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← What Is Property?

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Showing Revision 1 created 11/05/2019 by submedia.

  1. Anarchists have a well-earned reputation when
    it comes to property.
  2. “Oh they’re smashing the Starbucks!”
  3. “Oh my Go-”
  4. “Gangster.”
  5. “Ohhhhhhhhhh!”
  6. Acts of targeted vandalism and sabotage are
    often used by liberals, politicians and corporate
  7. media outfits to paint a picture of anarchism
    as nothing more than mindless hooliganism.
  8. But these small-scale acts of property destruction
    represent more than just surface-level outbursts
  9. of misdirected rage, or a ritualistic rivalry
    with Starbucks windows.
  10. They gesture towards a broader assault on
    the philosophical and legal underpinnings
  11. of the state and capitalism itself.
  12. Early anarchist forebearer Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
    summed up this tension more than 175 years
  13. ago, when he penned the phrase ‘property
    is theft’.
  14. All power structures are rooted in ideology.
  15. A shared belief in this ideology is what keeps
    the structures of power in place.
  16. Under capitalism, the edifice of social control
    is built on the collective illusion of private
  17. property, and the sanctity of the so-called
    ‘free market’.
  18. Any moves taken to challenge this logic will
    therefore provoke pushback from the system’s
  19. indoctrinated cheerleaders, and will certainly
    catch the attention of the repressive and
  20. recuperative functions of the state.
  21. But as the saying goes... you can’t make
    an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
  22. And you definitely can’t overthrow capitalism
    without messing with people’s stuff.
  23. So.... what is property, anyway?
  24. And what do anarchists have against it?
  25. Property is a legal concept, used as a means
    of delineating ownership and control.
  26. It’s rules are so ingrained into the fabric
    of our daily lives that it’s easy to forget
  27. that they are fluid, changeable, and that
    they have assumed many different forms throughout
  28. human history.
  29. From the stateless Anishinaabe peoples of
    the Three Fires Confederacy, to the vast state-managed
  30. enterprises of the Soviet Union, differences
    in baseline conceptions of property have fundamentally
  31. shaped the specific character of social relationships,
    the development of culture and the operation
  32. of power and authority in their respective
    societies.
  33. In most parts of the world today, national
    and cultural distinctions exist mainly as
  34. localized variations of a single, global capitalist
    economy.
  35. The dominant ideology of this empire is a
    consumer-fuelled individualism – a worldview
  36. that sees a corporate-dominated system of
    private property as synonymous with freedom
  37. of choice... or even liberty itself.
  38. Of course, things haven’t always been this
    way.
  39. Capitalism first emerged in Europe, where
    the growing wealth and power of rich landowners,
  40. merchants and financiers gradually began to
    unravel and displace the existing system of
  41. feudal social relations.
  42. Before this, much of the
    lands and natural resources needed for human
  43. survival were considered a commons, meaning
    that they weren’t actually owned by anyone.
  44. Even in the Christian agrarian societies where capitalism first took root, it
    was widely understood that the earth and the
  45. entire bounty of nature belonged to God, and
    were merely administered by his representatives
  46. on earth, the Church and the monarchy.
  47. The shift to capitalism was made possible
    through large scale commodification.
  48. This process, also known by Marxists as primitive
    accumulation, essentially amounts to state-sanctioned
  49. theft.
  50. In a cruel parlour trick, things without monetary
    value are legally transformed into commodities
  51. that can be owned and traded.
  52. Yellowknives Dene anti-colonial theorist,
    Glen Coulthard describes it as “the violent
  53. transformation of non-capitalist forms of
    life into capitalist ones.”
  54. The great enclosure began in earnest at the
    end of the 15th century, as acre upon acre
  55. of the British Commons was broken up and commodified
    into individual parcels of land.
  56. This was, incidentally, around the same time
    that Spanish and Portuguese merchants began
  57. their invasion and pillage of the new world.
  58. As part of their genocidal colonization of
    the so-called Americas, European settlers
  59. imposed this new system of private land ownership
    onto Indigenous nations with a very different
  60. conception of property – one in which people
    belonged to the land, not the other way around.
  61. The same colonial process of commodification
    was then applied to fellow human beings.
  62. Over the following centuries, European slave
    traders kidnapped millions of Africans, reduced
  63. them to the legal status of chattel property
    and sold them to the owners of massive agricultural
  64. plantations.
  65. The massive volume of wealth extracted from
    this stolen land and labour cemented the power
  66. of the emergent capitalist class, and was
    used as a springboard for subsequent wars
  67. of conquest.
  68. And with these new waves of Euro-American
    expansion came the enclosure of new lands,
  69. the creation of new markets, and the spread
    of capitalist social relations all across
  70. the globe.
  71. Conceptions of property and ownership have
    evolved over the years.
  72. In its hardwired pursuit of constant growth,
    capitalism has been forced to constantly adapt,
  73. contort and reinvent itself.
  74. Technological advances have revolutionized
    the manufacture and transportation of commodities,
  75. while property relations have become muddied
    through the rise of publicly owned corporations,
  76. investment vehicles and financial debt
    instruments.
  77. And the logic of the commodity form has continued
    to colonize new frontiers, from intellectual
  78. property, to genetic blueprints, to information
    itself.
  79. This has resulted in a world where nearly
    everything imaginable has been transformed
  80. into property, and its ownership increasingly
    concentrated in the hands of a shrinking pool
  81. of unimaginably wealthy individuals.
  82. This hoarding of resources by a small minority
    finds its natural reflection in the explosive
  83. growth of abject poverty among the world’s
    majority.
  84. In the Global South, oil and mining companies
    hire paramilitary death squads to displace
  85. entire villages, swelling the populations
    of favelas, shantytowns and mega-slums well
  86. beyond their natural limits.
  87. Meanwhile, in the so-called ‘developed world’,
    millions of people are homeless, while ten
  88. times that number of homes sit vacant, silently
    accruing value for real estate speculators
  89. and investment trusts owned by the managers
    of public sector pension funds.
  90. These levels of entrenched inequality are
    backed up by the massive application of state
  91. violence, and the internalized sense of collective
    helplessness that this violence has produced.
  92. But this fatalism has limits, and many see
    the regime of property for what it is – a
  93. social war – and act accordingly.
  94. Around the world, anarchists have been at
    the forefront of urban squatting movements,
  95. breaking into empty buildings and transforming
    them into social centres and collective housing
  96. projects.
  97. In more rural areas, communities of displaced
    peasants have occupied private or state-owned
  98. lands and defended one another against the
    threat of eviction, while Indigenous groups
  99. have taken up arms, halted development projects,
    and forced colonizers off their territory.
  100. Anarchists have honed their
    forgery skills, creating counterfeit government
  101. IDs, state currency and travellers cheques
    for armed resistance movements around the
  102. world.
  103. While other anarchists, like the Greek comrades
    of Revolutionary Struggle, have carried out
  104. armed expropriations, robbing banks to fund
    their attacks on the state.
  105. Crews of anarchists have bloc’ed up and
    swarmed grocery stores, liberating enough
  106. food to feed their entire block, while others
    have broken into fenced off lots to build
  107. community gardens and autonomous parks.
  108. The struggle for anarchism is above all a
    struggle to replace the alienated and exploitative
  109. social relations of capitalism with new relationships
    based in solidarity and mutual aid.
  110. This means de-commodifying our lives, and
    all of the things that we need to live well.
  111. It means seizing back the commons... and everything
    that they’ve stolen from us.