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A critical review of David Graeber's Debt

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david graeber
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Jun 14 2012 00:28

Oh yeah, and honestly, "I ignored all his arguments about wage labor and pretended he never made them, even though I made wage labor the major theme of my review, but that's okay because the review had to be short" really doesn't cut it in my book. I mean, he did somehow find space to put in several long quotes from Marxist scripture. But he couldn't find room to even mention anything I said on the very topic he chose to focus on?

Angelus Novus
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Jun 14 2012 00:35

If you're trying to attribute a position to Ingo that wage labor historically precedes capitalist instruments of finance, again, you are way, way, off the mark.

His intent is best summed up by a quote from the Grundrisse (just a short one, though the paragraphs preceding them are worth reading):

It would therefore be unfeasible and wrong to let the economic categories follow one another in the same sequence as that in which they were historically decisive. Their sequence is determined, rather, by their relation to one another in modern bourgeois society, which is precisely the opposite of that which seems to be their natural order or which corresponds to historical development. The point is not the historic position of the economic relations in the succession of different forms of society. Even less is it their sequence ‘in the idea’ (Proudhon) (a muddy notion of historic movement). Rather, their order within modern bourgeois society.

Angelus Novus
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Jun 14 2012 00:39

Regarding the role of free labor in capitalism, Michael Heinrich made an interesting observation with regard to Karl Heinz Roth:

Quote:
In a passage from his book Roth also argues along these lines. He thus criticizes Marx's concept of the “doubly free worker”. The workers, according to Marx, must be juristically free in order to sell their labor power to capital, but must also be free from ownership of the means of production and subsistence, so that they are compelled to do so. Roth establishes that these circumstances at most exist in the capitalist metropolis, whereas they were never dominant in the periphery, as many capitalist relations of exploitation are based upon not free, but violently compulsive labor.

What Marx depicts in “Capital” are the capitalistic aspects of capitalism, that is, that what differentiates this mode of production from all pre-capitalist modes of production. One of these is that exploitation can be brought off without a direct relationship of force having to exist between those who exploit and those who are exploited. Force can confine itself to the “force without a subject” (cf. Heide Gerstenberger 2006) of the bourgeois state, which forces bourgeoisie as well as proletariat to obey the same rules: every person is free and equal, property is secured, the usual form of association is the contract, and a failure to observe it is threatened with sanctions.

Relations of exploitation between unequal parties and exploitation of the non-free exist in all pre-capitalist modes of production. But the fact that there is no necessary contradiction between personal freedom and juridical equality on the one hand and exploitation on the other is principally new. But historical capitalism does not coincide with this ideal average, and is rather an agglomeration of capitalistic and non-capitalistic elements. But in order to analyze these connections, rather than merely describe them, one must have a concept of that which is “capitalistic.”

This is from the text "Invaders from Marx", I think it's here on Libcom.

david graeber
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Jun 15 2012 05:00

I'm sorry, the idea that the sequence of events is irrelevant is simply absurd. If all capitalist money forms including capitalist credit can exist in the absence of wage labor, and did originally exist in the absence of wage labor, you simply cannot say that capitalist system is in its essence a system of wage labor and that anyone who says that its money forms, including credit, can be explained without reference to wage labor is missing the point. Unless, that is, you are arguing that the moment wage labor appears, all of these new apparently capitalist forms that had emerged in the absence of wage labor suddenly become something entirely different than before, without that fundamental change of essence having any significant effect on their observable forms or laws of motion.

I suppose that could be his position: that capitalist money forms emerge in the absence of wage labor, but that they nonetheless become entirely premised on wage labor, at least, once wage labor does appear, because wage labor somehow totally changes their essence without changing any aspect of their form. But if so, what exactly does his critique consist of? "I say there is a formal distinction here even though it makes no practical difference?" That's sheer scholasticism!

