Why is everyone turning to socialism? This question has become a spectre, haunting the minds of the establishment. Poll after poll – alongside developments like the Corbyn movement in Britain and the growing influence of the Democratic Socialists of America – demonstrate that young people and students are fed up of the status quo and are striving for change.
No longer able to develop the economy and society, capitalism has become a terrible weight around the neck of humanity and our generation is paying the price. Crisis and cutbacks have taken a huge toll on the young. Youth unemployment is three times higher than for other age groups, and we make up the majority of the 1,400m workers in precarious employment worldwide. In Europe, the proportion of people in temporary work has surpassed 50 percent for 18 to 24-year-olds.
There is no possibility of reform under the present system. In Greece, the reformist SYRIZA government has proved incapable of carrying out its left-wing programme on a capitalist basis. Rather than seizing an historic opportunity to break with capitalism, it surrendered to European capital in 2015. As a result, the situation in Greece today is especially grim, with massive cuts to social services and youth unemployment standing at 42 percent in 2018.
In the past, university education was the preserve of a privileged few. The economic boom in the post-war period allowed millions of young people from working-class backgrounds to go to university for free. Today, punishing tuition fees have saddled an entire generation with unprecedented levels of debt.
In 2018, the average student loan debt in the United States was $39,400: up six percent from the previous year. Collectively, Americans owe over $1.48tn, spread out among 44m borrowers, of whom 7m are in default. Things are little better on our side of the Atlantic – especially for students studying away from home. International students studying in Britain, for example, often pay double, treble, or quadruple the fees of domestic students.
Uncertainty and financial pressures have wreaked havoc on young people’s mental wellbeing, and tragically, suicide is now the number two leading cause of death for 15-24-year-olds globally. These people are victims of the system: sacrifices on the altar of profit.
Outside of the developed capitalist countries, life can be truly unbearable. Globally, 238m youth live on less than $1 USD, and 462m on less than $2 a day. When 42 individuals hold the same wealth as the world’s 3.7bn poorest people, it doesn’t take a genius to see that something is drastically awry.
In short, through no fault of our own, we are the first generation since the Second World War that will have it worse than our parents.
In this context, young people are turning away in disgust from the political establishment. The International Youth Foundation found that two-thirds of young people world over believe their governments do not care about them. A survey of half-a-million young people from 13 advanced capitalist countries found more than half would participate in a “violent revolt” against the state – with Wales and Ireland well-represented at 57 and 54 percent, respectively!
Despite condescending jabs from the right-wing about ‘lazy, entitled millennials’ – who will talk about revolution but spend their days sat in their parents’ basements playing videogames – young people and students have been putting their radical spirit into practice. This past year, we stood at the forefront of the abortion referendum in the Republic of Ireland, the election of “democratic socialist” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a New York Democratic primary, the 8 March women’s strike in Spain, the fightback against Trump and so on.
As Lenin noted back in 1901, students hold no independent power in society. We must connect our struggles with those of the working class and fight collectively for “the freedom of the entire people – for political freedom.” As we have seen recently in student support for striking lecturers in Britain and railway workers in France, many young people recognise their shared interests with the working class and are forging bonds of solidarity – this is what terrifies the bosses and bankers more than anything else.
But the careerists at the head of our movement seem more interested in outlawing plastic drinking straws than tackling austerity, while even the most ‘left-wing’ student leaders offer nothing bolder than slogans like “tax the rich”. We say: no more tinkering around the edges. We need to rally around a radical programme of free education funded through expropriation of the 1 percent, decent living standards and student-worker solidarity in the fight for socialism.
The pessimism of the reformists and liberals reflects a total lack of understanding. Where they see a world in hopeless chaos, we see a new world struggling to be born. In the battle to change society, Marxist theory is the best weapon in our arsenal. As Trotsky advised the 5th All-Russian Congress of the Russian Communist League of Youth in 1922, “Before all else, comrades, we have to learn.” The role of Marxist students at this time is to educate ourselves and others – then put our ideas to work in the wider labour movement.
Contrary to the suggestions of self-described visionary “socialists” like Elon Musk, we don’t need to relocate to Mars – we can build a world worthy of humanity right here. All that is required is for the parasitic minority at the top to be overthrown, and for their rotten capitalist system to be replaced with a socialist society, in which our energies and resources will be democratically managed for the good of all.
The powers-that-be fear us. They are right to – we’re going to change the world.
by Joe Attard, KCL Marxists