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A History, a Crisis, a Movement

by David Graeber

Pub Date: April 9th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8129-9356-1
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

A professor and social activist for Occupy Wall Street rehearses the history of OWS and of democracy and argues for a more “horizontal” approach to political decision-making.

Graeber (Anthropology/Goldsmiths College, Univ. of London; Debt: The First 5,000 Years, 2011) describes himself as an anarchist with a small a. He proceeds by moving through the pasture of democratic history and dispatching one sacred cow after another. Among his points: The Founding Fathers didn’t really want democracy; the American economy is designed to keep everyone in debt; organizations with leaders—and with top-down management—can never be democratic; the media are clueless yet wield enormous influence; capitalism doesn’t work; the current American political system is hopelessly corrupt and needs a revolutionary change. Such a change, he argues, was the Occupy movement, in which he was deeply involved, though not, of course, as a leader. Graeber’s text is a mixture of social and economic history, rages against the machine, political judgments (he’s deeply disappointed in President Barack Obama, whom he calls “a moderate conservative”), Q-and-A–style rhetoric and even some professorial pronouncements. His “horizontal democracy” notion is that there are no leaders; groups attempt to reach consensus with only a “facilitator”—one who does not contribute or comment but just moves things along; everyone has the veto power. The groups eschew formal voting and divide into smaller units for nettlesome problems and decisions. The author even offers advice for how to deal with disruptive folks who just won’t get with the program.

Resolutely, proudly left wing/radical/anarchic with an exuberant optimism that usually keeps the tendentious text aloft.