Volume 18, Issue 2, 2015
Special Project: Political Theory and Philosophy in a Time of Mass Incarceration, Part 2
The Return of Abstract Universalism
A Critique of David Graeber's Concept of Society and Communism
In this essay I critically examine David Graeber’s concept of “everyday communism.” Graeber claims that that all societies are ultimately based and founded upon what he calls the “communism of the senses.” This “two-level” version of social reality, as I intend to show in what follows from a Marxian standpoint, should be rejected, as it operates with a descriptive concept of society that posits as the center or “essence” of society its universal and ahistorical “human” base, on top of which hierarchical and economic relations are posited as “superstructures.” Graeber favors a theory that posits an ahistorical base underneath the historical. As a consequence, society disappears underneath an empty and abstract concept of the ethical. This image of society, I will argue with Marx and Engels, overlooks the categorical form of social relations, which cannot be reduced to an empty and abstract concept of sociality as “human” ethical relations. This is especially visible in the case of capitalist socialization.