You Can’t Spell ‘Socialism’ Without ‘Social’

Marian Salzman
Apr 30 · 3 min read

In music, clothes and ideas, fashions come, go and disappear. But wait long enough and eventually they come back around again. Most of us who remember them from the first time will probably find it easier to get back into the music than into any of those clothes packed away in the attic.

We’ve seen the ’70s flounce along the catwalks with high-waisted flared pants, tank tops and disco music (there must be a name for that wave of feel-good nostalgia quickly followed by embarrassment?). You’ve surely heard of — if not seen — Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic about ’70s music icons Queen, which scored big at the box office and netted four Oscars. Coming soon: the similarly ’70s-ish biopic Rocketman, about yet another Brit rocker, Elton John. In a yang to that yin of Freddie Mercury and Elton John glamour, a new docuseries looks at the evolution of the DIY music genre of the ’70s, “Punk” — the antithesis of glam.

In fact, some of today’s grassroots activists have echoes of the defiant mindset of late ’70s punk. Not quite anarchy (thank you, Sex Pistols), but it seems like new generations are discovering a new iteration of “socialism” — dust it off, see if it fits. For those of us who came of age in the greed-is-good ’80s and the communism-failed collapse of the Soviet Union in the early ’90s, this comes as something of a surprise. For a good part of the past three decades “socialism” has been a scare word, a taboo idea that dared not speak its name. But no longer — at least in the United States and Britain.

American 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders defied the taboo, called himself a democratic socialist and scored big with young voters. In the U.K., young people swept self-proclaimed socialist Jeremy Corbyn to head the Labour party and cheered him like a rock star at the 2017 Glastonbury Festival. Freshman New York congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has badged her fearless advocacy with the democratic socialist brand and is blazing a trail through social media.

There’s plenty of heavyweight analysis about why people are talking about socialism again. The Economist thinks it’s in reaction to inequality and climate change. The New York Times attributes it to people blaming their material insecurity on the failure of capitalism. Influential historian Francis Fukuyama thinks we need it now to rebalance rampant income and wealth inequality.

All that makes sense. But do we think it’s a coincidence that we’re living in the age of social media? There is influence in the way we talk and the words we use — specifically, here, the word “social.” Back in the ’70s people talked about TV, newspapers and magazines, which were the ways most got their information. Now it is thanks to social media — and through social media — that many of us receive news, information and entertainment. Through social media we learn about a whole lot of “social” things that are mostly understood as good: social conscience, social enterprises, social investment.

But I think a lot of us really care about how businesses are scoring on pillars of corporate social responsibility; in particular, the “socialist” notion that everyone should be treated equally and fairly. It’s a concept that seems so obvious but in reality needs to be tackled by all businesses. For example, at PMI, we have just received the first global EQUAL-SALARY certification. And companies are now publishing their gender pay gaps in an attempt to hold themselves accountable.

Has the concept of “socialism” been slowly encroaching upon on us outside of political spheres, without us even realizing? As people fret about loneliness and isolation, they are learning the value of social intelligence, social awareness and social relationships. And before you know it, those old taboos have lost their force and people are talking about social democracy and democratic socialism.

Marian Salzman

Written by

SVP Global Communications at Philip Morris International — award-winning PR and marketing professional, author and trendspotter — popularized “metrosexual.”