Repression of protests against Nato summit in Chicago. Photo: OccupyWallSt.Org

Occupy Manifesto is a radical turn, but why the silence on repression?

This is the third in our series of articles debating the Occupy GlobalMay Manifesto.

Repression of protesters at Nato summit in Chicago. Photo: OccupyWallSt.Org

Those who criticised the Occupy movement for having no demands and no programme when the movement burst onto the political scene were missing the point. A quick look at the placards, banners, chants and interviews with the protesters showed how thousands of people were bringing more slogans into the movement with each passing week – against foreign wars, for affordable education, international solidarity, for jobs, for welfare, and for decent working conditions.

Inspired by movements abroad – the Indignados in Spain and Greece, and the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt – the tactic of occupying space was a demonstration of internationalism, and democracy at the outset. The movement went further than this though. In deliberately choosing to target centres of international finance from the outset it declared hostility to the dictatorship of the stock market, pointing the figure of blame at the super-rich: the “one percent”.

None of these features of Occupy were inevitable, and the breadth and depth of the issues dealt with by the movement, made it in many ways a “higher-form” than the traditional single-issue “united front” – or narrowly conceived campaign – that tends to be advocated by much of the British left, such as the SWP. Certainly, there is a place for such organisations – like the Stop the War Coalition, Unite Against Fascism, and Right to Work – but by transcending this single-issue campaigning, by looking at the functioning of society as a whole, the movement was led to address the questions of what the problems are, why they occur, and how to change them.  It posed, and continues to pose, questions over the kind of organisation we need to bring about the change we desire.

The pluralism of Occupy, within the broad framework of opposition to the control of global finance and redistribution of wealth and power to the majority sparked a fascinating and engaging debate over what a manifesto could look like. It should be noted that the Global May Manifesto marks a sharp turn to the left from some of those on offer earlier on during the movement.

A working-group spinoff from Occupy Philadelphia, produced the ‘99% Declaration’ that was later to be pushed firmly away by the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly, and Occupy Philadelphia its self. It focussed on anti-corruption measures within the framework of Congress, means-tested healthcare benefits (as opposed to healthcare as a universal right), and a reactionary demand for the US military to be reconfigured for fighting wars on terrorist groups rather than hostile states.

A more radical manifesto, although totally within the confines of a European-style Social Democratic framework came as a suggestion from Fahrenheit 911 filmmaker Michael Moore.  His ‘ten points’ included a call for free universal healthcare as a right, ending all foreign wars, a fairer tax system – though not a heavy redistribution of wealth – and more regulation of the financial sector.

Moore also brought up the issue of public control of big business in a very limited way, suggesting that 50 per cent of public limited company board members with over 10,000 employees should be elected by workers.

The GlobalMay Manifesto goes much further than these previous contributions and is clear in its intention as a programme for a diverse movement, looking at common features and points of agreement that apply to new anticapitalist, multi-issue mobilisations taking place in many countries, directly or indirectly as a result of the global crisis. It is an attempt at an international manifesto and, as Luke Cooper points out, it is a point of discussion, and dialogue, and is not a finished product.

Positively, it treats democracy, accountability and “ownership of the global commons” – water, energy, communications and the wider economy as vital. In this way, and calling for many universal rights it puts forward a question vital for all those who are struggling against injustice: who really rules the roost in society the world over? It is a call for the masses to take the power back.

There are many additions that could be made to the manifesto and I am sure many will be proposed in the course of its refinement and development. But as a guide to action for movement, the GlobalMay Manifesto does miss out on a particularly important question in May 2012 which cannot be ignored. Namely, the role of the police in breaking up the occupations in the USA, demos in Greece, the extreme and bloody violence meted out by armed troops against protesters wanting change in Libya, Syria and Egypt. This is a burning issue for those that are serious about wanting radical change worldwide, and yet it does not get a proper mention in the GlobalMay Manifesto.

The manifesto calls for the right of assembly and for the right to protest, but with the direct impact that state repression had on winding up Occupy US at its highest point, the pictures of those killed by vile regimes filling our TV screens every day, the role of the state and how we counteract it is something that needs to be discussed by our movement now, not later – no matter how controversial those kind of questions might be.

The GlobalMay Manifesto is a great start for analysing the problems and solutions facing the world, but there is still much to discuss. We should avoid the temptation to uncritically gloss over some of the most important issues, such as repression, facing the movement in the here and now.







  1. Pham Binh
    May 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm · Reply

    “But as a guide to action for movement, the GlobalMay manifesto does miss out on a particularly important question in May 2012 which cannot be ignored. Namely, the role of the police in breaking up the occupations in the USA, demos in Greece, the extreme and bloody violence meted out by armed troops against protesters wanting change in Libya, Syria and Egypt. This is a burning issue for those that are serious about wanting radical change worldwide, and yet it does not get a proper mention in the GlobalMay declaration.”

    What would you have the declaration say? “To arms comrades!”? What could a general declaration say about international state violence against the 99% that would constitute a “guide to action”?

  2. billj
    May 21, 2012 at 3:48 pm · Reply

    More to the point why is it silent on class oppression. What I don’t get is the point of the manifesto? Why bother with it at all. There’s been a million wish lists published in the past of all different kinds, none of them have ever changed a thing.
    One step forward is worth a thousand manifestos said Marx. He was obviously writing before then next million manifestos had been published!

  3. John Bowman
    May 21, 2012 at 4:35 pm · Reply

    Pham – in my view it should support the “right of self-defence against state repression”. Of course in Syria that does mean “to arms comrades”, or at least support their right to have them and use them.

    Bill – Because it makes clear that many activists in Occupy want to fundamentally change society. Rather than tinker around with privileges in congress like the 99% Declaration did for example.

  4. Stuart King
    May 23, 2012 at 6:47 pm · Reply

    We should not force each other into corners. Many protests/movements/united fronts have “programmes” in the sense of a list of goals or demands to be fought for. OWS and OLSX said “this is what’s wrong, we are occupying and taking actions to change it”. I think those declarations that arose from the struggle were very good ones.

    Political parties have more general programmes – about how to revolutionise society in the case of communistic ones. Occupy isn’t a party, it is a very diverse movement. Maybe the GlobalMay manifesto is trying to distill out a smaller grouping committed to a general programme, if so its programme isn’t adequate to arm a movement to get rid of capitalism.

    On self defence, it is a very important lesson/demand Pham. In any major strike in the US the workers have had to defend their right to protest/picket, OWS should have done the same. In Britain the students started developing mobile squads to break out of and prevent “kettling” by the police. In the anti-globalisation movement we used affinity groups – some defensive, some offensive, some non violent. These are lessons the movement needs to discuss again, and turn them into actions.

    • May 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm · Reply

      OWS would have committed a huge folly if it resisted the NYPD with force of any kind. The mistake in Zuccotti was getting complacent after the first eviction failed. See what I wrote at the time:

      I should also say Bowman is absolutely right that Occupy is not an SWP-style “united front,” one big, big reason why it succeeded.

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