There is a story about the young Vladimir Lenin in which an officer who has arrested Lenin asks him: “Why are you causing trouble, young man? You’re breaking your head against a wall.” To this, the young Lenin responds, “The wall is rotten. One good shove and it will collapse.”
Our generation has seen that the wall is rotten.
In the past few weeks, thousands of people, led by a generation of Black youth, have taken the streets in opposition to state violence and racism. Young people are consistently showing unified support for Black liberation, queer liberation, and an opposition to oppression in all of its forms. Much has been made of the fact that socialism is exploding in popularity among millennials and Gen Z, with a recent study showing that support for socialism and capitalism among these groups is essentially equal. This is a massive — and to some, shocking — increase in popularity compared to previous generations. Some political pundits tear their hair out at this news while others are dismissive. Still, others credit figures like Bernie Sanders as the reason why so many of us are growing to hate capitalism. But the material conditions that we have grown up with have shaped our outlook on the world and led us to the conclusion that capitalism has nothing to offer us. In the conditions we face, millennials and Gen Z are as one.
Our generations have already lived through not one, but two supposedly once-in-a-lifetime recessions. Many of us are saddled with staggering amounts of debt that we will likely never be able to pay back. The job market has gotten increasingly worse, forcing many of us into precarious jobs as part of the ultra-exploitative gig economy. Even before the current crisis, there were very few good jobs or careers available to young people. On top of all of this, ballooning education, health, and living costs leave us always at the brink of economic disaster. Our generation has accepted that most of us will never be able to retire. We have been suffering long before Covid-19 shut down the economy.
More and more, we saw the way U.S. imperialism outsourced jobs to other countries, to exploit workers in other countries, young and old, for their cheap labor. Here in the U.S. we face a precarious economy and see many Black youth forced into the prison industrial complex which disproportionately affects young people of color. For many Black youth, it seems more probable to serve a prison sentence than it is to pay off university debt. Outside of prison, the police terrorize Black youth on the street, with police violence being one of the leading causes of death for young Black men.
Our first collective memory was September 11th and the Bush administration’s criminal wars that came after it – devastating wars that we are still fighting in the name of U.S. imperialism. We’ve seen hurricanes engulf cities, destroy communities, and take countless lives. Year after year, we’ve witnessed record-breaking temperatures, as the elected leaders and capitalists sit on their hands and do nothing to address climate change.
We’ve lived through the imperialism of Bush with his wars for oil. We’ve seen that the “hope and change” of Obama was empty rhetoric from a politician who, once in office, bent over backwards for Wall Street while ramping up deportations and drone strikes. And now we have Donald Trump and his authoritarianism, bigotry, and violence against marginalized communities. We feel the urgency of fighting Trump and all of his racist, sexist, xenophobic, and dangerous polices, but we cannot forget that all of the presidents of our life time, of both parties, have made life increasingly difficult for young people by continuing the economic system that has impoverished us.
Our lives, our comfort, and our leisure have been left to the vindictive mercy of the likes of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. This has left us with trauma, destroyed communities, and low-wage precarious jobs, while Bezos is set to become the first ever trillionaire in one of the clearest examples of how the bourgeoisie profits off of our labor and leaves us with crumbs. We’ve seen our social movements get co-opted, our leaders betray us, and our material conditions continue to decline with every passing year. And now, the virus. We’ve seen what capitalism does, and we’ve seen how so called democracy supports it. Given all of this, is it any wonder that we oppose capitalism?
