Arquivo da tag: David Graeber

David Graeber: Sobre o Fenômeno dos Empregos de Merda

Um texto do antropólogo David Graeber que explica porque é que em vez de diminuir, o horário de trabalho não pára de crescer.

constructivist-job-illustration-e1379098388568

Nos últimos anos na Europa e nos Estados Unidos o horário de trabalho tem vindo a aumentar. Em Portugal a jornada de trabalho para a Função Pública amentou das 35 para as 40 horas perante a passividade quase total dos sindicatos oficiais. Em Espanha, a CNT e a CGT reivindicam há muito as 30 horas semanais. Há pouco mais de 80 anos os economistas acreditavam que na viragem do século XX para o XXI, devido aos progressos tecnológicos (que continuam a verificar-se) o tempo de trabalho diário não ultrapassaria as 3 ou as 4 horas. O antropólogo anarquista e membro do Occupy Wall Street, David Graeber, explica a inutilidade dos empregos (e dos trabalhos) de merda criados nas últimas décadas. Que só servem para nos prender aos locais de trabalho, não para produzir ou fazer quaisquer trabalhos socialmente relevantes.

David Graeber

No ano de 1930 John Maynard Keynes previu que, até ao final do século XX, a tecnologia teria avançado o suficiente para que países como a Grã-Bretanha ou os Estados Unidos pudessem implementar a semana laboral de 15 horas. Não faltam motivos para acreditar que tinha razão, dado que a nossa tecnologia actual o permitiria. E, no entanto, isso não aconteceu. Em vez disso, a tecnologia inventou novas formas para que trabalhemos mais. A fim de alcançar este objectivo, foram criados novos trabalhos, que não têm, efectivamente, nenhum sentido. Enormes quantidades de pessoas, especialmente na Europa e nos Estados Unidos, passam toda a sua vida profissional na execução de tarefas que, no fundo, consideram completamente desnecessárias. É uma situação que provoca um dano moral e espiritual profundo. É uma cicatriz que marca a nossa alma colectiva. Mas quase ninguém fala disso.

Por que é que nunca se materializou a utopia prometida por Keynes – uma utopia ainda aguardada com grande expectativa nos anos 60? A explicação mais generalizada hoje em dia é que Keynes não soube prever o aumento massivo do Consumismo. Face à alternativa entre menos horas de trabalho ou mais brinquedos e prazeres, teríamos escolhido colectivamente a segunda opção. É uma fábula muito bonita, mas basta apenas um momento de reflexão para vermos que isso não pode ser realmente verdade. De facto temos assistido à criação de uma variedade infinita de novos empregos e indústrias, desde a década de 20, mas muito poucos têm alguma coisa a ver com a produção e distribuição de sushi, iPhones ou de calçado desportivo de moda.

Então, quais são, precisamente, esses novos postos de trabalho? Um relatório comparando o emprego nos EUA entre 1910 e 2000, dá-nos uma imagem muito clara (que, sublinho se vê praticamente reflectida no Reino Unido). Ao longo do século passado, diminuiu drasticamente o número de trabalhadores empregados no serviço doméstico, na indústria e no sector agrícola. Ao mesmo tempo, “a nível profissional, os directores, os administrativos, os vendedores e os trabalhadores dos serviçostriplicaram, crescendo de um quarto a três quartos do emprego total. Por outras palavras, os empregos no sector produtivo, tal como previsto, muitos trabalhos produtivos automatizaram-se (ainda que se conte a totalidade dos trabalhadores da indústria a nível mundial, incluindo a grande massa de trabalhadores explorados da Índia e da China, estes trabalhadores já não representam uma percentagem da população mundial tão elevada como era habitual).

Mas ao contrário de possibilitar uma redução massiva do horário laboral de maneira a que todas as pessoas tenham tempo livre para se ocuparem dos seus próprios projectos, prazeres, visões e ideias, temos visto um aumento do tempo de trabalho tanto no “sector de serviços” como no administrativo. Isto inclui a criação de novas indústrias, como os serviços financeiros ou de telemarketing e a expansão de sectores como o direito empresarial, a gestão do ensino e da saúde, os recursos humanos e as relações públicas. E estes números nem sequer reflectem todas as pessoas cujo trabalho é fornecer serviços administrativos, técnicos, ou de segurança para essas indústrias, para não mencionar toda uma gama de sectores secundários (tratadores de cães, entregadores de pizza 24 horas) que devem a sua existência ao facto do resto da população passar tanto tempo a trabalhar noutros sectores.  <!–more–>

Estes são os trabalhos a que proponho chamar de “empregos de merda.”

É como se alguém estivesse a inventar trabalhos apenas para nos terem ocupados. É aqui, precisamente, que reside o mistério. E isso é exactamente o que não devia acontecer no capitalismo. Claro que, nos antigos e ineficientes estados socialistas como a União Soviética, onde o emprego era considerado tanto um direito como uma obrigação sagrada, o sistema criava todos os empregos que fizessem falta, (era este o motivo que levava a que nas lojas soviéticas fossem “precisos” três empregados para vender um só bife). Mas, é claro, este é o tipo de problema que é suposto ser corrigido com a concorrência dos mercados. De acordo com a teoria económica dominante, desperdiçar dinheiro em postos de trabalho desnecessários é o que menos interessa a uma companhia que queira ter lucro. Mas ainda assim, e sem se perceber muito bem porquê, é isso que acontece.

Ainda que muitas empresas se dediquem a reduzir o número de trabalhadores de forma cruel, estes despedimentos – e o aumento de responsabilidade para os que permanecem -, recaem invariavelmente sobre os que se dedicam a fabricar, transportar, reparar e manter as coisas.

Devido a uma estranha metamorfose, que ninguém é capaz de explicar, o número de administrativos assalariados parece continuar a aumentar.  O resultado, e isto acontecia também com os trabalhadores soviéticos, é que cada vez há mais empregados que, teoricamente, trabalham 40 ou 50 horas semanais, mas que, na prática, só trabalham as 15 horas previstas por Keynes, já que levam o resto do dia a organizarem ou a participarem em seminários motivacionais, actualizando os seus perfis do Facebook ou fazendo downloads de vídeos e musica.

