The Make-Believe World of David Graeber

[The version of the article below, posted on April 15 and further corrected on May 12, corrects minor typos in the version originally posted and restores italics it omitted.]

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The Make-Believe World of David Graeber:

Reflections on the Ideology Underlying the Failed Occupation of Zuccotti Park

Andrew Kliman, April 11, 2012

pre•fig•u•ra•tion n.
1. The act of representing, suggesting, or imagining in advance.
2. Something that prefigures; a foreshadowing.

make–be•lieve adj.
Imaginary, pretended.

The following is not a commentary on, much less a condemnation of, the Occupy movement––which I support. It is a critique of key facets of the ideology of David Graeber. These facets of his ideology have informed the politics of some of the movement, most notably that of the leadership of New York’s Occupy Wall Street, and they were the theoretical foundation underlying the occupation of Zuccotti Park. In contrast, the greatest strength of the Occupy movement is the fact that tens of thousands of people have brought to parts of it their own hopes and aspirations, and a somewhat greater degree of realism.

Zuccotti Park - New York, NY - Dec 9, 2011 (credit: Rich Lamb / WCBS 880)

The Zuccotti Park occupation was a dismal failure. The functioning of Wall Street was not disrupted. Occupy Wall Street never occupied Wall Street. Even Zuccotti Park was “occupied” only with the consent of the mayor of New York City, and it was cleared out the moment he withdrew that consent. In the end, no autonomous space was reclaimed. The effort to remake society by multiplying and weaving together autonomous spaces is back to Square One. Even worse, precious little progress was made during the occupation in articulating and working out what the movement is for, or how to solve the serious social and economic problems we now confront.

In light of these failures, it would be a grave mistake to try to glide unreflectively into a “Phase II” of Occupy Wall Street. It is time to think seriously about what went wrong and why it went wrong, in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Above all, I am concerned here to make clear the difference between “prefigurative politics” in the proper sense of the term and what Graeber uses the term “direct action” to mean: “acting as if you were already free” (see below). In the proper sense of the term, “prefigurative politics” refers to practices that foreshadow and anticipate a different world, a world that does not exist. “Direct action” in Graeber’s sense refers to practices that make believe that this different world already exists in embryo within the existing one. The latter notion is the one that was tested at Zuccotti Park and that failed the test.

What follows are questions that Ellen Evans and Jon Moses asked Graeber in their interview with him (published in The White Review on Dec. 7, 2011, www.thewhitereview.org/interviews/interview-with-david-graeber/), his answers, and my responses. Although I have not reproduced the whole interview, the questions and answers that appear below have not been edited or shortened.

* * *

Q: The White Review — In the UK we often talk about the ‘right to protest’? Should protest be conceived of in a rights discourse?

A: David Graeber — I find the word ‘protest’ problematic. With ‘protest’ it sounds as though you’ve already lost. It’s as though it’s part of a game where the sides recognise each other in fixed positions. It becomes like the Foucauldian disciplinary game where both sides sort of constitute each other. In that sense, Foucault was right: resistance is almost required to have power. Which is why I like the concept of direct action. I think in a lot of ways we’ve been going backwards. I come from the US so I know what’s going on there better, where the right to protest, to dissent, to oppose the government is explicitly enshrined in the constitution, and yet flagrantly ignored.

R: Andrew Kliman — What Graeber chooses to ignore is the reason why the two sides constitute each other another. The reason is that the one side has indeed already lost.

Oppressors and the oppressed, exploiters and the exploited, capitalists and wage workers, do constitute each other. As Marx put it in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, “there can no longer be any wage-labour when there is no longer any capital.” But this isn’t because workers freely choose to play a “game,” as if they were sitting down in front of a Monopoly board. Since they lack productive resources of their own, they must either become wage workers for capital or starve.

Why do they lack productive resources of their own? Because they’ve already lost. This is an elemental fact, not a psychological attitude. The expropriation of independent peasants’ land was what created the class of wage workers. And every day, they produce wealth under conditions that ensure that the wealth does not belong to them; every day they’ve “already lost.”

The same goes for oppressed peoples and nations. Black people in this country already lost the moment they were captured and put on slave ships. And thus we had a situation in which masters and slaves constituted each other, but not because the slaves freely opted into any game.

The fact that we’ve already lost doesn’t mean that we should give up. We may have lost the battle, but we haven’t yet lost the war.

We have to struggle despite having lost the battle, and in full recognition that we’ve lost the battle rather than by pretending that we can freely choose the terms of struggle and the conditions under which we struggle. As Marx put it in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, “Human beings make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already.” I’ve always thought that this is a rather trivial observation, because it’s so obvious. I still think so, but I quote it here because Graeber rejects it and, as we shall see, his rejection of it is the key to his politics.

Q: The White Review — So, to flesh out the distinctions then: what is the difference between direct action and protest, or direct action and civil disobedience? What is special about the term ‘direct action’?

A: David Graeber — Well the reason anarchists like direct action is because it means refusing to recognise the legitimacy of structures of power. Or even the necessity of them. Nothing annoys forces of authority more than trying to bow out of the disciplinary game entirely and saying that we could just do things on our own. Direct action is a matter of acting as if you were already free.

The classic example is the well. There’s a town where water is monopolised and the mayor is in bed with the company that monopolises the water. If you were to protest in front of the mayor’s house, that’s protest, and if you were to blockade the mayor’s house, it’s civil disobedience, but it’s still not direct action. Direct action is when you just go and dig your own well, because that’s what people would normally do if they didn’t have water. In this respect the Malagasy people are totally engaging in direct action. They’re the ultimate direct actionists, but they’re also in a situation where it’s much easier to get away with it.

R: Andrew Kliman — The “as if” in Graeber’s statement that “direct action is a matter of acting as if you were already free” means that you’re pretending. You’re not free, but you make believe that you are. You can’t make history “under self-selected circumstances,” but you make believe that you can. I’m all for “refusing to recognise the legitimacy of structures of power. Or even the necessity of them.” But pretending that you’re already free when you’re not isn’t a refusal to recognize their legitimacy or necessity. It’s a refusal to recognize facts.

The notion that effective action can be based on pretending that things are different than they actually are strikes me as utterly absurd. How many direct-action anarchists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: None. They just sit in the dark and act as if the light bulb didn’t burn out. Of course, the fact that this notion seems so absurd doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily false. It does mean that this notion is so counterintuitive that we need to be given a good reason to believe that it’s true before accepting it. But Graeber provides no such argument. So don’t believe it.

“Nothing annoys forces of authority more than trying to bow out of the disciplinary game entirely and saying that we could just do things on our own”? Gee, I thought they were more “annoyed” by the sit-down strikes––factory occupations that wrested control of the productive resources––of the 1930s that created the CIO than by the people who dropped out at the end of the 1960s and went off to live in rural communes and just do things on their own. I don’t recall any police who were annoyed enough to use guns and tear gas in order to try to force these folks off of the communes. But that’s what happened when the workers sat down in the factories.

I think that’s pretty direct action. It’s not like writing your congressman to ask that he talk to the company and try to get you higher wages. But according to Graeber’s formulation, the sit-down strikes were not direct actions, because the workers didn’t “just go and dig [their] own well”––in other words, they didn’t just set up their own auto and steel factories “as if they were already free” to do so.

Graeber’s “classic example”––“just go and dig your own well” is very contrived as well as heartbreaking. It is very contrived because it blithely assumes that everyone already has the productive resources––well-digging equipment and access to land to dig on––they need in order to produce what they need. Situations like that are few and far between. And the example is heartbreaking because more than a billion people “don’t have access to safe drinking water,” and World Water Council data indicate that, by 2025, about “3.5 billion people will live in places where water is scarce or becoming scarce.”(1)

Now, Graeber may respond that he meant his example to be one in which people don’t have access to the land to dig on, because the land has been monopolized, but they manage to “just go and dig [their] own well” anyway. But that is also completely unrealistic. They’ll either be barred from the land before they start digging or thrown off it before they finish.

Perhaps the strangest part of his answer is his near-admission that the “direct-action” politics he recommends isn’t going to be effective: “the Malagasy people are … the ultimate direct actionists, but they’re also in a situation where it’s much easier to get away with it.” They can get away with it because they are people who have been abandoned in a place that has been abandoned.

In contrast, the rest of us are in a situation where we can’t get away with it. The extent to which the state and capitalists care about controlling the people and/or the place is the extent to which you’re not going to be allowed “to get away with it.” Wall Street, a place that matters, was never occupied, and even Zuccotti Park, a place that doesn’t really matter, was occupied only with the mayor’s consent. Graeberism has been put to the test, and it has failed: Occupy Wall Street was unable to occupy Wall Street. (Again, this is not a comment about the Occupy movement or the aspirations of the people in it. It’s a comment about Graeberian ideology and its track record on the ground. Thankfully, the Occupy movement is not reducible to that.)

Q: The White Review — Do you think that there’s an anarchist theory of revolution that’s quite different? You’re suggesting a kind of compromise situation where the state still seems to be functioning, where at least it still has the superficial pretence of existing, but at the same time, quietly, it isn’t really there.

A: David Graeber — Yes, it’s like an eggshell theory of revolution. You just hollow it out until there’s nothing left and eventually it’ll collapse.

R: Andrew Kliman — This isn’t a theory. It’s a metaphor, and a rather opaque one. What does it even mean to hollow out the state until there’s nothing left? And how is this hollowing-out accomplished? What does one do when there’s resistance to it being hollowed out?

More importantly, since when is the collapse of the state synonymous with revolution? The state essentially collapsed in Somalia two decades ago and never came back. Is this the revolution Graeber advocates? If not, the collapse of the state is insufficient. Something more is needed in order to make a particular kind of post-state society worth working for and struggling for, but he says nothing about what he’s for, only what he’s against. Much less does he grapple with the problem of what new social and economic conditions will need to be created in order to have a viable and free society. The collapse of the old order and the creation of a new one are not the same thing, and focusing on the former while ignoring the latter just leaves a void, theoretically speaking. Practically speaking, Somalia becomes the image of our own future.

My point is not that confrontation is necessary. Graeber recognizes that it sometimes is. A bit later in the interview, he says, “the Zapatistas are experimenting with … opening up a space of autonomy. I don’t think we can do without confrontation of any kind, I think that’s equally naïve, but the exact mix of withdrawal and confrontation cannot be predicted.”

My point is rather that what he proposes as a solution––acting as if you were already free and “hollowing out” the state until it collapses––is actually no solution at all if you’re forced into a confrontation. Graeber leaves us with this: pretend that things are different than they really are, which provokes a reaction, which in turn leads to a situation in which force decides. You’ve opened up a space of autonomy, until you haven’t. What had supposedly been a space of autonomy has turned into nothing more than a battleground. Lest it be thought that this is a caricature, reflect on the Zuccotti Park occupation.

