To Rob a Thief

ToCatchAThief

We begin with the recognition that every human being has the right to a lifetime of food, clothing, housing, education, healthcare, safety, respect, free speech, and the practice of any chosen faith or no faith.  In short, every person must be free from every form of systemic oppression.

Having recognized the right of every human being to both collective and individual freedom, next we argue that all property is stolen property.  The proposition that all property is stolen deals mainly with the wealth of the capitalist ruling class (the bourgeoisie) for they have stolen the most.  Yet when we argue that all property– both private and public– is stolen, we mean any claim of exclusive ownership by one or by the few, rather than by the many and by all.  Everything belongs to everyone.

It is a well-known maxim that we are born into this world with nothing and leave it the same way: “You can’t take it with you.”  All we have while we are alive is life itself.  Without life, we have nothing.  With life, we have all that we are given, or earn, or take, or steal.  Yet who is to say what is humanely mine, ours, yours or theirs?  The ownership of all goods begins with theft.  Someone with their fists, or a club, or a knife, or a gun once claimed that a certain material necessity of life belonged only to them.  Thus the inequitable distribution of all goods began, and with this inequity was the beginning of want and poverty– and war.

Nothing can be defined as ours unless a thieving government or some other source of power, such as a corporation, “legitimizes” our claim to ownership: yet their ability to legitimize and define ownership has been gained through inhumane, and therefore illegitimate, force.  Because a few have more, the many have less.  Then the few create for themselves the power to define the moral and legal basis of stolen goods.  If the many protest, the few will use the same force by which they gained this stolen property in the first place to inflict additional violence on the people.  Unjust material advantage is the source of all war.

As stated by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: “Property is robbery!”

If we go back to the basic human right to freedom, stated at the beginning, and keep going back to this recognition that all people have the right to live freely, then again and again we must also recognize that everything in the world belongs to everyone in it.  We cannot respect human rights while at the same time respecting the sanctity of property.  Property is theft.  When we love humanity, we have no regard for claims to property and the unjust laws which supposedly legitimize these claims.  The only thing preventing us from liberating this inhumanely gained property for the use of all people is the threat of violence: the prison and the gun.

We must abolish all prisons.

The only people who might possibly belong in prisons are the people who ordered these prisons to be built.  Yet even they must be rehabilitated.  Every criminal is also the victim of either social inequity or individual illness.  No child is born to be a murderer; most often they become a murderer, or rapist, or thief on account of the capitalist system, which was borne out of the murder, rape and theft of Africa and the rest of the world.  The man who orders the construction of a prison is imprisoned by the capitalist mentality of control, oppression and violence.  But even he can be rehabilitated.

We must abolish all guns and all war.

As Mao Tse-tung famously said: “We are advocates of the abolition of war; we do not want war; but war can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.”

We must abolish all property.

This proposition may sound foolishly hypocritical if i were to cry out “Thief!  Thief!”  when someone broke into “my” apartment and took “my” coveted collection of John Coltrane albums.  Suddenly “my” own possessions would be sacred– to me at any rate– and the proposition that we should liberate all property would be shown as inconsistent and false.  After all, i may object to someone liberating “my” John Coltrane albums for themselves.

Yet even with “my” Coltrane collection, the proposition is still true: all property is theft.  If you steal these things from me for your own use– perhaps to sell, or even to enjoy on your own– then this is a capitalist theft.  You are a thief.  You have committed an unjust act of oppression.  However, if you steal these things from me for the use of all humanity, then you are a revolutionary whose act is a just expression of freedom.

By stealing any item for the use of humanity, you have restored the material balance of the world.  After all, the manufacturer of these items no doubt stole the resources and labor for their production, and the vendor (Amazon?) no doubt stole from me by making a handsome profit off the sale of these items.  All “my possessions” represent a long line of theft.  If they were to be stolen, and then given back to the world, their true and humane use would be restored.

In order to catch the thief, we must move to rob the thief.

When we steal anything for the use of everyone, this is revolutionary theft.

Reactionary theft is when we steal anything for our own exclusive use, or the use of the few.  This is the source of inequity and therefore all social ills.  Property is the source of all poverty.  Every human being has the right to everything which will sustain a healthy life.  The oppressed masses of the world lack the materials to live as they deserve, for they have been robbed over and over until they are left with next to nothing, while the wealthy few possess nearly all.

We must respect and love the people, and disrespect and hate property– not hate the physical things which are defined as “property” but the definition itself.  We must reject and destroy the concept of “property.”  The world will rejoice in its enjoyment of all things, if we will only liberate these things from the capitalist thieves and their murderous war machine.

