Do Millennials Understand Socialism; Do Any of Us For That Matter

For decades conservatives have labeled anyone else as socialist.  Furthermore, although the terms have changed, conservatives lump socialist, as they did when liberals were “pinko, commie, hippie fags”, into a single basket of people who want something for nothing, won’t work, and probably a member of a minority group.

Anxious, perhaps, not to be looked at that way, progressives have avoided being associated with the words, socialist and socialism.  That is changing.  Millennials are taking the term as a badge of honor.  The question is whether they have any idea what it means.

Here is what we know:

Millennials are racking up huge debts in the pursuit of education.

Young people, despite this education have not been able to find work comparable to their education in many cases.  Furthermore, community colleges and Universities have been increasingly unaffordable, and community colleges and online universities have found ways to keep students enrolled.

Many jobs don’t include benefits like health insurance leaving these young people without a means to adequate healthcare, and the debt obligation of education often makes the purchase of health insurance un affordable.

Listening to the twenty-somethings interviewed in the video it seems that they don’t have any idea about how governments work  Some understood the concept that someone would have to pay for the “free” programs, but thought that should be “the government” without understanding that ultimately tax-payers would have to pay.

All of this confusion is understandable.  It has been fostered by branding anyone who believes in government run social programs as a socialist, (or as a communist.)  

All of these terms need to be defined and explained.  The question is, how.

When Bernie Sanders admitted that he was a social democrat he didn’t go on to define it.  Admittedly, in the middle of a debate was not the time to do it, but someone should have made it clear.   The Democratic Party seems to reject that term as being too loaded with negative connotation.  The average Democrat seems to be confused based on Gallup polls, but in recent years progressives have become more accepting of the term.

Part of the difficulty associated with use of the term, Socialism, is the Merriam-Webster definition:



    “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

    synonyms: leftism · Fabianism · syndicalism · consumer socialism · utopian socialism · welfarism · communism · Bolshevism · radicalism · militancy · progressivism · social democracy · [more]

        policy or practice based on the political and economic theory of socialism.

        synonyms: leftism · Fabianism · syndicalism · consumer socialism · utopian socialism · welfarism · communism · Bolshevism · radicalism · militancy · progressivism · social democracy · [more]

        (in Marxist theory) a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of Communism.”

Those sound like the definitions according to a militant capitalist.


 generally follows the Merriam-Webster definition and the differentiates between market and non-market models of socialism.  Comments about Democratic Socialism point out that within the broad definition there are two approaches; reform and revolution.  However, it is helpful in understanding what Bernie Sanders meant. 

“The major difference between social democracy and democratic socialism is the object of their politics: contemporary social democrats support a welfare state and unemployment insurance as a means to "humanise" capitalism, whereas democratic socialists seek to replace capitalism with a socialist economic system, arguing that any attempt to "humanise" capitalism through regulations and welfare policies would distort the market and create economic contradictions.[380]


“Democratic socialism generally refers to any political movement that seeks to establish an economy based on economic democracy by and for the working class. Democratic socialism is difficult to define and groups of scholars have radically different definitions for the term. Some definitions simply refer to all forms of socialism that follow an electoral, reformist or evolutionary path to socialism rather than a revolutionary one.[381]


    ‘You can't talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You're really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.’

    — Martin Luther King, Jr., 1966[382][383][384]”




In Gallup polls perceptions of the term socialism have changed among progressives, but not among conservatives.  Progressives have generally become more accepting of the term, although only 53% have a favorable opinion of the concept now.  Conservatives give it less than a 20% favorable rating. 

Age is a factor in acceptability as well, “A national Reason-Rupe survey found that 53 percent of Ame-ricans under 30 have a favorable view of socialism compared with less than a third of those over 30.”  -Washington Post-  The Post went on to say that Millennials are all for socialism until they get a job.

The real issue may be that Millennials are incensed about wealth inequality, and see that as a barrier to what they view as an acceptable life.