É claro que a reposta não é económica, mas sim moral e política. A classe dirigente descobriu que uma população feliz e produtiva com abundante tempo livre nas suas mãos representa um perigo mortal (recordemos o que começou a acontecer na primeira vez em que houve uma pequena aproximação a algo deste tipo, nos anos 60). Por outro lado, o sentimento de que o trabalho é um valor moral em si mesmo e que quem não esteja disposto a submeter-se a uma disciplina laboral intensa durante a maior parte da sua vida não merece nada, é algo que lhes é muito conveniente.

Certa vez, ao contemplar o crescimento aparentemente interminável de responsabilidades administrativas nos departamentos académicos britânicos, imaginei uma possível visão do inferno. O inferno é um conjunto de indivíduos que passam a maior parte do seu desempenhando tarefas de que nem gostam nem fazem especialmente bem. Imaginemos que se contratam uns marceneiros altamente qualificados e que, de repente, descobrem que o seu trabalho consistirá em passarem grande parte do dia a fritarem peixe. Não é que a tarefa realmente necessite de ser feita – há apenas um número muito limitado de peixes que é preciso fritar. Ainda assim, todos eles tornam-se obcecados com a suspeita de que alguns dos seus companheiros possam passar mais tempo a talhar madeira do que a cumprirem as suas responsabilidade como fritadores de peixe que, rapidamente, vamos encontrar pilhas intermináveis de inútil peixe mal frito, acumulado por toda a oficina, acabando, todos eles, por se dedicarem exclusivamente a isso.

Acho que esta é realmente uma descrição bastante precisa da dinâmica moral da nossa própria economia.

CapturarEstou consciente de que argumentos como este vão ter objecções imediatas. “Quem és tu para determinar quais os trabalhos que são ‘necessários’? O que é necessário, afinal? És professor de antropologia, explica-me a ‘necessidade’ disso? “. (E, na verdade muitos leitores de imprensa cor-de-rosa classificariam o meu trabalho como a definição por excelência de um investimento social desperdiçado). E, em certo sentido, isso é obviamente verdadeiro. Não há uma forma objectiva de medir o valor social.

Não me atreveria a dizer a uma pessoa que está convencida de estar a contribuir com algo importante para a humanidade, de que, na verdade, está equivocada. Mas o que se passa com aqueles que têm a certeza de que os seus trabalhos não servem para nada? -Não há muito tempo atrás retomei o contacto com um amigo de escola que não via desde os meus 12 anos. Fiquei espantado ao descobrir que nesse intervalo de tempo, ele se tinha tornado poeta, e, foi vocalista de uma banda de rock indie. Inclusivamente, tinha ouvido algumas das suas músicas na rádio sem ter ideia que o cantor era meu amigo de infância. Ele era, obviamente, uma pessoa inovadora e genial, e o seu trabalho tinha, sem dúvida, melhorado e alegrado a vida de muitas pessoas em todo o mundo. No entanto, depois de um par de álbuns sem sucesso, perdeu o contrato com a editora e atormentado com dívidas e uma filha recém-nascida, acabou, como ele descreveu, por “tomar a opção que, por exclusão, muitas pessoas sem rumo escolhem: a Faculdade de Direito”. Agora é um advogado de negócios e trabalha numa proeminente empresa de Nova York. Ele foi o primeiro a admitir que o seu trabalho era totalmente sem sentido, não contribuindo em nada para a humanidade e que, na sua própria opinião, nem sequer deveria existir.

Chegados aqui há uma série de perguntas que podemos fazer. A primeira seria: o que é que isto revela sobre a nossa sociedade que parece gerar uma procura extremamente limitada para poetas e músicos talentosos, mas uma procura aparentemente infinita de especialistas em direito empresarial. (Resposta: Se 1% da população controla a maior parte da riqueza disponível, o denominado “mercado” reflectirá o que essa ínfima minoria, e ninguém a não serem eles, acha que é útil ou importante). Mas, ainda mais, isto mostra que a maioria das pessoas nesses empregos estão conscientes desta realidade. Na verdade, creio que nunca conheci nenhum advogado corporativo que não achasse que o seu trabalho é uma estupidez. O mesmo é válido para quase todos os novos sectores anteriormente mencionados. Há toda uma classe de profissionais assalariados que se os encontrarmos numa festa e lhes confessarmos que nos dedicamos a algo que pode ser considerado interessante (como, por exemplo, a antropologia) evitam falar da sua profissão. Mas, depois de algumas bebidas, é vê-los a fazerem discursos inflamados sobre a estupidez e a inutilidade do seu trabalho.

Há aqui uma profunda violência psicológica. Como é que podemos fazer uma discussão séria sobre a dignidade laboral quando há tanta gente que, no fundo, acha que o seu trabalho nem sequer deveria existir? Inevitavelmente, isto dá lugar ao ressentimento e a uma raiva muito profunda. No entanto, é no engenho peculiar da nossa sociedade que os governantes encontraram uma maneira – como no exemplo dos fritadores de peixe – de garantir que a raiva é dirigida precisamente contra aqueles que realizam tarefas úteis. Parece mesmo haver na nossa sociedade uma regra geral segundo a qual quanto um trabalho é mais benéfico para os outros, pior é a sua remuneração. Mais uma vez é difícil encontrar uma avaliação objectiva, mas uma maneira fácil de ter uma ideia seria perguntarmo-nos: que aconteceria se todo este grupo de trabalhadores simplesmente desaparecesse?  Diga o que se disser sobre enfermeiros, empregados do lixo ou mecânicos, é óbvio que se eles desaparecessem numa nuvem de fumo, os resultados seriam imediatos e catastróficos. Um mundo sem professores ou trabalhadores portuários não tardaria a estar em apuros e um mundo sem escritores de ficção científica ou músicos de ska seria, sem dúvida, um mundo pior. Ainda não está totalmente claro quanto sofreria a humanidade se todos os investidores de capital privado, lobyistas, investigadores, seguradores, operadores de telemarketing, oficiais de justiça ou consultores legais se esfumassem da mesma forma. (Há quem suspeite que tudo melhoraria sensivelmente). No entanto, para além de um punhado de bem elogiadas excepções, como, por exemplo, os médicos, a “regra” mantém-se com surpreendente frequência.

