Communism. You’re probably thinking of the Soviet Union: dark, desolate tower blocks and largely impoverished cities and towns, with a sprinkle of execution, tyranny and a long stint in Siberian exile. Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, even Mikhail Gorbachev, spring to mind. Or maybe you’re looking to South American communism for guerrilla warfare, torture and militant anarchists like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. You’ve got Marxism, Trotskyism, Leninism, Maoism and Bolshevism, but I bet you didn’t think about your average young Briton.
Through the far – right’s revival, the far – left has seen its own resurgence, through memes and the media. As more and more young people begin to discover the works of Marx and Engels, form opinions on the current austere state and then start to outwardly declare that we should “eat the rich”, where does this leave this country’s elite? In a pretty sticky situation.
What is it about communism that has drawn in so many young people around the country? Leeds Beckett University student Elijah Inowa told me that it was the “foundations of communism” that attracted him after he decided to read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. “… Free education up to the age of 18, free healthcare, the outreach projects and after school clubs are all government funded. Capitalism encourages competition and the need to ‘get one over’ on each other, yet communism is about the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. It makes the most sense”.
It is these policies that are reminiscent of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, who, is revered by many for his socialist ideologies, and disliked by many others for the same reason. Corbyn describes himself as a ‘democratic socialist’ , which advocates political democracy alongside a socially owned economy, with an emphasis on workers’ self – management and democratic control of economic institutions within a market or decentralised planned socialist economy. Elijah said: “The idea of collectivism has been demonised because the first thought that most people have is of the USSR where the vast majority of people actually began to struggle at Stalin’s expense, but under Corbyn’s Marxist – Leninist ideals, everyone who needs to be benefitted, is”.
Corbyn is seen as a radical by the centre – right, and it puts into perspective just how blind the government is to the type of people they are supposed to be helping. If a completely nationalised NHS with free dental checks for adults, free bus travel for under 25s and the abolition of Universal Credit – all things that will be put in place to help this country’s neediest and most vulnerable – is ‘radical’, then is our current government really fit for purpose?
I spoke to a representative from the small – yet growing – Communist Party of Britain, who describe themselves as ‘a Marxist – Leninist organisation’, and I was able to gain an insight into why more and more young people are turning to the collectivist ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries and abandoning the more traditionally British centre – right loyalties. “Today, the children of [economic] crisis grow up into a world of permanent austerity, where public services are being systematically run down, and our future has been shot through. The vision of a secure job with a decent pay, an apartment, a chance at higher education without being burdened with debt, these things are no longer possible, and we feel that“. They also told me that, “… there were a series of movements which pushed left [wing] alternatives … along with an uptick in trade union efforts around organising low – paid workers. Those efforts drive political consciousness, putting the question of class power back into popular discourse”.
“Putting the question of class power back into popular discourse” opens a can of worms in itself. The world of popular discourse is one that is heavily influenced by media – the sharing of memes and videos, thoughts and feelings all contribute in some way to our belief systems and ideologies, meaning that pushing a certain topic into the media inevitably makes it become part of popular discourse, which means the establishment are able to take a good luck at what people really think about them.
Samia, a Brunel University student, corroborated the point from the Communist Party of Britain, telling me that: “More young people can identify with communism because we are not blinded by false promises like the generation before us was. What have the Conservatives done that has actually been helpful? They’re letting poor families and kids die, cutting off benefits and school meals … people with serious illnesses who are living below the breadline can’t afford their medication, but can’t be treated in hospital due to lack of beds – how can they capitalise on our health?”
There has also been a shift in the way communism has been portrayed in mainstream media. From the era of the Reagan Doctrine, the policy of supporting anti – communist insurgents wherever they may be, to Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, democratic socialists running for leadership of the United States and the United Kingdom – we are witnessing an unprecedented shift in our political alignments. And there’s good reason for this shift, too. We have seen both Sanders and Corbyn pushing the outlying agendas into the mainstream, and thus has allowed many people, especially the working classes in the respective countries, to openly reject and fight against austerity – the same austerity that has killed dozens of people during Flint, Michigan’s water crisis and left thousands of children around the UK going without meals on a daily basis.
The working class is becoming increasingly discontent with the current social order, and it seems Labour is the party who can relieve us of our strife. As aforementioned, Corbyn and Sanders have pushed fringe ideas into the main sphere, and they may soon have the power to put them into practice, as we stand in the overbearing shadows of the US presidential race and the British general election.
2019 psychological thriller, Joker, sheds light on the emerging collectivist ideologies of the working class. Many claimed that it would incite violence, but I think it incites conversation. Conversation amongst the ‘lower classes’ that things as they are aren’t working, nor are they fair. During a riot scene, a masked protester is seen holding a sign that says: “Anti – Authoritarian. Anti – Capitalist. A job is a right. Capitalism does not work for you”, highlighting the fact that civil unrest caused by the capitalist institutions we are used to is starting to reach boiling point, in Gotham City, and the real world. Joker has become the poster child of anti – government, anti – income inequality riots across the globe. Joker puts forward a very real and very possible situation that governments in the West could be faced with; an anarcho – communist revolution, reminiscent of the 1917 Russian Revolution with the ousting of the rich and middle class, as well as the royal family.
Communism is emerging in the news and daytime TV, as well, which is a surprise because hardly anything remotely controversial makes it onto TV before the 9p.m. watershed. Whilst Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been called a communist in an attempt to smear his reputation and delegitimise his 36 year political career, Novara Media contributing editor, Ash Sarkar takes it in her stride. She told intolerable Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain that she’s “literally a communist you idiot!”
Communism and socialism are no longer a dirty words associated with the tribulations of millions of people in the former Soviet Union. Now, they are reclaimed among Millennials and Gen Z as a word of unity and strength in numbers. Despite the fact that we cannot ignore or forget the atrocities that became commonplace under Stalin’s iron fisted rule – excess mortality, Gulags and Siberian exile – we move into a new age of de-Stalinised and very much welcomed collectivism, because, just like those in the 1917 Revolution, the working class is not happy with the way things are.
We have to ask ourselves: where is the communist movement going? Will it be shut out and pushed to the back of everyone’s minds like it was during and after the collapse of the USSR? Or will it continue to gain momentum in western societies, through memes and its continued emergence in the mainstream? At this point, it’s a hard call to make, and we can only sit back and watch as the movement gains momentum.
In the meantime, enjoy this video: