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Issue #1826      June 13, 2018

Readers in Marxism

Book Reviews by Graham Drew

The need for a broad breadth of Marxist writers (and readers) in these times

Definitely the quickest cover-to-cover read (no index) by me of a contemporary book about Marxism is Total propaganda: basic Marxist brainwashing for the angry and the young by Helen Razer (2017: Allen & Unwin). She appeals to millennials to read a bit of Marx and Marxist writers, including Lenin, with the view of them embracing unity in the face of social and political issues left as problems by previous generations – not least of all, of course, the environment, housing and the like.

Razer is unforgiving about the shit capitalism has created and reminds a lot of smart academic Marxists that cultural studies was a useless diversion amongst other confusions and finger-pointing (from baby boomers and the like) that young people must unpack. And yes, identity politics is put into its hole and idealism/ideology gets its just deserve. Historical materialism is clearly and succinctly explained with accessible examples for the contemporary reader. Alienation is simply described, along with the inherent contradictions of capitalism though she doesn’t really deal with the “state” – maybe a complexity, amongst other pressing questions, best left for another book.

Helen Razer clearly is proud to be known as a communist writer and more than adequately applies her journalist skills to explain most things about capitalism and Marxism that I have been asked about by young (and old people) over my years as a student, a unionist, a worker (labourer, social welfare, administration and teacher) and parent.

Equally, having such a book when I was young would have assisted me in appreciating the political work/arguments that I encountered in my youthful inclination to join the CPA in the late 1970s. This is a book that can be shared, particularly with your children and friends, to help them understand how a Marxist sees and seeks to act in the world.

Whilst it is rightly made clear that generation X and baby-boomer Marxists indulged in the farce of cultural studies as their contribution to the development and perpetuating of Marxist thought, Razer does not make clear how new left-wing activists can avoid, other than liberalism, experimenting with (or getting caught up in) other such dead ends in pursuing the course to revolution. However, she is clear that a socialist/communist revolution is very much the desirable end game.

Istvan Meszaros and his book The necessity of social control (2015: Monthly Review Press), is presented as a simplified read of an insightful and formative thinker/philosopher recommended by the likes of Hugo Chávez, Michael Lebowitz and Bertell Ollman. It is a book I have been reading for the last three months or so – of course off-and-on with necessary periods of varying lengths of time for reflection[s] resulting in other reading[s] being enjoyed and critically digested.

Istvan Meszaros does tend to have rather long, multi-subject qualifying sentences and there were paragraphs that despite re-reading remained un-clear to me. However, I think I am clear in my appreciation that he challenges us to understand that it is the “labour-capital” relationship which is destroying humanity and that the rule of capital, understood as a student of Marx, is an epoch approaching a very dangerous/self-destructive end (for all of us).

Needless to say, Istvan says much more than this and his discussion of the nation-state, amongst a lot of things, deserves debate. Along with his view that the Russian revolution whilst important in seizing the means of production didn’t overthrow the rule of capital in the labour-capital relationship and this is why the collapse of the USSR/or the return of capitalism was possible.

My favourite “line” from Meszaros is that “wealth is to create society rather than society to create wealth”. And whilst the following quote has a sobering implication, and Istvan says we have a gigantic mountain to climb, not to struggle/organise is to surrender to a final end – and not just darkness.

“Grow or perish” continues to be the order of the day, and the meaning of growth, in the spirit of the prevailing order, is fetishistically reduced – by violating the truth and absurdly imposing its destructive transfiguration as falsehood, not in the “world of beyond” but in the actual existing one, through the naked instrumentality of state-legitimated “arbitrary force” – to its fallaciously asserted identity with wasteful capital-expansion. (p.280)

How we can quietly keep alive the understanding and intellect of the many students of Marx, like Istvan and especially Australian writers like Helen Razer, deserves our immediate attention.

Next article – All at sea

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