Ainda mais perversa é a noção generalizada de que é assim que as coisas devem ser. Este é um dos segredos do êxito do populismo de direita. Podemos comprová-lo quando a imprensa sensacionalista suscita o ressentimento contra os trabalhadores do metro por paralisarem Londres durante um conflito laboral. O simples facto de que os trabalhadores do metro possam paralisar toda a cidade de Londres demonstra a necessidade do trabalho que desempenham, mas é precisamente isso que parece incomodar tantas pessoas. Nos Estados Unidos vão ainda mais longe; os Republicanos tiveram muito êxito propagando o ressentimento relativamente aos professores ou aos operários do sector automóvel ao chamar a atenção para os seus salários e prestações sociais supostamente excessivos (e não contra os administradores escolares e gestores da indústria automóvel que são quem realmente causa os problemas, o que é significativo).

É como se eles nos estivessem a dizer: “mas sim, tens a sorte de poder ensinar crianças! Ou fazer carros! Fazeis trabalhos de verdade! E, como se fosse pouco, tendes a desfaçatez de reclamar pensões de reforma e cuidados de saúde equivalentes às da classe média!?”

Se alguém tivesse desenhado um regime de trabalho com o fim exclusivo de manter os privilégios do mundo financeiro dificilmente podia ter feito melhor. Os trabalhadores que realmente produzem sofrem uma exploração e uma precariedade constantes. Os restantes dividem-se entre o estrato aterrorizado e universalmente desprezado dos desempregados e outro estrato maior, que basicamente recebe um salário em troca de não fazer nada, em lugares desenhados para que se identifiquem com a sensibilidade e a perspectiva da classe dirigente (directores, administradores, etc.) – e em particular dos seus avatares financeiros – a qual, ao mesmo tempo, promove o crescente ressentimento contra aqueles cujo trabalho tem um valor social claro e indiscutível. Evidentemente que este sistema não é fruto de um plano inicialmente previsto, mas emergiu como o resultado de quase um século de tentativas e erros. E é a única explicação possível para o facto de, apesar da nossa capacidade tecnológica, não se ter implantado ainda a jornada laboral de três ou quatro horas.

“On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” by David Graeber, aqui http://www.strikemag.org/the-summer-of/

Traduzido pelo CLE a partir da versão espanhola. http://guerrillatranslation.com/2013/09/24/el-fenomeno-de-los-curros-inutiles/

David Graeber’s “The Democracy Project” and the anarchist revival (New Yorker)

A CRITIC AT LARGE

PAINT BOMBS

BY , MAY 13, 2013

Occupy resisted those who wanted to stop it and those who wanted to organize it. Illustration by Shout.

Occupy resisted those who wanted to stop it and those who wanted to organize it. Illustration by Shout.

In the summer of 2011, when David Graeber heard rumors of a mobilization against Wall Street, he was hopeful but wary. Graeber is an anthropologist by trade, and a radical by inclination, which means that he spends a lot of time at political demonstrations, scrutinizing other demonstrators. When he wandered down to Bowling Green, in the financial district, on August 2nd, he noticed a few people who appeared to be the leaders, equipped with signs and megaphones. It seemed that they were affiliated with the Workers World Party, a socialist group known for stringent pronouncements that hark back to the Cold War—a recent article in the W.W.P. newspaper hailed the “steadfast determination” of North Korea and its leaders. As far as Graeber was concerned, W.W.P. organizers and others like them could doom the new movement, turning away potential allies with their discredited ideology and their unimaginative tactics. Perhaps they would deliver a handful of speeches and lead a bedraggled march, culminating in the presentation of a list of demands. Names and e-mail addresses would be collected, and then, a few weeks or months later, everyone would regroup and do it again.

Graeber refers to march planners and other organizers as “verticals,” and to him this is an insult: it refers not just to defenders of Kim Jong-un but to anyone who thinks a political uprising needs parties or leaders. He is a “horizontal,” which is to say, an anarchist. He is fifty-two, but he has made common cause with a generation of activists too young to have any interest in the Cold War, or anything associated with it. And, as he listened to speeches in Bowling Green, he realized that many of the people there seemed to be horizontals, too. Working with some like-minded activists, on the opposite side of the park, Graeber helped to convene a general assembly—an open-ended meeting, with no agenda and a commitment to consensus.Adbusters, a Canadian magazine, had called for an occupation of Wall Street on September 17th, which was six weeks away; that afternoon, in Bowling Green, a few dozen horizontals decided to see what they could do to respond.

When the day came, Graeber and his allies had to fend off two different enemies: the people who wanted to stop the occupation and the people who wanted to organize it. Occupy Wall Street succeeded, and survived, in its original location—Zuccotti Park, halfway between Wall Street and the World Trade Center site—for nearly two months, much longer than anyone predicted. It inspired similar occupations around the country, creating a model for radical politics in the Obama era. And it became known, more than anything, for its commitment to horizontalism: no parties, no leaders, no demands.

Inevitably, this triumph of horizontalism increased the prominence of a handful of horizontals, none more than Graeber, who has emerged as perhaps the most influential radical political thinker of the moment. His American academic career has been rocky: he was an associate professor at Yale but was never up for tenure, and in 2005 the university decided not to extend his contract. (He now suggests that he was insufficiently deferential to Yale’s “hierarchical environment.”) By the summer of 2011, he was teaching anthropology at Goldsmiths College, in London, while building a growing reputation in anarchist circles worldwide. His books tend to end up as pirated PDF files, freely available on left-wing Web sites.

