A Marxist critique of privilege theory

2:30pm Saturday 18 September

About this session

This session is available in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. 

Privilege politics is a popular way of understanding the oppressions suffered by so many, but can it win our liberation?

It is a standpoint which divides the world into identity-based groups, each with separate experiences and interests. Without experiencing a particular oppression, so the argument goes, you are automatically complicit in that oppression. The best that people outside an identity group can do is shut up, check their privilege and be passive, guilt-ridden allies. Privilege politics presents the opposite view of the Marxist understanding of solidarity, calling into question the possibility or desirability of unity between different oppressed groups within the working class. Rather than seeing workers as sharing a united collective interest which has the potential to liberate all of the oppressed, privilege politics suggests that workers who do not share a particular oppression materially benefit from the ongoing oppression of others.

Marxists would argue that privilege politics is compatible with liberal pro-capitalist politics because it’s starting point is to view oppression from the perspective of individuals rather than the structures of society. Increasingly liberal ruling class figures like Hilary Clinton and even the CIA have adopted some of the language of privilege politics to appeal to people concerned with racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression.

This session will challenge the core arguments of privilege politics and present a Marxist alternative which has the liberation of the oppressed as its aim.

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