It would be a different matter if we could be reasonably sure that the “spaces of autonomy” could persist and flourish, that they wouldn’t just devolve into battlegrounds. But Graeber doesn’t believe that any more than I do.

The moment of confrontation with which he ends up is not only a moment in which we confront the other side. It is also a moment in which we finally have to confront the fact that we’re actually not free, and the fact that the capitalist class and its agents won’t allow us to hollow out their state until it collapses. It’s a shame that this is where Graeber ends up. It should have been where he began.

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(1) The World Bank, “Meeting the Global Water Challenge,” web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/ EXTERNAL/ NEWS/0,,contentMDK:21259263~pagePK:64257043~piPK:437376~theSitePK:4607,00.html

Comments

36 Comments on "The Make-Believe World of David Graeber"

  1. Warren Ross on Sun, 15th Apr 2012 2:02 am 

    I am currently reading David Graeber’s “Debt” and enjoying it. However, as someone who has been active in community action in various ways, I recognise the point you are making. This hollowing out infers a lot more resistance than actually exists. The 1% would be happy to ignore or marginalise any protest.

  2. Darren on Mon, 16th Apr 2012 9:04 pm 

    I don’t even know what the egg-shell metaphor means. How does one hollow out a state, capital, or its concomittant social relations? If my work still produces surplus labor-value for the capitalist, what kind of hollowing am I doing? Graeber gives some “help” speaking about Madagascar here, also from that White Review interview:

    “Part of the idea was never to put the authorities in a situation where they lost face, or where they had to prove that they were in charge. They were incredibly nice to them if they didn’t try to exercise power, and made things as difficult as possible if they did. The course of least resistance was to go along with the charade.”

    So the solution is to not try to exercise power either of the state by seizing it or in opposition to it. Just go do your own thing and the state is irrelevant. Sounds like Kliman hit the nail on the head comparing the effectiveness of this approach with those up-state love-ins.

  3. Houyqueen on Tue, 17th Apr 2012 10:30 pm 

    Thank you Mr. Kliman! This “acting as if you’re already free” has always left me with an annoyed feeling similar to when I watched “Life Is Beautiful” at the cinema. This method has allowed for a lot of childish posturing within OWS as when they declared the NYPD head the “ex-chief” and Union Sq. “their park” up until that chief sent his very real force to remove them from “their park”, just as he had before on Wall St. Occupying space and creating the change you want to see in the world is fine if you can get each community to form their own bank, create their own schools and hospitals and form their own cooperatives in terms of food and work but this isn’t going to happen en masse, so the idea of a collapse due to OWS efforts is improbable. A collapse of the State can only lead to an even more nefarious form of fascism no American can imagine and yet the most idealistic of Occupy members imagine a global revolution whereby we all live in a kind of messy but peaceful state of independence from all forms of authority. Its this kind of idealism that prevents OWS from becoming a mass movement as well as what I find the most dangerous about anarchist theory if they were even remotely close to fulfilling their goal (the hollowed collapsed state).

  4. rarara on Sat, 21st Apr 2012 2:39 pm 

    I think Kliman raises some good points here, and this serves well as an initial critique of some of Graeber’s views. But it doesn’t address the fact that, despite their limitations and problems, it was anarchist tactics and imagination — like it or not — that were central to the success that the Occupy movement initially experienced (in shifting public debate and opinion to the Left and constructing an oppositional movement Left of the Democratic Party, and by developing an opposition in towns and cities across the country, centered on issues of economic class, etc.).

    For these reasons, OWS is not a failure, but hopefully, an initial step in a longer development. Yet Kliman doesn’t relate these two levels to one another: (1) Graeber’s ideology, to (2) Occupy’s successes. It is easier to criticize Graeber on an abstract level, than to address the shortcomings of his ideology in relation to the partial successes of the Occupy movement. It’s unfortunate that Kliman doesn’t approach it that way, because that seems to be the critical task of today, rather than abstract Marxist-vs-Anarchist debates which have been raging forever.

  5. Andrew Kliman on Sun, 22nd Apr 2012 10:00 am 

    @rarara: The only connection I can see between the initial success of the Occupy movement and the facets of Graeber’s ideology that I criticized is that OWS became a major ongoing media event because the method of protest (or whatever) was to occupy public space. Most other methods wouldn’t have drawn so much media focus.

    I don’t see much that’s specifically anarchist in the Occupy movement with regard to either tactics or imagination. There’s nothing specifically anarchist about occupations–note, e.g., the 1930s’ sit-down strikes, the tent city erected in Washington by the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, and the campus occupations that took place shortly thereafter.

    And the stuff about “the 1%” and “the 99%” emanates from two economists close to the French Socialist Party, Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. The story I heard is that OWS connected itself to this as a result of Graeber or someone hearing Joseph Stiglitz–another liberal mainstream economist–talk about “the 1%” and “the 99%.” Stiglitz probably got it directly from Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, or else from the New York Times, their main “publicists.”

    New York City OWS was not focused on issues of economic class. When I wrote that “the greatest strength of the Occupy movement is the fact that tens of thousands of people have brought to parts of it their own hopes and aspirations, and a somewhat greater degree of realism,” a couple of the main things I had in mind were the fact that the movement as a whole had a stronger working-class presence and more focus on concrete economic issues than New York City OWS did. The latter’s initial–and very long–list of grievances, for instance, said NOTHING about either unemployment or foreclosures on homes. The fact that these were omitted while student loans became a major economic concern says a lot about the class of those involved. (So do the methods of decision-making, which strongly favor those who have nearly unlimited free time to participate.)

  6. Houyqueen on Mon, 23rd Apr 2012 12:19 am 

    “The fact that these were omitted while student loans became a major economic concern says a lot about the class of those involved. (So do the methods of decision-making, which strongly favor those who have nearly unlimited free time to participate.)”

    That’s absolutely true.

  7. rarara on Mon, 23rd Apr 2012 2:28 am 

    Andrew Kliman wrote: The only connection I can see between the initial success of the Occupy movement and the facets of Graeber’s ideology that I criticized is that OWS became a major ongoing media event because the method of protest (or whatever) was to occupy public space. Most other methods wouldn’t have drawn so much media focus.

    This “method” was a divergence from the standard staged protests. It was a collective civil disobedience that did not form a membership organization behind a platform, but had a radically open general assembly, and constructed a “temporary autonomous zone”, in which a prefigurative politics was to be experimented with. These come out of the anarchist movement, and contain the limitations and problems of that movement as well.

    The “99%” framework is not an anarchist one, agreed. It emerges from the economists you mention, and was taken up as a political slogan by OWS participants.

    NYC OWS is focused on class. Mentions of the foreclosures were part of their statements, as were working conditions, employer and state anti-union measures, and etc. As for foreclosures, NYC OWS is involved in disrupting foreclosure auctions, “occupying” the department of education against cuts to some of the most underfunded schools in the city, and etc. BTW, focusing on foreclosures could however also be framed in a middle-class way, forgetting how they deeply impact the working poor. Student debt is also a class issue, as many graduates are deeply indebted and end up working low-wage service sector jobs, and experiencing downward social mobility.

    As I think through your critique of Graeber again, I think it is just as one-sided as his, or at least of the portrayal you make of his views. According to you, he imagines the free individual capitalist society, whereas you imagine the dominated one, and rely on Marx to substantiate it. Yet, Marx’s point was that we are dominated by our own society, by structures of our own creation. It is fetishism to imagine ourselves to be dominated by something outside of our control. And at the same time, to see that we are subordinating ourselves does not mean that we can simply break out of it by imagining that we are free. We do need to restructure society, something that Graeber would also agree with. The questions is how we do that? And it is my opinion that OWS was able to break open some space on the political terrain and in the political imaginary for alternative positions and alternative practices however limited they are manifested in the Occupy movement. The point however is to discover the limitations, and to push further to open up for further expansion. OWS is not a media campaign nor a debate club. Occupying the urban (and suburban and rural) space was the initial way of opening up space to respond to the status quo, and it attracted broad circles beyond the left to participate!

  8. Andrew Kliman on Mon, 23rd Apr 2012 1:13 pm 

    @rarara:

    Of course the methods of the OWS occupation of Zuccotti Park “come out of the anarchist movement.” What I fail to see is any CONNECTIONS between these methods and the initial success of the Occupy movement (other than the one I mentioned–”OWS became a major ongoing media event because the method of protest (or whatever) was to occupy public space”).

    Thanks for pointing out a misstatement in my prior comment. The initial NYC OWS statement of grievances DID say something about foreclosures. I forgot about that, probably because what it did say was pitiful: “[corporations] have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.” What about legal foreclosures?

    And in a country that has such a huge and intractable unemployment problem, the failure of the statement you cite to address that issue is no small matter. The obvious reason for this failure–which has a lot to do with the class of those involved–is that what you call the “class” focus of OWS is a focus on the intentional actions of corporations (and income inequality). It just wouldn’t do to include the following in the list of grievances: “[corporations] have laid us off because of the recession and have not rehired us because the economy hasn’t really recovered.” That would give credence to the idea that the economic laws of capitalism, rather than corporations and the people who run them, are really in control.

    Which brings me to the key issue–what or who is in control? You write, “Marx’s point was that we are dominated by our own society, by structures of our own creation. It is fetishism to imagine ourselves to be dominated by something outside of our control.” These are two very different statements.

    Marx certainly did not agree with your second sentence:

    “Their own movement within society has for them [the exchangers] the form of a movement made by things, and these things, far from being under their control, IN FACT control them.”

    “[T]he very nature of accumulation excludes every diminution in the degree of exploitation of labour … which could seriously imperil … the capital-relation. It cannot be otherwise in a mode of production in which the worker exists to satisfy the need of the existing values for valorization, as opposed to the inverse situation, in which objective wealth is there to satisfy the worker’s own need for development. Just as man is governed, in religion, by the products of his own brain, so, IN CAPITALIST PRODUCTION, HE IS GOVERNED BY THE PRODUCTS OF HIS OWN HAND. [Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Penguin ed. pp. 167-8 , pp. 771-2; caps added]

    *This* is the core of Marx’s theory of the fetish character of the commodity. The problem isn’t what we imagine, i.e., the products of our brains. The problem is that we are in fact governed by the products of our own hands, by means of the economic laws that are actually in control in capitalist society. So it’s not an illusion to imagine ourselves to be dominated by that which is external and alien (or, if you insist, externalized and alienated). At least Marx didn’t think so, and neither did Raya Dunayevskaya, and neither do Marxist-Humanist Initiative and I.

    Note that the second quote from Marx is the culmination of a discussion of economic slumps and unemployment.

    Note also that there is no contradiction between

    (1) we can’t control something and it controls us,

    and

    (2) we can abolish and transcend that something.

    That fact that you can’t control a raging monster doesn’t imply that it’s impossible to solve the problem by destroying the monster.

