THE TWILIGHT OF VANGUARDISM
by David Graeber
Revolutionary thinkers have been saying that the age of vanguardism is
over for most of a century now. Outside of a handful of tiny sectarian
groups, it's almost impossible to find a radical intellectuals seriously
believe that their role should be to determine the correct historical
analysis of the world situation, so as to lead the masses along in the
one true revolutionary direction. But (rather like the idea of progress
itself, to which it's obviously connected), it seems much easier to
renounce the principle than to shake the accompanying habits of thought.
Vanguardist, even, sectarian attitudes have become deeply ingrained in
academic radicalism it's hard to say what it would mean to think outside
The depth of the problem first really struck me when I first became
acquainted with the consensus modes of decision-making employed in North
American anarchist and anarchist-inspired political movements, which, in
turn, bore a lot of similarities to the style of political
decision-making current where I had done my anthropological fieldwork in
rural Madagascar. There's enormous variation among different styles and
forms of consensus but one thing almost all the North American variants
have in common is that they are organized in conscious opposition to the
style of organization and, especially, of debate typical of the
classical sectarian Marxist group. Where the latter are invariably
organized around some Master Theoretician, who offers a comprehensive
analysis of the world situation and, often, of human history as a whole,
but very little theoretical reflection on more immediate questions of
organization and practice, anarchist-inspired groups tend to operate on
the assumption that no one could, or probably should, ever convert
another person completely to one's own point of view, that
decision-making structures are ways of managing diversity, and
therefore, that one should concentrate instead on maintaining
egalitarian process and considering immediate questions of action in the
present. One of the fundamental principles of political debate, for
instance, is that one is obliged to give other participants the benefit
of the doubt for honesty and good intentions, whatever else one might
think of their arguments. In part too this emerges from the style of
debate consensus decision-making encourages: where voting encourages one
to reduce one's opponents positions to a hostile caricature, or whatever
it takes to defeat them, a consensus process is built on a principle of
compromise and creativity where one is constantly changing proposals
around until one can come up with something everyone can at least live
with; therefore, the incentive is always to put the best possible
construction on other's arguments.
All this struck home to me because it brought home to me just how much
ordinary intellectual practice--the kind of thing I was trained to do at
the University of Chicago, for example--really does resemble sectarian
modes of debate. One of the things which had most disturbed me about my
training there was precisely the way we were encouraged to read other
theorists' arguments: that if there were two ways to read a sentence,
one of which assumed the author had at least a smidgen of common sense
and the other that he was a complete idiot, the tendency was always to
chose the latter. I had sometimes wondered how this could be reconciled
with an idea that intellectual practice was, on some ultimate level, a
common enterprise in pursuit of truth. The same goes for other
intellectual habits: for example, that of carefully assembling lists of
different "ways to be wrong" (usually ending in "ism": i.e.,
subjectivism, empiricism, all much like their sectarian parallels:
reformism, left deviationism, hegemonism...) and being willing to listen
to points of view differing from one's own only so long as it took to
figure out which variety of wrongness to plug them into. Combine this
with the tendency to treat (often minor) intellectual differences not
only as tokens of belonging to some imagined "ism" but as profound moral
flaws, on the same level as racism or imperialism (and often in fact
partaking of them) then one has an almost exact reproduction of style of
intellectual debate typical of the most ridiculous vanguardist sects.
I still believe that the growing prevalence of these new, and to my mind
far healthier, modes of discourse among activists will have its effects
on the academy but it's hard to deny that so far, the change has been
very slow in coming.
WHY SO FEW ANARCHISTS IN THE ACADEMY?
One might argue this is because anarchism itself has made such small
inroads into the academy. As a political philosophy, anarchism is going
through veritable explosion in recent years. Anarchist or
anarchist-inspired movements are growing everywhere; anarchist
principles--autonomy, voluntary association, self-organization, mutual
aid, direct democracy--have become the basis for organizing within the
globalization movement and beyond. As Barbara Epstein has recently
pointed out, at least in Europe and the Americas, it has by now largely
taken the place Marxism had in the social movements of the '60s: the
core revolutionary ideology, it is the source of ideas and inspiration;
even those who do not consider themselves anarchists feel they have to
define themselves in relation to it. Yet this has found almost no
reflection in academic discourse. Most academics seem to have only the
vaguest idea what anarchism is even about; or dismiss it with the
crudest stereotypes ("anarchist organization! but isn't that a
contradiction in terms?") In the United States--and I don't think is all
that different elsewhere--there are thousands of academic Marxists of
one sort or another, but hardly anyone who is willing to openly call
herself an anarchist.
