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Total Propaganda: Basic Marxist Brainwashing for the Angry and the Young

This is an extract from Daily Review columnist Helen Razer’s new book, Total Propaganda: Basic Marxist Brainwashing for the Angry and the YoungAs its title suggests, the work, to be released by Allen & Unwin this Wednesday, is an attempt to introduce the thought of Marx to the curious, the cross and the time-poor in an era where he has been largely forgotten.

***

Karl Marx was a white European bloke from the nineteenth century who drank too much and probably got the cleaning lady up the duff. He was often in a very bad mood. If we saw him on a TED talk of the present, we might ask, ‘Can’t that crusty old dribbler break out a smile once in a while, or possibly a comb?’ before switching to another speaker. Perhaps one with tidier hair and a more optimistic topic than This Is How The World Got Into A State Of Total Shit.

Such was the unpleasant labour of a sometimes-unpleasant man: exploring the shit of the world in some detail. This short book will not be a guide to the life of Marx, which may or may not have involved a weekend of nobbing with a German cleaning lady called Helene. It will be a basic introduction to the revolutionary project of shit-sorting, begun in earnest by Marx. One that has enjoyed a recent revival.

You may have heard the old term ‘socialism’ getting about a bit lately.  You must have, otherwise you’d hardly have picked up a book that promises to explain Marx’s marvellous variety of it. I should tell you then, from the outset, that the Marx kind of ‘socialism’, which I’ll now stop stuffing inside scare quotes, is largely a tool for understanding capitalism. And capitalism is understood by the Marxist to negatively affect many parts of everyday life, not just the bits with money in it.

Yes. Not just the economy! This news may be a relief for you, because it means we’ll discuss things a bit more thrilling than profit, commodities and labour. We will talk about a world in which we might all flourish. We will even talk about our feelings. Our feelings are not, when truly examined, unimportant when it comes to diagnosing all the disorders of capitalism. And Marx was in the business of diagnosis. It’s now up to us to find a cure, a task you may find, as I do, both thrilling and fucking exhausting.

Just in time for the centenary of its most famous revolutionary expression, the Russian October Uprising of 1917, this socialism word can again be heard. You may have heard it used by the United States presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during his popular campaign. If you were listening in to the 2017 French Presidential election, you would have heard the word truly and more traditionally used by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. You may have heard it used by the United Kingdom Labour politician Jeremy Corbyn and the supporters who joined him, making his party the largest, and the youngest, in Europe. If you ever joined me and my relatives at a table, you would have heard it then too. As in, there goes the socialist again, banging on about seizing the means of production while totally covered in gravy. I am delighted to find a more agreeable place and time than Christmas dinner in which to address the topic.

Everyone is always calling someone a ‘Marxist’ as though this is a slur; as though they even understand what Marxism means in an era where it is no longer truly taught at universities.

For various reasons, which you can be sure I will start boring you with in Chapter 1, talk of socialism—which can also be called ‘communism’ by some, or, just to mess with your shit, ‘the material Left’—has lately become more frequent and public. It’s not just for the festive family table or nineteenth-century white men anymore! No. Apparently, many inquisitive youngsters of the West have decided they don’t mind the sound of this thing at all, this form of socialism written down by Marx in the mean little rooms of a long-ago Europe.

You, whether old or young or a midlife husk like me, have not become curious about something like socialism on a whim. To take real interest in any ‘ism’ is a time-sucking pain, especially when that ism has endured decades of bad press. And it has had such bad press. Everyone is always calling someone a ‘Marxist’ as though this is a slur; as though they even understand what Marxism means in an era where it is no longer truly taught at universities.

You might have heard people say that Marxism is too idealistic, too lazy, or about as helpful to the present day as an open-cut coalmine. Such people—often old enough to remember the Cold War and usually rich enough to own a bit of property—have many ways of dismissing Marx’s socialism without ever bothering to read it. These include, ‘There’s no difference between Left and Right anymore. That rot went in the bin with my iPhone 2.’

Well, you know, bollocks to them. If we truly understand what Marxism is—a strong and unflinching criticism of capitalism; the necessary shadow of a behemoth that imposes itself on every person on the planet, no matter their cultural identity—then plainly, there’s a bunch of  Western people, largely young, now reasserting their need to do this.

We see many respectable books published about the rise of the ‘alt-right’. We read many news articles profiling young, smug conservatives calling for an end to immigration/feminism/decent manners and we see media vision of groups that advance crude nationalism. What we do not see in mainstream press is the strong re-emergence of great Leftist passion. This is the true shift of our time. Right now across the West, there are rallies and political parties full of kids united by one crucial understanding: capitalism cannot be trusted to determine our future.

Look at ’em all! Oh, they warm even my dead old heart. Young people were very recently in very high attendance at rallies for those self-described socialists, Sanders and Corbyn. Young people answered a range of social surveys in 2016 that showed strong favourability for socialism and strong suspicion of capitalism. There are babies engaging in some fiery Red criticism of things as they are in the West.

This book, of course, is not just for time-poor kids surviving that shitstorm we call the ‘gig economy’.

