David Graeber is dead

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Oct 8 2020 05:13

Some thoughts on the debate over whether David Graeber qualified as an anarchist: I think the more important question is whether the totality of his actions balanced out to serve anarchist goals. I believe they did and I'm sad he's gone.

He articulated anarchist ideas in a way that made them sound totally unradical, down to Earth, and common sense. Which I believe they are. Anarchism in my opinion is not a radical (as in extremist) ideology. Capitalism and its all-devouring violence, the state and its vampiric concentration of power, are extreme, and anarchism is just the simple and modest response saying that, no, this is not a life fit for human beings! No, we need not be doomed to compete or submit or to sell pieces of our lives to others to survive! We can live together in freedom and mutual aid, all for one and one for all, and we'll all be happier this way.

It's hard to get our ideas across without sounding scary or incomprehensible or naively utopian or just plain boring, and David Graeber was a natural at avoiding these pitfalls. When we lost David we lost a great asset. sad

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Oct 8 2020 05:33

Also, does anyone else think the Three Musketeers slogan "All for one and one for all" would make a good anarchist slogan alongside the classic "No Gods, No Masters"?

bastarx
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Oct 8 2020 06:17

David Graeber with his early and incessant propagandising for the Rojava "Revolution" lured impressionable comrades to their deaths in a grubby imperialist war. Whatever else he may have done that is unforgiveable.

Nymphalis Antiopa
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Oct 8 2020 12:29
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It's hard to get our ideas across without sounding scary or incomprehensible or naively utopian or just plain boring, and David Graeber was a natural at avoiding these pitfalls.

If over-simplifying things ever changed anything they'd make it illegal.

Changing the world IS scary, but not trying to change it is scarier.
Developing an intricate understanding often seems incomprehensible to those who can't make the effort to comprehend.
The possible creation of a "utopia" beyond commodity relations DOES sound utopian to those who don't want to make the effort to understand the irrational dystopia of the system.
None of this is boring or plain, but ...If over-simplifying things means sending naive utopians to their death in Rojava and Graebner managed to not sound scary or incomprehensible or naively utopian or just plain boring to get people to go there, I would have preferred he HAD sounded scary or incomprehensible or naively utopian or just plain boring.

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Oct 8 2020 12:36
bastarx wrote:
David Graeber with his early and incessant propagandising for the Rojava "Revolution" lured impressionable comrades to their deaths in a grubby imperialist war. Whatever else he may have done that is unforgiveable.

I mean, whether you think it's forgiveable or not is a bit irrelevant now, I don't think he's likely to apologise for it either way.

Black Badger
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Oct 8 2020 13:42

bastarx wrote:
David Graeber with his early and incessant propagandising for the Rojava "Revolution" lured impressionable comrades to their deaths in a grubby imperialist war. Whatever else he may have done that is unforgiveable.

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I mean, whether you think it's forgiveable or not is a bit irrelevant now, I don't think he's likely to apologise for it either way.

perhaps the more proper term would be "irredeemable"? as in, David Graeber with his early and incessant propagandising for the Rojava "Revolution" lured impressionable comrades to their deaths in a grubby imperialist war. Whatever else he may have done this legacy is irredeemable.

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Oct 9 2020 04:41

Well, there’s certainly some snooty ass bullshit appeared in this thread since I last look. Ffs.

Nymphalis Antiopa
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Oct 9 2020 05:55
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there’s certainly some snooty ass bullshit appeared in this thread

Specifically what " snooty ass bullshit"? Elaborate, please.

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Oct 9 2020 11:09
Nymphalis Antiopa wrote:
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there’s certainly some snooty ass bullshit appeared in this thread

Specifically what " snooty ass bullshit"? Elaborate, please.

Actually, I’ve thought about this and I’m happy to retract my statement.
Clearly, pointing out that DG making legions of idealistic idiots turn into anarcho-lemmings flinging themselves off a (not)revolutionary(enough) cliff with what can only be described as gay abandon through his mode of communication is not in the least bit snobby, and it’s entirely appropriate, nay, mandatory, that we should look down our noses at him. Indeed, considering this it’s pretty obvious that simple and understandable methods of communication and modes of speech are counter revolutionary and should not be countenanced at any price! Appropriate measures must be taken to eliminate such ghastly crimes of communication from the movement.
Speaking of which, I’m prevented from elaborating further right now as I have to go and measure Martin Wright and Ian Bone for their lampposts - their gor blimey accents by no means excuse their abominable determination not to use a hundred words where ten will suffice!

bastarx
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Oct 9 2020 11:14
Black Badger wrote:
bastarx wrote:
David Graeber with his early and incessant propagandising for the Rojava "Revolution" lured impressionable comrades to their deaths in a grubby imperialist war. Whatever else he may have done that is unforgiveable.