I don't think this is just because the academy is behind the times.
Marxism has always had an affinity with the academy that anarchism never
will. It was, after all was invented by a Ph.D.; and there's always been
something about its spirit which fits that of the academy. Anarchism on
the other hand was never really invented by anyone. True, historians
usually treat it as if it were, constructing the history of anarchism as
if it's basically a creature identical in its nature to Marxism: it was
created by specific 19th century thinkers, perhaps Godwin or Stirner,
but definitely Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, it inspired working-class
organizations, became enmeshed in political struggles... But in fact the
analogy is rather strained. First of all, the 19th century generally
credited with inventing anarchism didn't think of themselves as having
invented anything particularly new. The basic principles of
anarchism--self-organization, voluntary association, mutual aid--are as
old as humanity Similarly, the rejection of the state and of all forms
of structural violence, inequality, or domination (anarchism literally
means "without rulers"), even the assumption that all these forms are
somehow related and reinforce each other, was hardly some startlingly
new 19th century doctrine. One can find evidence of people making
similar arguments throughout history, despite the fact there is every
reason to believe that such opinions were the ones least likely to be
written down. We are talking less about a body of theory than about an
attitude, or perhaps a faith: a rejection of certain types of social
relation, a confidence that certain others are a much better ones on
which to build a decent or humane society, a faith that it would be
possible to do so.
One need only compare the historical schools of Marxism, and anarchism,
then, to see we are dealing with a fundamentally different sort of
thing. Marxist schools have authors. Just as Marxism sprang from the
mind of Marx, so we have Leninists, Maoists, Trotksyites, Gramscians,
Althusserians... Note how the list starts with heads of state and grades
almost seamlessly into French professors. Pierre Bourdieu once noted
that, if the academic field is a game in which scholars strive for
dominance, then you know you have won when other scholars start
wondering how to make an adjective out of your name. It is, presumably,
to preserve the possibility of winning the game that intellectuals
insist, in discussing each other, on continuing to employ just the sort
of Great Man theories of history they would scoff at in discussing just
about anything else: Foucault's ideas, like Trotsky's, are never treated
as primarily the products of a certain intellectual milieu, as something
that emerging from endless conversations and arguments in cafes,
classrooms, bedrooms, barber shops involving thousands of people inside
and outside the academy (or Party), but always, as if they emerged from
a single man's genius. It's not quite either that Marxist politics
organized itself like an academic discipline or become a model for how
radical intellectuals, or increasingly, all intellectuals, treated one
another; rather, the two developed somewhat in tandem.
Schools of anarchism, in contrast, emerge from some kind of
organizational principle or form of practice: Anarcho-Syndicalists and
Anarcho-Communists, Insurrectionists and Platformists, Cooperativists,
Individualists, and so on. (Significantly, those few Marxist tendencies
which are not named after individuals, like Autonomism or Council
Communism, are themselves the closest to anarchism.) Anarchists are
distinguished by what they do, and how they organize themselves to go
about doing it. And indeed this has always been what anarchists have
spent most of their time thinking and arguing about. They have never
been much interested in the kinds of broad strategic or philosophical
questions that preoccupy Marxists such as Are the peasants a potentially
revolutionary class? (anarchists consider this something for the
peasants to decide) or what is the nature of the commodity form? Rather,
they tend to argue about what is the truly democratic way to go about a
meeting, at what point organization stops being empowering people and
starts squelching individual freedom. Is "leadership" necessarily a bad
thing? Or, alternately, about the ethics of opposing power: What is
direct action? Should one condemn someone who assassinates a head of
state? When is it okay to break a window?
