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Review of Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber

category international | economy | review author Wednesday August 08, 2012 08:57author by Wayne Price - personal opinionauthor email drwdprice at aol dot com Report this post to the editors

Debt, Money, and Exploitation

Book review of David Graeber's "Debt: The First 5,000 Years." A good history of debt, credit, and money. Weaknesses in seeing debt as central to economic development, downplaying role of human labor, exploitation, and class struggle. This leads to a misunderstanding of the recent economic crisis, and to a limited and inadequate vision of a post-capitalist future.

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In “An Anarchist FAQ,” Iain McKay writes, “…anarchists have, traditionally, been weak on…economics (which is ironic, as Proudhon made his name by his economic critiques)” (2008; p. 13). This is why David Graeber, the anarchist anthropologist, deserves praise for writing a major work on political economy. He has written, he says, a “book [on] the history of money, debt, and credit” (2011; p. 212). “My own aims are…to understand the moral grounds of economic life, and by extension, human life…” (p. 89). The book was influenced by the Great Recession of 2008 and following, which should have been “…the beginning of an actual public conversation about the nature of debt, of money, of the financial institutions that have come to hold the fate of nations in their grip” (p. 15). “This book is a history of debt, then, but it also uses that history as a way to ask fundamental questions about what human beings and human society are or could be like” (p. 18). Graeber’s book is not only a history of debt and money, but also involves questions of morality and of possible futures, “what human society could be like.”

I am reviewing this book from my own viewpoint. I am a revolutionary anarchist who has concluded that Marx’s critique of political economy is the most useful economic theory for understanding how capitalism works. This was the opinion of Bakunin and of many anarchists since (see chap. 3 of Black Flame, Schmidt & van der Walt, 2009). I do not call myself a Marxist, however, because there is also much in Marx’s theories with which I strongly disagree, not to mention my rejection of the theory and practice of most of the post-Marx Marxists. It is from this viewpoint that I critique David Graeber’s contribution.

Much of this book is very interesting as well as clearly written, lively and witty. It covers an amazingly wide range of topics, over its “5,000 years.” This includes lengthy discussions on the possible origins of money, the role of debt in various religions, the relation of slavery to the beliefs of the “heroic” age, the origins of “please” and “thank you,” temple prostitution, the interaction between early markets and early states, and many other topics—which makes it difficult to review! Graeber avoids Eurocentrism, by looking at economic developments on a world scale, covering the major regions of human settlement as they evolved separately and together. Even when I disagree with him or (more often) am not sure whether he is right, I find his writing thought-provoking. Unfortunately, due to space limitations, I cannot write about most of the subjects he raises.

His book is best treated as a history of debt, credit, and money, and of the interaction of these with other aspects of society (politics, family structures, ideologies: religion, philosophy, and morality, etc.). From my viewpoint, stated above, I have no problem saying that debt and credit are vitally important in economic history as well as today. “Credit plays a central role in the most basic processes of capital accumulation and it lies at the core of Marx’s account of the system” (Choonara, 2009; p. 100).

My disagreement with Graeber is that he makes debt and credit the main factor in social development. I believe there is something even more central, which is human labor. In my opinion, his view leads to a wrong analysis of the current economic crisis and to a limited program for “what human society could be like.

The Exploitation of Human Labor

This problem appears in his discussion of slavery. Graeber emphasizes the centrality of slavery to social development. At certain times and places, slaves were even used as money. Slavery was central to the self-conception of the “heroes” of certain societies. Slavery laid the basis for modern economies. Graeber describes this important institution: “…What is slavery?...Slavery is the ultimate form of being ripped from one’s context, and thus from all the social relationships that make one a human being….The slave is, in a very real sense, dead” (2011; p. 168).

This is true and even insightful. Yet it leaves out what almost anyone—even those who never heard of anarchism or Marxism—would include: that slaves were forced to work, with barely any return, for someone else. The whole point of ripping people from their social contexts and making them legally dead was so that a minority (a boss class) could work them like ill-fed animals, give them as little sustenance as possible, and then take the results of their unpaid labor. In other words, the point of slavery was exploitation of human labor. And the history of ancient slave empires, as well as of more modern chattel slavery in North and South America, was a history of class conflicts between the slaves and the master classes.

Marx could have been responding to Graeber (agreeing and disagreeing) when he wrote, in Capital, vol. 1, “The class struggles of the ancient world took the form chiefly of a contest between debtors and creditors, which in Rome ended in the ruin of the plebeian debtors. They were displaced by slaves. In the middle ages the contest ended with the ruin of the feudal debtors…. Nevertheless, the money relation of debtor and creditor that existed at these two periods reflected only the deeper-lying antagonism between the general economical conditions of existence of the classes in question” (1906; p. 152).

The “deeper-lying antagonism between classes” was that one class exploited the labor of others. Slavery, serfdom, debtorship: these were all mechanisms for exploitation. It is indeed valuable to analyze how these mechanisms worked, including the creditor-debtor relationship. But we should never forget that the purpose of any of these methods was the exploitation of labor.

Similarly, Graeber misstates the meaning of wage-labor under capitalism. He refers to “…that most basic, dominant institution of our present economic life: wage labor” (2011; p. 206). But he writes this in the context of discussing the legal philosophy of rights and liberties. He writes that “a wage-labor contract is…[an] agreement between equals to no longer be equal (at least for a time)…. It is the very essence of what we call ‘debt’“ (p. 120).

Again, he understands everything about wage-labor except that it is a form of exploitation. The whole point of the capitalist making the worker temporarily “unequal” is to get the workers to work for a certain number of hours to produce the equivalent of the workers’ wages and then to continue to work for several more hours, giving (essentially unpaid) labor, producing “surplus value” (the basis of profit). If this is the “very essence of debt,” then the essence of debt is exploitation of labor. (Of course, Graeber knows that slavery and wage-labor exploit human labor; he just does not consider this to be vitally important to their meaning.)

Graeber notes that “socialists…saw capitalism as the system whereby those who own capital command the labor of those who do not” (p. 345). This is not his view, however. Graeber notes that banks and bond markets and other financial institutions had come into existence “before the rise of factories and wage labor itself” (p. 345) and therefore “capitalism” can be said to begin before there was wage labor. There is no point in quibbling over definitions. Certainly the early market economy developed all sorts of economic apparatuses which paved the way for the eventual development of a fully capitalist society. But a qualitative change occurred with the spread of wage-labor, which Graeber has correctly called, “the most basic dominant, institution” of capitalism.

Graeber misunderstands what capitalism is. He describes it as “commercial society,” an economy driven to expand its money, to growth and accumulate its wealth. A marginal few in pre-capitalist economies sold commodities to get money in order to buy new (and more desired) commodities. But capitalists, he says, take money to buy commodities in order to sell these commodities for more money than they started with. Graeber applies this to early merchants (who bought goods in one place in order to carry them to distant places and sell them for a higher price due to their rarity). But such merchants (like the Polo brothers) did not increase the overall wealth of society, they only moved it around. Under capitalism (as Marx saw it), the industrial capitalists buy raw materials and machinery, in order to combine them with the labor-power hired from workers. The labor of the workers makes new things and new values, including unpaid-for surplus value. That is how capitalism expands.

Commodities and Values

Graeber works his way through several theories of the origins and the nature of money. He concludes, “…there is an unresolved debate between those who see it as a commodity and those who see it as an IOU. Which one is it? ...It’s both…. Money is almost always something hovering between a commodity and a debt-token” (pp. 73, 75). Yet his whole book focuses on the nature of debt (credit) and says virtually nothing about commodities, what they are and how they evolved. Is this because commodities cannot be discussed except by acknowledging that they are objects and services provided by human labor?

Compare this with the very first paragraph of Marx’s Capital: “The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities, its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity” (1906; p. 41). This is a different concept of what capitalist society is and how it needs to be analyzed.

Together with his silence about what commodities are, there is Graeber’s silence about economic “value.” Considering money, Graeber demonstrates that both the commodity theorists and the credit theorists agree that the function of money is “to measure the value of other commodities” (p. 44). “A gold coin is a promise to pay something else of equivalent value to a gold coin” (p. 47). “What we call ‘money’…is a way of comparing things mathematically, as proportions: of saying one of X is equivalent to six of Y” (p. 52). But to say that things are “equivalent” in certain proportions is to say that they have equal (equivalent) values. What is this “value” that can be measured in terms of how much each commodity has?

Marx believed that economic value, the exchange value of the capitalist market, was different from the utility (use-value) of the commodity. The producing (and selling) capitalists do not care what the use-value is of a commodity, so long as there is a buyer who is willing to pay money for it. The exchange value of a commodity is the amount of socially necessary labor time which went into each commodity (as modified by various factors such as the average rate of profit, the effect of monopoly, short-term fluctuations in supply and demand, etc.). Some sort of “labor theory of value” was almost universal among pre-Marxist classical economists, including Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Proudhon. For example, Ben Franklin wrote, “Trade in general being nothing else but the exchange of labor for labor, the value of all things is…most justly measured by labor” (quoted in Marx, 1906; p. 59). Graeber rejects the labor theory of value but does not say why. Nor does he suggest any alternate approach to value (such as the “marginal utility” approach). In all this big book he has nothing to say about value in the market. (I see that he has written a book which has “value” in its title. Whether it discusses this topic, I do not know.) Yet again, he downplays the importance of labor.

In a footnote in the back of the book, Graeber makes a brief remark that he has “tried to move away from the economistic framing of human life as ‘reproduction of labor’ that hobbles so much Marxist literature—[my] emphasis [is] on life beyond survival…” (p. 453). This from someone who has written a 450 page book in which, as he says, “I am mainly interested here in economics” ! (p. 406). It is indeed wrong to make a crude, mechanistic, analysis in which labor is directly all that matters and everything else would just be an unimportant reflection. That would be “economistic.” But there is no reason why the “reproduction of labor” cannot be seen as a major factor, influencing the rest of society and being influenced by other social factors in turn (by politics, family structure, social psychology, religion, art, etc.). That would not be “economistic.”

Today’s Crisis

Graeber’s writing is weakest when discussing the causes of the current economic crisis. It is sloppy and unbelievable. He states, “Presented with the prospect of its own eternity, capitalism—or anyway, financial capitalism—simply explodes. Because if there’s no end to it, there’s absolutely no reason not to generate credit—that is, future money—indefinitely…. The period leading up to 2008 was one in which many began to believe that capitalism was going to be around forever…. The immediate effect was a series of increasingly reckless bubbles…” (p. 360). Apparently he is serious (he repeats this “analysis”).

Was the period before the recent period (say, the post-World War II apparent prosperity) one where people did not believe that capitalism would be around forever? (I lived through the 60s, and I can assure Graeber that most people, alas, thought capitalism was eternal.) Did investors turn to “financialization” in the 80s because they had a new faith in capitalism? Is there any evidence for these claims? If this was so, then why did the bubbles ever pop? A sudden belief in the limitations of capitalism?

This view is based on nothing but speculation about mass psychology. It ignores the long term trends (at least since about 1970) toward economic stagnation, overproduction, unemployment and underemployment, underdevelopment and lop-sided development in the oppressed nations, etc. There was a long-term tendency of the rate of profit to fall, together with a growth of monopolization. These caused stagnation in the “real economy” (the production of real goods and services), due to the decline of real surplus value production. In response, capitalists increasingly invested in the “paper economy,” in what Marx called “fictitious capital,” to produce paper profits (which turned out to be unsustainable). Obviously this question would take much longer to explain and debate (see Foster & Magdoff, 2009; Kliman, 2012; Mattick, 2011). At least this explanation is rooted in real factors of labor and production.

His Vision for the Future

A major advantage which anarchism has over Marxism, is that Marx was quite vague about any program for a society after capitalism, focusing mostly on current analysis and strategies for change. By contrast, anarchists have offered visions for a new and better society, in more or less detail. But not Graeber. “What I have been trying to do in this book is not so much to propose a vision of what, precisely, the next age will be like, but to throw open perspectives…” (p. 383). Tellingly, at no point in this book, does Graeber identify himself as an “anarchist” or advocate “anarchism,” nor does he call himself a “revolutionary” or advocate “revolution.” At the most, in a footnote, he vaguely remarks that, rather than Marxism, “I am drawing here more on the alternate strain of revolutionary theory, evident most famously perhaps in Peter Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid” (p. 404).

However, if we look carefully at his book, we can find the basic principles which he expects to apply to “the next age”. After all, what thinkers believe is central to capitalism’s functioning will determine what they think is necessary to change in order to abolish capitalism and the state. Marx, as well as anarchists of the broad, class-struggle, tradition, believed that exploitation of workers was central to capitalism. Therefore they advocated a cooperative, classless, society, without exploitation, as central to the struggle against all forms of oppression. But if people agree with Graeber that debt is basic to the functioning of capitalism, then they will focus on the abolition of debt (or at least its limitation).

Graeber declares that all societies, past present and future, base their economies on three “modalities.” “There are three main moral principles…all of which occur in any human society, and which I will call communism, hierarchy, and exchange” (p. 94).

By “communism,” Graeber means that all societies rely on community, solidarity, mutual aid, neighborliness, informal cooperation, and “love.” He specifically denies that “communism,” as he uses it, has “anything to do with ownership of the means of production…. The question of individual or private property…is often little more than formal legality anyway” (p. 95). “’Communist society’—in the sense of a society organized exclusively on that single principle—could never exist” (p. 95). However, Kropotkin and other “anarchist-communists” of “the alternate strain of revolutionary theory” did advocate a cooperative economy with the means of production held collectively (“in common”). From this point of view, Graeber would seem to be rejecting libertarian communism.

What Graeber means by writing that there would always be “hierarchy” is not quite clear. Is he denying that an egalitarian society is possible? Is he saying that some sort of state is inevitable? Or is he just saying that even in a classless, egalitarian, society, adults will have responsibility for children, some people may be more influential than others among friends, and so on? Anarchists could accept the latter, but I am not sure if that is what he means.

Exchange in the Market

By “exchange,” Graeber means a situation “in which each side gives as good as it gets” (p. 103). This may include exchanging gifts or barter or competitive commercial business. “There’s always some sort of system of exchange” (p 385) which may be a market. Markets can be good and noncapitalist, he claims. Graeber goes to great lengths to repeatedly insist that “markets” and “capitalism” are not necessarily the same. “…The market [and] capitalism (I must continually remind the reader that these are not the same thing)” (p. 376). “Markets, when allowed to drift entirely free from their violent origins, invariably begin to grow into something different, into networks of honor, trust, and mutual connectedness” (p. 386).

I agree that early markets (exhanges of commodities at the margins of society) were the not the same thing as developed capitalism (when human labor-power became a commodity and the whole of society was subordinated to commodity production). But capitalism developed out of early commodity exchange (with a big assist by the state). A return to pre-capitalist markets would only make likely the re-development of capitalism.

To continue to have markets, implies continuing to have money. Graeber states, “Money was no more ever ‘invented’ than music or mathematics or jewelry….It’s probably as old as human thought” (p. 52). If money is an aspect of human thought, comparable to music or mathematics, then, like music and mathematics, presumably we can expect to always have money.

