Natasha Lennard & Nikil Saval: Was Occupy Wall Street More Anarchist or Socialist?

Two OWS participants debate the ideology at the core of the anti-capitalist movement.

September 21, 2021


It feels most apt to mark the 10th anniversary of Occupy Wall Street by reviving a debate that is resistant to resolution, open to endless disagreement, and primed for messy expressions of political ideology. How very Occupy!

If you had asked me at the time whether Occupy was more anarchist or socialist, I would have answered, without missing a beat, that it was an anarchist movement. Though I most likely wouldn’t have said “movement”—I would’ve said “moment,” out of respect for Occupy’s anarchistic departures from traditional organized politics. Of course, I would have also said that socialists were among the many thousands of people who participated in Occupy with great commitment. Some of my best friends today are socialists from Occupy!

I still believe Occupy was more anarchist than socialist, and that this was a good thing, even if the movement’s rejection of representative structures and formal demands made it vulnerable and difficult to sustain—reliant as it was on maintaining physical sites that needed constant protection from violent police eviction. Over the years, I’ll grant, Occupy has found a place in the socialist legacy, especially for those who were too young to have joined at the time. Occupy is recognized as having “changed the conversation” on economic inequality and having birthed many of the activist constellations that would fuel Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaigns and the expansion of the Democratic Socialists of America.

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