One might sum it up like this:
1. Marxism has tended to be a theoretical or analytical discourse about
2. Anarchism has tended to be an ethical discourse about revolutionary
Now, this does imply there's a lot of potential complementary between
the two (and indeed there has been: even Mikhail Bakunin, for all his
endless battles with Marx over practical questions, also personally
translated Marx's Capital into Russian.) One could easily imagine a
systematic division of labor in which Marxists critique the political
economy, but stay out of organizing, and Anarchists handle the
day-to-day organizing, but defer to the Marxists on questions of
abstract theory; i.e., in which the Marxists explain why the economic
crash in Argentina occurred and the anarchists deal with what to do
about it. (I also should point out that I am aware I am being a bit
hypocritical here by indulging in some of the same sort of sectarian
reasoning I'm otherwise critiquing: there are schools of Marxism which
are far more open-minded and tolerant, and democratically organized,
there are anarchist groups which are insanely sectarian; Bakunin himself
was hardly a model for democracy by any standards, etc. etc. etc.). But
it also makes it easier to understand why there are so few anarchists in
the academy. It's not just that anarchism does not lend itself to high
theory. It's that it is primarily an ethics of practice; and it insists,
before anything else, that one's means most be consonant with one's
ends; one cannot create freedom through authoritarian means; that as
much as possible, one must embody the society one wishes to create. This
does not square very well with operating within Universities that still
have an essentially Medieval social structure, presenting papers at
conferences in expensive hotels, and doing intellectual battle in
language no one who hasn't spent at least two or three years in grad
school would ever hope to be able to understand. At the very least,
then, it would tend to get one in trouble.
All this does not, of course, mean that anarchist theory is
impossible--though it does suggest that a single Anarchist High Theory
in the style typical of university radicalism might be rather a
contradiction in terms. One could imagine a body of theory that presumes
and indeed values a diversity of sometimes incommensurable perspectives
in much the same way that anarchist decision-making process does, but
which nonetheless organizes them around an presumption of shared
commitments. But clearly, it would also have to self-consciously reject
any trace of vanguardism: which leads to the question the role of
revolution intellectuals is not to form an elite that can arrive at the
correct strategic analyses and then lead the masses to follow, what
precisely is it? This is an area where I think anthropology is
particularly well positioned to help. And not only because most actual,
self-governing communities, non-market economies, and other radical
alternatives have been mainly studied by anthropologists; also, because
the practice of ethnography provides at least something of a model, an
incipient model, of how non-vanguardist revolutionary intellectual
practice might work. Ethnography is about teasing out the hidden
symbolic, moral, or pragmatic logics that underly certain types of
social action; the way people's habits and actions makes sense in ways
that they are not themselves completely aware of. One obvious role for a
radical intellectual is precisely that: the first thing we need to do is
to look at those who are creating viable alternatives on the group, and
try to figure out what might be the larger implications of what they are
American Dream » 31 Aug 2013 15:48 wrote:http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1990s/1995/no-1095-november-1995/david-icke-serious
Is David Icke Serious?
It is common—and polite—to describe David Icke's views as being somewhat 'eccentric'; a more honest way of describing them would be 'absolute nonsense'.
Most people will regard David Icke as a nutter, an utter nutter in fact. Which is not surprising since in his talks and books he puts forward a fantastic proposition: that the planet Earth is in the grip of hostile extraterrestrials who are behind a group of humans, "the Global Elite", plotting to establish a world government under which we would all have microchips implanted in us linked to a central computer; since these extraterrestrials feed off our negative feelings our only hope lies in changing ourselves through substituting Love for hatred, fear and guilt. It's a peculiar combination of 1960s' hippyism and far-right conspiracy theories.
Icke is not the only person to put forward such views but, as a former TV sports presenter and Green Party national speaker, he has been able to obtain a much wider hearing for them than they would otherwise get. Since Icke presents them as being literally true they are open to refutation—or confirmation—by the same standards as any other claim about what happens in the world of human experience.
Mind and Matter
Icke's basic philosophical position is that mind has priority over matter and that in fact matter was created by a mind. As he puts it in his latest book And the Truth Shall Set You Free:
"Creation is the expression of one infinite mind and all life forms are aspects of that one mind what many people call God. We are all God, if you wish to use that term. At the heart of this mind is a consciousness I see as a blinding light— the Source Consciousness from which all has been brought into existence " (p. xiv).