    You seem to suggest that I misrepresented Graeber’s views. Evidently, he said the same thing. So I wrote the following to him: “I might have misunderstood, but I can assure you that, as a frequent victim of misrepresentation, I tried my best to be scrupulously accurate. (I quoted whole answers, referred to your actual formulations when critiquing them, consulted other things by you, etc.) And if anything is incorrect, I want to correct it.”

    I haven’t heard back from him yet. If you find anything incorrect in my characterization of his views, please let me know.

    I didn’t say or imply that Graeber thinks that we can “break out of it by imagining that we are free,” as you seem to suggest. “Acting as if you were already free” isn’t at all the same thing as “imagining that we are free.” My point was the *opposite* of what you seem to suggest it was: his politics is the politics of making believe that things are different from how they really are, even though he *knows* that this is make-believe! Note that “acting as if you were already free”–which is not an unfortunate throw-away statement he made in an interview, but a crucial tenet of Graeberian ideology–contains the words “as if” and “were” (rather than are).

    Finally, I should repeat that my article was “not a commentary on, much less a condemnation of, *the Occupy movement*––which I support.” It does not say the movement is a dismal failure, only that the occupation of Zuccotti Park was. You’re correct that it attracted broad participation and opened up political space, but this has nothing to do with the reasons I gave as to why it was a failure. I don’t see that something which fails dismally to achieve its goals is less of a failure merely because it did other things we find desirable.

  9. rarara on Mon, 23rd Apr 2012 4:52 pm 

    Hi Andrew,
    I hope to get back to your substantive comments soon. But just for now, your insistence on repeating your claim that the occupation of Zuccotti Park to be a failure is an interesting one. Failure in what regards? I kind of doubt that Graeber believed that the occupation would lead to the surrender of the financial sector. It might be regarded as a success simply on the grounds that intelligent and experienced leftists like yourself see it as a “failure” because it did not bring down capitalism. That’s a really high expectation, a measure itself of what the young movement has already achieved in such a rapid amount of time!

  10. Andrew Kliman on Tue, 24th Apr 2012 2:23 am 

    Hi rarara,

    I don’t “see it as a ‘failure’ because it did not bring down capitalism.” I see it as a failure largely because, as I noted in my last comment, it “fail[ed] dismally to achieve its goals.”

    I do think it’s important to understand the occupation strategy in terms of its actual goals, and in terms of the ideology underlying both goals and strategy. And I think it’s important to evaluate it in terms of whether it succeeded in accomplishing its own goals rather than in terms of external criteria.

    This is what Graeber told Amy Goodman right at the start of OWS:

    “The system is not going to save us; we’re going to have to save ourselves. So we’re going to try to get as many people as possible to camp in some public place and start rebuilding society as we’d like to see it.” [1]

    (Notice that this precisely expresses his notion of “acting as if you were already free,” not prefiguration in the proper sense. He didn’t say, “*foreshadow* the kind of society *that* we’d like to see,” but “*start rebuilding* society *as* we’d like to see it.” And notice that he’s not just speaking for himself here.)

    This is what Bloomberg Businessweek reported as Graeber’s goals for 2011:

    “David Graeber likes to say that he had three goals for the year: promote his book, learn to drive, and launch a worldwide revolution.” [2]

    And this is what he said in a recent interview with Ross Wolfe:

    “It’s not like everything we do corresponds to a logic of capitalism. There are those who’ve argued that only 30–40% of what we do is subsumed under the logic of capitalism. Communism already exists in our intimate relations with each other on a million different levels, so it’s a question of gradually expanding that and ultimately destroying the power of capital, rather than this idea of absolute negation that plunges us into some great unknown.” [3]

    So, the goal was to save ourselves by starting to rebuild society. Was the occupation at all successful in doing so? Did it start a worldwide revolution? Did it help to gradually expand “communism” in a lasting manner and thereby ultimately destroy the power of capital?

    [1] http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2012/01/25/one-of-the-founders-of-occupy-wall-street-david-graeber-answers-your-questions-on-slog., about 1:44 into interview

    [2] http://www.businessweek.com/printer/magazine/david-graeber-the-antileader-of-occupy-wall-street-10262011.html

    [3] http://platypus1917.org/2012/01/31/interview-with-david-graeber/

  11. robert augman on Tue, 24th Apr 2012 3:16 am 

    Hello again Andrew,
    Another short reply. The quotes you provide make me even more sympathetic to Graeber’s position than previously. The occupation of Zuccotti Park did not start a worldwide revolution, but it did ignite (or further develop what had begun in North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Chile) an international movement that continues to develop as an oppositional social movement. That’s not bad and can hardly be described as “failure”. That is the framework to use when assessing OWS.
    Also, I find it reassuring that Graeber described the encampment *not* as “foreshadowing” the kind of society he’d like to see, but as an attempt to create it. I think it shows less his naivete, which you seem to want to portray, and more his understanding that this entails conflict with the existing order. He did not call for the creation of a commune outside of society, but in the center of the financial district of New York City.
    I doubt he believed that Zuccotti Park would overthrow capitalism, like I said. Igniting a country-wide (and international!) movement is quite a successful action though.
    There are limitations, probably ones that he hasn’t considered, about this strategy. But at the moment, it seems to me that the movement is in a phase of contesting private and public space for the congregation of the public, to politicize the crisis (to take it out of the shadows, to reject the individualization and moralization of it as the result of personal failure), and to create counter/alternative social forms. (The occupation of the Berkeley farm yesterday is only the latest example that I know of of this ongoing movement).
    These experiments will fail and be reborn, and those failures and limitations are both due to internal and external factors. But with the Occupy movement, we do have the emergence of an oppositional movement, which no, can not be simply defined as anti-capitalist (I agree with your earlier criticism of OWS’s limited opposition to illegal foreclosures without opposing the legal ones; though I don’t that statement defines the movement as a whole, as other actions have been more radical.), yet which is developing in conflict with specific forms of current capitalist policy and law. The limitations of the movement — as well as its successes — are not the result of David Graeber’s “ideology”.

  12. Anne on Tue, 24th Apr 2012 11:35 am 

    Hi Rob,

    At the risk of repeating what has been said several times:

    1. Andrew is not saying the Occupy movement is a failure; on the contrary, he praises it highly. He is talking about the specific failure to “re-claim public space,” in the case of Zuccotti Park, for longer than 2 months and then only with the consent of the government, and the failure to do even that in a way that affected Wall Street at all (repeat: we’re talking about the occupation itself, not the demonstrations–although they were not massive enough to disrupt either–and certainly not the people around the world who were encouraged in their own struggles by seeing Americans demonstrating “in the belly of the beast.” OWS got a lot more publicity than did other struggles, for example, the actual occupations and liberation of apartment houses by the poor in Spain and Brazil, and the small housing occupations around this country, all of which preceded OWS.) We are talking about whether the occupation succeeded on its own terms.

    2.Andrew’s critique of Graeber’s ideas has nothing to do with, nor does it imply, any personal criticism of nor animosity toward Graeber (contrary to your phrase above, “his naivete, which you seem to want to portray”). Andrew is dealing with ideas, not personalities. Let’s continue to examine ideas.

    3. I don’t think Graeber is the least bit naive; I think he knows exactly what he is saying, and means it to be taken literally. The issue, then, is whether a new society, or the beginnings of one, can be constructed in his manner. Call me a Marxist-Humanist, but I think it cannot be.

    BTW, when I attended a colloquium with Graeber and I counterposed his view to the systemic and all-encompassing nature of capitalism and the need to uproot it before we can actually create a new society, his response, under his breath, was that of course I thought you have to seize state power. I had said not a word about state power, nor do I wish to seize it–I wish to smash it, as did Karl Marx. Graeber’s remark was, I believe, an attempt to lump together and denigrate Marxists into one type. It’s clear that he is presenting an anarchist view that contrasts with Marx’s. I say: let’s have that debate outright, and not subsume it under the excitement of Occupy.

    Anne Jaclard

  13. robert augman on Thu, 26th Apr 2012 4:15 am 

    Hi Anne,
    Yes I agree there are internal ideological limitations with the autonomist/anarchist view, which has a limited approach to capitalist society based on voluntarism. I find however Andrew’s response to be limited in the other direction, in which capitalist society is presented as a closed structure, insulated from agency. (You argue that the new society can not be created until capitalism is abolished. That also closes off the possibility of agency, in my view.) These are old debates which emerge again because of OWS. I think OWS reveals the strengths and weaknesses of both views, which in the end shows both to be limited. I like David Harvey’s recent attempt to analyze both positions and to point towards new possibilities for left praxis, which he laid out in his new book, Rebel Cities. A short(ish) selection of it is here: http://rarara.blogsport.eu/2012/03/26/d-harvey-towards-urban-revolution/#more-17 (It is an earlier version of a text which he included in the book.)

  14. Anne on Thu, 26th Apr 2012 12:56 pm 

    Hi Rob,

    1. You are still not addressing the question of whether Andrew’s critique of Graeber’s and similar theories is valid. If the critique is valid–and therefore Graeber’s theory cannot get us to a new society–then we don’t help the process by saying, well, it has some good points. The fact that OWS inspired an uprising of dissent is not the issue–as we’ve said, that’s great. Rather, the issue in this discussion is whether Graeber’s theory is capable of taking us further than the short-lived occupation of Zuccotti Park went, or whether it is a dead end that will lead new movements that follow it to defeat.

    2. Apparently, there was some discussion of its failure within the inner circles of OWS: I heard Graeber speak last night at CUNY Grad Center, and the history of OWS that he gave included “two months of recriminations” between the eviction and the recent resumption of certain activities (which was actually 4 months). MHI believes that an evaluation of Zuccotti Park needs to take place publicly, and that it is vital that we do not just declare a “Phase II” without discussing what happened to phase I. That is why we are is holding public meetings on the subject.

    3. The CUNY Grad Center event last night was to launch Harvey’s new book that you mention, and he spoke too. I haven’t read the book, but from what he said about it, I don’t understand how organizing people city-wide is anything new or contra to Marx’s view of workers’ revolution. The people in the cities are workers! It seemed to me he was trying to make a distinction from Marx just to be “new” and satisfy the anti-Marxists.

    The overwhelming idea one gets from both Graeber and Harvey is that they are the ones who develop theory “for” the masses, or more precisely, they reduce their theories to strategies and direct the movements to follow them. I find this extremely elitist. I’ll say more about all this elsewhere.

    4. You can’t possibly mean that Marxist-Humanism ignores the power of the subject; we talk endlessly about “masses in motion” making history, we feature social movements as “forces of revolution” in our web journal, etc.etc. The problem with your very general statement above, is that it seems to present the possibility of “voluntarism” creating a new society without smashing the mode of production that dominates or influences every aspect of life in this one. Smashing capitalism is a necessary, though not sufficient, part of the process; the creative part, establishing a new society, cannot develop freely while the vast majority of people are forced to work in the capitalist mode in order to survive, to compete within it if they try to strike out on their own, to have their time and energy stolen by it, and to have it dominate their social relations.