Young people are even beginning to find their way into my inbox. They have been sending emails and Facebook messages, asking, ‘Old Lady, what is Marxism?’ when they have detected reference to Marx in my published writing. I started out telling them what Marxism was not: it was not placing faith in the power of cautious or ‘politically correct’ words to change reality; not thinking that a truly good change in the world will ever be made by those already powerful; not worrying so much about whether you are a noble individual, and more about how you can stand shoulder to shoulder with others to win a noble future.

One day in early 2016, I received a correspondence from a bright young lady called Ana who demanded to know what Marxism was, not what it wasn’t.

I told her a little. Ana told me that such analysis was ‘lit fam’. She assured me, when asked, that this was not an insult, and then requested more information on the man’s thinking. I asked her exactly how interested in Marx she felt she was, so I knew how much time to spend explaining and/or ripping off eBooks to send her. She said she had read a bit about him and he was ‘turnt as fuck’—apparently, again, not an insult—and that she would certainly like to read more, if only she, an Uber driver and a writer and a shop assistant, had the free time. Could I sum it all up? So here it is, Ana: the evaporated Marx. The decision to write this book was taken after many queries of the type, but yours was the first, and the rudest.

This book, of course, is not just for time-poor kids surviving that shitstorm we call the ‘gig economy’. It has been written for anyone who wants to taste a little Marxism before committing to feast upon the bodies of the tender ruling class marinated in riches for centuries. (Please note, employees of Rupert Murdoch, this is a joke. Neither Marx nor I are advocates for cannibalism. We’re just trying to stop capitalism from eating the people.) But, as the young seem to have worked up quite an appetite, I must first tip my Lenin cap to them.

To this end, young comrade, I apologise in advance for being so old. I should warn you that I could not identify a ‘dank meme’ if the fate of the working class depended on it and that I shall not be ‘shipping’ Lenin and Trotsky. If I tried to speak your marvellous language, I would produce sentences like, ‘Hey, fleeky brother with the random, let’s get planked with Marx!’

Nobody wants that. But, what many do seem to want is a short and new explanation of an old and complex thinker. So, this is that revolutionary tapas; an introductory morsel of Marx. Think of it as a tasting plate.

The future you face is one of absolute uncertainty. This uncertainty is often rebranded for you by politicians and property owners as your opportunity to be ‘agile’, ‘innovative’ or ‘entrepreneurial’. To which the Marxist says, ‘Get fucked.’

Again, young comrade, I am sorry in advance for being me. Ideally, this book would be written by a fashionable person like Ana who does not have to google terms like ‘woke’—which, I recently learned, is a pretty good one. ‘Woke’ is what a Marxist would call ‘class consciousness’, and more of that later. For the minute, my attention is still with you poor fucking Millennials, the most impoverished Western generation in almost a century.

You guys have it bad. Without extraordinary reform to the way we organise our economies, you lot, as some of you may have started to suspect, are soon going to have it worse. Unless your parents are both generous and extremely well-to-do, the future you face is one of absolute uncertainty. This uncertainty is often rebranded for you by politicians and property owners as your opportunity to be ‘agile’, ‘innovative’ or ‘entrepreneurial’. To which the Marxist says, ‘Get fucked.’

There is nothing character building about not being able to afford a permanent place to live. There is nothing fun about a shrinking job market. Stagnant wages are not exhilarating, and spending a huge sum of money on an education which qualifies you for work that may not even exist by the end of your degree hardly makes this An Exciting Time To Be Alive. The only people truly enjoying themselves in the present are the elite investor class, the people you might have heard called ‘the one per cent’ but which we might now more accurately call, and plenty of good economists do, the one per cent of the one per cent.

No amount of trying can secure you a regular job, a home or, in many cases, the means to an education.

You have it bad, comrades. And, no, of course, in anticipation of the ‘You don’t know how good you have it, shut up and enjoy your exotic brunch’ critique so many young people face, you don’t have it as bad as your comrades in the Global South. You’re not sleeping in the factory dormitories of China or mining rare elements in the bloody pits of Congo. And, yes, you have nice things like your Uber and your streaming video and your low-cost creative fashions, all of which you access on devices made by those Chinese and Congolese labourers.

But what you don’t have, as you may have begun to see, is the future you were promised. You’ve been told for all your life that You Can Make It If  You Try. And perhaps you now see that no amount of trying can secure you a regular job, a home or, in many cases, the means to an education. Even the thought of having your own child must be tempered with thoughts of money. Commandments like ‘Follow your dreams!’ make a lot less sense when capitalism has become your nightmare.

You are not a pussy for feeling that the world has failed you. The world has failed you, and it’s hardly your fault that its systems have begun to break down. You guys are not ‘choosing’ to flit from job to job. You are not choosing to hurt those Chinese and Congolese workers who made that iPhone with their blood. You did not throw your chance at a home after a gourmet sandwich.

Oh, Millennial Sandwich Eater. The next time a Boomer investor accuses you of eating your asset-rich future in the form of a snack, tell them you would need to sacrifice 8,800 fifteen-dollar sandwiches to save for the nation’s median house deposit of $132,000. That’s almost a quarter-century of daily sandwich denial, by which time you will be considered too old to service a loan.

You have no ‘choice’ about buying a home—the choice has been made for you by a political economy so self-deluded it can no longer identify its own bad ideas. So, its defenders make up moral bullshit instead. They say to you, a large group of people, ‘You’re only poor because you’re spoilt brats.’  This is a cop-out. It is not ‘economics’. It is not an explanation.

