class H...
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Sep 3 2020 16:16

Yes this is terrible news. Condolences to everyone who knew him

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Sep 3 2020 17:13

Damn, condolences. Any idea how he died?

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Sep 3 2020 18:23

Last I heard of him was around six(?) weeks ago when listening to the terrible radio show host Nehal on Five Live. I can’t even remember what he was invited on to talk about but was introduced as Professor David Graeber and went on to speak without interruption for maybe six or seven minutes, brilliantly exposing capitalism and liberal democracy for the nonsense that it is. He made absolute fucking mincemeat of it! It really made my day!
I don’t go in for the usual unbalanced emotional outpourings that generally follow a well known persons death, and I wasn’t exactly entranced by his politics but he sure seemed like a good guy and I feel pretty sad at his passing.

zugzwang
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Sep 3 2020 18:40

Condolences, might not have have agreed with him entirely as Noah points out (called me a marxist ideologue a couple days ago!) but this is some sad and shocking news. Graeber was kind of like a Chomsky figure from how I look at it, and I'm sure got a lot of people into radical politics. RIP.

Black Badger
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Sep 3 2020 19:07

i disagreed with almost all his positions and analyses (especially about the origins of capitalism and the state, but also about Rojava), but at least he didn't make anarchism (much) stupider or less relevant -- unlike some other public intellectuals i can think of (but if he really did invent the awful false populist "we are the 99%" slogan, then that's another eye-roll moment). it's particularly shitty that he was younger than i am

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Sep 5 2020 06:33
zugzwang wrote:
Graeber was kind of like a Chomsky figure from how I look at it, and I'm sure got a lot of people into radical politics. RIP.

Wholeheartedly agree with that statement. I know some young comrades who read him and it furthered their process of radicalization. But it necessitated going beyond his many limitations.

I had run-ins with him over the years -- mainly on listservs -- where despite his membership in the IWW, he didn't understand a class struggle perspective. On one of those listservs, around the time of the 77-day Ssangyong Motors factory occupation in 2009, someone accused him of being an activist-celebrity jet setter because he went to Pyeongtaek to watch the events from outside the police lines. He defended himself with a pretty credible biography, tracing his working class roots. It allowed me to understand that he constantly brandished his academic credentials as a way of compensating for his class-based feelings of inferiority. I ended up being a little more sympathetic with his motivation for going to see the struggle in South Korea first-hand. Also, he's a tiny bit older than me -- but much, much too young to die. RIP.

Battlescarred
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Sep 4 2020 19:53

Agree with all of the comments above, and would like to add that despite all of his limitations, and his Rah-Rah- Rah -Rojava position, he explicitly displayed an anarchist outlook, when he didn't have to and which didn't further his career in academia.

Black Badger
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Sep 4 2020 23:15

As a friend just pointed out this morning, Graeber's cheerleading for the Rojava "Revolution" very likely contributed to the deaths of non-Kurdish anarchists who were naive enough to believe the glowing reports likening Rojava to Barcelona. In this respect, his praises of the Kurdish struggle were not merely naive, but actually pernicious.

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Sep 4 2020 23:36
New York Times wrote:
Dr. Graeber became involved in British politics last year, supporting the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the general election as “a beacon of hope in the struggle against emergent far-right nationalism, xenophobia and racism in much of the democratic world.”

From an obit. Can he honestly be called an anarchist or even a radical?

Black Badger
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Sep 5 2020 02:49

JFC...

wojtek
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Sep 5 2020 04:49

Social democracy lite is radical nowadays.

zugzwang
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Sep 5 2020 10:56

Well, as mentioned, he didn't seem all that receptive to me arguing against foregrounding Bezos and wealth inequality, which I think goes hand in hand with a type of social democratic politics of boycotting companies and elevating "small/local/co-operative/organic businesses" as somehow superior and non-exploitative, as well as seeing individual billionaires and wealth inequality as the source of all social ills, rather than capitalist social relations. Anyway big capitalist eat little capitalist is just the centralization tendency within capitalism, and no entrepreneur starts out with the objective of satisfying needs but rather to profit and which competition makes a necessity.

