Left and Right

How the left-wing anarchist movement became obsessed with privilege theory

This is an interesting article from a hard left perspective that outlines very well the historical trajectory behind the left-wing anarchist movement’s present obsession with race, identity politics, and so-called “privilege theory.” As this article explains, “white skin privilege” theory was developed by a couple of American Communists, Ted Allen and Noel Ignatiev, in the mid-1960s. It found its way into the New Left via Maoist groups like the Weather Underground, and helped shape the thinking of 1970s Communist extremists.

Privilege theory found its way into anarchism in the 1980s and 1990s via the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation. Previously, anarchist groups in the U.S. had been oriented towards class politics and theoretical analysis, or mere countercultural lifestyles. I was at the founding conference of Love and Rage in 1989, and noticed the people there were trying to move anarchism towards a hard leftist Communist-inspired position with privilege theory being a primary component of this. It’s interesting how some present day free-market libertarians like Cathy Reisenwitz, Roderick Long, and Kevin Carson promote privilege theory with seeming cluelessness about its roots on the totalitarian left.

By Baki

Kasama Project

Kasama hopes to conduct a long-term and in-depth discussion of the racist oppression of Black people — why it persists, how it functions, who it serves, and how it will be finally ended.

A number of different theoretical frameworks have contended among communists. One of them is the theory of white skin privilege — which has itself taken several forms.

Our recent discussion was opened by Baki who wrote about the left scene at Evergreen College:

“As long as white supremacy is permitted to divide the working class, so long will the struggle of the working class remain on two separate planes, one [whites] concerned with their ‘own’ class demands and the other [blacks], on a more elementary plane (but with a much higher degree of class consciousness) fighting first for the ordinary bourgeois rights which were won long ago for the rest of the workers. As soon as white supremacy is eliminated as a force within the working class, the decks will be cleared for action by the entire class against its enemy.”

As the building block for this analysis, it is essential to understand what white skin privileges are, and what they are not. In Ignatin and Allen’s view, the privileges covered a wide terrain, including the opportunity to be first hired and last fired in an employment context, access to preferential treatment at the hands of police and government bureaucrats, and in general the same sort of deference and courtesy that had been described in Black Reconstruction.

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  1. “It’s interesting how some present day free-market libertarians like Cathy Reisenwitz, Roderick Long, and Kevin Carson promote privilege theory with seeming cluelessness about its roots on the totalitarian left.” -> The reason I prefer listen to Tom Woods than these people, despide being closer to Roderick Long than Tom Woods in economics. ^^

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