For example, if he really wants to argue that credit exists only under class relations characterized by wage labor, he is either arguing that (a) credit institutions like commercial banks backed by central banks could only exist under wage labor, which is factually incorrect, or (b) those credit institutions weren't credit institutions in that earlier period even though they operated in exactly the same way as later credit institutions did. So all you're doing is making a circular argument: 'since "credit" only really exists under capitalism, and capitalism is based on class relations of wage labor, those earlier forms of credit couldn't have been credit. They must have been some unspecified other thing that looked and operated exactly like it.' What precisely is the point of this exercise? It really does seem to turn Marxist theory into something closer to Medieval scholasticism, the mere assertion of definitions, drawn on the authority of scriptural texts, whether or not it makes the slightest actual practical difference in the world.

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syndicalistcat
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Jun 14 2012 04:41

I think it's too non-dynamic to talk about some essence of capitalism based on wage-labor. Over time in countries where capital is accumulated, however, social production expands at the expense of household production and those engaged in social production do get progressively reduced to wage-labor. Also, it's probably a good idea to think of classes as groups of families or households. In the 1600s and 1700s in England there were large numbers of wage-laborers in agriculture...a fact that presumably came out of the enclosures. But until the factory system emerged...around 1830s in USA and France I guess...the dominant manufacturing organization was the putting-out system. Were they "wage laborers"? well, it's sort of like asking this nowadays with the various fake schemes of self-employment like port truckers in the USA.

But capitalists moved away from the putting out system to set up direct managerial power over workers, via the factory system, to secure more profits, via controls against pilfering of supplies, and especially controlling how hard & long people worked. Capitalism tended to expand the length of time people in social production worked annually...a trend that first emerged in the 1700s under the putting out system and became more extreme once the factory system emerged. In the USA most farmers, the largest producer group, were basically subsistence farmers til aways into the 1800s. And here taxes and credit schemes have something to do with the trend towards commercial farming and also increasing reduction of those who could make a living farming.

So, it seems to me that wage-labor...that is, direct dominance of workers by managerial systems established by capital owners...did historically tend to increase over time within capitalism. Increasing dependence on the market for people's consumption went hand in hand with this process, as did expansion of markets.

Also, in the earlier days of capitalism there was extensive use of highly repressive forms of forced labor, such as chattel slavery. About 2/3 of the European laborers in colonial America were "bond-servants" who were actually bought and sold and held as chattel. But there was a tendency for struggles of workers to gradually expand their liberty and make these earlier repressive, slave-like forms of labor exploitation gradually be liberalized into wage labor.

There are certainly other forms of exploitation besides wage-labor. There is "accumulation by dispossession," such as the seizure of American Indian lands. There are forms of windfall profits from ownership of land and real estate. There are things like profits from check cashing joints and other credit operators. And exploitation thru rents as with landlords. But it does seem to me that especially as capitalism develops, direct exploitation of labor becomes increasingly central to capital accumulation and to the system's functioning. People who want to deny this, it seems to me, want the focus of radical politics to be somewhere other than the workplace struggle with employers. But the eventual takeover of the system of production by workers has to be central to working class liberation and the destruction of capitalism.

Altho forms of informal work has grown...especially in the socalled third world...in the core capitalist countries the wage-worker class is definitely the majority...as shown for example in Zweig's "The Working Class Majority". To the extent the source of profit for core-centered capital has shifted more to the periphery in recent years, this is related to the huge growth in wage-labor in the periphery, as in China.

mdb
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Jun 14 2012 05:43

The way I read it, David's (David? Graeber? Mr. Graeber? I'm bad with vocatives.) book starts out with a notion of debt as being something like the opposite of what Marcel Mauss describes in the The Gift: instead of constituting societies through relations of equality mediated by the exchange of material objects, debt constitutes societies through relations of hierarchy mediated through material objects used to record those relationships, which have become progressively more abstract until they start to become recognizable as what we call money and the state. The reason there is no theory of capitalism per se in the book is that what we recognize as capitalism is not an autonomous entity: it's an epiphenomenon of the state. We recognize what capitalism is by recognizing its continuity with 'pre-modern' social forms, not its discontinuity. This is why the vast majority of the book is devoted to laying out a description of the things that money and the state -can- be.