We don't now how the universe came into being or indeed that it did "come into being" (it might always have been there), but what we do know about it is that forms of matter able to think arose at a later time than non-thinking matter and non-living (i.e. non-self-reproducing) matter generally, and in fact evolved out of it. So in this sense it is matter that has priority over mind—or rather, since mind is a form of matter, that non-thinking matter has priority over thinking matter—and not vice versa.
But we don't need to pursue this point further since Icke's brand of philosophical idealism does not deny that an external world of physical reality exists. It is a theory of how this world came into existence and accepts that it exists independently of our minds.
Icke also puts forward a theory of the nature of the self-conscious mind that humans have:
"Contrary to what medical science is obsessed with telling us, the physical body is not the whole human being. It is a fantastic physical shell through which the eternal us experiences this physical world. There is far more to us than a body . . . Our mental, emotional, and spiritual selves are a series of magnetic energy fields interacting with each other via vortices of energy known by the Hindu and Sanskrit word, 'chakra', which means wheel of light. These vortices are spirals of energy which intersect all levels of our being and pass energies between them . . . We are continually absorbing magnetic energy from the cosmos, mostly through the 'base' chakraat the base of the spine. After this life-force has passed through our levels of being and we have taken from it what we need, we broadcast our energy through the chakras back to the cosmos and the world around us " (pp viii-ix).
Despite Icke's basic philosophical idealism this is a materialist theory of the self-conscious mind since it posits that it has a physical existence. It is a claim that humans are a series of electromagnetic fields and that our bodies are receivers and transmitters of electromagnetic radiation. As it is a materialist theory it can be tested against the facts established so far about the nature of the human body and of electromagnetic radiation to see whether or not it is valid.
Energy and our bodies
The human body is indeed an absorber and transmitter of energy, including some radiation energy. Most of the energy we consume, however, is chemical energy, in the form of food which our bodies convert into, mainly, mechanical energy (to enable us to work and to keep our internal organs functioning) and heat energy (to maintain our body temperature) but also some electrical energy. The electromagnetic energy we absorb is mainly through heat and light but also some ultra-violet, X- and gamma rays, and cosmic rays (which normally don't do us any good).
So Icke is right to the extent that our bodies do act as receivers of electromagnetic radiation, particularly light, but this is not done via the base of the spine (the Sun may shine in—and out—of Icke's backside but most people absorb light through their eyes). Heat is another form of electromagnetic radiant energy and some will indeed be absorbed via the base of the spine but equally by the rest of the external surface of the body.
It is also the case that our bodies transmit radiation energy, overwhelmingly as heat but also as some electrical activity (such as that of our brains as measured by an encephalograph) and that to do this the body has to create and maintain magnetic fields.
It may well turn out that our "mental, emotional, and spiritual selves" are actually forms of radiant energy, as Icke claims. Or it may be that they are a form of chemical and mechanical energy that is generated by electrical and radiation energy or a combination of all four forms of energy. We don't yet know. Icke, however, makes the additional claims that the electromagnetic fields which he believes our selves to be composed of could exist in the absence of our bodies.
This is basically a claim that an electromagnetic field can exist in the absence of atoms, molecules and subatomic particles. There is no evidence at all for this since, from what we know about magnetic fields, they can only be produced by particular movements of these forms of matter.
To tell the truth Icke doesn't really know all that much about what he calls "magnetic energy" since he writes of something that "it is like two magnets attracting each other" (p. 453) and that "under the law of like attracts like, this magnetic energy field . . . will attract to it compatible energy fields" (p. x). Actually, the whole theory of magnetism and electricity is based on like repelling like. He should try putting two magnets together and see what happens.
Despite his use of scientific terms such as magnetic fields, wavelengths and frequencies, Icke seems remarkably ignorant of what would be involved in for instance increasing the frequency of electromagnetic radiation. There are various different kinds of radiation energy and these are distinguished not only by their effects but also by their wavelengths and the time within which a wavelength is completed (their frequency). Basically, the shorter the wavelength the higher can be the frequency. But if you go on changing the wavelength and frequency you eventually change the nature of the radiation, from radio waves at the bottom with the longest wavelengths and the lowest frequencies through heat and light waves and on to ultra-violet and X-rays and beyond.