Questions about the origin of the suffering and poverty borne by so many in this present world can be answered, possibly even corrected, by the socialism of Marx.

Old or young, you may sometimes wonder about the deteriorating conditions of your own life. Rich or skint, you may wonder about the broken lives of others, in neighbouring suburbs and distant lands. You might not be able to bear thinking too long about those others. Questions about who made your iPhone, or why the Sudanese guy driving the Uber it beckoned looks so miserable and homesick and scared, are those that are hard to endure.

While a Marxist view might not make these questions any simpler for your heart to bear, it can ease the strain to your head. Questions about the origin of the suffering and poverty borne by so many in this present world—in which just eight men command more wealth than the poorest half of the planet, in which one billion go hungry, in which corporations are now excused both from paying tax and providing meaningful employment—can be answered, possibly even corrected, by the socialism of Marx.

Marxism is a way of understanding how we got here. Marxism is a way of answering heartbreaking questions. Marxism is . . . well, we better let that dirty old bugger begin a book that would never have been written without him. Marxism is a criticism of the present which gives rise to a vision for a society in which, ‘The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.’

Now. Let’s talk about that freedom, shall we? For each and for all.

Helen Razer’s regular Monday column is on hold, as she’s locked in a box making last-minute amendments to a talk. She will present on ‘Trump and the Death of the Media Class’ this week as part of Professor Raimond Gaita’s free series, now in its 16th year, The Wednesday Lectures. 

Book here if you’d like to hear her Daily Review column in undiluted spoken form at her lecture, Trump and the Death of the Media Class at 6.30 pm, Wednesday August 23, Public Lecture Hall, Old Arts Building, Melbourne University.

52 responses to “Total Propaganda: Basic Marxist Brainwashing for the Angry and the Young

  1. A few points:

    – Quite an irony that a lot of the fan mail here is from seniors.
    – I cannot understand how Helen can claim they no longer teach Marx at unis. In many faculties post modernism, trigger warnings, micro aggressions are all taking over.
    – I agree that using Marx as a tool of analysis can generate some useful insights but you have to acknowledge his ‘solution’ has never worked in practice but rather a lot of misery and elites ripping off the masses – really it is just like the old Who song Won’t Ge Fooled Again ‘Meet the old boss, same as the old boss’.
    – Most Marxists I have known, just like a lot of right wingers, do not really like free speech but instead like to shut down debate with their holier than thou attitude.
    – Helen, good on you for writing your books, but I wish you could use a better editor as your writing is quite verbose and indulgent at times.

    1. These things you mention, “post modernism, trigger warnings, micro aggressions”, have nothing to do with the Marxist tradition. At all. They stand in opposition to it.
      I will tell the two experienced editors with whom I worked at Allen and Unwin, the Australian company who continues to win “publisher of the year”, that they are not very good, and that you should take over.

      1. I’ll stick to my George Orwell thanks. I am just expressing an opinion about your style. No doubt your books are the main reason A and U are doing so well. If “post modernism, trigger warnings, micro aggressions” have nothing to do with the Marxist tradition somebody should tell all the ‘socialist’ student groups promoting them on campus.

        1. George Orwell was a socialist who fought with a Marxist party called the POUM in the Spanish Civil War. To invoke his name as a way of criticising Marxism exposes how historically ignorant and theoretically lazy you really are.

  2. As part of your education, you could suffer through dribble and propaganda of Razer – or go straight to the source and labour through Marx – then read a book on free market Capitalism in order to be fully informed in order to make up your own mind.

    Or, you could read either Ludvig Von Mises or FA Hayek in which they present the arguments of Marx – then completely debunk it.

  3. Who is really at fault? The people we must blame are the political/media/bureaucratic elites on both political sides.

    They are the bullshit artists vomiting the lies about home affordability and people not saving enough for retirement etc. etc.

    The self proclaimed and entirely self serving media and bureaucratic elites carry the greatest culpability. They are unelected, personally cowardly and truly remote from the lived experience of most people.

    Once a group of people sequester themselves together, they develop groupthink and soon start composting down; producing nothing but a bad smell. They need to be ploughed into the dirt and replaced by people who see their jobs as servants of the people and work only to the end of improving the lot of the general population.

    The pollies and the media play left against right games and other forms of identity politics to take peoples’ minds off the their own abject failings.

    The bureaucrats violate laws repeatedly in order to protect their comfortable seats at the trough while the circus outside goes on.
    With all the ‘crises’ and failures we see from government, when was the last time a senior bureaucrat was sacked from the public service?

    Just askin’.

  4. Somewhat ironic that many (most) of the commenters appear to be over 50s. This is the problem? Are younger readers becoming too distracted by identity politics to focus on the fundamentals? My only slight criticism is the continuing criticism of the investor boomers. Divide and conquer has never been so successfully used as by the current government, if you blame someone, let it not be the government who has created these conditions, but the people who took advantage of them. Many have been desperately trying to top up meagre savings, having been thoroughly spooked by continuing changes to the rules, and veiled threats of cuts to aged pensions etc. But, if we make those people the demons, then the government can get on with the transfer of wealth to the topmost, secured in the knowledge that someone else will always be blamed for the deterioration in conditions for the rest. Otherwise, best of luck with it!