    The problem is, you can’t embrace two mutually exclusive theories at once.

    Best,
    Anne

  15. Andrew Kliman on Thu, 26th Apr 2012 1:31 pm 

    Hi Rob,

    Well, I’m glad we’re finally all talking about the real issue, the real point of division here.

    I don’t think anything we’ve written says or suggests that “capitalist society is … a closed structure, insulated from agency” or “closes off the possibility of agency.” I don’t have the power and ability to fly by running off a cliff and flapping my wings. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have agency. I do have the power and ability to fly by getting on an airplane.

    The Zuccotti Park occupation was an attempt to fly by running off a cliff. It plummeted 2000 feet, went splat, and died.

    Or, as I put it above, “That fact that you can’t control a raging monster doesn’t imply that it’s impossible to solve the problem by destroying the monster.” The claim that we can control a raging monster, and the claim that we can live as as if we were already free of the raging monster (because it allegedly subsumes under its logic only 30–40% of what we do), DO NOT affirm agency to a greater degree than does the claim that we can destroy the raging monster.

    On the contrary, the first two claims are generally consequences of what you would–to be consistent–have to describe as the “closing off of the possibility of agency,” i.e., the denial that we can destroy the raging monster. For instance, the following by David Graeber: “I think that kind of totalizing logic ends up requiring a total rupture. Perhaps after the revolution we can *imagine* a rupture, whereby we now live in a totally different society, but we all know it’s not going to happen through a total rupture.” [http://platypus1917.org/2012/01/31/interview-with-david-graeber/]

    So agency is NOT the issue here.

    The issue is: can a new society be created within capitalism, for instance by multiplying and weaving together autonomous spaces, “camp[ing] in some public place and start[ing to] rebuild[ ] society as we’d like to see it”?

    I think the logical impossibility of this is demonstrated in Marx’s _Capital_. If one wants empirical evidence, take the Zuccotti Park occupation. Huge public support, lots of media attention (so it couldn’t be crushed surreptitiously), lots of money and resources (e.g., donated food), lots of very committed people. This was a far cry from Chiapas in 1994; it’s hard to imagine more favorable conditions than this. But when the ZP occupation ran off the cliff, it plummeted 2000 feet, went splat, and died.

    What I tried to do in the article was explain why, so that it doesn’t have to happen again. You say that such things “will fail and be reborn.” At least we’re finally on the same page about it having failed. But your comment is too fatalistic for me, and (dare I say it) one that “closes off the possibility of agency.”

    It is not inevitable that efforts to remake society by multiplying and weaving together autonomous spaces “will fail and be reborn.” Rational people don’t keep doing what fails; they think through why they failed, in order to figure out what not to do, and then do things differently.

    In fact, OWS is not repeating the failed occupation strategy. There has been no real effort to occupy space in NYC during the last 5 months. I think its bigwigs (a term I use because there are no “leaders”) know that it failed, and that this is why they’re not doing the same thing all over again.

    That’s good, but not good enough. The problem is that the underlying ideology that generated the failure isn’t being interrogated and challenged. If left unchecked, it will keep generating failures.

    Of course, in terms of empirical evidence, the ZP occupation is just a “single data point” . But everything I know of that’s been pointed to as a successful alternative to capitalism within capitalism either (a) does not involve production and reproduction (in the economic sense)–so it is not a real example of the rebuilding of society–or (b) is actually capitalist or dependent on capitalism for its survival.

    What I mean by “dependent on capitalism” is stuff like the use of non-member temp workers in the Mondragon cooperatives. If the cooperatives, rather than the capitalist system, were responsible for these people, what would happen. First, they could make these people equal members, and pay them good money even if there were no work for them to do. This would greatly increase the costs of production, especially because all of the unemployed people in Spain would rush to join the cooperatives. The cooperatives would quickly become uncompetitive and go bankrupt. Second, they could employ these people as needed, and lay them off as needed and dole out unemployment and welfare benefits or just wait for them to emigrate or die. I.e. turn into open rather than disguised capitalists.

  16. Andrew Kliman on Thu, 26th Apr 2012 2:26 pm 

    One more thing, having read the Harvey piece that Rob linked to. What Anne and I talking about has almost nothing to do with the “both positions” that Harvey discusses.

    He says nothing about the position that we’re putting forth. I’d like to see him do so. Or, even better, I’d like to debate him.

    Our position has very little to do with “a hostile credit system and the predatory practices of merchant capital” making it impossible for “[w]orkers control in relatively isolated production units” to survive. It has to do with the economic laws of capitalist *production* making it impossible for putative alternatives to capitalist production to survive, for reasons that have nothing fundamentally to do with commerce and finance.

    This is so whether we’re talking about “relatively isolated production units,” or “socialism in one country,” or Harvey’s novel twist, which is middle of the road in terms of size and centralization, “socialism in one city.” The problem is that his twist is only about size and centralization, as if these were the crucial issues. It has nothing to do with overcoming the laws of capitalist production, which isn’t a matter of finding the right size and degree of centralization.

    Our position also has nothing in common with one in which the solution is for “[t]he state … to control the three circuits of capital and to tame the institutions, powers and class agents that managed the flows that supported the perpetuation of the class relation in production” (whatever that might mean). A socialist society is classless society, so there are no class antagonisms and thus no need for a state. And we certainly don’t think that state control of capital(ism) is any kind of solution. We’ve opposed this since 1941, when Dunayevskaya first argued that the USSR was a state-capitalist society.

  17. Elizabeth on Tue, 1st May 2012 8:03 am 

    I agree and disagree with your analysis, Andrew.
    I disagree that the occupation “failed”; it’s true it did not disrupt Wall Street physically but it was like a cup of strong coffee for America; people have started waking up and seeing the rapaciousness of unfettered capitalism. Income inequality is now being debated everywhere.
    I agree that David Graeber lives in a fantasy world, as do many anarchists, sadly. I believe anarchism has something to offer the world in that it gets us to challenge our notions of authority v. self-determination, but it fails to articulate a model of a society that could actually exist.
    In my opinion the OWS movement is currently engaged in a fantasy that random protests and unorganized boycotts can create total system change. Meanwhile, I’m afraid Marxists such as yourself may believe in a revolution that isn’t coming. The US is still a democracy although perhaps not for long, but things would have to get a lot worse for the average person to participate in an actual revolution of any type. Our best hope is for a resurgence of unions and actual, organized worker strikes (not student walk-outs and symbolic strikes) coupled with a re-engagement in democracy by the American people, coupled with a self-sufficiency movement (already starting) that would undermine some of capitalism’s power by taking away its customers. I don’t totally disagree with Graeber about “digging your own well;” although in the beginning these acts may seem futile, it really depends on how many people engage in them. But most people won’t engage in action of any kind without the framework of some type of organization, something anarchists abhor. Some type of leadership with an actual platform and strategy has to emerge and then people have to act together–yes, they have to follow orders–something anarchists abhor. But it’s the only way major change of any type occurs.

  18. Andrew Kliman on Wed, 2nd May 2012 5:14 pm 

    @ Elizabeth,

    I actually don’t think that David Graeber lives in a fantasy world. He’s not delusional, and I have no evidence that he misperceives the way things actually are. What I mean by “the make-believe world of David Graeber” refers to the make-believe inherent in the practices he advocates, not any delusions or misperceptions. Specifically, his celebration of “acting as if you were already free” is in effect a celebration of practices that ignore the way things actually are and make believe that they are different.

    When I say that the occupation failed, I mostly mean that it failed to achieve its goal. The goal was “to try to get as many people as possible to camp in some public place and start rebuilding society as we’d like to see it” (David Graeber). Something can completely fail to achieve its goal and still do some good.

    I agree that the occupation helped draw attention to inequality. This may have done more good than bad, but I’m not sure. It deflected attention from more important economic and social problems. And to some extent the fingering of “the 1%” is a attempt to create scapegoats, which makes me very uneasy, to say the least. I don’t think inequality was a cause of the Great Recession and I don’t think that greater equality in the U.S. would solve the persistent economic malaise or even greatly improve the standard of living of most people in the country. The rise in inequality during the last decade has been greatly exaggerated and misunderstood. And the IRS data, which showed a much greater increase in inequality through 2007 than other income data (because the IRS uses a different concept of income) also show that the top 1%’s share of income was much lower in 2009 than in 2007, and also lower in 2009 than in 1997.

    I don’t know whether there will be a revolution or not. Predictions aren’t very useful here, because fundamental upheavals often seem to come from out of the blue. How many people predicted Arab Spring and the whole wave of oppositional activity of the past year and a half? I do know that the perspective of trying to achieve fundamental and *lasting* reform of capitalism for the better hasn’t worked, for very good reasons. And nothing new has happened to make it a more realistic perspective now. So it seems to me that it’s best for me to focus on trying to be ready to help revolutions, if they do come about, move forward toward the creation of a new society, not backward.

  19. Dan Lambert on Wed, 9th May 2012 2:26 pm 

    Hi All
    If we are serious about replacing capitalism with communism the means we employ must equal the end, or as Tom Paine wrote “The power must fit the pupose”. With that in mind I recommend A look at this.
    For a life without price
    Dan
    http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/our-object-and-declaration-principles

  20. Ray Armstrong on Wed, 9th May 2012 5:27 pm 

    I think many of you might enjoy reading the Standard… http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/sites/default/files/Socialist%20Standard%20May%202012.pdf

  21. Mark on Wed, 9th May 2012 5:30 pm 

    “But most people won’t engage in action of any kind without the framework of some type of organization, something anarchists abhor.”

    Elizabeth, this is nonsense. If anarchists abhor organisation, why were there somewhere around a million people in the CNT at its height? Even now it has 50,000 members.

    Why in my country do we have the Anarchist Federation and the Solidarity Federation? There are even discussions here that we have too many national groups and are spreading ourselves too thinly (given the creation of Liberty and Solidarity, Collective Action and (libertarian communist rather than anarchist) The Commune).

    Why are there Anarchist Internationals – the IAF/IFA, the IWA, Red and Black Co-ordination and (less formally I think) Anarkismo?

    Why are there still debates over whether the Platform is the best organisational principle or not?

  22. MHI on Wed, 16th May 2012 4:04 pm 

    We’re posting the conversation in progress from Joe Lm’s Facebook page to here so that those who aren’t FB friends can have a say:

    Recomposition.info: some heavy charges here, wondering what Andrew Kliman has to say in response: http://recomposition.info/2012/05/15/direct-action-makes-history/

    Jonathan: Oh, snap. Maybe one day I’ll bring my folding chair and throw my hat into this smackdown.

    Andrew Kliman: Maybe I’ll respond, but I’d like to know what this website/group is and who the author is. She misunderstands a good deal–she thinks I’m advancing a position when I’m engaged in internal critique of Graeber, and she imputes views to me that I don’t state and don’t hold.

