David Rolfe Graeber

David graeber
is an American anthropologist and anarchist who is Reader in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London.

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david_graeber104 karma

notice how it's being adopted as a tactic in Egypt now? Because in fact BB tactics were pretty much what people in Egypt were already doing: don't initiate violence towards living beings, be prepared to damage property or government buildings if it makes a political point, and doesn't seriously hurt anyone's livelihood, etc, and if attacked, decide whether you want to be completely non-violent in response, or use non-lethal force of some kind. That's what the Egyptian protestors were already doing. That's how they won the revolution.

It's very odd that liberals and those who think the support of liberals are crucial like Hedges are all for these tactics when employed in Egypt, but are so outraged when anyone even suggests they might be appropriate here that they are willing to turn a blind eye when cops attacks everyone as a response

david_graeber101 karma

well, the Assange question kind of missed the point - we actually did come to an agreement with the drummers without having to threaten them with force. I think his question reflects a fundamental misunderstanding frequently shared by people who grow up in a place where there's police - which is, without police, if someone acts violently or is just an egoistical prick there'd be nothing you can do. This is silly. Modern police have only existed for a couple hundred years and even now, when there's a fight or an egoistical prick, we usually don't call the police anyway.

Actually, even if there's a fight, usually the police don't get involved unless someone is killed or goes to the hospital - because then there's paperwork.

I do think there are some people who are just so damaged, or crazy, or difficult, that it's unfair to others to have to deal with them. If you have to spend 10 or 20 times as much energy dealing with someone's problems or feelings as you do everybody else, you could say, well, yeah, that's undemocratic. Why should we spend all our time worrying about that person when everybody else also has all sorts of problems and issues too but still don't disrupt everything. Some people do just have to be told to leave.

But creating a private police force is certainly not the way to do this.

david_graeber90 karma

That's a bunch of questions! Well let me try to be brief.

I think my family shaped a lot of who I am. My father fought in Spain, my mom was part of the famous (well, used to be famous) labor theater show Pins & Needles. But a lot of this was just a matter of principles and values though. I think my experience of stumbling into a space where the state didn't exist in Madagascar, and then later, of watching horizontal decision-making work in the global justice movement, were real breakthrough points because I realized this stuff actually does work.

I really have enjoyed dealing with the OWS crew in New York. And people in the student movement in London. They are some of my favorite people in the universe.

Hobbies? I must have some of those. Let me try to remember...

david_graeber86 karma

well look, if you really think about it, we're just talking about what we think will happen if state power is taken out of the picture. I think that capitalist markets will not be able to endure under those conditions. Others think they will. But surely we have a common interest in creating the conditions where we can get to see which one of our predictions turns out to be right

david_graeber76 karma

well, what can I say? everyone has to solve these problems for themselves. When people demand purism I usually say "well, sure, I could live in a tree, but what good would that do anyone?" As long as structures of violent inequality exist, anything we do is compromised in some way or another. I guess the only thing to do is to understand we're all in the same boat, try to come up with the compromise that makes sense to you, and try to be as generous of spirit and understanding as you can to others who've come to different conclusions

david_graeber76 karma

oh the Hedges thing. Well, six different times I think people tried to get me in a room to argue with the guy but I said I wasn't going to do it until he at least made some statement withdrawing his most obviously false and inflammatory statements - that the BB was a group of insane irrational primitivists trying to subvert everyone else, etc etc. I said I have been in BBs, if that's what he thinks of me, why would he want to debate me in the first place? He said he refused to go back on anything he said but then constantly tried to get me to engage with him anyway.