  5. Marxism is morally bankrupt and filled with false assumptions about the nature of humanity and how human beings make decisions.

    Marxist ‘leaders’ have slaughtered more of their own people between 1917 and now than all the other world’s leaders, including Hitler, since the beginning of recorded history.

    eg. Vlad Lenin – 9 million between October 1917 and 1922

    eg. ‘Uncle Joe’ Stalin – 20 million Soviet citizens murdered ( ‘In all, Mr. Medvedev calculated about 40 million victims of Stalin’s repressions, including those arrested, driven from their land or blacklisted.’ – New York Times, 1989

    eg. Mao Zedong – 45 million Chinese citizens murdered in 4 years during his ‘Great Leap Forward’ – independent.co.uk

    eg. Pol Pot – 2 million Cambodian citizens murdered 1975-79 which was 25% of the entire population (For those who need further insight into this communist pig, see ‘The Killing Fields’ film released in 1984

    eg. Kim Jong Il – (North Korea’s Kim Jong Un’s father) No-one knows how many North Korean citizens this family of marvellous Marxists has murdered but their precious communist system could not prevent over 500,000 deaths during the 1990’s famine.
    Additionally:
    “According to a 2004 Human Rights Watch report, the North Korean government under Kim was “among the world’s most repressive governments”, having up to 200,000 political prisoners according to U.S. and South Korean officials, with no freedom of the press or religion, political opposition or equal education: “Virtually every aspect of political, social, and economic life is controlled by the government.” – Wikipedia

    eg. Fidel Castro and his mate Che Guevara – Cuban communist thugs: “…estimated the number of political executions at between 4,000 and 33,000 from 1958–87, with a mid range of 15,000.” – Rudolph J. Rummel, Professor of political science at the University of Hawaii.
    Not bad for a little backward island in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Then there are the nasty little communist regimes that have appeared throughout Central and South America, and Africa.

    To this day political murders by communist regimes occur on a daily basis. It is the only way you can keep people in communist/Marxist countries in line.

    These atrocities are just the tip of the iceberg.

    After you have read Helen’s book, I suggest you read…
    ‘The Gulag Archipelago’ by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1970 Nobel Prize winner, Literature)

    Communism (Marxism if you prefer) has failed utterly in every nation that has ever tried it.

    “I hope that no one present will suspect me of offering my personal criticism of the Western system to present socialism as an alternative. Having experienced applied socialism in a country where the alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it.

    “The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    1. Bretty Boop.
      Look. Mate. I understand what it’s like when the Wine of the Month Club box arrives and you’ve forgotten to pop the breathalyser on the internet. You post the same thing a dozen times on one page, and all your posts are derived very closely from words used in Bring Ben Shaprio Back to Breitbart forums.
      Your statistics are not based in fact, but are a repetition of propaganda that started with HUAC. But, you know, I forgive you because you were probably a bit trolleyed.
      Why not go elsewhere, though? You do realise you are fighting against ideas that nearly everybody finds unpopular, right? It seems a waste of your talent and enthusiasm to argue so valiantly against something that has been almost coerced out of existence. Be happy. Marx is no longer taught at universities. You won. So, your views (borrowed and which I have read before, with near-identical wording in Mont Pelerin for Toddlers sites) already have dominant expression. It’s a bit like raging against the flat earth society, no?
      Do go away. There’s a chap.

      1. Razer Blade :)

        Since one of your beloved government regulators illegally destroyed my livelihood (a family company whose accomplishments any Leftie/Prog would be proud of if they had the guts to get up in the morning and work that hard and sacrifice so much to achieve) I have observed that big government is inept, damaging and often corrupt. Wine of the month club? ROFL. More like cask of the month.
        They wreck with impunity and cause harm while sheltered in a palatial pound, circling around sniffing each other’s arses. Marxism ensapsulates this like no other ideology.

        My views are entirely my own. I have never accessed the sources you quote, but thanks for the tips.
        As a businessman having grown up in a ‘business household’ I am unused to be being protected from the harsh realities of the wide world and have never found any real value or comfort in some convenient ideology.

        All my statistics are based in fact and can be verified as coming from reputable sources using science / evidence based methodology. Cute tactic to call it propaganda though. The Guardian does this too of course.

        Thanks for the forgiveness but you haven’t seen my comments when I really am ‘trolleyed’. Some previous posts were a bit strong though I admit.

        My ex-wife’s father had suffered under communism in his native country before escaping from a concentration camp in the ’50s. I saw what communism had done to him and if you think I’m harsh on this ideology in practice, you should have heard him and seen the combination of rage and sorrow in his eyes.
        Personally, I am extraordinarily lucky; I am part of the first generation of men in my family in well over a century not to have to go away to another country and fight an obscene war against some big government which had foisted a convenient ideological pretext onto it’s people to satisfy their ruling class’s megalomania and avarice; Nazis, Imperialists, Communists. I can still scarcely believe they weren’t killed because they were in the teeth of the fighting, often for years.

        The least I can do is try to protect their legacy of relative peace, opportunity and enjoyment which they passed onto my generation and hopefully my daughters’ generation.
        There is no political system which has liberated humankind from the misery of abject poverty like that of democracy. Democracy and capitalism has turbocharged scientific advance at a speed unimaginable only 150 years ago and liberated us from death by appendicitis or infection from a rose thorn, among the millions of other benefits we take for granted.