Of all the things he could raise, Graeber makes only one specific “concrete proposal….” It is “…for some kind of Biblical-style Jubilee…” (p. 390). All debts, domestic and international, would be forgiven (he does not say whether this should be periodic, as in the Bible—every 7 years or every 50 years). This would, no doubt, be difficult to win. “…Great imperial states have invariably resisted this kind of politics” (p. 390). Indeed! I would think that to achieve such a demand would require the overthrow of the capitalist class and their state. But anyway, Graeber concludes, “Nothing would be more important than to wipe the slate clean…and start again” (p. 391). This last phrase is revealing. Apparently debts would not be abolished forever; people would start over again, accumulating debts.

Conclusion

Without going into detail, Graeber imagines a future society, without capitalism but without common ownership of the means of production either, with some degree of hierarchy, with some sort of market, with money, and with debts. This is not really a revolutionary alternative to capitalism. It is the image of a cleaned up capitalism, without its bad qualities (a good, communal, market, limited hierarchy, debts which are periodically wiped out, etc.).

David Graeber’s Debt, The First 5,000 Years, is an interesting and thought-provoking book. It is worth reading as a history of debt, credit, and money. However, it has a mistaken basic concept, that debt is at the center of human economics and society, generally downplaying the significance of human labor (which was correctly emphasized in Marx’s economic theory). For this reason, Graeber has a mistaken analysis of the Great Recession and the current economy. He presents a limited and nonrevolutionary vision of a post-capitalist future, quite in contrast to the revolutionary anarchist-communist (libertarian socialist) program of Kropotkin and others.

Note: In the Fall, AK Press will publish a book by me on some of these topics. It’s subtitle will be An Anarchist’s Introduction to Marx’s Economic Theory. It is an expanded and revised version of material which has appeared on www.Anarkismo.net.


References


Choonara, John (2009). Unravelling Capitalism: A Guide to Marxist Political Economy. London: Bookmark Publications.

Foster, John Bellamy, & Magdoff, Fred (2009). The Great Financial Crisis; Causes and Consequences. NY: Monthly Review Press.

Graeber, David (2011). Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House.

Kliman, Andrew (2012). The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession. London: Pluto Press.

Mattick, Paul (2011). Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism. London: Reaktion Books.

McKay, Iain (2008). An Anarchist FAQ; Vol. One. Edinburgh, Scotland/Oakland CA: AK Press.

Marx, Karl (1906). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. 1. NY: Modern Library.

Schmidt, Michael, & van der Walt, Lucien (2009). Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism; Vol. 1. Oakland CA: AK Press.

*written for www.Anarkismo.net

author by David Graeberpublication date Thu Aug 09, 2012 01:30Report this post to the editors


1) I do not make debt the main factor of social development. I merely make it the main topic of my book.
2) that slavery and wage labor are forms of exploitation of labor is self-evident. It is absurd to say I don't recognize it. This is like insisting that every time one mentions fascists one has to also remark that they are violent or bad, and if one doesn't, but merely discusses their uniforms or something, one is effectively endorsing them.
3) your claim that I don't see capitalism as essentially a mode of exploitation of labor by holders of capital is false. If you read the book at all carefully it's clear that's exactly what I think. I merely pointed out that the assumption that capitalism is necessarily based on exploitation through free wage labor is historically false. I offered this because I dreamed that Marxists analysts such as yourself might actually THINK about the implications, rather than spout doctrine about how for half of its 500 year history capitalists were somehow "preparing the way" for a system that they didn't anticipate or couldn't imagine at all.
4) I do not say capitalism is equivalent to commerce society. I repeatedly say, as even you acknowledge, that it is not.
5) I do not reject the labor theory of value. I simply note that neoclassical economists, with whom I clearly disagree on almost everything, reject it. In fact I've written an entire book on the labor theory of value. I simply don't emphasize that body of my own theory here.
6) I do not say that the current crisis is due to capitalism seeming eternal, I say it's a crisis based on class struggle, following the argument of the Midnight Notes collective, a Marxist group. I state very explicitly in the footnote that you have read and cited (except only the second half) that this is the case
7) I do not say that people in the '60s thought capitalism was likely to collapse, I said that they thought the entire world was likely to blow up in a nuclear war
8) I do not propose a vision for the future. I say quite specifically that I am not going to propose a vision for the future. In fact I say I am making no policy proscriptions at all other than the idea of a clean-slate. Your writing here is disgraceful and you owe me an apology. You've just made things up off the top of your head, based on your (almost entirely incorrect) assumptions about my politics and what you think I would envision Pure hostile extrapolations. When I say "there will always be hierarchies" I make it clear I mean that we'll continue to stop small children from running in the street, or that there are likely to be forms of entertainment involving games and contests and some people will win. When I say "there will always be money" I say in the absolutely minimal sense that there will be some contexts in which we say "12 of those is equivalent to 1 of these." I spell all this out pretty explicitly.
9) I do not say anything, at any point, that might imply that private property in the means of production might endure in a free society. The fact that I note that in the Middle Ages, markets might have had popular appeal does not mean that I think in a revolutionary future there would be private property in the means of production, and extrapolating from one to another is nothing short of insane. Again, you should be ashamed of yourself. If you read the book, you must be aware that I have a long section where I spell out quite explicitly that the very idea of "private property" is founded on violence and slavery and that to imagine real freedom we'd have to get rid of the entire conception. This is one of the few places I do spell out what kind of future I would like to see. You pretend it isn't there and then make up strange twisted reasons to assume I'd endorse the opposite. Again, you owe me, and more than that, the world, an apology for making such hostile misrepresentations of the book's argument.

Maybe rather than condemn the book, you should reflect on how you managed to read a book by a theorist who has written extensively in favor of a labor theory of value, uses an explicitly post-Workerist Marxist approach to the current economic crisis, and looks forward to the abolition of the state and capitalism, but just wasn't explicitly emphasizing those aspects in the text, and ask yourself how you so completely missed it all. Because this is really an embarrassment.

author by mitchpublication date Thu Aug 09, 2012 07:09Report this post to the editors

Pardon my ignorance, but what is a "post-Workerist Marxist approach"?

author by David Graeberpublication date Thu Aug 09, 2012 08:10Report this post to the editors

oh, it just refers to the stream that comes from Mario Tronti through Harry Cleaver ("Reading Capitali Politically") and the Midnight Notes folks. It's a tradition that sees class struggle as primary, in that rather than contradictions in capital creating open that worker's struggle might take advantage of, it's always popular struggle that takes the lead with capital simultaneously responding to, and co-opting it. Kind of a long story. I use the Midnight Notes analysis in speaking of two cycles of post-War capitalism, the Keynesian round and the neo-liberal round, as both responding to earlier worker's struggle. George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici might be the best to read on this - Massimo de Angelis is also very good.

author by Waynepublication date Thu Aug 09, 2012 08:37Report this post to the editors

David Graeber has written a long and angry response. Unfortunately, to comment adequately would require at least as much space as my original review. But here are some remarks:

a) He demands that I apologize to "the world" for "making such hostile misinterpretations of the book's argument." Apparently, he does not just accuse me of sincerely misunderstanding him, but of deliberately and hostilely misinterpreting him. Well, all I can say is that I sincerely described what I thought the book says. (This is why I used so many quotations.) Nor did I "condemn the book." I wrote that it "is an interesting and thought-provoking book. It is worth reading...." But I made criticisms, from my point of view (which I spelled out at the beginning).

b) Graeber claims, "I do not make debt the main factor of social development. I merely make it the main topic of my book." Oh really? In the first chapter, he writes, ""Consumer debt is the lifeblood of our economy. All modern nation-states are built on deficit spending. Debt has come to be the central issue of international politics" (p. 4-5). "For thousands of years, the struggle between rich and poor has largely taken the form of conflicts between creditors and debtors" (p. 8) "Insofar as all human relations involve debt, they are all morally compromised" (p. 12). Shall I go on?

c) He writes, " I do not reject the labor theory of value" and refers to a book he wrote. Pardon me for relying on what he wrote in these 450 pages on economics, without my also having to read another of his books!

d) Graeber denies that he downplays labor and exploitation in his book (of course I cannot be criticized for not knowing what he thinks that he did not put in the book). But he writes here, "the assumption that capitalism is necessarily based on exploitation through free wage labor is historically false." What more need I say?

e) Graeber writes, "I do not say that the current crisis is due to capitalism seeming eternal....
I do not say that people in the '60s thought capitalism was likely to collapse, I said that they thought the entire world was likely to blow up in a nuclear war." This is a falsehood. Readers should check what he actually wrote on this topic, on pages 360, 374-5, and 381. He does say that the crisis is due to capialism seeming to be eternal. He does not mention nuclear war at all. He writes only about the seeming end of the possibility of revolution or of any alternate society.
And anyway, so what? Is he now arguing that the post-WWII boom was due to people fearing a nuclear war? And that the crisis after 1970 or later was due to people no longer fearing nuclear war? This is still nonsense.

f) David Graeber says he did not propose a vision of the future and that I made stuff up. Does he deny writing, "There are three main moral principles…all of which occur in any human society, and which I will call communism, hierarchy, and exchange” (p. 94). Surely his means that these three will occur in any future society as well. So any future society will have "communism," which, he explains does not include collective property, some degree of "heirarchy" (I noted that he may mean something that most anarchists would accept), and "exchange," which implies a market. Of course he fantasizes about a nice market, a non-capitalist market, which would "grow into ...networks of honor, trust, and mutual connectedness.” He admits that he believes that "there will always be money," but again interprets this nicely, non-oppressively. I know that Graeber is sincerely against capitalism. As far as that goes, we are both on the same side. But his book suggests a future vision of a cleaned-up, nicer, fantasy version of semi-capitalism, with markets, money, exchange, and debts.

So I am sorry that David Graeber seems personally aggreived, but I have nothing to apologize for.

author by David Graeberpublication date Thu Aug 09, 2012 10:19Report this post to the editors

... you lied.
If you had written "what is the author's vision of a future society? While he never spells such a vision out, it seems to me that if you extrapolate from positions that he takes, what he is proposing is..." - well, then you would have been mistaken, but you wouldn't have been lying. But instead, you wrote, with no ambiguity, "this is the author's vision of the future". Anyone reading the review who had not read the book would therefore conclude that the author in fact did spell out an explicit vision of the future in which explicitly contained those elements. But in fact you knew perfectly well I did nothing of the sort. So you intentionally misinformed your readers about the actual contents of the book.
That's called "lying."
As for your reasoning: it is absurd. Saying that markets have occasionally, under very specific circumstances, been embraced by popular forces in the past does not mean I am proposing that they be part of a revolutionary society in the future, I never say anything to imply I think they would be, in fact I do not think this, and claiming that is my position is again, a lie—or perhaps at best, as some philosophers say, "bullshit," in the sense of complete reckless disregard for the truth. Similarly, I said that there are three principles of human interaction that would exist in some form whatever property arrangements exist. To conclude from this that collective property arrangements will not exist in the future is as nonsensical as concluding from it that they have never existed in the past. To use such peculiar logic to assert I don't endorse collective property in a book where I do, explicitly, denounce the institution of private property and say we can't have a free society unless it is eliminated is just bizarre. To then get up on your hind legs and assert to the reader that propose a vision of the future which will not be based on collective control of the means of production is simply a lie, and you know it.
For this, if you had any sort of integrity, you would apologize.
I presume you will not apologize. Given my experience, I assume you will now go through the text and indignantly point to passages which you can twist out of context to argue that they do imply positions which I've just said I do not hold, as if I for some reason don't know what I actually think about such matters. Since such exercises are tiresome and pointless I'll stop reading this thread. But honestly. I really do think you should reflect on this. You read the book. You came to what seem to be very clear and confident conclusions about my political positions. Those conclusions were utterly wrong. Perhaps rather than fulminate some more you could think about why your conclusions were so mistaken.

author by Nickpublication date Thu Aug 09, 2012 11:46Report this post to the editors

Well, for what it's worth, this review and debate has made me want to read the book, and Wayne's book, and the authors David mentions (Federici, Caffentzis, Cleaver, Tronti, Midnight Notes Collective). As an anarchist fairly new to political economy, this has helped me get a handle on some things to read in the book, and where the analysis sits in relation to Marxist political economy, etc... although I do wish both sides had been more generous with each other.

The emptiest part of this whole thing, for me, was the ad hominem attacks, both in the form of imputing positions and political commitments onto people, and in the form of accusations about lies and deliberate misreadings. I don't really care who's right or who's at fault; that shit is just plain boring. I think the review (and probably the book, which I haven't read yet) are at their best when they're posing questions, opening up new terrain for analysis, etc, rather than attacking or defending positions. Solidarity > Sectarianism!!

For what it's worth, it sounds like some of David's frustration comes from this review's reading of positions into analysis. New analysis necessarily leaves out well-trodden class analysis, labour theory of value, etc, (and familiar political commitments) in order to focus on debt, money, and the kinds of politics that comes from focusing on them, which haven't had as much attention, as far as I know. And some of Wayne's critique seems to point to the slippage from emphasis to determinism or myopia. It seems like when debt is emphasized, there's a whole whack of insights that open up, but when debt takes over as "the main factor" that explains history, it fails to explain a lot of stuff. Maybe that's happening a bunch in the book, maybe not, but nonetheless there's an interesting issue here, that I wish you both had explored more together, of how and when emphasis and focus slides into determinism or myopia, along with all the analytical, methodological, and political implications of that issue.

author by Adam Quinnpublication date Thu Aug 09, 2012 12:51Report this post to the editors

Nick, if you read Debt you'll find it doesn't make any of these claims like debt being a main factor that explains history. Graeber's comments don't seem ad hominem to me as much as they seem like justified frustration at what is a really unfair review of his work.

Wayne, respectfully, it seems like you're trying to interpret and attack Debt: The First 5000 Years as something it's not trying to be. It's not trying to be a survey history of the world or even of broad economic history, nor is it trying to be a revolutionary manifesto.
You equate a quote like "Debt has come to be the central issue of international politics," with saying "Debt is the main factor of social development," and it becomes clear that you're attacking lots of straw men. It seems like you're fishing hard for reasons to be critical of what David writes in the book, but your problems really seem to stem from frustrations with what the book didn't say. I think Graeber summed everything up pretty well just by saying, "I do not make debt the main factor of social development. I merely make it the main topic of my book." His book is not everything you want it to be, it does not single-handedly explain human social development, it doesn't call for revolution as thoroughly as Kropotkin does, and it doesn't explain in detail everything that is wrong with capitalism and exploitation, but when I read it I thought it was a damn fine and extremely useful analysis of debt throughout history. It also actually is the book that brought me to identify as an anarchist-communist, so I think it's not as antithetical to class struggle anarchism as you seem to think.

