Anarchism and the Occupy movement

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Many commentators have stated that the Occupy Wall Street movement has roots in the philosophy of anarchism.[1][2][3][4][5] David Graeber, an early organizer of the movement, is a self-proclaimed anarchist.[6] Graeber, writing for The Guardian, has argued that anarchist principles of direct action, direct democracy and rejection of existing political institutions are the foundations of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Graber associated Occupy with anarchism ideology because of Occupy’s refusal to make demands on the existing state.[7] If Occupy had made demands, it would be reiterating the legitimacy of the people who made the demands. By refraining from making demands, Occupy is refusing to legitimize the existing political structure of the United States.[7] Graeber also believes that radical segments of the civil rights movement, the anti-nuclear movement and the global justice movement have been based on the same principles.[8]

Media commentary[edit]

Thai Jones, an anarchist writing for the Jewish-American weekly newspaper, The Forward, asserted that the Occupy movement has demonstrated that the invigorating potential of anarchist political theory can be a feasible model of governance. According to Jones, contemporary anarchists involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement face the same dilemma as their early predecessors — whether to use violence.[9]

Michael Kazin, writing for The New Republic, analyzed the composition of the Occupy Wall Street movement. He argued that Occupy members are different from political activists of the late 19th century and early 20th century counterparts, citing contemporary rejection of violent methods as the main difference. Kazin described the Occupy Wall Street anarchists as "ultra-egalitarian, radically environmentalist, effortlessly multicultural and scrupulously non-violent", describing them as the "cyber-clever progeny of Henry David Thoreau and Emma Goldman." Social media has played a vital role in the Occupy movement and Kazin noted that instead of authoring essays or promoting feminism and free love, the Occupy Wall Street anarchists stream videos and arrange flash mobs.[4]

Principles and practices[edit]

Occupy does not label itself as anarchist.[10] However, John L. Hammond attributes three core Occupy beliefs and practices – horizontalism, autonomy, and defiance – as also being anarchist values. He also notes that Occupy’s emphasis on the experience of occupation aligns with the principles of libertarian anarchists.[11] Horizontalism, meaning an equal distribution of power, is demonstrated in the Occupy movement through the creation of a direct democracy that eliminates hierarchy and representative structures.[12] Occupy operates using mutualism and self-organization as its principles.[10] The General Assemblies practice direct democracy using consensus to the extent of practicality. Outside of the General Assemblies, Occupy protestors have organized into decentralized groups.[10] Occupy’s practice of horizontal organization rejects the legitimacy of the existing hierarchical political structure in the United States.[10] By questioning institutions like the existing state Occupy is demonstrating both autonomy and defiance.[13] Occupy demonstrates some of the values of anarchism, but Occupy does not identify as anarchist because of differences in ideology and motivations to act.[10]


In November 2011, approximately 100 people participated in the "Anarchist General Assembly" and discussed ways to spread anarchist ideas and how to interact with police. The organizers of the assembly published a flier that read, "This is a call to the anarchist and broader anti-authoritarian community to reconvene in assembly and continue to develop ourselves as members of a larger network here in Portland."[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Graeber, David. "Occupy Wall Street's anarchist roots". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
  2. ^ Berrett, Dan (2011-10-16). "Intellectual Roots of Wall Street Protest Lie in Academe". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
  3. ^ Schneider, Nathan. "Thank You, Anarchists". The Nation.
  4. ^ a b "Michael Kazin: Anarchy Now: Occupy Wall Street Revives An Ideology". The New Republic. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
  5. ^ Gibson, Morgan Rodgers (2013). "The 'Anarchism' of the Occupy Movement". Australian Journal of Political Science. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
  6. ^ Bennett, Drake (2011-10-26). "David Graeber, the Anti-Leader of Occupy Wall Street". BusinessWeek. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
  7. ^ a b Bates, David; Ogilvie, Matthew; Pole, Emma (2015). "Occupy: In Theory and Practice". Critical Discourse Studies. 13: 341–355 – via EBSCOHost.
  8. ^ "Occupy and anarchism's gift of democracy". The Guardian. 2010-11-08. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
  9. ^ Jone, Thai (December 9, 2011). "Occupy Protests Show Radical Potential". The Forward. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
  10. ^ a b c d e Gibson, MR (2013). "The Anarchism of the Occupy Movement". Australian Journal of Political Science: 335–348 – via EBSCOHost.
  11. ^ Pittman, John P. (2015). "Red on Black Marxist Encounters with Anarchism". Science & Society. 79 (2): 148–152.
  12. ^ Hammond, John L. (2015). "The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street". Science & Society. 79 (2): 288–313.
  13. ^ Rehmann, Jan (2013). "Occupy Wall Street and the question of hegemony: a Gramscian analysis". Socialism and Democracy. 27 (1): 1–18.
  14. ^ The Oregonian. "About 100 people meet for "Anarchist General Assembly" in preparation for Occupy Portland eviction". Oregon Live. Retrieved 2012-02-26.

Further reading[edit]

  • Aragorn!, ed. (2012). Occupy Everything: Anarchists in the Occupy Movement 2009-2011. Antistate STL (contributor), Anon (contributor), Ben Webster (contributor), Cindy Milstein (contributor), Crescencia Desafio (contributor), Crimethinc (contributor), David Graeber (contributor), Denver ABC (contributor), Dot Matrix (contributor), Ignite! Collective (contributor), ingirum (contributor), John Jacobsen (contributor), Phoenix Insurgent (contributor), R.R (contributor), Serf City Revolt (contributor), TEOAN (contributor), Tides of Flame (contributor), TriAnarchy (contributor). LBC Books.
  • Gibson, Morgan Rodgers (2013). "The 'Anarchism' of the Occupy Movement". The Australian Journal of Political Science.
  • Graeber, David. "Concerning the Violent Peace-Police: An Open Letter to Chris Hedges". Retrieved 9 February 2012.
  • Bray, Mark (September 2013). Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street. Zero Books. ISBN 9781782791263.
  • Schneider, Nathan (September 2013). Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520276802.