        All ideologies except democracy require wholesale suppression of free speech. The Hanson/Brandis burka business was a reasonable example why it is so useful and so necessary.

        But don’t worry, I will not post any more comments here. I’ll dig around and find a few right of centre sites and experience what it’s like to post views in a different kind of echo chamber.

        Also I might be able to find a job and pay my way again, or possibly someone in the ruling class in government might decide that destroying a family’s livelihood by using a federal agency to breach the law around 51 times was morally wrong and compensate me so I can undo some of the damage done. I live with hope….and princesses and fairies and unicorns and personal rainbows.

        My next target will probably be the ‘elites’ comprising various polititicians, senior bureaucrats, most media outlets and the ‘big end of town’ commercial entities which are crushing small/mid sized businesses. For various reasons, they have all decided that it’s in their own self-interest that this occurs. So much for our primary source of innovation.

        Your writing is intelligent and entertaining Helen. Even your use of those classic anglo-saxon terms we all love is a delight.
        Most Leftie/Prog journalists and commentators are nowhere near as balanced and insightful as you are, so all the best.
        Just be careful waht you wish for. Free speech means being against any system other than capitalist democracy.

  6. Am 85 proud to still be a Marxist and certainly cheered by the feeling of movement around the world. My grandkids will enjoy your book more than Das Kap. I hope you don’t discount Fred Engels role in all this, apart from his own input and wonderful writings he kept Karl and his family going through some hard times .Loved “The Poverty of Philosophy”. Anyway go girl, hope you sell or giveaway millions.

    1. I hope you can apologise to the families of the approximately 80 million people murdered by their own Marxist leaders since October 1917.

      1. Lies, damned Lies and statistics.
        While Janette apologises, perhaps you could make a start by offering personal apology to those one billion people on the brink of starvation under capitalism.

        1. Capitalism did not cause one billion people to be on the brink of starvation. (I’d like to see evidence of this figure and a definition of ‘on the brink of’ ).

          It was predicted in 1970 that there would be mass continent wide starvations by the mid 1990’s. This did not happen.
          The reason it didn’t was because western agriculture powered by western science and capitalism was able to increase production and distribution to such an extraordinary volume that the World’s population is now 7.5 billion, up from 3.7 billion then.

          Those marvellous marxist nations, the USSR and China are at fault, if any are.
          Despite their enormous land masses containing more arable land than countries such as Australia, Canada and the US, they did not pull their weight and in fact couldn’t even feed their own people.
          Last I heard, China still had 30 million people on the brink of starvation and was reliant on food aid through the FAO and sourced from capitalist countries.

          The second group of the guilty rests with the facist and marxist dictators who infected the leadership of African countries. Apart from creating nations of state sponsored internal war making distribution impossible, when food from capitalist countries did get to these places, it was invariably stolen and sold on at massively inflated prices to anyone who could pay for it.
          For 30 years now, much of the food aid from capitalist countries gets to the starving only with the support of experienced private armed forces to protect the convoys, and NGOs such as Medecins Sans Frontieres.

    2. Janetta, this makes me feel almost happy—as you know, we Marxists have given up true cheer for the sake of revolution ;)
      In writing this book, I spoke with many people 65 and above; the demographic who had read and understood Marx in an everyday context. As we can see with old blokes like Sanders, Corbyn and Melenchon who attracted such young supporters, there is this extraordinary dialogue naturally occurring between generations.
      In a sentimental sense, as well as a social one, I find this extremely valuable. My Nanna, who is gone, taught me the words to Bread and Roses when I was young and I love that other young people will have this opportunity.

  7. Razor
    Lik a number of your commentators, I am an Old Fart (65) who is estatic to have some discourse around Marx, socialism and debate around completely different ways of looking at the world. In my youth, I was involved in my Union including Qld. Vice President and others.While not attending uni the late night discussions around communism, socialism, capitalism and who’s turn was it to get the beer definately gave you a good grounding in understanding and deconstructing philosphies.

    That just doesn’t seem to happen any more, but I’m hoping a few gift purchases may start up some real discussions.

  8. Looking forward to putting in my order. Is there any way of doing that without adding to the profits of the obscenely wealthy or mega-corporates?

    Having only read sparsely on Marx, any academic treatise soon becomes so obsessively boring, I’m looking forward to your take on it all. While it seems you will be emphasising Marx’s critique of capitalism (surely his most astute work) I’m also hopeful it will help me understand how communism arose from his writings, whether it was an inevitable outcome of his thinking, or were his words just used by another group for their ends. Engels seems a possibly loathsome character, who may have given the gift of Marx to the world. Lenin, was he really interested in genuine Marxism or were his attempts crude and ill-thought out.

    Is Marxism an ideology in its own right, or is it just an accurate critique of the inevitability of capitalism?

    All this and more, I hope to be more enlightened about.