I don't think David is downplaying revolution or watering down radical historiography, he's just focusing on debt. If the book was called, "Economics: The First 5000 Years" some of your critiques may be more warranted, but having a specific historical focus shouldn't be conflated with having a monolithic historical analysis.

author by Red and Black Actionpublication date Thu Aug 09, 2012 17:53Report this post to the editors

The fact is, "Debt" is (as Wayne said clearly!) a very good book.

But the debate on this page (and Graeber has hardly covered himself in glory here: consider his tone compared to Wayne's) is not very useful.

1) Even if it has influenced people (see above) that does not mean it cannot be criticized. (Das Kapital influenced 'autonomism' - which Graeber claims to have influenced him - but autonomism itself is a pretty straight critique of much of Kapital, hardly a book where class struggle from below is the primary cause of capitalist crises, or a study of how struggles are 'recuperated' etc.

2) As for the argument made by one poster that suggests it is simply "sectarianism" to have a strong debate, this is appalling.

The logic of this position is flat out Stalinist: debate divides and is unhealthy. Labeling debates "sectarian" and certain criticisms "sectarian" simply serves to close down debate. (In practice, it usually means "the view I don't like are 'sectarian' whereas my own strong views are simply 'contributions'").

I can't imagine how this sort of approach can be wrapped up as anarchist ("solidarity" etc.)

3) What Graeber may or may not have said elsewhere is irrelevant. This is not a review essay of everything he wrote. Its a review of what appears on the four corners of the page.

And the fact is, there is very little in "Debt" here that links debt to class struggle, labour value, exploitation and the rest. But debt - and this is precisely what Wayne stressed - simply cannot be understood without being embedded in these issues. (And, like Wayne, I would stress the need to examine the range and different logics of different class relations and systems across the 5000 years Graeber covers).

Debt (and finance generally) is a product of a deeper political economy. Class struggle, labour value, exploitation and the rest are largely absent here, regardless of what Graeber may have said somewhere else. Graeber may like Cleaver and the rest, but you would not think it from most of this book (bar a bit at the end on the current financial crisis).

This is not a question of 'focus' as Graeber claims, but of the near-total absence of elements which are integral to any understanding of "debt" (the reality) and to any assessment of "Debt" (the book).

(I am not saying that these elements would not complement the book, or that the book is incompatible with them, but that they are largely absent, which is something else - they do not really play a real role

This dis-embedding of debt from concrete social context is evident in Graber's categories like '"commercial" society (which groups Islamic and Christian feudalism, slave societies in West Africa and the Americas, and neo-liberal capitalism today). Other examples: "axial age", "middle ages", "european empires". For instance, on "middle ages", we have here grouped feudalism (Christendom, Islamic world) and Qin China (something fundamentally different).

And what exactly is capitalism? Graeber rejects ahistorical neo-liberal homo economicus claims, yet puts very little in their place to allow us to see exactly what is different between it, and what preceded it.

4) it is not possible to go here into all issues of accuracy of Graber's sweeping and impressive historical account, but a few points bear mention
a) the notion that the "real nerve centre of the Medieval world economy", was the Indian Ocean, which along with the Central Asia caravan routes connected the great civilisations
- there was no "world economy" in the medieval era (if we mean by medieval a certain span of time)
- the Indian Ocean was never central to the world economy in any era

b) rise of (new) European empires from 1500s saw "reversion to mass enslavement, plunder, and wars of destruction"
- where was the break that required a "reversion"?
- it is hard to reconcile this claim with the real (and concurrent) history of the Islamic empires, the Aztecs, China etc

c) the continual contrast between the state and religious institutions (e.g. state vs. Buddhist temples, state vs. religious regulation of money in Europe)
- the main religious institutions were integrally linked to - even fused - the state in many contexts e.g. the Church in feudal Europe, Islam in central Asia
- where exactly would say Confucianism in Qin China fit? Or Legalism before?

author by ken vallariopublication date Thu Aug 09, 2012 22:11author email kenvallario at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

There are a lot of leaps in this article, assumptions of intent that I believe Mr. Graeber is right to point out.

Although Mr. Graeber's response is passionate, and admittedly does use a few inflammatory barbs, I understand this as a right of defense....this is a right, that for some reason, has become a weird taboo of the internet.

As I read this Marxist duel...I can't help but see within it, as two people who see themselves as well-intentioned, the very human problems that make such anarchy problematic.

First of all, it seems that Mr. Graeber's presentation of debt is consciously narrowed, for purposes of clarity, and yet utilizing this to cover vast terrain...As I am currently reading Fukuyama's Origins of Political Order, I am reminded of his own introduction where he states very clearly that he will make mistakes, that all such ambitious projects do so...so, of course Mr. Graeber is going to let some issues be unaddressed...so, pointing those out do not a successful critique make...and it does seem, on the point of labor, that the reviewer has pushed that issue so hard, that the only explanation has to be emotional...

and here, in the emotional, is where I feel the real political issues of our time lay...because, although Marxism and capital, and money, are all important manifestations of our political lives, their roots must be in the individual, and how that individual feels. There are technological changes, cultural realities, biological pressures, and on and on...The marxist, or post-marxist, or anybody who identifies themselves by these labels, must take the leap of faith that says 'given this one, very particular modification (e.g. the elimination of debt), that certain 'goods' will arise. this is hubristic, in my humble opinion. however, before i push that point too hard, it seems Mr. Graeber took great pains to avoid this kind of prescriptive folly, whereas the reviewer seems to be wanting exactly that...

So, when you have two very educated people, like Mr. Price and Mr. Graeber, who would likely find very little common ground when such a revolution occurred, you have to ask yourself if any of these idealistic 'mechanisms' are valid. I am not a nihilist. Rather, I think the real 'solution', my own fantasy, is that in the tension between these two men, there in this unspoken primate alpha exchange, there is the answer...and as absurd as it sounds, if these two men were to hug, to have coffee together, and burn their marx books in favor of their own, the living authors of our reality...then I believe 'exchange' in its most mystical sense would become possible...since, I believe any economic exchange without trust is impossible.

we need an intellectual jubilee as much as we need an economic one.

author by machinpublication date Thu Aug 09, 2012 23:27Report this post to the editors

Wayne Price wrote:

"d) Graeber denies that he downplays labor and exploitation in his book (of course I cannot be criticized for not knowing what he thinks that he did not put in the book). But he writes here, "the assumption that capitalism is necessarily based on exploitation through free wage labor is historically false." What more need I say?"

Does Wayne Price mean that the exploitation of amerindians in the mines of Mexico and Peru during the 16th century, the exploitation of african slaves in the carribean, or the exploitation of colonized people through forced labor were all examples of "free wage labor" ? Or that these episodes of the history of capitalism are epiphenomena (details of history perhaps) ? That capitalism only concerns english wage laborers in the 19th century ?

"the assumption that capitalism is necessarily based on exploitation through free wage labor is historically false." ... because it has also been based just as well on exploitation through slavery.

author by David Graeberpublication date Fri Aug 10, 2012 01:34Report this post to the editors

I know I said I wouldn't continue with this thread but I will one more time, because, to be honest when I first saw this review I didn't notice it was written by Wayne Price. Wayne has a history of writing this sort of dishonest hatchet job. He wrote a review of my book "Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology" called "Fragments of a Reformist Anthropology" where he argued at length that I was not a revolutionary but a reformist. When it was pointed out to him that (a) the book proposes no reforms of any kind but explicitly argues against the very idea of reformism, and (b) the book is openly revolutionary, calling for the abolition of state and capitalism, but simply says that the process of revolution will not take the form of one single violent uprising, he replied that - though he did not feel the need explain this in the actual review - he was using the word "reformist" in a sense used in certain early 20th century debates where it could refer to any strain of anarchism that didn't focus on preparing for an armed insurrection.

Oh.

I did not reply at the time but the obvious response would be to note that were I to adopt that same strategy, I could easily find an early 20th century precedent for calling his position "terrorist" - since that term too was widely used in a different way in certain anarchist circles at the time - and proceeded to splatter the internet with headlines saying 'Wayne Price, Terrorist Anarchist.'" Of course I would never do that. Why? Because it would be completely dishonest. But such dishonesty, and using dishonest means to try to smear someone else's political position, seems to be his basic modus operandi.

His citing the passage about capitalism not necessarily being based on "free wage labor" as proof that I don't believe capitalism is founded on exploitation is a perfect example of this kind of dishonesty - as Machin (thanks Machin!) instantly pointed out. Just to show you egregious this is, let me cite the original paragraph in the book (pp350-51) in full.

"It is the secret scandal of capitalism that at no point has it been or­ ganized primarily around free labor. The conquest of the Americas began with mass enslavement, then gradually settled into various forms of debt peonage, African slavery, and "indentured service"-that is, the use of contract labor, workers who had received cash in advance and were thus bound for five-, seven-, or ten-year terms to pay it back. Needless to say, indentured servants were recruited largely from among people who were already debtors. In the 1600s there were at times almost as many white debtors as African slaves working in southern plantations, and legally they were at first in almost the same situation, since in the beginning, plantation societies were working within a European legal tradition that assumed slavery did not exist, so even Africans in the Carolinas were classified as contract laborers. Of course this later changed when the idea of "race" was introduced. When African slaves were freed, they were replaced, on plantations from Barbados to Mauritius, with contract laborers again: though now ones recruited mainly in India or China. Chinese contract laborers built the North American railroad system, and Indian "coolies" built the South African mines. The peasants of Russia and Poland, who had been free landholders in the Middle Ages, were only made serfs at the dawn of capitalism, when their lords began to sell grain on the new world market to feed the new industrial cities to the west. Colonial regimes in Africa and Southeast Asia regularly demanded forced labor from their conquered subjects, or, alternately, created tax systems de­signed to force the population into the labor market through debt. British overlords in India, starting with the East India Company but continuing under Her Majesty's government, institutionalized debt pe­onage as their primary means of creating products for sale abroad."

Now, I ask the reader: Do you really think it is possible for someone to read passages like this (and Wayne does seem to have actually read the book) and honestly come to the conclusion that the author does not believe that capitalism is based on the exploitation of labor? Of course he knows I'm saying nothing of the sort. He just doesn't care. He'll say whatever it takes to win an argument or to defame a position he suspects to be different from his own.

I do agree with Ken that we should reflect on why it has become taboo on the internet to point out if someone is being dishonest about you. Apparently, to write a review where the reviewer intentionally tries to deceive readers into thinking something negative about an author is now considered par for the course; for the author to point out that a reviewer seems to have done this is considered scandalous. Why? Isn't this setting up the rules in a way that is extraordinarily convenient for bullies? In fact, my experience is that this set of rules is really adopted from the corporate world, and similar explicitly hierarchical institutions, where defaming or actively trying to harm a colleague or inferior is considered mean, but unremarkable, whereas publicly revealing that someone else has done this to you is considered an outrageous breach of protocol which will likely lead to one's getting fired. There the rules seem quite explicitly there to create an environment safe for bullies. Do we really wish to imitate this?

Finally, as for "Red and Black action"'s comments - well, these are not errors, these are disagreements. For instance, I happen to subscribe to that view in certain circles of world-systems analysis that the Indian Ocean was indeed the center of a kind of world system, though I actually have a rather different reason for holding this position than most of them do. Clearly you don't. Which is fine. These are points on which honest people can disagree. Similarly I am asking why almost identical things happened to money-forms across Eurasia despite the remarkably different forms of government and economy that existed in India, China, Europe, and the Caliphate. I'm not saying there is no difference between those systems. In fact I explicitly say that it's remarkable that what happened to money was so similar in all these places despite the extraordinary differences between them. Finally, saying I ignore class struggle is simply untrue. I don't actually propose a general theory of social change in the book, but insofar as I do seek for explanations of specific changes, whether it's the collapse of slave systems at the end of Classical Antiquity, the outlawing of interest-taking in Islam, the rise of metal and abandonment of paper money in Ming China, or for that matter the shift from Keynesian to neoliberal capitalism, it's always class struggle that I propose as the ultimate reason. I just don't hit the reader over the head with it. But it's there if you look. Still, I think this is an honest oversight and these are honest disagreements. Debate of this sort is good for everyone; it helps us clarify our respective positions. Debating someone like Wayne is pointless, since I really think he's not even trying to figure out what the other guy is actually about.

author by Joe - IWWpublication date Fri Aug 10, 2012 01:35Report this post to the editors

Red & Black Action is mistaken about Graeber's factual accuracy. There was in fact a world economy in the middle ages, or at least a set of interlocking economies in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Way back in Roman times, the silk road was set up. This was a set of trading relationship that ended up sending goods from China to Europe and vice versa. The Chinese would trade silk to the Xiongnu, who then traded some of that silk to their neighbors, who also traded some of that silk to their neighbors, and silk eventually ended up in Europe. Goods ended up going went back and forth from one end of Eurasia to the other. This reached its heyday under the Mongolians around the 13th century. The road was supplemented by the Indian Ocean in the later part of the middle ages. Merchants from different parts of the region would sail to other parts of the region, buying and selling goods. It was a major center of trade in the Eastern Hemisphere. This discussion of the world economy in the middle ages is a standard part of non-eurocentric world histories, and is well supported by historians who specialize in Asian history. See, for example, The Origins of the Modern World by Robert Marks.

Also, Qin China wasn't during the middle ages, it was during the Axial age. And it wasn't Confucian, it was legalist. Qin preceded the Hand dynasty, which was Confucian, but both were in the axial age. You can verify this with an encyclopedia or by checking any textbook on Chinese history.

author by Waynepublication date Fri Aug 10, 2012 02:03Report this post to the editors

I expected David Graeber to disagree with my book review. However, the vehemance of his response and his personal attacks are unfortunate.

Am I "lying" and lacking in "integrity?" He says it would not have been lying if I had written, " While he never spells such a vision out, it seems to me that if you extrapolate from positions that he takes, what he is proposing is..." What did I actually write? First I noted that many anarchists had offered visions of a future, "but not Graeber." Then I quoted him as writing, “What I have been trying to do in this book is not so much to propose a vision of what, precisely, the next age will be like, but to throw open perspectives…” Finally I commented, " However, if we look carefully at his book, we can find the basic principles which he expects to apply to 'the next age'." So I said pretty much what he says I should have said if I were not lying. (All this is after I noted that, in his previous response, he had made claims to have written something in his book which he had not, in fact, written--and cited pages [point e]. I called this a "falsehood." He has not "apologized" for this misstatement.)

Red and Black Action's point 3 says what I have been trying to argue.

To Ken: this is not a "Marxist duel." Both of us are anarchists who are also more or less influenced by Marxist thinking.

Machin raises an important argument. Is there a contradiction beween seeing wage labor as central to capitalism and also recognizing the historical importance of slavery and other forms of forced labor in creating capitalism--and in still maintaining capitalism? I would say (following Marx and others, such as Rosa Luxemburg) that capitalism is the capital/labor relationship, that is, exploitation by wage-labor. This distinguishes it from previous eras of feudalism and slavery. But it could not get started withut widespread looting, piracy, mass murder, and slavery ("primiteive accumulation"). And, in the epoch of its decline it continues to bolster itself by reviving on and intensifying such methods ("accumulation by dispossession").

author by Machinpublication date Fri Aug 10, 2012 03:46Report this post to the editors

Wayne Price wrote:

"Machin raises an important argument. Is there a contradiction beween seeing wage labor as central to capitalism and also recognizing the historical importance of slavery and other forms of forced labor in creating capitalism--and in still maintaining capitalism?"