We must encourage the mindset of revolutionary theft and urge everyone to spit on the concept of property.  When we shop at Safeway, and we look at all the food on the shelves, we should be thinking about anyone who is hungry and how we could grab these items for redistribution among the people with empty stomachs.  When we see a nice car we should think of the person with no car and how we might steal the car so that they will be able to use it too.  In our workplaces where we go to “earn a living,” we must look around at all the things in the offices or factories or fields and recognize that all these things have been stolen– from us.  Living doesn’t need to be earned– only lived.

The people should keep these things in mind– keep an eye on what we would like to steal, and for whom.  Ultimately, these things belong to everyone.  The car can be left in the parking lot or by the side of the road for the next person who needs to drive someplace.  But this car belongs to nobody, because everything is for everyone.  In Safeway, we might think of the people in areas of the world we were previously unaware of, and how the food might be sent to them.  We might look at an office building, or a factory or a field of crops, and see that its best use is no use at all, and that it ought to be burned to the ground for trees and flowers to grow there instead.

We won’t steal these things at the moment, unless we’re so hungry that we can’t go another day without something to eat.  A starving person has the right to steal any food to fill their stomach, and the police officer, judge and jailer are the people we should stop.  Yet most of us, for now, will simply look around at all the things that belong to us, thinking and planning for the day when we can take them without being shot or incarcerated.

When capitalism collapses, as it must, there will be chaos.  Out of this chaos reactionary forces will attempt to grab all the material goods which led to capitalist rule in the first place.  They must be stopped.  And the masses of people must be in the mindset that all the planet belongs to us– and to the animals, and (if you like) to the gods and goddesses and spirits of the sky, water, plants, and soil.  Everything in the universe exists for the enjoyment and use of every living thing.  When capitalism collapses, out of chaos a new harmony will be born, and all things, animate and inanimate, will exist only to exist as they truly are, which is the meaning of freedom.

To exist only to exist, fully and truly, is freedom.

To Rob a Thief

European imperialist capitalism, Bill Cosby, Reagan, and reparations

Ebony

On November 15, 1984 Angela Davis addressed the conference on “Women and the Struggle Against Racism” sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (an address which was later published in her book Women, Culture and Politics).  Angela Davis’s presentation took place approximately two months after the debut of The Cosby Show on NBC.

Angela Davis described that era as follows:

“We are living in an era of profound global crisis for monopoly capitalism, a time of rising risks of nuclear omnicide, a time of threatened U.S. invasions of Central America, and a period in which the threat of fascism presents unprecedented dangers.”

On October 15, 1985, as the second season of The Cosby Show was airing on NBC, Angela Davis addressed Florida State University.  This presentation would be published in 1987 under the title “Violence Against Women and the Ongoing Challenge to Racism” (and was also included in Women, Culture and Politics).

Angela Davis said:

“We cannot grasp the true nature of sexual assault without situating it within its larger sociopolitical context.  If we wish to comprehend the nature of sexual violence as it is experienced by women as individuals, we must be cognizant of its social mediations.  These include the imperialist violence imposed on the people of Nicaragua, the violence of South African apartheid, and the racist-inspired violence inflicted on Afro-Americans and other racially oppressed people here in the United States.”

Angela Davis continues:

“Rape bears a direct relationship to all of the existing power structures in a given society.  This relationship is not a simple, mechanical one, but rather involves complex structures reflecting the interconnectedness of the race, gender, and class oppression that characterize the society.  If we do not comprehend the nature of sexual violence as it is mediated by racial, class, and governmental violence and power, we cannot hope to develop strategies that will allow us eventually to purge our society of oppressive misogynist violence.”

Now let’s go back twenty years before 1985, to 1965, when I, Spy debuted on NBC with Bill Cosby as one of the stars.  The show would run until 1968, which was the year Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) addressed A & T University in Greensboro, North Carolina and referred to this popular television program thus:

“… on every television show where they got black people now, he’s a cop. … [on] I, Spy, he’s an international cop.  What they’re doing to us is they’re making us identify with a black man who fights for law and order– their law, and their order.”

Let’s go back another decade, starting in 1954 (and ending in 1962).  General Electric (which had owned NBC until 1930 and would acquire the network again in 1986) sponsored a program imaginatively titled “General Electric Theater.”  Its host was Ronald Reagan.  General Electric is responsible for the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 2011, and as of 2000 was the fourth largest polluter in the United States.  GE is the 18th largest arms producer in the world.  So GE perfectly exemplifies the individual corporate model within the military-industrial complex– or capitalism.