    1. I suggest you buy the book from Readings or Gleebooks, DB. They are wonderful independent retailers who each have mail order services.
      So, it’s not that I am emphasising Marx on capitalism. It’s more that most of what Marx wrote was an account of capitalism, and how this governs all social relations.
      Communism is something he describes as a (potential or inevitable, depending on which bit you read) stage of history. There was no blue print for it, but instead an idea called historical materialism, which is a tool for understanding how the base (the mode of production) talks to the superstructure (politics, law, culture, everything else). This is still taught as “fact” within China.
      The failures of communism (note, not actually communism, but as Lenin called it, state capitalism) notwithstanding, historical materialism remains, in my view, a wonderful tool for understanding political economy.
      And, no, I don’t think the failure of communist societies (hey, can we talk about the failures of capitalist societies?) are down to a few bad people misinterpreting. Yes, the adherence to “scientific socialism”, and the idea that societies can be understood as science, did not help. But, there are bigger issues at play. I mean, for a start, communism would only work in societies that had very developed economies. If you’d asked Marx where communism would fail to thrive, he would have answered “Russia”.
      As to “ideology”. Ideology has a very specific meaning for Marxists. It’s the hidden beliefs one holds that reinforce the mode of production. So a Marxist doesn’t have an “ideology” in a Marxist sense.
      But it is it an over-arching belief system that explains everything? No. Marx never made this claim.
      It is extraordinary philosophy, though, and of great use in understanding the current era of crisis.

      1. Marxism makes fundamentally flawed assumptions about the nature of people. That’s why it always fails when applied to nation states.

  9. I guess I have to be the one who will on the receiving end of the Criticism – but suffice it to point out that over a century of Marxist Critique has never resulted in one micro-dollar of wealth creation, never lifted an gnat out of poverty, except for the academics and their political enablers, some who merely steal, others who destroy thousand year old institutions and tens of millions of lives, so that their vision of utopia can be realised. In this utopia, where there is no incentive to excel, no way of knowing how much to produce, how much may be consumed, and if the quality is terrible, no incentive to improve. Every-time communism, socialism and other forms of organised mass theft and mass murder has been attempted, sooner or later, the economy must fail, leaving a humanitarian and ecological catastrophe.

    The first country to be enslaved against its will, by a small group of outsiders who despised the culture, finally took their country back and was then plundered by more outsiders, before they restored the Orthodox Church, rejected all aspects of Marxist/Social “progress”, through the operation of a lasse-faire market system, then accomplished more wealth creation, 1000% growth in living standards in 15 years, than 80 years of command economy. Unashamedly generating a Pareto distribution of wealth, the only consequence of respecting the vastly different capabilities of different people, but everyone being better off – until they become a threat to the now “Marxist” dominated West.

    The generation of disparity between the most and least productive members of society is natural, the science denying Marxists say that everyone has equal ability, and oppression as the only cause. The corrupt crony capitalism which relies on state power to extort money from the poor, while creating artificial monopolies for government largess, is what truly exploits the poor, and allows the most corrupt, not the most creative, to reap the benefits. Yet all Marxist prescriptions to change the Crony Capitalist system involve self-appointed guardians of the poor, who simply steal wealth away from productive industries, enable dependence rather than independence for the poor, and then become Crony Capitalists of the worst kind, those who do no economically productive work at all, destroying wealth, generating poverty, and morph into the leaders of the revolution once the economy collapses from inefficiency.

    No Marxist has ever produced a viable solution to the economic calculation problem, only a market system provides the information flow to adjust to supply and demand, to give incentives to lower prices, improve products, and generate prosperity for the whole economy. UN Statistics always demonstrate that the single factor which determines the living standards of the poorest members of society, is the total GDP per capita, with distribution secondary. It is crony capitalism and corruption which is causing the crisis in the advanced economies, the massive increases in debt fuelled by wasteful crony defence spending and growing welfare dependance, banking cartels and general over regulation. None of these problems can be fixed by Marxist style redistribution and more government. Criticise as much as you like, but until any Marxist academic can solve one single problem which leads to a productive and fairer society, thats all it will ever be. Whatever anyone thinks, the US military adventures aside, the current system is not leading to wholesale slaughter, although the Marxists and Antifa are doing their best to bring it about.

    1. You’re aware, right, that no economy ever grew faster than the USSR?
      I’m not defending the state capitalism, or the crimes, of this union. But I am saying that you are declaring something that can be easily debunked by even the merest look st history. The USSR grew its economy faster than any other nation has, and did so from virtually a feudal base.
      Are the one billion people on the planet starving currently not victims of capitalism?
      Why does the World Bank use China in its calculations of poverty, while refusing to lend money to China? Again, not to defend China. But to argue that that economy has not raised the living standards of more people in the world than capitalism is just false.

      1. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1989 because it had proved over the course of 72 years that it could not compete with the economic power, including growth of that power, of the United States.
        The US, already involved in a spectacularly expensive arms race with the USSR, ramped up the also spectacularly expensive Space Race and effectively destroyed the Soviet economy.

        The difference was that whenever the Soviet government spent money on weapons and space programs, the Soviet economy had fewer resources than would otherwise have been the case.
        Whenever the US government spent money on weapons or space programs the size of it’s economy grew even larger enabling it to do ever more.

        1. Indeed, the USSR could not complete and deteriorated. If not for the black market (free market) it would have ended sooner.

          I would disagree with:
          Whenever the US government spent money on weapons or space programs the size of it’s economy grew even larger enabling it to do ever more.
          – This was at best a displacement of capital that would be better off reflecting the needs of those it came from. US spending caused it to go off the gold standard and now the are 20 trillion in debt – but all this is Socialism – government is socialism.