A few weeks before the rally in Bowling Green, Graeber published “Debt: The First 5,000 Years,” a provocative counter-history of civilization that has become an unlikely best-seller. He argued that the current American anxiety about debt, private and public, is merely the latest manifestation of an ancient obsession. He sought to show that debt preëxisted money: people owed things to each other before they had a way to measure the size of those obligations. In one of his most memorable passages, he considered the differing roles of debt in a market society (where we “don’t owe each other anything,” except what we agree to) and in a nation-state (where we all owe an insurmountable debt to the government, whether we agree or not). He called this dichotomy “a great trap of the twentieth century”—a false choice between the freedom of a consumer and the obligations of a citizen. “States created markets,” he wrote. “Markets require states. Neither could continue without the other, at least in anything like the forms we would recognize today.” This is the essence of Graeber’s ideology, and to a large extent the essence of Occupy: a commitment to fighting the twinned powers of private wealth and public force. He has proposed a grand debt cancellation, to remind the world that a debt is merely a promise—that is, a plan, and one that can be changed.

By the time the New York Police Department reclaimed Zuccotti Park, in November, the evictees were already trying to figure out whether the occupation had been a success, and what “success” might mean. In the past year, this debate has been taken up in a series of essays and books rehearsing the little indignities and big ideas that characterized life in Zuccotti Park and other sites of occupation. Now comes Graeber himself, with “The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement” (Spiegel & Grau). Like all revolutionaries, he is skilled in the art of wild extrapolation, starting from a small band of dissidents and imagining a world transformed. He doesn’t believe that a better future is inevitable. But like lots of people, not all of them radical or even political, he does believe that the current arrangement is unstable, and that we may as well start thinking about what might come next.

“We are the ninety-nine per cent!” That was the rallying cry in Zuccotti Park, and beyond, although there is some debate about exactly which member of the “we” came up with it. In his book, Graeber stakes a partial claim, quoting an e-mail he sent to a group list on August 4, 2011, in which he proposed calling the occupation the Ninety-Nine Per Cent Movement. The figure had been popularized by the economist Joseph Stiglitz, who estimated that the richest one per cent of Americans earn nearly twenty-five per cent of the income and control forty per cent of the wealth. “The ninety-nine per cent,” then, is everybody else. It was a great slogan, because it linked the people in the parks to the people watching at home, suggesting a kind of class struggle that even class-averse Americans could support.

What’s striking about this formulation, though, is what’s missing: any explicit reference to the one per cent. It was a self-reflexive slogan for a self-reflexive movement, one that came to be known more for its internal politics than for its critique of the outside world. Perhaps no one could say exactly what the Zuccotti Park occupation wanted, but lots of people knew how it worked. There was “the people’s mic,” an ingenious system of public address: short speeches were delivered one phrase at a time, with each phrase repeated, in unison, by whoever happened to be standing nearby. And there was a small lexicon of hand signals, which Occupiers could use to respond with approval, or disapproval, or extreme disapproval—the crossed-fists “block,” which could bring any discussion to a halt.

In “We Are Many: Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation” (AK Press), a deftly edited anthology, a wide range of Occupiers and sympathizers look back on those days in 2011. One New York participant recalls the nerve-racking moment when she helped block the adoption of an official declaration, because she felt that the language downplayed the importance of race, gender, and other kinds of identity. Marisa Holmes, a New York activist, describes how the occupation’s horizontal structure—composed of semi-autonomous working groups, free-form discussions, and a spokescouncil—worked, for a time, and then disintegrated. Graeber describes the encampments as “a defiant experiment in libertarian communism,” but the subtext of “We Are Many” is that this experiment was more inspiring as an ideal: the most enthusiastic essays tend to come from people, like Graeber, who spent little or no time actually living in the parks.

Is it fair to describe the Occupy movement as anarchist? In “We Are Many,” Cindy Milstein, a longtime activist, stipulates that radicals in Zuccotti Park were outnumbered by liberals, including those she deprecates as “militant liberals.” But she argues that, even if the Occupiers weren’t all anarchists, they were nevertheless “doing anarchism.” In Zuccotti Park and elsewhere, “doing anarchism” often meant struggling not against bankers, directly, but against local government and local police. (In New York, one galvanizing figure was Anthony Bologna, a senior police officer who was disciplined after video surfaced showing him squirting protesters with pepper spray.) Perhaps this was a smart strategy: instead of arguing about economics and ideology, the Occupiers could affirm, instead, their unanimous commitment to freedom of assembly. Occupy may have begun with a grievance against Wall Street, but the process of occupation transformed the movement into a meta-movement, peopled by activists demanding the right to demand their rights.

Karl Marx agreed with the anarchists of his day that the state should be destroyed. But he disagreed about when. He was convinced that the state would become obsolete only after the working class had taken it over, thereby destroying the class system. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the French philosopher who popularized the term “anarchist,” thought that the idea of a revolutionary government was a contradiction in terms. “Governments are God’s scourge, established todiscipline the world,” he wrote. “Do you really expect them to destroy themselves, to create freedom, to make revolution?” Mikhail Bakunin, the prickly Russian agitator, sneered at Marx’s idea of a workers’ state. “As soon as they become rulers or representatives of the people,” he wrote, they “will cease to be workers and will begin to look upon the whole workers’ world from the heights of the state.” In 1872, at a meeting in The Hague, Marx helped to expel Bakunin from the International Workingmen’s Association, formalizing a division that seemed no less stark, nearly a century and a half later, when the horizontals broke from the verticals on an August afternoon in Bowling Green.

In delivering his brief for anarchism, Graeber asks readers to take into account the movement’s history of good behavior. “For nearly a century now,” he writes, “anarchism has been one of the very few political philosophies whose exponents never blow anyone up.” This is a sly way of acknowledging that, a hundred years ago, anarchists had a rather different reputation. On May 4, 1886, in Haymarket Square, in Chicago, police tried to halt a demonstration by striking workers, and someone in the crowd threw a bomb, which killed at least ten people, including seven police officers. Chicago had become a hub of anarchist politics, and although the bomber was never identified, eight anarchists were convicted of being accessories to murder. In Europe, anarchists carried out a series of spectacular attacks, including the assassinations of one President (French), two kings (Italian and Greek), and three Prime Ministers (Spanish, Russian, and Spanish again). In the U.S., anarchism’s reputation was sealed for a generation by Leon Czolgosz, who killed President William McKinley, in 1901; he had evidently been inspired by Emma Goldman, the prominent anarchist rabble-rouser.

Over the years, though, anarchists’ ferocious reputation has mellowed. The Occupy movement borrowed some of its organizing tactics from the egalitarian groups that formed, in the nineteen-seventies, to try to stop the construction of nuclear power plants. And the rise of punk helped give anarchism a new image: “Anarchy in the U.K.,” by the Sex Pistols, was an ambiguous provocation; other bands, like Crass, used “anarchy” to signal their commitment to a bundle of emancipatory causes, and their independence from the socialist organizations that dominated the British left. The connection to punk lent anarchism a countercultural credibility, and in 1999, when tens of thousands of activists materialized in Seattle, intent on shutting down a World Trade Organization conference, raucous young anarchists were out in front; at one point, they smashed the window of a Starbucks. The smashed window became an icon of resistance, and the chaos in the streets of Seattle galvanized a mobilization, known as the Global Justice movement.

Twelve years later, not all of Occupy’s supporters were happy to see anarchists playing a starring role. In a contentious essay titled, “The Cancer in Occupy,” Chris Hedges called for a clean break. Hedges is a former Times reporter turned socialist author and activist, and he published his essay on the progressive Web site Truthdig, a few months after the Zuccotti eviction. His main target was the “black bloc” phenomenon, in which activists—often anarchists—dress in black clothes, with black handkerchiefs obscuring their faces, the better to cause mischief anonymously. Hedges accused black blocs of a “lust” for destruction, which he described as a sickness. “Once the Occupy movement is painted as a flag-burning, rock-throwing, angry mob we are finished,” he wrote.

In a deeply indignant response to Hedges, Graeber pointed out that black-bloc actions had been rare in the Occupy movement. Much of Hedges’s concern seemed to arise from a single incident in Oakland, when a black bloc smashed bank windows and vandalized a Whole Foods. Like many anarchists, Graeber doesn’t think property damage is violence. And he believes that so-called “mobs” have their uses—in 2001, in Quebec City, he was part of a black bloc that succeeded in toppling a chain-link fence meant to separate activists from the free-trade meeting they wanted to disrupt. He supports “diversity of tactics,” an approach that urges different kinds of activists to stay physically separate (so as not to endanger each other) but politically united. Above all, Graeber rejects what he calls “the peace police”: activists who try to control other activists’ behavior, sometimes in collaboration with the real police. His tolerance for confrontational protest stems in part from his disinclination to empower anyone to stop it.

Graeber is more worried about the charge that modern anarchists are feckless, so he is keen to give anarchists credit for changing the world. He claims that the Global Justice movement weakened the W.T.O. and scuttled the Free Trade Area of the Americas pact, which was the topic of those discussions in Quebec City. And he credits the Occupy movement with preventing Mitt Romney from becoming President. (He underestimates Romney’s own, invaluable contributions to this cause.) Graeber is pleased, too, to underscore the links between Occupy and other popular movements around the world, from the Egyptian uprising to the ongoing demonstrations of the Indignados, in Spain. He sees a global “insurrectionary wave,” united less by a shared ideology than by a shared opposition to an increasingly global social arrangement.

The rehabilitation of anarchism in America has a lot to do with the fall of the Soviet Union, which lives on in popular memory as a quaint and brutal place—an embarrassing precursor that modern, pro-democracy socialists must find ways to disavow. Graeber sees “authoritarian socialists” not as distant relatives but as longtime enemies; channelling Bakunin, he claims that the Marxist intention to smash the state by seizing it first is a “pipe dream.” For anarchists, the major historical precursors are so fleeting as to be nearly nonexistent: the Paris Commune lasted scarcely two months, in 1871; anarchists dominated Catalonia for about a year, after the Spanish revolution in 1936. The appeal of anarchism is largely negative: a promise that a different world needn’t resemble any of the ones that have been tried before.

In a new book, “Two Cheers for Anarchism” (Princeton), James C. Scott, a highly regarded professor of anthropology and political science at Yale (and, Graeber says, “one of the great political thinkers of our time”), commends anarchism precisely for its “tolerance for confusion and improvisation.” Graeber did his anthropological field work in the highlands of Madagascar, and Scott did his in Southeast Asia, but their conclusions were similar. Both of them encountered communities that lived more or less autonomously, finding ways to resist or ignore whatever governments claimed jurisdiction over them. And both are eager to expand the history of lived anarchism beyond Paris and Catalonia; it is, they argue, broader and more common than we’ve been taught.

“Two Cheers for Anarchism” conducts a brief and digressive seminar in political philosophy, starting from the perspective of a disillusioned leftist. “Virtually every major successful revolution ended by creating a state more powerful than the one it overthrew,” Scott writes. Traditionally, this has been an argument against revolutions, but Scott wonders whether it might be an argument against states. He stops short of calling for the abolition of government, which explains the missing cheer. Instead, he highlights everyday acts of petty resistance: “foot-dragging, poaching, pilfering, dissimulation, sabotage, desertion, absenteeism, squatting, and flight.” Most of all, he urges citizens to be wary of their governments, which is good advice, but rather deflating—Scott can make anarchism sound like little more than a colorful word for critical thinking.

