Home > General Comment > Professor Kliman’s “Radical” Critique of David Graeber and the Occupy Movement

Professor Kliman’s “Radical” Critique of David Graeber and the Occupy Movement

Or, why Zizek believed, ‘We must not succumb to the temptation to act’

Between Kliman’s critique of the Occupy movement, Ollman’s critique of Marx on working class consciousness and Zizek’s critique of Negri, I notice something of a pattern. Ollman in his piece, which I examined in my last blog, argues “between determining conditions and determined response is the class consciousness of the actors”. Action without this class consciousness is insufficient to accomplish the revolutionary project.

Similarly, in his 2001 critique of Negri, Zizek warns us not to yield to the temptation to act without questioning the hegemonic ideological coordinates because, as he argues,

“If, today, one follows a direct call to act, this act will not be performed in an empty space”.

The space within which we act is dominated by the “liberal-parliamentary consensus” where the only rule is “say and write whatever you want-on condition that what you do does not effectively question or disturb the predominant political consensus.” To act against existing social relations without calling into question the political expression of these social relations is not sufficient.

Zizek makes a point with which it is hard to raise an objection: democratic politics is by its very nature always ready to listen to and accommodate the political demands of the working class, thus depriving them of their proper political sting. Liberal parliamentary democracy is willing to accommodate even a demand for its own abolition as a discrete political position within itself. Capital as a totalizing social process must, of course, include even the possibility of its own abolition as a part of this process. Zizek makes the quite convincing argument that between our experiences and our action we must insert critical thought that questions the limits of the liberal parliamentary consensus. Zizek demands a “serious attempt to imagine a society whose sociopolitical order would be different.” It is this imagining which should precede our actions within a space dominated by the ideological hegemony of liberal democracy. This, Zizek argues, is the failure of Negri’s analysis in Empire.

But, Zizek fails to explain why an attempt by society to imagine itself in a form that does not as yet exist would be an improvement. Against Negri’s demands that “fluctuate between formal emptiness and impossible radicalization” he proposes his own pre-Marx alternative: A radical slogan that is both empty and impossible:

The first task today is precisely not to succumb to the temptation to act, to directly intervene and change things…

Zizek is not shy about this demand. He fully admits this statement reverses Marx’s Theses — privileging thought over action. Unlike Ollman, who does the same (yet blames Marx for it), Zizek has the strength of character not to accuse Marx of inconsistency. He simply accuses Marx of being an anachronism, by quoting Lenin:

About this, Marx and Engels said not a word.

Which is to say, up until 1914 the whole of human history was essentially practical critical activity of society but no longer. With the “politico-ideological collapse of the long era of progressism in the catastrophe of 1914” Lenin stepped forward to reinvent history. That, for Lenin, this reinvention does not appear as a reinvention but a restatement of Marx’s Theses, doesn’t appear to concern Zizek. And this is the question posed by Zizek inadvertently: Was Lenin’s ideas a “restatement” of Marx’s Theses — as Lenin himself believed — or a “reinvention”?

If we could channel Lenin’s ghost to pose this question, he would no doubt respond:

Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity.” —Lenin, What Is To Be Done? (1902),

Clearly Lenin sides with Ollman and Zizek against those who act without the aid of a critical analysis of the limits set by liberal democratic politics. By contrast I have yet to find a single quote in Marx where he stated: “You have to understand my theory to make revolution.” If Zizek, Ollman or any other member in good standing within the Marxist Academy knows of such a citation I would be glad to read it — until then, kindly take your fucking critical theory and shove it up your ass.

*******

Perhaps no one is better equipped to undertake this empty and impossible “radical” task than our Professor Andrew Kliman, who, in his recent critique of David Graeber, confirmed his reputation for what one tweep called “tedious sectarianism”. I have to confess I really tried to understand Kliman’s point on “prefigurative politics”, but failed miserably.

In the proper sense of the term, “prefigurative politics” refers to practices that foreshadow and anticipate a different world a world that does not exist.

However, according to Kliman, Graeber’s prefigurative act,

… refers to practices that make believe that this different world already exists in embryo within the existing one.

Let’s parse this stupidity.

In Kliman’s sense of this term, we are imagining or acting on ideas having no concrete material reality, while, according to the professor, Graeber’s argument at least has the validity of acting on something he believes does exist, however embryonic this existence. Professor Kliman prefers to “foreshadow” the non-existent, and derides Graeber for asserting the thing foreshadowed in action already exists in embryo. The thing said to exist only in imagination in Kliman’s sense, but actually already present in embryo in Graeber’s sense is “freedom”. And, on this point, Kliman appears to have scored points against Graeber: In the first place, we are no more “free” than the African slave. In the second place we are not free in relation to the circumstances within which we act, which are historically given. In either case, pretence to freedom is a fallacy that can only result in catastrophe.