    Joe: I’ll let Марьяна Линабат speak for herself when she has time to respond.

    Марьяна: Hi Andrew. I’m addressing your distortion of direct action and your criticisms of OWS. These are, admittedly, not the main points you were trying to make in your piece, but they are there.

    Andrew Kliman: Hi Mariana. No, they actually aren’t there. You think they’re there because you construe an internal critique as a positive position and because you infer things about what I think that I didn’t say.

    Joe: ‎Jonathan, want to jump in here?

    Jonathan: Not until I get a giant foam finger for my efforts.

    Joe: done and done!

    Марьяна: Andrew, what concrete forms of struggle would you validate coming from OWS? (Besides occupying the Stock Exchange.)

    Andrew Kliman: I’ve never thought about this, because I’m completely opposed to intellectuals and/or vanguards leading or trying to lead mass movements. I think the question reflects the same misunderstanding as your critique–I have nothing against occupation of space in principle. What I wrote was “In the end, no autonomous space was reclaimed. The effort to remake society by multiplying and weaving together autonomous spaces is back to Square One.” http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/alternatives-to-capital/the-make-believe-world-of-david-graeber.html ; this is a comment about a certain strategy and perspective for the remaking society, not about a form of struggle.

    Марьяна: Well in the first place I don’t see why you wouldn’t just join the movement, intellectual or not, but the force of my question is this: you’ve taken it upon yourself, as an intellectual, to criticize the prefigurative politics of this mass movement, so I ask: what forms of struggle, right now, would avoid the charges you are levelling?

    Andrew Kliman: What does “join” mean? I support the Occupy movement, as I said, and my comrades and I have participated in many events, most recently on May 1. But I think there needs to be a dual movement of theory and practice; dissolving oneself into a mass movement isn’t a good alternative to the vanguard party-to-lead. I have not criticized prefigurative politics; you seem not to understand the central distinction that my article was at pains to draw attention to. I also don’t accept your claim that “this mass movement,” as some kind of undifferentiated totality, has prefigurative politics. Since my critique is not about forms of struggle, your question is rather like “what forms of breakfast cereal, right now, would avoid the charges you are levelling?” Or maybe, “you’ve taken it upon yourself, as an intellectual, to criticize the direct action taken by the English gentry when it forced the peasants off the land, so I ask: what forms of class struggle by the landowners, right now, would avoid the charges you are levelling?”

    Марьяна: I can’t imagine that the goal of your piece was literally just to criticize David Graeber, because that would seem to be a rather esoteric objective. I take it, rather, that your goal was to make an intervention about the kinds of pratices that are being engaged in under the auspices of OWS, and to criticize those that are ineffective, especially the “effort to remake society by multiplying and weaving together autonomous spaces.” You then draw a distinction between “‘prefigurative politics’ in the proper sense of the term and what Graeber uses the term ‘direct action’ to mean: ‘acting as if you were already free,’” and you note that “the latter notion is the one that was tested at Zuccotti Park and that failed the test.” So I am asking whether you would care to elaborate on the former. And I ask because I think that is a rather important practical question. Part of the weaving together theory and practice is having concrete conversations about our strategies in the struggle.

    Andrew Kliman: Oy. The goal was to criticize the Graeberian ideology and strategy of those who convinced enough people in OWS to make it an occupation of a public space, or perhaps wore enough others down. Notice that the previous sentence doesn’t say that I criticize occupation of a public space. My goal was not “to make an intervention about the kinds of *pra[c]tices* that are being engaged in under the auspices of OWS.” The “effort to remake society by multiplying and weaving together autonomous spaces” is not a practice. It’s a strategy and perspective, rooted in a specific ideology, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma :-) As for prefigurative politics in the proper sense of the term, a provided a definition, and a couple of examples might be cooperatives and non-hierarchical organizations. I say “might be” because it all depends on the perspective and ideology of those involved. They might instead be parts of efforts to remake society by multiplying and weaving together autonomous spaces and act as if we were already free. As for your last sentence, I accept that this is what you think, but I’m opposed to both the vanguard party-to-lead and dissolution into the mass movement. What Marxist-Humanists mean by a dual movement of theory and practice is not “weaving together theory and practice.” I think this short piece of mine gives an initial though insufficient sense of what it does mean: http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/philosophy-organization/on-%E2%80%9Cnew-passions-and-new-forces%E2%80%9D-marxist-humanisms-break-from-both-spontaneism-and-vanguardism.html
    On “New Passions and New Forces”: Marxist-Humanism’s Break from both Spontaneism and Vanguardism | M
    http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org

    Nate: Andrew I don’t understand the distinction between “a certain strategy and perspective for the remaking society” and “a practice” and “a form of struggle.” Either way, you say the original piece is “a comment about a certain strategy and perspective for the remaking society, not about a form of struggle.” It’s clear that you think one such strategy and perspective should be rejected. In favor of what, then? What are the better elements of Occupy in your view?

    Марьяна: I don’t really know what we’re talking about anymore, and I get the sense, from the fact that you are bringing up spelling and semantics (“practice” vs. “strategy”), that you don’t really want to engage, but I will say that I fail to see how talking about useful strategy (or whatever you want to call it) is vanguardist — and if it is, I don’t see why armchair *criticism* of strategy isn’t. I’m trying to engage you on the conversation you started, about direct action and prefigurative politics.

    Having looked at that link, the first thing that I notice is what seems to be great description of OWS: “There also needs to be a positive moment, the creation of the new. The new society is founded upon the idea of a new society, the passion to reconstruct society on new beginnings, but this is only a beginning. Subjective self-liberation is a process that requires self-development.” Indeed!

    Andrew Kliman: Hi Nate. The sit-down strikes of the 1930s and the Argentine factory takeovers since 2001 are practices and forms of struggle, but not strategies or perspectives for remaking society. The same is true for at least some of the land takeovers by MST in Brazil. In 1999, I visited an MST collective farm in Charqueadas, an hour outside of Porto Allegre. The member of the collective who showed us around said explicitly that they regard their activity as a form of struggle, not a form of development. He meant that the collective makes enough money that it can pay a couple(?) of its members to work as organizers for the movement, it hosts movement conferences, etc. He said that they didn’t think it was a form (or mode?) of development because they didn’t think the national government would allow it to develop. This is a strategy and perspective wholly different from the one I criticized in my article, even though the collective and OWS both occupied space. … I don’t have space here, or time, to answer “In favor of what, then?” I endorse the FAQs published by Marxist-Humanist Initiative; they may give you a sense of a different perspective (but not a strategy FOR the mass movement, for the reasons I’ve discussed with Mariana): http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/philosophy-organization/faqs-about-the-occupy-movement-and-marxist-humanism.html … As for “better elements of Occupy,” I was very impressed by the thoughtful discussion that took place at a recent MHI meeting on Occupy, which was attended mostly by non-MHI people, some of whom evidently have been very active in the movement and some of whom have been involved to a lesser extent. It’s clear to me from what people said, and from what some said that others are saying and doing, that there’s a good deal of serious rethinking going on. That’s the most positive development in the movement in my view. As Raya Dunayevskaya put it, “The first act of liberation is to demand back our own heads.”
    FAQs about the Occupy Movement and Marxist-Humanism | Marxist-Humanist Initiative
    http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org
    FAQs (and Far-Too-Infrequently Asked Questions) About the Occupy Movement and MHI’s Relationship to It . On Zuccotti Park, Reclaiming

    Nate: Thanks Andrew, I get you use of terms better now. I’d say vision vs strategy vs tactics – sit down strike’s a tactic, a number of sit down strikes tied to a goal and analysis of the economy and law is a strategy, the analysis is informed by a social vision. Not to say my terms are better than yours, just comparing terms.
    I understand that you don’t have time to lay out a full perspective here and I will look at the FAQ. I do think though that rejecting a position, like in your Graeber piece, invites that response though. You say that a view like Graeber’s informed some of Occupy and particularly the leadership and shaped Occupy in ways that have limited Occupy, and so you call for a rethink before Occupy phase 2. So it’s clear that you reject some views and that you think there are some other views in Occupy, which left me wondering what views in Occupy you don’t reject.

    Andrew Kliman: ‎@ Марьяна Линабат: You’re having trouble understanding what I’m talking about, here and in your published critique, because you’re trying to reformulate what I say in terms of your own concepts and categories. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, put it isn’t working in this case, and I doubt that it can. Maybe it would help if you tried to discuss and, if you wish, criticize what I’ve written without reformulation and without drawing inferences from what I’ve written that are based on your own concepts and categories. … I obviously never said or implied that talking about useful strategy is vanguardist, though in some cases it obviously is part of a vanguardist approach. … Most importantly, I DID NOT start a conversation about direct action and prefigurative politics. If you want to use those terms, what I started or whatever was a conversation about Graeber’s *concept* of direct action, its track record on the ground, and how it differs from the proper meaning of another *concept*, prefiguration. I’m happy to and trying to engage in a discussion of these things. But I can’t engage in a discussion that presupposes that I am or should be telling a mass movement what to *do* or *not do*, either from a vanguardist perspective or some other one. … A propos of which, I have to make another distinction, between a criticism of a strategy and a criticism of the concepts and ideology that underlie the strategy.

    Марьяна: In my article, I’m advancing a critique of your position. And in this conversation I am trying to engage you in a discussion of what you brought up in your article — with little success, until Nate Hawthorne intervened, and asked the exact same question as I did, following which you responded. But that in itself is a kind of reply, and I’ll take it.

    Andrew Kliman: Maybe a better way to make the distinction I was trying to make at the end is this: (1) a criticism of the concepts and ideology that underlie a certain practice vs. (2) a criticism of that practice as such, uncoupled from the underlying concepts and ideology.

    Andrew Kliman: ‎@ Марьяна Линабат: Your questions referred to what forms of struggle I like: “what concrete forms of struggle would you validate coming from OWS?”; “what forms of struggle, right now, would avoid the charges you are levelling?” Nate’s questions did not: “It’s clear that you think one such strategy and perspective should be rejected. In favor of what, then? What are the better elements of Occupy in your view?” So you two didn’t ask the same questions. Perhaps there’s something in my reply to him that answers what you wanted to know when you asked your questions, but if so, I can’t see it. If I could answer questions about practices in the abstract, uncoupled from the theoretical perspectives, ideology, etc that underlie the practices, I would certainly do so, whether the questioner is you, Nate, or whoever. But I can’t.

    Nate: Andrew, it seems to me that both M and I are asking you to note some of what you don’t reject within Occupy. Like specifically positions currently voiced or activities undertaken within Occupy that you think are better than what you suggest is the Graeber perspective. I think this is always a fair kind of question and a pretty simple clarifying question, about the scope of criticism – you’ve said what you reject, so what’s left over after that rejection? To put it another way: is there a baby in the bathwater, or no? And if so, what’s it like?

    It seems to me that this is a particularly fair response to your article because you do suggest that there is a baby in the bathwater. You say you’re criticizing ideas that “informed the politics of some of the movement, most notably that of the leadership of New York’s Occupy Wall Street.” That suggests that there are other actors and other ideas in the mix within Occupy that you have a higher estimation of. Is that the case, or not? As in – do you have a higher estimation for other ideas and people within Occupy higher than you do for the ideas and people you mention in your article? If so, then can you please say a bit more about those people and ideas?

    Марьяна: I think it was pretty clear what I was getting at, especially in my 4th post (if this is what you’re criticizing, what would you suggest in its place?), but I guess you can gainsay that. It seems like at least on some level, the problem is that I didn’t use your terminology in the way you expected, and you focused on that instead. It’s not the most charitable way of proceeding in a conversation.

  23. MHI on Wed, 16th May 2012 4:20 pm 

    Last cut & paste from the FB conversation. We hope that the participants will feel free to further discussion here since more people can (theoretically) take part.

    Nick: I’m reminded of a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip I once read where Calvin was facing a math question that he didn’t get. His answer was to simply “deny all terms and definitions”. Now what I see is Andrews point that he can’t separate a criticism of the ideas behind an action and the action itself. Fair enough, but I think that is exactly why Marianne went to the lengths she did to defend the centrality of direct action in the Occupy Wall Street movement, because it is an expression of a set of ideas that has one expression under Graeber but many anarchists and libertarian communists (like those of us at Recomposition) share.

    Andrew Kliman: ‎@ Nate Hawthorne: I’ve been involved in this discussion here only in order to try to explain that Mariana’s critique “misunderstands a good deal–she thinks I’m advancing a position when I’m engaged in internal critique of Graeber, and she imputes views to me that I don’t state and don’t hold.” Your latest questions are very far afield from that. … I’ll just say the following. (1) I’ve written, “the greatest strength of the Occupy movement is the fact that tens of thousands of people have brought to parts of it their own hopes and aspirations, and a somewhat greater degree of realism,” and “It’s clear to me from what people said, and from what some said that others are saying and doing, that there’s a good deal of serious rethinking going on. That’s the most positive development in the movement in my view.” That’s a baby in the bathwater, and in my view realism and rethinking matter a WHOLE lot more, insofar as the forward development of the movement is concerned, than this or that specific position held by, or this or that specific activity engaged in by, this or that person at a moment in time. (2) As for ideas, I’ve said that I endorse MHI’s FAQs. If you don’t count that as “within Occupy” (a phrase you use four times), that reflects a difference regarding the dual movement of theory and practice, and that difference is what we should be discussing.

    @ Марьяна: I’m trying to explain why what you mistake as a positive position of mine is actually an internal critique and why I don’t state or hold the views you impute to me. This is what I want to talk about. Do you still stand behind what you wrote in your critique? … But I’ve been trying to answer your questions, too. For instance, wrt your 4th post, I gave examples of prefiguration in the proper sense of the term, which seems to be what you wanted. When I criticize a question, it’s because it’s a “when did you stop beating your wife” question–it contains a presupposition or presuppositions that make it unwise or impossible for me to answer it.

  24. dola on Wed, 16th May 2012 6:01 pm 

    From the “Direct Action Makes History” post at Recomposition.info
    http://recomposition.info/2012/05/15/direct-action-makes-history/

    Marianne writes: “Kliman fails to apprehend two main things about direct action: that it “gets the goods,” and, equally importantly, that it builds a movement.”

    I don’t know what ‘gets the goods’ means here. Please explain that as something separate (“equally important”) to building a movement.

    Marianne writes: “What doesn’t build a movement, on the other hand, is feeding people an analysis of capitalism, no matter how razor-sharp. Simply describing to people the problems they face, in a systematic way, actually makes them retreat even further into inaction, especially if you describe those problems as a plenum in which there is no room for meaningful resistance, which Kliman all but does in his piece.”

    I disagree. It’s clear from the persistence of OWS initiatives to blame the banks and the “1%” (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/05/15-8) for inequality and continued economic woes despite the persistent fall in the rate of profit underlying the crisis (As described in Kliman’s writings) that a razor-sharp analysis of capitalism is EXACTLY what is needed right now, but that’s just what we’re not getting from most of the Left. Consider the possibility that the same underconsumptionist, (post-)Keynesian solutions that people are hearing out there are what makes them “retreat even further into inaction” because redistributive policies have continually failed to solve the contradictions of capitalism.

    As for the characterization that Kliman “describe[s] those problems as a plenum in which there is no room for meaningful resistance, what he actually says is: “The fact that we’ve already lost doesn’t mean that we should give up. We may have lost the battle, but we haven’t yet lost the war.”

    Yep, that sucker is air tight. Resistance is futile.

    Mariana writes: “[OWS] has done more to build a movement than something like the Marxist-Humanist Initiative, on behalf of whom Kliman writes, ever has (other things that don’t build a movement? signing people on to a mailing list, inviting them to a public talk, or handing them a newsletter).”

    A cursory glance at MHI’s organizational statements will show that its project is not to build a movement. As such, it is not in competition with OWS. In any case, pulling off a Citywide Movement Assembly at Judson Church which groups within OWS did on Sunday where the dominant themes during report-backs are about harnessing entrepreneurial spirit through small is beautiful businesses (pay-what-you-wish restaurants, aquaponic gardens on top of grocery stores) and ‘bird-dogging’ political candidates is beyond the capabilities of MHI at the moment.

    The crux of Mariana’s argument such as it is seems to be in the paragraph that starts: “So, how does Kliman’s view of direct action relate to his dismissal of Marx’s dictum about the making of history? Shortly after favourably citing these sit-down strikes, Kliman smugly points out that OWS never actually occupied Wall Street. But considering that he is ridiculing Graeber for not understanding the real functioning of political economy, this seems like an especially inane charge: what would physically occupying the New York Stock Exchange have accomplished, in an era in which financial transactions are global and electronic?”

    On the Facebook exchange, she asks in the same vein: “Andrew, what concrete forms of struggle would you validate coming from OWS? (Besides occupying the Stock Exchange.)”

    Why does she assume that Kliman thinks that the functioning of “Wall Street” could have been disrupted with an occupation of the stock exchange (given said alternatives for transactions), or that he would validate such an initiative? Mariana seems to be putting words into Kliman’s mouth throughout the essay.

  25. Nate on Fri, 18th May 2012 12:10 am 

    hey all, I don’t know why anyone should care but I’m one of the editors of Recomposition and some of my comments from Facebook were copied here. It’s not a huge deal but I think MHI really should have asked people before copying comments from a private discussion into a public setting, particularly because the comments include some people’s full names. I would have agreed, personally, and I’m glad there’s conversation happening publicly over this, but it would have been nice to be asked and I don’t know if everyone else would have agreed. So yeah, bad form, comrades.

    I still need to catch up and read all the discussion on Marianne’s article. After that discussion started, I went back and re-read Andrew’s article. Here are my comments on it. Andrew’s article has two threads as far as I can see, one about OWS and one about Graeber. The former strikes me as a much more interesting topic, but it gets much, much less space in Andrew’s article. And the stuff on Graeber is really unconvincing. For now, I’m just going to get to the latter, the Graeber stuff. I don’t live in New York and am not active in Occupy where I live (not for lack of interest, just lack of time because of work and parenting), so I can’t address those more important matters.

    The core of the stuff on Graeber here is three quotes from Graeber with a response to each by Andrew. That’s not a good format, in my opinion. At the very least, Andrew should have take the time to present a reconstruction of Graeber’s views in each case that was the strongest possible version of those views that Andrew could formulate. That doesn’t happen, and so weakens the piece. In Andrew’s first long comment in response to a Graeber quote, I think I agree with much of what he says, but it’s not at all clear that he’s actually addressing what Graeber said or what Graeber thinks.

    The second moment when Andrew responds to a Graeber quote is even worse. “You’re not free, but you make believe that you are” is so uncharitable a reading of what Graeber said that it’s a distortion. Graeber is not advocating “pretending that you’re already free when you’re not.” Take the example he gives, of digging a well in response to a water monopoly. It’s really clear to me that Graeber means pursuing an approach which recognizes the reality of unfreedom, and opposing that unfreedom in a specific way. And the joke for rhetorical purposes doesn’t illuminate (pardon the pun). “How many direct-action anarchists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: None. They just sit in the dark and act as if the light bulb didn’t burn out.” If Graeber said “there’s a water monopoly? just pretend you have water to drink” then the joke would be accurate as an analogy. As it is, it doesn’t do any substantive intellectual work as far as I can tell. Andrew rights, “The notion that effective action can be based on pretending that things are different than they actually are strikes me as utterly absurd.” Generally it seems to me that no one believes things while also believing “my belief is absurd.” People *do* believe absurd things sometimes, but engaging meaningfully with those views involves getting at how they manage to believe those things in such a way that they don’t think their beliefs are absurd. Andrew’s article does no such thing.

    What’s more, generally it seems to me as well that when one hears someone’s view and thinks “that view is absurd!” it’s worth trying to figure out if the person *actually* believes something absurd, or if they may actually believe something more sensible than the apparently absurd belief. I’ve not read much by Graeber as far as I can remember – I know I’ve read some things he’s written about Italian marxists like Antonio Negri, but I don’t think I’ve read anything else by him. In response to Andrew’s article I looked on google books for about twenty minutes, digging around in Graeber’s book called Direct Action. It seems to me that Andrew could have done better by doing the same than he did with this interview. I think it’s a failing of comradely intellectual due diligence not to have done so, to be quite frank.

    On page 201 Graeber provides a number of quotes of anarchists talking about what they mean by the term, all of which are more substantive than Andrew’s presentation of what he takes to be Graber’s absurd view. Graeber points on page 204 that he means “acting as if, at least as a moral entity, the state does not exist.” (204) That is, the point is not to “make believe you’re free”, it’s to treat the state as illegitimate and not a moral actor. I happen to think Graeber’s “as if you’re free” thing is a really clumsy metaphor, but it’s really clear to me on even a really cursory reading that Andrew is not presenting Graeber’s view in an accurate way.

    Andrew contrasts Graeber’s hypothetical example with the sit-down strikes of the 30s. Graeber in his book makes an admittedly cursory mention of the US labor movement prior to the 1950s and the frequency of direct action in that era, including this quote: “To go on strike, to destroy machinery, occupy factories, establish picket lines so as to physically prevent scabs from entering a workplace: all this was a matter of workers seizing for themselves the right to employ coercive force, in direct defiance of the state’s claims of holding a monopoly on violence.” (205) That is: these are examples of what Graeber sees as direct action, so that the sit-down strikes that Andrew invokes fit within Graeber’s framework.

    Graeber also notes that “those conducting a direct action insist on acting as if the state’s representatives have no more right to impose their view of the rights or wrongs of the situation than anybody else.” (203.) Graeber points out clearly that this manner of proceeding will involve conflict with the state. So there’s no “pretending” here as far as I can tell.

