As far as contemporary introductions to Marxist ideas go, Helen Razer’s ‘Total Propaganda’ is quite good. It’s engaging, easy to read, and written in Razer’s unique cheeky style.
Fed up with endless misinterpretations of Marxism and socialism, Razer has set out to write an explainer for the ‘angry and young’. This is a welcome contribution in the era of Sanders, Corbyn and Melenchon, when socialist ideas are making their way back into the mainstream.
Razer correctly points out that millennials today are doing it tough, and that it’s likely to get much worse. She does a good job of taking up the lies peddled to young people, like the idea that if you just stop dining out on sandwiches you will be able to save enough to buy a house.
Written against the backdrop of the Trump presidency, current day issues are threaded throughout the book. Razer does a decent job of using basic Marxist theory to explain the situation we face in relation to jobs, housing affordability and the parasitic finance sector, amongst other things.
Her explanations are interspersed with often humorous rants that seem to be responses to frustrating discussions she has likely had with all sorts of moderate liberals (we have all been there).
In fact, she skilfully takes up most of the liberal ideas that are in vogue on university campuses at the moment. This includes identity politics, ‘call out’ culture, liberal feminism and cultural appropriation.
Razer not only emphasises the importance of class in capitalist society but explains that there is a material basis to all the problems we face. Those problems will only be addressed by changing our material conditions.
She boldly puts the case for system change as the only way that young people will secure themselves a decent future. Refreshingly, she also puts her faith in young people themselves to be the agents of that change.
While there were bits and pieces throughout that I didn’t fully agree with, I think that the main weakness of the book was the conclusion. When it comes to what to do next Razer sort of stops short.
She says that she doesn’t have all the answers and appeals for people to do things like read more Marx and think critically. This is a great first step, but Marx himself took it further.
Because of the centralised nature of the capitalist system, the pervasive nature of capitalist ideology and the role of the state, there is a need for Marxists to be organised. We need to strive to build revolutionary parties if we are to have any chance of being effective.
Marx himself made a huge contribution to this process by helping to set up the First International.
The question of organisation doesn’t have to be the focus of a book like this, but I do think that it needs to be mentioned. While we are starting from a low base in Australia, a socialist party based on Marxist ideas will be necessary if we really want put an end to the capitalist system.
Criticisms aside, this book is well worth a read, no matter if you are new to Marxist ideas, or if you are already acquainted with Marx but are looking for a different take on things. Instead of the usual cynical stuff we read in the capitalist press Razer has written something that is interesting, positive and educational.
If it helps to bring even a few angry and young people into our movement it will have served its purpose well.
Reviewed by Anthony Main
Total Propaganda: Basic Marxist Training for the Angry and the Young
By Helen Razer
Published by Allen & Unwin, 238pp, $27.99