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It is the dead of night, or perhaps a little later. Three individuals are preparing to depart from their house, where they live, cook, laugh, read, and sleep. Tonight, of course, they are not sleeping—wide awake, they gather a few prepared supplies, feeling the preliminary surge of adrenaline through their bodies. Masks, gloves, disposable clothing, hammers, and spray paint are all that is required. They depart on bicycles towards the city center. In the darkness, the only noise is six narrow bike tires whispering across the pavement. The traffic lights along the main street flash yellow and red, dim mannequins stare out from store windows, an occasional passerby walks home from the local bar. Our comrades smile with satisfaction at the nearly deserted metropolis, as the quiet possibility of night embraces each of them.
They hide their bikes between two houses on a side street and step out into the orange glare of the streetlights. The bank is a short walk away. Just before they enter the sight of the first security camera, they don their masks and quicken their pace. Ahead, bright fluorescents still illuminate one of the many faces of capital: its well-polished windows, the confident logo, the pretense of welcome security. One of the masked individuals opens her backpack and pulls out two hammers, handing one to her friend. They approach the bank with hearts racing, and with a quiet, competent rage, smash each window and ATM screen. The glass breaks easily. As the alarm rings, the remaining individual paints in bold letters on the ruined façade: “THIS IS SOCIAL WAR.”
The group absconds into the night. The sounds of six bike tires mingle with our comrades’ empowered murmurs.
The next morning the police puzzle over the useless security tapes and print-less hammers left at the scene. An insurance company pays for the replacement of the windows, while the bank manager spends a few exasperated minutes over increased premiums.
In two days, the bank has reopened, and people continue to deposit and withdraw money from its vaults.
A War of Position
Where do we stand? Obviously opposed to the social order. Obviously hating our jobs. Obviously disgusted by class relations. Decrying the empty individualistic greed of consumerism, the despicable manifestations of authority in our daily lives, the insidious oppressions socialized into our behavior. We know all of the isms.
So some of us avoid shopping. Some drop out, live collectively, eat trash, steal, avoid work. We travel, or wear dirty black clothes, or strike out against the behemoth in the ways we know how. Our current positions are infoshops, demonstrations, convergences, affinity groups, reading groups, discussion groups.
All of this occurs with the usual cast of friends, acquaintances, and allies. Many have come to terms with the anarchist subculture—we can travel across the country and see the same familiar faces at each site of conflict. For estranged enemies of capitalism, this is a welcome comfort. Our project has been to break with our own hierarchical socializations, and so we find ourselves adrift, gravitating towards the nearest sign of hope, to those few and far between like-minded individuals among whom we can feel a little less alienated.
The individual: the core unit of capitalism. We searched for one another as individuals, as ourselves, estranged by modernity—embodying our personal ideas, thoughts, appearances, histories… our identity. And it follows that we encountered one another as individuals, and assumed that you were not as potent an ally if you didn’t look, speak, or act like us. The logic of individuality determined that we could only meet on the basis of our collective alienation. Therein contained was the usual judgment, gossip, mistrust, and social maneuvering we had hoped to escape.
We thought we could free ourselves first, gather outside of the dreadful conditions we knew, and return to attack. We forgot that without context we are powerless. Our context, our position, has become the subculture. In practice: five hundred anarchists converge on a city for a confrontational action—property is destroyed, resistance demonstrated, police outsmarted or repression meted out…and the metropolis continues as if the interlude was planned all along, or as if the interlude was part of the metropolis. With the subculture as our only position we find ourselves scrambling for footing.
The blind subservients of the mainstream media stumbled upon a truth when they called us the “traveling anarchist circus.” Not because we are strange or introduce mayhem, but because we set up camp, put on a show, and move on—leaving the landscape essentially unchanged. Perhaps even worse, our more stable manifestations can operate as local curiosity shops and private clubs. A yuppie couple walks by a storefront covered in anarchist posters: “Oh honey, how interesting, an infoshop!” Inside, a group of mostly white youth is watching Breaking the Spell. More than likely the infoshop will disappear within a few years, like any other presence that is unessential to the local dynamics. The anarchist localities in the US that continue to exist do so for a reason: relevance beyond the local subculture, or being birthed from one that has transcended its boundaries as such.
It is our task, then, to define a position that exists outside of individuality and outside of the non-location of subculture. We must place ourselves—simultaneously digging-in and preparing for our next offensive.