Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wobbly times number 161

Noam Chomsky on Postmodernism

(the 'Mike' referred to by Chomsky is Michel Foucault)

I've returned from travel-speaking, where I spend most of my life, and found a collection of messages extending the discussion about "theory" and "philosophy," a debate that I find rather curious. A few reactions -- though I concede, from the start, that I may simply not understand what is going on.As far as I do think I understand it, the debate was initiated by the charge that I, Mike, and maybe others don't have "theories" and therefore fail to give any explanation of why things are proceeding as they do. We must turn to "theory" and "philosophy" and "theoretical constructs" and the like to remedy this deficiency in our efforts to understand and address what is happening in the world. I won't speak for Mike. My response so far has pretty much been to reiterate something I wrote 35 years ago, long before "postmodernism" had erupted in the literary intellectual culture: "if there is a body of theory, well tested and verified, that applies to the conduct of foreign affairs or the resolution of domestic or international conflict, its existence has been kept a well-guarded secret," despite much "pseudo-scientific posturing."
To my knowledge, the statement was accurate 35 years ago, and remains so; furthermore, it extends to the study of human affairs generally, and applies in spades to what has been produced since that time. What has changed in the interim, to my knowledge, is a huge explosion of self- and mutual-admiration among those who propound what they call "theory" and "philosophy," but little that I can detect beyond "pseudo-scientific posturing." That little is, as I wrote, sometimes quite interesting, but lacks consequences for the real world problems that occupy my time and energies (Rawls's important work is the case I mentioned, in response to specific inquiry).
The latter fact has been noticed. One fine philosopher and social theorist (also activist), Alan Graubard, wrote an interesting review years ago of Robert Nozick's "libertarian" response to Rawls, and of the reactions to it. He pointed out that reactions were very enthusiastic. Reviewer after reviewer extolled the power of the arguments, etc., but no one accepted any of the real-world conclusions (unless they had previously reached them). That's correct, as were his observations on what it means.
The proponents of "theory" and "philosophy" have a very easy task if they want to make their case. Simply make known to me what was and remains a "secret" to me: I'll be happy to look. I've asked many times before, and still await an answer, which should be easy to provide: simply give some examples of "a body of theory, well tested and verified, that applies to" the kinds of problems and issues that Mike, I, and many others (in fact, most of the world's population, I think, outside of narrow and remarkably self-contained intellectual circles) are or should be concerned with: the problems and issues we speak and write about, for example, and others like them. To put it differently, show that the principles of the "theory" or "philosophy" that we are told to study and apply lead by valid argument to conclusions that we and others had not already reached on other (and better) grounds; these "others" include people lacking formal education, who typically seem to have no problem reaching these conclusions through mutual interactions that avoid the "theoretical" obscurities entirely, or often on their own.
Again, those are simple requests. I've made them before, and remain in my state of ignorance. I also draw certain conclusions from the fact.
As for the "deconstruction" that is carried out (also mentioned in the debate), I can't comment, because most of it seems to me gibberish. But if this is just another sign of my incapacity to recognize profundities, the course to follow is clear: just restate the results to me in plain words that I can understand, and show why they are different from, or better than, what others had been doing long before and and have continued to do since without three-syllable words, incoherent sentences, inflated rhetoric that (to me, at least) is largely meaningless, etc. That will cure my deficiencies -- of course, if they are curable; maybe they aren't, a possibility to which I'll return.
These are very easy requests to fulfill, if there is any basis to the claims put forth with such fervor and indignation. But instead of trying to provide an answer to this simple requests, the response is cries of anger: to raise these questions shows "elitism," "anti-intellectualism," and other crimes -- though apparently it is not "elitist" to stay within the self- and mutual-admiration societies of intellectuals who talk only to one another and (to my knowledge) don't enter into the kind of world in which I'd prefer to live. As for that world, I can reel off my speaking and writing schedule to illustrate what I mean, though I presume that most people in this discussion know, or can easily find out; and somehow I never find the "theoreticians" there, nor do I go to their conferences and parties. In short, we seem to inhabit quite different worlds, and I find it hard to see why mine is "elitist," not theirs. The opposite seems to be transparently the case, though I won't amplify.
To add another facet, I am absolutely deluged with requests to speak and can't possibly accept a fraction of the invitations I'd like to, so I suggest other people. But oddly, I never suggest those who propound "theories" and "philosophy," nor do I come across them, or for that matter rarely even their names, in my own (fairly extensive) experience with popular and activist groups and organizations, general community, college, church, union, etc., audiences here and abroad, third world women, refugees, etc.; I can easily give examples. Why, I wonder.
The whole debate, then, is an odd one. On one side, angry charges and denunciations, on the other, the request for some evidence and argument to support them, to which the response is more angry charges -- but, strikingly, no evidence or argument. Again, one is led to ask why.
It's entirely possible that I'm simply missing something, or that I just lack the intellectual capacity to understand the profundities that have been unearthed in the past 20 years or so by Paris intellectuals and their followers. I'm perfectly open-minded about it, and have been for years, when similar charges have been made -- but without any answer to my questions. Again, they are simple and should be easy to answer, if there is an answer: if I'm missing something, then show me what it is, in terms I can understand. Of course, if it's all beyond my comprehension, which is possible, then I'm just a lost cause, and will be compelled to keep to things I do seem to be able to understand, and keep to association with the kinds of people who also seem to be interested in them and seem to understand them (which I'm perfectly happy to do, having no interest, now or ever, in the sectors of the intellectual culture that engage in these things, but apparently little else).
Since no one has succeeded in showing me what I'm missing, we're left with the second option: I'm just incapable of understanding. I'm certainly willing to grant that it may be true, though I'm afraid I'll have to remain suspicious, for what seem good reasons. There are lots of things I don't understand -- say, the latest debates over whether neutrinos have mass or the way that Fermat's last theorem was (apparently) proven recently. But from 50 years in this game, I have learned two things: (1) I can ask friends who work in these areas to explain it to me at a level that I can understand, and they can do so, without particular difficulty; (2) if I'm interested, I can proceed to learn more so that I will come to understand it. Now Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, etc. -- even Foucault, whom I knew and liked, and who was somewhat different from the rest -- write things that I also don't understand, but (1) and (2) don't hold: no one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven't a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities: (a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of "theory" that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or (b) ... I won't spell it out.
Again, I've lived for 50 years in these worlds, have done a fair amount of work of my own in fields called "philosophy" and "science," as well as intellectual history, and have a fair amount of personal acquaintance with the intellectual culture in the sciences, humanities, social sciences, and the arts. That has left me with my own conclusions about intellectual life, which I won't spell out. But for others, I would simply suggest that you ask those who tell you about the wonders of "theory" and "philosophy" to justify their claims -- to do what people in physics, math, biology, linguistics, and other fields are happy to do when someone asks them, seriously, what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn't already obvious, etc. These are fair requests for anyone to make. If they can't be met, then I'd suggest recourse to Hume's advice in similar circumstances: to the flames.
Specific comment. Phetland asked who I'm referring to when I speak of "Paris school" and "postmodernist cults": the above is a sample.
He then asks, reasonably, why I am "dismissive" of it. Take, say, Derrida. Let me begin by saying that I dislike making the kind of comments that follow without providing evidence, but I doubt that participants want a close analysis of de Saussure, say, in this forum, and I know that I'm not going to undertake it. I wouldn't say this if I hadn't been explicitly asked for my opinion -- and if asked to back it up, I'm going to respond that I don't think it merits the time to do so.
So take Derrida, one of the grand old men. I thought I ought to at least be able to understand his "Grammatology," so tried to read it. I could make out some of it, for example, the critical analysis of classical texts that I knew very well and had written about years before. I found the scholarship appalling, based on pathetic misreading; and the argument, such as it was, failed to come close to the kinds of standards I've been familiar with since virtually childhood. Well, maybe I missed something: could be, but suspicions remain, as noted. Again, sorry to make unsupported comments, but I was asked, and therefore am answering.
Some of the people in these cults (which is what they look like to me) I've met: Foucault (we even have a several-hour discussion, which is in print, and spent quite a few hours in very pleasant conversation, on real issues, and using language that was perfectly comprehensible -- he speaking French, me English); Lacan (who I met several times and considered an amusing and perfectly self-conscious charlatan, though his earlier work, pre-cult, was sensible and I've discussed it in print); Kristeva (who I met only briefly during the period when she was a fervent Maoist); and others. Many of them I haven't met, because I am very remote from from these circles, by choice, preferring quite different and far broader ones -- the kinds where I give talks, have interviews, take part in activities, write dozens of long letters every week, etc. I've dipped into what they write out of curiosity, but not very far, for reasons already mentioned: what I find is extremely pretentious, but on examination, a lot of it is simply illiterate, based on extraordinary misreading of texts that I know well (sometimes, that I have written), argument that is appalling in its casual lack of elementary self-criticism, lots of statements that are trivial (though dressed up in complicated verbiage) or false; and a good deal of plain gibberish. When I proceed as I do in other areas where I do not understand, I run into the problems mentioned in connection with (1) and (2) above. So that's who I'm referring to, and why I don't proceed very far. I can list a lot more names if it's not obvious.
