Spain, 2012: Spanish communists and trade unionists, Gordillo is the well-bearded man on the left.

This is what radical politics look like: on August 10, 2012 the Sindicado Andaluz de Trabajadores raided a Spanish supermarket, taking shopping carts full of basic foodstuffs such as pasta, oil, &. and distributed it to the poor.

Headed by the avowed communist mayor José Manuel Sanchez Gordillo,  they acted within the pattern of consumer goods reappropriation well-established in countries most devastated and repressed by the iron hand of global finance. A spectacular example of effective direct action, this event is notable not only in terms of its material accomplishment (the subversion of consumer-capitalist power for the benefit of the proletariat), but also by virtue of its performative aspect: openly and forcefully taking what one needs to survive signifies the implementation of an anarchist paradigm which refuses to act within the established societal structure.

Athens, 2012: Greek anarchists with banners, flyers

Recent Documented Supermarket Raids:

  • Sept. 5th, 2008- Thessaloniki, food expropriated and distributed
  • June 14th, 2010- Thessaloniki, food expropriated, cash burned
  • Feb. 12th, 2012- Athens, raids and smashed storefronts in response to ban on immigrants in supermarket chain
  • Aug. 7, 2012 – Spain, Sindicado Andaluz de Trabajadores expropriated, distributed food

Anti-capitalist reappropriations have become increasingly common since 2008; a reading of what this trend means for the current geopolitical situation and the multifaceted struggle against late-capitalism takes us first to Greece. This country, currently dominated by unelected financiers and technocrats, was home to perhaps the best, or purest, instance of this type of action in the city of Thessaloniki in June, 2010. An anarchist cell calling itself the ‘Initiative Against Rising Prices’ similarly raided a supermarket and took necessary foods. However, they also destroyed security cameras, antitheft devices and, in a final coup de grâce, burned the wads of cash they took from the smashed cash registers. Not the first action carried out in Thessaloniki, this event was scantily-covered by mass media, although the group did release a communiqué amounting to something of a manifesto explaining the theory behind their actions.

It opens:

From the beginning we had decided that the goods of the appropriation would be distributed among the comrades who participated, not outside the super-market. With this choice of ours we want to make clear that this, and other practices aim not at promoting some of us as saviours of the society – rather, we want society itself to familiarise itself with such practices and to embrace them without waiting for the “revolutionary” philanthropist/ friends of the poor.

The first striking difference between these actions and those of their comrades in Spain lies in the choice to retain the goods only among the participants of the raid. Rather than being a radical charity redistribution, this is a highly-symbolic performance piece. The means by which this was carried out correlate with the intended ends of perpetual patterns of reappropriation; the spectator is thus given an example to follow, and the gears are put into motion. The intersection of performance art and radical action is the climactic burning of cash expropriated from the grocery store registers: a complete and unequivocal negation of the capitalist paradigm.

Thessaloniki, 2010: cash burned during supermarket raid

The burning of money is a symbolic action speaking for itself. These little pieces of paper that turned into ashes within seconds have managed, in even less seconds, to destroy lives, relationships, to transform the human and her desires by transforming life into indexes, digitalising feelings and experiences, simplifying the feelings of joy and misery down to the dipole I have/ I have no money.

In the society of the spectacle, every political act must necessarily be a performance. Taking into account the thousand-eyed aggregate of mass media necessitates ensuring that one’s actions aren’t undermined and written off as petty hooliganism or wrought with ulterior motives. Through a complete negation of capitalism’s terms, the Initiative Against Rising Prices demonstrated what economic discourse would look like outside of the aforementioned dipole. The viewer is simultaneously perplexed (media outlets proved incapable of conceiving of an action outside of the ‘Robin Hood’ catchphrase kitsch [see PS 2. in their manifesto]) and forced to consider the role of property in the current economy. The relationship between expropriation and the realization that property itself is theft finds its roots in Proudhon. Indeed, the role of property is best illustrated by means of practiced expropriation: the intellectual jump from legitimized theft and redistribution to the awareness that ownership  itself constitutes a form of theft is reasonable, swallowable. Paying for goods, on the other hand, legitimizes the property-owner’s inherent violence; the complacency turns absurd if said goods are utter necessities and if said payment is exorbitant.

Whereas patchwork reforms serve only to stifle revolutionary sentiment, this type of action fosters an active coordination of efforts, lines of thought, and approaches to the problem of capitalism. This, of course, is not to say that supermarket raids tied to food distribution are obsolete or counterproductive; the group sincerely “applauds similar actions by comrades who distribute the goods : as as we said earlier the aims are the same.”

A multiplicity of approaches to the intricate labyrinth of capitalist repression is perhaps the best and most clear way to safeguard some manner of efficacy. What must be recognized, that is, the “similar aims” (of syndicalists, anarchists, communists) spoken of by the group, is the aforementioned intrinsic, structural violence of property.

What makes the 2010 Thessaloniki raid unique, perhaps more effective by some paradigm, is the use of performance and cultural subversion. This becomes necessary in order to prevent a political ‘castration’ of the activity as is done when direct action is masqueraded as ‘Robin Hood’ camp. The antidote is this doubled two-pronged approach whereby the anarchists, acting as if the capitalist system were not in place, physically destroy the most visceral instruments of capital, and the raid presents itself both as a work of protest art and as a legitimate expropriation. The end result, the finished piece, is a sublime propaganda of the deed which can neither be effectively misconstrued by organs of the media nor corrosively co-opted by reformist or reactionary forces.

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