These are the connections we need to make in order to bring the proper context to the controversy surrounding the recent issue of Ebony magazine and the images of broken glass and the broken Cosby family on its cover.  To be clear, as a white trans woman who is writing primarily to educate other white people, the following analysis does not attempt to correct, control or even address the pain and anger of Black people regarding both the rape charges against Bill Cosby and the controversial cover of Ebony magazine.  As members of the oppressive class, who benefit from the capitalist oppression of Africans (Black people), whites have nothing to say to Africans about how they should feel about Bill Cosby– or any other subject.

By making these historical connections, my hope is that white people will look beyond the usual condemnations of Bill Cosby and redirect our attention toward our own complicity in a system of imperialist oppression.  If we only view people and events in isolation, they will just become extensions of our individual, subjective feelings about right and wrong.  Our ideals simply will be confirmed by our focus on each isolated topic of conversation, and we will fail to see the larger context of these actions.  We must objectively look at how the behaviors of individuals and institutions connect to each other and to the reigning economic system, which is capitalism.

It is understandable that so many Black people would be protective of a popular cultural hero like Bill Cosby, even those who condemn his alleged acts of rape.  European imperialist capitalism, through its invasion of Africa and Africans, has stolen the lives, resources, and self-determination of the African people wherever they have been forcibly dispersed throughout the world.  This genocidal exploitation of Africa has severely damaged the power of Black people to create culture and to have control over any of their creations– including their lives.

In this context, it is easy to understand Bill Cosby’s status as one of the most celebrated entertainers in the history of this settler colony (the United States).  The ongoing colonization of Africans by the European capitalist system has been an attack on Africans’ power to create their own entertainment on their own media reflecting their own cultural and national identity.  For any people trapped within the settler colony of the United States, a series like The Cosby Show would naturally become a source of great pride and a symbol of perseverance, survival and success against all odds.

The rise of GE, NBC, Reagan and Bill Cosby are all part of the same historical process within the system of European imperialist capitalism, just as patriarchal violence against women (particularly African women, and women of all nations oppressed by Europe) is connected to these phenomena.  We can demonstrate how Reagan rose to power by becoming what Gore Vidal called “the corporate voice for General Electric’s conservative viewpoints.”  As Vidal wrote in The New York Review of Books (September 29, 1983), prior to Reagan’s gig as host of “General Electric Theater,” sponsored by General Electric’s Department of Public Relations, the future President

“went to work vetting (or, as it was called then, ‘clearing’) people in the movies who might be tainted with communism.  This was done through the Motion Picture Industry Council.  The witch hunt was on, and many careers were duly ruined.  Ronnie believed that no commie should be allowed to work in the movies and that anyone who did not cooperate with his council or the House Committee on Un-American Activities (in other words, refused to allow the committee to ask impertinent questions about political beliefs) should walk the plank.”

By the time I, Spy was in its last seasons, and Stokely Carmichael was calling for Black Power, “Ronnie” had become Governor Reagan of California.  The Vietnam War was raging.  COINTELPRO was about to be unleashed on the Black Panther Party.  The CIA was secretly backing coups against African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.  These same material conditions which created patriarchy and racism, and the structural oppression of all Africans (and the triple oppression of Black women based on race, gender and class), also created the environment in which a young Bill Cosby rose to fame.  The attitudes and physical acts of misogynist violence against women were connected then, as now, to the aggression and exploitation of a capitalist system rooted in material inequality.

Africans (Black people) without power were subjected then, as now, to the genocidal violence of European imperialist capitalism.  Bill Cosby was shaped by these material conditions, as were the women who became his victims.  The same system which denies African genderfluid people, women and men (like Cosby) economic, political and social power also limits the economic, political and social power of women of all races.  As Kwame Ture pointed out in his speech, the capitalist system rewarded Bill Cosby for playing a role that promoted the interests of imperialism.  It was in this context that Cosby raped women who were seeking advice about their careers within a system of racism, sexism and capitalist exploitation.  In other words, the women who were raped by Cosby did not own GE, were not governors, and were far less likely to be given well-paying roles in television and the movies.  Meanwhile, Governor Reagan was working to get Angela Davis fired from her position at UCLA, and would soon attempt to execute her for a crime she did not commit– because she was a communist who fought against white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism (all part of the same system: European imperialism).