For those interested in a literary depiction that reflects pretty much the same perceptions (but from the inside), I'd suggest David Lodge. Pretty much on target, as far as I can judge.
Phetland also found it "particularly puzzling" that I am so "curtly dismissive" of these intellectual circles while I spend a lot of time "exposing the posturing and obfuscation of the New York Times." So "why not give these guys the same treatment." Fair question. There are also simple answers. What appears in the work I do address (NYT, journals of opinion, much of scholarship, etc.) is simply written in intelligible prose and has a great impact on the world, establishing the doctrinal framework within which thought and expression are supposed to be contained, and largely are, in successful doctrinal systems such as ours. That has a huge impact on what happens to suffering people throughout the world, the ones who concern me, as distinct from those who live in the world that Lodge depicts (accurately, I think). So this work should be dealt with seriously, at least if one cares about ordinary people and their problems. The work to which Phetland refers has none of these characteristics, as far as I'm aware. It certainly has none of the impact, since it is addressed only to other intellectuals in the same circles. Furthermore, there is no effort that I am aware of to make it intelligible to the great mass of the population (say, to the people I'm constantly speaking to, meeting with, and writing letters to, and have in mind when I write, and who seem to understand what I say without any particular difficulty, though they generally seem to have the same cognitive disability I do when facing the postmodern cults). And I'm also aware of no effort to show how it applies to anything in the world in the sense I mentioned earlier: grounding conclusions that weren't already obvious. Since I don't happen to be much interested in the ways that intellectuals inflate their reputations, gain privilege and prestige, and disengage themselves from actual participation in popular struggle, I don't spend any time on it.
Phetland suggests starting with Foucault -- who, as I've written repeatedly, is somewhat apart from the others, for two reasons: I find at least some of what he writes intelligible, though generally not very interesting; second, he was not personally disengaged and did not restrict himself to interactions with others within the same highly privileged elite circles. Phetland then does exactly what I requested: he gives some illustrations of why he thinks Foucault's work is important. That's exactly the right way to proceed, and I think it helps understand why I take such a "dismissive" attitude towards all of this -- in fact, pay no attention to it.
What Phetland describes, accurately I'm sure, seems to me unimportant, because everyone always knew it -- apart from details of social and intellectual history, and about these, I'd suggest caution: some of these are areas I happen to have worked on fairly extensively myself, and I know that Foucault's scholarship is just not trustworthy here, so I don't trust it, without independent investigation, in areas that I don't know -- this comes up a bit in the discussion from 1972 that is in print. I think there is much better scholarship on the 17th and 18th century, and I keep to that, and my own research. But let's put aside the other historical work, and turn to the "theoretical constructs" and the explanations: that there has been "a great change from harsh mechanisms of repression to more subtle mechanisms by which people come to do" what the powerful want, even enthusiastically. That's true enough, in fact, utter truism. If that's a "theory," then all the criticisms of me are wrong: I have a "theory" too, since I've been saying exactly that for years, and also giving the reasons and historical background, but without describing it as a theory (because it merits no such term), and without obfuscatory rhetoric (because it's so simple-minded), and without claiming that it is new (because it's a truism). It's been fully recognized for a long time that as the power to control and coerce has declined, it's more necessary to resort to what practitioners in the PR industry early in this century -- who understood all of this well -- called "controlling the public mind." The reasons, as observed by Hume in the 18th century, are that "the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers" relies ultimately on control of opinion and attitudes. Why these truisms should suddenly become "a theory" or "philosophy," others will have to explain; Hume would have laughed.
Some of Foucault's particular examples (say, about 18th century techniques of punishment) look interesting, and worth investigating as to their accuracy. But the "theory" is merely an extremely complex and inflated restatement of what many others have put very simply, and without any pretense that anything deep is involved. There's nothing in what Phetland describes that I haven't been writing about myself for 35 years, also giving plenty of documentation to show that it was always obvious, and indeed hardly departs from truism. What's interesting about these trivialities is not the principle, which is transparent, but the demonstration of how it works itself out in specific detail to cases that are important to people: like intervention and aggression, exploitation and terror, "free market" scams, and so on. That I don't find in Foucault, though I find plenty of it by people who seem to be able to write sentences I can understand and who aren't placed in the intellectual firmament as "theoreticians."
To make myself clear, Phetland is doing exactly the right thing: presenting what he sees as "important insights and theoretical constructs" that he finds in Foucault. My problem is that the "insights" seem to me familiar and there are no "theoretical constructs," except in that simple and familiar ideas have been dressed up in complicated and pretentious rhetoric. Phetland asks whether I think this is "wrong, useless, or posturing." No. The historical parts look interesting sometimes, though they have to be treated with caution and independent verification is even more worth undertaking than it usually is. The parts that restate what has long been obvious and put in much simpler terms are not "useless," but indeed useful, which is why I and others have always made the very same points. As to "posturing," a lot of it is that, in my opinion, though I don't particularly blame Foucault for it: it's such a deeply rooted part of the corrupt intellectual culture of Paris that he fell into it pretty naturally, though to his credit, he distanced himself from it. As for the "corruption" of this culture particularly since World War II, that's another topic, which I've discussed elsewhere and won't go into here. Frankly, I don't see why people in this forum should be much interested, just as I am not. There are more important things to do, in my opinion, than to inquire into the traits of elite intellectuals engaged in various careerist and other pursuits in their narrow and (to me, at least) pretty unininteresting circles. That's a broad brush, and I stress again that it is unfair to make such comments without proving them: but I've been asked, and have answered the only specific point that I find raised. When asked about my general opinion, I can only give it, or if something more specific is posed, address that. I'm not going to undertake an essay on topics that don't interest me.
Unless someone can answer the simple questions that immediately arise in the mind of any reasonable person when claims about "theory" and "philosophy" are raised, I'll keep to work that seems to me sensible and enlightening, and to people who are interested in understanding and changing the world.
Johnb made the point that "plain language is not enough when the frame of reference is not available to the listener"; correct and important. But the right reaction is not to resort to obscure and needlessly complex verbiage and posturing about non-existent "theories." Rather, it is to ask the listener to question the frame of reference that he/she is accepting, and to suggest alternatives that might be considered, all in plain language. I've never found that a problem when I speak to people lacking much or sometimes any formal education, though it's true that it tends to become harder as you move up the educational ladder, so that indoctrination is much deeper, and the self-selection for obedience that is a good part of elite education has taken its toll. Johnb says that outside of circles like this forum, "to the rest of the country, he's incomprehensible" ("he" being me). That's absolutely counter to my rather ample experience, with all sorts of audiences. Rather, my experience is what I just described. The incomprehensibility roughly corresponds to the educational level. Take, say, talk radio. I'm on a fair amount, and it's usually pretty easy to guess from accents, etc., what kind of audience it is. I've repeatedly found that when the audience is mostly poor and less educated, I can skip lots of the background and "frame of reference" issues because it's already obvious and taken for granted by everyone, and can proceed to matters that occupy all of us. With more educated audiences, that's much harder; it's necessary to disentangle lots of ideological constructions.
It's certainly true that lots of people can't read the books I write. That's not because the ideas or language are complicated -- we have no problems in informal discussion on exactly the same points, and even in the same words. The reasons are different, maybe partly the fault of my writing style, partly the result of the need (which I feel, at least) to present pretty heavy documentation, which makes it tough reading. For these reasons, a number of people have taken pretty much the same material, often the very same words, and put them in pamphlet form and the like. No one seems to have much problem -- though again, reviewers in the Times Literary Supplement or professional academic journals don't have a clue as to what it's about, quite commonly; sometimes it's pretty comical.
A final point, something I've written about elsewhere (e.g., in a discussion in Z papers, and the last chapter of "Year 501"). There has been a striking change in the behavior of the intellectual class in recent years. The left intellectuals who 60 years ago would have been teaching in working class schools, writing books like "mathematics for the millions" (which made mathematics intelligible to millions of people), participating in and speaking for popular organizations, etc., are now largely disengaged from such activities, and although quick to tell us that they are far more radical than thou, are not to be found, it seems, when there is such an obvious and growing need and even explicit request for the work they could do out there in the world of people with live problems and concerns. That's not a small problem. This country, right now, is in a very strange and ominous state. People are frightened, angry, disillusioned, skeptical, confused. That's an organizer's dream, as I once heard Mike say. It's also fertile ground for demagogues and fanatics, who can (and in fact already do) rally substantial popular support with messages that are not unfamiliar from their predecessors in somewhat similar circumstances. We know where it has led in the past; it could again. There's a huge gap that once was at least partially filled by left intellectuals willing to engage with the general public and their problems. It has ominous implications, in my opinion.

