Occupy the left or ignore it?

Discussion paper translated by TNI
10 May 2012

Why the traditional Left needs to understand, be willing to be challenged, and fully embrace the Occupy and Indignado movements.


On November 22nd, the Occupy Wall Street activists (OWS) interrupted Barack Obama’s speech in New Hampshire to ask him, using the famous amplified human microphone that has become famous since it was first used on 17th September in South Manhattan, where it was used, to do something about the banks that “are destroying our economy”. They called on Obama to break his silence “and was sending a tacit message that police brutality is acceptable 1”. Having first gained the attention of his own partisans who were trying to swamp the OWS activists’ demands with their own slogans that support his policies, Obama concluded his speech by stating “families like yours, the young people who were here today - and that includes those who interrupted me by chanting - are the reason why I ran for office”.

At the beginning of his presidential campaign, he thus explicitly reached out to the Occupy Wall Street activists, leading them to understand that their demands would be at the centre of his second mandate, should he be elected. But the OWS activists failed to respond to his invitation. The Occupy and Indignad@s movements, and Uncut2 have a very distant relationship with actors in the political sphere, be they Republicans or Democrats, left or right: although they may try to get them to take position, they are in no way prepared to risk any compromise, and refuse to participate in any kind of direct dialogue. These movements are all producing an abundant quantity of intellectual material, written by theactors themselves, such as literature, films, flyers, posters. And the reflexivity, lucidity and maturity of this work is quite remarkable. Readers can only gain by consulting the sites that relay and promote these elements3.

If the reader then decides to continue, he or she will discover (after a short history of how these movements have developed) some elements reflecting on the issues facing the left as a whole (both social democracy and radical left, parties, associations and trade unions alike), detailed in the successive examination of the reasons for and consequences of their distancing from the traditional left; the importance of direct action and existing outlines; the micro-political impact of these experiments; and finally of an analysis of the historical break that these dynamics represent with the altermondialist actors.

This article is based on long conversations and meetings with the activists of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy London and the French, Spanish and Israeli Indignants and those playing a key role in the Senegalese “Y en a marre” movement. We have chosen to emphasise the commonalities between these movements, even though we are aware that there is a risk of falling into the trap of believing that there is a natural connection between all these movements (whereas they have yet to be built). 

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