At the root is the question, “For whom does a society exist?”  Does it exist for everyone, or just for those in control?  Is there any obligation between all members to give opportunity to the fulfillment of needs for each other?

Within a capitalist system is there an obligation for owner/investors to provide for full employment?

Should caring for the weak, sick and hungry be the obligation of society or of individuals?

Conservatives tend to favor individual responsibility, for those in need and those giving assistance, if they accept responsibility at all, and they reserve the right to decide who is worthy of assistance.  “Those who are worthy” tends to be a much smaller group than all in need, and individuals within that group tend to look like, worship like, and think like those giving assistance.

For progressives the tendency is to want to give all in need assistance, but pass that responsibility along to some agency, governmental or otherwise.

There are problems with both approaches.  “Those in need” may include those truly in need as well as those who are playing the system.  Conservatives see everyone who is not like them as “gamers”, and progressives don’t want to look at that problem.

Conservatives, as a group, seek to keep the profit motive in everything – including healthcare, education and public services and utilities – while progressives see the profit motive as a detriment to a society that addresses the needs of everyone.

Those in favor of social democracy point to the Nordic model as evidence that it can work.  It appears from recent events that it can work in a uniform society; one where everyone is of the same ethnic group.  The influx of Syrian/Muslim immigrants in Sweden has led to the ascendency of the far-right, white supremacist,  Sweden Democrats party from a obscurity to winning seats in parliament.

The U.S., often referred to as a melting pot, is not all that “melted”.  White, Christian males have held control of government from the beginning of the nation and now feel threatened by the growth of minority groups which threaten to become a majority in a few years.  White Supremacist groups, which have always existed either overtly or under cover have become visible and vocal again.

The populist movements in the U.S. and Europe seek to abolish or limit socialist programs everywhere that white majorities feel threatened.

Millennials of different ethnic groups seem to be much more open to each other than older groups were at that age.  It will be interesting to see whether they continue to be so open to each other and to socialism as they mature and become employed.

Views: 150

Comment by koshersalaami on September 21, 2018 at 5:52am

Older Americans are less likely to embrace socialism both because they are more likely to associate the term with the Soviet Union and because they lived through a time when they saw capitalism working way better than it works now. What we’re looking at now is a sort of American replay of the communist argument where communists felt betrayed by “trade unionism.” Americans will look as unions as tools in the direction of socialism, and they will be right, but they will find soon enough where the paths diverge. 

To understand where and why the paths will diverge, it is useful to bring up the Marxian concepts of exploitation and alienation. Alienation is about workers feeling disconnected from the product they produce. Socialism is designed to meet both issues, but labor, particularly organized labor, is mainly concerned with one: exploitation. The truth about workers is that what they want is good, secure jobs, not necessarily the responsibility of owning the business, and that’s where the socialism model fails


the consequences of alienation start to surface, not that anyone is labeling the issue as alienation. Exploitation is all about provider issues: enough money for my family, security for my family, safety contributing to my ability to continue to work for my family, child labor laws so my kids don’t get exploited, etc. Alienation manifests more or less as apathy, disconnection, but these things have a major economic consequence: loss of productivity.

And here’s where the process gets interesting, because productivity isn’t a worker issue, it’s an owner issue, and it is owners who become the primary force behind reducing elimination for exactly that reason. 

Before the Japanese economic invasion and the Reagan Revolution, and subsequent mass automation, I was watching this process play out. How to reduce alienation? The answer is actually very Marxian:

By giving the workers increased control over the means of production. In Japan it took the form of worker councils. Here we saw profit sharing, entreprenurial units within corporations, and ultimately the dawn of the employee-owned corporation, because owners are the least alienated people in business (particularly if they founded it and are involved day to day), so the obvious way to make workers more productive is to make them more like owners. 

I wrote a much longer post about this once. 