I'm going over what Chomsky says in this report back statement and it seems the first point he wants to make is a point similar to but the not exactly the same as the one Marx and Engels made about their associates in the Young Hegelian movement and one could go further, in their critiques of utopian socialists like Owen and Saint Simon and finally Engels work Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy. The difference though between Chomsky's and Marx's critique of Idealism and dogmatic thinking is that Marx comes at it from a communist materialist point of view with class analyses while Chomsky seems more influenced by American pragmatism and even, dare I say, a kind of left populist interpretation of the bourgeois revolution which typifies thinking amongst anarchists. For instance, Chomsky observes that the modern post-modernist speak mostly amongst themselves using a conceptual language only they can understand--after training of course. I think Chomsky is also critiquing the Marxist-Leninist dogmatic sects in his observations, in fact they are probably his major focus as much as the original postmodernists e.g. Lyotard, Derrida were a reaction to the domination of the French Communist Party's 'dialectical materialism' on the left. As for Chomsky's scientific challenge, I for one am prepared to meet it using insights I have gleaned from reading Marx, Hegel, Engels, Lukacs, the Situationists and a variety of socialists like , Daniel De Leon, who actually grasped the importance of the critique of wage-labour: "But for others, I would simply suggest that you ask those who tell you about the wonders of "theory" and "philosophy" to justify their claims -- to do what people in physics, math, biology, linguistics, and other fields are happy to do when someone asks them, seriously, what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn't already obvious, etc. These are fair requests for anyone to make. If they can't be met, then I'd suggest recourse to Hume's advice in similar circumstances: to the flames." end Chomsky. Noam continues focusing on Post Moderns dismissing Derrida as a charlatan, Foucault as faulty with this historical analysis and Lacan as making a few relevant observations in his youth but developing into another charlatan. He points to Hume's pre-modernist observation to wit that, "the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers" relies ultimately on control of opinion and attitudes. Why these truisms should suddenly become "a theory" or "philosophy," others will have to explain; Hume would have laughed. " Chomsky says that PR men knew and practiced this way before Foucault was born. Ok fine. Marx and Engels made a similar observation in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO about the ruling ideas ever being the ideas of the ruling class. I think Chomsky's main concern vis a vis Post Modernists is their disengagement with the working class, their self-sequestration behind Idealist language codes. After all, what Chomsky doesn't say in this piece is that Post Modern theory is based on the notion that language dominates human beings and that reality is ultimately unknowable--something they probably get from reading a bit of Kant.  Actually, the arguments of the ancient Greek Sophists echo all the time in postmodern discourse.  But Noam doe not address these philosophical roots.  Noam says, "A final point, something I've written about elsewhere (e.g., in a discussion in Z papers, and the last chapter of "Year 501"). There has been a striking change in the behavior of the intellectual class in recent years. The left intellectuals who 60 years ago would have been teaching in working class schools, writing books like "mathematics for the millions" (which made mathematics intelligible to millions of people), participating in and speaking for popular organizations, etc., are now largely disengaged from such activities, and although quick to tell us that they are far more radical than thou, are not to be found, it seems, when there is such an obvious and growing need and even explicit request for the work they could do out there in the world of people with live problems and concerns. That's not a small problem. This country, right now, is in a very strange and ominous state. People are frightened, angry, disillusioned, skeptical, confused. That's an organizer's dream, as I once heard Mike say. It's also fertile ground for demagogues and fanatics, who can (and in fact already do) rally substantial popular support with messages that are not unfamiliar from their predecessors in somewhat similar circumstances. We know where it has led in the past; it could again. There's a huge gap that once was at least partially filled by left intellectuals willing to engage with the general public and their problems. It has ominous implications, in my opinion.