Moving forward again to the 1980s, we find President Ronald Reagan waging illegal wars on behalf of capitalist white power– and stepping up the war against Black people which he had waged against the Black Panther Party (and Angela Davis) in the 1960s and 1970s.  At a time when crime was down, and the drug “epidemic” was mainly just an idea, Reagan waged a war on drugs (like “law and order,” code for “war on Black people”).  The policies of white power (supported by Republicans and Democrats) devastated the African people trapped in the colony of the United States.  Poverty, crime, imprisonment, and all forms of colonial violence increased as Reagan’s policies attacked African people.  Out of these material conditions, The Cosby Show, a sitcom about an upper middle-class Black family, became one of the most popular programs in the history of television.  The connected parts of the system– GE, NBC, Bill Cosby, Ronald Reagan– were still working to expand the power of European imperialist capitalism, in the 1980s, as the system had in the 1960s, 1950s, and ever since the attack on Africa more than five centuries ago.

The controversial cover of Ebony represents the lack of Black Power.  It shows the contradiction within Bill Cosby’s rise and fall: Cosby was a beloved entertainer who often conformed to the capitalist expectations of a system which exploited his talents in order to increase the wealth of the white ruling class, as it does with all Black people; at the same time, Cosby became a hated rapist by conforming to the capitalist expectations of a system which enhances its power through the violent oppression of all Africans and women of other races.  This contradiction demonstrates again how European imperialist capitalism has gained its power through its attack on Africans and all oppressed peoples of the world.  Without the material imbalance which gave rise to the capitalist system, the conditions would not have existed for these violent acts of oppression to occur.

Simply calling Bill Cosby a disgusting man and an awful monster will not address the systemic foundation of his violence against women.  White people must see the material basis for these historical acts and make the connections which the capitalist system attempts to isolate.  Capitalism only wants “good guys” and “bad guys” in history.  The system will try to isolate Bill Cosby as a bad guy– or Ebony magazine as a bad guy.  Capitalism wants us to argue about individual people and isolated events and not connect them to the material conditions which are the basis of all ideas and actions– and life itself.

Once we begin to make these connections, as Angela Davis has done, we see that rape and other violent acts are not isolated from the systemic violence against South African students, Palestinians, and indigenous peoples on this continent (including Latina and Latino immigrants in detention centers).  Capitalism is based on the oppression of others.  It is a system which grew out of Europe’s genocide against Africa and the indigenous peoples of the “Americas.”  Without capitalism’s parasitic exploitation of Africans and most of the people on the planet, the United States would not exist.  This is the context of racist and patriarchal violence.  European imperialist capitalism has robbed Africans of their self-determination, their resources and their lives.  White people must recognize this context of systemic oppression if we are to put Bill Cosby’s violence against women in the proper context: the monster that is capitalism will continue to manufacture monsters.

And if we look in the mirror, perhaps whites will see the cracked image of a monster: whites may see how we have given up our humanity for every material advantage gained from capitalism’s oppression of Africa and Africans.

As we make these connections, and place individual acts (both good and bad) in the historical context of evolving material conditions, hopefully white people will begin to see the necessity of paying reparations to Africans for stolen lives and resources.  Hopefully we will see that a system built on the enslavement, murder, torture, and theft of Black people is responsible for the vulnerability of those within this system who lack power.  Rape is an act of power– an act of control over another person– and as such is an extension of the capitalist system of exploitation.  Each act of violence within the overall system of violence perpetuates and expands capitalism’s power.  These violent acts lead back to the same source: European imperialist capitalism.

While we are condemning the individual who is Bill Cosby for his acts of violence against women, white people must judge ourselves (if possible) and examine our own complicity in an unjust system of violence.  We must see the historical and material inequity which each oppressive force within the capitalist system accumulates on our behalf.  We must become an opposing force against this violence and oppression, and organize to restore the global balance of economic, political and social power.  We do this by joining an organization which supports Black Power through the payment of reparations to African people who are colonized in the U.S., in Africa, and in every part of their diaspora.

Finally, our views on violence– particularly rape– should become less personalized and more focused on the system which empowers individuals like Bill Cosby.  We should see that, when Cosby is allowed to commit these crimes over many years, and his victims have not felt safe to come forward until recently, we as a society are complicit in these crimes.  Our investment in the capitalist system of oppression, which values profits over people, has led us to value profits over people as well, and we have turned our backs on those whose power has been ripped away from them by this system.  Each individual act of oppression is connected to every other act and to the system as a whole– to which we are connected.  By making these connections, hopefully white people will see that such a system cannot exist if we are to live in a world that is free, equal and just.

We must pay reparations to African people, support Black Power, and destroy capitalism.

European imperialist capitalism, Bill Cosby, Reagan, and reparations