“Everyone thinks they’re a communist when they’re your age.” “When you grow up, you’ll understand how the world really works.” “It’s so funny to hear kids defending socialism.” Young Communists like myself hear no shortage of comments like these. Surely, people tell us, the system will make more sense when we’re older. Surely, we’re socialists only because we don’t understand what socialism really is. (Interestingly enough, we usually hear this comment from people whose definition of socialism is “when the government does stuff”.) Surely when we grow up, we’ll lose our radicalism and understand that capitalism really is the only way.
Yet in every revolutionary struggle, the youth have played a major role. Today, my generation is leading the opposition to devastating climate policies, gun violence, student loan debt, and more. It’s no coincidence that the powers that be—who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo—are the ones preaching the gospel of capitalism and attempting to quash our revolutionary spirit by claiming that we’ll soon come to a “better understanding” of the world.
Those who are able to see the faults of the system most clearly are those who have not been co-opted by it. Young people especially are gifted with the ability to question the old society and to dream of a better world. Yet when we voice these dreams, more often than not we are met with discouragement, with the vague promise that things will make sense when we’re older. Why should we waste the first two or three decades of our lives being told that our ideas are not valid? Why must we wait to assimilate into the system before our voices are allowed to be heard? The truth, of course, is that we don’t.
I and many other young people admire Greta Thunberg for her activism in the climate debate. What is it that makes her special? Many of us feel strongly about the need to save our planet from the destructive power of corporate greed, but Greta has become actively involved in leading this revolutionary effort of environmentalism. Imagine how the world could be if all of us young people stood up for our convictions to challenge and defy the status quo.
Of course, it is important that we learn from the experience of older comrades, who have much to teach us in the revolutionary struggle. There must be a close relationship between the comrades who have led this struggle and those who will continue it. “The basic clay of our work is the youth; we place our hope in it and prepare it to take the banner from our hands,” Che Guevara writes in Socialism and Man in Cuba.
As more young Americans are embracing socialism, it’s important that the Communist Party and the left as a whole use this moment to expound on young peoples’ questioning of the capitalist system and our desire for change. First, we must build on the momentum of this situation. Education is important in any revolutionary movement, and this is especially true today, at a time when increasing numbers of people are expressing renewed interest in an ideology, which has long been anathema in this country. By encouraging young peoples’ interest in socialism, we can open a dialogue which has been missing from much of American history, particularly since the beginning of the Cold War: the possibility of an alternative to capitalism.
Most importantly, perhaps, Communists and young activists alike must embrace the importance of unity within the leftist movement. At a time when the reactionary right wing seeks to decry any potential progressive reform, no matter how centrist, as “socialism,” it’s important that the left stay strong by relying on solidarity within the movement. One needs only to look at the history of socialism to see the detrimental impacts of schisms and splits. Too often, those who seek to divide us are aided by the contradictions inside our movement itself.
At this crucial juncture, when workers are becoming more militant, when US conservatism is slipping farther and farther to the right and the left is rising up to oppose this shift towards fascism, we must stand together. We must make sure that everyone’s voice is heard in this struggle, especially those who have long been silenced: women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and the youth.
This is a critical moment in history, one in which many reactionaries wish that young people would keep quiet and learn to accept the status quo. We’ve seen the devastating effects of this system, though, and we’re not about to go silently without demanding change. The only way to ensure a healthy future for ourselves, our planet, and generations to come is through a people’s revolution, one in which we all must play a part.
“A revolution,” as Fidel Castro said, “is a fight to the death between the future and the past.” It’s said often enough that young people are the future. If that’s the case, we should be the ones who create it.”
-By Emily Karreman
The writer is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.