It is on these grounds Kliman concludes,

The Zuccotti Park occupation was a dismal failure. The functioning of Wall Street was not disrupted. Occupy Wall Street never occupied Wall Street. Even Zuccotti Park was “occupied” only with the consent of the mayor of New York City, and it was cleared out the moment he withdrew that consent. In the end, no autonomous space was reclaimed. The effort to remake society by multiplying and weaving together autonomous spaces is back to Square One. Even worse, precious little progress was made during the occupation in articulating and working out what the movement is for, or how to solve the serious social and economic problems we now confront.

He blames this failure, not on the occupiers themselves, but on the “leadership” of the occupation. Blaming the failure on the occupiers, would, of course, treat them as adult men and women capable of making their own decisions including who they look to as their leadership. However, in the Marxist paradigm, they are not adult men and women making their own decision, they are hopelessly retarded children who must be led by a self-annointed vanguard sufficiently theoretically developed to uncover the path mankind must take to freedom. Every other ruling class has succeeded to power through its own actions, but proles are imbeciles incapable of discovering their own wants.

The point to be made here is not whether Graeber is wrong, but that the occupiers must be wrong to have chosen him as their leader and suffered a defeat as a result. Ultimately, the failure of the Occupy belongs to them, not Graeber; despite Kliman’s weak ass attempts to separate the two. Kliman’s argument comes down to this: the proles pretended they were already free in embryo, and appointed Graeber to express this delusion. Since we must operate with the assumption that proles are not retarded children incapable of making their own decisions, this is where the blame lies. Kliman is being disingenuous when he tries to ascribe the “failure” of the Occupy movement to Graeber. If, as Kliman argues, the Occupy has failed, it is the fault of the occupiers, and Kliman should “man up” and tell them so. His attempt to lay the blame on Graeber is bullshit and Kliman knows this.

If we try to scale up Kliman’s argument to explain other historical failures of working class political activity, we would be trying to explain Auschwitz in terms of the failure of German Marxists. Kliman treats failure as some personal moral deficit, when in fact the political action of the proletariat is always supposed to fail. Even the most successful union negotiation is all about the terms and conditions of the enslavement of the workers. The fucking fallacy in the negotiation is that the workers approach it as if they are free to negotiate the terms and conditions of their enslavement. In fact, they are not free; they are slaves. Even when they win, they remain slaves. Even when they impose their will on the capitalist, they remain his willing slaves. On the basis of Kliman’s “radical” critique of our unfreedom, the workers should not even enter negotiations. Every political action rests on this fallacy, not just the Occupy — and it does not take an overt defeat of the class to be an essential defeat. In the same Graeberian sense that Occupy acts as if they are free, every fucking union acts as if it is free.

So what the fuck of it? Should the proletariat now stop fucking acting as if they are free because fucking Kliman doesn’t approve of the logical fallacy of this position?

I am trying to imagine Kliman writing “Class Struggle in France”, or “Civil War in France” — I just don’t see it. All we would be able to glean from his argument is that the communards were imbeciles for following the Prudhonists. The Commune ended in catastrophic defeat after barely 60 fucking days and got a lot of people killed — in the end the association had to submit to the state.

Overlooked in this “history” is the fact that the Commune, even led by the Prudhonists, demonstrated a new form of social organization of society. The Communards acted as they should have acted: not imagining a new social organization of society in theory, but creating it in practice. And they could create this new social organization of society, not because they had already perfected it on paper, but, as Marx observed, they were already this new social organization of society themselves.

So, yes. In the Graeberian sense of prefigure, Occupy was already “free” of the class divisions of society, not because they could abolish the other classes in society by fiat, but because they already are a class that is no longer a class in any meaningful sense of that terms.

What Kliman, Zizek, Ollman and the rest of the academy seem to be unable to get through their thick skulls is that all politics is bourgeois. The working class is in itself already constituted as the new society, it does not need politics no matter how illuminated by theory. If Marx had never written a damn word, this class would still make its revolution, because, as Marx stated: this is what the Proletariat is. It is not revolutionary because Marx said it is, Marx said it was revolutionary because it already was.

You fucking Marxists need to take your goddamned books and burn them all.

Darwin did not invent the laws of evolution. Einstein did not create the laws of the physical universe. And Marx did not create the laws of the social revolution. Proletarians do not need to ask permission from Kliman, Ollman, Zizek, or the rest of the fucking Marxist Academy to act.

So, FUCK YOU, Professor Kliman! And fuck Zizek too. Fuck you all and the fucking horse you rode in on.

