David Graeber on Occupy, Social Movements and Police Repression

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The following is a short recent interview with the anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber, an intellectual and activist whose voice has risen in visibility since the beginning of the Occupy movement. Graeber was on the ground organizing at Occupy in New York at the very start, and has been credited with coining the term "we are the 99%". debt david graeber

Graeber was assistant professor of anthropology at Yale, but his contract didn't get renewed in a controversial decision that some thought was due to his radical political beliefs. He's now at the University of London. He's written a recent bestselling book called Debt: The First 5000 Years, which has added to a growth of new works on debt such as the new documentary Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of WealthHe was also involved in a recent public debate with Chris Hedges over the actions of the sometimes violent Black Blocs wing of the anarchist movement. (You can read Chris Hedges original post here, critical of the Black Blocs, and Graeber's occupy-police-brutality-008response here).

I've been enjoying Graeber's voice and analysis over the past months, and think it has a lot to offer. I particularly appreciate his learned historical view, one that often highlights dimensions of history that we don't hear about via mainstream sources. In this clip he talks about police repression against Occupy, as well as their use of subversive tactics. For another recent instance of this in the US, check out this interview with an Occupy Seattle organizer who had a SWAT team bust through his apartment door, point automatic rifles at he and his roomates heads, and ransack their place. The police laid no charges of any kind. For a great history of the intense repression of radical Left thought (and its perpetrators) in the United States in the 20th century, see Dan Carlin's 2hr episode of Hardcore History called Radical Thoughts. (It's actually a very balanced look at this period, and Carlin really utilizes the lens of fear and its impacts on the situation, which will be a great resource for R.Michael Fisher and I in our Museum of Fearology project)

I thought the interview below, besides containing some very interesting points from Graeber, was a good way to introduce his work into the mix here at the site, and to readers who might not be familiar with him.

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  • Comment Link David MacLeod Saturday, 21 July 2012 04:06 posted by David MacLeod

    I've been reading Graeber's book...well, skimming it, actually. My only complaint is that it is too long (459 pages, not including the bibliography and index). It's very well done, and covers a lot of territory.

    Charles Eisenstein, in an interview with Terry Patten, commented that if he had been able to read this book before writing Sacred Economics, he would have changed some things (didn't say what).

    I do wish there was more on positive ideas for moving forward. The one idea he suggests on the last page is a Biblical-style Jubilee - wiping the slate clean of international and consumer debt.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Monday, 23 July 2012 18:36 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    David, thanks for offering the positive review of the book (despite it's length), that'll bump it forward on my reading list.

    In terms of a lack of positive ideas moving forward, I suppose that doesn't surprise me. That's why I appreciate an integrative approach so much, where you can take (what you surmise as) the living truth in an authors work and then put that piece into a much bigger mosaic. (The mosaic is an image Jeremy Johnson uses, I quite like it). It also strikes me that Graeber might be the kind of person amenable to an interview with a site like ours. Maybe we could compile some questions and get in an exchange with him around some of these things (ie. how to move forward). I know Chris Hedges speaks to indie media all the time, so maybe Graeber would be similar.

    While I'm here I'm going to lay down a bunch of further resources around the growing police state in the US, and under neoliberalism more generally.

    In the US, Dan Carlin offers some good historical views in these two recent podcasts of his:



    There's a good (if not depressing) Facebook page called Police State USA: Land of Checkpoints that posts news stories they see an indication of the police state.

    The increasing surveillance state in Britain is by now notorious, and there's loads of articles out there about that. Here's one:


    Noami Klein wrote a great article in 2008 for Rolling Stone called 'China's All Seeing Eye'. It had this subtitle-"With the help of U.S. defense contractors, China is building the prototype for a high-tech police state. It is ready for export".

    Here's a reprint of it:


    I was struck by Graeber's suggestion in the video that the increasing police state(s) is a series of "pre-emptive measures" by the neoliberal establishment against the inevitable blowback from a population who's increasingly being robbed of their wealth (ie. the 99%). In 'A Brief History of Neoliberalism', David Harvey talks about how the neoliberal state is often involved in increased military spending, and the building of more jails (with the attendant 'tough on crime' policies from politicians. Harper has done all this in Canada, true to the script). The gross inequality of the economic arrangement is going to inevitably create more and more poverty and more criminal classes (or 'the dangerous classes' as it's sometimes called in political science). This means the need for more jails and for increased security apparatuses for protecting the elite and it's wealth.

    Slavoj Zizek has written several times now about a new form of authoritarianism that he sees on the horizon (Dan Carlin speaks to this in his podcasts too). Here's a couple of recent passage from Zizek:

    "The Europe we will end up with if Syriza [in Greece] is outmanoeuvred is a ‘Europe with Asian values’ – which, of course, has nothing to do with Asia, but everything to do with the tendency of contemporary capitalism to suspend democracy…

    Greece is not an exception. It is one of the main testing grounds for a new socio-economic model of potentially unlimited application: a depoliticised technocracy in which bankers and other experts are allowed to demolish democracy. By saving Greece from its so-called saviours, we also save Europe itself".


    “[Interviewer] And what are the chances that things won't change?

    [Zizek] "Ah, if this happens then we are slowly approaching a new apartheid authoritarian society. It will not be – I must underline this – the old stupid authoritarianism. This will be a new form, still consumerist."