Graeber shares Scott’s mistrust of grand prescriptions, but he thinks that he has found an alternative: prefigurative politics, which holds that political movements resemble the worlds they seek to create. Instead of planning a new society, revolutionaries must form a new society, and then grow. A hierarchical vanguard party will never create broad equality, just as, he says, “grim joyless revolutionaries” can’t be trusted to increase human happiness. From this perspective, all those seemingly insular procedural debates in Zuccotti Park weren’t insular at all: how the movement worked would determine what it wanted. What Graeber wants is a kind of decentralized socialism, with decisions made by a patchwork of local assemblies and coöperatives—at one point, he imagines “something vaguely like jury duty, except non-compulsory.” He argues that serious economic inequality wouldn’t endure without a state to enforce it. “We are already anarchists, or at least we act like anarchists, every time we come to understandings with one another that would not require physical threats as a means of enforcement,” he writes. “It’s a question of building on what we are already doing, expanding the zones of freedom, until freedom becomes the ultimate organizing principle.”

Graeber is comfortable—perhaps too comfortable—with uncertainty. “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse,” he writes, which seems an odd admission for a deeply committed unfetterer. (If we don’t know much about this “free” world, how do we know it won’t be, in some ways, just as coercive?) Graeber talks about the way a new society would expand people’s options, but he has acknowledged that a truly anarchist revolution would mean less production, and less consumption. Humankind would be rid of “all the useless or destructive occupations like telemarketers, lawyers, prison guards, financial analysts, public relations experts, bureaucrats and politicians.” (Anthropology professors would appear to be safe.) Although Graeber likes to distance himself from his grim and joyless rivals, there is a trace of asceticism in his vision. Part of Graeber’s motivation for wandering down to Bowling Green, back in 2011, was his opposition to what he calls “draconian austerity budgets” proposed by Mayor Bloomberg. Graeber wants to demonize modern debt without demonizing debtors. Yet the language of economic “austerity” finds a striking analogue in his vision of a post-debt society composed of people who have learned, at long last, to live within their means.

Graeber believes that the Occupy movement wouldn’t have attracted as much attention if it hadn’t been for the Tea Party movement, a few years earlier. Reporters sensed a parallel, and they wanted, he says, to make “a minimal gesture in the way of balance.” He notes that the reporters moved on around the time it became clear that the Occupy movement, unlike the Tea Party movement, was not going to become a force in electoral politics. In fact, there is one anarchist who could be considered influential in Washington, but he wasn’t among the activists who participated in the Occupy movement—he died nearly twenty years ago. His name is Murray Rothbard, and, among small-government Republicans, he is something of a cult hero. He was Ron Paul’s intellectual mentor, which makes him the godfather of the godfather of the Tea Party. Justin Amash, a young Republican congressman from Michigan and a rising star in the Party, hangs a framed portrait of him on his office wall.

Rothbard was an anarchist, but also a capitalist. “True anarchism will be capitalism, and true capitalism will be anarchism,” he once said, and he sometimes referred to himself by means of a seven-syllable honorific: “anarcho-capitalist.” Graeber thinks that governments treat their citizens “like children,” and that, when governments disappear, people will behave differently. Anarcho-capitalists, on the contrary, believe that, without government, people will behave more or less the same: we will be just as creative or greedy or competent as we are now, only freer. Instead of imagining a world without drastic inequality, anarcho-capitalists imagine a world where people and their property are secured by private defense agencies, which are paid to keep the peace. Graeber doesn’t consider anarcho-capitalists to be true anarchists; no doubt the feeling is mutual.

The split personality of anarchism demonstrates the slippery nature of anti-government arguments, which can bring together a wide range of people who are deeply dissatisfied with the government we’ve got. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the government bailouts and loans that followed, capitalists and anticapitalists were often united in their disapproval, and, when Graeber criticizes “collusion between government and financial institutions,” he is speaking the shared language of the Tea Party and the Occupy movements. During those days in 2011, one of the politicians who expressed support for the Occupy movement was Buddy Roemer, a Republican and a former governor of Louisiana, who was waging a long-shot campaign to win his party’s Presidential nomination. “I think the Tea Party is onto something: special favors for special friends,” he said, after visiting the Washington encampment. “Hell, that’s what Occupy Washington, D.C., is saying—they’re saying the same thing.”

Despite a few attempts at outreach, Occupy and the Tea Party never found much common ground. It’s not easy for a protest movement to shrug off the logic of partisanship: the Tea Party was essentially a Republican movement, and, if the Occupiers held low opinions of the Democratic Party, it was always clear that they disdained Republicans much more. Even Graeber, for all his radicalism, still sees himself as an ally, however disaffected, of liberal Democrats in their fight against the conservative agenda. In a recent online exchange, he wrote about his frustration with the political establishment. “What reformers have to understand is that they’re never going to get anywhere without radicals and revolutionaries to betray,” he wrote, and went on:

I’ve never understood why “progressives” don’t understand this. The mainstream right understands it, that’s why they go crazy when it looks like someone might be cracking down on far-right militia groups, and so forth. They know it’s totally to their political advantage to have people even further to the right than they so they can seem moderate. If only the mainstream left acted the same way!

Despite his implacable opposition to state power, Graeber often finds himself defending the sorts of government program that liberals typically support, such as socialized medicine. There is a distinction, he argues, between state institutions based on coercion, like prisons or border control, and those which could (in a post-capitalist future) be run as voluntary collectives, like health care. Still, he is self-aware enough to be amused by all the ways in which anarchists find themselves fighting, in the short term, for causes that would seem to increase the role of government. Early in “The Democracy Project,” he describes being at a demonstration in London that protested government budget cuts and corporate tax breaks. He remembers thinking, “It feels a bit unsettling watching a bunch of anarchists in masks outside Topshop, lobbing paint bombs over a line of riot cops, shouting, ‘Pay your taxes!’ ” Then he admits that he was one of the paint bombers.