The point of the book isn't to historically account for the existence of obligation, then the state, then wage labor, or any other category--though wage labor's a particularly awkward example as a category here. It's to revise our understandings of the meanings of those terms-or even question our understanding that any such given term could mean a single thing. Given this I especially don't see the point of arguing about whether or not wage labor can be logically shown to exist in x whatever. That already assumes a whole bunch of things about the status of social categories.

I mean, there have been a million readings of Capital based on making nuanced distinctions between the empirical accuracy of it as a historical argument and the internal coherence of it as a critique. I don't see why Marxists can't return the favor to a different book.

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Joseph Kay
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Jun 14 2012 08:29

I think this disagreement hinges on Marx's method of abstraction. In Debt, Graeber argues that:

Debt wrote:
What everyone seems to forget is the “as if” nature of his analysis. Marx was well aware that there were far more bootblacks, prostitutes, butlers, soldiers, pedlars, chimneysweeps, flower girls, street musicians, convicts, nannies, and cab drivers in the London of his day than there were factory workers. He was never suggesting that that’s what the world was actually like.

Now, Marx surely was aware of the demographics of his city of residence. But does that make Capital an 'as if' analysis? I don't think so. Capital is an immanent critique of political economy. But it is not just that. The purpose of Marx's immanent critique is to lay bare what is unique to the (bourgeois) society which produces Smith, Ricardo et al. Marx famously wasn't just trying to understand the world (or criticise others' understanding of it), he was trying to change it.

So Marx employs a method of abstraction to set out the inner logic of capitalism and what distinguishes it from previous social formations. Central in this account is indeed the contract between doubly free labour and the capitalist ("He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but — a hiding."). But Marx makes clear that Moneybags and the rest of his cast are personifications of economic categories, not historical figures.

The claim advanced here is not a historical one about the numerical dominance of free wage labour*, but an argument that the novelty of capitalism is that its form of surplus extraction (something common transhistorically to all class societies) is fully compatible with formal freedom and equality (something which is historically novel). So pointing out the number of bootblacks in Victorian London is neither here nor there (except perhaps to illustrate how Marx's method of abstraction got beyond the messy appearances of Victorian London to say something about capitalism which remains relevant today).

Now sure, that means any comprehensive historical account of the rise of capitalism needs to deal not just with the 'primitive accumulation' and subsequent free wage labour discussed by Marx, but also slavery, bonded labour, unpaid domestic labour, and the 'uneven and combined' nature of development which not just creates cores of advanced capitalism, wage labour and liberal rights but also peripheries of 'underdevelopment' (from a capitalist POV), unfree labour, informal economies...; plus issues of state formation, war and military competition and so on. But to do so while explaining rather than simply describing capitalist development, you need a theory of what capitalism is.

I think Marx does that, Debt doesn't. That's not really a damning criticism as it doesn't set out to. But it does seem a fair criticism to point out that Debt tends towards historical continuities (in the form of a cyclical periodisation based on forms of credit) rather than discontinuities. What's at stake here seems to be the other aspect of Marx's problematic, not just capitalism but its overthrow. Taken alone, the debtor-creditor relation doesn't seem to offer much here. Individuals are debtors. So are states. So are corporations. But the 'meaning' of debt is very different depending on class position (I'm sure Graeber would agree).

State debt means imposing austerity on the working class. Corporate debt might mean layoffs or restructuring, principally hitting the workforce. Individual debt can lead to forclosure or bankruptcy. The shit flows downhill, which is to say analysing debt in capitalism requires a class analysis (which is not the same as debtors revolting against usurors). This seems to reflect the ambiguities in Occupy, which at its most incohate gathers together conspiracy theorists and currency cranks to locate the problem literally in Wall Street (i.e. with finance rather than capital), but at its best pushes for general strikes and resists home foreclosures.

Now maybe in the case of Occupy you could argue the latter comes with the former, and that's a price worth paying (ha, idioms of debt) to open up a social movement where these conversations can happen and people can collectively try to understand the world whilst trying to change it. But is the same ambiguity necessary in Debt? Now as I've said, I do think Debt is trying to smuggle 'communism' back into public discourse, and it is trying to make critique of the market require a critique of the state and vice versa. And maybe these things wouldn't be possible (and the reviews not so complementary) if it was an up front rallying cry to expropriate the expropriators.

