Take It From the Top


Despite an excellent record with regard to publications and teaching, Professor David Graeber of the Yale University Anthropology Department was informed last month that his contract would not be renewed. According to Graeber, senior faculty, already on the defensive against the Graduate Employee and Student Organization labor union, made a scapegoat of the local anarchist.

Was it a surprise when you were fired? A little. No one had any questions about my scholarship or my teaching. So they complained about “service” and “collegiality” like last time—but now I’d done the service. They just fired me anyway.

What was the “last time”—and was anarchism an issue? I had a three-year review before anyone realized I was serious about all this anarchist stuff, before I was involved in street actions. For my sixth year review—normally a rubber stamp promotion—several of the senior faculty tried to kick me out on the basis of all sorts of nickel-and-dime stuff—tardiness, that sort of thing—then told me to either start doing more service work or I was in big trouble.

“Street actions?” Like what? Oh, I’ve been involved in everything from A16 to Quebec City, Genoa, and the World Economic Forum in New York. More recently, the RNC.

And what made you take to the streets? Look at the world! I’ve been an anarchist since I was 16. My father fought in Spain [in the civil war], my mom was in the labor musical Pins & Needles. I tried to get involved in radical politics in the ’80s and ’90s but the mainstream groups were extremely hierarchical, and the anarchists insufferable.

How so? I call it the “Bob Black” period of anarchism: everyone was a political sect of one, yelling and condemning each other. But then the movement I’d always wanted—one where people worked together with respect—finally materialized, and I had to be part of it.

How do you go from the “official reason” for your firing to your politics and GESO? About the only complaint last time was that I was “unreliable”. I thought, “How would they know? They never ask me to do anything.” Then it felt like they finally asked: “All right, we’re going to kick out a promising graduate student you’ve been working with—a union organizer—for obviously concocted reasons. Whose side are you on?”

Shouldn’t you have volunteered for some committees then, or complained when you were ignored? Well, it’s pretty unusual for academics to complain about not getting enough committee work!

You took the student’s side, but you’re suspicious of GESO; what do they say about your firing? Anarchists like me always tend to be suspicious of top down, mainstream unions. But when the department tried to fire Christina Moon, I had to choose sides. The union people are taking my case personally.

They see me as targeted for refusing to persecute them.

Yale is a top-down organization. Why enter academia in the first place? Well, you have to make a living somehow. They say universities are the court jesters of modern society. The ruling class knows that if they rely on toadies and yes-men, they’re going to be in trouble. You need someone to tell you unpleasant truths, but the public cannot take them seriously. So you get a silly dwarf, or someone who spouts pretentious jargon. Now it seems like even they don’t even care what’s actually going on in the world anymore.