We can discuss this, but this was not my argument, and this is a bit of a distraction from my argument which was about Wayne's rhetorical tricks.

Graeber underlined that exploitation through wage labor is not a necessary, primary, base of capitalism, because an argument can be made that slavery and other forms of exploitation of labor are at least as important for capitalism. But Wayne Price used Graeber's sentence to imply that Graeber somehow downplays exploitation in his book. This is either a very bad misunderstanding of Graeber's argument, or, at least as probably, dishonesty.

How can underlining the importance of *slavery* for capitalism be understood as downplaying *exploitation* ?
This is quite beyond me.

author by David Graeberpublication date Fri Aug 10, 2012 04:12Report this post to the editors

I really don't know why I'm wasting my time on this but I'll just give one example of why I say Price is being intentionally dishonest. Actually, he does it right here on this very page.

In my original comment I wrote the following:

"your claim that I don't see capitalism as essentially a mode of exploitation of labor by holders of capital is false. If you read the book at all carefully it's clear that's exactly what I think. I merely pointed out that the assumption that capitalism is necessarily based on exploitation through free wage labor is historically false."

in your response to this, you trimmed away the first two sentences, and merely reproduced the third, writing:

"Graeber denies that he downplays labor and exploitation in his book (of course I cannot be criticized for not knowing what he thinks that he did not put in the book). But he writes here, "the assumption that capitalism is necessarily based on exploitation through free wage labor is historically false." What more need I say?"

There is no possible way to interpret my original sentence in its original context other than as what it is: a statement that I believe capitalism is a form of exploitation, but one which can operate through means other than free wage labor (i.e., the slavery, debt peonage, forced labor, and so on that I document at great length in the text). You knew perfectly well that's what I meant. But you carefully diced away the words that made that meaning clear, and then used a fragment of the quote, now rendered ambiguous by being taken out of context, to pretend I was saying the opposite.

What possible explanation can there be for this other than intentional misrepresentation?

I could multiply examples endlessly but honestly why bother? You owe your readers an apology for constantly trying to trick them into believing things you yourself know not to be true. Of course you won't. My guess is that the reason is because you were originally shaped by an intellectual tradition where truth is just not important, it's okay to say whatever you think will work to win an argument against someone who doesn't share your point of view. But this attitude is utterly destructive of the very possibility of productive dialogue amongst radical thinkers. At the very least we should acknowledge and engage with one another's actual arguments, not play slice and dice to try to make it seem like they're saying something else. And insofar as this strategy is designed to spread false impressions about another thinker's genuine ideas and proposals - "X is a reformist, not a revolutionary," "X does not believe in the abolition of private property" - it is simply the radical version of smear campaign. I know I shouldn't care. Wayne is basically a minor figure. It bothers me because I really believe in the importance of honest dialogue and honest difference between radical thinkers. I would like to see my actual ideas debated, even contested vigorously. I am quite willing to accept that some of them might be way off base. But to have that conversation, one which would benefit all of us, we have to establish certain elementary ground rules. Like, "don't pretend your opponent just said the opposite of what you know they really said."

author by David Graeberpublication date Fri Aug 10, 2012 04:23Report this post to the editors

... that Wayne Price simply can't read.
Take the following

"e) Graeber writes, "I do not say that the current crisis is due to capitalism seeming eternal....
I do not say that people in the '60s thought capitalism was likely to collapse, I said that they thought the entire world was likely to blow up in a nuclear war." This is a falsehood. Readers should check what he actually wrote on this topic, on pages 360, 374-5, and 381. He does say that the crisis is due to capialism seeming to be eternal. He does not mention nuclear war at all."

I make no mention of nuclear war at all, eh? On the very page 360 which he cites, the following words appear

"One could go further: the moment that the fear of imminent social revolution no longer seemed plausible, by the end of World War II, we were immediately presented with the specter of nuclear holocaust."

author by David Harleypublication date Fri Aug 10, 2012 11:01Report this post to the editors

Cognitive styles, and their expression in language, appear to be causing as much difficulty as political differences.

I would not suggest that the difference between the RSL as an influence and that of the Occupy movement are necessarily crucial, as David Graeber hints. Nor would I stress generational difference alone. I do not know what Wayne Price's background is, but his description elsewhere of William Morris as "a Britisher" suggests that he is not a native speaker. This too may not lie at the heart of the matter. However, all of the above may be implicated.

Instead, I would draw attention to the problem of the barriers between different kinds of language use. This has probably been overemphasized in the case of natural languages, because the issue has been described by monoglots, influenced by the language/culture fusion of Romantic nationalism. For them, horizontal language transmission and adaptation has been invisible, even though it is normal outside the world of Europe and its colonies.

Yet incompatibility is very striking in one context -- academic disciplines, which are separated and defined by distinctive language practices that construct their subjects and truth claims. It is not necessary to invoke any of the major claims of linguistic relativism, but merely to observe initiation rituals and required styles of thought and writing.

We have here an anthropologist and a psychologist debating economics. It would be surprising if there were not profound difficulties in creating clear communication in such a three-way construct, even if the previously mentioned difficulties were not in play.

author by David Graeberpublication date Fri Aug 10, 2012 12:11Report this post to the editors

Thanks for the well-meaning intervention. Wayne is a native speaker of English. The problem is he is a former Trotskyist turned anarchist who still employs techniques of argument typical of a sectarian Trot. That's what I was getting at when I - perhaps more delicately than I needed to - said that he comes from a certain intellectual tradition. In that tradition, once one has one's line on a certain issue, then anyone who does not share that line exists only to be defeated, preferably, by claiming they aren't a real revolutionary. Facts are of secondary importance, since you are already possessor of the Truth: therefore, it is considered perfectly acceptable to say whatever you think you can get away with to knock your opponent out of the ring.

author by DADABASEpublication date Fri Aug 10, 2012 15:00Report this post to the editors

Wayne Price begins his review by stating his belief in the church of Marxism. Therefore, he has no option but to attack the author of a book that aims to shift the focus away from labour to debt. For over one hundered years, the defenders of the labor theory of value have played their cartesian card of the seperation between the real (labour) and its mirror image (finance). Everytime the financial world collapses they begin singing the old mantra that the mirror has become too distorted through overlending from the actuality of the labour and production, therefore what we are experiencing is an economic correction. Interesting enough this is also what liberals like to think of in the time of a crisis, Note that this crisis, like the one in 1930s, is for everyone but the lenders who often use the crisis to print more money, receive bailouts, downsize, hike up the commodity prices and consequently benefit almost four fold from the situation (over lending, bailout, stagnatioon and inflation)

To me, the issue here is more philosophical rather than political. What Graeber's book points to, even though he doesn't really spell it out, is that production and finance are not seperate entities and both deserve to be addressed. To Graeber's credit, his books, eventhough written in different years covering two different topics, address the issue of capital accumulation far better than those who claim to still see the Marxist theory of value as the best lense for looking at capitalism.

The rigid orthodoxy here belongs to Price who from his Marxist trenches attacks a thinker who is injecting fresh blood into a dying theory regarding the accumulation of capital. Fortunately, he is not alone. Anyone familiar with Castoriadis, Veblen and Arrighi knows that finance has been with capitalism long before wage labor. For those who are interested, I recommend the 2008 book called Capital as Power by Nitzan and Bichler in which they lay the groundwork for moving beyond Marx's labor theory of value. Unfortunately, tthe defenders of the church of Marxism are successful in preventing this to the point that even Graeber has to come back and state his belief in this outdated theory.

Nitzan and Bichler, both political economists, not only reject the neoclassical make believe called supply and demand but also the Marxist blind faith in production and labor. It's high time we realize that capitalism is not an economic system but a mode of social power whose engine is capitalization and not labour.

author by Ken Vallariopublication date Fri Aug 10, 2012 21:50author email kenvallario at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

Mr. Price,

It was irrelevant to my point whether you were 'anarchists influenced by Marx' or 'Marxists influenced by anarchism'...and it is exactly this kind of evasive adherence to terminology that defines a kind of passive provocative style of critique that I believe is enraging Mr. Graeber.

My point was that two highly educated men like yourselves have succumbed to a kind of intellectual melee that does not inspire anybody as to the ultimate potential that such idea-driven approaches to human progress are possible. And yet, for mystical reasons, I remain convinced that human progress is possible. However, this progress depends upon our public intellectuals rediscovering some 'lost values'...a kind of philosophical chivalry that arises out of emotional wisdom.

Maybe this sounds too mushy to people who are attached to a kind of material answer to our problems, and i don't say this critically...i greatly admire your passion and your scholarship...however, I do believe that we are facing some deep cultural problems, and that our public intellectuals, quite unconsciously, have become vulnerable to the same 'Jersey Shore'ification that is making public debate disheartening.

To that point, it is obvious to many that your review Mr. Price was provocative and many of us suspect that it was unfair in some points...and I will also say that Mr. Graeber, being a provocateur himself, could benefit from a more nuanced fencing style, one that showed some humor and socratic charm...we have forgotten how to seduce one another, for we have all become informational universes into ourselves...no debt elimination will fix this, we need an elimination of prejudice, and all of us are filled to the brim with prejudice...this humility has to be the starting point for all intellectual debate, and we must start giving people we know have the right intentions the benefit of the doubt, and build our expressions from this...

these are strange times...those who embrace a new chivalric code will become a beacon in the fog of information...and they will be the builders of the key insights we have yet to have about how to regain some efficacy over the machine we live in.

you guys, do the work with each other, find the common ground, and write an article together...and forgive each other's debts.

author by the red star twinkles mischievouslypublication date Fri Aug 10, 2012 22:38Report this post to the editors

Graeber, who I think has made important contributions (and this book Wayne has reviewed is one of his best) and whom I respect, is antagonistic to Wayne beyond claiming Wayne has misrepresented him, because between them are fundamental, and important, theorectical differences. Graeber is hostile to 'organised anarchism' 'class struggle anarchism' 'pro-organisational anarchism', etc, however you want to characterise it, labelling groups within this milieu as 'sectarian Anarchist groups' and pointing to NEFAC (now common struggle-libertarian communist federation) as an example. http://newleftreview.org/II/13/david-graeber-the-new-an...hists The problem for Graeber is that, historically speaking, the 'pro-organisational anarchists' who by and large were not practictioners of Graeber's preferred brand of 'consensus democracy' (which is encountering problems just as bad, if not worse, than a majority/minority conception of democracy (Murray Bookchin wrote well on this) of which I should say there is a good discussion in Wayne's Abolition of the State on this) have been much more succesful in building mass movements, empowering the grassroots and popular institutions, etc, than small-a anarchists, as the book Black Flame proves. It is extremely unfair to say that Wayne is relying on the kind of argumentation used by a sectarian Trot- he never was a member of those Trot groups which were/are extremely sectarian. Whatever one might say of the International Socialists, past and present, they have not and have never been a bureaucratic cult, like the group that existed around Gerry Healy and the Workers Revolutionary Party, for example. Furthermore, the term 'Trotskyist' is often too limiting a label when applied to revolutionary socialist organisations, who are influenced by a wide variety of figures, such as CLR James, Cornelius Castoriadis, Antonio Gramsci, Antonio Negri, Anton Pannekoek, Andreu Nin, George Orwell, Rosa Luxemburg, Victor Serge, Simone Weil, Hal Draper, Tony Cliff and so on. Myself, along with these figures, I have great respect and admiration for Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Makhno, Durruti, Goldman, Berkman, Bookchin, Rudolf Rocker, Noam Chomsky, alongside numerous others. Am I a 'sectarian Trot' for thinking that Trotsky's prescient writings on fascism, the united front, etc, retain relevance today to all the Left? The history of Trotskyism as a movement, alongside every other independent socialist current, is full of some great struggles, intellectual contributions, and achievements, alongside of the most depressing defeats, sectarianism, internal faults, splitting over nothing, purism, elitism, opportunism, etc. As independently minded, libertarian-democratic socialists, we should appropriate what is best from various left traditions, while leaving behind what is worst about them.

author by David Graeberpublication date Sat Aug 11, 2012 01:44Report this post to the editors

Actually, no, I didn't pick a fight with Wayne, Wayne picked a fight with me by spreading headlines all over the internet claiming I was a "reformist" on what he later basically admitted to be false and deceptive grounds. This kind of behavior has consequences - I've met any number of people who told me they didn't even take a look at my writings for years because they assumed what Wayne had said was true; then when they finally did, instantly recognized his claims were nonsense. Moreover, I can only assume this consequence was exactly what Wayne was trying to bring about by his dishonest accusations.

As for NEFAC, etc - well, I will be honest here. Obviously I'm not a Platformist. We have disagreements, for instance as you note about consensus (I prefer modified consensus for large groups, many in NEFAC prefer majority voting.) But I don't think NEFAC is itself a sectarian group. That stupid footnote saying it was inserted by the NLR editor, Susan Watkins, who as a Marxist wanted some balance to my condemnation of sectarian Marxist groups (and even more frustratingly, Andrej Grubacic put another, similar line, not about NEFAC but I think about IWA, into a joint piece we wrote later, thus ensuring no one would ever believe me when I said I hadn't written the first one.) I suppose if I'd intervened aggressively I could have made SW take it out, at least, I think I saw the proofs, and I should have. Or issued some immediate public retraction. (I did quickly point out on blogs that I hadn't written that line but I don't think anyone believed me.)

If it would be any help for me to offer an apology, I will. I'm sorry, I wish I hadn't let that slide, had got NLR to take it out, and that the line hadn't appeared under my name. I did give Andrej a lot of grief for putting a similar line in "Revolutionary Movement of the 21st Century" afterwards.

If nothing else you can easily observe that in Direct Action, which contains my major theoretical statements on all this, and wasn't co-written with or aggressively edited by anyone, it's just me, the word "sectarian" only appears in association with Marxist groups, never groups like NEFAC, etc. I think I describe NEFAC simply as "a labor-oriented anarchist group."

The irony is that despite our disagreements about certain aspects of organization, I have much more in common with such groups than I do with genuine anti-organizational types, who I criticize consistently.

But while I don't think platformist groups are inherently sectarian, I do think they often attract individuals with very sectarian habits, and Wayne is a prima facie example.

author by Nicopublication date Sat Aug 11, 2012 09:03Report this post to the editors

I just finished reading David's book and am deeply impressed by it (in fact I plan on using it in an Ethics of Debt course I'll be teaching in the fall). It strikes me, though, that its main intellectual debt is not to Marx or even to Marxist autonomism but to three other intellectual sources: Fernand Braudel's reconceptualization of capitalism as the world of finance in his "Capitalism and Civilization" (Volume III), Marcel Mauss's "Essay on The Gift" which provides the bases for David's very novel moral psychology of economic exchange, and George Bataille's critique of the category of labor in the tradition of political economy.