At this point, the big thing derailing a lot of this will probably be automation, but that makes some of the questions you raise a lot more critical, particularly the question about who the economy is really for. The proposed answers here start detaching labor from income because the need for labor may shrink to the point that a lot of the population won’t be able to survive. The most interesting suggestion I’ve seen about this, and I’m trying to remember the name of the guy who came up with it (Rob Wittmann would know), is that the government pay for the most basic necessities for everyone and anything past that is what you earn. 

I don’t know about millenials, but most Americans past that still want the ability to get rich, even if they understand they never will. Getting rich is not synonymous with exploitation. 

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 21, 2018 at 6:43am

For many of us who had a career our retirement is tied to markets and capitalism.  For that reason, if no other, older Americans don't want to wander too far from a Capitalist economy.

I remember that proposal, too, but not the author.

Do you remember a person on Open Salon who went by Skypixieo?  He proposed that inheritance be done away with totally.  At ones death the estate would go to the government with half being used for services to the general population and for running the government. The other half would be allocated to each person in a lump sum on some birthday connected with responsibility; 18, 21, 25?  That money could be used in any way they wanted, They could start a business, but musical instruments, go for a trip around the world, whatever, but it would be their one-time portion.  If they blew it all the other half of the money would provide necessities like healthcare, shelter and food.

My objection then wasn't to the concept, but to the fact that the age at which people act with foresight is highly individual.  Some never do.  Others are good to go at 18.

This, in another form, is the approach of countries like Iceland.  Society would rather let individuals pursue their dream and fail and let everyone support that.  Of course, if they want to be a rock star and fail they have to find something else, not sit in their room and sulk.

Comment by Ron Powell on September 21, 2018 at 1:12pm

"Millennials are taking the term as a badge of honor."

They're in the process of redefining all of it as well they should be...

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 22, 2018 at 2:39am

Ron, I agree, they should.  I have a conservative friend who surprised me by saying, "We need more women in Congress.  The men haven't done such a good job."  I think a growing number are looking for real change, and I saw something a few days ago suggesting that even older Americans were shifting left.  I'm not sure how much is the Trump effect, and how much frustration with Congress.

Kosh, I wondered how you came up with such a good response so fast. 

I attended a few workshops fifteen years or so ago given by a former hospital CEO who talked about maintaining excellence in hospital settings.  I won't go through all of the presentation, but what he said numerous times was that what workers want is meaningful jobs.  Here he was talking about nurses, especially, and how, somewhat peculiar to hospitals, there is confusion about who the customer is.  Because of third party payers the view is that the insurance company or the doctor is the customer, when the customer is the patient.  (The presenter was very convincing, but later was convicted of Medicare fraud working for a hospital in Florida.)

The point is that I think that a big problem has been alienation - not exploitation - of workers because they no longer feel an allegiance with the company they are working for, because the company has no allegiance to them.  It's not just about providing for your family; it's about feeling good about your job, the product you make or the service you provide. Capitalism is not the problem, in my opinion.  Without the possibility of profit some won't be motivated, and they should start their own businesses.  Others just want to work with no responsibility for running things.  As one woman replied when I asked for her input about an issue in her section, "I just make my lunch and take the bus."

The move toward of exclusion of labor as a path to productivity is a major source of alienation.

When Europe went through the industrial revolution men in trades suddenly lost their pride in the job they did.  They might have been working long hours in a dimly lit shop, but their product was theirs even though they were employees, and they had lifetime employment in that shop.  Becoming hourly workers in a factory required a shift in thinking about what they could be proud of, and as you point out, it became providing for my family, and being part of a group that worked for that company or performed a certain job.  That has all diminished significantly, although there are still companies that make things and have that sort of relationship with employees.

The relationships between employers and employees has been undergoing a major shift and it is hard to know what the result will be.

I do think that there needs to be a new social contract that addresses these issues.  At present business has the upper hand, but they won't be able to keep it without some resolution of these issues.

Thanks for your input.

