Socialism is a Toxic Brand
Rebranding the left by learning from the right
Some people will never accept that socialism isn’t just hyper-inflation, jealous-asset-stealing, excessive-taxing, commie-pinko-wussy bullshit. This ain’t for them.
Some people — if you suggested nationalising utilities, optimally taxing the wealthy and generally vibing some wealth redistribution measures that make society a better, more equal place — would be fully on-board. Until you mention that that’s what socialism is.
It’s got a smell; this connotation of the USSR and too much union power.
We need to detoxify the brand, remove the stigma, the odour.
How can you rebrand an entire political ideology that runs the gamete from Venezuelan super-statism to Nordic Hygge?
You learn from the best of course, and what is better than ironing out its dodgy tendencies, papering over the iffy cracks with a cuddly smile, than hyper-market-mega-late-stage-capitalism and its associated free-market-but-erring-into-fascism-peddling political advocates?
Nothing, that’s what.
So let’s engage ourselves in some blue-sky thinking and reframe the narrative, shall we?
What’s in a name?
In the case of socialism, a hell of a lot.
For most people other than socialists, it’s a straight-up turn-off.
So do we need a new name?
If you take the far-right, as an example, they’ve done the nominal rebrand down to a tee.
They’re not nazis no more. It’s the alt-right, the populists, the intellectual dark-web.
How can we copy that success (without, y’know, the racism and that)?
I mean we could just straight up copy it and go for alt-left. But we’re better than that, c’mon.
The Progressive Front? A bit Monty Python-esque, but has potential.
Progress, Forward, Future, Idealist. There’s something in embracing the inherently non-regressive nature of leftism.
People, Popular, Assembly, Group. The communal element of socialism is one of its key strengths in the face of overly-individualistic capitalism.
Communitarianism is good, but sonically too similar to communism, and also, an existing movement distinct from socialism.
My vote would be Popular Futurism, only because both words sound innately positive and people are stupid. Say to someone “wanna be part of my GOOD PEOPLE WHO ARE GREAT AT STUFF gang?” and they’ll bite your hand off.
But a name change alone won’t be enough.
There needs to be a rebranding of the overarching goal of what socialism is: what it’s for and what it’s about.
The perception of socialism as a means to steamroll out some inequality has lead to the misunderstanding that that implies a desire for total equality of outcome.
And though we can argue til we’re blue in the face that actually we just want people to have as equal an opportunity as possible (which necessarily requires some redistribution of resources i.e. the need for the super-rich to pay all the tax that they should), it won’t wash with those who believe that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get.
How do you convince people that wealth redistribution is good?
Playing on fears — positively
Once again, we can learn from the right.
Only a few years ago, to suggest that you didn’t like immigrants would have been a pretty extreme view, certainly bordering on racist if not fully wading into that vibe.
What the alt-right have done so successfully is to rebrand that toxic concept, and turn it back on those who merely preach tolerance, suggesting that all the political and societal failures of the last ten, twenty, thirty years are as a result of this PC culture, this over-tolerance.
And it kind of hits home right? Like even progressive, liberal, left people sometimes see the ultra-SJW-type stuff and at first grasp think “woah, woah, calm down there”.
It’s a sensible thought and a common one. When you walk down your high street and notice more and more shops with names in Arabic and fewer and fewer old school pubs, you either consciously or unconsciously form a link based on preconceived biases.
What liberal, left types do is rationalise that: they say, “yes there are indeed more shops catering to non-indigenous ethnicities in my area now. There used to be only butchers, bakers and pubs.
You know what, I like the fact I can get cheaper spices from that shop. I like the fact that I hear more languages, more diverse ideas on a daily basis. This is better than before.”
Those more on the right, on the other hand, see that change and shudder. They see a place that no longer looks like the home they once knew.
The alt-right has played on this fundamental fear within those sorts of people. They have exploited the fear of the other, the fear of change, and as result, go further than just express that fear. They fight the fear.
By subtly, but firmly carving out their bedrock - as it is this that fundamentally underpins the alt-right but also crucially differentiates them from the old-school right who had to hide their prejudices - they were able to legitimise previously abhorrent views in the political dialogue.
We can learn from this unpleasant, but brilliant, strategy.
What is our fundamental bedrock — not the truth of our movement, not our goal — but what is the instinctual, base level of human understanding on which our narrative could flourish?
I think it needs to be a sense of positive change. Change for the better. Change that taps into the “two fingers up to the elite” mentality of Brexit and Trump supporters.
For socialism to work in the 21st century, it can’t hark back to the 20th.
It needs to express the idea that we can build a fairer, better future for everyone but it also needs to allow for what has become an all-pervasive individualism in our culture.
The problem is, by nature, humans are more reactive to negative than positive ideas. It’s much easier to exploit the fear of the other than it is to encourage someone to share.
How do we even begin to convince the doubtful that a progressive socialism could make things better? By tapping into fears, just like the alt-right.
What is the overarching fear of all humans?
Other than spiders, most would agree it’s death.
What if we were aiming to stop death?
Yeah, it sounds crazy. But it’s not unrealistic. Science is getting to the stage where death could be prevented in most humans within the next century.
What if modern socialism made its bedrock, its fundamental belief, as aiming to stop unnecessary suffering? What is the worst suffering of all? Death.
That underpinning all else, and it becomes a fear that can be exploited positively.
“You don’t want to die do you? Socialism (Popular Futurism) can help you live forever.
You don’t want to suffer, do you? Socialism can relieve your suffering.
Let’s use technology to beat death, let’s find solutions to problems of suffering.
How are we going to do that? Ah, we need to make sure the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes to fund it.”
That’s how you refocus the brand, the ideology, into something that appeals to the average human.
By understanding that the battle lines have been redrawn, and taking the successful strategies of our opponents on board, we can reimagine and rebrand socialism for the modern world.
It just might be that it won’t be called be socialism at all.
Jackson Rawlings is a political philosopher, writer and thinker with some big ideas about how we can change the world for the better.