    Final thing, this strikes me as semantic hairsplitting: “‘prefigurative politics’ refers to practices that foreshadow and anticipate a different world, a world that does not exist, ‘Direct action’ in Graeber’s sense refers to practices that make believe that this different world already exists in embryo within the existing one.” I don’t see why “XYZ foreshadows and anticipates a not-yet-existing new world” and “XYZ is a new world in embryo” can’t be synonyms. If Graeber makes any claims along the lines of “XYZ is a new world in embryo” someone should point them out. Then we can paraphrase them as “XYZ practices foreshadow and anticipate a not-yet-existing new world” and see if they look substantially different. I doubt they will.

  26. Anne on Fri, 18th May 2012 10:32 am 

    You’re right Nate, apologies to you and the others for not consulting prior to posting part of the FB conversation. A ‘private discussion’ viewable by anyone provided they have mutual friends! A clumsy mistake in a brave new world.

    The last names copied from that discussion have been deleted. The comments still appear, but if anyone objects, his or her comment will be taken down. Feel free to inform anyone you know who might have a problem with this. Thanks.

  27. Marianne on Fri, 18th May 2012 11:17 am 

    Marianne (Mariana) here. Let me try to clarify my original intention behind writing the piece that I did.

    When a political movement breaks out (and OWS is one), there are those who lick their finger, stick it in the air, and say “Nah. Not revolutionary enough.” On the other hand, there are those who join it, with all its flaws, inconsistencies, frustrations and weirdos, and attempt to use its momentum to achieve something.

    The latter type of person is interested in really practical conversations about how to be effective in the struggle (what forms of workplace organization? what model of student resistance?), as well as meaningful debates about how to understand what we’re up against (for that matter, I think Recomposition is unparalleled as a resource). In my experience, the level of analysis on both counts develops fairly quickly, as people learn directly from their own experience. To paraphrase Rosa Luxemburg, the struggle is the school.

    Obviously, I take myself to be one of the latter types. And so, I am interested in the latter types of conversations. Regardless of the accuracy of Kliman’s depiction of Graeber, my depiction of Kliman, or my critics’ depiction of me, the only thing that really matters is strategizing to develop OWS, and all of its offshoots, into a sustainable and effective movement.

  28. Nate on Fri, 18th May 2012 11:35 am 

    For what it’s worth Anne I wasn’t offended personally and I took it as a sign of enthusiasm to have an intellecutal discussion, which is cool, I just thought it was worth pointign out. I didn’t mean it as a dig and I appreciate you removing the last names.

  29. Anne on Mon, 21st May 2012 11:07 am 

    Nate:

    It was worth pointing out, thanks. Internet etiquette is complex.

    I want to make sure that anyone who reads this far knows that Andrew has sent us a new article, “A Reply to Critics of ‘The Make-Believe World of David Graeber.’”

    And also, we had an excellent discussion at our meeting on May 9; the recording is in “On MHI’s ‘FAQs’ on Occupy Movement & Marxist-Humanism,” just below the “Reply.”

    Anne

  30. rob on Mon, 4th Jun 2012 7:05 am 

    Hello again Andrew,

    I am now getting back to your comment on Marx and subjectivity/objectivity.

    In your own citation of Marx, he writes:

    “Just as man is governed, in religion, by the products of his own brain, so, IN CAPITALIST PRODUCTION, HE IS GOVERNED BY THE PRODUCTS OF HIS OWN HAND. [Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Penguin ed. pp. 167-8 , pp. 771-2; caps added]

    This is a good quote, yet you reduce it to only one dimension, to argue that we are ruled by external structures. However, what about the part of the statement referring to “ones own hand”?

    It seems to me that Marx is struggling to express two points simultaneously: that in societies where the capitalist mode of production rules, we have a form of society in which people produce the structure of their own domination.

    If you leave the “objective” part out, you end up with a voluntaristic perspective, the one you are charging Graeber of. If you however leave the “subjective” part out, you get a picture of a structure without subjects. Neither one is accurate, and neither one can adequately deal with the issue of social struggle in capitalist society.

    You write:

    The problem is that we are in fact governed by the products of our own hands, by means of the economic laws that are actually in control in capitalist society.

    Yet this is only one dimension of what Marx is saying. What I read from your statement — and please correct me if I am wrong — is a kind of structure that imposes compulsions upon people. While that is true, it leaves out the “own hands” element. That we are constantly producing this society.

    You write:

    So it’s not an illusion to imagine ourselves to be dominated by that which is external and alien (or, if you insist, externalized and alienated).

    No, it is only an illusion when we believe that this “external” or “alien” something to be some *thing* other than our own social relations.

    For some anarchists and others, this leads into a voluntaristic approach. They believe we can opt out of these social relations. I think Graeber’s position is more complex than that though. As I wrote in an earlier comment, OWS does not advocate creating communes. It instead creates contestation by attempting to reclaim public and private space for communal purposes and for sites in which struggles can be developed.

    On the other hand, while there are serious limitations to this approach, your attempt to introduce the “objective” elements of the equation — i.e. capitalist structure — appears to me to do so by expelling the subjective elements altogether, and as a result, to close out actual and potential forms of agency.

    I see this in your treatment of Occupy. Just as one example, you state the most positive thing about OWS is the media impact, without a word on the shift in subjectivities in diverse sections of the population — students, home-owners, employees, etc., etc. — who have re-politicized the crisis as a social crisis and who have opened their material experiences to politicization.

    I for one am not interested in a trade-off between subjective and objective factors of capitalist society. the trick is to take the reality of both into consideration in a way that gives us a clear picture (i.e. theory and analysis), and which helps us to develop struggles.

  31. Maureen on Fri, 29th Jun 2012 7:00 pm 

    “Graeber’s ‘classic example’––’just go and dig your own well’ is very contrived as well as heartbreaking. It is very contrived because it blithely assumes that everyone already has the productive resources––well-digging equipment and access to land to dig on––they need in order to produce what they need.”

    David Graeber reads to me like a religious convert. It’s all very inspiring and lofty, but bears very little on lived realities.

    This quote is a fine example, but I think your analysis falls short. ‘Digging your own well’ also implies a certain level of physical agility and social mobility. It is no coincidence anarchism attracts young, white, able-bodied males who take these privileges for granted.

    A similar example is the idea you just go “occupy” Wall Street. I never felt safe there as a female, and the rapes Occupy conveniently swept under the rug bear this out.

    Point being: Direct action, as it is understood by Graeber and OWS, is completely blind to inequality along the lines of gender and disability.

    It also strikes me as a utterly individualistic endeavor, where individuals go act out their individual liberties, without any consideration of how one’s liberty is often contingent on another’s oppression.

  32. Shxa on Sat, 25th Aug 2012 10:54 am 

    One can NOT change the minds of people who are already free.

    One can NOT make slaves of others acclamations..OWS students wanted others to pay for their college education. The Banks gave you the loan but it is the college that raises the tuition,not the banks.

  33. Jaime Omar Yassin on Sun, 12th May 2013 1:07 am 

    I was sympathetic to the idea of creating the social structures that one would like to live in during Occupation. But first and foremost, occupations should be about changing things. I appreciate that in the beginning, the Occupy encampments were set without goals, because at least in theory, this allowed a broad group of previously unactivated people to come together and hash out their world views and proceed on to political action. That is the work of at least months, if not years, so in a sense the Occupations were not the best way to create an open dialogue about revolution.

    That being said, i don’t support the idea of Occupation simply to create a parallel structure. Its a fantastic by-product of the act, and something vital to the idea–what created the passion for the movement, as well as the X quality that it had that previous and other actions haven’t. I called this process the opportunity to “role play” what a more perfect society would look like, complete with the kind of problem-solving necessary to have a para-state reality, i.e., no police, etc.

    But the real heart of Occupation was stopping the structure of oppression. It failed to do that, but nevertheless that should have been its goal. Long term, continuous strikes have the same possibilities and function, are capable of providing the “role play” of the better world, while effectively contesting the power of capital for a concrete outcome. Strikes are little more than occupations without the pomp. Occupations of closed schools and libraries have the same possibilities. The Occupy tactic worked to win back a closed library to the community of Friern Barnett in London.

    I see absolutely no value in creating a parallel society just for the sake of doing so [although creating informal economies are a great idea]. Mostly white, middle class anarchist have been doing that for decades during their youth, and they’ve had very limited successes outside of changing paradigmatic thinking about property and capital relationships. I find that its too little, too late at this point

    If you want to divorce yourself from the struggle to change your city, state, country, then creating the world you want to live in is at least an honest way of withdrawing from the struggle. But it should never be portrayed as anything but.

  34. Georgia on Mon, 24th Jun 2013 11:26 am 

    I have a few thoughts here but I will try and be short. In fact it may be better if I list a few things down from the top of my head as opposed to in response to the above critiques.
    1) It seems that the nature of spontaneity has changed. We seem to forget how engrossing the capitalist structures are now in our time and in our friendships and interests. It encroaches our ‘species being’. Part – time work, running from one job to another, meaningless tasks, heavy discipline from managers, whole nations being herded like they never have before.
    2) By all accounts the younger generation now are bored to tears with social movements. There are so many issues. It would seem that rather than drawing all the issues together, often they are separated out as if joining a club. Cause and effect, thereby meaning, become shadowed by the ‘topic’of the ‘movement.’I think that we have forgotten the best mechanism for government and elite power to work is to disperse vast quantities of people and information into manageable sections. This seems to have worked.We have rage at topical issues instead of the whole picture.
    3) Povery. Yes. People cannot afford transport to a protest. It’s that simple. A social movement would require negotiation and meetings. The cost of such will break the bank for the millions of minimum wage earners and less in rural areas.
    4) Too academic. The whole discussion here (which I love to do myself in the same manner) is far too academic. Unwittingly, the result is that there is a top down hierarchy in the movements.
    5)Organising movements may ‘steal the thunder’ of the movement into something akin to a Kafka’s castle of office doors, legal apparatus, pandering ‘events’. Dead. No thunder, thus no sunshine after the thunder.
    6)relates to point 2. Ideology on the streets, despite the all too consuming economy is turning inward. Talent competitions, insular issues of celebrity culture and crime are dragged out I believe as another mechanism to harness and direct the real rage at living conditions into either euphoria (talent comps) or in rage against celebrity paedophiles paved away from immediate poverty, NHS, Pensions, cuts, the lot. People are in a froth about rickety old perverts they will never meet or get to ‘kick their heads in’ as opposed to being livid at those starving the populations, the sick, and the kids.
    7)I think bonding relationships ought to be imperative in social movements. Trust and cooperation almost brotherhood has to be formed. I don’t know if this happens. I don’t think so. The movement gets broken or controlled and everybody goes home and forgets each other ( yes, I’m generalising for UK). I think we need a kind of radical agape love that could hold together and make the movement strong. A movement as a family instead of ‘professional’. I’ve only recently, very recently, come to actually think this an essential criteria in anything opposing world conditions in a movement.
    Imagine a village, a whole village getting involved together in one focus – all different but knowing what the common need for the movement is, knowing it is subjectively as well as objectively necessary for the people.

