Anarchism as a brand

For some in the anarchist movement “marketing” and “branding” are dangerous words, however even those of us more pragmatic in our outlook have often failed to critically evaluate the anarchist brand identity. Clearly marketing and branding are useful tools for our movement, to abandon them on idealogical grounds would be to deny ourselves an important weapon in the battle against capitalism. So what exactly is a brand identity?

To quote wikipedia:

"Brand identity is what the owner wants to communicate to its potential consumers. However, over time, a products brand identity may acquire (evolve), gaining new attributes from consumer perspective but not necessarily from the marketing communications an owner percolates to targeted consumers. Therefore, brand associations become handy to check the consumer's perception of the brand."

So what of our brand, “anarchism”?

Top hit for "Anarchist" on google image searchAsk any non-leftist in the United Kingdom what an “anarchist” is and they will describe to you at best an insurrectionist, black-clad Molotov thrower. Even on the left anarchists are widely viewed as being ultra-leftists opposed to organisation. Clearly this isn't a useful brand as it is an alienating image and has nothing to do with the ideas of anarchist communism. However, shouldn't we fight to reclaim this word as our own? After all in countries such as Spain the term is better understood by the working class.

It would certainly be possible to reclaim our brand, as the Spanish situation demonstrates, however we must consider how useful such a reclamation would be, versus how much effort it would require. The price we would pay for such a reclamation is suffering for a long period of time under a brand which at present does not work, alienating most and ensuring that what few we attract based on brand alone will misunderstand anarchism.

Additionally such a reclamation would presumably require a large increase in resources (time and money) dedicated to it, given the propaganda output of ananrcho-communist groups (which far outstrips the output of any other “anarchist” groups) has thus far failed to make a dent in the popular impression of anarchism. So given this hefty price, what is the benefit of reclaiming anarchism?

But surely every brand we attempt to adopt will be smeared by the capitalist press? Whilst this is undoubtedly true, calling ourselves "anarchists" would seem to make it easy for them, given "anarchy"'s literal meaning. Further, some brands have been markedly less tarred than anarchism, brands such as syndicalism still have generally positive connotations, at least within the trade unionist movement.

It could be argued that describing ourselves as “anarchists” is an important link to our movement's past, and to part with it might lead us down the path towards the dilution of our ideas. However, were this to be the case it would suggest that our understanding of historical anarchism, and our confidence in our ideas is extremely weak. Would hundreds of years of anarchist theory and practice, our anarchist principles and methodology, slowly be abandoned as a consequence of a name change? This would seem unlikely, and were it to be the case it would be indicative of far deeper problems within our movement, as if we have a genuine understanding and appreciation of anarchism then why would we abandon it?

So if not "anarchism", then what? Arguably ideology itself is a bad brand (hence why the main political parties seldom attempt to appeal to voters on an idealogical level, but rather on bread and butter issues) so one option is to simply present our ideas as non-ideological. However at some point it will presumably be valuable to have a brand which we can build, so what shall it be? There are numerous options, "syndicalism" would seem to be a good one, or if we feel especially confident we could create a brand new one. What is most appropriate will of course depend on what our target audience is receptive to, which will depend on what context we find ourselves in.

In summary Anarchists, much like the broader left, have inherited a lot of traditions from our predecessors. Some of this is of course valuable, there is no point in reinventing the wheel, however much of anarchist strategy has been adopted blindly, and a good example of this is our movements attachment to the “anarchist” brand. There would seem to be little case for expending the large amount of resources that would be required in order to recapture this word when other brand would far better serve our revolutionary purpose.


the philosophy of

the philosophy of liberty

voluntaryists debate socialists

Objectivism & The State: An Open Letter to Ayn Rand, Roy Childs, Jr. Regarding the contradictions of "limited government."

Larken Rose (anarchist) debates Michael Benoit ("Libertarian") pt I -

pt II

The Myth of The Rule of Law - John Hasnas

The Obviousness of Anarchy, Hasnas

No Treason, No. 6, The Constitution of No Authority, Lysander Spooner

Outside The Cage ep1, Larken Rose

"It [the belief in/the institution of "government"] is not a rational construct, not a way to get along, not a way to organize and cooperate.. it is a hallucination of something that is not there: a group with the right to rule."
Larken Rose - Free Your Mind Conference 2011

Larken Rose, Agora I/O unconference No. 1

Peter Mac Show, guest host Larken Rose- regarding "giving up the myth entirely"

While I think this is an

While I think this is an issue worth considering I think there a number of other points that must be considered

1. Once you become relevant your enemies will label you as 'anarchist' in order to undermine you.  If you haven't already been using the term (and hence innoculating people against this undermining) it will have a 'shock horror' revelation factor that may do quite a bit of damage.

2. The left as a whole has a terrible brand image (Stalin, Mao, Tony Blair) and part of the purpose of Left branding is to distinguish against these other brands.

3. What anarchists means will vary from time to time and place to place based on what level of anarchist activity there has been and what that activity has been.  In the case of Britain the image 15 years ago would have been of a Punk Rocker (arguably worse than a 'insurrectionist, black-clad Molotov thrower' which may have a limited appeal to at least some people entering into struggle).  In Ireland in recent years we have found the term is positive enough to be useful employed as an introduction in many cases although in general I'd say the first 300 words you say to some who isn't ideologically on the left should steer clear of ideological labels.

4. I don't think campaigining to make the brand more or less acceptable in the abstract makes much sense, rather the 'brand' is defined by it being mentioned in publications etc as part of an educational process that is not about 'brand image' but the accurate transmission of revolutionary ideas.

5. Syndicalism is only an alternative in Britian because it has no recent history and thus pretty much no meaning.  Elsewhere it is either so general to be meaningless (means more or less the same as union) or has the same sort of connortations of violence and illegality that anarchism has.  Actually like anarchism is probably only has a useful meaning to a very narrow layer of quite ideological people.

6. This fits into a general pattern of effective movements being re-branded by the state and capital as part of a counter revoluntionary strategy.  Republican in the 1770's carried the same connortations as anarchist does today.  Or for a humorous example consider how simple it was for the Wombles (the cute teddy bear like childrens cartoon show) to become rebranded as violent crazies despite the fact there was only a dozen or so of the white overall variety.

'given "anarchy"'s literal

'given "anarchy"'s literal meaning'

Which would be "no rulers", why is that a bad thing? That is what we aim for after all.

No matter what you call yourself, you will be smeared. Just stick with the current name as for 170 years that is what we have used. And are we going to rename such classic works as "What is Anarchism?", "Anarchy", "Anarchism and Other Essays"? And are you also recommending dumping "communist" and "socialist" while we are at it? The popular meanings of those words also invoke bad associations...

I'm still in two minds if we can reclaim "libertarian" in America and, to a lesser extent, Britain. Let us hope so!

"Libertarian" being reclaimed

"Libertarian" being reclaimed in America seems pretty unlikely from where I'm sitting (well, in Madrid right now, but I live in America!).

I tend to agree as regards

I tend to agree as regards America. It is amazing how a word has turned its meaning 180 degrees in the space of three decades! Such is the power of money. I guess it will be a case of trying to keep its real meaning in Britain and Ireland.


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