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On Debt: An Anti-capitalist Reading Group

eliumn's picture

A reading group around issues of debt, starting with David Graeber's recent book, Debt: The First 5000 Years.  Here's a blurb about the book:

Before there was money, there was debt

Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems—to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it.

Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.

Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like “guilt,” “sin,” and “redemption”) derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong. We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history—as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.

We'll read and discuss this text, while bringing in our own experiences with debt of all kinds, from student loans to credit cards.  Based on the desires of those who participate in the group, we can potentially preface and/or follow-up this reading with other readings on related topics (e.g., on current movements against student debt, such as OccupyStudentDebt).  We'll  facilitate discussions with an eye towards raising questions about practical, action-focused organizing around debt, particularly in relation to movements for the abolition of capitalism, hetero-patriarchy, and white supremacy.

Facilitator email(s): 
[email protected]
[email protected]


Minnehaha Free Space
3458 Minnehaha Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN
United States
Facilitator's experience: 
We have each facilitated several EXCO reading groups before, including ones on anarchism, marxism, feminism, and university struggles.
Facilitator phone number(s): 
Class minimum size: 
Class maximum size: 
Class times: 
Mon, 03/05/2012 - 17:00 - 19:00
Mon, 03/12/2012 - 17:00 - 19:00
Mon, 03/19/2012 - 17:00 - 19:00
Mon, 03/26/2012 - 17:00 - 19:00
Mon, 04/02/2012 - 17:00 - 19:00
Mon, 04/09/2012 - 17:00 - 19:00
Mon, 04/16/2012 - 17:00 - 19:00
Mon, 04/23/2012 - 17:00 - 19:00
Mon, 04/30/2012 - 17:00 - 19:00
Additional class time information: 
Actual class time is TBD by all of the participants through a Doodle poll
Location Accessibility: 
Minnehaha Free Space
3458 Minnehaha Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN
United States
44° 56' 23.8236" N, 93° 13' 41.3508" W
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