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I mean, whether you think it's forgiveable or not is a bit irrelevant now, I don't think he's likely to apologise for it either way.

perhaps the more proper term would be "irredeemable"? as in, David Graeber with his early and incessant propagandising for the Rojava "Revolution" lured impressionable comrades to their deaths in a grubby imperialist war. Whatever else he may have done this legacy is irredeemable.

Yes, much better.

Nymphalis Antiopa
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Oct 9 2020 11:57

Noah Sarkie:

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I have to go and measure Martin Wright and Ian Bone for their lampposts - their gor blimey accents by no means excuse their abominable determination not to use a hundred words where ten will suffice!

Both were members of the populist "Class War Federation" whose publications included texts supporting the IRA, leading members of which then went on to collaborate with the bourgeois state. And Class War went into electoral politics. 2 examples of over-simplification to a populist "message" mentality contradicted by a counter-revolutionary practice. See "Death of a paper tiger: reflections on Class War" - https://libcom.org/library/paper-tiger-class-war-aufheben-6 - "...opportunisms included their adoption of archaic cockney slang - denouncing swanky toffs etc - the sub-Chas 'n' Dave mockney style betraying the London-centrism of the 'national' paper. Logically, to be really populist, they should have done other regional dialect issues of the paper - perhaps an 'ee by gum' Yorkshire issue or 'De Cluss War' in Jamaican patois to be truly patronising?"

Some things are simple, some not. Whilst being unnecessarily complex may well be "snooty ass" and even "bullshit", making a principle of over-simplification is opportunist and populist bullshit, and always entails trying to win people over in a political manner rather than work out what are obstacles to the development of struggles towards self-emancipation.

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Oct 9 2020 12:51
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Some things are simple, some not. Whilst being unnecessarily complex may well be "snooty ass" and even "bullshit", making a principle of over-simplification is opportunist and populist bullshit, and always entails trying to win people over in a political manner rather than work out what are obstacles to the development of struggles towards self-emancipation.

Very simply, and very well put, and you have my total agreement. However, as little regard as I have for the politics of DG, I dispute the claim that he was guilty of cynical populist bullshit, and I resent the characterisation of comrades of western origin that have participated in Rojava as utopian numpties as well as calling bullshit on the idea that the Rojva revolution is nothing more than the imperialist exploitation of said numpties. The biggest crock of bollocks of the lot is that DG was responsible for the death of the comrades so condescendingly described as utopian. That’s a pretty heavy slight on the man himself, but it’s truly cringeworthy in its level of disdain for those who have died out there.

wojtek
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Oct 9 2020 13:44
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Also, does anyone else think the Three Musketeers slogan "All for one and one for all" would make a good anarchist slogan alongside the classic "No Gods, No Masters"?

I imagine it sounds more appealing/sophisticated in French.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=M7Nj1UqdZTA

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Oct 9 2020 13:48

Noah, was Graeber not a booster of populism when he coalesced various sentiments and slogans into "We Are the 99%"? isn't false unity across class lines/interests one of the defining characteristics of populism? if so, then that slogan exemplifies -- indeed, almost epitomizes -- the most idiotic aspects of populism; cops, landlords, managers, technocrats, politicians, insurance brokers, and even most bankers are all necessarily included in that "99%."

even if we ignore DG's substandard anthropology (in terms of his ahistorical view of the discipline and his questionable ethics as an ethnographer that resulted in his enormous and tedious "Direct Action"), his intellectually dubious (if not entirely absurd and false) equation of democracy with anarchism, his shilling for Corbyn (and his constant efforts at tarting up electoralism more generally), and his cringeworthy "just like Barcelona in 1936" support for the Rojava "revolution" (regardless of whether or not he can be described as directly or indirectly responsible for getting non-Kurdish fighters killed), he would still be a scoundrel for (uncynically?) promoting populism.

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Oct 9 2020 14:00

Re. Noah Fence's post above:

What is "truly cringeworthy" is encouraging people to fight and die on the basis of the "crock of bollocks" that Rojava = Spain 1936. DG was the most renowned and, as far as I've seen, the first to make this comparison. Those from abroad attracted by the anarchist attributes who died out there were naive or, if not, truly into the obnoxious poolitics of the PKK and Ocalan, and so not at all "anarchist" in any meaningful sense of the term. For the latter I have "disdain", for the former a kind of sadness mixed with disgust for DG's politics on this issue.

