On both sides of the Atlantic, politics as we know it is changing. Party allegiance, long determined by your income and social class, is today more likely to be defined by other demographic factors such as whether you live in the city or the countryside or the length of your education. But the real split is age: the elderly still tend to vote conservative, whereas young people are increasingly moving to the left. Enthused about charismatic left-wing candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, increasing numbers of under-35s have become politically engaged in resurgent socialist movements, some of which have infiltrated the mainstream social democratic parties.
The question is why? It would appear easy enough. We have all heard the old adage that if you are not a socialist when you are young you have no heart, and if you are not a conservative when you get old you have no brain. The idealist young are easier swayed by the promise of equality and solidarity, which is central to the socialist sales pitch. And of course, the promise of free stuff is attractive, so having others pay for your education and provide you with a social security net wins votes with a demographic which typically do not make the kind of wages which socialist target for the taxes which must pay for their public service bonanza.
The problem is that the pitch is effective, and especially in the UK people are embracing leftist ideology, driven by the under-25s who are estimated to support Corbyn’s hard-left Labour party by up to 80%: a recent poll found that 43% of the UK’s population agreed that a genuine socialist government would make the country a better place to live. A scary statistic.
The surveyors, however, omitted to ask what a genuine socialist country would actually entail? If they had done so, they would probably have been told of a place where no-one was left to their own devices and people enjoyed a much higher degree of equality than they do today, both in economic terms and on a number of social issues such as race, gender and sexuality. What they likely would not have heard is of a place of deep economic misery for the general population and a political elite enriching themselves, of food shortages and famines, surveillance states, political prisoners and travel restrictions to prevent people from fleeing. Yet these are among characteristic of countries which have attempted to implement genuine socialism. Equality, on the other hand, remained elusive in all.
Of course, some people are dogmatically wedded to the socialist dream and refuse to accept that these are the realities of their ideology when implemented in the real world. But for most, the reason they won’t speak of the dark side of socialism is that they simply don’t know. This is especially true for the young: if you are under 25, you were born after the fall of the iron curtain and have no recollection of the horrors inflicted in Eastern Europe and beyond by communist and socialist regimes. Even your parents could be too young to remember that a socialist government almost wrecked Britain in the 1970ies, when the garbage went uncollected and the dead unburied. They certainly won’t learn in school: a recent survey found that 72% of secondary school teachers in the UK are Labour voters and a mere 8% Conservative. It may sound strange, but the fact is that swathes of the population are poorly informed of current events and even more ignorant of the past: unless you have made an independent attempt to research the history of socialism you are not likely to be anything but peripherally aware that it has a sinister history of totalitarian regimes which left millions dead and many more living in misery.
So, the task falls to us: those who believe in capitalism must not only make the case for a free market and a free people; we must educate the young about the horrors of socialism. We need to tell them about past crimes committed in the name of socialism, and show them how the few countries which are still clinging to the socialist dream are among the worst places in the world to live: the super-totalitarian North Korea, or sinking Caribbean states such as Cuba or Venezuela. The young must not be allowed the lack of knowledge which socialist politicians are feeding on. We may have lost one generation to ignorance; if we lose another it will spell disaster for us and our children.