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Red Flags

13 September 2017

I was saddened to find there was only a scattering of students at the student protest to ditch the Federal Government’s interference with university fees and funding.

We bunched outside the State Library, holding union banners in one hand and darts in the other, screaming “Shame!” in our exhales whenever a Lib or fact-depicting-inequality was quoted by the megaphone holder. creaming “Shame!” does wonders to release pent up rage, I recommend it.

Then we marched, all three hundred or so student Spartans, against all odds and governments and university chancellor-millionaires. “Fight back!”, we were yelling. It took a few turns before I realised we weren’t meant to be yelling, “Fuck that!”

Mid-fervour, I was approached by a Marxist who pretended he wanted to become friends. But alas, he sprung into the interrogation almost immediately: What do you know about Marxism? In the interest of learning some new funky facts, I played dumb. Although I have, in fact, read the Communist Manifesto and so many books on the Russian and Chinese revolutions that Mao himself might be impressed. He recited all the facts that I already knew: the wealthiest one per cent own more wealth than the other ninety-nine per cent. Corporations aren’t paying proportional tax. Corporations are protected by legal loopholes. Corporations are upending our democracy. As he talked, I nodded like a bobble head at all the injustice.

What do you think about Marxism? Oh, I thought, you’re inviting me to rant my own manifesto. Instead I pacified my ego and said that while I’ll happily identify as a leftist as a mere indication of where I stand on the political spectrum, I refuse to further indulge in labels. Why should I, and why should anyone else? There seems to be such desperation to align with a singular ideology, or a political party, that the issues themselves become of secondary importance.

Assuming I was fence sitting, my Marxist enlightener invited me to attend the Marxist meeting at Trades Hall after the protest. I told him I had plans, which I did, not that he believed me. I wanted to add, “If I wanted to hear a liturgy, I would visit my local church on a Sunday morning.”

While my hopeful converter was chatting to me, a little quote kept flashing in my head: “Humans are susceptible to religion,” courtesy of Richard Dawkins, of course. In other words, people innately subscribe to religion. Does this just as easily apply to ideology? If so, and I strongly agree that it does, why has an ideology like Marxism prevailed as the sponsor of leftism, just as hard-line Protestants may lobby conservative political parties?

In The God Delusion Dawkins talks about how when Jesus was alive there were many charismatic preachers, just like Him, but somehow Jesus’ following won over the others and ‘mhst of those cults died away’. It’s a risky analogy, but it’s sure fit enough to indicate that Marxism has prevailed over its preceding and succeeding counterpart theories and ideologies – of which there were many. Marx himself acknowledged in The Communist Manifesto that many of his ideas were based on those past, from the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and beyond. Really, he was just building on ideologies and inventing a few more labels to construct an Industrial era version.

So why is Marxism, the theory tailored for Industrial England, the same theory that is attempting to trademark the leftist movement of the 21st century?

While Marxist theory should be honoured as a momentous historical development, having provided an important analysis of class struggle and critique of the political economy, it doesn’t make sense for it to be the banner under which people fight for justice today. Marxism is a theory, not gospel; it isn’t there for mere consumption, but rather, as a stimulus for democratic discussion. It proposes a socio-economic model for society. However, this doesn’t imply that it can be implemented in all societies at any point in history. Rather, it demands adaptation, as discovered in the form of Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism … the list goes on. There are plenty of economic theorists, past and present, who argue that Marxism isn’t the text to abide by when implementing socialism and that revolution is not actually required in the transition.

But I didn’t want to make assumptions and come out in the wrong. So, in name of investigative journalism and against the advice of a friend, who reminded me that I was not Louis Theroux, I decided to attend a Marxist gathering a week later. I grabbed my Little Red Notebook and headed to Trades Hall (making a quick stop for a glass of red) on a Monday evening to collect some facts and quotes.

The discussion at the meeting was stimulating and fiery, but would have been better if it wasn’t just preaching to the converted. Funnily, there were few references to Marxist theory, which made me ponder whether the Marxists in the room were all that occupied with the theory that’s slapped on all their campaign to better the world.

The modern era has complicated the economy and class system and is underlain with conversations about race, gender, sexuality and the environment; topics that Marx only skimmed but which, ironically, are still listed as items up for discussion in Marxist meetings – issues that require a broad following of people in order to be resolved.

We often hear that there’s a lot at stake for our generation. We underrepresented young people are compounded with socio-political, environmental and financial issues, to name a few. Hence, we need a united front for change, and we can’t afford to be sticking niche ideologies, especially ones that served as the scripture to brutal communist regimes, to causes that should be driven by ethical and social-conscious motives that will draw the support of millions. Stamping ‘Marxism’ like a commercial brand on activism announces its intrinsic partnership with a particular cause and it distracts from the real focus.

Hailing Marx as a prophet-like figure isn’t exactly spurring our nation’s populace into a resistance movement. So, maybe slow down on that revolution for now, comrades. Instead, how about formulating a unique movement that is packed with a few more ‘isms’ than just Marxism. Rather than falling into the trap of idolism, nostalgia and, frankly, regression, perhaps look towards a broader appeal and a united front that may win the praises and support of more than just the handful that were at Trades Hall on a Monday evening.