This type of social democratic thinking seems common among his followers, maybe because he rarely pushed back against it and encouraged it. The Corbyn thing and his endorsement of their Labour Party manifesto all seem to speak to that; I personally wouldn't associate with the Novara crowd either. The "we are the 99%" slogan (which is currently getting attention), dividing people up based on wealth rather than the capital-labor relation, is also mystifying and opens the door to social democratic politics, as this article critiques. I haven't read the book, but there are some reviews of his Debt: The First 5000 Years on here, some of which he responded to.

As a tangent it seems there's kind of a love triangle between the left and right of capital (which is probably not that useful of a distinction admittedly) over "small businesses." The first have affection for them because of the sense of self-satisfaction that they're not directly supporting the "villainous Bezos," and the second because they act as a useful prop whenever they want to disguise policies benefiting larger corporations and wealthy people, or stamp out social unrest by appealing to "poor suffering small business owners," etc.

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Sep 5 2020 19:25
Hieronymous wrote:
New York Times wrote:
Dr. Graeber became involved in British politics last year, supporting the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the general election as “a beacon of hope in the struggle against emergent far-right nationalism, xenophobia and racism in much of the democratic world.”

From an obit. Can he honestly be called an anarchist or even a radical?

It’s pretty mystifying how he could do such an excellent job of exposing the sham of parliamentary politics in the interview I mentioned AND signal boost Corbyn. Mystifying but not uncommon unfortunately, anarcho-liberals are everywhere these days. Ffs.

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Sep 6 2020 17:30
Hieronymous wrote:
New York Times wrote:
Dr. Graeber became involved in British politics last year, supporting the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the general election as “a beacon of hope in the struggle against emergent far-right nationalism, xenophobia and racism in much of the democratic world.”

From an obit. Can he honestly be called an anarchist or even a radical?

I'm not sure what the point of this is. Yes, at some points in his life he acted in some ways contrary to anarchism - as did Bakunin, and Kropotkin, and Lucy Parsons, and Stuart Christie. He also always described himself as an anarchist, and spent his life and work arguing and organising for anarchism - not always the interpretation of anarchism that I or anyone on this site would favour, but one that was clearly within the broad historical anarchist tradition. Yes, he was a contradictory anarchist, but who isn't?

Black Badger
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Sep 6 2020 20:36

i agree with you R Totale, that we all are forced to deal with contradictions, most of which are not exactly voluntary; notable examples including paying taxes, driving/riding on roads, paying rent or a mortgage, and using the military-industrial medium that is the internet.

however, there are certain public actions that some self-described radicals and anarchists engage in that are voluntary, and that put them so far outside the standard acceptable contradictions that they must be noted and discussed publicly by those with an understanding of history and a sense of integrity.

for example, it's one thing to vote in elections (whether municipal, state-wide, or federal) and not mention anything to anyone about your abject acquiescence to -- and complicity in the furtherance of -- the harmful illusions about participatory democracy, but if a radical or anarchist does so, he/she/they should probably not divulge that information -- let alone offer it as a strategic blow against the state!

but it's another thing altogether to campaign publicly for candidates whose political and class allegiances are beyond anything possibly beneficial to oppressed and exploited people; it's particularly hideous for someone who isn't qualified to vote in a particular election to hold out some demented idea that the candidate represents what Graeber said Corbyn represented. it shows a complete lack of understanding of internal Labour Party politics over the past 50 years (if not longer) and was a total negation and failure of Graeber's self-proclaimed position as a public intellectual/activist whose alleged desire is to see and participate in the destruction of capitalism and the state

pointing this out has nothing to do with enforcing some (mostly) arbitrary boundaries of acceptable anarchist practice according to a couple of outliers; anti-parliamentarianism is a foundational principle of anarchism. hold your nose and vote for whichever candidate you think might lessen the burdens you face, but don't pretend that urging others (anarchist or not) to follow your example can do anything to further an anarchist agenda
when Graeber (or any other electoral anarchist) was doing this he wasn't being "a contradictory anarchist"; he wasn't being any kind of anarchist at all, a status that might or might not have been temporary