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  1. skepoet
    May 5, 2012 at 11:27 am

    The question is did the Occupiers as an aggregate adopt Greaber’s framework or not? If they did, then yes, Kliman should be honest about whose fault it is, but then Graeber WAS leadership. The hypocrisy of the faux populism adopted by Kliman there is apt, but let’s be honest: if Occupy adopted the pre-figurative framework and thus are beginning to fail apart with low turn out in most of the venues of the May Day “General Strike” (which doesn’t meet any definition of the term), then there is a real problem with Occupy which making screeds at the Marxist academy does not address.

    “Darwin did not invent the laws of evolution. Einstein did not create the laws of the physical universe. And Marx did not create the laws of the social revolution. Proletarians do not need to ask permission from Kliman, Ollman, Zizek, or the rest of the fucking Marxist Academy to act.”

    And you’re analogy doesn’t work: The articulation of a laws of evolution are refined by watching sexual selection succeed, but laws only exists in our heads and our articulations, they don’t exist as laws as in the universe. Revolution, however, is manifested in the mind first, and enacted. Not discovered. How it is enacted matters.

    And Occupy is not a revolution, so perhaps the Marxist academy isn’t the primary people to scream at. Outside of Zizek, no one cares about most of them anyway. You should be screaming at the occupiers for failure. Perhaps you are. But defending an abstract mass as such against obscure Marxist thinkers who really aren’t even known by most of Occupy with what can easily be read as anti-intellectual language would lead me to do some much needed self-criticism, which is what Marxist academy seems incapable of doing, so without it, one risks failing into same trap as one’s primary enemies.

    • May 7, 2012 at 7:38 pm

      To your first point, my argument is not about the Occupy’s success or failure. Nor is it about Graeber’s role in that success or failure. To your second point. my analogy may be badly worded but I know you get my point. The universe, evolution and the social revolution did not begin with the theoretical discoveries associated with these men.

      • May 23, 2012 at 4:06 pm

        that, the point that verbal — or mathematically — abstract stated hypotheses, eventually accepted as general theories about this or that, do not create the this or that, was what I liked.

  2. skepoet
    May 5, 2012 at 11:37 am

    “Overlooked in this “history” is the fact that the Commune, even led by the Prudhonists, demonstrated a new form of social organization of society. The Communards acted as they should have acted: not imagining a new social organization of society in theory, but creating it in practice. And they could create this new social organization of society, not because they had already perfected it on paper, but, as Marx observed, they were already this new social organization of society themselves.”

    Marx agreed but then immediately critiqued them for their failure which led most of the communards to their deaths. They do not succeed. So it a social order that emerges SHOULD succeed, and arguably the entire rest of Marx’s writing from the Critique of the Gotha Program forward was based on the failure of the Communards. But you’re right, it’s not a theoretical program.

    “If we try to scale up Kliman’s argument to explain other historical failures of working class political activity, we would be trying to explain Auschwitz in terms of the failure of German Marxists. Kliman treats failure as some personal moral deficit, when in fact the political action of the proletariat is always supposed to fail. Even the most successful union negotiation is all about the terms and conditions of the enslavement of the workers. The fucking fallacy in the negotiation is that the workers approach it as if they are free to negotiate the terms and conditions of their enslavement. In fact, they are not free; they are slaves. Even when they win, they remain slaves. Even when they impose their will on the capitalist, they remain his willing slaves. On the basis of Kliman’s “radical” critique of our unfreedom, the workers should not even enter negotiations. Every political action rests on this fallacy, not just the Occupy — and it does not take an overt defeat of the class to be an essential defeat. In the same Graeberian sense that Occupy acts as if they are free, every fucking union acts as if it is free.”

    Pre-figurative politics, as Kliman ignores, has Marxist origins. It’s Maoist, its not original to Graeber, but it is deluded. Kliman’s workerism shares many of the assumptions with Graeber, which is crucial. So Kliman’s answer is what? “WE need to think through political economy more?” That’s foolish, although it is required. (Again, otherwise Kapital would not have been necessary and it would not have been so dismissive, deliberately, of Proudhon and many of the main theorists of the Communards). I completely agree with you here, but again, almost no cares about Kliman outside of us. What we should be critiquing, not on theoretical grounds but entirely practical ones, is Occupy itself: why is it not working? What can the occupiers not address? what contradictions are they not looking at? I don’t see many people asking these questions without having presumed the answers. I don’t have the answers: the contradictions in that dialectic are larger than me. But I am not going to get those answers by protecting Occupier’s egos, and like you said, that treats them like children.