Postmodern thinkers do not venture outside the political box which the social relation of Capital puts them in.  At best, postmodernists end up supporting some reform program of radical liberalism.  At worst, they resign themselves to 'tend their own garden', speaking to and amongst themselves and like Candide or Moran, concentrate on the minor tasks of life, especially shopping, ever fearful of the embrace of a 'metanarrative' which might go wrong. For postmodern reality is just language; one culture's action is just as valid as another.  In Margaret Thatcher's words, there is no alternative: TINA.  The victory of Capital is upon us.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Wobbly times number 160

MolloyMolloy by Samuel Beckett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the funniest books ever written. Unlike CATCH22 or THE GOOD SOLDIER SCHWEIK,Beckett's humour in MOLLOY is centered on his favourite modern archetypes: vapid cowards, obsessive compulsive casualties of bourgeois dominance, petty sadists and self-crippled misfits leading ordinary lives,ever obedient to the official authorities.

On the whole, I think MOLLOY is even funnier than CATCH22. IMO, a lot of the problem with reading Samuel Beckett lies with his liberal interpreters (conservatives--forget it). People wonder what Beckett's on about and they go for advice from many of the very sorts of people he's targeting with his humour. I think the key to reading MOLLOY is grasping how Beckett must have felt in Occupied France, being a member of the Resistance, surrounded by people more concerned with petty matters of everyday obedience to official authority than imagining ways to do anything meaningful to stop the Nazis. His characters' obsessive-compulsive concerns and narrow individualist focus make them (literally their bodies) corrode before yours and their eyes. Once that's understood, the reader can mine pages and pages of black humour from Molloy's and Moran's journeys to find security and approval from authority on their roads to becoming helpless heaps.

View all my reviews
Of course, we all end up dead.  What's the point?

Well, the point sure as hell isn't the way Samuel Beckett's Molloy and Moran go about living their lives.  Both protagonists insist on a kind of castration of sensuous existence, as living beings--subjects, to use the language of philosophy. Molloy and Moran are both 'subjects' and the essential question in philosophy is how the subject relates to that which is outside of themselves, including the objects they create and produce.  All of this is intertwined with how the subject achieves freedom within the realm of necessities which prevail. 

But onward with the particular cases of Molloy and Moran. Both share a strong preference for the asexual, indeed; they seem capable of little else in that department.  They describe monkish living patterns to the point where you have no doubts about how stunted their libidos are or their social relations for that matter.

Consciously/unconsciously (as usual, he forgets which), Molloy makes himself into a physical cripple--a real 'mind over matter' Idealist. One discovers this through a close reading of how Molloy sleepwalked one night, having no physical difficulties at all doing tasks he would 'normally' find physically impossible. Molloy's mind also is dying, of short term memory loss combined with long term amnesia. This could be related to his incessant focus on the mundane.  And, while having a sometimes extraordinary command (breadth and depth) of the English language, Molloy and Moran concern themselves mostly with the minutia of their lives, which many, many times turn into black comedic scripts or, on a larger canvass, demonstrations of bourgeois culture's utter vacuity. Surprisingly though, at other times, genuine poetic bursts emerge from Molloy's observations!

Molloy lives his life as the anticipation of his death.  Molloy operates under the assumption that we live in the best of all possible worlds--there is no alternative.  One gets the impression that Molloy would think the same way in Occupied France.  His failing memory affects his logic and vice versa. And so, we follow Molloy's monologue as he journeys to find his mother, to return to the womb and fall in his grave or ditch.  I can't remember which.