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Sep 7 2020 20:59

Yeah, if you look at it in terms of "anarchist as a verb rather than a noun or adjective" or whatever, which I think is a sensible lens to use, I'm happy to agree that Graeber was not doing anarchism when he endorsed Corbyn. I just don't think it's useful to talk as if that means there was nothing radical or anarchist about his life or work, especially when the likes of Kropotkin also publicly shat the bed in an equally dramatic fashion.

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Sep 7 2020 21:26

I was deeply saddened when I heard the news that Graeber had died. My personal connection with him was weak, almost non-existent, with many degrees of separation; he was a comrade-of-comrades-of-comrades-of-mine. I disagreed with so many of his positions, but had had e-mail exchanges with him that were both comradely and hostile. But we're the same generation, nearly the same age, and he was simply too young to die.

But as radicals, we're critically thinking human beings. This shit irks me:

The Guardian wrote:
Late last year, Graeber fell out with the Guardian, tweeting that he would never write for the paper again after its treatment of the then Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, during the general election campaign. In particular he defended Corbyn against the charge that he was antisemitic. “If you look at the people who have left the party over antisemitism,” he told an interviewer, “most of them weren’t Jewish and a lot of the people who still remain close to Jeremy Corbyn are Jewish. It’s absurd.”

Black Badger
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Sep 9 2020 13:42

R Totale, i didn't say or imply that there was nothing anarchist or radical about Graeber's life or work; i said quite explicitly that during the time that he was shilling for Corbyn (and also, as Hieronymous cites, petulantly falling out with the famously anti-anarchist newspaper the Guardian), he was not an anarchist

i would say exactly the same thing about the anarchist formerly known as prince, dear old Kropotkin; when he publicly endorsed the imperialist war against the German Empire in the Manifesto of the Sixteen, he had stepped outside the realm of anarchist politics -- as Malatesta and Goldman and many others correctly pointed out in no uncertain terms

but i would never say that "Mutual Aid" or "Factories, Fields, and Workshops" are not anarchist texts because of a lapse of anarchist judgment by their author

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Sep 8 2020 07:57

I haven't read all of it, but it seems he also expresses support for Universal Basic Income in his Bullshit Jobs book, despite, as he mentions in the book, being an anarchist who's "suspicious of policy":

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Myself, I find such games particularly pernicious because I’d prefer not to have policy elites around at all. I’m personally an anarchist, which means that, not only do I look forward to a day sometime in the future when governments, corporations, and the rest will be looked at as historical curiosities in the same way as we now look at the Spanish Inquisition or nomadic invasions, but I prefer solutions to immediate problems that do not give more power to governments or corporations, but rather, give people the means to manage their own affairs. [...] It follows that when faced with a social problem my impulse is not to imagine myself in charge, and ponder what sort of solutions I would then impose, but to look for a movement already out there, already trying to address the problem and create its own solutions. [...] I’ve only been able to identify one solution currently being promoted by social movements, that would reduce rather than increase the size and intrusiveness of government. That’s Universal Basic Income.

If the goal is the transformation of capitalist society, then endorsing Corbyn and UBI certainly seem antithetical to anything transformative or anti-capitalist, and more like reforming capitalism. It's also ignoring capitalism's systemic issues/contradictions which complicate stuff like UBI and creating a welfare state, specifically that they refer back to production for profit (among the other critiques of UBI and reforming capitalism).