    • May 7, 2012 at 7:44 pm

      Again, my point had nothing to do with the Occupy. It has to do with Marx’s theory: did he ever make the argument the proletariat needed his theory to accomplish the social revolution? No. Did he ever make the argument practical critical activity of society needed to to take a back seat to theory? No. Why then do Marxists make these argument about his theory?

      • skepoet
        May 7, 2012 at 8:12 pm

        He argued that one needed practice which is the synthesis and sublation of theory and action. He argued after the commune that you needed a dictatorship of the proletariat for that to happen, that the normal rules of democratic governance had to be suspended until after the revolution. In fact that they Commune was the first instance of this, but it failed indicated that both the Commune did not act decisively enough. Furthermore, you’re actionist theory is itself a theory, which posit as if it were solely a negative proposition. If this has “nothing to do with Occupy” then you would cut up Marx’s theory in its articulation. If it does, then you admit that theory, by which we do not mean philosohy, but praxis, has a place. It is best to entrust that to “the people” but that means we must not place leadership where it is not.

      • A Reader
        October 20, 2013 at 4:19 am

        If that’s true, then how is all theory not bourgeois – just like you claim politics is? Why run a blog and speculate on this or that movement of the proletariat against capital except from a position as a bourgeois social scientist? Special Relativity didn’t need Einstein to become aware of itself and the proletariat never needed Marxists, on this view. So why involve yourself politically at all? This is not intended to be critical, but merely to question the role of anyone involving themselves in Marxist thought, from this anti-theory perspective.

  3. May 5, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Here’s what I think, Jehu. The occupiers must be wrong to have chosen Graeber as their leader and suffered a defeat as a result. They should turn to guys like Kliman instead of Graeber because his theory is better.

    Still, I agree that Kliman wants to emancipate the huddled masses into responsibility while respecting them back into childhood all the while. Actually, its not just Kliman that takes that position, but the Marxist Humanists Initiative in total. It’s not disrespectful to tell people that they’re fucking up and making a mistake because by telling people that you’re saying “I believe you can correct this mistake.”

    For instance, a friend of mine works for a nonprofit Theatre group and she would frequently end up being invited to small productions in small towns, and these people would often have Broadway dreams. She never told them what she really thought, that is that there production was amateur and would never go anywhere, because she didn’t respect them enough to tell them the truth. She just thought they didn’t have the capacity to get better than they were.

    The Humanists aren’t quite this bad, but I detect an element of this phony respect in his work.

    • skepoet
      May 5, 2012 at 7:11 pm

      “The Humanists aren’t quite this bad, but I detect an element of this phony respect in his work”

      I do too, and, despite this might be obvious but it sometimes that Zizek articulates the best,people’s actions betray their true ideology. But Kliman may be a useful economist–I think he generally is–but he is not leadership in that way.

    • May 7, 2012 at 7:49 pm

      It really is hard to make this argument to Marxists but I will try again. Even the best theory is mostly useless. It has no impact on the social revolution, which is always determined by empirical activity. The working class does not make its revolution by theoretical means.

      • May 7, 2012 at 8:11 pm

        Are you saying that the working classes are mindless?

  4. May 5, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Oh, the workers are actually free in the way the Unions act they are. That is, they are free to sell their labor to the Capitalists and, within that transaction, they are free to consolidate collective power in order to arrange the terms of the sale of their labor. So, in fact, there is no contradiction in workers acting as if they are free to arrange the sale of their labor to the bosses as this is exactly the kind of freedom they do in fact have.

    • skepoet
      May 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm

      But it is entirely prefigurative to think that Unions could thus be the beginnings of a proletariat or post-workerist movement for this reason. Acting as if THIS freedom could lead to other freedoms in the means of the production.

  5. May 5, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Also, what is it about the working class that makes it revolutionary? Is it some positive existing quality within the people that constitute the working class? Is it in their DNA to be revolutionary? I

    • May 7, 2012 at 7:51 pm

      It is the fact the no other avenue is open to them but to abolish labor, private property and the state. Unlike every other class in society, their own activity — labor — robs them.

      • May 7, 2012 at 8:17 pm

        But there is another way open to them. They can continue on struggling individually to get honest pay for honest work and/or hope that they’ll escape their class through ingenuity and luck.

      • skepoet
        May 7, 2012 at 8:21 pm

        I second Doug’s point: the vast majority of “workers” do not take themselves to be classless, they continue as within their role in the system, back Democratic politicians, etc. It seems to be facile to believe that they can’t maintain this because they have for 150 years now despite periodic and severe crisis.

