We are at a crossroads of human history and the millennial generation is here to witness it.
Karl Marx once said that a specter was haunting Europe at the time he wrote his (in?)famous pamphlet “The Communist Manifesto”, a specter called Communism. As we see now, that obviously did not play out the way he thought it would, but his political theory and economic analysis is still as relevant now as it was back then. The specters we see now in the 21st century is much different. The specters that haunt us now are called automation; they’re called climate change; they’re called stagnant wages and an uncertain economic future.
It used to be that capitalism was able to adapt to the rapid changes it caused in the world we live in, but as time and history moves on, we are finding it more difficult everyday to come up with solutions to the problems we face that involve the neoliberal free market that we’ve grown accustomed to over the past 300 years. A study by the Mckinsey Institute showed that “about half the activities people are paid to do globally could theoretically be automated using currently demonstrated technologies” and that “ in about 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of the constituent activities could be automated, implying substantial workplace transformations and changes for all workers.” The study goes further by providing solutions to this problem that attempt to preserve the economic system we have today, but what it does not understand is that the profit motives that are integral to a capitalist system will only let automation grow rapidly, putting hundreds of millions of people out of work. In regards to climate change, in the words of John Ashton, a former special representative on climate change for the British government, “The market left to itself will not reconfigure the energy system and transform the economy within a generation.”
And let’s not even begin to talk about how our wages have the same purchasing power as it did back in 1978, meaning our wages never actually went up in any meaningful way. (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-us-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/)
Older generations will blame millennials and gen z for not picking ourselves up by the bootstraps. That we are complacent and entitled. What they do not understand is that we are the children of an unstable economy. We did not grow up witnessing the “evil empire” that was the Soviet Union and thus were never subject to effective Cold War propaganda. From an early age, we worried about our parent’s financial state, we worried about our economic future, we started thinking about stable careers in middle school. For some of us, we succumbed to nihilism and gave up, throwing our lives away to hedonism. For others, we kept our heads down and braced ourselves for crippling debt, hoping that we can work hard enough to at least secure a paying job, even if it pays just above the poverty line. And people wonder why we’re so depressed.
Yes, we are aware of the failures of socialism. We are aware of Stalin, Mao, and Castro. We’re not stupid. We know about the villains of history and the nations they led. We also know that history is written by the victor. The US education system would never teach us about the failures of capitalism, how it requires the destructive nature of imperialism and neo-colonialism to thrive. How numerous countries in Africa and Southeast Asia fail to compete with the industrial world because they were never suited for capitalism to begin with. How interventionism effectively forced capitalism upon many Latin American countries leading to brutal dictatorships and societal breakdowns. However, just as capitalists will not find an inherent fault in the system of capitalism when faced with these failures, so too, do the socialists feel when faced with their failures. The 21st century millennial socialist does not look at those failed states and think “Socialism is inherently bad”, no, we look at those states and think “why did they specifically fail and how can we make it better”.
There are many ways to implement socialism and many of us on the radical left talk about it constantly. Some think we have to revolt. Other believe we can do so through reform. A good portion of us believe that Social Democratic models such as the ones used in Scandinavian countries is enough. Regardless of what one believes in the radical left, the consensus is clear that capitalism as we know it, is not working anymore.
It worked well in what it was supposed to do, which was mass produce resources and provide people an opportunity to move up the social ladder. For a lot of people, it worked out for them. For others, it did not. Even Marx himself knew that there were merits to the economic system that he criticized. Capitalism is not seen as an inherently bad thing by well-read socialists, it was merely a necessary part of human development, but we are at a crossroads now of history where we must decide if it can continue to work. To the dismay of the older generations, the members of the millennial generations are starting to believe that it cannot. What many people do not understand is that capitalism cannot last. It was an economic system that naturally flowed from feudalism because the changing access to resources required a change in its distribution. And just like how feudalism did not last because of societal change, capitalism will meet the same fate. In this day and age, the cracks within the system is becoming more and more apparent everyday and there is just simply no way for the system to retain itself without eating itself alive.
The 21st century millennial socialist does not look at our capitalist state and seek its downfall because we hate it and we think socialism is better. We seek it because there is no other option.