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Book extract: Helen Razer’s Total Propaganda

Opinion

Helen Razer’s new book is written for anyone who wants ‘a little taste of Marxism’ – but especially for Millennials fed up with being told society’s economic woes are all their fault for taking Ubers and eating exotic brunches.

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Published this month, Total Propaganda: Basic Marxist Brainwashing for the Angry and the Young is the fifth book by the columnist and self-described “pushy old Communist”, who believes that capitalism is broken and the future “so dark, we need night vision goggles” … or maybe the light of Karl Marx.

The following extract (which, as you might expect, contains some “colourful” language) is from the introductory chapter titled: Karl Marx is a super cool ‘bro’ and totally relevant for today’s ‘cell phone’ crazy youngster!

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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.

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.

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.

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 —I n 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.

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This is an edited extract of Total Propaganda: Basic Marxist Brainwashing for the Angry and the Young, by Helen Razer, published this month by Allen & Unwin. Republished with permission.

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