At times, Graeber can sound like one of the orthodox Marxists he lampoons, eager to see the state wither away—just not quite yet. It’s a common paradox. For years, American politicians have been promising to bring the country a smaller, more streamlined state; President Obama was obliged to present his health-care reforms as an opportunity to reduce, not increase, the federal budget. As the government expands, the calls to shrink it grow louder; even many radicals, these days, decline to be counted as proponents of big government. In a more fragile state, like Greece or Spain, anarchism often adopts an apocalyptic tone: to be an anarchist is to accept, or even to welcome, the cataclysm that all the politicians fear. But in America anarchism’s appeal surely has something to do with the seeming durability of our current arrangement, and the inexorable growth of the government that maintains it. Such is the power of a sprawling and sophisticated state: the bigger it gets, the easier it becomes for us to imagine that we could live without it. ♦

A Radical Anthropologist Finds Himself in Academic ‘Exile’ (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

April 15, 2013

A Radical Anthropologist Finds Himself in Academic 'Exile' 1

Pete Marovich for The Chronicle. David Graeber, an anthropologist who studies and participates in the radical left, finds fans of his work inside academe and out. Here he speaks with audience members during a talk at a public library in Washington, D.C.

By Christopher Shea

Who’s afraid of David Graeber? Not the dozens of D.C.-area residents who showed up on a recent night at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to hear the anthropologist and radical activist talk about his new book, The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement(Spiegel & Grau). Aimed at the mainstream, the book discusses Mr. Graeber’s involvement in the Occupy Wall Street movement and the idea that principles drawn from anarchist theory—a wholesale rejection of current electoral politics, for starters, in favor of groups operating on the basis of consensus—offer an alternative to our present polity, which he calls “organized bribery” (or “mafia capitalism”).

On this warm spring evening the rumpled scholar was interviewed by a friendly and more conventionally telegenic writer, Thomas Frank. Graying lefties and young liberals and radicals in the crowd alike seemed impressed. Even the token skeptical economist in the audience framed her question respectfully, and C-Span broadcast live.

Mr. Graeber is a star in the left-academic world. Indeed, it’s possible that, given his activism and his writings, he is the most influential anthropologist in the world. He played a part in establishing the nonhierarchical “organization” of the Occupy movement, in its early days in Manhattan, and his 500-plus-page Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Melville House, 2011) struck scholars for its verve and sweep. It made the case that lending and borrowing evolved out of humane, communitarian impulses in premodern societies—out of a free-floating interest in the common weal—and only later became institutionalized actions spawning moral guilt and legal punishment.

The book ranged from discussions of ancient Sumerian economics to analyses of how Nambikwara tribesmen in Brazil settle their affairs to the international monetary system. “An argument of Debt’s scope hasn’t been made by a professional anthropologist for the best part of a century, certainly not one with as much contemporary relevance,” wrote the British anthropologist Keith Hart, of Goldsmiths College, University of London, in a review on his Web site last year. The book won a prize for best book in anthropology from the Society for Cultural Anthropology in 2012 and according to his agent has sold nearly 100,000 copies in English alone.

But strikingly, Mr. Graeber, 52, has been unable to get an academic job in the United States. In an incident that drew national attention, Yale University, in 2005, told him it would not renew his contract (which would have promoted him from assistant professor to “term associate” professor). After a fight, he won a reprieve—but only for two years. He never came up for tenure.

Foreign universities immediately sent out feelers, he says. From 2008 through this spring, Mr. Graeber was a lecturer and then a reader at Goldsmiths College and, just last month, he accepted a professorship at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

But no American universities approached him, he says, and nearly 20 job applications in this country (or Canada) have borne no fruit. The applications came in two waves: directly after the Yale brouhaha and a couple of years later, when he concluded he wanted to return to the States for reasons that were partly personal (a long-distance romantic relationship, the death of his mother and older brother).

His academic “exile,” as he calls it, has not gone unnoticed. “It is possible to view the fact that Graeber has not secured a permanent academic position in the United States after his controversial departure from Yale University as evidence of U.S. anthropology’s intolerance of political outspokenness,” writes Jeff Maskovsky, an associate professor of anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, in the March issue of American Anthropologist.

That charge might seem paradoxical, given anthropology’s reputation as a leftist redoubt, but some of Mr. Graeber’s champions see that leftism as shallower than it might first appear. Anthropology “is radical in the abstract,” says Laura Nader, a professor in the field at the University of California at Berkeley. “You can quote Foucault and Gramsci, but if you tell it like it is,” it’s a different story, she says.

Mr. Graeber “talks about possibilities, and God, if there’s anything we need now it’s possibilities,” she says. “We are in tunnels. We are turned in. We are more ethnocentric than ever. We’ve turned the United States into a military zone. And into this move-to-the-right country comes David Graeber.”

When he applied to Berkeley in the early 2000s and the department failed to hire him, “we really missed the boat,” she says.

Jonathan Marks, a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who had no direct experience with any Graeber job search, agrees: “Whoever had a chance to hire him and didn’t missed out on having the author of one of the most important books in recent memory on their faculty,” he wrote in an e-mail.

 ‘Incredibly Conformist’

Mr. Graeber was at first reluctant to talk about his failed job searches, for fear of coming across as bitter and souring future chances, but he decided to open up after the LSE job became official. As he recalled, the places to which he applied twice were the City University of New York Graduate Center, the New School, Cornell University, and the University of Chicago. The others were Hunter College, Emory, Duke, Columbia, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins—as well as the University of Toronto. He heard indirectly of colleagues at other universities trying to secure him a position, to no avail.

Responding to anthropologists’ frequent claim that they embrace activist scholarship, he echoes Ms. Nader: “They don’t mean it”—at least when it comes truly radical activism.

“If I were to generalize,” Mr. Graeber says, “I would say that what we see is a university system which mitigates against creativity and any form of daring. It’s incredibly conformist and it represents itself as the opposite, and I think this kind of conformism is a result of the bureaucratization of the university.”

