“Eat the rich!”
This is one rallying cry for scores of young people itching to be involved in political activism. But who are the rich? And what do they mean by “eat?”
At second glance, however, there is certainly room for pessimism. Do young people even know what socialism is? Such a question may seem insulting at first, but 20% of poll respondents with a positive view of socialism said socialism “builds upon and improves capitalism,” according to Pew Research.
Socialism improves capitalism? I can just imagine Lenin rolling over in his mausoleum.
Political illiteracy isn’t just a problem young people have, or even young socialists, but one from which the general American public seems to suffer.
In America, one talks only of liberals and conservatives, or Democrats and Republicans. Never mind that such labels are practically useless and unhelpful. Representative Ilhan Omar and Senator Joe Manchin are both Democrats — surely they have the same values and politics, no?
So, what do all these words mean? I implied that many people don’t know what socialism is — but do people even know what capitalism is?
Socialists must be able to answer these questions, especially if we’re engaging in political activism of any kind. Our politics are endlessly scrutinized — and from all sides. Liberals and conservatives unite against us. Not being able to answer these questions makes us look clueless, damaging our movement in the eyes of the public.
It’s easy to be a liberal — you don’t have to read anything. All it takes to be a liberal these days is to be skeptical of conservatives hurling “groomer” accusations at transgender people but do practically nothing about it.
But to be a socialist and not be laughed out of political discussions requires a grasp of politics, history, philosophy and economics that isn’t required of other political ideologies in America. For example, no one asks a conservative if their ideology is at odds with “human nature,” but socialists face such nonsense all the time.
Where more mainstream ideologies can afford to dismiss such arguments as nonsense and move on, socialists cannot. We’re always expected to explain ourselves. We’re guilty until proven innocent. Socialism is against human nature? Well, we respond, what is human nature anyway? Every philosopher seems to have a different answer. Humans are naturally selfish and greedy? But aren’t humans also naturally empathetic and compassionate?
We’re constantly asked to apologize for our history. We’re told of the “horrors” of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Some respond by saying they are “democratic” socialists, unlike those nasty authoritarians.
I wish they’d paint a different picture — take the Soviet Union, for example. The socialists of the October Revolution took an illiterate and destitute society under despotic tsarist rule and turned it into a global superpower. It was the socialists who made it first to space! It was socialists who expanded rights for women, educated the masses and made it seem truly possible that the last could be first.
We shouldn’t be naïve. The Soviet Union made many errors, a great deal of which were unnecessary, but we should also be able to openly consider emulating their successes — as they certainly had some!
My fellow socialists, I urge you to learn more than slogans if you want socialism to succeed. You must understand your positions and those of your opponents. You must learn history, how the economy works and read boring old philosophers. It’s tedious and tiresome, but when everyone else is out to get us, we can’t afford to look clueless.
Jared Quigg (he/him) is a sophomore studying journalism and political science.