PS
I have not said that the only aspect of what happened in Rojava was "nothing more than ... imperialist exploitation" . Others have said this, but I'd say it was more complex than that from what I've heard. But going into a war zone without checking out various critical bits of information about it and taking DG or others' word for it is most definitely "naive", to say the least.

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Oct 9 2020 14:09

As I’ve said several times in this thread, I have no regard for the politics of DG. My comment was aimed at the snobby tone of some of the posts and the wholesale declaration of valuelessness to what is happening in Rojava. It particularly irked me to see such a reductive characterisation of the participants in the Rojava movement.
I won’t argue about anything else you’ve said about him as I either agree or don’t know anything about the things you mention.
Scoundrel though? A splendid term though it may be, I don’t think it’s a fitting one for DG. Seems to me he was a pretty decent fellow who’s politics were a right fucking mess with little or no evidence of ill intent to be levelled against him.
Interesting that he said the thing about Barcelona - as a result of this thread I checked out a few interviews with him and in one he was describing Rojava and said it was no Barcelona and that it couldn’t be called anarchism. Like I say though, his politics were truly all over the place, so such a contradiction is hardly a surprise.

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Oct 9 2020 14:52
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But going into a war zone without checking out various critical bits of information about it and taking DG or others' word for it is most definitely "naive", to say the least.

Once again I agree, but that this is the case is quite an assumption.

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Oct 9 2020 15:04

Yeah, I don't think it's helpful to characterise David Graeber as some kind of a pied piper leading the poor innocent kiddies to their deaths. I could be wrong, but I don't think many international volunteers are coming back from Rojava and writing Dulce et Decorum Est about how Graeber tricked them. Obviously, that doesn't mean that you have to agree with their decisions, you can have disdain for them, that's fine. But I don't think it adds much to our understanding of anything to talk as though they have no agency of their own and were just manipulated into it by people who said that Rojava was good.

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Oct 9 2020 15:10

Well said! Are you offering lessons in how to make comments without being a sarcastic asshole? If so I might sign up for a course!

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Oct 10 2020 00:19
R Totale wrote:
I could be wrong, but I don't think many international volunteers are coming back from Rojava and writing Dulce et Decorum Est about how Graeber tricked them.

I personally think you're mistaken. Some didn't live to regret it. Northern California anarchist and Wobbly, Michael Israel, was a friend of some former prolific libcom posters, who knew him well and said he naively went to Rojava believing he was defending a revolution. I mourn his death, but blame fools like Graeber for disingenously advertising what was happening there. Graeber's not alive to take responsibility, but some people died having taken him at his word -- believing that it was like Barcelona in 1936. I was on a couple listservs with Graeber and was one of several constantly pushing back against his exaggerated bullshit, often leading to flame wars. In that sense, Graeber was an activist-celebrity jet setter who could have a weekend revolutionary tourist adventure in places like Rojava, then be back at the professor's podium on Monday morning. Working class kids like Michael Israel didn't have that luxury and paid for it with their lives.

bastarx
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Oct 10 2020 11:23

If nothing else Graeber and Ocalan's example shows how easy it is for nationalist rackets to lure the less critical anarchists into supporting them by mouthing the right platitudes.

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Oct 10 2020 12:04

you're all a bunch of fucking twats

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Oct 10 2020 12:32

Well I for one think ideas matter, and as much as I don't like speaking for the deceased, I think even if Graeber might not have agreed with criticisms raised against him here, he would still rather have people be critical. Also I'd note that Graeber's cheerleading for Rojava obviously doesn't mean he "directly murdered" anyone, but, as others say, put those ideas out there that led to people going to Rojava.

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Oct 10 2020 12:41
jospanner wrote:
you're all a bunch of fucking twats

I can’t speak for everyone else but certainly, in reference to myself, you’ve demonstrated a marked ability for getting to the heart of the matter. Precisely what lead you to this conclusion though? Anything specific or is it just a general observation?

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Oct 10 2020 13:59
zugzwang wrote:
Well I for one think ideas matter, and as much as I don't like speaking for the deceased, I think even if Graeber might not have agreed with criticisms raised against him here, he would still rather have people be critical. Also I'd note that Graeber's cheerleading for Rojava obviously doesn't mean he "directly murdered" anyone, but, as others say, put those ideas out there that led to people going to Rojava.

All Trumpian name-calling smears aside, let's look at valid critiques of the revolutionary cheerleaders for Rojava. One of the most critical is "Rojava: reality and rhetoric" by Gilles Dauvé and T.L. (thanks to C., the left communist comrade who reminded me of this text). I didn't save the listserv exchanges my comrades and I had with Graeber, but he definitely encouraged others to go to Rojava and "join the revolution." The implication being that you've accrued so many frequent-flier miles going to anti-globalization summits/protests, so just use them to jump on a plane.

