Mal Fletcher
Socialism Not The Answer Students Need

Marxist thought is apparently enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity on Britain's university campuses, as an emerging generation realises that it may face worse economic prospects then its parents.

A poll released last month revealed that twice as many young people regard big business as a danger than are fearful of communism.

Meanwhile, Marxist groups are using the bicentenary of the philosopher's birth and the fiftieth anniversary of the 1968 student protests to promote militancy.

One leader of a university Marxist society said recently that, 'Despite the monstrosity of the Stalinist regime, we can see the power and strength of a planned economy.'

The question is not whether there is planning behind an economy, but who does the planning?

Arguably, history reveals that, in practice if not in theory, communism serves vested interests even more than capitalism.

This is no mean feat. Capitalism has often been guilty of looking after the interests of the few at the expense of the many, as Jeremy Corbyn keeps reminding us.

The quirky British film 5 Greedy Bankers used dark humour to illustrate the depth of public antagonism toward the banking industry in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown.

The heist movie related how four victims of banking greed took their revenge on the managers and high-fliers whom they personally held responsible for their plight.

The film was released in 2016, a full eight years after the crisis began. The subject of banking culpability for the Great Recession was clearly still fresh in the public mind.

This is hardly surprising when the meltdown pushed unemployment in the UK above ten percent - a figure more commonly seen in the south of Europe. Meanwhile, housing prices dropped by 28 percent.

While the level of public outrage seen at the time may now have died down, there is still residual anger toward those who not only escaped imprisonment but received healthy bonuses, while others lost their jobs and homes.

Even now, CEOs of private and public companies - and charities - are sometimes awarded very healthy bonuses while the organisations they lead lose money hand-over-fist.

In many respects, the impact of all this is felt most by younger people. Even where this is not the case, young adults believe that it is. Who can blame them?

From the time they emerged from secondary school, Millennials now aged between 20 and 35 years, have felt a growing expectation gap.

Raised by mainly Baby Boomer parents, these young adults had grown up with the digital economy and  increasingly globalised industries and culture.

They were encouraged to believe that they could, like many - but certainly not all - of the previous generation, experience a higher standard of living than their parents.

This has proven not to be the case. Education costs have risen and students emerge from universities with sometimes substantial levels of debt. The average fees charged by English universities - Scottish schools don’t levy tuition fees - are around £9000 per annum.

Despite the introduction of fees, young people still aspire to earn a degree. In 1980, just 68,000 people started a university course. Last autumn, that figure was around 500,000.

Do fees mean a higher quality of education? Not necessarily. Students in some schools have taken to rating lectures and general services online, using the viral power of the internet to demand greater value for money.

Millennials not only face tuition costs unknown to their parents, they also find it harder to save money for their future security.

This is especially true in the densely populated urban centres that form the core of today’s information and innovation economies.

Home ownership is not even a pipe-dream for many of this cohort. Many will tell you that they don’t really think about mortgages. Some resign themselves to staying locked into “generation rent”.

As I well know, renting is not the end of the world. (In my humble opinion, more than a few gifted people of my fellow Boomers have traded the kind of risk that leads to fulfilment and meaningful achievement for a contract with their bank.)

However, even here the government makes things tougher for the young by stacking rental regulations in favour of landlord’s rights. Meanwhile, councils and developers alike fail in their duty to build houses that meet the proper standards of both quantity and quality.

The expectation gap experienced by many young people leads many to frustration, but it does not spell inevitable decline.

Far from it. I meet young adults the world over who are solving problems in innovative ways, especially when it comes to entrepreneurial businesses and social enterprises.

Yet many Millennials have felt the need to turn away from solutions touted by the established order, be it political or economic. Some have taken to flirting with - or even wholeheartedly embracing - leftist socialism.

Recent studies have shown that a much reported youth swing toward Labour in last year’s general election was a myth. Yet there is good reason to believe that, on the face of it, the Conservative government faces more of a struggle to engage the young than their Opposition. The Conservatives actually saw an increase in their over-60s vote in the last election.

For many young adults, the battle is no longer between the centre-right Tories and a centre-left Labour, both of whom offer different slightly different forms of capitalism.

The accession of the hard-left ideologue Mr Corbyn, combined with Tory uncertainty in the face of Brexit, has changed the battle to one between socialism and capitalism.

If recent research is to believed, university campuses offer clear evidence of this.

Yet a narrative painting capitalism as the great Satan, the source of all human woes, and radical socialism as its only antidote, must be challenged and vigorously so. All economies are planned, by someone or other.

At least under capitalism - married to liberal democracy - markets have power to change things, markets which are driven in part by the consumer tastes and behaviours of individuals.

For all their utopian rhetoric, marxist governments time and again morph quickly into introverted, self-serving cultures sustaining the interests of their senior cadres.

Following the path to Marxism will only ever lead an at times rightly frustrated and disappointed generation, a cohort of passionate innovators and reformers into disappointment, disillusionment and in some cases despair. Just as it did many students in the late 1950s and 60s.

Students, that is, who lived in capitalist democracies 
which, for all their failures, still allowed people to express their views and, for the most part, to live according to their consciences. 

Mal Fletcher (@MalFletcher) is the founder and chairman of 2030Plus. He is a respected keynote speaker, social commentator and social futurist, author and broadcaster based in London.

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