What I find strange about Wayne's book review is that it does not at all take this background into account, preferring instead to start by stating his own point of view (Marxist, at least as far as economic matters are concerned) and then proceeding to evaluate the book on the basis of whether it jives with that perspective or not. This is what I mean by dogmatism. Reading a book means taking the risk that its perspective will change your mind, otherwise there is no point to it. And this is precisely what Wayne signals he has refused to do in this review. Instead he insists on criticizing David's work for not using Marxist concepts in the way Marx would have used them. But what would be the point of rewriting Capital? It's already there for everyone to read. What Wayne does in this review is equivalent to what a right-wing reviewer might do if he or she were to criticize David's use of the concept of "market" for being different from Adam Smith's understanding of it. David reconceptualizes the notion of "capitalism" very differently from the way Marx did. And that's a good thing. Marx's understanding of Capitalism could never account for the fact that industrial labor never became quantitatively more important than other forms of labor, even in Western Europe, which led to two things: 1) the familiar failure of socialist/communist revolution in the industrialized world, and 2) Marxism's inability to come to terms with the economic conditions in the countries where socialist revolutions did occur (which were characterized by the overwhelming dominance of the peasantry rather than the industrial proletariat) which, in turn, led to political contradictions so overwhelming that exactly the opposite of what the revolutionary leaderships were advicating (the whithering away of the state) is actually what happened (authoritarianism, dictatorship, etc...).

Can David's reconceptualization of capitalism help us account for the failure of 19th century socialism? I am not sure yet. I want to re-read the book before making up my mind. One thing that I did find disappointing, though, is the fact that he barely mentions socialist societies in the last chapter of the book. I wish I had his take on what happened economically in, say, the Soviet Union and the Eastern block, or in China after 1949--and after 1976.

Marx is a god, but a fallen one. From our perspective as Anarchists we should see this as a good thing. What exactly is the point of trying to revive him? For me, that is precisely the appeal of David's book: that it is a building block for a new (anarchist) critique of political economy, and in particular of the notion--absolutely central to the tradition of political economy from the physiocrats to Marx and beyond--that labor is not only the means but the end of life, its purpose. David, it seems to me, borrows the central argument in Bataille's books on "The Accursed Share" that allow one to get away from that view--radically so. In opposition to the economic view of labor, Bataille argued that freedom is precisely what we do when we are not working, i.e. when we are not producing things that are themselves means to an end. David translates that into a call to work less and produce less, which is great, and also in diametrical opposition to what the Marxist tradition has been able to offer as a vision of the future. Even Lafargue's argument in his ode to laziness could only say that not working is really only morally justified in a capitalist economy. That's always been the central philosophical weakness of Marxism, it seems to me, that in spite of what Marx says in the Manuscripts of 1844, it can ultimately only consider productive economic labor as historical action (only the workers can bring about the revolution). David's perspective, by combining Bataille's critique of labor with a moral anthropology of exchange and a Braudelian reconceptualization of capitalism is a step on the way to imagining a future in which labor and exchange become tools for living rather than the end of it, a future in which life itself can be liberated from its current form as a commodity. I don't know what else to call that than communism.

Is "Debt" the only book we need to figure out how to construct that future? Absolutely not. But it does manage to tie together and resolve quite a few problems that have been difficult to deal with until now.

author by Waynepublication date Sat Aug 11, 2012 09:12Report this post to the editors

(1) I see I was wrong to say that David did not refer to the danger of nuclear war. He did not say fear of nuclear war was widespread in the 60s (as he now says) but he does say it was, after WWII, which is close enough. My error. But the argument still stands. Despite David's claims, this does not remotely explain why there was a boom period after WWII or why it ended and a decline began around 1970 or why there was a crisis in 2008.

(2) I have a different take on the difference in David's and my styles of polemic. I wrote both positive and negative things about his book, but even my sharpest criticisms of his book were written impersonally and politically. I made no personal attacks on him or his motives. He, on the other hand, has personally attacked me, called me names, said I was deliberately "lying" and lacked "integrity" and now adds that I have a bad history for once being a Trotskyist. In my opinion, such methods should not be used in political discussions. (Incidently, when first political, I was an anarchist-pacifist, an admirer of Paul Goodman and Dwight Macdonald. Then I became an unorthodox Trotskyist--the IS, then the RSL--and finally a revolutionary anarchist. Which has nothing to do with the value or lack thereof of my book review.)

(3) David writes, " Wayne picked a fight with me by spreading headlines all over the internet claiming I was a 'reformist' on what he later basically admitted to be false and deceptive grounds." This is an untrue statement (although no doubt David remembers things this way). I certainly never "admitted" to having made statements on "false and deceptive grounds." However, I sincerely doubt that many people are interested in a detailed recounting of David's and my polemical exchanges over the years. I think that my review of his book should stand or fall on its own merits. I reviewed it in the same way as I wrote a recent review of Paul Krugman's book and another on essays on economics by Pareconists.

(4) For Machin: To clarify the issue, the dispute between David and me about capitalism was not about the role of slavery in its creation. It was that he includes as the beginning of capitalism a time when merchant traders bought goods in one place and then carried them to another place, thus permitting them to sell their goods for a higher price. There was no new methods of production, nor was anything new produced, nor was there any new surplus. Things were just rearranged over a wider area. I argue that this can be said to have prepared the way for capitalism, but it was not yet capitalism.

author by David Graeberpublication date Sat Aug 11, 2012 12:23Report this post to the editors

Wayne, lying in formally polite language is still lying. Or if that's not polite enough for you, attempting to mislead your readers in formally polite language is still attempting to mislead your readers. Only the most incompetent and ineffective smear artist anyway would not put in some kind of cover language ("while it has a few good points...") or would be so stupid as to attack someone's character while attempting to misrepresent their political position. That would the game away, wouldn't it? And pointing out that someone is writing things about you they must know not to be true is not a personal attack anyway. It's an attack on their rhetorical strategy.

I know nothing of your personal character. I just know what you write.

The important thing, which you refuse to acknowledge. is that your rhetorical practice, which you clearly see as a form of political practice, is extraordinarily destructive. Calculatingly misrepresenting other people's positions to discourage other revolutionary thinkers from seriously considering their ideas is not just damaging to them, that's not very important anyway, it's damaging to the movement as a whole. Because it's all of us who suffer if we are deprived of access to accurate information on the full range of political positions (real positions, not made-up straw man positions), and are thus unable to engage in honest debate. From what I've observed, you regularly act so as to make such honest debate as difficult as possible by leveling absurdly strained if not completely fabricated accusations against those who don't share your particular line. You knew perfectly well that I argued explicitly against reformism in Fragments. Yet you tried to convince everyone in the world I was a "reformist" because you thought it would cause people to not want to read the book. You knew perfectly well that I explicitly condemn the very idea of private property in the debt book. Yet you pretended the book contained a non-existent section on visions of the future and then claimed that it called for the maintenance of private ownership of the means of production. In each case, when challenged, you come up with some weird and convoluted reason to justify these obviously ridiculous claims, either saying you were using the word in some special sense and didn't bother to tell anyone, or that I had made some statement about something else that could be somehow construed to mean if I did propose a vision of the future it would be something like that. The excuses are absurd. I doubt even you believe them. The point was obviously to do whatever you can to plausibly damage another thinker's revolutionary credentials, using whatever accusation you thought might plausibly stick.

This is the only reason I'm still participating in this thread. It's not like I fantasize that you'll come around and (say) remove the sections from the review that you now cannot possibly claim not to know misrepresent my positions. Of course you would never do that. But I think it's important nonetheless to call you on this behavior because it might have some effect on others. I have nothing against NEFAC. I'm glad it exists, and feel bad about the things that have been said against it in my name. I don't even have anything against you as a person. But your rhetorical practice in my experience is massively destructive of a movement I care deeply about. And if this kind of exposure might prevent others from similarly damaging the movement in the future, it will be well worth the cost.

author by David Graeberpublication date Sat Aug 11, 2012 12:31Report this post to the editors

I think the only place where I've addressed the dilemmas of 20th century state socialism at any length is in an article called "Against Kamizake Capitalism" which is the last chapter of the "Revolutions in Reverse" collection, which can be downloaded for free from Autonomedia and various places on the internet.

In short I make the argument that it does, indeed, come down to a Promethean attitude towards labor, which meant that state socialist regimes ended up in control of more anarchist-oriented populations that generally preferred less labor time to more consumer goods, but the irony of such regimes was that they were dedicated to an ideology that said they should celebrate labor and create a consumer utopia. As a result, they were not able to take credit for the main social benefit they did provide (less hours) but had to call it "the problem of absenteeism." Well, that's a small part of the argument. Judging by your post you might well find it interesting.

author by David Graeberpublication date Sat Aug 11, 2012 14:40Report this post to the editors

oh and just to show how silly Price's continued claims are:

I note in his last post, in his response to Machin, he continues to claim that I believe that capitalism is simply profit-seeking behavior of any kind. As a result he continues to pretend that my entire argument about capitalism originally evolving and still being maintained on the basis of the exploitation of forms of labor other than free wage labor just somehow isn't in the book.

In fact, as anyone with a handy copy of the book can confirm, the only place I talk about capitalism as based on M-C-M' transactions (p.260), I am explicitly summarizing the ideas of Fernand Braudel. Not stating my own opinion. While I think Braudel's argument is important and provocative, anyone who makes a fair reading of the book will notice that I also make it clear that I do not consider the elaborate trade and financial systems of, say, Medieval Islam, or early Buddhist China, to have been properly capitalist - in fact, I use the phrase "merchant capitalism" to describe them, exactly the same way as Marx did, and propose various theories for why they did not evolve into modern capitalism of the now-familiar sort (see p.291, 303-305.)

So far, my usage is almost identical to that of Marx.

If Price were really trying to determine what I think capitalism is, the logical place would seem to be the section suggestively entitled, "So What is Capitalism, Anyway?" (pp.345-55), a section which is almost completely taken up by a discussion of different forms of labor. You'd think that title would be something of a give-away. You'd also think the content might be taken as an indication of what I think capitalism is mainly about. But no. Price does cite one passage from this section, but completely dishonestly. He cites a line on page 345 where I say the term was invented by socialists who defined it as the exploitation of labor - and remarks that I, however, disagree. On what basis he says this, and continues to insist that I don't think capitalism has anything to do with the exploitation of labor, I have no idea, considering that just six sentences later I say:

"Starting from our baseline date of 1700, then, what we see at the dawn of modern capitalism is a gigantic financial apparatus of credit and debt that operates - in practical effect - to pump more and more labor out of just about everyone with whom it comes into contact, and as a result produces an endlessly expanding volume of material goods."

See? That's what the capitalist system does. It creates a financial system that really operates to extract labor. How could I put this more clearly? Should I have big pictures of bells and rockets and giant arrows pointing to the passage so that sectarian thinkers cannot possibly miss it? But of course, likely as not Price didn't miss it. He just insists on pretending it isn't there.

And as I say, the remainder of the section explicitly devoted to capitalism - the only section explicitly devoted to my explanation of the essence of capitalism - consists almost entirely of descriptions of how that labor was, in practice, pumped out,. And it does, indeed, as Machin accurately notes, challenge conventional Marxist wisdom by pointing out that free wage labor contracts were not, for most of capitalism's history, and possibly ever, the main mechanism through which this exploitation took place.

Does Price know all this? Of course he knows all this. Yet still he insists that I believe that capitalism is merely the buying and selling of goods for profit. And no doubt he can and probably will go back into the book now and cherry-pick words and phrases out of context to "prove" that this really is what I think, and therefore, that is reasonable to ignore those passages where I clearly say the opposite. But you know, if I wanted to, I could do the same thing with anyone. Including Marx. I could flip through a copy of Capital, or the Formen or Grundrisse, find sections where he discusses merchant capital, quote them out of context, and claim that it's actually Marx who believes that capitalism is just a matter of profit-seeking commerce. And it would make about as much sense.

So, no Wayne, Machin was exactly summarizing my positions. And I suspect you are perfectly well aware of that.

author by Red and Black Actionpublication date Sat Aug 11, 2012 23:57Report this post to the editors

David's weak response - comprising mainly repeating a bunch of assertions, that Wayne has repeatedly demonstrated to be wrong, personal insults, and red herrings - is a splendid example of how so-called 'small-a' anarchists can behave in ways that would make a Marxist-Leninist blush.

Really, this is one of the most disgraceful internet tantrums in a while.

author by Red and Black Actionpublication date Sun Aug 12, 2012 01:06Report this post to the editors

As I said, I like the book (and so did Wayne, actually) but I do think Graeber's response is really not terribly helpful.

For example:

"... you lied."

"As for your reasoning: it is absurd."

" if you had any sort of integrity, you would apologize. "

" Wayne has a history of writing this sort of dishonest hatchet job. "

"He'll say whatever it takes to win an argument or to defame a position he suspects to be different from his own"

Wayne is a "bully " using a "set of rules is really adopted from the corporate world, and similar explicitly hierarchical institution..."

"The problem is he is a former Trotskyist turned anarchist who still employs techniques of argument typical of a sectarian Trot. "

"...Calculatingly misrepresenting other people's positions ..."

Graeber, who claims that "platformist groups ...attract individuals with very sectarian habits, and Wayne is a prima facie example, " and also insists his calumnies are "not a personal attack anyway", seems rather blind to irony.

Oh well done Professor!

author by Red and Black Actionpublication date Sun Aug 12, 2012 01:12Report this post to the editors



I agree with Graeber that there are honest differences of opinion on world history, and we can agree to disagree.

Meanwhile, Joe - IWW disputes the factual accuracy of a point or two I made.

I think a response would be useful.

1. "There was in fact a world economy in the middle ages, or at least a set of interlocking economies in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Way back in Roman times, the silk road was set up."

Look, trade between several social formations is not a "world economy". Nor did I deny that there were some notable trade links.

A world economy is a single economy, with different constituent parts, not several distinct economies with a limited and inessential trade in specialist items. Trade in silk and the rest linked economies but was not central to the logics of any, nor did disruptions of such trade have a significant impact. It was a miniscule part of the overall economy, and was carried out by merchants - who basically move goods produced in different formations around,

By contrast, the proto-modern world economy from the 1600s onwards saw a genuine interdependence and interlocking emerge, a process continued with the first modern globalisation in the 1800s, the first time such phenomena as world depressions emerged.

As for the canard on "non-eurocentric" histories, the earlier trade was commonly mentioned and acknowledged in highly Eurocentric histories (Marco Polo anyone?). There is nothing particularly radical or leftwing about such a point.

2. "The road was supplemented by the Indian Ocean in the later part of the middle ages. Merchants from different parts of the region would sail to other parts of the region, buying and selling goods. It was a major center of trade in the Eastern Hemisphere. This discussion of the world economy in the middle ages is a standard part of non-eurocentric world histories, and is well supported by historians who specialize in Asian history."

But none of this makes the Indian Ocean the "real nerve centre of the Medieval world economy". In your own words, even if used the nonsensical claim of a "medieval world economy", the Indian Ocean was only one of several connections (a "supplement").

