For a long time, the United States has been afraid of words that nobody really knows the definition of. The words ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’ have been thrown around as insults in the political arena, with conservatives painting socialism as the fearful future that political candidates like Bernie Sanders will bring.
However, as we reflect on the recent years that have exposed the ugly wielding of political power, deep systemic racism, and a flawed safety net for the citizens that need it most, it’s hard not to wonder what solutions lie outside of the existing framework. For younger generations especially, as we begin to educate ourselves on political alternatives, there becomes an increasing responsibility to educate and advocate for systems like socialism and communism.
Most of this generation has never really learned what communism is, just that it’s bad. In efforts to maintain the perceived superiority of the United States and its economy, communism has been portrayed by both political parties as a ruthless dictatorship similar to that of the USSR or China. Socialism, in recent years, has taken on a similarly bad connotation as something many Democrats run away from, and a word Republicans throw around as a playground insult.
The middle ground solution of socialism has often been portrayed vaguely, leading to a blurry support for these ideas. Political leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders — who identify as ‘democratic socialists’ — have fought to implement socialist-like policies in our legislation, such as universal healthcare. Clubs like the Youth Democratic Socialists of America at Berkeley High School have made similar efforts, advocating to dismantle systemic inequalities and encourage political education.
But the power to really change things lies in a huge renovation of thinking. If we as a generation are to work against another Trump regime and a growing extreme right force, we must debunk what we have been told about communism and socialism our whole lives.
The ‘radical left’ in the United States is villainized by its own citizens as impossible, while scoffed at by social democratic countries like Sweden and Australia. As the newest generation, entering a polarized world getting worse everyday, it is imperative that we educate ourselves to understand what side we’re on, and why we’re there. Credibility has been polluted by certain figures in power, and thus we must work twice as hard to understand reality for ourselves.
During the Trump era, we saw lie after lie resonate with a large mass of people, displaying that the United States has every likelihood of becoming as fascist a regime as China. We’ve seen the United States inaccurately label those countries as communist, while also ignoring thriving social democratic countries like Sweden and Norway, with policies that we could learn a thing or two from.
Even in the years before Trump, oppressive systems had made themselves visible if you looked hard enough. Mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, as well as widening income inequality, points to systemic flaws far beyond what we can blame on Trump. It reveals a system profiting by any means necessary, in a country built on oppression and genocide. Once you see the ugly make itself visible, being anti-capitalist doesn’t seem so extreme anymore.
This is not a call to turn this generation into a socialist party, but rather to understand the context of the system we inhabit. We live in a country that actively lives out the legacy of the enslavement of African people and genocide of Indigenous Americans, while labeling communism and socialism as the enemy.
If we sit idle without confronting the systemic issues at hand, we are perpetuating the system just as much as everyone else. Communism might not be the answer, and socialism might not be the answer either. But it would be wrong if we didn’t at least try to look for a better one.