But also I think the 'friendly challenge' to Marxism isn't as challenging as Graeber seems to think. Imho, the book was weakest in accounting for the present crisis (quite possibly as it doesn't really say what's historically specific to capitalism). Iirc, it located the crisis in the shared belief in the immortality of capitalism, which causes a system of expanding debt to go into meltdown as it can't go on forever. Thus just as capitalism appears to triumph on a world stage it innaugaurates its own crisis. Now that's actually a pretty Marxist motif (perhaps a playful echo of dialectical teleology?), and yet also draws attention to the intersubjective (shared belief) dimension of capitalism (and in particular financial markets) which is often neglected by Marxist analysis. But as I've said, I think reading Marx's method of abstraction as just an 'as if' critique of the political economists utopias and not an means to lay bare the inner logic of capitalism is a misreading.

* Though the subsequent dominance of wage labour (in the capitalist cores at least) would seem to vindicate the analysis.

Angelus Novus
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Jun 14 2012 08:56

Once again, Joseph Kay articulately and succinctly makes the point I wanted to make in his own words, whereas I had to clumsily resort to referring to quotations.

Sometimes I feel like Noa Rodman.

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georgestapleton
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Jun 14 2012 10:46
Angelus Novus wrote:
georgestapleton wrote:
I'm a total financial history nerd

Can you recommend a good list of titles? (Yeah, I know you probably mentioned some during your Berlin visit, but I didn't write any down)

Errr

Well as I said I'm a financial history nerd but there is a real dearth of decent Marxist or critical writing on the topic. And what little there is to be honest I simply haven't read. So all my recommendations are from straight economic history, which often involves a lot of statistics and econometric analysis.

What I know most about is the banking between 1880 and the 1970s and on that Barry Eichengreen's 'Globalizing Capital' is a brilliant introduction.Although it is a bit turgid.

Further back the work of Larry Neal is very good so "The Rise of Financial Capitalism" and his edited "The Origin and Development of Financial Markets and Institutions: from the seventeenth Century to the Present". Further back still, I haven't read any particular book on it specifically, just papers and chapters here and there. I remember the chapter in Carlo Cipolla's 'Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy, 1000-1700' being good and I remember the chapter in Braudel's 'Civilization and Capitalism' being good as well. (I think that was chapter 1 of vol II).

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Jun 14 2012 14:06
david graeber wrote:
There are lots of potential explanations one can offer, after all. One could argue (a la Brenner) that wage labor was more common in the 16th and 17th centuries than we usually think. Or maybe one could argue as does Jairus Banaji that wage labor is not primarily a matter of free contract at all but of paying the means for workers’ reproduction out of a firm’s income, in such a way that even slaves could be wage labor in a sense. Or one could conclude as I do that free wage labor simply isn’t as central to capitalism as we’d previously assumed.

That last point is a conclusion that Ellen Meiksins-Wood also comes to in Origins of Capitalism. Hence, possibly, why people's thoughts turned to the interaction between political marxism and value theory, further up the thread. However, Wood follows a different line on the role of the development of early financialisation (e.g. Amsterdam stock exchange etc). Incidentally, that did remind me somewhat of a book written from a totally different political perspective - Niall Ferguson's "Ascent of Money". But I've only started reading "Debt", so I'll have to see whether the apparent resonance has any actuality.

david graeber wrote:
In response I threw out an historical observation: that, surprisingly, almost all the key financial innovations which became typical of capitalism, from stock exchanges to national deficit financing through semi-private central banking systems, to various forms of commercial credit, developed not only before the factory system, but before wage labor was in any way dominant, or really all that significant, as a factor in production for the market.