Icke claims that humans can voluntarily increase the frequencies of the electromagnetic radiation our bodies generate. In fact his whole theory of the future fate of the world depends on this (according to him this is what the power of Love will enable us to do, so defeating the evil extraterrestrials and their henchmen who've got us in their grip).
Suppose for the moment that this were true—and that we could voluntarily move the atoms and particles in the matter that makes up our bodies in such a way as to increase the frequency of the radiation our bodies emit—what would be the effect? The main electromagnetic radiation we emit is heat. If we increased the frequency the first thing that would happen is that we would overheat and eventually burn up. After that, had our bodies not been destroyed, we would begin to emit light. Then we would become radioactive, in short, we would destroy our bodies. It is fortunate, then, that we cannot in fact change the frequency/wavelength of what electromagnetic radiation we do emit.
Not that Icke is particularly concerned that increasing the frequency of the radiation we emit would destroy our bodies since he believes that:
"at the moment we call death, our mind-emotion-spirit, everything that is the thinking, feeling us, withdraws from the body, the 'genetic space suit' as I call it. The eternal spirit moves on to another wavelength of reality, another 'world', to continue its evolution " (p. ix).
But, on his theory of the nature of our ''mind-emotion-spirit" ("a person is a series of magnetic fields"), this cannot be. This is because without matter to be agitated an electromagnetic field cannot exist. Despite his attack on the science "which claims there is no afterlife of any kind and when this physical life is over, the lights go out forever" (p. 449) this is a corollary of the particular (materialist) theory of the nature of mind and consciousness that he has chosen to espouse. The body ceasing to exist or to function is precisely like turning out the light since switching off the current terminates the electromagnetic field on which the light depends.
We don't yet know the exact physical nature of the human mind and consciousness but we do know that it can't exist in the absence of a body that functions. This is our only life and only world. Which is why it is so important to concentrate all our efforts on working for a better world for humans to live in, instead of waiting for the Millennium, the Second Coming, the Age of Aquarius, the Appearance of the Maitreya or whatever.
slimmouse » Sat Aug 31, 2013 2:09 pm wrote:Does the above post mean that by overthrowing anti semitism we will overthrow the illuminati?
If that particular ism, (one of many such constructs) was re infused where it belongs- to racsim, then its gotten my vote.
In the macro field of racism, every last concern and problem must be duly understood and opposed.
I actually think that all that is already being understood by most.
And in fact, none of this is in the slightest bit as important as stopping the madmen from bombing Syria.
This radical transformation of society, from feudalism to capitalism terrified and alarmed many people in Europe and the USA. These societies existed during a time when the theories of race were commonly accepted and discussed as a science -- to justify both slavery and the imperial exploitation of Africa and other colonies. As well as racist prejudice one other common bigotry was anti-Semitism, the hatred of Jews. As capitalism developed, producing transnational, global insitutions many racists alarmed at this transformation identified the enemy behind it -- that of the Jew. As part of anti-semitic prejudice throughout Europe, Jews were forced into jobs in the financial sector that Christians deemed immoral -- like banking. So when the industrial revolution was financed by and empowered banks with Jewish owners anti-semites saw a conspiracy by the Jewish race to enslave the white Christian race.
So much wrong in just one picture
The most notorious subject of these anti-Semitic conspiracy theories was the Rothschild Family. The Rothschilds were an extremely wealthy and powerful banking family during the 1800’s, who exercised massive influence over the developing capitalist economies of Europe and North America. This combination of power and Judaism made them the frequent target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. As a major banking institution there’s no question the Rothschild’s would have been involved in underhand and conspiratorial plans to influence governments and secure their markets -- but the accusations labelled at the Rothschilds go way beyond criticism of bankers influence, and into conspiracy nonsense about world Jewish plots to enslave the world. For example, the Rothschilds were accused of both funding American Capitalism and Russian Bolsheviks, a ridiculous allegation that had it’s base in anti-socialist racist sentiment. Many anti-Semites were disturbed at the challenge global capitalism posed to nation states sovereignty and could not understand the power of the economic system they faced, so instead chose to blame it on conspiratorial groups.
