[Marxism] David Graeber
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 11 08:06:30 MDT 2005
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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