ⓘ Individual reclamation

Individual reclamation

ⓘ Individual reclamation

Individual reclamation is a form of direct action, characterized by the individual theft of resources from the rich by the poor. Individual reclamation gained popular attention in the early 20th century as a result of the exploits of anarchists and outsiders, such as Ravachol and Clement Duval, who believed that such expropriations were ethical because of the exploitation of society by capitalists. Advocacy centered on France, Belgium, Great Britain, and Switzerland.


1. Conceptual origins

In 1840, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, a French anarchist, wrote What Is Property?, a question to which he famously answered "property is theft". By this, Proudhon meant that legitimate private property could result only from an individuals labor and all other capital was, in effect, stolen. This economic world view converged in the minds of radicals with the Russian theorist Mikhail Bakunins concept of propaganda of the deed, the use of physical violence against political enemies as a method of inspiring the masses.

A marginal sector of European individualist anarchism derived the idea of individual reclamation as a means of breaking down what they perceived as the robbery of the laboring class by capitalists, politicians and the church. The individuals expropriation was regarded as legitimate resistance against an unfair social order, an ethical right to even the distribution of wealth.


2. Practice

Well-known 19th century practitioners of individual reclamation included Ravachol and Clement Duval. A later generation of European anarchists, influenced by the anti-essentialism of Max Stirner, would eventually abandon the ethical framing of individual reclamation, proposing an ideology of illegalism and openly embracing criminality as a lifestyle. The most famous of these practitioners included the infamous Bonnot Gang of France.

In the 20th century, Lucio Urtubia, a Spanish practitioner of individual reclamation, stole millions from Citibank by forging travelers checks. Between 1993 and 2007, Jaime Gimenez Arbe robbed 36 banks in Spain, stealing more than €700.000 euros in what he described as an effort "to liberate the Spanish people" from the banking sector.

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