The era of predatory bureaucratization – An interview with David Graeber

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Arthur De Grave
Ouishare magazine
21 January 2016

This interview was originally published in Socialter n°14.

Back in 2011, you were among the initiators of the Occupy movement. Several similar social movements have happened ever since, but it seems none of them managed to stay alive long enough to reach their objective. Why such failures?

David Graeber. I don’t think social movements failed. I have a theory about that: it’s called the “3.5 years historical lag”. After the financial crisis hit, back in 2008, security forces all around the world started gearing up for the inevitable protest movements. Yet, after a year or two, it felt like nothing was going to happen after all. And suddenly, in 2011 – though nothing particular had happened that year — it started. Like in 1848 or in 1968, the social movements are not about seizing power right away: it’s about changing the way we think about politics. And at this level, I think there has been a profound change. Many expected Occupy to take a formal political form. True, it did not happen, but look at where we are 3.5 years later: in most countries where substantial popular movements happened, left parties are now switching to embrace these movements’ sensibilities (Greece, Spain, United States, etc.). Maybe it will take another 3.5 years for them to have an actual impact on policy making, but it seems to me like the natural path of things.

You see, we live in a society of instant gratification: we expect that we are going to click and that something will happen. That’s not the way social movements work. Change does not happen overnight. It took a generation for the abolitionist or the feminist movement to reach their objective, and both managed to remove institutions that had been around for centuries!

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