Comment by Maui Surfer on September 22, 2018 at 3:22pm

The Social Contract is currently and will continue to be re-set. Those who don't believe are simply and totally dinosaurs, despite whether they are currently doing well or even just OK themselves.

The UBI (universal basic income) is coming, and I'm not the one saying it or proposing it- want to argue with Vinod Khosla? I sat with him in Silicon Valley one day and he described the inevitability, it is NOT POSSIBLE for it to be ignored, one may even argue it is evolutionary, a natural phenomena.

As far as conservatives vs. progressives, or in particular millennials, lets hear the so called average conservative voter- the "Reagan Democrat" or the credulous imbeciles of Northern Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania who brought us Trump with their "expertise" (experts at being the tools of tried and true Soviet Active Measures, in place since Stalin or before), explain anything significant, or even basic about the ways of Capitalism, or, frankly, anything meaningful about it in any way. What are the chances? Why are Schwab and the others in business in the first place? And why do meltdowns also melt down 401ks for most trusting fools anyway?

Further, ALL these so called capitalists are waiting fervently for their Social Security and Medicare, and so no matter how you slice it are among the biggest hypocrites and lying bigots of all time.

For those with the patience and intellect to read Marx, you suddenly realize Einstein was no the only genius human kind ever produced. That said, I personally agree that Americans, while they should have a dole when necessary like the UK and Australia, should also have the path to riches within their grasp should they invent or work hard enough at something to deserve them.

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 22, 2018 at 5:58pm

I used to have an acquaintance (now dead) who was an old style Marxist.  He argued that the problem with communist governments was size.  He put up as an example of long-term success a city in Europe.  What he was talking about was just a large commune.  Organization above that size suffers from corrupt bureaucracy.  Of the five remaining, nominally communist countries; Laos, Vietnam, Cuba, China and North Korea, only North Korea closely adheres to the Marxist model.  It also serves as a shining example of how poorly a purely socialist government serves the needs of the people.

Social Democracy is a balance of capitalism and socialism that can work. 

Of course, market economies are inherently cyclical and unregulated the cycles seem worse than in managed economies.  Basically market growth and contraction is based on emotion - consumer confidence - rather than reason and the multitude of factors that lead to confidence make business cycles irregular and impossible to predict with any accuracy.  Trading is capitalism, but it is different from business that creates a service or product.

One of my great grandfathers was a horse trader (really) and another was a thief.  It would be hard to say which was more dishonest.

Comment by Maui Surfer on September 22, 2018 at 6:26pm

While you were in the War I bounced around from commune to commune a little bit. Basically, the human limit is, and this is no perfect science, somewhere around fifty people (maybe a leftover from hunting and gathering times?) before the whole thing implodes or some Alpha type tries to become essentially a dictator over the others ...

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 23, 2018 at 2:14am

"...some Alpha type tries to become essentially a dictator over the others ..."

Or, someone starts thinking that they are working harder than everyone else.

Comment by Maui Surfer on September 23, 2018 at 12:12pm

True ... or, and this was my actual experience though I get your point clearly, someone or some subset DO start working harder than everyone else.

Maybe not Ironically, there are excerpts that relate similar situations existing among the residents in the earliest European originated American settlements.

The real conclusion is that it is possible, though very difficult and involving perhaps chance, luck if you will, or intense friendships that surpass other conditions, to have a small communist state of your own, perhaps a dozen or a few more people altogether, and that some become more families than any form of political party. Even more ironically, this is essentially what many street gangs are/become.

Comment by Doc Vega on September 25, 2018 at 10:56am

Universal Basic Income the opiate of the masses that only creates a deterrent to those who are more astute and motivated  while rewarding those who are lazy and irresponsible while piling up a huge deficit from the expansion of the welfare state! The Soviets and Chicoms already proved it doesn't work! How many times must history repeat itself? Collectivism is not a viable socioeconomic strategy! Government sanctioned equality will always fail! Just like Obamacare!


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