While Molloy literally pushes himself toward a complete surrender to the worms, 'Part II' of MOLLOY begins with Moran being given orders by his employers to find said Molloy.  Ah Moron...I mean, Moran. The good petit bourgeois minder is under the illusion that by going to church and tending his own garden, he'll be right with his masters and safe in his home. The cultural/ideological domination of the bourgeoisie is complete in the world of Moran and really, much of the world around him.  His extremely narrow individualism serves to sever him from almost every human being, except his son and within that social relationship, we continue to see Moran as, the 'hollow man, the stuffed man' vainly nurturing his son on empty.

'Men'? You caught me.  Yes, I could just as easily written, 'men'. Like most of his fellow subalterns-for-tiny-lives, Moran will follow orders; but he will not be any the wiser in his decision making capacities.  He will never be happy because, he cannot be anything--he cannot connect his being with what he does. Methinks his employer reports to Godot.

BTW, this is actually a very funny novel.  Excuse me, if I laugh now and again. I really can't help it, no matter how many times I read it. 

And now, I'll read you some passages from MOLLOY:

Friday, November 30, 2012

Wobbly times number 159

The Soviet Wage System:

a snapshot of changes in average monthly wages and pensions in the U.S.S.R. from 1965-1973
(in rubles)

Group                                1965                                         1973                       %increase
state apparatus             106                                            126                            19%

engineer/techno            148                                            185                             25%

education/culture         94                                              121                             29%

service/trade                   75                                               102                             36%

white collar                      86                                               119                              38%

blue collar                       102                                              146                              43%

state farm                          72                                              116                              61%

collective farm                49                                                87                               78%

all workers average       97                                               135                              39%
(excluding collective

Total expenditures      101                                              184                                82%
on pensions


sources: most from Narodnoye Khozaystro SSR v. 1973  and "Problems of Communism" March/April 1973, p.13

Putting the Soviet wage system in its best light, what one can discern from looking at this statistical collection is the intent of the CPSU leadership to use their very controlled wage system as a means to bridge the rural/urban producers' wealth divide. Compare the higher the percentage increase in 1973 with the lower the wage in 1965.  NB: collective farmers percentage increase verses pecentage increase for workers in the state apparatus.   

CPSU State controlled commodity production also included controls on the prices of commodities which were to be marketed to the producing wage-labourers.  For example, rents paid to the collective State landord were extremely low.  The price of bread was also kept extremely low as were a whole host of commodities e.g. public transport.  Many services, like education and health care were taken out of commodity production and distributed freely on the basis of need.  At the same time, many luxury commodities like furs were kept at prices higher than their exchange-values.  Of course anomalies occurred with respect to the wages and privileges of more valued members of Soviet society e.g. top scientists and bureaucrats of the politburo.

Production was planned but, not by the rank and file producers.  The producers remained wage-slaves, the social product of their labour remained alienated from their control, from common ownership.  Rather the CPSU appointed bureaucrats to plan production/consumption of both commodified and non-commodified goods and services. This pattern of political power between subaltern wage-slaves and party bureaucrats as  wage-slave drivers and rulers became the time-tested formula for implementing Leninist models of socialism.  Marx and Engels critiqued the wage system as being the foundation of the capitalist mode of production.  Marx and Engels proposed changing the mode of production to one where wealth was not commodified and sold rather, wealth would be produced for use and distributed on the basis of need.  (See Wobbly times number 88-89)

One of the worst things about the Soviet wage system was the lack of freedom and power allowed the working class by the ruling party. This led to the typical dominance and submission social psychological character structure one sees in all class dominated societies.  Dominance and submission is a dialectical tension against which the instinct to remove the collar from one's neck continually batters. For example, unemployment was, for all intents and purposes non-existent, indeed, it was against the law to be unemployed.  As the propaganda of 'actually existing socialism' was experienced in daily life as wage-slavery, the body politic moved increasingly over time toward a favourable view of  the realities of the higher standard of living and civil liberties in what were officially labeled, 'imperialist countries', the industrially developed capitalist States.  Thus, the much touted transition from, the CPSU version of socialism to, the New Jerusalem of the higher stage aka 'communism', came to be seen for what it was, a lie used to maintain the power and wealth privileges of those at the top of the Soviet wage system.  If one was an astute wage-labourer in the USSR, one could readily see in the works of Marx and Engels (works widely available in the USSR) that there was no theoretical distinction made between what they termed 'socialism' and 'communism'--the concepts were used interchangeably to mean a classless society where the collective product of labour was owned in common while production would be engaged in for use with wealth distributed on the basis of need.  In fact, the abolition of the wage system and commodity production were Marx and Engels' theoretical foundation of socialism/communism, viz: "With the seizing of the means of production by society production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer." 

On top of this, the obvious contradiction of maintaining a political State and calling it 'socialist' added insult to injury, as Marx and Engels continually point out in their very own writings.  

"The people’s state has been flung in our teeth ad nauseam by the anarchists, although Marx’s anti-Proudhon piece and after it the Communist Manifesto declare outright that, with the introduction of the socialist order of society, the state will dissolve of itself and disappear. Now, since the state is merely a transitional institution of which use is made in the struggle, in the revolution, to keep down one’s enemies by force, it is utter nonsense to speak of a free people’s state; so long as the proletariat still makes use of the state, it makes use of it, not for the purpose of freedom, but of keeping down its enemies and, as soon as there can be any question of freedom, the state as such ceases to exist. We would therefore suggest that Gemeinwesen ["commonalty"] be universally substituted for state; it is a good old German word that can very well do service for the French “Commune.”"   Engels' letter to Bebel, 1875

In the world at large, the capitalist propaganda about 'socialism' meaning a system of bureaucratic State despotism more and more took on the mantle of  THE TRUTH thus feeding right-wing conservatism both inside and outside the USSR.  At the same time, Soviet anti-capitalist propaganda increasingly came to be seen  as, a BIG LIE both within and without the USSR and other 'actually existing' socialist States.  The result of all this all too obvious attempt to manipulate workers' consciousness was the more or less unanimous embrace by the workers of capitalism in M-L State after M-L State in the historical approach to 1989.