I haven't done the research, but Bryan and Rafferty mention (in Capitalism with Derivatives) that the joint stock company was effectively banned after the collapse of the South Sea Bubble in 1720 (and the parallel scandal in France over the Mississipi Company/Compagnie des Indes), until the legislation of 1844 put it back on a legal footing. It seems, apriori, that there may have been a hiatus in the functioning of the financial instruments and institutions that grew up around mercantilism and early colonialism, at a time coinciding with the emergence of early industrial capitalism. All the early industrial capitalist ventures were sole traders or partnerships in fact. Bryan & Rafferty point to the re-emergence of the joint-stock company (and the capital market) as one of the first game-changing developments in the unfolding of the process of inter-capital commensuration (and competition). It may be entirely coincidental, but it sparked my curiosity. Anyway, I'd best shut up and read the book really...

P.S. If anybody wanted to start another thread about political marxism & value theory and maybe discuss that Knafo paper, as an opener, I'd be up for that. Any takers other than me & Jura?

andy g
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Jun 14 2012 20:12

yeah political marxism thread sounds good. will definitely lurk and post if feel brave enough

Hektor Rotweiler
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Jun 14 2012 20:50

I'm down for the value political marxism thread.

If Graeber joins perhaps he can get the engagement with his argument he craves while also actually engaging with Marxist theory.

RedHughs
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Jun 14 2012 23:55

To my mind, Joseph Kay's argument doesn't quite say enough. Merely showing what's unique about capitalism won't necessarily tell us something. One has to show how what is unique is also decisive.

On this issue, I found Syndicalistcat's discussion to be the clearest counter-argument to the arguments looking for a simple litmus test of what constitutes capitalism. IE, neither the legal existence of joint stock companies nor of simple wage would be sufficient for us to say "ah, that too was capitalism".

The argument would go that the development of modern capital was a back-and-forth process of masses of wealth becoming more mobile and dispossessed people resembling mobile laborers, proletarians until the process made the underlying categories dominant.

While English estates employed wage labor rather than peasants by the 16th century, the resources represented by the estate are not mobile in the fashion of hypothetical farm entrepreneur who buys and sells land, seed, equipment on purely on the basis of anticipated profits (and further, it's worth noting that 16th century yeomen often cultivated their own fields as well as selling their labor and so I don't think a pure rural proletarian class really exist then). The extracting of profits from colonial slavery did go towards the creation of a mobile mass of resources which could become capital but a mass of wage laborers ready for further employment was necessary for those resources to fully take part in capitalist relations. For example, when a colonial slave owner could have his slaves produce all the items he needed for his household, neither he nor his slave provided a strong demand for modern commodities.

So the point is if we have a "M-C+LP-M cycle", the "free movement" of each would reinforce overall capital relations (where M is money, C is commodities and LP Labor Power).

So one might argue that while the "bootblacks, prostitutes, butlers, soldiers, pedlars, chimneysweeps, flower girls, street musicians, convicts, nannies, and cab drivers" of London weren't the strongest exemplars of abstract capitalist categories, their existence as sometime wage-labors and sometime commodity consumer still reinforced the basic capitalist circuit and did little if anything to undermined it (whereas if urban factory workers had had countries homes to go back to if things got ugly, then the ability of capital to be limitlessly mobile would have been interfered with).

I'm perhaps skimping a little on the question of how proletarianhood, commodity production and capital are mutually reinforcing but hopefully one can see the evidence all around one.

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ocelot
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Jun 15 2012 10:21

As discussed - pm & value theory forked.

david graeber
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Jun 16 2012 20:32

Thanks, Joseph, as always you provide a deft and insightful intervention. I agree with most of it, and the criticisms are fair though I might provide some nuance here. First of all, you are totally right. I'm not trying to do what Capital did, I'm not trying to write an overall analysis of Capital, and neither am I trying to write a work that will in any way replace Capital as ideological core for some revolutionary movement. It's not clear to me what's in there that isn't potentially complementary to a Marxist analysis. This is actually what annoyed me a little about some of the critiques - not just by Stultze - they seemed just gratuitously pedantic. (Well, Stultze also just kept attributing position after position to me that I never said and don't hold, so that was a problem too.) But anyway, what actual difference does it make to insist that "credit" in the current sense only exists in capitalism, and that capitalism is based on free wage labor contracts, and therefore my book is terribly flawed in using the word "credit" in other contexts? Even aside from the obvious conceptual problems (which I list, but also, the simple fact that most people, including Marx, didn't think capitalism actually began in the 1770s or 1780s), why is this not just insisting on some pedantic definition with no practical effects?