A discussion of the Indian Ocean as a centre of trade (whether " a standard part of non-eurocentric world histories," and whether "well supported by historians who specialize in Asian history") is by no means the same thing as a demonstration of a) a "medieval world economy" or b) a "medieval world economy" with its "centre" in the Indian ocean.

And contrary to your suggestion that there is some sort of scholarly consensus around a) its centrality and b) a "medieval world economy", there are huge debates on these issues going back decades.

3. "Also, Qin China wasn't during the middle ages, it was during the Axial age ... it wasn't Confucian,..."

Yeah, you caught my sloppiness.

The sentence you have in mind was "on 'middle ages', we have here grouped feudalism (Christendom, Islamic world) and Qin China (something fundamentally different)".

It should have been "Qin-onwards China", when feudalism ended. Sorry.

And I transposed legalism and Confucianism. Sorry.

Anyway, point one is that Graeber groups history by questionable time periods (e.f. "The Middle Ages (600 CE - 1500 CE)"), and stresses common patterns while occluding profound social differences. This ostensible "Middle Ages" period is contrasted with an "Axial Age". How do they differ? Well, the former has religious groups involved in "markets" and we read that the "Axial Age" saw the emergence of world religions and coins as "complementary" factors (somewhat dubiously, he speculates that world religions were somehow came from coins).

Then there is a bit of jump "Middle Ages" (a term that is basically Eurocentric i.e. the stuff between the Ancient World and the Renaissance ) to "Medieval" (a term that is quite inapplicable to China's history, both in terms of periodisation and in terms of social structure ), and then from there to the supposed "Medieval world economy".

This is contrasted with Axial Age, which is quite a different sort of periodisation system.

It was primarily an attempt to define a particular period by its place in the history of ideas, not its economics or social structure. Jaspers used this to define a period in religious and philosophical thought e.g. supposed emergence of major world religions starting ca. 800 -200 BCE . Mumford pushed this to 800 AD, and Graeber follows this expansive use.

But this is pretty arbitrary (why use either?) and tied to an incorrect idea anyway: Judaism emerges at least 1000 years before Jaspers' period, and obviously Christianity and Islam later etc.

Again, why group a wide range of social formations together in this way? Why have these time periods at all?

author by David Graeberpublication date Sun Aug 12, 2012 06:01Report this post to the editors


well, he did lies.
he lies a lot.
he's pretty notorious.
Sorry to have pointed it out.

author by Machinpublication date Sun Aug 12, 2012 07:17Report this post to the editors

...

Wayne Price wrote:

"(4) For Machin: To clarify the issue (...)"

I really do not understand Wayne Price's last response to me. I really can't see how it is relevant to what I wrote.

I don't need anyone to clarify the issue for me. I think this is all pretty clear.

Wayne Price, I don't think you can claim honestly, or even credibly, that Graeber is downplaying exploitation in his account of capitalism by using a sentence of him that is meant to underline the importance for capitalism of forms of exploitation that are more violent, more intense, and, well, more exploitative than " free wage labor".

If I said that "capitalism isn't based on exploitation through free wage labor, but, really, on slavery", it would be quite absurd to say that I downplay the importance of labor and exploitation for capitalism, wouldn't it ?
Well, of course, if your aim is to defame me, it wouldn't be absurd of you to quote only my "capitalism isn't based on exploitation through free wage labor" and then to say that I am a liberal reformist punkass who downplays exploitation and ignores labor. It would not be absurd, it would only be dishonest.

And, seriously, Wayne Price, about your review, do you seriously think *anyone* can miss the fact that slavery is about exploiting the labor of people ?

author by David Graeberpublication date Sun Aug 12, 2012 08:48Report this post to the editors


well, it's a game they're playing. The arguments aren't really supposed to make sense. The idea is to say things in an apparently reasonable tone that are so weird, nonsensical, or outrageous that you eventually get flustered, and show some sign of visible exasperation. Then as soon you do they jump on it and say you're having an hysterical fit and it proves you're irrational, and an asshole, and thus obviously the one in the wrong.

Price is an old hand, but this new guy, R&B is a real amateur. He actually seems to think people won't notice that (a) I responded extremely graciously to his initial criticism of me, and he's the one who flipped out in response, (b) you can't say Price "refuted" my points when my points were all clarifications of what I actually think; no one is going to believe Price has a more accurate view of my positions than I do; and (c) anyone who's read the book knows his review wildly misrepresents it.

So he's just whistling in the wind.

So's Price at this point. I've seen the twitter, etc, commentary. He's been reduced to a laughingstock. At this point we should just ignore them.

author by Waynepublication date Sun Aug 12, 2012 11:24Report this post to the editors

For anyone who would like to see my review of David's book, Fragments, and contrast it with David's overheated description of what I wrote, go to: http://www.anarkismo.net/article/4979?search_text=Wayne...Price

It is true that I call David's views "reformist" there. In the review, I give reasons and I quote from his book. The reasons are that "reformism" has been historically defined as advocating a change to a new society by gradual, peaceful, incremental steps whereas the "revolutionary" perspective, while not at all opposing the struggle for reforms, expects an eventual direct confrontation between the working class and its allies among the oppressed against the ruling class and its state. By these definitions, David is a "reformist" because he advocates peaceful, gradual, change (of course David wants a new, noncapitalist, society; he is not a liberal). Obviously the main issue is not the label but the actual strategy. However David has been extremely offended by my pointing out this definitional issue.

As to David's insistence that he fiercely opposes private property in Debt, perhaps he could explain what he meant by "The question of individual or private property…is often little more than formal legality anyway” (p. 95), which I quoted. And just what he means by insisting on the difference between capitalism (bad) and markets (possibliyi good), when he wrote, “Markets, when allowed to drift entirely free from their violent origins, invariably begin to grow into something different, into networks of honor, trust, and mutual connectedness” (p. 386), as I quoted.

David continiues to argue on the basis of personalities and personal motivations (even though he cannot possibly know my motives). He accuses me of "Calculatingly misrepresenting other people's positions to discourage other revolutionary thinkers from seriously considering their ideas." I am not so powerful, even if I wished to be. To David, making criticisms of his work, criticisms he disagrees with, cannot be honest but must be deliberateliy dishonest, with a nefarious aim to keep others from reading his books. (He does not know the authors; saying about reviews, "It isn't the content, its the column inches which count," in spreading the word about a book.)

His reactions are so irrational, so personal, that it is pointless to actually try to have a reasonable exchange. Readers will just have to decide for themselves.

Machin: This is really getting too convoluted. I suppose you are right in saying that the one sentence of Gradber's I quoted in the thread did not prove the point. But the longer review says more than that. You write, "And, seriously, Wayne Price, about your review, do you seriously think *anyone* can
miss the fact that slavery is about exploiting the labor of people?" But that was my point as originally stated in the review. That Graeber wrote about slavery without discussing its role as a method of labor exploitation. Of course he knows that it is, but he chose not to focus on that. See?

author by William Stradigerpublication date Sun Aug 12, 2012 18:10Report this post to the editors

I have to say that I enjoyed the reading of both the book and this review. But I am terribly disappointed by Graeber`s reaction that is hardly the reaction of an "academic" who should be a bit more used to criticism. Particularly since Wayne was quite generous in his criticism and this should be welcome as stimulating debate. Graeber has chosen to attack and give a couple of low blows to someone who "dares" criticise His Highness. I finally ended up losing any form on respect for him when he wrote:

"well, he did lies.
he lies a lot.
he's pretty notorious.
Sorry to have pointed it out."

How childish can his arguments get!

Indeed, I am quite sorry to point this out...

author by David Graeberpublication date Mon Aug 13, 2012 04:44Report this post to the editors


I don't understand your criticism.

Are you saying

a) that it is inconceivable that someone making a political argument on the Left could possibly be intentionally misrepresenting another author's political views for political purposes?

b) that is is inconceivable that someone who did this would also be superficially polite?

c) that if one has reason to believe someone has done this, it is wrong to publicly say so?

or

d) that if one does publicly say so, one should not use blunt language (like "lying") to describe this behavior?

author by Waynepublication date Mon Aug 13, 2012 06:36Report this post to the editors

David Graeber has exposed my evil plot. A group of platformists and myself were aiming to keep people from reading David's books, and from reading any books which disagreed with revolutionary, class-struggle, anarchism (using Marx's approach to economics). I chose the method of attacking his (and all other) books by claiming that they did not agree with my revolutionary anarchist theory. For example, when reviewing David's book, which focuses on "debt" and says almost nothing about the role of the exploitation of labor in relation to debt, I actually pointed this out. This method was highly effective because there is such a great deal of popular support for revolutionary class-struggle anarchism on the Left and among the public! ;-) Alas, this made me a laughingstock among David's friends on twitter (as I would deserve to be, if I really had used this approach).

author by Ken Vallariopublication date Mon Aug 13, 2012 22:08author email kenvallario at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

Again, I will say that the majority of the criticism aimed at Mr. Graeber in this exchange has been pointed toward an expectation that an author 'ought not defend his/her work' when that work is attacked... I resist this social expectation, as I believe critique must always be held accountable. why ought we as authors not feel very passionate about our work? especially now that we have the technology to debate openly...

Mr. Graeber's exasperation comes from what seems an unconscious agenda within the review that just cannot be squared with the information provided....

i have had differences of opinion with Mr. Graeber about the occupy movement, but I respect him and have very little doubt as to his good intentions, and I see in his responses here a kind of transparency, an attempt to speak plainly, in order to break down the odd passive aggressive tactics of engagement...

let me say, that the cultural style he is confronting has become ubiquitous, and i agree that there is some smoke and mirrors going on here. and that is more important, i think, than the minor political equations that arise out of misunderstood terms...no, I think Mr. Graeber is pointing to attack itself, and I support him on this.

what good is there in writing a review that takes, what seems to me a 'taken-for-granted' idea that debt and labor are connected, and then using that to accuse Mr. Graeber of complete folly...the scope of the distinction does not match the extremity of critique

i mean really, why not Mr. Price point out a distinction you would like to make, and then make that distinction very clear in your review...i did not find the point clarified by the review, and i felt quite certain after reading the review that you were motivated by a prejudice...i felt that...it is not scientific, i know, but i did feel this, and my instinct was that the review did not exercise an objective mindset, and so i didn't trust it...

Mr. Graeber has repeatedly clarified his positions and yet he is painted with the very labels he has explicitly rejected. this is a kind of bullying, an intellectual form of dominance...and he is making a choice, instead of ignoring it, he is choosing to experiment with confrontation...because any of us who involve ourselves with intellectual work these days know this kind of game. because i know this game, i applaud Mr. Graeber for attempting to engage with it...i would call this revolutionary, and ultimately the path toward true intellectual rigor. what you guys are calling a tantrum, I am calling an act of great social courage...emotion pointed toward the truth is good emotion, and much needed. Many intellectuals fall into the trap of trying to be 'the better man', but this is a kind of social laziness that Mr. Graeber is not allowing himself.

the point is this, in my humble opinion - if your review is built upon the idea that Mr. Graeber dismisses the role of labor, and he responds by saying that debt is an important mechanism by which labor is exploited (and therefore important), then what are you left with? i admit that i am a lay philosopher, i don't have all the lingo...however, i know when people are avoiding an issue, i know agendas when i see them...and think comment threads are a great place to have debates, but i also know, from experience, that many who see the dominance happening won't speak to it...

Revolutions cannot be built by people who attach themselves to positions even when they discover they were mistaken...i still don't understand the difference between debt and labor that justified the review...in my experience they were always two sides of the same coin. i always assume when i'm reading about debt, that labor is the reason i am reading it.

author by David Graeberpublication date Mon Aug 13, 2012 23:47Report this post to the editors

yes, I remember in the '80s I used to read The Nation and publications like that, back in the days when they were actually leftist publications, and my favorite part was always the letters section, where you could watch someone like Alexander Cockburn or Andrew Kopkind going back and forth with some critic. Each letter would be absolutely convincing "oh my god, this guy has really got Cockburn this time! how is he ever going to get out of this one?" and you'd read the response, and you'd be "wow! so that guy was just totally full of shit!" and then, sometimes, back again for round 2. It was extraordinarily entertaining.

When did it happen that this sort of exchange became taboo?

What I find strangest is how comprehensive the taboo has become. It would be one thing to say "Authors should consider it beneath their dignity to respond to criticisms of their positions" - that would be bad enough. But here it's more like: "authors should consider it beneath their dignity to clarify if someone attacks them for a position they do not in fact hold."

What possible purpose does that serve?

author by Ken Vallariopublication date Tue Aug 14, 2012 02:13author email kenvallario at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

"What possible purpose does that serve?"

I know this was a rhetorical question...but oh well, i am going to try and answer it.

I believe that the political environment we live in is vastly different than it was a hundred years ago, and that this necessitates new theories and insights. One of the ways in which it is different has to do with the doubling of our population, at around 7 billion people right now, there is a rush for resources...and because our society is becoming more and more identified with INFORMATION as a primary resource, and alienated from meaning, the struggle over intellectual 'property' is one that will inspire people to fight in ways that are not necessarily rational...in other words, we have become virtual land-grabbers, and it's made intellectual space wild.

so, the 'purpose' of the attack is to destroy the integrity of property, and you find yourself Mr. Graeber in the rather ironic position of being a property owner.

my first exposure to you Mr. Graeber was your charlie rose interview, and when you talked about 'not cowering' i knew exactly what you were talking about, and i was deeply thrilled by it...i too, am one who does not cower to false authority, and this seemingly minor quality, becomes a way of living in the world that is almost magical...other people very often just don't understand it, and it provokes a kind of primitive retaliation...and you not only provoke these feelings, you go on to directly confront them...this is powerful stuff.

i believe this kind of dynamic is the socratic ideal in action, and this is why, although i am skeptical of material interpretations of history, i will continue to follow your process...i long to see a revolution in the world, but when it happens, it seems to me it will be felt most here, in this interpersonal stuff, where most of the daily suffering actually takes place, where 'real authority' is suppressed day after day through these growing areas of intellectual taboo.

like all people i have an agenda... i hope to inspire some of the leaders of the 'left', those people who intend toward equality and justice to see the vast emotional barriers to progress....the ways in which these emotional deficits make strictly political revolutions impossible....these emotional traumas are everywhere, and if dealt with, they can become the fulcrum upon which great revolutions can be lifted...in fact, this is exactly what i credit the early Occupy success with. and this is why i think momentum has been lost. i bring this up to point back to the notion of 'cowering' and how this relates to the reality of 'authority'...Mr. Graeber, i continue to feel the most oppression comes from my fellow 99 percenters who insist that i cower, that bully me when i choose to shine, that are threatened by my authoritative orientation with my reality. and this debate between Mr. Price and yourself is a great example of this...if we can resolve that, then revolution is inevitable.

author by Waynepublication date Wed Aug 15, 2012 09:59Report this post to the editors

Ken,

I do not think that anything would make revolutiion inevitable. We can only try to make it more probable.

