Screengrabs via Tiktok users @fleetwoodmacncheeze and @louisahutchinson7; photo by Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
There’s a revolution taking place on TikTok. Leftists fighting bigotry on the platform and calling for the overthrow of capitalism have coalesced into a Communist Hype House (AKA @marxians), founded last April by a group of Marx-stanning teens.“Not to brag or anything,” says Finn, a 16-year-old from Boston and one of the house's founders, “but we pretty much threw open the doors to radical leftism on TikTok.”
The account joins a string of other political “hype houses” (named after the influencer collab house in Los Angeles): there are conservative-leaning houses, liberal ones, and for the undecided, a bipartisan Hype House. Even before the communist iteration, proletariat discontent had been bubbling away on TikTok for some time, with the “Marxism” hashtag amassing 15.3 million views and counting.Long before the Trump administration accused TikTok of feeding user data to the Chinese Communist Party, Gen Z teens in North America and the UK were flocking to the platform to prove they know their Lenin from their Trotsky, rail against big corporates, pay their respects to “Daddy Karl”, and bang out the USSR national anthem. (TikTok have denied all claims of sharing user data with the Chinese government.)Videos tend to be comedic, rather than educational; making use of TikTok’s usual lip syncing, dancing, meme and “checks” (self-assessments, essentially) formats. “It’s about accessibility and not wanting to act superior,” explains Finn. “And, we’re all fairly normal teens with a normal sense of humour, so not every post we make is deep theory or economic critiques.” With COVID-19 exposing the total failure of capitalism, the establishment of the Communist Hype House and rise of Marxist TikTok comes at a pivotal moment. Over 47 million people have filed for unemployment in the US, and in the UK, unions have warned that millions of jobs are at risk as the economy shrinks by a fifth. As they enter a job market devastated by the pandemic, Gen Z faces an exceptionally precarious future.
Even before lockdown, a political shift was occurring: in 2019, a poll revealed that 61 percent of Americans aged between 18 and 24 have a positive response to the word “socialism”.“Our grandparents' generation was able to graduate high school, get a job at a factory and have enough to live,” explains Sydney, a 20-year-old Marxist TikToker from upstate New York. “The majority of my generation just feel like the system has failed them.”While socialism gains mainstream appeal, many young communists still find themselves isolated outside of TikTok. Louisa, a 17-year-old from Leeds, UK, says she started making TikToks to “satirise” her reputation at school as the “scary Marxist”. In one video, she takes the platform’s popular “couple’s questions challenge” with a digitised Marx as her other half. “Much more so than any other form of social media, Marxism has a platform on TikTok,” Louisa says. “Sometimes I feel like I’m preaching to the choir!”Beyond this immediate sphere of comrades, there are communist allies who go by another guise. The #BarbzforBernie campaign – which started off as a group of Nicki Minaj stans (AKA Barbz) waging war on Conservative TikTokers by flooding their comments with the rapper’s verses – has now formed its own fully-fledged Barb Hype House“A lot of young people are scared of being ‘too political’,” explains 18-year-old Julian* from the US, one of the founders of @barbhypehouse. “We’ve had people say that our account helped them to not be so afraid of using labels like 'Marxist' and 'socialist'.”
While the Barbz merge communism with Nicki Minaj fandom (sometimes literally), Finn admits he was “never too sold” on the comment raiding. “It was pretty funny,” he says, “but I wouldn’t say it was beneficial to the growth of the left.”Sanders, whom the Barbz campaigned for up until his crushing loss in the primaries, has in the past distanced himself from communism.“I think Bernie has been extremely useful in some of our causes,” says Finn, “but in the end, it’s just friendly capitalism.” Sydney agrees, crediting Sanders with introducing her to Marxism, while maintaining that his policies didn’t go far enough. “He opened my eyes to wealth equality in this country,” she says, “but I’ve been a bit left of him for a while.”Despite some differences of opinion, left-leaning houses are bolstering each other on a platform where their right-wing counterparts dominate – the largest political TikTok is @ConservativeHypeHouse, which is nearing one million members.“Leftist content is throttled online because it doesn't sell ads and make money for the platforms,” explains Nick Hayes, the co-founder of Means TV, a post-capitalist streaming service. “Why would TikTok be spreading Marxist propaganda when they don't want people to be Marxist?”There can be no ethical consumption under TikTok’s capitalism, but users often find themselves in a bind when it comes to alternatives. “It sucks,” Finn says, “but ultimately it’s where we get the biggest outreach.” Despite being at the mercy of a corporate behemoth, the Communist Hype House’s popularity continues to surge, with an inbox regularly inundated with requests from TikTokers wanting to learn more.Capitalism is more broken than ever, but Marxist TikTok is ready to take on the class struggle, one dance skit at a time.