  6. May 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I think you guys raise important questions. Some of which I have to think about and address fully. But here is my argument in a nutshell:

    My argument is precisely anti-intellectual, or more accurately against intellectualism, against the academic idea. I think the idea that we need to get the theory right first and act later drags the most theoretically developed activists from the site of the battle. They need to be out there, not sitting with their heads buried in a book. If this takes burning the Marxist Library, so be it.

    I also have some additional points:

    First, it is just not serious to argue we should not act until we have figured it all out. Zizek’s, Ollman’s and Kliman’s arguments, with their emphasis on theory, class consciousness or critical thought, are silly precisely because they presume practical critical activity, of which most of human activity consists, is somehow less valid, or less revolutionary than critical thought. Nothing can be further from the truth.

    Second, and this bears not only repetition but also emphasis: the communist movement of society is already prefigured in the proletariat itself and this proletariat can only act consistent with this. If this appear in class society as the political act of the other class — as a politics soiled by bourgeois limitations — this is only because in politics every act must appear as the act of some class, and this class of proletarians is incapable of an independent political expression.

    Third, I think if Marx were doing an analysis of the Occupy movement he would not be trying to make cheap political points against anarchist theory, nor even trying to assign blame for that failure. The social revolution is not a high school popularity contest. What matters here for the whole class is not that the Occupy lost or did not lose in New York and elsewhere (even when a union loses a strike it is only of immediate consequence) the question is what really new in the activity of the working class did this activity produce. And, what was new in this case? The idea of the Assembly, of association in this form, which spread between various countries. Also present in this activity was the idea that we have no political demands on the existing state.

    Make of the insignificant mistakes or illusions of the occupiers what you will, these are new beachheads in the class war.

    Let me add: the emphasis on theory is itself a symptom of crisis of Marxism, not a solution.

    • May 23, 2012 at 4:57 pm

      Jehu, followed you here from SWT. I need the specific wording of the definition of ‘socially necessary labor time” you work from. But in re here: from my practical experience vis a vis
      the first few years of the women’s liberation movement, freely articulated expressions of what was effectively revolutionary from the perspective of the vast vast majority of humans, was neutralized, marginalized, and supplanted, once it became clear that it was. That single mothers are prostituting themselves to labor 60 hours at three jobs today, instead of the 20, we saw over the horizon in 1968, is due to the labor buying power of money to protect its labor buying power (cf Athena to Solon http://www.peggydobbins.net/6classstateotherthing

  7. empireofno
    May 5, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    Fully agreed Jehu. This emphasis on theory to the exclusion of practice (and practical reason) is a sign of pure decadence. It leads precusely to a revolutionary gloss on quietism.

  8. May 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    “The point to be made here is not whether Graeber is wrong, but that the occupiers must be wrong to have chosen him as their leader and suffered a defeat as a result.”

    I didn’t vote Graeber to be the leader of OWS, Time magazine did! Neither do I ascribe to Graeber’s conception of prefigurative politics. Nevertheless, I went to Zuccotti Park anyway, and critically support OWS as site of a developing struggle. Does this mean that I should should be offended by criticism of the theories of someone who gets described in many places as one of the guiding thinkers of the movement? Should I be worried about becoming guilty by association, or being treated like an idealized child by a group who come from a tradition totally infused with the importance of seeing workers not only as Force but as Reason, of workers “thinking their own thoughts?” Nah, that would be asinine of me.

    “There is another kind of labor besides manual: mental activity. And this mental activity is not restricted to scientists or to other intellectuals. In fact, what they think generally comes from this movement from below. What is most important of all is that workers think there own thoughts. And the thoughts that workers think are the thoughts that can *move* the world.” -Raya Dunayevskaya, January 12, 1969, at the Black-Red Conference held in Detroit, Michigan.

    It seems that in this post there are multiple jumps in logic and an outright ignorance of the Marxist-Humanist philosophy that informs Kliman’s outlook, thereby creating a straw-man for Jehu to poke.

    I’ll bite on another one of the bad analogies: I’m curious how one would explain the rise of National Socialism and subsequent Holocaust without talking about the failure of the German revolution after WWI. There’s one “political action of the proletariat” that wasn’t “always supposed to fail.” Unfortunately it did, paving the way for horror and tragedy.

    • May 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm

      You miss my point. My blog post is not about the Occupy movement, or Graeber.

      • skepoet
        May 7, 2012 at 8:18 pm

        Your blog post is attacking Marxist posturing to vanguard politics when they attacked Graeber. Which means you have ignored the substance of what said, and in that you said this “So, yes. In the Graeberian sense of prefigure, Occupy was already “free” of the class divisions of society, not because they could abolish the other classes in society by fiat, but because they already are a class that is no longer a class in any meaningful sense of that terms” it is an problematic to claim this is not a defense of Occupy or Graeber.