    [Interviewr] The whole world will look like Dubai?

    [Zizek] "Yes, and in Dubai, you know, the other side are literally slaves."


    and then there's the whole issue of increased domestic drone use in the US.


    So yeah, these are some currents to keep an eye on moving forward. It shall be an interesting voyage in the coming years to be sure. :)

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Tuesday, 24 July 2012 04:38 posted by David MacLeod

    When I watched the interview with Graeber above, he reminded me a bit of Noam Chomsky.

    Here's is Chomsky's latest, on "Destroying the Commons
    How the Magna Carta Became a Minor Carta" http://bit.ly/NOf4f0

    Have you discovered yet the writing of John Michael Greer? Some of your comments above made me think of something I had read by him, discussing increased crackdowns for minor protests. I didn't find that quote, but I did re-find this recent article, "The Twilight of Protest." Some very interesting, and, perhaps, provocative thinking here:

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Friday, 27 July 2012 02:05 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Thanks for the Chomsky article David, I liked it a lot, and thought it had some uncanny overlap with the Neotribal Zeitgeist article, and I linked to it over there. (http://bit.ly/MWmFIJ)

    It's taken me a couple days to respond because I wanted to give the other article you linked to a good solid read, which I did, and there's lot of valuable stuff in there as usual. But instead of responding to it here, I'm going to incorporate that into a new article I'm writing called "Towards A New Propaganda of the Deed", trying to work with the old anarchist notion in a new way. thanks as always for the poignant links.

  • Comment Link Gregor Bingham Friday, 27 July 2012 18:31 posted by Gregor Bingham

    Hi Trevor,
    I like a great deal of what Graeber has to say and researched him for an essay I am sending into Beams. I had to cut him out of that piece, but I am so glad you have brought him in. I might add some thoughts into this later, especially around what I see as the current limitation in the anarchistic view of what 'state' replacement might look like. I was mulling over the lack of LR in the view, I do say mull... as opposed to thinking - because that would take quite a bit of research. But I do sense there is much to learn about the efficacy of an anarchistic approach, so I will come back to this when I have more to offer.
    Thank you for posting.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 01 August 2012 00:02 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Gregor, thanks for the comment, cool to hear you're also reading Graeber these days.

    I agree that I'd like to also learn more about anarchist thinking on what replaces the state. I can't really comment at this point, I'm not informed enough, will need to do some more research there. But I think anarchist notions of the importance and power of human cooperation are really resonant with shifts happening in the culture now, and I'd love to see some cross pollination between anarchist thought and movements like permaculture and Transition Towns and resilient communities etc. I think there'd be some good synergy there, and if I'm thinking of it, I'm sure someone's already doing that. :)

    (I also wrote a bunch about the new science coming out around the importance of cooperation in nature in general, and in human history too, in the Neotribal Zeitgeist article- http://bit.ly/MWmFIJ. Chapter 4 of Carter Phipps' new book 'Evolutionaries', titled 'Cooperation- A Sociable Cosmos', is all about this too. With this current trend, it puts the anarchist Peter Kropotkin way ahead of the curve on this front. I read his 'Mutual Aid' last year, it was great.)

    In terms of how do we get there from here, I like the political theorist Michael Hardt's take on this, which I wrote about in this piece (he explains it in the video):


    Although it won't satisfy your valid concerns about the LR question, I think he's got an important piece of the puzzle there.

    Lastly, just wanted to say that I'm becoming more and more interested in the Christian anarchist movement. There was a book that just came out on the history of CA, http://amzn.to/M2bxKj, and here's the wiki entry- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_anarchism

    and I see there's a conference coming up in North Carolina on the subject, called Jesus Radicals-


    So I'm looking forward to delving into more of that in the future, especially as I go through seminary etc. Anyway, thanks for jumping in here Gregor, sorry for the late reply, I moved this past weekend (for the first time in six years) and have been knee deep in that and also without internet. Look forward to continuing this conversation down the line, and to reading your upcoming piece, cheers, Trevor.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 19 September 2012 01:02 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Here's the latest story of SWAT team raids looking for 'radicals'.

    "The implication is that owning “anarchist” literature is enough to indicate to the FBI that one is a criminal – even if that person happens to be a student studying political thought. Or maybe particularly if you are a student – the FBI document states that anarchists are “educated persons of various backgrounds, often students.”


    As linked in the original post above, I really recommend this podcast by Dan Carlin tracing the history of this sort of thing in the US in the 20th century.


    I should also note that a friend recently had a conversation (at a social function) with a police SWAT team member in Vancouver who said raid techniques were being perfected by the military in Afghanistan and being taught to the local SWAT team.

    This interview with one of the Navy SEALs who killed Bin Laden speaks to the same thing:

    [Interviewer] Scott Pelley: In terms of the inside of the house, how much did you know?

    Mark Owen: Zero. Zero.

    Scott Pelley: So once you went through the door, you didn't know what you were gonna be facing?

    Mark Owen: Right. But, again, it goes back to that years of experience. I mean we've done this a million times.

    Raids like this were common many nights in Afghanistan and Iraq. And, looking at the model, the SEALs didn't think of this as particularly challenging. The tricky part was getting there.


    So it appears that these techniques are being increasingly imported from the foreign wars to the domestic front.

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