For a more complete analysis of the Soviet wage system see:
Seongjin Jeong's paper:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wobbly times number 158

Full moon above Jakarta 

Last night
covered by clouds...

Now heat
blasting my shadow flat
against the white paint
blistering in summer sun
after being stroked
with foul
acidic smelling
skin burning

Grasping the spatula
I scrape the disintegrating
blisters from the
wooden wall
my nostrils
seemingly seared with tin
my throat
parched cracks
like a dried salt lake
my mind drifting in
insane desires
to drink a gallon
of ice-cold Coke

inside the house
Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”
begins to waft gently through air
I stop
get down from my scaffold
set my sneakered
burning feet on green grass
I listen
quenching my thirst
with warm water
Stepping away from the wall
I cast my gaze through the bay window
and see you
caressing the piano
millions of light
years away

Monday, October 29, 2012

Wobbly times number 157


"If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, etc., there's a chance to contribute to the making of a better world. That's your choice."  - Noam Chomsky

Private property for whom?

Private personal property within a classless, Stateless, democratic society would be a given.  Common ownership would not apply to your socks, your dog, your partners or kids or to the home which you use.  Common ownership would only apply to the things we use collectively like: public transport, clothing outlets, universities, grocery distribution centres, aircraft factories and so on.

In class dominated societies, the producers of wealth remain in thrall, debt and servitude to rulers.  In a free association of producers, men and women enjoy equal political power amongst themselves.   Direct democracy has become a norm. 

Unity for what?

Harmony with what
with whom
For whose strength
do we depend 

One path leads to 
conserving human orders
of top-down power 
all hushed-up inside
so as not to disturb the 
harmonious hierarchy of the dour
for do so 
would be a sin
against human nature
according to some supernatural 
might even lead to 
bad karma
in some other way
be offensive 
to those
who would dominate 
through guilt tripping you
with claims of
moral superiority
with maybe a promise or two 
of pie in the sky 
when you die
or pair a dice 
through submission

The other way
of unity is
toward a solidarity 
for more freedom
not the freedom to do 
with your property
what you will
to be family patriarch 
as if humans and 
property objects 
in the same legally defined 
State enforced 
For freedom defined in such a way
is only freedom for one 
to have power over others' wills
and that's greed-dumb
my friend
no freedom at all

Made by humans 
freedom flows from instinct
in history's river of time
ever on 
toward an individual liberty
where the social condition for the freedom of each
is the common condition for the freedom of all
where equal political power
between all men and women
negates the negation of debt

Whereas collectively produced wealth 
as legalised 
private property
makes for
bondage & disciplines
servile bowing rituals
to the masters of the State
or workplace
or bedroom
of whatever owning class
or caste
or gender
or supposed superior 

Authorities who are ever ready to bring the whip on down
or brow beat you to injury and frown
for the sake of some power monger's
adrenal filled sadistic self-esteem
or crown

All that is done for
with common democratic ownership 
of wealth produced socially
and one forever rebellious NO! 
to domination and
YES! to unity 
for liberty and freedom's continuation

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wobbly times number 156


Where no means no
and yes means yes
and yes is said
way more often
than no

(for Roberto Curti)

Dropped a tab
an hour
or was it a hundred years later
I went outside
to take the air
and get away from the
web making....

Maybe bread will
bring me back

Where's my shirt!

My sister wants 
to kill me

Call her now!


Shout for help
tasers blaze
What a high!
my eyes
scream out
It's God...



Wobbly times number 155

DEBT, The First Five Thousand Years 
by David Graeber
Pages544; ISBN9781933633862; 
Publication date July, 2011

Even by the time one is halfway through chapter 3 of DEBT, THE FIRST 5,000 YEARS, Graeber has yet to put his finger on who produces 'value', a term he throws around quite regularly. Yes, he does tell his readers who sees 'value'--humans, obviously.  People see value, they see the use-value of the commodities they trade.  A commodity can have all the labour time in the world in it and if it isn't perceived as having a human use, it will have zero exchange-value. Stick a pin there.

Graeber does tell some very important tales in DEBT, pinning the need and therefore usefulness of money on ruling class desires for more wealth than they needed just to live.  In other words, in order to be rulers e.g. to pay for armed bodies of men, through the governing/enforcement structure of the political State. As a means of transferring produced wealth of the peasantry to rulers' ownership, tax systems are decreed by ruling classes which require payment in 'sovereigns'/money. Even so, the confusion accumulates when he poo-poos money itself as being a commodity.   

Graeber's DEBT is all about definitions. I think he's written a very readable book with many great tales of credit. In addition, he makes definitive statements like, "Money is credit, it can be brought into being by private contractual agreements...."  And so, we have a self-professed anarchist like Graeber who would like to see the end of the State and the formation of a classless society. According to Graeber, money is the creature of the State. So, without a State, there would be no money.  I think one can surmise this from Graeber's ideology.  

As Graeber reveals to his readers, the famous bourgeois economist, Lord Keynes, early on in his career made a study of Mesopotamian cuneiform texts which took years of research and resulted in his celebrated treatise on money. Like Keynes, Graeber basically dismisses labour as being the source of value when it comes to exchange.  He goes so far as identifying and trashing Adam Smith's 'labour theory of value' with a sentence early in his book. 

Why is this important for understanding the theme of the book, debt? 

Because Graeber embraces what amounts to a consumption theory of value, one which isn't tied to socially necessary labour time; but is more in tune with how price is determined i.e. by supply and demand for use-values. Mike Beggs has correctly observed in his review of DEBT, that Graeber's theory of money is related to 'chartalist' sources. In other words, it's kind of half right. Indeed, Graeber uses his anthropological wisdom to eviscerate the standard bourgeois economic notion that the clumsiness of barter brought about the need for money. 

As I said, his book is peppered with some great tales, such as the one about Keynes and his years long study of Sumerian texts concerning money, which in turn resulted in one of the good Lord's most celebrated works. But in this reviewer's opinion, it is important to know the source of the production of wealth which is represented by money. And in my opinion that source is to be found in the socially necessary labour time it takes to produce it, for that is the point where economy becomes political. Sure, the State creates money, today's States and yesteryear's States, just as Graeber says. But what does money represent? 


Sure. But what is debt, if not the promise to pay in wealth and where does wealth come from? 