A cursory look at history shows us that past generations of young Americans have also been at the forefront of radical movements from the counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights movement to the student uprisings against the Vietnam war. However, the 80s and 90s marked the divorce between the working class and social movements as a result of an aggressive neoliberal offensive. In the last three decades, workers saw their own organizations and leaderships turn against them. The ruling classes also made concessions in order to assimilate, co-opt, and weaken the most subversive aspects of these social movements that questioned patriarchal, heterosexist, transphobic, racist, and imperialist capitalism. There has been a steep drop in union membership over the latter half of the previous century up until now, with one-third of the U.S. population unionized in the 1950s to just about one-tenth unionized now. Young people are particularly affected by this break from the labor movement as many of us are prohibited from forming unions. We’re temps, independent contractors, low level supervisors. We work for franchises. It is our job as revolutionary working class youth to reinvigorate and ignite the labor movement and unite with the working class. We need to do so in real tangible ways, showing up at strikes, pickets, and roadblocks, not only for small wage increases but to show that we want the working class and oppressed to live dignified lives. Especially in recent weeks, young people around the country have been inspiring, fighting for our demands in the streets. We want to see these demands realized and to do so must unite with the strongest force, the working class, which has the power to crush capitalism and see through the demands we have so ardently been fighting for like the abolition of police and an end to racism. We cannot put our organizing efforts into the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is called the graveyard of social movements for a reason, and many past generations of leaders have led their social movements there to die. Our generation cannot fall into that trap. The Democratic Party has nothing to offer us.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Bernie Sanders disappointing capitulation to the Democratic establishment. Sanders’ campaign was a political awakening for many of us. Many of us donated to, voted for, and campaigned for him because he seemed to promise something different — the possibility of a better world for young people. But, after five years of building a so-called “political revolution,” what happened? Sanders dropped out, threw all of his support behind Joe Biden, and is now shaming those of us who don’t support him. Our generation is called irresponsible for refusing to vote for an accused sexual assaulter who has a long history of racism and imperialism, and who helped create the mass incarceration and student debt crises that are crippling our futures. This seeming betrayal from Sanders is disappointing but, unfortunately, to be expected. He has shown us what George McGovern, Jesse Jackson, and all others who tried to reform the Democratic Party have shown us: that it is impossible to make a bourgeois party into a party of the working class. Time and time again, all attempts at reforming the Democrats have ended in co-optation and defeat. Once again, we are being preached to about the necessity of voting for the lesser evil of the Democrats. But now, in this moment of uprisings, we can see that this notion is ridiculous. It was Democrats who let the men who murdered George Floyd get away scot-free until protests forced their arrest. In many states, it was Democratic governors who called in the National Guard, and it was Democratic mayors who supported them. Thousands of us have been beaten, gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and imprisoned in cities that are run by Democrats. They are not the lesser evil, but rather another wing of the same evil. We need a party of our own.
Judging by these historical lessons, working class youth can come to the conclusion that Sanders, AOC, and all other members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party aren’t on our side. They do not want to build a socialist party of the working class. Instead, they are happy to serve the party that chose Joe Biden, a disgusting example of the depravity of capitalism and the complicity of the Democrats in that system, as their presidential candidate.
We are in an incredibly dynamic political moment. Class struggle is returning worldwide, and for the first time in years, the U.S. is the global center of this struggle. We are winning greater and greater concessions from the state, but we cannot squander this moment or let it go to waste. We cannot simply jump from social movement to social movement, trying to address this and that issue in society. The way to liberate Black people, queer people, women, and all other specially oppressed communities is to destroy the system of capitalism, which we can only do by uniting with the working class and weaponizing their strategic position. Social movements, by themselves, will not be enough. You cannot cure an illness by only treating its symptoms.
We know this isn’t an easy task. We’ve seen many activists of previous movements burn out trying to fight against this system. And we’ve seen the leaderships of these movements betray their bases and sell themselves out to the Democratic Party. We’ve also seen other youth-led movements, like the climate movement, claim to be apolitical. The current moment is a dynamic one, and we could be at the beginning of an epoch of uprisings and revolutions. But it is our responsibility to develop this moment and to continue the fight, even after the bourgeoisie offers us concessions. We can’t settle for crumbs any longer.
The fight against capitalism can’t happen on a local scale, nor can it happen at the ballot box or through mutual aid networks alone. To be able to defend ourselves against the state and fight for more, we need a political organization that is made up of and led by the working class. Working class youth must be a central part of this organization — as immigrants, as students, as people of color, as disabled people, as women, and as queer and trans* folks. Young workers are a vital part of the fight against capitalism because we can bring renewed energy and more forces into the ranks of labor. But a strong and fighting labor movement isn’t enough, on its own. We need to organize ourselves into a party around a shared program and strategy for socialism and against capitalism — to clarify our goals and the way we achieve them. We need a party to help organize the working class against the capitalist state and all the exploitation and oppression that it represents. Our generation can help break the spell and join with our members of the working class to build a party of our own.
We need a party that doesn’t put the question of revolution off for another day, but rather seizes upon every capitalist injustice and fights against it using our strongest weapon — the united forces of the working class. A party that can coordinate protests in the streets and strikes in the workplace to learn how to fight and win; a party that is grounded in the working class and united by a common strategy for socialist revolution — against capitalism and oppression in all forms. We need a party because we want to win.
Our generation has shown amazing bravery and combativeness in this current moment, with Black youth leading the struggle on the streets. Young workers are standing up and demanding more than the scraps that the capitalist system has given us. We have shown an unyielding commitment to fighting for the most oppressed, be they Black people, queer people, women, or undocumented immigrants. We have shown that we are willing to fight social ills, and now we must extend that fight to take on capitalism itself.
Because a better world is possible. A world free of exploitation and oppression, a world where we don’t make every decision about our futures with the looming specter of economic and climate collapse on the horizon. We can be on the vanguard of building a socialist future. We have shown, time and time again, that we are willing to fight. Let us take that fight to the system that exploits, oppresses, and murders us.
We know the wall is rotten, and we know a shove will bring it down. The task now is organizing a strong enough force to make that final shove.