After David Graeber: Kurds lost their ally, the world lost an intellectual guide

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  • 12:23 23 September 2020
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ANKARA - The world lost an activist and theorist early. It was precisely the time of David Graeber. He recognized and introduced the Rojava revolution, which many people remained silent about. His friend Rahila Gupta said: "Kurds lost their ally, the world lost an intellectual guide."

 
"The Kurdish movement has lost yet another important ally but we have all lost an intellectual guide who helped us make sense of our world." These words were said by Rahila Gupta, a friend of David Graeber whom we lost all of a sudden on September 2nd. Of course, these words that Gupta spoke on behalf of all of us are insufficient for a determined activist and theorist.
 
The books of Graeber translated to Turkish, 'Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology', 'Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value', 'Revolutions in Reverse', 'Debt: First 5000 Years' have attracted a lot of attention. Graeber's courage, knowladge and intelligence have spreaded into our lands with the solidarity he offered to the Kurdish movement.
 
French philosopher Bruno Latour stated that since Graeber's knowledge practice and activist practice are not separated, fighting in the streets and in his books could also not be seperated for him. 
 
That's exactly why he spent all that time in Rojava, which he describes as an "extraordinary democratic experiment", he roamed the streets and shared his observations with the world. Telling that his father was a militant in the Spanish civil war, he called on the world which left Spanish revolutionaries alone, to stand with Rojava.
 
Graeber spoke to the rest of the world not to a circumscribed, elite academia, but right across from it and wrote plain, simple, understandable and provocative things for the society.
 
Rahila Gupta, an activist and a writer just like him, and who too have spent time in Rojava to observe the revolution told about Graeber to Mesopotamia Agency (MA).
 
'IN ROJAVA, THE POWER RESIDES WITH THE PEOPLE'
 
Gupta told that she met with Graeber after a visit she made to Rojava in 2016. Gubta said: "My enthusiasm for the women’s revolution there, the sense that I had witnessed something momentous and life changing, drove me to read up everything that I could find about Rojava."
 
Explaining that she was very impressed with the 'dual power' analysis of Graeber, Gupta said the article told that the ‘state’ in Rojava needs to be understood as an 'administration' with a co-ordinating role but no power. The power resides with the people.
 
Gupta quoted Graeber’s analysis on the following incident he encountered when he visited Rojava: "Local police officers were called to investigate a merchant who was suspected of hoarding sugar. When they said they couldn’t do so without clearance from their commanding officers, it caused outrage among the people who said you work for us not them."
 
According to Gupta, Graeber evaulated the incident as follows: "It seemed a strong matter of principle that anyone with a gun should ultimately be answerable to the bottom-up structures, and not the top down – and if not, there was something terribly wrong."
 
Gupta added that Graeber believed in his following observation deeply: "In terms of revolutionary theory, I would say that the case of Rojava is in certain ways unique. What we find is essentially a dual power situation."
 
Continuing to speak about Graeber's approach to Rojava, Gupta said: "On the one hand there are the ministries, Parliament, the higher courts, everything that looks like a government and on the other hand, there are the bottom-up structures where power flows entirely from the popular assemblies". Graeber evaluated this as 'The balance of power between these two institutional structures appears to be fluid and under constant renegotiation'.He wrote in an accessible style which is always the hallmark of an academic who knows that his place in the world is earned through his activism. He is speaking to the rest of the world not to a circumscribed, elite academia. He immediately won my respect."
 
'GODS WITHOUT MASKS'
 
Gupta said her first impression on her friend Graeber was the speech he made at a conference called 'Capitalist and Democratic Modernity' in May 2016 at the launch of Volume 1 of Manifesto for a Democratic Civilisation: The Age of Masked Gods and Disguised Kings by Abdullah Öcalan to which he wrote the preface. 
 
Stating that she got to know him better at the conference, Gupta said: "We sat together at dinner every evening. I was a little in awe of him. He had a habit of saying something witty rather quietly and then laughing. I would laugh along with him even though I had not been able to hear his words. On the short journey in the car to the restaurant from the conference, he would pull out his laptop and work on the proofs of what was to become his book on Bullshit jobs. We talked a little about its thesis. I remember telling him about the large number of bullshit jobs in India but he was there before me. He struck me as humorous, hardworking, humble and a man of huge intellect. Since then I would regularly bump into him at various Kurdish events.
 
While I was drafting my chapter on Rojava for my book on Patriarchy, I was mulling over the role of ideology in mobilising political change. I couldn’t find quite the right books to read so I emailed him for advice. He felt the question was too broad and that most writers had approached it in relation to specific changes or specific ideologies. He said, ‘the relation of ideology and movements is so complicated, and it seems to change profoundly in different movements. I’ve been trying to understand the difference between Marxists and anarchists in this regard for years. I go over some of it in my own book on Direct Action which I’ll include but I don’t know if it’ll be extremely useful, especially as I don’t do a lit (literature) survey - but the section 211 to 222 might be provocative anyway."
 