The "bullshit job" observation/thesis itself is saying nothing new imo (not that he ever claims that to my knowledge; I also reject his definition of bullshit work, which seems to refer only to the more overtly bullshit jobs). If something is profitable or if a market can be created for that something then it will be pursued, irrespective of whatever is being produced or whatever "negative externalities." Vehicle manufacturing and its related industries are all something I'd most definitely regard as pointless and socially harmful work. Under capitalism, however (and where people are forced to own vehicles, at least in the States), environmentally and existentially harmful bullshit/work provide jobs and wages (!), and of course profit, and so such production continues and is defended on those grounds.

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Sep 8 2020 08:46

It seems that being an anarchist and being a liberal are not mutually exclusive in current thought. This makes no sense to me but it’s so common that it has to be acknowledged. I don’t know what happened to it but an obvious manifestation of this was the launch of the libertarian socialist caucus of the Labour Party last year.
I guess many people come to anarchism via the liberal left social justice route. Maybe they struggle to let go of some of their old ideas? I know I have to be conscious of my tendency to look at things through the often rather silly perspective of my anarcho punk youth.
Add to this the fact that we are all immersed in the culture of capitalist liberal democracy, bombarded from all sides with reinforcements of how we should deal with society’s inequities and witness to countless examples of it, be it voting, petitions, charity or whatever, maybe it isn’t that surprising that many advocate actions and support people/groups that hold positions entirely contrary to their declared position as an anti capitalist or anarchist.
Honestly though, this is my most forgiving spin on this - mostly my reaction to any advocacy of any sort of liberal praxis or signal boosting of figures of false hope such as Corbyn is one of total exasperation. This phenomenon never ceases to appall me - every time I witness it, and that is very frequently, my hope for a mass movement of the working class dwindles a little more.

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Sep 9 2020 12:02

Freedom obituary here, from someone involved with Occupied London back when that was a thing: https://freedomnews.org.uk/david-graeber-1961-2020-an-anarchist-and-anth...

On the other stuff, fwiw I think I'm pretty much in agreement with what Black Badger says above. I realise this is a bit chicken-and-egg, but I suppose it's worth understanding these mistakes or confusions, or whatever you want to call them, in the context of the lack of a mass, active, anarchist/communist movement. I think there are loads* of people who would be happy to be in the 1930s CNT if that was an option, but it isn't; so we we have to try and find a way in between armchair irrelevance on one hand and blindly tail-ending whatever's popular on the other. I'm happy to agree that Graeber got the answer to that wrong, but I also don't think it's quite so easy to say what the right answer is - should revolutionaries be involved with ACORN? Unite Community? Become USDAW or GMB reps? Idk, in general when someone makes that kind of break with anarchist principles I think it's more useful to try and think about the ways that decision was a result of the pressures and problems that also apply to and affect us, rather than just going "well, that guy was wrong, nothing to do with us."

*um, for a certain value of "loads", I suppose

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Sep 9 2020 20:34
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I think there are loads* of people who would be happy to be in the 1930s CNT if that was an option, but it isn't; so we we have to try and find a way in between armchair irrelevance on one hand and blindly tail-ending whatever's popular on the other.

The question is though, why isn’t there a radical union or any sort of large, effective, grass roots group or movement. I’d say it’s largely because the liberal ruling class and the hordes of one dimensional and myopic lackeys, and that includes the anarchists, socialists, communists etc that see it as prudent to advocate for the lesser of two evils and all that old tosh, have diverted and fire blanketed the desire for self determination of the working class as well as syphoning off all the energy that we might have for pursuing it with their empty promises and false hopes. When are we gonna wake up? ANY engagement with bourgeois politics helps perpetuate this self castration of working class power, and even worse is the shaming of those who refuse to have anything to do with this farce with accusations of privilege and even racism, transphobia etc. Every time we signal boost for a particular faction or member of the ruling class or shame a member of our own, we strengthen their power and weaken the power of our own class.

wojtek
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Sep 9 2020 23:29

The success of IWGB suggests trade union affiliation with and hopes in the Labour Party are a barrier. Hippies are proving to be more antagonistic.