  10. Did we mention that Marx accomplished every bourgeois school boy’s dream and married a princess. Yes! And cheated with the maid … not just for a weekend. When the daughters were of certain age there was some consternation as whether they should come out to society.

    But seriously folks, she’s right. Marx is not a slur word. He is worth digging into even if you never agree with him. Like Freud, he changes you and challenges you and makes you take positions and clarify you POV. Which is not something people bother with much these days, because nothing matters anymore so why bother. When is the last time you had a conversation about the good and bad in capitalism outside a uni? Or even in a uni? The left just hate the economic system. Their program of reform is insipid. If they got in power tomorrow they wouldn’t know what to do. The rest just accept what ever breakfast cereal is advertised. This is no way to run a planet. Marx at least presents a model for awareness, which every decent capitalist should understand better than the media industry screamers we accept as thoughtful opinion makers now days.

  11. It does my old ‘Baby Boomer’ heart so much good to hear that Karl is on the come-back trail! Studying his approach to sociology way back was a life-changing thing for me. A lot of shit has gone down since then, but I do believe his analytic powers were excellent. He did tell it like it really was. And still is (only worse). Some time in the 1970s capitalism captured language and forced us to only speak of ‘value’ in their terms. When you renounce your language then you are seriously fucked. You cannot argue you case. In fact, your case becomes invalid. Yeah, let’s start speaking Marxism once again!

    1. Aleksandr Solzhenitsen told it like it was too.
      Marxism is solely responsible for the slaughter of 80 million+ of its own people.

  12. ‘lit fam’ the slang of ‘young people’ is pathetic code language meant to be cool – it’s often ‘culturally appropriated’ from certain U.S. ethnic minorities and best left with them – it’s definitely uncool to ‘generationally appropriate’ such slang;so oldies,do not attempt to copy,best to ignore its use completely.

  13. Oh, and I should have added that Helen should also be thanked for trying to tell younger generations that Marx has a serious story to tell of what’s fundamentally wrong with capitalism. Growing inequality is bad enough but exploitation and oppression linked with loss of homes of their own for families and a lack of a public voice for anyone out of the top 1% of the top 1% will make the future under neo-liberalism much worse.

  14. Thank you Helen. I started my adventure with Marxism with a copy of “Marxism for Beginners” I found in the library of my very conservative all boys’ Catholic school. The librarian, bless her, was a subversive. She also gave me a copy of The Female Eunuch. EVERYONE is getting a copy of your book for Christmas!.

  15. Just now pre-ordered via the one-percent-of-the-one-percent owner of Amazon! Ironies abound.

    This morsel has my soul vibrating like a tuning fork. I’m in the age bracket of the majority of your respondents here – at least two with names which feature large in my family tree – so good company – and they express in response to this intro the same kinds of feelings I have.

    Years ago I was teaching for nearly two decades in Japan – part of my university contract was to teach community continuing education classes. Of course English communication – Donald Keene essays or the history of English (how did it arise and how did it get to become the “world language”) or cultural aspects of English vis-à-vis its equivalence in Japanese. Needless to say bright and intelligent and mostly fluent in English – the members of those classes.

    But one sad member through one of those dozen years was a disturbed chap quite mentally unstable (picking up – as such people can do – on the political dog-whistling of the Japanese right and its regular refusal to answer Chinese claims re Nanjing or praying at the War Shrine in Tokyo – and later threatening all manner of dire acts on a Chinese academic mate – and on his little girl as she went to school – but thwarted by some intelligent actions from mutual friends) who shouted out in the class that I was a Marxist. A what?

    Look, Helen, I was raised in a fundamentalist protestant family – not escaping the fundamentalist clutches till I was 19 – and nearly finished my tertiary studies – and my history courses had largely missed late-19th political theory – don’t ask me how. I knew only that the manner in which the accusation was flung at me with a kind of knowing sneer meant that it was not positive. Now I am champing at the bit till next week and your book’s release to learn how he identified me as a Marxist!

    1. Every book should be read in context. Try reading this one too:

      ‘The Black Book of Communism’

      “Most sensible adults are aware of communism’s human toll in the Soviet Union and elsewhere—the forced starvations in the Ukraine, the Great Purge of the 1930s, the Gulag, the insanity of China’s Great Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot’s murder of one in every seven Cambodians, Fidel Castro’s firing squads and prisons.
      All these horrors are now brought together in what the French scholar Martin Malia, in his foreword, calls a ‘balance sheet of our current knowledge of communism’s human costs, archivally based where possible and elsewhere drawing on the best available secondary evidence’
      … The book is all the more damning because each of the contributing scholars is either a former communist or close fellow traveler… That The Black Book infuriated the French left is a sure mark of its intrinsic worth.”
      —Joseph C. Goulden, The Washington Times

      1. The people.of this continent thrived for 80,000+ years under socialism, until foreign forces arrived in 1788 to raze what was here and establish a capitalist system.

  16. Loved it Helen. It’s time for a new movement towards a saner, fairer, peaceful world and as you say, the young are ready for it. The problem so far is that they had no manifesto that all agreed was the direction to head in. That was the problem that Occupy Now had… plus being subverted and taken over by plants.

