According to a YouGov–Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation poll released in late October, 70 percent of millennials indicated that they are “somewhat or extremely likely to vote for a socialist candidate.”
This same poll also found that 50 percent of millennials — those between 23 and 38 years of age, and 51 percent of Generation Z — those aged 16 to 22, have somewhat or very unfavorable views of capitalism. This represented an increase of 8 and 6 percent, respectively, from the previous year. In comparison, 44 percent of Generation X, 33 percent of Baby Boomers, and 33 percent of the Silent Generation responded that they were somewhat or extremely likely to vote for a socialist candidate.
Overall, capitalism is still viewed more positively than any other system. Pollsters found that 61 percent of people viewed it favorably in 2018. The overall takeaway was that millennials don’t have as much hostility towards socialism and communism as the generations who lived during the Cold War.
What could be the driving force behind socialism’s appeal among the youth?
American culture has gone through numerous transformations during the last 50 years. Mass public schooling and an increasingly politicized society have made interventionist ideas become more mainstream. One of the easiest ways to get people behind an idea is by promoting it to them while they’re young, i.e., conditioning them in their early years of schooling.
Then, universities finish this process off by promoting socialist ideas in economics, history, political science, and other liberal arts fields. Even when young Americans leave educational settings and become professionals, they will likely consume entertainment with left-wing bias. At that juncture, they’ll have had thousands of hours of exposure to collectivist ideas.
The rise of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is no coincidence when considering these factors. The current socialism these two political figures espouse may not be the same as the socialism of the 20th century, which produced mass killings, but it’s still worthy of condemnation. In contrast to the proletariat versus bourgeois conflict that marked 20th-century socialism and communism, present-day socialists focus more on identity politics and using the state to benefit certain “disadvantaged” groups.
No matter how we slice it, what the present-day youth increasingly desire is a controlling system that undermines economic and civil liberties. The state does not operate in a vacuum. Services that are “free” and compulsory require that resources be expropriated from the private sector, while people are forced against their will to comply with these programs. No respectable society that truly cherishes freedom would accept such policies.
However, it would be a mistake to believe that a simple political campaign can be used to defeat the ideas that Sanders and AOC are promoting. Economist Ludwig von Mises asserted that “Thoughts and ideas are not phantoms. They are real things. Although intangible and immaterial, they are factors in bringing about changes in the realm of tangible and material things.”
To even confront the rise of socialist ideas, we must go back to the fundamentals. That means understanding the basic principles of freedom and finding the best ways to spread them. This could consist of building media outlets, educational organizations, mutual aid societies, alternative schooling methods such as homeschooling, etc. To move away from a society where the state is the common denominator in virtually all affairs requires a shift in consciousness. There are no quick fixes for this.
It should be stressed that this is a multi-pronged process that could take decades to carry out. The Left has taken note of that and has played the long game in gradually taking over both public and private institutions over the span of decades. But it all starts with ideas.
There is no “right” moment to start disseminating these ideas. The sooner we can build a lasting infrastructure to do so, the better. Future generations are counting on us to get this right.