[Marxism] David Graeber

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 11 08:06:30 MDT 2005


Support Graeber   	
by Andrej Grubacic 	May 11, 2005 	

Recently David Graeber and I wrote an article together attempting to 
explain why anarchist ideas have received almost no attention in the 
academy. When you think of it, academia is full of Marxist radicals, but 
only a handful of professed anarchists. We came to a conclusion that it 
must have something to do with anarchism's concern with forms of practice; 
with its insistence that one's means most be consonant with one's ends; 
with its stubborn rejection of the idea that we can create freedom through 
authoritarian means, embracing instead the position that we should embody 
the society we wish to create.

All of this does not square very well with operating within a university. 
The university has survived in much the same form since the middle ages, 
waging intellectual battles at conferences, re-enforcing class 
distinctions, making cabalistic decisions in secret rooms. As we stated in 
our article: "At the very least, one would imagine being an openly 
anarchist professor would mean challenging the way universities are run and 
that, of course, is going to get one in far more trouble than anything one 
could ever write".

Ironically enough, as if he was testing his own hypothesis, internationally 
respected anarchist anthropologist, David Graeber, was fired from Yale 
University a few days ago. Of course, that wasn't the official explanation. 
The official one reads that "his contract wasn't renewed" because of his 
lack of "collegiality". If you would allow me to translate this: the "lack 
of collegiality" that David had showed was when he was trying to defend his 
graduate students who were graduate union organizers.

Union organizers are regularly targeted at Yale. When one brilliant 
graduate student organizer was almost kicked out for clearly fabricated 
reasons, David Graeber was the only member of her committee with the 
courage to openly stand up for her at that committee meeting, and then 
later at a faculty meeting. On David Graeber's behalf, Yale graduate 
students have initiated a petition which has been signed by almost all 
graduate and good number of undergraduate students of anthropology.

So, why has David Graeber been given the boot? To begin with the obvious, 
he is an unrepentant anarchist. David Graeber was one of the spokespeople 
for the Anti Capitalist Convergence during the World Economic Forum 
protests in New York. He was an activist with Direct Action Network. He is 
one of the founding members of the Peoples Global Action infopoint in New 
York. And he had authored many essays and articles on anarchism. But he 
never did any organizing or activism on campus.

What perhaps was David Graeber's greatest crime was simply his apparently 
over optimistic belief that he could remain true to his anarchist 
principles within the academy. Graeber believes that graduate school should 
be more than a training camp for becoming a commodity on the academic 
market. Rather it should also be about joy and creativity. Anyone who goes 
through a graduate program knows that such institutions are all about 
socialization as an academic, much of which requires the destruction of the 
sense of joy and creativity in learning, thinking and imagining that draws 
people to become scholars in the first place. For certain, some 
universities are worse then others. For various reasons, Yale seems to 
specialize in this kind of soul-crushing sport.

David Graeber offered his students an alternative model. He believes that 
it's possible to be an academic intellectual and not an academic 
prostitute, that it is possible not to sacrifice everything that makes life 
enjoyable, that it is possible to be both intellectually productive and 
politically committed. Given such convictions, is it little wonder that 
David Graeber was given the boot?

As a close friend of David's, I have witnessed a somewhat frantic activity 
on the behalf of a few members of the Yale faculty to have him fired. Not 
incidentally, these faculty members have not been speaking to David since 
his name was mentioned in the papers in conjunction with the WEF protests 
three years ago. But ostracizing him was difficult. Not only because of 
some decent colleagues who ardently defended him. Since that time David has 
published two well respected books and articles in dozens of languages. Two 
years ago the Yale bureaucracy renewed David's contract for only two years, 
citing his behavior as not being in accordance with Yale's "academic 
ethics" and said that his contract might be extended two more years if he 
improved "his behavior".

Last Tuesday a meeting was held to consider David's reappointment. Only 
senior faculty were allowed to attend and David was not permitted to 
respond to his accusations, nor where his accusers expected to present 
evidence. After an extended slander fest, participants seem to have 
concluded that it doesn't really matter if the accusations are false and 
trivial, because his presence is clearly divisive thus it would be safer to 
just kick him out.

As someone who has spent many wonderful moments with David, I am certainly 
not neutral here. But neither should you be. This issue extends beyond the 
academic career of David Graeber. And beyond the price one may have to pay 
for advocating anarchism in the academy. In this country, at this exciting 
and surreal point of its history, this could happen, as it already has, on 
so many different levels, to anybody who refuses to participate in the 
Salem-like atmosphere that is being systematically promoted in institutions 
like Yale, or Columbia, or Colorado. To support David Graeber is to say 
that we have had enough of this nation-wide persecution of leftist 
professors, accused of 'falsifying' their "Native American identity", of 
supporting anti-Semitism, or of being anarchists. To support David Graeber 
means to support academic freedom and to reject the conformist dictate of 
fear and obedience in the US academy.



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