These ideas -- anti-banking sentiment of small business Democrats, and anti-semitic opposition to the Rothschilds -- unfortunately haven’t remained in the past. They continue to be advocated by people like Zeitgeist, Alex Jones and David Icke. This piece by Norfolk Community Action Group criticizes the influence these forces have in the occupy movement,
“The populist narrative is also an integral part of the political views of conspiracy theorists, far right activists, and anti-Semites. For anti-Semites, the elites are the Jews; for David Icke, the elites are the reptilians; for nationalists, they are members of minority ethnic, racial, or religious groups; for others, they are the “globalists,” the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, the Freemasons, the Federal Reserve, etc. All of these various conspiracy theories also tend to blend in and borrow from each other. Additionally, the focus on “Wall Street” also has specific appeal to those who see the elite as represented by finance capital, a particular obsession of the anti-Semites, Larouchites, followers of David Icke, etc. “The Rothschilds” are the favorite stand-in codeword of choice to refer to the supposed Jewish control of the banking system.”
The “Rothschild Zionists” feature in both Alex Jones and Icke’s material -- which blame a 200 year old banking institution for conspiratorial involvement in global capitalism. The reality is that the Rothschilds influence declined by the early 1900s -- blaming them for the financial crisis is like blaming the British East India company for the ongoing exploitation of Asia. The Rothschilds have been surpassed and overtaken by new financial institutions.
So why do they continue to be prevalent in conspiracy theories related to banking? Because in the USA, when people are discontent and angry at the banks instead of looking to socialism -- which has historically been weak in the USA -- they go back to the most prominent anti-banking ideas and figures, which unfortunately are anti-semitic. Likewise many bankers are identified as “Rothschild Zionists” by Icke who clearly have no familial connection to the Rothschild family at all -- like David Miliband and DSK. But it’s ok, as Icke explains:
“I should also stress that when I say ‘Rothschild’, I don’t only mean those called ‘Rothschild’, nor even all of the people who are known by that name. There are many in the Rothschild family and its offshoots who have no idea what the hierarchy is doing and there are many ‘Rothschilds’ who don’t carry the name itself.
When I say ‘Rothschild’, I am referring to the Rothschild bloodline because, as I have detailed in my books, they have long had breeding programmes that produce offspring that are brought up under other names.”
This is effectively an excuse to link all Jewish people in areas of power together, based on racist ideas of “bloodlines”, and using the code “Zionist” instead of what people really mean, which is Jew. Whatever crimes have been committed in the Zionist enterprise of the State of Israel against the Palestinians, the idea a country of five million Israelis control international finance is absurd and only makes sense if you believe in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
“The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory is that conspiracy theorists actually believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is chaotic. The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy or the grey aliens or the 12 foot reptiloids from another dimension that are in control. The truth is more frightening, nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.”
"The origin of money is something to do with representational thinking. Representational thinking is the real leap, where somebody says ‘hey I can draw this shape on the cave wall and it is, in some way, the bison we saw at the meadow. These lines are the bison. That of course lead to language – this squiggle is, of course, a tree, or something. Is the tree. Money is code for the whole of life – you can bind in everything that is contained within life for money, money is a certain amount of sex, a certain amount of shelter, a certain amount of sustenance. … Money is the code for the entire world. Money is the world, the world in the sense I was talking about earlier, our abstract ideas about the world. Money is a perfect symbol for all that, and if you don’t believe in it, and you set a match to it, it’s just firewood – it doesn’t mean anything anymore."
"Yes, there is a conspiracy, in fact there are a great number of conspiracies that are all tripping each other up. And all of those conspiracies are run by paranoid fantasists and ham-fisted clowns. If you are on a list targeted by the CIA, you really have nothing to worry about. If however, you have a name similar to somebody on a list targeted by the CIA, then you are dead."
"Sexually progressive cultures gave us mathematics, literature, philosophy, civilization and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust. Not that I’m trying to load my argument, of course."
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