Basically his position is now that I was absurd to claim his comments endangered anyone - he's not important enough. It's hard to imagine anyone could really be that dumb. His whole argument is that militant tactics endanger everyone by turning off liberals who might otherwise protest police violence. How can he not have noticed that insofar as this happened, it was almost entirely because of HIM?

david_graeber65 karma

This is a tough one. The tenure system is ostensibly designed to give profs freedom to be politically active and intellectual daring but in fact it seems to have precisely the opposite effect. There is enormous pressure to adopt a mind-set of conformity and timidity that then becomes so much a matter of instinctual habit that even when and if you do get tenure and in theory are free to say or do anything, you don't. On the other hand if you want to be a practicing intellectual and also have food and health insurance where else can you go? All I can say is be very very conscious of the mechanisms and try to set up a strategy of calculated resistance.

david_graeber64 karma

well, I think that anyone who is trying to create a prefigurative space, in the sense of, experiment with what a free society would be like, will be developing some form of consensus process. There's a million ways to do that, and the kind of "formal consensus" that's done in many activist circles in the US might not even be the best, but there's always got to be some principle of how to make collective decisions that include everyone and that don't force anyone to do things they find fundamentally objectionable. I'm not sure if that's a "tactic" exactly, but it's critical in creating a dual power strategy, especially if it's combined with a commitment to decentralization, bottom-up initiative

It might seem odd but I think that the best direct action tactics are those that are conducive to maintaining those horizontal structures, rather than the other way around. I got this idea from APPO in Oaxaca, who decided that either Gandhian-style strict non-violence OR armed rebellion will lead to top-down leadership, military style discipline, and mitigate against democracy. So they came up with something in between, maybe rocks and molotovs, maximum, if attacked, property destruction but no attacks on people, etc etc. But within that middle zone, I think creativity is critical. Never use the same tactics twice. As long as it's within the broad parameters of your principles, leave a space open to make up something surprising and new whenever possible.

david_graeber61 karma

a functional anarchist state? honestly! this is precisely the problem. Let me just cut and paste a section from Fragments where I address this:

For anarchists who do know something about anthropology, the arguments are all too familiar. A typical exchange goes something like this:

Skeptic: Well, I might take this whole anarchism idea more seriously if you could give me some reason to think it would work. Can you name me a single viable example of a society which has existed without a government?
Anarchist: Sure. There have been thousands. I could name a dozen just off the top of my head: the Bororo, the Baining, the Onondaga, the Wintu, the Ema, the Tallensi, the Vezo...
Skeptic: But those are all a bunch of primitives! I'm talking about  anarchism in a modern, technological society.
Anarchist: Okay, then. There have been all sorts of successful experiments:  experiments with worker's self-management, like Mondragon; economic projects based on the idea of  the gift economy, like Linux;  all sorts of political organizations based on consensus and direct democracy...
Skeptic: Sure, sure, but these are small, isolated examples. I'm talking about whole societies.
Anarchist: Well, it's not like people haven't tried. Look at the Paris Commune, the revolution in Republican Spain...
Skeptic: Yeah, and look what happened to those guys! They all got killed! 

The dice are loaded. You can't win. Because when the skeptic says "society," what he really means is "state," even "nation-state." Since no one is going to produce an example of an anarchist state—that would be a contradiction in terms—what we're really being asked for is an example of a modern nation-state with the government somehow plucked away: a situation in which the government of Canada, to take a random example, has been overthrown, or for some reason abolished itself, and no new one has taken its place but instead all former Canadian citizens begin to organize themselves into libertarian collectives. Obviously this would never be allowed to happen. In the past, whenever it even looked like it might—here, the Paris commune and Spanish civil war are excellent examples—the politicians running pretty much every state in the vicinity have been willing to put their erstwhile differences on hold until those trying to bring such a situation about had been rounded up and shot.

david_graeber56 karma


well, I always say that most people don't think anarchism is a bad idea, they think it's crazy. The usual line is "sure, it would be great if we all just got along reasonably without police or prisons but dream on, that'll never happen." I happen to have grown up among people who didn't think it was crazy. My dad wasn't exactly an anarchist, he was a Marxist originally, but he'd fought in Spain, lived in Barcelona when it was run on anarchist principles. He knew it could work, it wasn't crazy. So if it's not crazy, then, what reason is there not to be anarchist?

I'm not sure I have a single favorite author.