Unemployed Negativity: I Owe You an Explanation: Graeber and Marx on Origin Stories

Jason Read takes a light jab at David Graeber’s book, Debt, The First 5000 Years. Indeed, it would seem Graeber has a kind of Nietzschean/Deleuzian reading of debt as originating in a moral or normative field of equivalences, itself underwritten by the state.

Graeber gives more credit (I actually don’t know if I intended that pun or not) to a different account of money, primordial debt theory, which argues that money emerged from the taxes, from the state’s need to generate money. This theory begins with a fundamental asymmetry, not an equivalence, an asymmetry that is often founded on religion, on the sense of debt owed to the world.

What this habituated mentality of debt as having some sort of special sovereignty over other human relations ignores, however, is the “communism of everyday life”. Kind of like Hardt and Negri’s argument in Commonwealth, the point here is to draw attention to an ontology that denies the highly distributed (and social) nature of the way real value production takes place. What is interesting about Read’s argument though is the way he sets up Graeber’s narrative about the foundational fiction nature of debt as one that runs in parallel with another foundational fiction, that of primitive accumulation. Not that these narratives should be seen as competing strains (Read explicitly disavows a desire to counterpose anarchism and communism here), but rather that the simultaneous plausibility of both is in itself insufficient in our efforts to grasp what it is specifically about capitalism that inflects this particular moment in the historical drama of man’s relation with debt.

Capitalism is not a matter of thrift, waste, or greed, it is a matter of surplus value, labor power, and other real abstractions. Thus, communism may be the foundation of all sociability, but capitalism is often indifferent to the sociability, or, worse still, exploits it … As a topic of inquiry debt crosses back and forth from the economic to the moral, and thus it is tempting to locate its history in attitudes and ideas, but a true history of debt needs to also examine the structure that are indifferent to those ideas.

 

via Unemployed Negativity: I Owe You an Explanation: Graeber and Marx on Origin Stories.

Occupy Wall Street Considers a New Economy | Reuters

Occupy Wall Street Considers a New Economy | Reuters.

But, even as the movement’s grievances are still being articulated, it has begun to move toward educating itself about alternatives to the current top-down, vertically organized market economy – one that has seen income inequality soar to rates unseen since the last Gilded Age and incomes of ordinary Americans – the 99 percent – stagnate or fall. (New figures show that 50 percent of Americans make less than $26,364, the lowest in real dollars since 1999.)

 

The 99 percent -ers have been taking back the political sphere by re-defining the relationship Americans have toward the political process, from passivity to participatory democracy. As David Graeber, one of the original organizers of OWS and author of the recent book, Debt, wrote on the blog Naked Capitalism:

 

It is almost impossible to convince the average American that a truly democratic society would be possible. One can only show them. But the experience of actually watching a group of a thousand, or two thousand, people making collective decisions without a leadership structure, let alone that of thousands of people in the streets linking arms to holding their ground against a phalanx of armored riot cops, motivated only by principle and solidarity, can change one’s most fundamental assumptions about what politics, or for that matter, human life, could actually be like.

Occupy Wall Street protests reveal liberal tensions

The pressure is on now to co-opt OWS for the Democratic Party!

Obama plans to target Wall Street in campaign – The Washington Post.

At Occupy D.C., the McPherson Square encampment inspired by Occupy Wall Street, a shouting match erupted this week when a woman describing herself as a longtime Democratic campaign worker encouraged the young protesters to express their concerns by voting, only to be told that voting wasn’t enough.

 

Those contentious moments help illustrate the difficulty facing Democratic officials as they try to capitalize on the sudden emergence of liberal energy that is growing fast — but expanding largely separate and apart from traditional party institutions.