Here are the more revelant parts of Dauvé and T.L.'s critque of Graeber's ideology of a revolution led by classless angels:

    Never judge a book or national liberation from its cover. On the ground, PKK cadres will support a landowner or a boss because he has influence in the area. They will also defend strikes or organise protests if it helps them rally the local people. Here they will side with rigid forms of religion, and there with tolerance. Today they will appear as traditionalists, tomorrow as modernists. This is politics: the PKK upholds what increases its power base. In the days when it claimed to be part of world socialism, it had no time for heretics like Pannekoek or Mattick, and went for successful Marxism-Leninism. When it espouses libertarianism, it does not take after Makhno, and prefers an acceptable version, probably the most moderate of all today, the Bookchin doctrine, that spices 19th century municipal socialism with self-administration and ecology.
    Quite a sensible choice. The PKK has had to scale down its ambitions and confederal municipalism is the only political ideology available to a party that has to make do with States and borders because it cannot hope to create its own State with its own borders, which would mean forcefully redrawing the boundaries of at least two neighbouring countries. Making a virtue of necessity, the PKK has ditched “class” and “party” references, and promotes self-management, co-operation, communalism (not communism), anti-productivism and gender. David Graeber was rejoicing over the fact that in Kurdistan people might now be reading Judith Butler. A spot-on remark. Deconstruction of the political subject (i.e. of the proletariat as an historical agent), prioritisation of identities, class replaced by gender… the PKK has doubtlessly swapped Marxism for postmodernism.

Here's theire critique of the role of the state's repressive forces, where to negate the cops we become the pigs:

    Power to the people?
    Daily life is determined by production relations: as we have just seen, Rojavan self-managed communes and grassroots bodies are under the sway of business big and small.

    “When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers”, Oscar Wilde wrote. Rojava fulfils the dream of the step-by-step popular empowerment theorists. J. Holloway’s Change the world without taking power seems to materialise in Syrian Kurdistan. Society is supposed to be transformed from the bottom by a variety of gradual changes which will render the top helpless and harmless until it falls off or disappears. Therefore Rojavan police is not police, it can only be a non-police, an anti-police. Writes D. Graeber :

    Graeber wrote:
    “Ultimately - and this is key - the security forces are answerable to the bottom-up structures and not to the top-down ones. One of the first places we visited was a police academy (..). Everyone had to take courses in non-violent conflict resolution and feminist theory before they were allowed to touch a gun. The co-directors explained to us their ultimate aim was to give everyone in the country six weeks of police training, so that ultimately, they could eliminate police.”

    The point is not to make fun of such sheer naivety, but to realise what it is built on : the belief that there is nothing to fear from former or new repression forces in Rojava, because real power lies with the people at grassroots level, in the communes and the local committees, so whatever government officials may do, whatever political manoeuvring wannabe leaders might engage in, we are the police.

Please read the full Dauvé and T.L. critique, "Rojava: reality and rhetoric," here on libcom.

wojtek
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Oct 10 2020 17:28

If the meekness of Corbynism is anything to go by, the left need more

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fucking twats

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Oct 10 2020 18:24
Hieronymous wrote:
I personally think you're mistaken. Some didn't live to regret it. Northern California anarchist and Wobbly, Michael Israel, was a friend of some former prolific libcom posters, who knew him well and said he naively went to Rojava believing he was defending a revolution. I mourn his death, but blame fools like Graeber for disingenously advertising what was happening there. Graeber's not alive to take responsibility, but some people died having taken him at his word -- believing that it was like Barcelona in 1936. I was on a couple listservs with Graeber and was one of several constantly pushing back against his exaggerated bullshit, often leading to flame wars. In that sense, Graeber was an activist-celebrity jet setter who could have a weekend revolutionary tourist adventure in places like Rojava, then be back at the professor's podium on Monday morning. Working class kids like Michael Israel didn't have that luxury and paid for it with their lives.

OK, I can see where you're coming from here. For context, the main two people I think of when the subject of international volunteers come up are Anna Campbell and the recently deceased Josh. We can't speak for the dead, and we can't say what conclusions they might have arrived at if they'd continued living, but we can look at the positions they expressed while they were alive. Both of them may or may not have been naive or ill-informed at the time they left to go out there, but by the time that Josh came home, and by the time that Anna requested a transfer to the Afrin front, they'd both spent a considerable amount of time out there, so I don't we can describe them as being naive, ill-informed or whatever. That isn't to say that you have to agree with their decisions, but that's a matter of a value judgement - "what's worth risking your life for?" - not one of them being naive and ill-informed, and certainly not one of us knowing more about Rojava than they do. I stand by my point that I'm not aware of any of the surviving international volunteers coming away writing "My Disillusionment in Rojava", and from what I know about Anna Campbell, it certainly doesn't sound like her experiences while there had led her to become more critical of the project.