For Marx there are only two sources of wealth, labour and nature. I was curious about Graeber. He's a self-described anarchist. As far as I know, he's still a member of the IWW. He's also touted as a leader of the 'occupy movement'. I wondered how he would solve the fetishism of the commodity in his work, as the commodity, IMO, is the building block of class society and class society is the foundation for the political State and yes, as Graeber says, the political State does mint what passes for the universal equivalent used to exchange commodities and pay off debts.  

Graeber's anthropological reflections are quite useful in bringing to the fore the notion that barter was rare as an historical phenomenon and money was absent in classless societies of hunter/gatherers. People basically used what they found/hunted. Trade between groups (my commodity for yours) was extremely limited. Those observations by Graeber made sense to me and so the book as a whole is not a total loss.  No, no, no.  Read the book.  In fact it's a bloody good anecdotal romp through 5,000 years of history.

For instance, in chapters 3 and 4 of Graeber's DEBT, THE FIRST 5,000 YEARS, we read of enlightening ties between debt, sin, guilt, owing society, owing parents, ancestors and ultimately the creation of money to repay debts to the sovereign. Of course deities can never be totally repaid and many times under absolutist rule, the sovereign becomes a demi-god or even god. All good here.

I especially enjoyed the way he uses Nietzsche's GENEALOGY OF MORALS, not as dogma, but as a way to illustrate mass religious conceptual ideologies and their cultural penetration into what passes in daily life for normative thinking.

Chapter 5 is divided into an examination of each of three themes of human interaction. He starts off with 'communism' and proceeds to define solidarity. The communism that communists know as common ownership of the means of production, production according to ability, distribution according to need is poo-pooed and shelved in good anarchist fashion. In an effort to sell us Graeber-communism (also based on the ability/need axis), he brings us out of the 'communism' of the great beyond (after the State withers away) to the daily praxis of solidarity between humans (up to a point) as being bits and pieces of actually existing 'communism' throughout the ages. According to Graeber, the social revolution is already happening, with co-operation between workers within corporations to get the job done (one not charging the other handing a screw driver to the bloke who needs one to complete the company's job); giving to relatives with no expectation of being paid back but, expecting reciprocal deeds when in need and so on. I can see his point and it's good to read someone who has something positive to say about how we live our lives in communistic behaviour patterns. Of course, he does drag out the ghost of the USSR to scare us away from 'Communism' and this works into his arguing against the conception of 'communism' as any real communist/socialist would define it.

No sign of labour being the source of all wealth not found in nature at this point in the book. DEBT remains a stimulating, if often frustrating, read. It made me want to call Davey up on the phone and share ales over conversations about how to change the world.

Onward to the next of the three themes of chapter 5, 'exchange'.

"Originally, human beings lived in a state of nature where all things were held in common; it was war that first divided up the world and the resultant 'law of nations,' the common usages of mankind that regulate such matters as conquest, slavery, treaties , and borders, that was first responsible for inequalities of property as well." David Graeber writes in DEBT, The First Five Thousand Years

No David. Private property precedes war. Nevermind--a bloody good read.  Also, the State doesn't come before private property; but after its establishment in the wake of humans' discovery of how to domesticate those plants and animals capable of being domesticated.  Geography has much to do with this, as Jared Diamond has pointed out in his GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL. The provision of a stable food supply, one not totally dependent on hunting and gathering what could be found in nature, was driven by our instincts for survival and freedom, IMO.  Agriculture and animal husbandry began to emerge thousands of years before records began to be written in Sumer.  But back to Graeber....

Debt is certainly very important in the establishment of class and patriarchal domination; but when will Professor Graeber recognise in writing DEBT the fact that wealth, to which debt is intimately related, is either a product of labour or exists before us in nature and then is merely possessed by threat of violence through the State's law enforcement hirelings? 

Maybe I'm supposed to give him a 'huss' and assume that what I'm missing is 'implied'. The problem with that is that while I may see it, others may not, as he dismisses 'the labour theory of value' earlier on in DEBT, with regard to Adam Smith, as I've already stated.  

Wealth is liberty — liberty to recreation — liberty to enjoy life — liberty to improve the mind. "Wealth is disposable time, and nothing more. " (From a pamphlet published anonymously in 1821, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties).  Debt certainly leads to slavery or at the very least to dependency structures woven into the social fabric via culture e.g. the 'milk debt' Graeber outlines with regard to the ongoing establishment of Hinduism in the historical time frame he labels, "The Axial Age".  But even 'milk debt' involves scads of labour time, in fact, our whole Hindu guided lives, if that's where we're at.  

Graeber provides his readers with many original source anecdotes concerning the question of slavery which go basically along these lines:  Once upon a time, the producers of wealth believed their monarchs deserved to live high on the hog while they lived lives of poverty. Once upon a time, slaves believed slavery was normal for those defeated in military conflict. All this is true.

I kept being frustrated about the questions he raised in my mind about the source of wealth. At the same time I was fascinated by his anecdotes concerning how various cultures dealt with certain kinds of debt. For example, cattle were used as currency for some transactions in pre-State Wales. Women were used in ancient Irish areas for certain forms of debt. Yet, halfway through chapter 6 and still no theory of where wealth comes from. 

Debt is expanded beyond economic transactions to include sin and other moral questions and while these are cogent observations, Graeber's emphasis on them turns our attention away from what is being asked of those who are indebted.  And what is that but their labour time and giving up their free time in some way shape or form up to and including becoming chattel slaves to those to whom they owed their debts.  Labour time is the source of exchange-value which is wrapped up in the social relations between those in debt and those to whom debts are owed.  And this is precisely what Graeber misses and or dismisses when it comes to his analysis of debt and his continual mystifications regarding money.  For Graeber, money is not based on embodied labour time but on the trust people have in the authorities.  Sure, there is trust; but as the old folk wisdom goes, "Where's the beef?"  Graeber's rulers seem to just decree what the value of money is as opposed to money being a universal equivalent used to trade objects with exchangeable labour time embodied in them.  

