Lately, a U.S. polling company published the results of a survey regarding opinions on issues such as socialism and communism. More than half of American millennials (25-35 years old) selected socialism as their first choice, such that those who hoped to live in a socialist country outnumbered those who wished to live in a capitalist country. Another survey this year, by the U.S. company Gallup, showed that the views of young Americans had changed since 2016, with socialism viewed more favorably than capitalism. Why are more young Americans living in the heart of Western capitalism leaning toward socialism? Clearly this is an issue worth pondering.
Currently, the U.S. economy is growing strongly, and unemployment is at its lowest point in nearly half a century, so why are millennials still worried? A polarized, structurally divided society has increased feelings of inequality and dissatisfaction, and this is the root of the problem. A millennial from Washington D.C., Elena Botella, reflects the inner fears of this generation: even in a land of abundance, a lot of people will “never have enough in savings to stop worrying,”* let alone to fulfill their larger potential.
As reported by the U.S. media, American millennials really do not have a deep enough understanding of socialism or communism. What many associate with socialism are Western European and Scandinavian countries that have performed well in terms of income equality and social welfare. The model of democratic socialism is just an improved version of capitalism and not the real, scientific version of socialism. It is just that compared to American-style capitalism, there are quite a few elements of socialism, and this results in a kind of intuitive attraction for millennials. If millennials do not have a deep enough understanding of socialism or communism, then the understanding of socialism and communism by the mainstream U.S. still maintains a bias. They insist on fixing socialism as it was in the Soviet Union of the 20th century. This has long been an ingrained ideology.
More young Americans have a favorable opinion of socialism than capitalism, but this does not mean that they are attracted to the world of communism from the depths of their hearts. As such, we can only grasp the actual meaning of this change based on this “favorable opinion.” After being dissatisfied with the polarization of politics and the economic system, what many millennials seem to be more interested in is just harmonizing and not replacing capitalism. As an article published in The Christian Science Monitor pointed out, “All this hardly means that a Marxist revolution is imminent.”*
However, the occurrence of this phenomenon is definitely not a fluke of history but rather the inevitable outcome of historical logic. It is worth analyzing that American youth have even touched upon the values of freedom and equality and rethinking the feasibility of the American Dream. More than half of millennials agree to a certain extent on the restriction of free speech, including criticisms against core Western values and beliefs. In the eyes of young Americans, the problem can simply be summed up in two words, equality and opportunity, and these two aspects happen to be the two major pillars and advantages of the American Dream.
It has been 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the surging wave of globalization, and the revolutionary meaning of science, technology and globalization is increasingly obvious. For a China intent on creating a new kind of civilization, the thoughts of American youth are excellent materials for teaching by negative example: this new exploration of civilization must include corrections to the logic of capital, or there can be nothing to speak about.
The author is a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
*Editor’s note: This quote, correctly translated, could not be verified.