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Sep 11 2020 14:52

A collection of his writings here: https://cominsitu.wordpress.com/2020/09/06/david-graeber-1961-2020/

wojtek
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Sep 13 2020 23:50
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In 2018, we were working on a book to support the ZAD after the evictions following the victory against the airport. We asked you to write the preface. Via telegram from the Rojava border you replied, saying you could not write because you were smuggling drones into the Autonomous region, which gave us all so much hope about living without the state.

https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/09/05/david-graeber-1961-2020/

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Sep 19 2020 16:18
R Totale wrote:
I think there are loads* of people who would be happy to be in the 1930s CNT if that was an option, but it isn't; so we we have to try and find a way in between armchair irrelevance on one hand and blindly tail-ending whatever's popular on the other.

Noah Fence wrote:
The question is though, why isn’t there a radical union or any sort of large, effective, grass roots group or movement. I’d say it’s largely because the liberal ruling class and the hordes of one dimensional and myopic lackeys, and that includes the anarchists, socialists, communists etc that see it as prudent to advocate for the lesser of two evils and all that old tosh, have diverted and fire blanketed the desire for self determination of the working class as well as syphoning off all the energy that we might have for pursuing it with their empty promises and false hopes. When are we gonna wake up? ANY engagement with bourgeois politics helps perpetuate this self castration of working class power, and even worse is the shaming of those who refuse to have anything to do with this farce with accusations of privilege and even racism, transphobia etc. Every time we signal boost for a particular faction or member of the ruling class or shame a member of our own, we strengthen their power and weaken the power of our own class.

The readiness to capitulate to parliamentary reformism has some effect but its hardly like the choices of largely marginalised radicals has much influence or visibility either way for the working class. It's a capitulation borne of desperation, a massive defeat of class struggle here for three decades.

In a time where the left’s influence is so marginal the faults of its policies and programmes can’t explain a lack of struggle. It’s not as if the working class is having its native revolutionary energy straining at the leash repeatedly dispersed by reformist leftism; if the working class is seen as capable of self-determination it has to be seen to have some responsibility for where it is at present; it is never solely determined by external forces. If it has no responsibility for its present condition where is the possibility of an agency that can self-determine? The abstract constituency we call ‘the working class’ is concretely composed of individuals and collectives with a margin of choices. It’s never the case that working class weakness is due to it’s not having had the right ideological offer from the left.

The period of defeat of w/c struggle over the past 30+ years is unprecedented and there is much to worry about over where it’s leading. It seems that, as the working class has lost its powers and fragmented, its self-awareness of its collective potential has been largely lost. ‘Working class identity’ is a problematic double-edged sword - but a minimum requirement for understanding the function of this society is recognition of its class nature and that this determines one’s conditions of existence in this society. If you don’t see class division as crucial you won’t see the importance of acting as a class for class interests.

But, for many, other identities have replaced class as ones that deliver a primary collective sense of belonging; particularly race and nation. Older organisational models emerged from different historical situations, from different cultures. Those cultures were based largely on groups of workers that shared locations and workplaces – often for a working lifetime over several generations. The self-identity with one’s trade, workplace and related local communities was the primary defining collective identity in those lives and their strongholds.

Now that’s all gone, we’re deep in the shite and desperate solutions that seem to promise at least some improvement unsurprisingly sometimes gain traction. But we live in an age of incredible self-delusion and ‘post-truth’, examples of which can be found in political behaviour and beliefs expressed on and offline constantly; where people seek a comforting narrative and facts that refute it become irrelevant.

When Thatcher was asked what she regarded as her greatest achievement she replied, "Tony Blair". The general ever-rightward shift in politics has shifted what is considered radical and realistic rightwards with it.

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Sep 20 2020 17:18

Excellent post, I would fully agree with all that.

asn
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Sep 21 2020 11:30

"The readiness to capitulate to parliamentary reformism has some effect but its hardly like the choices of largely marginalised radicals has much influence or visibility either way for the working class. It's a capitulation borne of desperation, a massive defeat of class struggle here for three decades."