In my exchange with David Graeber, no one would or could criticize him for strongly defending his views including insisting that i misunderstood or misinterpreted his book (I do not think I did, but it is always possible). What people object to is his personalistic attacks, name-calling, character assassination, and personal nastiness (I am a liar, slanderer, without integrity, etc., along with wacky accusations that I am seeking to persuade people not to read his books).

author by Ken vallariopublication date Thu Aug 16, 2012 10:37author email Kenvallario at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

Mr. Price,

Objecting to the tone of an accusation is fine. I agree with that objection. Mr. Graeber does shoot from the hip a bit more than I would but the fact remains that there is a clear and consistant tone on your part that i would call provocative precisely because it is so evasive of the barely disguised attacks within your review that are of a similar character. A review, i might add, whose most pointed criticism is that David Graeber's book called 'Debt' is actually about debt. Every intention you assign to the author has been explicitly refuted by the author himself and your refusal to acknowledge that makes it hard not to assume you came at this with an agenda inappropriate to the task. These things can not be judged ultimately but this individual believes that you pushed your own agenda too far into the review, that this was unfair to the work of the author, and that his emotional defense, though less nuanced than i would have liked, has something honest about it. These types of provocations clothed in decorum have become a ubiquitous form of peer pressure and a commitment to emotion might be our only hope of breaking through the idolatry that is at its root, but that is an aside. Without a language for resolving these disagreements we are doomed. Contemplate that and build a bridge instead of a case. That is the heroic goal.

author by David Graeberpublication date Thu Aug 16, 2012 15:20Report this post to the editors

there's also the fundamental question: if I sound a bit annoyed by Price's misrepresenting my position, who or what is hurt by this? Price's delicate sensibilities? Why do I rather doubt he's losing sleep over this one? Obviously no one. If on the other hand Price succeeds in falsely convincing people that my book is a call for the maintenance of markets and the private ownership of the means of production, everyone is hurt, in any number of ways.

Price couldn't care less about my tone. He's just using whatever weapon he can against someone he considers an ideological enemy (since he apparently has concluded that anyone without exactly the same position as his own is an ideological enemy) - just as he did when he intentionally misrepresented my ideas, and as he is now doing when he is pretending to be outraged by my "tone" in pointing out that he had done so.

author by Red and Black Actionpublication date Fri Aug 17, 2012 20:27Report this post to the editors

So, when its pointed out that Graeber makes a whole series of personal attacks on Wayne Price, we get this gem:

Graeber: "well, he did lies.
he lies a lot.
he's pretty notorious.
Sorry to have pointed it out."

People in glass houses ...

And then I get insulted too (nice!):

Graeber: "Then as soon you do they jump on it and say you're having an hysterical fit and it proves you're irrational, and an asshole, and thus obviously the one in the wrong... it's a game they're playing... Price is an old hand, but this new guy, R&B is a real amateur. He actually seems to think people won't notice that (a) I responded extremely graciously to his initial criticism of me, and he's the one who flipped out in response, (b) you can't say Price "refuted" my points when my points were all clarifications of what I actually think; no one is going to believe Price has a more accurate view of my positions than I do; and (c) anyone who's read the book knows his review wildly misrepresents it. "

Talk about "games they're playing"!

My posts thanked Graeber for his gracious comments, and praises the book, and clarified a few factual points someone else entirley raised in response to something I said.

Yes, I also quoted Graeber's over-the-top responses to Wayne Price. Not putting words in Graeber's mouth or anything. Just quoting him.

This, apparently means I "flipped out" and am a "real amatuer" and am "playing" a "game" with Wayne Price to misrepresent Graeber as an "asshole".

And when someone says this is a "childish" way for someone to respond, Graeber then says: " I don't understand your criticism."

Indeed. And that's just the point, isn't it.?

Last, no one disputes (least of all Wayne Price) an author has some sort of right to respond and no one at any point has denied that there is a reasonable "expectation" that an author can and should respond to unfair criticism. There is no "tabboo" on this.

No, what mattters is how you respond. It is possible to say Wayne Price is wrong without calling him a liar, a Trot, an "old hand" at "dishonesty", a "sectarian" etc.

And it is possible to respond to other people who have an opinion you don't like, in a comradely manner too.

But I'll leave it there.

author by Red and Black Actionpublication date Fri Aug 17, 2012 21:02Report this post to the editors

Graeber:" yes, I remember in the '80s I used to read The Nation and publications like that, back in the days when they were actually leftist publications, and my favorite part was always the letters section, where you could watch someone like Alexander Cockburn or Andrew Kopkind going back and forth with some critic. Each letter would be absolutely convincing "oh my god, this guy has really got Cockburn this time! how is he ever going to get out of this one?" and you'd read the response, and you'd be "wow! so that guy was just totally full of shit!" and then, sometimes, back again for round 2. It was extraordinarily entertaining. When did it happen that this sort of exchange became taboo?"

I don't recall it becoming "tabboo". Certainly not here.

But then again, I also don't recall that when people "like Alexander Cockburn or Andrew Kopkind" were "going back and forth with some critic" in "The Nation" that they (like Graeber) started and ended by calling their critics "liars", "absurd," lacking in "integrity" and reason, "dishonest," "bullies," "sectarians", "amateurs," conspirators etc.

Or that they would argue (like Graeber) that their critics aimed only to rubbish them in front of "everyone in the world", using "using whatever weapon" they could, from the worst motives.

And that they ever (like Graeber) demanded an apology to "the world" (!) from their critics.

author by David Graeberpublication date Sat Aug 18, 2012 04:11Report this post to the editors


no one is paying attention.

a word of advice: you guys are going to have to come up with a new approach for cases like this. The tactic of wildly mischaracterizing an author's political position for sectarian advantage, and then pretending to get morally offended when they point out that you did so, only works in the world of ultra-radical publishing where only 40 people in the world are likely to read the original book all the way through anyway, so most interested parties only know what they read in discussions and reviews. In that case, yes, people will assume that the truth is a sort of mid-point between whatever positions are out there, thus making extreme mischaracterizations (like claiming I'm calling for maintaining the market and private property) an effective approach. However this is case is nothing like that. If my publishers are right, hundreds of thousands have people have read this book already. So a lot of people know what's actually in it. In cases like this if you make statements that are obviously false, it will just rebound on you.

author by Red and Black Actionpublication date Sat Aug 18, 2012 18:53Report this post to the editors


Stop changing the subject and stop conflating what I said with what others have said.

I have nothing to do with the review, got it? I have no plan with Wayne to to make you look bad in front of "the world", got it?

I am not "pretending" to be "morally" offended by your posts.

First, I am simply saying that you are behaving badly by flinging around insults, claiming plots against you, and arguing as if anyone who disagrees with you in any serious way does so from destructive and malignant motives.

Second, I am simply saying that your more substantive points are lost in the style that you have chosen to adopt.

Third, that you seem blissfully unaware of this, to the point that you are actually handing out advice on the niceties of productive internet debate.

Take it down a notch, okay?

author by Ken Vallariopublication date Tue Aug 21, 2012 07:24author email kenvallario at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

red and black,

You admit to avoiding altogether the review itself, so by this admission your comments are tangential...and even though i might, given the discussion was thorough enough, come to adopt your position on tone...it warrants mentioning that, if the review does in fact misrepresent his work, that certain allowances might be made to decorum...because you choose to avoid this, you have no right to address his feelings on that particular subject.

it also bears mentioning that these online 'expectations' of behavior are themselves products of a massively unconscious processes and can be dealt with experimentally...i see in Mr. Graeber's outbursts an attempt to break through some of what can feel false for those who spend a lot of time in this virtual place.

i support your desires to have this discussion, but logical consistency is important, and it is crucial that we not prescribe behavior without an argument that is supported by thorough analysis.

i wrote this piece a long time ago, concerning online discussions, and i think it is rather prescient to this whole discussion.

Related Link: http://kenvallario.com/blog/art_blogs/troll-power-1
author by David Graeberpublication date Wed Aug 22, 2012 12:21Report this post to the editors

When R&B says it doesn't matter what Price said, what he's seems to be saying is that it should be absolutely off-limits in anarchist debate to say someone lied even if they actually did lie.

Does he really think that?

This conversation is silly. When have I ever accused anyone other than Price of outright lying? I have had many productive disagreements. I actually really enjoy honest critical engagement with my work. That's why I become so frustrated that I can find so few critics willing to engage critically with my actual arguments, instead of attacking the book for things I don't think and didn't say. You can't imagine how tiresome it is to have to once again decide whether to reply to a review where almost the entirety of any reply would have to consist of laboriously repeating my actual positions, "no I don't think debt is the motor of history," "no I didn't say capitalism is not a form of exploitation," "no I don't believe that markets are a form of freedom," etc etc etc, over and over again. And then you have to make the choice: do I leave it alone, because it's boring and tedious to reply, even though if you do, there will be thousands of people out there who will now think I actually believe all these things? Or do I reply and then instantly get treated as if I can't take criticism even though all I'm doing is pointing out that the ideas being criticized aren't ones I actually hold?

If someone had written a book that actually did argue that exploitation is unimportant, that capitalism is just commerce, and that we should get rid of capitalism but keep the market and private property in the means of production (still don't completely understand how that is supposed to work), I'd be pretty fucking critical too. But you see, I don't actually think any of these things. So I'm not responding impatiently to criticism. I am pointing out the book Price claims to be criticizing doesn't actually exist.

I don't think most critics have dishonest motives - though I am distressed by just how sloppy so many are. I think Wayne Price has dishonest motives because he has a pattern of behavior which can be observed over a very long period of time. Most people who misstate my arguments, I assume are not self-conscious deceivers but simply given to a sloppy, sectarian style of argument where they don't try very hard to read a text for its actual meaning but just sort of look at it until they figure out what sort of pre-set category of wrongness they can plug it into and once they have it pegged, just regurgitate a standard reply that often has nothing to do with what the author is actually arguing. I'm sorry but that's just the way a lot of leftist thinkers (obviously not only leftist thinkers) are trained to think. I suppose it's possible Wayne Price could be the most extreme example of this kind of sloppiness ever, but his misrepresentation of my and others' work in the past has been so systematically that it's almost impossible to imagine it's just some kind of willful blindness. Anyway, if he didn't lie in the review, he certainly did in the discussion - as I pointed out, right on this very page he took a sentence I'd written earlier, chopped out half, and then pretended it said the opposite of what he had to know it really said. There's just no possible way that can be an honest mistake. Yet somehow this sort of behavior is unobjectionable, but my saying it's dishonest falls outside of reasonable bounds?

I just decided for once Price should actually be called on his shit. If Price thinks twice the next time he has an urge to just make things up about the next book he reviews, the small damage to my own reputation will be worth it. And the quality of debate will improve. It is not hurt by someone calling a liar a liar. It is definitely hurt by people who confuse discussion by making up weird random untrue shit about other people's books.

I also think you're being disingenuous here saying that I react to any serious criticism by claiming bad motives. Actually anyone can observe on this page as well I reacted to your very aggressive and rather personal criticism of me by assuming good motives, and even offered a completely unrequested apology for earlier remarks about NEFAC. It was only when you reacted to that generous reply by an almost hysterical attack of your own that I figured you just considered yourself part of Price's team and weren't even trying to be reasonable. I think your behavior in that regard was far more abusive than anything I engaged in. Saying that I am somehow being unreasonable not to give you the benefit of the doubt after such behavior just seems peculiar.

I'll tell you what I think is actually happening here. When you admit that it doesn't even matter what Price said or whether it was true, but only the tone of the response, you are whether you are aware or not trying to enforce a bourgeois standard of propriety, and say that such bourgeois standards are more important even than truth. I find this a puzzling position to take in an anarchist forum.

In fact, what I am observing here is a classic example of what might be called "class baiting." In traditional form it goes something like this:

Nob: "you're a decent chap, Jeeves, even if you are something of an imbecile."
Jeeves: "what? you're calling me stupid? I'm not stupid! How can you say I'm stupid!"
Nob: "Jeeves, I said you were a decent chap, didn't I? I am shocked by your vulgar display of angry and aggressive behavior. There are ladies present! Have you no shame?"

This is a stereotype, but there is a very ugly reality behind it. Such tactics have been deployed for centuries by those with privilege, for whom everything is assumed to be a game and form is always more important than content, against people who come from backgrounds where this is not the case - especially, against those who grew up in places where, if someone hits you, you will be in big trouble if you don't show that you have it in you to hit back,. Myself, I'm one of those rare "class struggle" anarchists who actually comes from a working class background. I'm guessing I might be the only person in this discussion who does. This probably has something to do with the fact that I sometimes say what I think in plain language and I don't treat everything as a game where rules of propriety are more important than content. I don't think this is a bad quality. But it means people of more privileged backgrounds quickly identify me as someone who can easily be baited using such techniques, since they know if they play the "you're a decent chap Jeeves" game, I'll point out what they're doing, and then all the other nobs will immediately jump in and say I'm the one who broke the rules of decorum by saying this, I'm crazy, hysterical, "throwing a hissy fit," violent, extreme.

I find it a tad ironic, to say the least, that people who claim to be the paragons of working class struggle should be using rhetorical tactics that have traditionally been deployed almost exclusively against working class people and other members of the oppressed. What can be more absolutely bourgeois than the insistence that form is always more important than substance, and what could be a more extreme form of prioritizing form over substance than saying that even if one party to a conversation is outright lying, this is nothing compared to the terrible, unforgiveable impropriety of accusing them of such? Or that one are obliged to use some euphemistic circumlocution, and if one doesn't, the fact that they didn't is much more important than whether or not what they say was true?

(PS: oh yes, and Nation debates were far more heated at times than I ever was. If people didn't accuse each other of writing overt falsehoods it's for the simple reason that the journal was fact-checked, and for that reason, a piece like Price's could never have been published there in the first place - or if it had, only after the obvious falsehoods had been removed.)

author by Ken Vallariopublication date Wed Aug 22, 2012 22:47author email kenvallario at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

Since we have opened up the pandora's box of tone and decorum I will weigh in.

First of all, even though I have done so hedgingly, i have defended Mr. Graeber's tone throughout this discussion, because I felt he was right to point out that Mr. Price was not utilizing the review form in a way that was honest. This discussion will act as a great resource for those who will find his review confusing. (and i suggest Mr. Graeber save it, because in my experience such things have a way of getting deleted). However, this does not mean that I wholeheartedly think Mr. Graeber's tone and approach was strategically ideal to achieve the given ends, which, let's not forget is to correct a misrepresentation. Such corrections cannot altogether abandon known contexts...and what i mean by this, is that when one knows that one is being 'baited' and i think that is the case here, then one has to make a conscious choice about how to proceed. if Mr. Graeber has chosen to dismiss this ploy and appear baited, hoping that the sincerity of his voice would transcend the trap, then I would tend to agree with him...he does appear frustrated, flustered at times, and willing to toss a few personal attacks at the author...however, i maintain that his primary thesis, that ' A LIE IS A LIE ' is a good one, and that he has made a noble effort to appear 'real'...to 'say it plain' as they used to say to Martin Luther King...