So, what is value? What is price? What is profit? Graeber continually mixes up exchange-value with a sense of debt which is based on being beholden to another person in some honourable way. I see the connection; but I find his anecdotes confusing the issue. Exchange-value is based on socially necessary labour time (snlt). Humans perceive their own labour time thusly, their own life expenditure in the exchange of commodities. This social perception is born of haggling around price until a sense of 'this is right' is established. But why is it, 'right'? It's the perception of life's labour time in the object or service which is based on the material reality of socially necessary labour time embodied therein. 

 I'm beginning to be forced to assume that many anarchists want to de-legitmate Marx so badly that they refuse to grasp or have a mental block when it comes to seeing the validity of his critque of political-economy. I saw it in Goldman. I've seen it in other anarchist thinkers e.g. Proudhon. And now, it appears in Graeber. I kept hoping as I read that I'd be wrong in my assumptions.  However, Graeber's analysis of debt is completely tied up in moralist ideology and fogged over with liberal consumptionist oriented economics which just begin to touch on the issue i.e his attachment to the Chartalists and Keynes.  Alas, even the great anarchist Proudhon had his peoples' banks and equality wages schemes for his new society.

In chapter 7 of DEBT,The First Five Thousand Years, we find a cogent analysis of honour's connection to owing interest and principal. By using the first Sumerian texts, Graeber takes us in his anecdotal 'way-back machine' to the last social revolution's event horizon at the beginning of history as we know it from Mesopotamian writing around 3000 BC, bringing his reader through to the end of the Bronze Age in 1200 or so BC. Transition from classless hunter/gatherers to farming and animal husbandry took many hundreds of years to complete. 

Priestly temple sustaining economies congregate in ancient cities, as Sumerian history unfolds. Surplus wealth is appropriated by theocratic cults thus, magnificent temple construction. Through his own interpretation of those first written texts of the Sumerians circa 3,000 B.C., Dr. Graeber opens the door on a time when women were still near political equals with men--as the social relations of power based on class ownership of wealth produced by others, began to take shape in its cradle, newborn civilisation. Patriarchy begins with debt, according to Graeber. A farmer took out a loan to make it till harvest or to get some tool needed for production. That farmer might put up his wife, daughters or sons as collateral. Usually, the debt is paid. However, when it is not paid, 'a pound of flesh' is extracted in terms of the 'collateral' having to do labour time under the lender's thumb. The more loans, the more chances of default to debt-pawn status for the wife and kids. The origins of chattel slavery can be found here. The owning of one person by another becomes normalised in the thousand year historical transition out of the Bronze Age, to the point where even slaves and former slaves endorse the notion that honour is tied to debt. It's a cultural value/norm. And, if one reads closely, one can see the hand of private property rights over class divided wealth emerging: property rights over the product of the exploiteds' labour, along with what was becoming known as his possessions: women and children, in a word, patriarchy. Graeber doesn't put it that way, but it's a valid interpretation of his anecdotal histories, anthropologies, economics, literary interpretations and anarchism as far as I am concerned.

Graeber often declares that money is the creature of the State and is usually connected with the need to pay the first ancient political State's plundering soldiers.  Fair enough; but that doesn't explain what intrinsic value is embodied in money whether it is paper or gold.  Gold, of course, does contain socially necessary labour time/snlt (although Graeber never acknowledges this in his assertions about fiat money and credit) and paper money is the promise of value creating labour time.  But, Graeber brushes any labour theory of value creation aside early on in DEBT, The First Five Thousand Years.  Money, like value, can seemingly come out of the ether of ruler decrees.  David tells a thousand fine anecdotes but he doesn't explain what the substance of the universal equivalent is and how that substance leads those in positions of political power to be more or less the same people who own private property in the means of production and nature, who own slaves, who make up patriarchal rules bound up with the perceived necessity of keeping private property where it 'rightfully belongs, and to whom debt itself is owed. 
And how, pray tell, is debt paid off other than through labour time and objects which take snlt to produce or promissory notes promising what....labour time of the debtors.  

Nope.  The economic theory that he is most attracted to is 'chartalism'. Contemporary economists i.e. since the turn of the 20th century completely abandoned Smith's labour theory of value for political reasons, including the Chartalists. Michael Perleman's work consistently shows this as he is an astute reader of Marx and and the history of modern 'economics'. Check him out. He's well worth the read. 

Back in the mid-19th century, one could tell that U.S. President Lincoln was still influenced by the labour theory of value as exemplified in his statement, "Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not .". The political consequences of a President making such a statement today would be EXPLOSIVE! 

A surplus of any commodity will bring down its price in the market and skills are commodities. What the Black Death did was to lower the supply of labour power and increase its price. Graeber acknowledges this. Ownership of the product of labour is also dependent on access to the means of producing wealth and that access was closed off by privatising what had been the commons during the latter part of the feudal era when the landlord class was riding high. Closing off the commons drove the peasantry off the land (their means of production) and into the urban centres where they were obliged to sell their skills for wages to employers who owned the factories, mines and 'satanic' mills of commodity production. The oversupply of labour power brought about by privatising the commons, brought with it a rise in unemployment, lowering of wages and working conditions and vagrancy laws like those of Henry VIII--vagrancy was a capital crime in Henry's time. 

What to do with the unemployed? 

Put them in 'workhouses', debt and pick-pockets' prison; hang them or transport them off to the colonial gulags, America first and after the anti-colonial political revolution in America, to Australia after 1788, where the labour power was needed for exploitation under the wage system. 

Certainly, one should read Graeber's DEBT; but only after grasping what Marx was saying in terms of exchange-value's connect with snlt.  Reading "Value, Price and Profit" can help in that regard.  CAPITAL is, of course, more clearly definitive and definitely more enlightening--especially the early on in the chapter on money.

I close this review with a powerful observation from Marx which should be kept in mind when reading the final chapter of Graeber's DEBT, The First Five Thousand Years.

CAPITAL, Volume One

Chapter Thirty-One: Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist

The money capital formed by means of usury and commerce was prevented from turning into industrial capital, in the country by the feudal constitution, in the towns by the guild organisation. [3] These fetters vanished with the dissolution of feudal society, with the expropriation and partial eviction of the country population. The new manufactures were established at sea-ports, or at inland points beyond the control of the old municipalities and their guilds. Hence in England an embittered struggle of the corporate towns against these new industrial nurseries.
The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c.
The different momenta of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive at a systematical combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But, they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power."

For an extensive discussion of Graeber's DEBT from other perspectives click here