        Jehu, you rightly demand consistency from others and that I what I like about you, but as far missing your point, then don’t couch your point in a defense of something you aren’t actually going to defend.

        You turned your entire argument into this: “So, yes. In the Graeberian sense of prefigure, Occupy was already “free” of the class divisions of society, not because they could abolish the other classes in society by fiat, but because they already are a class that is no longer a class in any meaningful sense of that terms.”

  9. May 7, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    I spoke to Kliman today and he let me know that my comments here had given him the impression that I thought his support for the Occupy movement was insincere, but I don’t feel that way at all. In fact, I think Kliman is very consistent in his essay. He thinks that Graeber and others with Graeber’s ideology derailed the movement. That’s an entirely consistent position and, while I disagree, Kliman doesn’t deserve to be attacked for his perfectly legitimate critique of Graeber nor his consistent stance on Occupy.

  10. May 7, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Oh, I should add that I want to apologize publicly to Kliman for insinuating that he was in any way duplicitous in his essay. He was not.

  11. skepoet
    May 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Anyway, I have say like Doug that I shouldn’t have assumed/implied anything about Kliman’s motives. I have apologized publicly. One can disagree with and even severely critique a comrade without saying anything about motives, or stepping into the mock of argumentation by spite.

  12. May 7, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Jehu’s disgusting diatribe thoroughly misrepresents Kliman and Marxist-Humanist Initiative. Moreover, he neglected to cite the publication in which the article in question originally appeared, Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s web journal, “With Sober Senses” http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/our-publication (so did Libcom, which is what he cited). By violating our re-publication policy, he deprived readers of an opportunity to examine our site and to judge for themselves if his charges against us are true.

    The URL of the article is http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/alternatives-to-capital/the-make-believe-world-of-david-graeber.html

    If he has any thoughtful readers, they may be interested in the discussion taking place in the comments that follow the article. Those do much to articulate and to clear up some misconceptions about it, including some people’s initial difficulty in understanding how one can critique Graeber’s theory and support the Occupy Movement.

    His serious accusation against Marxist-Humanism of being one-sidedly concerned with theory and not practice is untrue. A cursory glance at our website will show some of the movements we have been involved in and support, including Occupy Wall Street, international solidarity work, strike support, and many more. One can also see discussions of Raya Dunayevksaya’s philosophy, which is based in a developing interrelationship between theory and practice; in fact, her concept of “a movement from practice that is itself a form of theory,” articulated 60 years ago, has been copied by many spontaneists ever since. If we talk about theory a lot, that’s because what she called “the movement from theory” has not received the same attention, and that failure is holding back the development of mass movements. One need only observe today’s activists repeating the failures of the 1960s and 70s by thinking that more and more activity will get us to a revolution without the need for a new interrelationship with Marx’s philosophy of human liberation.

    Jehu’s personal attacks on Kliman are completely inappropriate to reasoned discussion. Taking one small example: does it turn Jehu into a man of the people to keep calling Kliman “professor,” a designation Kliman doesn’t use outside of academic settings? Kliman teaches for a living because he has to earn a living; maybe Jehu doesn’t work because he is independently wealthy, who knows? How come Jehu doesn’t call Ollman and Zizek “professor”? Should we judge people’s ideas by their occupations, and rule out all ideas from people who teach college for a living? Or is the real message simply the virtues of anti-intellectualism?

    Here are just a few of Jehu’s misrepresentations:

    · Kliman does not say that the Occupy movement failed.

    · It is incorrect to claim that the movement, even OWS in NYC, chose Graeber as their leader or appointed him to anything.

    · MHI does not and Kliman does not have anything in common with the straw man position that people “are hopelessly retarded children who must be led by a self-annointed vanguard sufficiently theoretically developed to uncover the path mankind must take to freedom” and “proles are imbeciles incapable of discovering their own wants.”

    · Marx did not argue that the Communards “were already this new social organization of society themselves.” He said that the Commune was “the *political* form at last discovered under which to work out the *economical emancipation* of labor.” There’s a world of difference between these statements.

    Anne Jaclard
    Organizational Secretary
    Marxist-Humanist Initiative

    • May 8, 2012 at 10:15 am

      Anne,

      First, I would like to point out that at no time in my argument did I mention Marxist-Humanist Initiative. As a practical matter I only addressed Andrew’s argument and did not in even one sentence refer to your organization. Despite this, you felt it necessary to defend your organization from an attack that never occurred. However, when Andrew attacks the occupation of Zucotti Park as a “dismal failure” in the context of a critique of David Graeber’s anarchist theory. somehow we are supposed to understand he does this as a supporter of the occupation, not as a critic. I am sensing something of a double standard.

