Why Is Communism Becoming a Meme (And Should We Be Laughing?)

I have to admit it. I am an unremitting lover of communist memes. Songs about the USSR to the tune of YMCA? That is my idea of high-quality content. But the internet has a notorious history of taking… well, everything… a bit too far. That’s all very well when the consequences involve impersonating a mannequin for a day or putting on 100 layers of foundation. But should we really allow a political ideology to become a quirky comedic trope?

The driving force behind this trend is dissatisfaction with our current world leaders. The news is full of catastrophic or controversial right-wing governments- for instance Boris Johnson and Theresa May’s botched Brexit deals. Naturally, all governments face backlash. According to the ‘cyclical theory’, voters’ opinions veer to one end of the spectrum until a ‘tipping point’ is reached, then swing in the opposite direction, usually in under a decade. This cyclicity implies that if left wing governments were tackling the same thorny issues, we would ridicule them and romanticize the right wing. But those of us below the voting age have no influence on the political pendulum. So, what can we do to make our voices heard and bring about change? The general consensus seems to be A. make memes or B. not much really. This continues a trend of using internet culture to replace meaningful action- think back to the propositions of voting for Harambe as a write in candidate, or when 3% of Texans voted for ‘Deez Nuts’ to join the US house of representatives in 2016.

But if these jokes are a surrogate ‘vote’ for minors who want their voices to be heard, then this material is mostly consumed by young people. It’s hard to get more accessible than meme format, so this content is some teens’ first taster of political ‘education’.  But when you dilute politics with humour, pop culture references, and clickbait-style exaggeration, the result loses nuance and encourages polarized views.

These black-and-white perceptions make it easy to try and ascribe moral stances to specific parties. Does it seem fairer and more ethical to increase income support benefits by taxing the top 1%? Well, yes, in my opinion. But the hyperbolic antagonism of the right wing leads to evaluations like ‘Right wingers are like “genocide” and left wingers are like “no”’ (yes, this is something that was actually said to me).

There is undoubtedly a link between the (far) right and downright Bigotry. Take Nigel Farage, whose unfortunate adolescence involved chanting Hitler Youth songs, or Neil Hamilton, the Thatcherite MP who admitted to making the Nazi salute in Berlin. But in the echo chamber of social media, the more recent offences of the (far) left seem to go unnoticed. What about when Corbyn ally Ken Livingston condemned Israeli independence and compared it to Nazi worldviews by saying ‘Hitler was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.’? What about Corbyn’s leaked hard drive of emails concerning the 863 complaint cases of still-active members posting comments like ‘Heil Hitler’ and ‘Jews are the problem’? Antiquated prejudices do seem far more prevalent in the right wing, but identifying as a socialist- as comrade Corbyn does- loses its appeal when you tune in to the murkier sides that internet banter doesn’t care to expose. When we shift side of the spectrum on the political pendulum, are we really counterbalancing the negative ‘tipping point’, or do the same faults pervade?

Of course, there are massive differences between left and right in policies, even if some members’ prejudices are the same. But the far left’s approach to government is far from ideal. When we think of the pitfall of the far left, perhaps our minds go to the atrocities like the Soviet Gulags first. those were certainly more of a human rights violation than a political policy from anywhere on the spectrum. But there are other flaws in communist ideologies that fly under the radar to this day. Take the Venezuelan government’s strategy of nationalizing private industries. Whilst on paper it seems as if this would provide efficiency, reliability and fair pricing, in practice it is disastrous. The Government needs to please voters in order to remain in power. This gives the government an incentive to create far more jobs than necessary and sell products at unprecedentedly low costs. Whilst these systems might temporarily please the public, they aren’t successful business models. In the last two decades alone, food production in Venezuela has fallen by 75%, and the population has increased by 33%. Venezuela also implemented huge welfare benefits to tackle poverty, which at first sounds utopian. But these schemes were financed by simply printing more money, leading to a high inflation rate. The central Bank of Venezuela estimates that between 2016 and 2019, the inflation rate has increased to 53,798,500%. Scary.

It’s not illegal to have a sense of humour. Enjoy leftist memes all you want. But they manage to simultaneously glamorize communism and trivialize it into an oversimplified ‘left=good, right=bad’. So, take them with a fistful of salt- don’t be fooled by the propaganda.