Over the past several years (or maybe even decades), the discussion of privilege theory and anti-oppression politics has become quite prevalent within the anarchist space. Many anarchists will speak to the importance of anti-oppression politics, but few take the time to consider the implications of the ideas or their origins.
“With Allies Like These: Reflections on Privilege Reductionism” is an important zine that explores the origins of anti-oppression politics and their consequences. The authors trace the origins of anti-oppression politics in the failures of the movements of the 1960s and the institutionalization of social struggles within the university setting. This result has been the development of a set of critical theories largely separated from political practice, with a focus on individual behaviors instead revolutionary struggle. Beyond the important historical study, the authors look at the ways anti-oppression politics operate in the “real world” and the ways in which they often limit struggles. It’s a thoughtful and careful consideration of a topic that merits more discussion than it receives, both within the anarchist space and what is often called the broader “radical left.”
The culture of anti-oppression politics lends itself to the creation and maintenance of insular activist circles. A so-called “radical community” — consisting of collective houses, activist spaces, book-fairs, etc. — premised on anti-oppression politics fashions itself as a refuge from the oppressive relations and interactions of the outside world. This notion of “community”, along with anti-oppression politics’ intense focus on individual and micro personal interactions, disciplined by “call-outs” and privilege checking, allows for the politicization of a range of trivial lifestyle choices. This leads to a bizarre process in which everything from bicycles to gardens to knitting are accepted as radical activity.