“Could it have gone any other way?” An Interview with Matt Christman

Doug Lain and Matt Christman

May 1, 2022

This interview originally aired as a Sublation Media podcast entitled “Podcasting After Bernie,” In it, Matt Christman reflects upon his own realization that “the political project [I] thought [I was] part of is not actually happening.” We publish an edited transcript of the interview as an especially thoughtful engagement with the present political moment.

Doug Lain: Matt Christman is one of the hosts of Chapo Trap House and the man behind the CushVlog. He is currently running a reading group on his vlog on David Graeber and David Wengrow's 2021 book, The Dawn of Everything, a book that revises our understanding of the birth of civilization. Just to start with, why are you reading the David Graeber book?

Matt Christman: I've found myself recently reflecting more and more on foundational questions of human social order — how it came to be and how a narrative of it makes sense for me. This book coming out right now seemed like a good opportunity for me to refine my thoughts on that. We're still pretty early on in the book. We haven't really gotten to the innovative anarchist parts yet.

DL: Well, back in the 1990s, I was an anarchist living in the Pacific Northwest. One of the big trends in anarchism then was the primitivist turn, the turn to the post-left. From what I know about the Graeber book it seems that he might be overcoming the urge to become a primitivist by saying that it's possible to have agricultural production and maybe even industrial production without falling into a hierarchical, oppressive social order.

MC: Yeah, that seems to be the thesis, which is a challenge to Marxism. We'll see how he develops it. So far, he has argued that different modes of production do not necessitate certain hierarchical social relationships.

DL: That may be a challenge to Marxism, but it sounds more like a challenge to primitivism. Because the primitivists would say, “no, we need to abandon agriculture, get back into the wild, and abandon civilization.” They are anti-civilization. Primitivists in the 90s would run off into the forest and generally starve to death. So, it's nice him to write to save his fellow anarchists from that fate. But how do you see it as a challenge to Marxism? After all, Marxism is saying, we can have industrial society, we can have modernity without being hierarchical and oppressive and exploitative.

MC: But a part from Marxism, too, is the assertion that material relationships structure our social relationships. The cheif most of those is the mode of production.

DL: So he's saying that the mode of production changed, but the social changes don't start then. They start with some sort of change in ideology.

MC: I haven't gotten there yet. We'll see what he says.