    I don’t think they could do anything better than look at Marx as a starting point to work out their own manifesto.

  17. I am 65 and as others who have commented will know this was a relatively easier time economically for wage earners – full-time jobs, home prices affordable for many people with loans repayable in your lifetime and more public housing provided.

    Wind the clock forward a little to home equity loans and other dodgy lending practices . Rich capitalists finding ways to get richer luring poorer people into aspirations of bigger homes, rental properties, bigger cars and more. But leaving them with huge debt. What price this new type of good life?

    Now I watch my children with tertiary trained professional employment paying the very high rent needed to pay the bank interest owed by aspiring rich people. And this after holding down two part-time jobs to get an education and paying back HECS.

    Thank you Helen for your incisive and witty article. You give me hope. I will be getting a copy of your book.

  18. Helen,

    Perhaps I understand your reluctance to include something along the lines of, “Pre-orders matter a lot. They really help my early sales figures out. And so, I have negotiated deep discounts that will permit all of you, even the proletariat, to access Marx in this concise manner.”

    Despite, this lack of modern agile, innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, I have pre-ordered a couple of copies.

  19. Thanks Helen for putting the emphasis on the vision Marx has for a future where “The free development of each is the condition of the free development of all”,which is a fundamental small “l’ liberal idea (nothing to do with our “liberal” party), when they have been told that Marx is linked with the idea that individual freedom must be sacrificed for the sake of economic progress. I have to pass on the modern twitter idiom.

  20. Helen,
    I’m 81 next birthday, the only child of parents who were deeply scarred by their experiences as young adults when the depression hit Australia. As a young kid I was taught that we lived in a feudal type of society, there was a privileged class who had all the power, the rest of us were serfs, and only the Labor party could protect us from the bosses ( who were all bastards as my dear old dad continually told me).
    If only your book had been available when I was trying to understand how and why capitalism shaped our society.
    I’m ordering it for my grandkids. Thanks.
    Cambo

  21. Fabulous article and great analysis, thanks Helen. I’m 67 and the daughter of a father who read Karl Marx and talked about equality at the dinner table. So glad people are talking about socialism again. Neo liberal economics has been a nightmare.

    1. I’m almost a carbon copy Jane, 64 and had Marx quoted to me by my grandfather who self-educated during the depression, at the public library, after giving up beer. I’ll be buying this for my daughter, partly to show her that ‘fuck’ is occasionally a very useful/excusable/expressive word, especially in the hands of masterful wordsmith/thinker like Razor.

  22. Thanks Helen. I’d like to send this to my 14 and 16year old grandkids but their parents might think I’m encouraging them to say fuck, though God knows they’ve heard it from me enough. Perhaps a kiddy edition next.

  23. I love your writing Helen, I’ll definitely pick this up. Karl Marx and Henry George are my jam. I could use a refresher on Marx to aid in my cranky rants so thanks for this.

    For interests sake I’m 33, studied at Uni, have a negligible amount of super saved, and when I realised the reality of the life of endless debt and stress I’d be signing up for if I tried to participate in that great nightmare we call the home ownership dream I decided fuck it and now live week to week doing casual work and driving around in my van. I’m lucky my parents own one house so it’s likely I’ll never be truly homeless but they are not wealthy and my future is certainly not particularly secure.

    Some people say well you’re clever enough, you could be working full time (or in reality a working a full week of jobs) and saving money (paying rent more likely) and stocking up your super account and looking for a little home…. but what’s the point?

    I could sacrifice every day of my life working a 9-5 and earning super and paying off a lifelong mortgage when the reality is that’s no more secure than what I’m doing now. The property market will surely have to crash eventually so I’ll be paying off a place that will probably never be worth today’s prices again, the global economy is so unstable that it’s likely a crash could see any super savings wiped out anyway. Not to mention climate change and man children with nuclear buttons.

    1. I’ve been reading recently about living in stealth vans in America, Jess. Thousands of people do. I thought what a great idea, particularly for our homeless and and grey nomad comrades.

      Could people do that here in Brisbane? It’s banned. In fact it’s banned in most of Queensland unless you want to pay high fees in the now very rare van parks. That’s the problem with capitalism. Ordinary people find a great way to save money. live a more interesting life, enjoy the outdoors and meet people. Capitalists see a business opportunity going to waste. Am I surprised that local councils and state governments pass laws banning living in vans and parking vans overnight and sell off parkland and council camping areas for condominiums. No I’m not surprised. That’s capitalism.

      1. Hi Kate,

        Yep it’s certainly difficult to legally park overnight in many places. I remember when I first left high school and set out in a van you could stay in a caravan park or campground in a beautiful spot for less than $10 a night. These days most van parks are upwards of $35 a night, and closer to $60 if you want to be by the water. Even national parks which you have to pay just to go into at all are charging up to $24 a night on top of that.

        It certainly separates the van and caravan dwellers into groups based on what you can afford. But as you say – that’s capitalism.

        Friends and family who live in flat streets, and the small handful of free camps still left around the place mostly keep me out of trouble. The occassional restless sleep in an ‘illegal’ parking spot spent wondering if someone’s going to come wake me up and try to move me on or fine me gives me the teeniest tiniest insight into how stressful being truly homeless must be.

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