  35. Jacob von Treuenburg und Hutteriteshire on Fri, 2nd Aug 2013 9:51 am 

    Millions of words – said by the hundreds of speakers to the thousands of seekers….
    What has been changed ?

    “There must be some new Solon here” , said the crowd to the chiefs.
    – “Oh , there’s too much mental confusion, we can´t trust even our´s belief…
    And because we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate – so let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late….”

    /..three riders were approaching – and the crowd begin to howl…./

  36. Georgia on Sat, 3rd Aug 2013 5:24 am 

    This is my position on the subject below first very short paragraph. I’ve then addressed some of the interesting issues you’ve raised (not to confront, challenge, be derogatory etc) and might address some more comments later lol!

    Rob to Andrew

    “What I read from your statement — and please correct me if I am wrong — is a kind of structure that imposes compulsions upon people. While that is true, it leaves out the “own hands” element. That we are constantly producing this society”.

    Me
    I think the notion of “own hands” element is literally an ideological tool, created by Democracy to give the illusion of freedom of choice. This may sound radical but it is not. It also is not complicated as so many wish to believe. Rather, the very things we take for granted as normal is society are direct derivatives to control. Rather, they are elements that ‘nurture’ people for the benefit of the economy. For example, mothers entrust their children from the early ages of 3 -5 to nurseries in ‘preparation’ for Junior schools. From 5 -11, the kids are then kept away from 8.30 – 3.30 in order to prepare them for the next stage in school – 11 – 16, then 16 -18, perhaps more. This is a simple example of non freedom which we “believe” is good for the children. I don’t think it is. I think of such, regardless of class and life expectations are factories which mold children into “pre-ordained’ roles that benefit the “purposes” of the existing and constantly changing structures in relation to demands – just see for example I.T, the service sector, management and so fourth. Our very social norms are out to “shape” life away from its “potential” into something “other” that is a stranger to that “being”. For example, children soak up knowledge, develop coordination, balance, creativity, curiosity, experimentation, communication, and so much more in the very early years. NOTE, that these early years are set to take away every single aspect I have just listed. Children sit in one room, forced to not interact until “allowed” in externally/well structured commandments, they don’t exercise – say for one hour PE lesson, or after school but in the school football etc, I could go on and on with so many other aspects which scream control and not choice, ie media, advertising, language and etiquette, hierarchy and more.

    Thereby, the notion of our “own hands” is itself subject to constraints – in a load of words but from a very early age shaped in a certain way, manner, language etc to give us an illusion of control, success or otherwise, goal orientation, notions of freedom etc.

    Social relations reflect the social structure – aka:

    “Just as one example, you state the most positive thing about OWS is the media impact, without a word on the shift in subjectivities in diverse sections of the population — students, home-owners, employees, etc., etc. — who have re-politicized the crisis as a social crisis and who have opened their material experiences to politicization.”

    Yes a shift: Its not a shift from or away from the social structure that initiated the ‘response’ to it by the movement “occupy”. It is a direct reflection of structure. Structure as really taking away peoples lives and freedom that the damn thing promoted/or compelled society to ‘work for’ in the first place – only to suck the living daylights out of the profits society made for them in the first place. Occupy, emerged out of this as a consequence, rather like injustice as the flu and the movement as the vaccine. Trouble is, vaccine undergoes trials and one hopes that it is the correct ‘serum’ in the first hit otherwise the flu develops even stronger to counteract it and we’re back to the drawing board again. – See how it goes. Every action is counter active in a way – until we can foresee the problems ‘absolute vision’, otherwise we just provide the security measures of that structure it needs to function – OWS show up what needs to be ‘mended’ in the very structure that contains us – and security gets tighter – aka – the internet –

    Marianne:

    ” the only thing that really matters is strategizing to develop OWS, and all of its offshoots, into a sustainable and effective movement”.

    I agree. We have to strategize. I always think of those that play the stock market. They strategise. They strategise with pulling EVERY SINGLE COMPONENT of a potential jack pot product together before they invest in it. That is, the country of origins politics and stability record, its relations with other countries, where the resources to make it come from, shipping costs, worker relations, skills, future market for it, what competition there is, the law and its possible changes with policies and more. In this way, investors get rich. In this way, a structure could be defeated. Our only choices are to leave it alone because its bigger than us, or take it on to oppose it. That is the criteria we have, strategy is to work the above list which is already imposed by law, policies and unfortunately the way the public votes influenced by how we are educated from virtually birth, media, class, etc.
    But strategy is the only way. I love Paul Watson who uses what is ‘at hand’ with the one idea that he is going to ‘save whales’ from commercial slaughtering. He has observed that policy and paper are not the way to do things because whales are still dying. He has NO CHOICE but to intervene in their brutal activities while still ‘reflecting’ the law and possible ‘consequences’ of his actions. The law disables him to save the whales and favours Japanese commercial whaling. However, we the public who NEVER observe this barbaric behaviour would favour the whales. Nonetheless, Watson does not have time to ‘campaign’ the ’cause’ because he is to save the whales. I guess that make s Watson, like ourselves a victim or subject of and too, the law which protects the structure which intervenes in our ‘subjective’ spontaneous realities as individuals – we are like spiders caught in our own web (from poor voting), we negotiate the web while being caught up in it at the same time. Investors in the stock market as well as the commercial sellers, combine structure and agency by knowing the nature of the punters seeking either blue chip or red chip companies, their family life etc, as well as know what the returns are going to be in the time frame allocated for that ‘item’.

    Nate – Great stuff. If their is a new embryo for ‘counter action to the injustices in our social structure I’d hope that it is never mentioned otherwise it would run the risk of being ‘smothered’. The whole of history has shown that overt political action wishing to change the ‘whole’ meets with a power far greater than itself – namely the ‘majority’. The structure benefits and feeds off the degenerative disease of its voters which is belief and hope. These characteristics are installed in schools from an early age, let alone religion, and into goal orientated antics, careers, F.E, media, the lottery, bingo, etc.
    Small sections of the structure are amended ‘when its economically viable for good government/citizen relations/punting the merits of democracy. But if the economy is suffering – like today, the public pay for it and any progressive amendments are at times reverted back to its previous position’ for example testing drugs on animals, environmental policies today, health care reforms, pension age, actual pensions and more, anything will be done as long as it does not touch the top 20%.

    Dola -

    ” what would physically occupying the New York Stock Exchange have accomplished, in an era in which financial transactions are global and electronic?”

    I think just tripping up the dealers, spilling coffee on the computers could have been great fun – only if strategically thought about of course!

    MHI –
    Concerning the role of ideas for the future of the movement (?) ” if you don’t count that as “within Occupy” (a phrase you use four times), that reflects a difference regarding the dual movement of theory and practice, and that difference is what we should be discussing.”

    Interesting: I wonder if this is a cultural notion, the idea that theory and practice is a ‘dual movement’ and ‘that’ ‘difference’ is what we should be discussing . . . . .”

    or Klimans ‘interpretation here “are other actors and other ideas in the mix within Occupy that you have a higher estimation of. Is that the case, or not? As in – do you have a higher estimation for other ideas and people within Occupy higher than you do for the ideas and people you mention in your article”

    In reading these ‘descriptions’ of real occurrences whether written or discussed, planned, executed, or in the pipeline as a strategy ‘emerging’ to me does not beg a ‘dual’ process but of a singular interest and goal. Further, ‘Higher’ and ‘lower’ notions are the very things we are endeavouring to overthrow!! This is what I mean when I stress that ‘education, more particularly, western education instils in us the very essence of capitals success, a belief in the ideology in words and terminology that creates the very inequality and suffering to be dumped. Even within the construction of our structural opposition, we are inviting in and using the very tools that enable our oppression in the first place. Freedom is not only from material stuff, freedom is bodily, emotionally, conceptually, and perceptively a condition. It is on the road toward freedom. We cannot have freedom it we cannot even ‘know’ what it is up against, namely the very notions of existence we think are ‘normal’. Therefore, ideas and action are together not separate, or dual.

    KIlman – “The “effort to remake society by multiplying and weaving together autonomous spaces”
    I guess this is a kind of culturally specific statement but I don’t know about NewYork, US geography and buildings but I know that in the UK there is no such thing as ‘autonomous spaces’. OH pehaps you mean concerning different ideas being woven together as a movement! Sounds good to me – I still don’t think there are many autonomous ideas but rather responses to the way ‘spaces are occupied’ . . . .

    David Graeber
    “The right to protest”; is pock marked with the history of western oppression already. What’s the bloody point? Who’se right, who is going to grant the majority or the minority that ‘right’. Already it is surrender and a deep seated acknowledgment of who is in power and who is not. It makes ‘protesting’ nothing but a good public relations stunt internationally at the expense of tax payer’s money. It is a way of indoctrinating the public into ‘believing’ that they have autonomy which they pay for and which the oppressors don’t. They simply carry on dealing our lives away while we feel agrandised!

    Kliman Great and in a nut shell below:
    ” The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, “Human beings make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already.”
    However, I don’t think we have lost. When the workers have nothing to lose they simply won’t work and stop. When their kids are starving anyway or dead they will stop. Those top’ percenter’s’ will then have to renegotiate to have their arses wiped for them. And we could make disappear those circumstances that have caused the whole of humanities demise. In fact ‘reforms’ slow down and dissipate anger. People in their suffering are geniusly kept at a level of fear and deprivation whereby they are ‘grateful for small mercies’ – so the sparks that could ignite a genuine ‘direct response’ born out of misery are dowsed and we have instead ‘interpretations and projections’ as social movements. These are not dangerous. However, I am not the people and do not want them to suffer to know effect!! Paid representatives do a job but interfere with spontaneous action and steal the thunder of that angry and seeking justice. A movement from the ground should not be organised by outsiders or professionals, just free contributors to action. It’s almost as if leadership has to come without a wage – to protect – in the face of such monstrous opposition. The people should ‘look after’ their representatives literally and not through taxation in the form of a wage.
    Agree – you can ‘t pretend to be free, but perhaps its more a reference to say ‘lets ignore the barriers already imposed upon us and act as free as we possibly can.

    ME : what I think an International movement could look like nationally thereby globally.

    Apart from all that the only way a movement could arise whereby it may have success is
    to create a new lifestyle underground while dealing with the one we have now. Its the only way. Years of preparation would be needed just to feed a whole village, to give medication, house, and more. It could be done. I am certain that it could be done – without a doubt. The question is who else thinks it can be and who would want to bother.
    All else is rhetoric, albeit a necessary cog in the wheel.







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