It would be one thing if the argument was "Graeber does not realize that owing to the rise of wage labor in the late 18th and early 19th century, a new financial system emerged, even if it took the same superficial form as the one that had existed since the 17th century, which had the following crucial effects X and Y. Graeber's failure to notice X and Y means that he cannot account for Profound Historical Consequence Z, which he either (a) explains incorrectly, or (b) doesn't explain even though there is a reason this book really should explain it."

But no. We get nothing like that. Instead the accusation seems to simply be that I don't make a distinction that Marx made, or one that those that the author thinks are the correct interpreters of Marx made, and this is sufficient accusation in itself. Sheer scholasticism. Or at best, there is some vague suggestion that my unwillingness to adopt some Marxist category or another explains why I don't call for a proletarian revolution at the end.

In fact, Joseph is as usual quite right: just as we at OWS developed the rhetoric of the 1% to make it possible to start talking about social class and especially class power in the US where it couldn't be talked about before, so this book is aimed to influence a general audience, but to move it in a broadly anti-capitalist direction. Repeating some of the more pedantic distinctions of orthodox Marxism when they don't even explain anything that directly needs to be explained in the book is not particularly effective praxis in this regard.

However when Marxist arguments did directly bear on the matter that I felt needed to be explained, I certainly did bring them in.

Here one major difference I have with Joseph's post. Actually, no: memory didn't serve you perfectly when it comes to my explanation of current crisis. True, I do mention that capitalism tends to go haywire when it presumes its own eternity but in the chapter that directly addressed the current crisis I didn't identify that as the principle reason. The explanation I did offer was developed directly from that of the Midnight Notes collective (which I cite) and is explicitly Marxian, though Marxian in the tradition of the non-Negrian branch of the post-Workerist tradition, the one that includes people like Harry Cleaver, Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis, and Massimo de Angelis. (This is the tradition that follows Tronti in saying capital is largely reactive to forms of class composition through popular struggle and therefore takes an explicitly political rather than a primarily economistic reading of Capital.) The argument here is that there were two broad cycles of post-war capitalism, each of which represented a different sort of settlement of previous class struggle - the first through Keynesianism and the welfare state, the second the neoliberal stage where political rights no longer came with any economic guarantees and the working class was instead provided with credit, both of which involved mass struggles for inclusion that led to ultimates crises of inclusion and also looked surprisingly similar in form (oil shock, financial shock, visions of ecological catastrophe... - the first crisis of course in the '70s, the second still going on now.) I don't want to rehearse the whole argument again here. But it's entirely based on a Marxian class struggle analysis of a specific, identifiable kind, and I do sometimes find it a little funny that everyone keeps not noticing it's there.

david graeber
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Jun 16 2012 20:39

Thanks MBD!
I prefer David, actually.
We're all comrades here. I mean, I hope!

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Croy
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Jun 16 2012 22:07

This discussion has gone way over my head now but holy shit, is it not cool that we are talking to the actual author on here. Now we just need to resurrect Marx teach him to use the internet sign up to libcom and watch the sparks fly.

david graeber
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Jun 16 2012 22:19
Quote:
"Under pre-capitalist relations, in which production was conducted to meet needs, credit was a means of impoverishment. In contrast, under capitalism, credit is a means of augmenting money – of profit maximization."

Precisely - this is the point where Stutzle's argument is just wildly, completely wrong. Since he also assumes that capitalism is based on wage labor, which basically means "pre-capitalist" for him is anything prior to maybe 1750. But even if you drive capitalism back to c1500, the statement that previous to that date, there were only consumer loans, and that commercial loans, meant to maximize profits, didn't exist, is just so obviously false that it's amazing anyone would even make it. What's more the book has endless references to commercial, profit-maximizing loans throughout history, and often distinguishes them from predatory consumer lending.