He and his allies also suspect that false information emanating from his public fight with Yale, garnered secondhand, has hurt him.

When Yale announced it was not renewing his contract, students and some professors rallied behind him, and he gave interviews suggesting that the decision was politically motivated. (The story made The New York Times.) He had spent part of a sabbatical working with the Global Justice Movement, which has mounted protests against such groups as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Perhaps surprisingly, he did not take much part in the heated Yale debate over graduate-student unionization. He was, he likes to say, “a scholar in New Haven and an activist in New York.”

During the dispute over his Yale position, he said, he’d been accused of not doing service work (though he did all he was asked, he said), of being late for classes, and of being ill prepared to teach. Yancey Orr, a graduate student in religion at the time who took courses from Mr. Graeber and is now an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Alberta, says that charge is absurd: “He was easily the most helpful seminar leader you could ask for.”

Being denied tenure at Yale is hardly unusual, but not getting rehired at Mr. Graeber’s stage is. Some professors Mr. Orr has talked to at institutions that failed to hire Mr. Graeber were under the impression that he went nuclear over a tenure denial, but the situation was more complex, more unorthodox, says Mr. Orr.

The chairs of the departments to which Mr. Graeber applied who could be reached all cited confidentiality in declining to talk about the decisions—or, typically, even to confirm he’d applied. But several denied that politics would affect such decisions. “I can say without hesitation,” wrote James Ferguson, the chair of anthropology at Stanford, in an e-mail, “that I personally would not regard Graeber’s political orientation as in any way disqualifying, nor would I expect such views to be held by my colleagues.”

“As is known throughout the world,” wrote Janet Roitman, chair of anthropology at the New School, “the New School prides itself for its longstanding tradition of radical politics; David would not have been the first hire or tenured faculty member to pursue ‘radical’ political positions or to engage in activism.”

Some anthropologists, including Alex Golub, a contributor to the popular blog Savage Minds and an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, suggested that a general dearth of jobs in the field would be enough to explain Mr. Graeber’s run of bad luck—especially because the book that brought him fame, Debt, had not been published at the time of the searches. (Though he’d published four others by 2009, as well as a much-read pamphlet, “Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology,” with Prickly Paradigm.) But Mr. Graeber scoffs at that: “Gee, I applied for 17. Somebody got those jobs.” Moreover, Britain is not brimming with anthropology jobs, either, yet he’s had little problem there.

“I believe it’s possible that his politics have helped him in some cases and hurt him in others,” says Mr. Maskovksy, of CUNY, who in his American Anthropologist essay raised the issue of what Mr. Graeber’s academic exile to England meant for the profession . “He has a huge following among graduate students because of his protest work and because he links his protest work to the kind of anthropology he wants to do. But there’s a huge gap between generating that kind of interest and respect, on the one hand, and job-hiring decisions. I don’t know what makes people hire and what makes them not.”

On Collegiality

One charge that has dogged Mr. Graeber is that he is “difficult,” an attribute that’s obviously hard to gauge. Ms. Nader says she urged him to soften his rough edges—to send thank-you cards, even, when protocol suggested it. (Mr. Graeber does not recall that counseling session on manners and says he always sends thank-you notes.) But she finds it deplorable that scholars would value superficial clubbability over originality of thought; she decries the “‘harmony ideology’ that has hit the academy.” She also thinks the fact that he “writes in English,” eschewing jargon, hasn’t helped him.

There is some evidence of Mr. Graeber’s contentiousness. During an online seminar about Debt on the blog Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, said Mr. Graeber had—for example—provided insufficient evidence that in the first Gulf War the United States had attacked Iraq partly because Iraq had stopped using dollars as its reserve currency and turned to the euro. In Mr. Graeber’s response, he accused Mr. Farrell of “consummate dishonesty” and said he had failed to engage with the argument and instead sought to show its maker was a “lunatic.” Mr. Farrell responded that he was “very unhappy” with Mr. Graeber’s charges and tone.

From February to April 1, J. Bradford DeLong, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, baited Mr. Graeber by setting up an automated Twitter stream that sarcastically recounted dozens of alleged (or actual) errors of fact in Debt. For example: “Learned that 12 Regional Fed Banks not private banks like Citi or Goldman Sachs? Stay away until you do! #Graebererrors.” Mr. Graeber responded aggressively. At one point he wrote, on Twitter, referring to Mr. DeLong’s work in the Clinton Treasury Department on the North American Free Trade Agreement: “I bet the poor guy had a rough time at 14. Tried to compensate by gaining power, then look—destroyed Mexico’s economy.”

Mr. Graeber calls some of Mr. DeLong’s postings “libelous”—a virtual campaign of harassment. “He has been on a crusade to hurt me in every way,” he says, growing angry.

“Yet these guys are considered mainstream and I’m the crazy guy who can’t get a job.” He adds, “I don’t even write negative book reviews.”

Mr. Graeber, who says he gets along just fine with his colleagues in London—and, indeed, with most of his former colleagues at Yale—has his own take on what scholars mean by “collegiality”: “What collegiality means in practice is: ‘He knows how to operate appropriately within an extremely hierarchical environment.’ You never see anyone accused of lack of collegiality for abusing their inferiors. It means ‘not playing the game in what we say is the proper way.'”

In his American Anthropologist essay, CUNY’s Mr. Maskovsky said that the many graduate students who took part in Occupy Wall Street might view Mr. Graeber’s difficulty finding a job as a cautionary tale. Would their advisers see their activism as, at the least, a distraction from their research?

Manissa Maharawal is one such student, at CUNY, a participant in Occupy now studying the activist projects that emerged from it. She says she has received nothing but support from her advisers and doesn’t understand the politics of academic hiring, but finds the Graeber situation perplexing—in a bad way. “His work is really good, he’s well reviewed, he’s become pretty famous in the last year,” she says. “I’m not sure what’s going on. You can have all the boxes you’re supposed to check checked and still not get a job. It’s scary, for sure.”