Before I proceed let me say that I grew up in the rural south...I spent most of my life under the poverty line, not educated enough to even know what 'working class' was...i am what they call, and i hate this term 'white trash'...my street cred goes very low...nonetheless, through sheer will, crazy fortune, and an endless curiosity, i have somehow achieved a relative liberation from that very dark cave...my wife is a beautiful jewish girl from new jersey and she bought my slave papers from the bank...my loans, the 'debt' that i refused to pay for 10 years, as I had figured out the scam and i was fighting back. i say all this to respond the contextual claims you made Mr. Graeber, not to create tension, but to help out on a singular point. like you, i have a very personal relationship with debt.

one thing i have noticed about the difference between myself, and those middle-class people i am now surrounded by living in the northeast, is that they are, if they are honest, rather confused by dishonesty. Living in the pretty insidious degradation as a child i have seen evil and human corruption in a very deep way. Let me get to my point. Mr. Price wrote an inflammatory review, and Mr. Graeber responded in a way I felt was warranted...but they baited you Mr. Graeber and you are right to point that out. However, you attempted to bait Mr. Price, not for ill will, but because you wanted him to engage you in an ACTUAL argument, but he would not, he was evasive and continued to provoke you. Everything you said was true, they were baiting you. Your frustration though, I think comes from not understanding that much of it is unconscious. People like Mr. Price, and all those reviewers you encounter and find tiresome, they have no idea what they are doing. They are not 'using a tactic' against you. They have some unconscious, primal forces, driving them to attack your property. When you engage them with reason, and a desire to have dialectic, they get intimidated and defend themselves by provoking you. You get confused and drive them further into retreat, and everybody looks crazy. This is why I am willing to entertain the idea that you might benefit from a slight stretching of perspective on these dynamics. I think you 'ought' to continue to speak to misrepresentations, but I think you need to accept your power, and accept that many human beings are frightened of power, especially intellectual power...and that intellectual rigor can be very isolating. They will not engage with you, because they know they will lose, and this will continue to frustrate you until you accept this as a victory, and then decide how best to represent yourself to all of us who know this already...

to speak specifically, i like your plain speech, but i think you would benefit from eliminating those moments where you point out relative readership, or such things that touch on nerves of social esteem, since you have a lot of that, and this can entrench those who are already inclined against you....in other words, the seduction of enemies is a great art, but it requires an acceptance of people's limitations, and somebody with a lot of ambition like yourself sometimes has a hard time believing in limitations, and this can be a limitation. I hope you accept this with the respect with which it is meant.

author by Machinpublication date Thu Aug 23, 2012 00:47Report this post to the editors

To David Graeber,

This is sick. I wrote that what Wayne did of your sentence on free wage labor was dishonest and not credible, and this is what he answered:

"Machin: This is really getting too convoluted. I suppose you are right in saying that the one sentence of Gradber's I quoted in the thread did not prove the point."

Damn. I didn't write that the sentence doesn't prove the point, I wrote that it is neither honest nor credible to use a sentence out of context to try to make it seems like it means the contrary of what it really means. Let's make it simpler : Wayne was bullshitting.

Yes, it seems you are right. This is a kind of sick game. And it could easily drive me mad.
Alternatively, I could still believe that he doesn't do it on purpose, but then that would mean he is very stupid. In fact, the assumption that he is voluntarily dishonest is certainly more generous than the alternative.

Now I wanna play too. Let me try to use Wayne's Price tricks with his review:

[wayne price mode on]

Wayne Price is clearly well versed in Marxism, and certainly his good intentions as a libertarian communist can not be put into question. Though it seems he is not taking the role of surplus value production seriously enough. He writes:

"The whole point of the capitalist making the worker temporarily “unequal” is to get the workers to work for a certain number of hours to produce the equivalent of the workers’ wages "

Here we can see that Wayne Price, despite his habitually quite perceptive thinking, doesn't understand the very logic of surplus value production. Because if, as he writes, capitalists "get the workers to work for a certain number of hours to produce the equivalent of the workers’ wages", then there is nothing left as profit for the capitalists. Wayne certainly knows that the wage is not "equivalent" (as he unfotunately writes) to the value produced by the worker, but he does not consider this to be vitally important to the meaning of wage labor.

Then if Wayne Price doesn't undersand the logic of value production, it can only lead him to the deleterious politics he is well known for. As he can't understand exaclty how unjust the wage system exactly is, he only proposes that we vote for the party that will reduce the workweek to 30 hours, while the real revolutionary goal is the abolition of the wage system through direct action.
[wayne price mode off]

Jokes apart, I think I'll try to do discuss critically of the Debt book once I have re-read it. There must be something serious to disagree about. Gotta find it.

author by Red and Black Actionpublication date Fri Aug 24, 2012 16:44Report this post to the editors

Ken says "you admit to avoiding altogether the review itself, so by this admission your comments are tangential..., you have no right to address his feelings on that particular subject."

If you'd actually read my previous posts, you'd see I disagree with how Graeber characterizes Wayne’s review, as well as with a few points in the book. My last post merely said that - whatever the rights and wrongs of Graber's points - his nasty tone does him no credit and is unnecessary. But even if I did not comment on the review itself, I would still have a "right" to address his "feelings", just as anyone in a meeting can suggest people debate in a more comradely way.

Ken adds: "

Graeber again: "have I ever accused anyone other than Price of outright lying?"

How on earth would I know? How is this relevant? I am simply saying that calling Wayne a liar, a Trot, a sectarian, stating he is unable to reason etc., is not a very constructive approach. And that it is the main content and the form of your responses to him.

Graeber: "You can't imagine how tiresome it is to have to once again decide whether to reply to a review where almost the entirety of any reply would have to consist of laboriously repeating my actual positions"

How on earth would you know what my experiences are? Do you think you are the only person who has been criticized? Even unfairly?

Graeber: "I think Wayne Price has dishonest motives because he has a pattern of behavior which can be observed over a very long period of time".

That's an enormous claim covering dozens of reviews over many years. Do you seriously think you can demonstrate that Wayne has consistently acted from "dishonest motives" for years, from a survey of all his work?

Graeber:" I also think you're being disingenuous here saying that I react to any serious criticism by claiming bad motives. Actually anyone can observe on this page as well I reacted to your very aggressive and rather personal criticism of me by assuming good motives, and even offered a completely unrequested apology for earlier remarks about NEFAC [etc]."

So, having earlier insisted on how mild and constructive you are in debates (except with Wayne), you here demonstrate perfectly clearly what I called the methods of your debating style. I am now for example "almost hysterical," ""very aggressive," part of Price's team," not "even trying to be reasonable," "abusive", "disingenuous" etc. (All statements from this post).

Graeber: "you are whether you are aware or not trying to enforce a bourgeois standard of propriety, and say that such bourgeois standards are more important even than truth. I find this a puzzling position to take in an anarchist forum. "

So, being comradely in debate is "bourgeois" (or, as you say later, “absolutely bourgeois”). Being rude and engaging in ad hominen attacks is somehow anti-bourgeois.

Since you accuse Wayne of such sins, do you apply this alibi to him as well?

Now, conveniently, your critics are all acting as snobs and bourgeois. Objectively, actually, because whether they are "aware or not", they are "enforcing" bourgeois standards and are therefore lined up with the bourgeoisie. (This, besides them being conspirators, dishonest, unreasonable, hysterical, Trots etc.)

What’s next? Claiming that you, by being rude and sectarian are somehow authentically working class.
Oh yes, this claim comes up from later…

Graeber: this approach has been "deployed for centuries by those with privilege, for whom everything is assumed to be a game and form is always more important than content, against people who come from backgrounds where this is not the case ..."

Not sure where this coming from, except perhaps to set up an argument where Graeber will be prolier-than-thou...

Oh, here it is: Graeber: "Myself, I'm one of those rare "class struggle" anarchists who actually comes from a working class background. I'm guessing I might be the only person in this discussion who does...But it means people of more privileged backgrounds quickly identify me as someone who can easily be baited using such techniques...I'm crazy, hysterical, "throwing a hissy fit," violent, extreme."

This is exactly what I mean about your style of argument. You argue as if there is something wrong with anyone who disagrees with you.

Now, besides being objectively lined up with the bourgeoisie by what they are arguing (because its "bourgeois" to have comradely debate, after all), they are also personally from the middle and upper classes too. So, they don't just line up with bourgeois snobbery, but are in fact bourgeois (or at least petty bourgeois) snobs themselves.

The way you develop this claim is a bit peculiar, for what its worth: "I'm one of those rare "class struggle" anarchists who actually comes from a working class background". That's a doubtful claim for the whole world, not least for even the UK and London.

But coming from a working class background (like I do, by the way), is not a "get out of jail free" pass for anything you do.

Then "I'm guessing I might be the only person in this discussion who does..."

Again, really? How on earth would you know? Perhaps its simply because you assume the worst of your critics.
Graeber: "PS: oh yes, and Nation debates were far more heated at times than I ever was. If people didn't accuse each other of writing overt falsehoods it's for the simple reason that the journal was fact-checked, and for that reason, a piece like Price's could never have been published there in the first place - or if it had, only after the obvious falsehoods had been removed."

I would be delighted if you could show me where anyone in those debates demanded an apology to "the world," called others liars, or unable to reason, or accused them of being parts of conspiracies, or bourgeois snobs etc. You're not the only person to have read this paper, you know.

author by Ken Vallariopublication date Fri Aug 24, 2012 22:35author email kenvallario at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

R & B,

How is lying 'comradely behavior'?

I don't even like these weird sentimental terms, like comrade and bourgeois...i mean they are so rooted in history, that they usually signal to me that people are using totems in their speech, which does tend to magnify misunderstanding...but that is an aside...

the fact is that the review has an obvious agenda, and Mr. Graeber, and ANY AUTHOR, is justified in becoming frustrated by a purposeful misrepresentation.

Mr. Graeber responded to the 'tone argument' and so I felt justified to add my thoughts....however, R & B, you seem to be all too willing to forgive uncomradely behavior (which I will define as misrepresentation and evasion) in the reviewer and overly passionate about, what, to most people, seems like an author who is pissed off about having his work attacked by somebody whose only criticism is that it is a book that is about what it says it is about.

like you, i am slightly sympathetic to the idea that Mr. Graeber lets his passion get the best of him now and then...but it is possible to find that charming - IF- if he is responding to an unfair attack...and his attacks do have the capacity to be checked against reality, whereas the reviewer's work is just not logically consistent..and, like you R & B, this weird passion with which you will argue against Mr. Graeber's tone, and not actually deal with the misrepresentation can only be interpreted as coming from psychological roots. and this is far from comradely, in my humble bourgeois opinion...

of course, i guess logical consistency is just another character flaw of whatever class i belong to...frankly, i think the whole paradigm you guys are using to play this game is antiquated in the extreme...there are fucking predator drones flying the skies, and people aren't farming potatoes anymore, they are farming for virtual gold in computer sweatshops...things are far weirder than Marx could even imagine...that's my agenda...but, my point remains that because of the acute complexity, that remaining consistent to one's logic, and staying 'on argument' is more important than ever...this is why i find the 'tone argument' very tangential, and why i think Mr. Graeber is more right with every weird attack that comes his way...

author by David Graeberpublication date Sun Aug 26, 2012 01:03Report this post to the editors

Ken, the two arguments, 1) that certain behavior is a calculated sectarian game, and 2) that it emerges from deep psychological complexes are not contradictory. Both can be true - since (2) could explain why someone is playing the game to begin with. But such games exist - look at the history of debate on the radical Left and you will see endless examples, starting with Marx himself, who used to do things like publish fake attacks on his work under the name of non-existent conservative economists full of obvious mistakes so he could refute them. R&B's behavior - of absolute refusal to criticize anything Price does under any circumstances, and absolute refusal to say anything non-critical of me under any circumstances, is most economically explained as simply identifying Price as a member of the same team and me as part of a different one, and seeing the exchange not as a conversation but as a game his team must win. His initial statement against me pretty much admitted this was his perspective, even if a bit by projection.

And yes, as you note, it is a bizarre bourgeois idea of "comradeship" to claim it's not uncomradely to write malicious lies but it is uncomradely to point out someone has done so. Comradely behavior starts with actively trying to understand what another person is saying. Price's behavior is the opposite: he claps his hands over his ears when I even try to state my actual positions. One wonders what sort of "free" society such people are ultimately trying to create.

Machin, yeah, exactly, I thought I was being generous too not suggesting Price is either the stupidest person who ever lived, or crazy.

Meanwhile, over at World Socialism, I'm actually having a polite and fruitful conversation with some Marxists! It's such a pleasant change: http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/forum/comments/debt-...age=1

author by ken vallariopublication date Mon Aug 27, 2012 10:28author email kenvallario at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

Mr. Graeber,

You make a good point. I did not know that about Marx, publishing fake articles. I would love to know where i could learn more about that, if you have the time to shoot it my way, i would appreciate it. Such conspiratorial behaviors, I admit to finding incomprehensible. Ultimately though, and this goes to my point, I find such behaviors delegitimizing in the extreme, because they must arise out of a deep distrust of the truth. And I think we agree on this point.

The nuance goes to the level of consciousness we are speaking about...and, since this long debate, I think, has gone to uphold your integrity, we do not have to continue...

however, i will just add that such 'psychological complexes' are in themselves unconscious, and therefore represent unresolved conflicts...so, to split hairs, they cannot ultimately be 'calculated'...such that, these people can at once 1. be baiting you in order to undermine your work and 2. not be fully conscious of why they are doing so.

now, you may argue that they are fully conscious of the tactic, but this would support the notion that they are acting upon conscious politically specific motivations...but these motivations, if they are not friendly with the truth, cannot be considered friendly at all...and we would, if we were to justify any engagement with these tactics, have to assume that some political motivation could exist that was both legitimate and relied upon the utilization of misrepresentation. and that is a lot of speculation, maybe too much...

maybe, the use of occam's razor, in this case, would force us to deal with more primal human instincts...all of this has been my polite way of saying, perhaps the conspiratorial notions you have, are a form of intellectual generosity, but one ultimately, and ironically that gets misunderstood by the very people benefiting from it...i find that funny...

anyways, I have enjoyed the melee of minds, and now I am off to read the link you posted.

author by Vladtheinhalerpublication date Wed Apr 17, 2013 17:14Report this post to the editors

Graeber says that Indian "coolies" built the South African mines. At best this is grossly misleading. The more likely reading is that Graeber got it wrong, though I am sure he will defend some non-obvious reading of his claim.

author by Red and Black Actionpublication date Sun Dec 15, 2013 01:25Report this post to the editors

Looking back at this annoying exchange months later, I am still struck by Mr Graeber's ad hominen attacks, and argument-by-insinuations-about-critics'-evil-intents. The fact that he was supported by people who argue the same way, like a Ken Vallario, who seems to think the critics are driven by psychological problems (nice one, that), is also of interest. But no doubt this will also been by someone who argues like Mr Graeber as proof of how perfectly correct he is, every time. Been fun.

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