What Is Property?

What Is Property?


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

21 thoughts on “What Is Property?

  1. Capitalist PIGS and Communist PIGS work together…to crush Anarchists.
    It happened in Spain and again with the Kurdish.

  2. All property is of the commons and one day it will be returned.
    We just gotta be willing to crack a few eggs and mess up some stuff…amen to that

  3. Give up your property then. You won't. Calling it private or personal makes no difference, it's the exclusive right to use something. Marxists don't make any sense when it comes down to it.

  4. Scaring the normies into clinging onto authority for safety really drives the point home that by dressing up like ninjas, and destroying things is an ideology in and of itself, and is a poorly thought out one.

    If the point of ideology is to achieve an ends, and establish a worldview, as well as actions based off of said worldview, then mustn’t the ideology be persuasive, and shouldn’t it have good, effective praxis? If not, which this isn’t, and it hasn’t, then what use is it.

  5. Super great video. It shows with such ease that commodification and private property is just a tool to accumulate wealth by the rich; that it's not an inevitable consequence, and that it's actually harming the common people.
    It's super hard though to get people understand that breaking store windows is a form of protest. It's just inflicting damage on capitalists, not unlike a blockade (which is e.g. a legal form of protest where I live, afaik). People see property destruction as a form of violence, which is quite bizarre, because no single human is hurt by it. Legalize smashing store fronts!

  6. Breaking shit and stealing shit just makes you an oppressor yourself. Anarchists need to find a foothold in rationalism and goodwill to succeed. Look to Tolstoy.

  7. Wait why was an interview of Richard Wolff (a marxist economist) and Chris Hedges (a socialist) shown when the narrator said 'liberals'???

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