By Ana Oppenheim, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP
On 4 April, Facebook deactivated the meme page Red London. For a few beautiful moments, the internet was free from their signature brand of humour, largely based on the promotion of authoritarian “socialist” politics and ridiculing other sections of the left, including bullying individual activists.
Whatever the reason for the page being unpublished, the hiatus did not last. A new page was soon set up and before long the old Red London was back, posting screenshots of social media accounts of individuals opposed to their politics, misgendering a feminist activist, and assuring followers that “Stalin did nothing wrong.”
Over the years, Red London has built a significant following – 58,000 fans and counting. In many ways, it resembles the countless nostalgic “communist” meme pages that have populated the internet in recent years, from the uber-popular Sassy Socialist Memes to the more explicitly Stalinist (and transphobic) Marxist Memes.
RL, however, includes specific references to the UK context: support for Corbyn and Jon Lansman, jokes mocking left-wing groups including the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Plan C. And the page is known for vicious personal attacks on its opponents.It publishes the names and photos of people who are not public figures. Its regular arsenal of “jokes” includes death threats and accusations of paedophilia and of “deviancy.” Sometimes, they get particularly nasty – such as sharing a meme which misattributed out-of-context quotes about child abuse to a recent father, or poking fun at a 15-year-old, which attracted predictable sexualised comments from RL’s followers. Those two posts were eventually taken down after a series of complaints, but not before thousands of followers had the chance to see and share them.
It is an open secret that among RL’s admins are prominent figures involved in Young Labour, and the influence of its way of doing politics extends beyond Facebook. RL’s signature phrases such as “Clear them out” and “Check their bags” (referring to a strange incident when, before a Momentum Youth and Students event, activists had their bags searched to ensure they weren’t carrying “hostile” literature) are now common in-jokes of the Young Labour left.
Earlier this year,Momentum Youth and Students was shut down by Jon Lansman after official social media accounts were “used in ways which have brought Momentum into disrepute and which are inconsistent with Momentum’s Code of Ethics.” During London Young Labour AGM this year, The Clarion reported aggressive and bullying behaviour by members of the same clique which caused some comrades to step down from elections and leave the conference. (For more, see here.) Anyone can fall victim of these attacks who opposes RL’s particular brand of “socialism” – one characterised by the fetishisation of brutal dictatorships, promoting nationalism, and obsessive hatred of “identity politics” and “Trotskyism” (with definitions of both extending to include anyone on the left who falls out of favour.)
The purpose of Red London, and of the wider culture it promotes, is clear: to intimidate and silence anyone who dares to disagree. The vast majority of those laughing along and perpetuating that culture are not exactly Stalinists. Some might be scared of finding themselves on the receiving end. Some want to be part of the in-crowd. The style of politics has been “normalised”, including by celebrities of the left, such as Aaron Bastani, who counts himself among Red London’s fans. The left can do better than letting dreadful politics and straight-up abusive behaviour pass for entertainment. Let’s finally grow up: promote better ideas, create a healthier culture, and make better memes.
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