      Second, I did not accuse MHI with being one-sidedly concerned with theory. I accused the Marxist academy — scholars who write and expand on Marx’s theory, and apply it to present conditions — of having perpetrated a complete inversion of Marx’s argument, wherein theory is privileged over practical critical activity, that there is something called “working class consciousness”, and that we should prefigure in our theories something that does not exist even in embryo.

      Whatever Raya Dunayevksaya’s philosophy says about these three points, I know she did not intend to ‘correct’ Marx on the questions concerned. And Marx’s argument on these three questions is a matter of record:

      1. Marx’s criticism of Feuerbach was that “he regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-judaical manifestation. Hence he does not grasp the significance of ‘revolutionary’, of ‘practical-critical’, activity.” I think this argument of Feuerbach is being actively reproduced within the Marxist academy today, as in Zizek’s treatment of direct calls to action within the hegemony of liberal democracy.

      2. In Marx’s theory, despite years of assertions by Marxists to the contrary, there is no such thing as a “working class consciousness”, nor any class interest particular to this class that stands over against it as an objective manifestation of its conditions of existence. Its ‘class interest’, therefore, is not subject to discovery by theoretical interrogation. The working class can only act as individuals and this action is anti-political — that is, it must lead to the overthrow of the state. This inherently antistatist, antiproperty nature of working class action is not a byproduct of its theoretical development, but an essential feature of the class itself — a fact which gets erased in typical Marxist bastardizations of Marx’s argument.

      3. Contrary to Kliman and in support of the general thrust of Graeber’s argument, if not in its details, Marx argued of the Commune that is members had no ready-made Utopias to introduce: “They have no ideals to realize, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant.” It would seem, at least from Marx’s viewpoint, he agrees with prefigurative politics in the sense Kliman accused Graeber of mistakenly advocating.

      My argument was with Kliman, Zizek and Ollman, not MHI. If, however, the Marxist-Humanist Initiative wishes to side with the Marxist academy in this debate, I would be only too pleased to respond.

      • May 8, 2012 at 11:20 am

        Jehu, I’d argue you started the diatribe and misrepresentations of Kliman and MHI (making that linkage explicit) with the following tweets six days ago:

        —————-
        Jehu ‏ @ReThePeople

        I’m thinking MHI’s alternative to Graeber might be: “Act as if you are a pawn of impersonal forces over which you have no control.”

        Jehu ‏ @ReThePeople

        The folks in Occupy could have joined the Tea Party, but they disagreed with it. So, unlike Professor Kliman, they started their own thing.

        Jehu ‏ @ReThePeople

        It is not as if Occupy has a monopoly on occupations — MHI and Professor Kliman should put their ideas into action.

        Jehu ‏ @ReThePeople

        If Marxist Humanist Initiative has such problems with Occupy, they always can just go out and create their own actions.
        —————-

        You quote what you write on this blog onto Twitter – or vice versa – so it seems disingenuous to say you haven’t addressed MHI (and accused them of being one-sidedly concerned with theory) in your writing.

        Second, if you can’t differentiate between those working within “the Marxist academy,” (is ‘academy’ supposed to be seen as a pejorative?) on questions of say crisis theory, or the relationship between mass struggles and theoretical and philosophical development, or why it is that the vanguardists are always hung up on “class consciousness,” then you’re not looking too deeply at what those working in the best of traditions of Marx (amongst whom I’d put Kliman) are saying.

        Do you think Graeber would agree with the middle part of that paragraph that you did not include from Marx’s speech on the Paris Commune?

        “They know that in order to work out their own emancipation, and along with it that higher form to which present society is irresistably tending by its own economical agencies, they will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men.”

        That sure doesn’t sound like acting as if you’re already free to me.

      • skepoet
        May 8, 2012 at 11:26 am

        The points on Graeber and that center section on the commune is a pretty serious point.

      • May 8, 2012 at 12:04 pm

        @Heydola 11:20AM,

        Two questions:

        1. Does the entire quote, taken in context and including both the part you referred to and the part I referred to, taken together, and the entire speech as a whole, along with all the others speeches by Marx on the subject of the Commune, salvage Kliman’s argument that we should prefigure something that does not exist? Or, does it tend to support Graeber’s argument that, according to Kliman’s take, we should prefigure in our action something that already exists in embryo?

        2. What is the etymology of Utopia?

  13. May 8, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    I think there’s a problem with how you formulate the first question, since saying “should” in both instances implies that we have a choice in the matter, like the right kind of prefiguration will help us out of capitalism. I confess that I never read More’s book the first time around in high school, and I regret it now. I get your point, but then again, I kind of don’t. I’m often dense so any help is appreciated.

    If I can provide a cheat answer because I’m busy working on a short talk for this tomorrow. (Perhaps you can come if you’re in NYC and free? https://twitter.com/#!/marxisthumanism/status/199904265265872896)

    Anyway, if I may, I’d like to mention that Andrew’s comments on Mon, 23rd April, 1:13pm & Thu, 26th Apr 2012 1:31 pm might help clarify the ‘prefigurative’ distinction a bit better:
    http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/alternatives-to-capital/the-make-believe-world-of-david-graeber.html

    Perhaps if you come tomorrow you can explain what all of that “professor” stuff was about. Is it just a stylistic thing with you or do you mean to discredit his views by making him seem like some stuffy ivory tower academic?

    • May 8, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      Ha! yeah, I guess that was oddly worded. Hopefully, you did not break something trying to untangle it. 🙂

  14. May 17, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    Jehu’s response evades the important charges that Anne Jaclard makes about his disgusting diatribe.

    1. “Jehu’s personal attacks on Kliman are completely inappropriate to reasoned discussion.”

    2. “does it turn Jehu into a man of the people to keep calling Kliman “professor,”

    3. “How come Jehu doesn’t call Ollman and Zizek ‘professor’?”

    4. “Should we judge people’s ideas by their occupations, and rule out all ideas from people who teach college for a living”

    5. “Or is the real message simply the virtues of anti-intellectualism?”

    And contrary to what Jehu falsely alleges:

    6. “Kliman does not say that the Occupy movement failed.”

    7. “It is incorrect to claim that the movement, even OWS in NYC, chose Graeber as their leader or appointed him to anything.”

    8. “MHI does not and Kliman does not have anything in common with the straw man position that people ‘are hopelessly retarded children who must be led by a self-annointed vanguard sufficiently theoretically developed to uncover the path mankind must take to freedom’ and ‘proles are imbeciles incapable of discovering their own wants.’”

    9. “Marx did not argue that the Communards ‘were already this new social organization of society themselves.’ He said that the Commune was ‘the *political* form at last discovered under which to work out the *economical emancipation* of labor.’ There’s a world of difference between these statements.”

    He didn’t answer these charges because he can’t. She’s right. He’s wrong, and GUILTY AS CHARGED.

    • May 18, 2012 at 6:41 am

      No, Andrew. I did not answer them because her points are entirely beside the point. BTW: I kept calling you professor to tweak your nose and piss you off. I am happy to see I was successful in this. Ha! It was a rant. In my rants, I never make the slightest effort to engage in reasoned discussion. Yes. I am anti-intellectual. I offer no defense of this, since you fucking intellectuals have shit on Marx’s theory long enough, it is time you all get a face full of shit right back. Would you now like to organize a denunciation of me among your peers in academia as well? Fuck them, and fuck you too!

  15. May 18, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    I just want to publicly call you out on this stunt. If you’re having a rough time personally I understand, but your emotional need to vent doesn’t give you a pass to act like a reactionary idiot. If you’re feeling out of sorts walk away from the blog and talk to someone you trust.

    Further, attacking somebody in a consciously unreasonable way is reprehensible and stupid, choosing Andrew Kliman, a man who has been rigorously advocating for a return to Marx’s value theory for years, is daft. The differences between you and your mentor Postone and Kliman are minimal. I mean, talk about sectarian bullshit.

    Finally, since you’re coming right out and stated bluntly that you often purposively argue in bad faith I have to tell you to stop. Stop arguing in bad faith, stop attacking Andrew Kliman, and stop acting out like this. Instead of continuing on like this you might even apologize. After all, Kliman, right or wrong, always argues in good faith, is scrupulously careful to say what he means, and has never attacked you personally.

    • May 18, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      Your objection is duly noted. As to your wondering aloud if I’m “having a rough time personally”, I am not. 🙂

      • May 18, 2012 at 2:07 pm

        I’m noting your notation. If you note that I’ve noted your notation then you’ll be ahead two points.

      • May 18, 2012 at 3:27 pm

        Ha! Thank you for your concern.

  16. May 18, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    * that should read “since you’ve come right out and stated…”

  17. skepoet
    May 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    This has clearly gone beyond a theoretical point or a point about Graeber, and very little productive is going to come from it. I respect all involved here, but the highly personal nature of the rant seems counter productive. When it was a point on the critique of Graeber, I understand polemic: but when it seems like a shot across the bough for things beyond specific points, I don’t see the point in creating this kind of bad blood.

    • May 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm

      Yes, it was personal, because I am personally offended. It was not a polemic, it was a rant.

  1. May 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm
  2. May 6, 2012 at 3:25 am

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