In this piece by Parris Komyune, of the blog Lenin was a Cheeseboard, the morality of expropriation (i.e. nicking stuff, you probably earned it anyway) is explored, and the excuses against it are confronted with the realities created by Capitalism.
Over the last decade, Europe has seen a steady increase in the direct action approach to shopping; supermarket raids where everything is free. Since as early as 1974, anarchists and autonomists have raided supermarkets essentials before redistributing them to local communities. The police stood aside.The managers quaked. The pensioners on the outside revelled. When the mayor of a small town in Andalucía, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, led farm labourers into a supermarket to expropriate their stock of basic necessities he was quoted as saying:
The crisis has a face and a name. There are many families who can’t afford to eat.
Refusing to pay for commerce is, to many, an abhorrent act of anti-social thievery, taking from society without the purpose of giving anything in return. To sink the capital worth of a commodity through expropriation is damaging for the economy, morally repugnant and a tactic of the type of people the bourgeoisie pay to sit on their arses all day, smoking tabs and drinking special brew on state-handouts.
At least, that’s how it feels. How many conversations have we, the expropriators, had with close family about the violence of vandalism, the rights of private property and the superior nature of those who work vs. those who won’t? The question really should be obvious; if we produce the product, why shouldn’t we have the rights to its consumption?
If we, the proletariat and the precariat, low-paid factory workers, current and former students, unqualified teachers, disappointed waiting staff and underwhelmed call centre operators have to sell our time and labour at a loss while those we work for profit, then why shouldn’t we take back what is ours? Why shouldn’t we reclaim the products of our labour for ourselves? We want to get fat on the food that we grow, to sleep long hours in the houses that we make, to let the children that we teach learn the way that benefits them most, not through fly-tipping quotes and statistics into empty brains but through problem-posing and critically engaging them with the world that they’ve been taught not to experience. We want to get old without worrying about getting up before dawn when we’re 75!
But how can we do this?
Expropriation, or even the expropriation of expropriation we might say, has been a common and legitimate tactic throughout history. During the formative years after the 1917 Revolution, when Nestor Makhno fought back against the Austro-Hungarian Whites and the Bolshevik Reds to secure autonomy for anarcho-communist Ukrainian peasants, expropriation was a key weapon for the morale and survival of the communities protected and supported by the Makhnovists. The Insurrectionary Army was responsible for the robbing of banks and sugar factories, exchanging the expropriated goods for horses and weapons, as well as redistributing the wealth among the peasantry.
In Italy, Greece and Spain (all countries deeply affected by the neoliberal austerity regime) expropriations of supermarkets became common practice. The autonomists called it Autoreduction, ‘the act by which consumers, in the area of consumption, and workers, in the area of production, take it upon themselves to reduce, at a collectively determined level, the price of public services, housing, electricity; or in the factory, the rate of Productivity.’
In 2004, 40 raids took place in Italy. In Spain, when the residents of Marinalada took to the aisles, the police looked on. The fundamental need for basic necessities in these countries leads to a civil disobedience that makes an immediate difference and effective change whilst questioning the legitimacy of role of Capitalism in the worker’s life (Pro tip: there is none).
As much as we repeat the facts, that close to a million people are dependent on food banks in the UK;that economic growth comes from a manipulation of figures surrounding the irresponsible buy-to-let bubble; and through the brutality of 0 hour contracts and workfare (forced labour) which officially knock down unemployment rates but doing nothing for the pockets of the worker. Not to mention the intentional sanctions on benefits claimants, the bedroom tax, the ring-fencing by councils of education funding, the cuts to women’s/rape crisis shelters (who experience an increase of cases in times of austerity), the raising of tuition fees, the increased repression of any protest and the ‘lawful’ shooting of unarmed men by our supposed protectors. What else is missing? How much more do we have witness before we see clearer?
We have been expropriated from for so long now that the psychological hardship of free slavery has fashioned itself into a trend of hating those who feed and clothe us. The bourgeois blame-model of shitting on the working class, of stamping out dissent and protecting private property grows with antipathy towards those who should have full control over the modes of production. There must be an exegesis of this theft. Capitalist expropriation restricts our movement and our ability to function socially, it limits our energy and the will to resist, it traps us in a state of perpetual production and fools us into believing in the lies of artificial scarcity.
But we say this:
They have no ground to stand on. If we are the producers of the commodity market then we have the right to everything we produce and the right to distribute as we wish. And even if scarcity wasn’t a vile ploy to increase conflict and individualism amongst the working class, we should know that by our hands we survive. We made it and we’ll damn well take it, by force or not.
Expropriation of private property is a libratory act.
‘“But stealing is wrong” he asserted with vehemence, his resolve reinforced by some faux-religious resonance of morality (despite his subscription to atheism), his voice inflected with dismay, disappointment, judgement, even a mote of disdain, for my ostensible nihilism. I was no longer a brother: I was a lawless vandal, a rioter, an anarchist. Despite elaborating that my rationale for shoplifting, and indeed that my broader moral and political creed, was rooted in the cessation of institutionalized suffering, in recognition of the terror of a system which squanders millions upon millions of tons of food a year whilst people in their hundreds of millions starve, I was no longer a moral agent; I was lost, beyond salvation, for I had impugned the sanctity of the law and the logic of capital. By those who love me, I was branded with the same stigma of radicalism; the same caricature of insurgency as is strewn across the pages of the Daily Mail. My home was subjugated by the self-same ideological monopoly of every supermarket. My very own family policed me.’
– Luke Dukinfield