If you are able to develop outside the job organisation - obviously involving various leftists - assisting militant networks in strategic sectors - via putting out workplace papers etc you can re-energise these militants and help them get over various obstacles to their activity - in this way out manoeuvre the corporate union bureaucracies and defeat various attacks of the bosses and slow the tempo of the employer offensive. Its in this context that strike waves can develop leading potentially mass breakaways from the corporate unions and turning the tide. In Sydney Australia here in Sept 1999 the restructuring of the City Rail Station network for privatisation was defeated and would have been an important back drop and interwoven by many threads and the role of outside the job organisation with the beginnings of strike wave type movement in March 2004 involving train drivers taking direct action involving work to rule and won a victory eg bonuses.
In other historical phases you have this sort of thing eg a strike movement focusing on Turin Italy in 1943, an important back drop was the Nazi defeat of Stalingrad - but again you had this interaction of outside the job organisation involving competing leftist groups - the most prominent being the Italian Communist Party facilitating the initiation of the strike wave movement. The Italian CP underground paper was well distroed throughout Italy and played a key role in the affair peddling the lie that a major wildcat strike had started in the largest factory in Italy in Turin - it never happened but industrial action occurred at a couple of little known factories in the city. This took place under fascism a lot worse situation - than you have in the UK, Australia and the Anglo World today!!! See Tim Mason's collection of Essays 'Fascism and the Working Class' on Libcom.
Certainly this sort of organisation and interaction and strategic focus and associated long term work over decades by leftists isn't occurring much these days in the Anglo World. The reasons would be the social base of many leftist groups - amongst sectors of the middle class - workers with high levels of autonomy in their work and students connected with the university milieu and higher education set up - seeing capitalism through hierarchies of oppression rather than the class struggle, the influence of identity politics - courtesy of the Deep State as a reaction to the late 60s early 70s worker and student radicalisation/upsurge eg the CIA's 'Operation Chaos' and the Bourgeois Cultural, Media and Education Set up, and the impact of the Stalinist Legacy on leftist groups and the overall impact of all these factors is the sect phenomena - the leftist micro pseudo church'family/social club phenomena. Many of these groups taking a rightward shift and being drawn into the tentacles of the formerly social democratic set up eg British Labour Party, ALP in Australia etc and the corporate unions eg helping the union bosses with their ploys and so helping out the employer offensive and neo-liberalism. Also some in these groups would have the fantasy that the turning of the tide against the employer offensive lies in some purely spontaneous action by workers when we urgently need outside the job organisation intensively helping on the job organisation.

asn
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Sep 21 2020 12:43

Also another key factor is the role of the corporate media and its absolute predominance in much of the Anglo World - blotting out workers victories in the class struggle or distorting what occurred just focusing on the union bosses. In the events and others in NSW mentioned in my previous post this has occurred. Whilst much of the fringe and leftist media particularly connected with the Trot groups would play along with it. Particularly as they lack the industrial contacts. All this plays into the low morale amongst workers and the leftist milieu. However it is by putting out workplace papers you are starting the process which can lead to an alternative revolutionary workers mass media. In the context of mass breakaways from the corporate unions in the context major strike waves and transitional step toward a new syndicalist oriented union confederation - the basis would exist to launch mass circulation publications and other media facets.
In the heyday of international syndicalism such as in Latin America and Spain etc, the most widely read papers where the papers put out or associated with these syndicalist movements. If you have the industrial strength and mass base - you can occupy and put under workers control TV, Radio stations etc. The new mass syndicalist mass media will be forged in the furnace of these major cataclysmic eruptions in the class struggle and the complex birth of new mass workers economic combative organisations, not some exotic left subcultural paper garnished with identity politics put out by middle class leftist activoids incrementally getting bigger via newsagent sales etc.

wojtek
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Sep 27 2020 22:23

Corbyn at the end of this claims that Graeber saw the anarchist tradition of empowerment in Labour's policy proposals.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?ab_channel=NovaraMedia&v=PZlXJ3YqkMA