An open letter to David Graeber

Dear David,

Let me first say that I admire your work immensely: your book ‘Debt’ has been top of my personal recommendations to friends and concerned acquaintances for a good while now, so that they might better understand  the system they live within.

Also, I am very sure we have more in common than we have to separate us, and there is an almost unlimited amount of topics I could and would discuss with you if I had the chance.

It is not because it is the most pressing but simply because it is the one that ‘came up’ first that I would like to discuss with you your recent tweet about ‘revolutionary struggle’. If for no other reason, this one area of discourse brings together so many philosophical principles it merits delving into properly.

I should preface my arguments here by briefly explaining that I am not an anarchist but do wholeheartedly oppose the recognition of states, and advocate the dissolution of heteronomous power structures and mass society, without replacing them with other, equally-damaging and immoral systems. I am also something of a critic of civilisation itself, I disavow the slur ‘primitivist’ because I think it is not representative of the main drive of civilisational critique – i.e. I do not oppose modernity just for being modern.

Anyway, yesterday you made a tweet which said (and I’m quoting all parts in full):

“Let me make my position clear. When someone in a wealthy country insists on equating (a) the imaginary revolution they like to fantasise about someday creating, and (b) actual revolutionary struggle in the Global South, then condemns (b) for not living up to (a) and refuses solidarity on that basis, they are turning situation of privilege into a pretense of moral superiority, which is a classic form of racist imperialism. This is true whether or not they are personally racists.”

Now, I do not want to see revolution, I want to see dissolution. I don’t want civilisation, or any given part of it, merely to revolve, but to dissolve, so that better ways of life can flourish in its place.

But even putting that to the side, I want to talk to you about the purpose that you imagine lies in ‘revolutionary struggle’, whether in the West or in the ‘global South’.

To this end, I asked you if you could name one example of truly autonomous struggle, and you named the Zapatistas. It is to this group that the rest of this article will be dedicated.

[If any of the statements I make here are factually incorrect, I would welcome correction, but I am for my references exclusively using the group’s own manifesto.]

In order to decide whether this is an autonomous struggle, I would ask you (and my other readers) to consider the following facts:

1. EZLN is an army. Is it not? These people possess weapons and are either using them or aiming to use them, to fight against the Mexican army. Now, even if I were willing to accept that this army was only fighting a battle of counter-coercion (self-defense), I wonder if we can honestly say that there is no territorial claim they are making. It appears that they do consider there to be a relationship between sovereignty and land, and they recognise the existence of; a country, namely Mexico; a capital city, namely Mexico City; and in the very first edict of their 1994 statement they state as their mission the removal of power of the incumbent government and have definite ideas about what should subsequently occur. This is not changing the world without taking power, this is the removal of one power and the implementation of a plan. Continue reading