by Lawrence Weschler from Salon.com
Back in the days of Occupy Wall Street, David Graeber, the anthropologist-author of “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” and one of the movement’s principal catalyzing theorists, got a whole lot of things exactly right and at least one thing (as far as I was concerned at the time, and still am) dead wrong.
For starters, Graeber was one of the people (and some would argue the person) who came up with the 99 percent/1 percent trope. Just as significantly, he understood, perhaps more powerfully than anyone else, that neoliberalism (which is to say the globalizing position championed by Clinton and Blair and Rubin and Geithner and Summers and so forth) was never so much an economic doctrine as it was a political one, and that its political essence, stripped of all its voluminous policy papers and bracing manifestoes, could be boiled down to a single phrase: Tough luck, that’s just how it’s going to be, there is no alternative. As Graeber wrote, “The last thirty years have seen the construction of a vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness, a giant machine designed, first and foremost, to destroy any sense of possible alternative futures.”
The tragedy was the way Graeber (and his colleagues) couched such insights in a radical anarchist vision whose DNA, as it were, came to insinuate itself into virtually every aspect of the movement he and they helped to launch. It was an uncannily gentle anarchism, to be sure (Graeber may be the least sectarian anarchist there has ever been), but one that, with its emphasis on the fundamental importance, before anything else, of deep democratic process, of endless general assemblying, of universal participation and thoroughgoing consensus, with a concomitant suspicion of the rise of any sorts of leaders (Graeber himself famously absented himself from New York the minute things really got going, this after having spent the previous six months assiduously laying the groundwork for what would become the occupation at Zuccotti Park, precisely so that he himself would not get cast in such a leading role), all meant that in the crush of events to follow, the movement was unable (and indeed intentionally, theoretically, insistently unwilling) to coalesce around a unified set of demands that might in turn force a brace of legislative ultimatums, which in turn might set the stage for electoral contests with the horizon of any sort of real contest for power.