HE MADE ME ASSUME A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO ANARCHISM'
 
Gupta drew attention to the fact that Graeber suggested her to read the preface he wrote to Direct Action and some pages in the book, Gupta told that she send Graeber the following e mail when she read those pages: "I read your preface to the book and the pages that you suggested. It certainly made me look at anarchism from a different perspective. And by your classifications, what's going on in Rojava then is not 'anarchism' particularly in terms of their subservience to a central 'theory' or authority as in Apo. You quote David Wieck on this point to argue that anarchists shun 'high theory'. I had in fact been trying to square my own fascination with the Rojava revolution with a lifelong feminist tradition of campaigning for a more 'progressive' state, not being able to envision how else you could be protected from the community, in our case, as represented by religious, conservative self-appointed spokesmen."
 
Gupta said she was very much impressed with the preface Graeber wrote: "How, then, do we think about a political movement in which the practice comes first and theory is essentially, secondary?” I wonder if this is really possible. Does that mean that egalitarianism is essentially a practice? having never experienced it myself, I have always seen it as an idea  which must be fought for. Definitely provocative."
 
GOLD AND WARFARE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED HAND IN HAND
 
Gupta said that after a while she read Dabiq, the media organ of ISIS and came across an article in the magazine citing a passage from David Graeber on "gold and war", and the quoteer went to the region as a journalist and later joined ISIS. He said it was Catlie John.
 
Gupta recalled Graeber's remark that gold and warfare have always lived hand in hand and quoted from one of his articles: "Over the course of the wars of expansion during the time of the Umayyad Empire, enormous quantities of gold and silver were looted from palaces, temples, and monasteries and stamped into coinage, allowing the Caliphate to produce gold dinars and silver dirhams of remarkable purity."
 
Gupta shared her e mail correspondence with Graeber regarding the issue with John, whether he joined ISIS because he embraced their ideology or if he was merely trying to surive:
 
Gupta: BTW, did you know you were quoted in Dabiq, the ISIS rag?
 
David: Yeah yeah I was quoted on both sides on the ISIS gold coin issue. I guess this was that captured British journalist guy - what was his name? What happened to him anyway?
 
David: Well he was captured and knowing that others (including journalists no?) were beheaded, agreed to cooperate. I do sometimes ask myself: what might I have done in a similar situation? I like to think I’d have said “okay, martyr me if you have to, I won’t write your propaganda.” But then maybe I’d play along hoping they’d trust me enough I could flee and then tell everyone ISIS’s secrets. Or… it’s hard to say. Put secret messages in the text? How would you do that? I just sometimes wonder.
 
Gubta: I hate to put myself into these 'what if' scenarios of extreme pressure on my value systems - perhaps because I fear the answer will not make me proud. The only time I'm truly courageous (to the point of foolishness) is when I'm fuelled by anger but anger is usually short-lived so what happens when the anger subsides. Hopefully it never does in situations like that. But Cantlie sounds genuinely angry with the Brits for having let him  and his family  down and then he slips into the ISIS analysis of all that is wrong with the West.
 
David: Yeah it would be interesting to psychoanalyze what’s going on there. Fortunately I’m not really into that sort of thing.’ But David was not happy that Cantlie had misrepresented him, ‘weird thing is he totally missed the point of what I was saying in that passage!
 
Gubta: I wouldn't worry about his misinterpretation. It's not like you want to reach out to the Dabiq readership (many of whom are hopefully dead by now) on the finer points of the theory of money.
 
David: True enough.
 
BEFORE HE WAS ABLE TO COMPLETE ALL THAT WORK HE COULD HAVE DONE...
 
Gupta later stated that she met Graeber twice more, one of which was a commemoration ceremony for Mehmet Aksoy, who she described as "the first person who introduced me to the reality of Rojava" in September 2018.
 
Gubta said: "In September 2018, we both spoke at the memorial service for the tragically short-lived Mehmet Aksoy who first introduced me to the existence of Rojava, editor of kurdishquestion.com, film maker, campaigner and a fine human being, who was killed by an ISIS suicide mission while filming on the frontline in Raqqa in 2017. David spoke movingly of the worlds that Mehmet opened up for him. Speaking about premature loss feels so poignant now when David too has left us, long before his job on earth was done. The Kurdish movement has lost yet another important ally but we have all lost an intellectual guide who helped us make sense of our world." 
 
MA / Deniz Nazlım
 

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