Socialism Needs A New Face

Various organisations seem to recognise the disconnect between ordinary people and the socialist movement. Many believe to be addressing it, but are they really?
Socialism Needs A New Face

The topic of how socialists should present themselves has gained a lot of traction in the past week following a clip of a young person campaigning in South Kensington, London. Dressed as though they were a 20th century Russian revolutionary, with a newspaper in one hand and a flag in the other, they wave their arms and declare that it is time for a revolution. Most folk in the street are seen to be walking past unbothered, some with a smirk.

It’s an undeniable fact that the mocking stereotypes of socialists and communists held by the British public are one of the key defensive elements of the modern capitalist system (specifically, its hegemonic system of ideas). To transcend this stereotype and unite a revolutionary class towards a socialist future, we must defeat the image of edgy losers living in a fantasy world. Not many of us would disagree with this.

With this in mind, it is fair to say that we need to be far, far away from LARPing as 20th century revolutionaries (see: “to LARP” – Live Action Role Play). As revealed by Twitter spats in response to the video, various shades of British socialist organisations seem to recognise this issue and many believe to be addressing it, but are they really?

So what should a socialist wear and how should a socialist act?

What does a North Face hat, a pair of blue jeans and Adidas trainers tell you about someone? Other than having specific fashion taste, it is possible that they could be a member of Britain’s largest communist youth organisation. In a recent article, written in response to the impromptu South Kensington speech, one member of this organisation decried fellow left-wing people as “losers” who dress with “unkempt or alternative haircuts” and wear “hundreds of badges on their lapels”.

Instead of wearing what they choose, members of this organisation are advised to dress up in dark clothing, wear popular brands and hide their identities behind black caps and red masks. This organisation claims that their signature style is intended to protect the safety and anonymity of its members. But when this is posted on their socials right next to the bullying described above, it becomes clear that their choice of outfit is no more than an embarrassing attempt to be relatable to young working class people.

There are valid reasons for keeping your identity secret at protests, but does this approach beat the allegations of the edgy loser? A large group of unaccountable, rowdy young men looking like an anarchist black bloc, setting off flares and chanting about Stalin is no more attractive to the average person than your paper-selling, ushanka-wearing communism nerd. Both are LARPing. Both can alienate people. And both feed the stereotype of an unrelatable and unserious political movement.

The working class is not a single-identity group, nor subculture, which you can win the respect of by putting on a uniform. The working class carries a vast array of identities within it, and if this communist youth organisation was truly embedded in communities, they would be aware of this. Reducing the diverse range of cultures, identities, and personalities into a communist fight club wastes some of the most talented young members of the working class movement.

Socialism needs a new look

To resonate with people, the socialist movement, which is already far detached from the system the public has been raised to uphold, must be relatable and taken seriously.

If we want to get anywhere, nobody should associate with toxic characters who paint the working class as a singular subculture and harass fellow young communists on Twitter. We should all reject the bullies who make taunts like “#BeNormal” and lead hate crusades against fellow socialists. They are some of the biggest losers in this story, and are repulsive to the average person.

Coming back to our young friend from South Kensington, we need to focus in on the real issue at play here. Despite their outfit being potentially off-putting, and something a friend should have flagged up before they got on the pedestal, it doesn’t warrant the ridicule they have received. The real issue was their message and how they communicated it, rather than pure aesthetics.

Hoisting yourself upon a platform and shouting at random passers-by is in no way a form of engaging with your community. People who are not already engaging with socialist principles are not interested in what this person or their newspaper has to say either. Especially not when they carry themselves as if they are the enlightened Messiah of Communism – the comical outfit only adds to this.

While we must try to look presentable and well-kept, our choice of outfits are not what will determine the growth of our movement. If we want people to realise the genuine transformative potential of socialism, we need them to take us seriously. We don’t do this by trying to camouflage ourselves as the people we want to win over, but by addressing the issues that are important to them and proving our sincerity.

We choose to do this by making clear commitments for lasting change in the lives of local people. Whether the struggle for a world-class public transport system, the fight against drug harm or the realisation of feminist cities, the SSY upholds socialist campaigning as a means to unite sections of the working class, create dialogue between peoples and stand in defence of our most marginalised. In doing so, we reaffirm that socialists belong at the heart of working class communities and at the vanguard of the movement for a new Scotland.

Instead of bullying people for what makes them different, we need to embrace the things which make us unique and use that to our advantage. Not everyone can make a speech in front of a hundred people, and not everyone would be confident in preventing an opioid overdose. The more diverse people we build our movement with, the more collective talent we enjoy.

Rather than resigning their identity and becoming a drone for faceless organisation, we think young socialists should be tactically self-organising in their communities, and making themselves accountable. Taking the masks off and talking to people like normal human beings is what will win us respect.

This is the new face I believe the socialist movement needs. And the SSY will be happy to continue demonstrating how effective this can be at winning support without bullying our peers who want to make change happen just as much as we do.

Finlay Stevenson

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