Private property–and capitalism, by extension–is intrinsicly violent and repressive and cannot be reformed or mitigated…When we smash a window, we aim to destroy the thin veneer of legitimacy that surrounds private property rights. At the same time, we exorcize that set of violent and destructive social relationships which has been imbued in almost everything around us. By “destroying” private property, we convert its limited exchange value into an expanded use value. A storefront window becomes a vent to let some fresh air into the oppressive atmosphere of a retail outlet (at least until the police decide to tear-gas a nearby road blockade)…Broken windows can be boarded up (with yet more waste of our forests) and eventually replaced, but the shattering of assumptions will hopefully persist for some time to come.
This is a quote from a communiqué by the ACME Collective, one of the groups in the so-called Black Bloc. As part of the protests of the Globalization Movements against WTO on November 30, 1999 in Seattle, the Black Bloc attacked a series of shops, companies and other capitalist targets, smashing windows and ’defacing’ facades.
The attacks by the Black Block has a double meaning: They are at the one hand real; real attacks on real capitalist businesses. On the another level they are a ’shattering of assumptions’; an exorcizing of ‘that set of violent and destructive social relationships which has been imbued in almost everything around us’. This shattering and exorcising of the capitalist spell is both real and symbolic, but the two levels are dependent on each other. The real action can only be justified because it has a symbolic meaning, and the symbolic meaning only has an effect when it is actualized by being performed in the real. The shattering and exorcising of meaning and the poetic re-claiming of functions are about recreating the world around us, reclaiming it. It is about creating another world, another society. A very real, new reality. In the Communiqué it is manifested in very simple, basic ways; i.e. ‘a newspaper box becomes (..) an object to improve one’s vantage point by standing on it’.
The important point here: The real action can only be justified because it has a symbolic meaning, and the symbolic meaning only has an effect when it is actualized by being performed in the real. The image has to be performed in the real.
This text is a re-edited version of a text from my phd-project ‘Aesthetics of Resistance’ and was presented as part of my contribution to the ‘Constitutions, Human Rights and Public Knowledge Workshop’ at Cape Town University, April 4-6 2016.
The full communiqué by the ACME Collective can be found at: