An Open Letter to the Window Smashers

Posted on October 11, 2011


Dear Window-Smashing Anarchists,

I must confess that I am somewhat confused as to why I keep finding you at political rallies. My understanding of your political philosophy is that you want to hang the last bureaucrat with the entrails of the last capitalist. Giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the extreme violence implied in that oft-quoted statement is purely symbolic, I am still left puzzled at how you expect to maintain a just society without government oversight. Small self-organizing collectives may be able to feed, clothe and house themselves, but what will you do when an MRI machine is required to save a person’s life? How, without a public purse, will you mobilize enough labour to build useful and sustainable transportation networks? How, without a judiciary, will you restrain the actions of those who would use physical violence to take advantage of your self-organized utopia? How, without diplomacy, would you tackle the problem of global climate change? It is possible that I have overlooked the answers to these questions, but until I find them, I am forced to conclude that we have divergent goals. You want to smash the state, and I want to strengthen it so that the problems of our day can be addressed. While I have yet to attend any Occupy Wall Street protests, I understand that a central goal is the taxation of the rich, and the insulation of democracy from the corrupting influence of wealth. Regrettably, I fail to see how hanging bureaucrats helps to achieve this goal.

Still, I cannot entirely resent your presence. The vast majority of those with anarchist views have, in my experience, been very friendly and likable people, and your opinions are certainly less repulsive than those of the laissez-faire capitalists who overtly oppose us. We also happen to share a few enemies, in the form of rhetorical attacks from right-wing talking heads and physical attacks from aggressive police. I understand that social justice activism means forming coalitions which cross ideological lines, and  for those reasons, though I remain confused as to your motives, I am mostly happy to march beside you.

That feeling of solidarity, however, quickly evaporates hen I read something like this:

After smashing the living fuck out of the Walgreens window in a blatant attack on capitalism, several attendees of Occupy Chicago not only tried to kick me out of the march but actually chased me down and attempted to make a citizens arrest. They told me I did not represent them and tried to grab me, screaming for the police. I managed to throw them off as a few comrades in support delivered some street justice to the faces of the disgusting protectors of property.

A word to those at Occupy Chicago: stop disempowering us by begging the powers that be to meet your silly demands. Start attacking the conditions and symptoms that are behind these issues you attempt to address. I hope that this analytically weak “movement” can transform itself into something that isn’t so statist, that is truly threatening to the social order. We want revolution, an overthrow of the state and capitalism, and we will not be satisfied with petty reforms or purely symbolic change. We believe that militant direct action is the only real means of achieving this goal. Destruction against corporate property is not a violent act. Do not arrogantly attempt to maintain a monopoly of how folks are expected to resist against our exploitative conditions. You don’t have to agree with our choice of tactics, but stay out of our way, and don’t snitch to the police or else you better prepared to feel the wrath.

Let me be quite clear: the writer of this post did not carry out a “blatant attack on capitalism”. He carried out a blatant attack on an inanimate pane of glass. Let’s be suppose that this was a pane of 3/4″ plate glass, costing $21 per square foot, and that the window was a massive fifty square feet in area. Add in a very generous $500 in labour costs for the replacement, and your blatant attack has cost Walgreen’s a total of $1550. In 2010, Walgreen’s made a total of over 67 billion dollars in sales. Your blatant attack cost Walgreens a paltry 0.0000002 percent of that number. If you and ninety-nine of your black-clad friends each smashed a window every five minutes for twelve hours, then you would have cost Walgreens 22.32 million dollars in repairs, or about 12 percent of what the corporation earns in a single day. To make matters even more hopeless for your chosen tactics, the companies which insure Walgreens almost certainly include your actions in their statistical models and so the costs of your occasional attacks are amortized over the years in which you are not out attacking the system. Your tactics are no threat to capitalism. Capitalism has anticipated you, accounted for you, and wholly negated you.

That is not to say that your choice of tactics is not without effects. Window smashing can totally change the dynamic of a protest. Take the G20 protests two summers ago in Toronto, for example. When the public attempted to hold the Toronto Police Service’s feet to the fire over their unlawful arrests of over 1100 protesters and physical assaults of countless others, all they had to do was show videos of the burning police cars and smashed windows that anarchists like yourself had helpfully provided. That dramatic imagery was more than enough to sway public opinion so that they were free to violate our civil rights with no fear of legal or political recourse. While most of the responsibility for what happened that weekend still lies with the police themselves, you window-smashers are responsible for arming the police with the rhetorical weapons they needed not only to facilitate their actions, but also to secure more funding in their next budget. Far from attacking the police, you embolden them.

You could, of course, easily go about your petty vandalism and looting without risking this outcome. You could operate at a respectful distance-in both time and space-from the thousands of other activists who prefer to remain peaceful. This, however, would not suit your needs. You would expose yourself far too easily to arrest if you did not have a large crowd of peaceful protesters to blend into while you change out of your black clothes. Without peaceful protesters, you would have nobody onto which to divert police attention so that you can make your quiet escape in advance of the mass arrests you provoke. Just as the police depend on you to avoid public accountability for their mass arrests, so you depend on peaceful protesters like me to avoid legal accountability for your mass petty vandalism. To put it more bluntly, you are cowards.

I’m writing this to say that I am no longer interested in being your exit strategy. I am happy to march with you even as you chant anarchist slogans that run contrary to my social democratic objectives. I’ll even turn a blind eye when you and your friends dress up in black and yell rude things at the police. I think that’s pretty charitable of me. But I will not allow your juvenile rebellion to bring police violence down on me and my friends. If you want to smash the state, do it on your own time. If you do not heed this advice and I see you engaging in vandalism, then I will take pictures of you doing it. I will follow you through the crowds and take pictures of you as you remove your mask and black clothing. I will hand these pictures over to the police and if I am asked to, I will testify against you in court. I will encourage all my friends to do the same. I do not want to have to do this-it gives me no pleasure to throw any fellow activist under the bus. But if the dilemma is between your arrest and the arrest of thousands of people who did not break windows, then I shall have no hesitation whatsoever in choosing the former. I hope that you will not force me to make that choice.

Yours very sincerely,

Cameron Roberts
Peaceful activist
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