In fact I suggest that the very first interest-bearing loans, in Mesopotamia, were profit-seeking commercial loans, and it was only later that temple and court officials and merchants started making the same sort of loans to impoverished farmers, thus creating the first mass debt crises. So his statement is just wildly incorrect by any definition. If he's saying that any commercial, profit-seeking loan is capitalist, and I don't identify such loans as different from consumer loans, this is untrue; and if he's saying such loans didn't exist until "capitalism" emerges at either 1500 AD or 1750 AD, that's just totally, obviously, and easily demonstrably incorrect.

david graeber
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Jun 16 2012 22:29

Actually I've always felt it was probably a good thing Marx never knew the Internet. I keep thinking of him as the very paradigm of the sort of guy who would have been lots of fun to hang around with in person, but who would have turned into a total maniac when placed in front of a computer screen.

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Khawaga
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Jun 16 2012 22:39

21st century Marx can't finish Capital because someone is wrong on the internet.

david graeber
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Jun 16 2012 22:39

Yes, I totally agree, Posi. What makes it even worse is that while Stutzle seems to say he agrees with me that all revolutions are due to debt and abolishing debt and redistributing the land are the only historical revolutionary programs, I never said anything of the kind. The line that all revolutions begin with debt was written not by me but whoever wrote the jacket blurb on the German edition of the book; I never said anything like it and don't believe it to be true; the line about revolutionary programs was actually by the Classicist Moses Finley referring only to the ancient Mediterranean, not to all revolutions ever. I don't even say Moses Finley was necessarily right about Greece and Rome though I imply he is, and he might well be. But that's just Greece and Rome! Of course there have been revolutionary programs demanding other things.

To be fair I'm not sure Stutzle actually said those are the only
revolutionary demands. The sentence is ambiguous and remember it's translated from German.

(I only wish people like him would be fair to me in the same way occasionally.)

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Jun 16 2012 23:11
david graeber wrote:
Actually I've always felt it was probably a good thing Marx never knew the Internet. I keep thinking of him as the very paradigm of the sort of guy who [...] would have turned into a total maniac when placed in front of a computer screen.


^uncanny how little changed from the original images...

Angelus Novus
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Jun 17 2012 00:10
david graeber wrote:
The sentence is ambiguous and remember it's translated from German.

Uhhhh...No.

I'm not sure how your German skills are, David, but "einzig" is not an adjective that allows for any ambiguity of interpretation.

It means "sole", "only", "exclusive". It can mean "unique", but the use of the definite article in the original review doesn't allow for that possibility. Indefinite article would be used to imply something which is merely unique.

david graeber
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Jun 17 2012 01:00

Good to know.
I don't know German. I was just trying to be nice.

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syndicalistcat
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Jun 17 2012 11:27

never mind

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Croy
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Jun 17 2012 11:05
syndicalistcat wrote:
since World War 2 there's been a long line of American anarchist intellectuals who have disparaged the importance of workplace organizing & syndicalism...Bookchin, Goodman. Why isn't Graeber just another in this anti-syndicalist line?

i only went to a talk he gave about "Debt". haven't read the book. but what exactly is the purpose?

Perhaps then you should read it before you imply hes anti syndicalist.

alb
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Jun 17 2012 14:08

By coincidence I've just finished reading it. An interesting read but there's nothing in it to suggest David's either for or against syndicalism or in fact for or against anarchism.

But he does tend to identify capitalism with financial capitalism only and so see it as essentially as a system of making money from creating credit and charging interest, as opposed to making money from investing money in production and extracting surplus value from wage workers (which means that interest is a subdivision of surplus value and a secondary one to profit). He also seems to think that not just the state but that banks too can create credit and money out of nothing.

david graeber
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Jun 18 2012 00:43

Yes, I leave out any particular political identification or prescription in that particular book. I'm pretty up-front about my affiliations elsewhere. Among other things I'm a wob.

RedHughs
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Jun 18 2012 06:00

Hey David,

Is there any way you could put the book online?

I know it's not that expensive but these days where many of us have little, uh, money.

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ocelot
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Jun 18 2012 08:57

It's in the library at aaaaarg.org