Hieronymous wrote:

All Trumpian name-calling smears aside, let's look at valid critiques of the revolutionary cheerleaders for Rojava. One of the most critical is "Rojava: reality and rhetoric" by Gilles Dauvé and T.L. (thanks to C., the left communist comrade who reminded me of this text)...

Please read the full Dauvé and T.L. critique, "Rojava: reality and rhetoric," here on libcom.

I think that's an excellent critique, as is the alternate version that just appeared as "Kurdistan?" - it's been a while now, but I seem to remember both versions had some good bits that don't appear in the other. However, this is one of the points that I remember being most impressed by at the time:

Quote:
A call to arms
It is small wonder some individuals and groups always prone to denouncing the military-industrial complex should now call for arming Rojava against ISIS, if we remember that in 1999, at the time of the Kosovo war, a few anarchists supported NATO bombings on Serbia… to prevent genocide.

Where and who are these weapons to come from? The average proletarian has no spare assault rifle or grenade to secretly smuggle to Kurdistan. Should he or she get in touch with international arm dealers? Or shall we expect the Western powers to supply Rojava with adequate weaponry? Deliveries have started on a modest scale. Should we pressure the US, France and Britain to do more? With what means? Libertarian demos do not resonate as far as the White House. And at what political price for the askers? Nobody contemplates organising new International Brigades, though ISIS already have theirs.

So, when voices call for military support to help Rojava face the jihadist onslaught, what exactly are they talking about? Either it is empty talk, or it can only mean asking for more Western air strikes. How and where? Bombs and missiles will rarely fall on a column of jihadist vehicles in the desert, and more often on a neighbourhood held by the jihadists, with inevitable “collateral damage”. There is no such thing as clean surgical strikes. According to the Pentagon, coalition strikes killed 6,000 ISIS fighters between September 2014 and January 2015. Some day we will know how many Kurdish civilians died at the same time.

Mass slaughter is obviously not what those who call for “Arms for the Kurdish resistance” really want. So it is empty talk. An attitude. That’s perhaps the worst part of the story: that in the Middle East an effort at self-organisation and self-defence, genuine but unable to transcend itself because of hostile circumstances, should serve in Europe and north America as a pretext for mobilisations and slogans that nobody seriously expects to be acted upon.

Clearly, that part of the critique has not aged well. What Dauve described as "the worst part of the story" is no longer true. Do we criticise those that went and fought, and those who encouraged them to do it, on the grounds that they demonstrated precisely the sincerity that Dauve said they were lacking? Or, even if we might disagree with their decision, can we accept that there are people who might see "an effort at self-organisation and self-defence, genuine but unable to transcend itself because of hostile circumstances" as being worth taking risks to defend, even if it isn't and wasn't Barcelona '36?

I am definitely a fucking twat though, that part is spot on.

Nymphalis Antiopa
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Oct 11 2020 05:31
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you're all a bunch of fucking twats

Personally I'd love to be a twat fucking, so this is probably a compliment, unless jospanner is so 19th century-prudish that s/he thinks women's genitals fucking is something to be disapproved of.

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Oct 11 2020 10:04

Octavio Alberola has written a tribute to him

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in the posthumous tributes, there have been frequent references – more or less well-meaning – to his anarchist activism and his conception of anarchism. Although it needs to be highlighted that he did not enjoy being classified as an “anarchist anthropologist” because, in his view, anarchism is a practice rather than an identity: “anarchism is a matter of doing, not of being”. This notion of anarchism prompted him to be an activist for alternative movements, later for Occupy Wall Street and latterly for Rojava, as he thought these movements wide open to anarchism in their praxis and their struggle against inequality and domination. Increasingly, that struggle is driven by ethical and humane precepts and less and less by ideological tenets. Not just because of the machinery of persuasion and coercion widely mobilized – over the past thirty years – to win the ideological war and impose the system by force, but also because the current mode of production is based on consumerist “moral” principles (the right to consume) rather than economic ones and because the objects of desire are always imagined objects. Hence the increasing importance of the imagination in the fight against the capitalist system.

On all of the above grounds, this approach to anarchism strikes me as not merely pertinent and highly relevant but, besides its being the mind-set of David Graeber and fully consonant with his activist militancy, I see it as a logical approach consistent with anarchism’s origins and valid in all times and circumstances.

https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/6t1hcx