A study which surveyed ten thousand participants from different countries shows that half of people between 16 and 25 years old believe the Earth may be doomed. More than half of the participants recorded feeling betrayed by their governments; some spoke of not wanting to have children due to the climate crisis; and the majority reported feeling sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty.
Most young people have never lived through a period of significant stability, either politically or economically. Someone born in 2000 will have lived through 9/11 and the resultant ‘war on terror,’ the economic crash of 2008, the election of Trump, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Moments of supposed ‘progress’ in between those crises were quickly eclipsed by much darker moments: for example, the election of Obama did not bring equality and prosperity, but concentration camps for the detention of immigrants, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Flint water crisis.
Despite higher awareness surrounding social justice issues, racialized people continue to be murdered by the police at shocking rates, Indigenous activists are brutally suppressed by the Canadian state (as in the case of the Wet’suwet’en blockades), and women and queer people have recently suffered serious setbacks such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the rise of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws in the United States.
Why should young people not be pessimistic about the future, when they have only experienced crises? Capitalism today is an ailing system which limps from crisis to crisis, inflicting vicious austerity on the working class to make them pay for it. It also promotes continued oppression in order to hold the status quo together by enforcing division along identity lines. This aids the capitalist class in making it harder for workers to fight back collectively. Therefore, youth are not wrong to doubt that a truly better future is possible—under capitalism, it isn’t. While the masses are able to win some concessions after fierce battles with the ruling class, anything won will always be at risk of being revoked by the capitalists so long as they own and control everything. It would take socialist revolution to make real progress, because this would give the masses the democratic power to direct society’s wealth where it really needs to go. For example, we could tackle the climate crisis, end homelessness, and provide full healthcare for all.
However, the pessimism that young people feel about capitalism doesn’t always result in a desire to fight back and achieve socialism. Often, young people have already decided that this is not possible. This is the most alarming part of doomerism: the world is full of young people who are anti-capitalist and even pro-socialism, yet who do not believe it is worth it to act on their beliefs. For example, a poll from 2021 shows that 49 per cent of women and 43 per cent of men aged 18-34 oppose capitalism. But at the same time, feelings of hopelessness and misery abound, driving many would-be activists into inaction. When it comes to the younger generations, the ideological battle lines have been redrawn. The debate is not socialism versus capitalism, but socialism versus doomerism.
There are a whole plethora of arguments as to why socialism is impossible, but most of them are rooted in the same pessimistic misconception: that the working class is too weak to carry out revolution. Some think that the workers are too comfortable to give up their lives of ‘privilege’ and take to the streets; others think they are too brainwashed by capitalist media and television; and some believe that the capitalists have grown too powerful to challenge.
It’s not hard to find the source of such ideas. Petty-bourgeois leftists and academics have been loudly denouncing the power of the working class for decades, which helps to explain the pessimism of students and youth. Many of them come into contact with these depressing ideas through universities, and these ideas even tend to spread into the movement.
We can take the book Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher as an example. There is a viral quote from this book that summarises the text well: “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” According to Fisher, capitalism in the post-Soviet era cemented itself as the only possible system in the minds of the masses. Even if they don’t like capitalism, he suggests, the capitalists have made it so that nobody can imagine ending it (except for Fisher, we are led to assume, who is the only smart person left). The logical conclusion of these ideas is that the working class can no longer organise revolution, because the concept of socialism has been erased from their brains as a viable option. It is amazing to consider that this book was published in 2009. At this time, numerous revolutions that abolished capitalism were still in living memory for millions of workers around the world. For example, the Cuban revolution was only about fifty years old in 2009. Even more recent was the revolution in Venezuela, which took place only about a decade before Capitalist Realism was published! Either Fisher does not know about these revolutions, considers the masses who carried them out to be wild outliers not worth considering, or he is too pessimistic to see that workers can indeed imagine the end of capitalism, and they can even carry it out.
Paul Mason, another popular academic and writer, espouses a similarly pessimistic view. After the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn, former reformist-socialist Labour Party leader, Mason drew the conclusion that the British working class simply didn’t want progress. He asked: “Does it help tell a story of hope to an electorate that has become terrified of change?”
It is astounding that Mason can place the blame for Corbyn’s defeat at the feet of workers, when it so clearly belongs to the Labour right-wingers. This pro-establishment, pro-capitalism wing of the party was terrified of the support that Corbyn was receiving from the masses. Corbyn’s promises, which included renationalizing public utilities and reversing austerity cuts to public services, drew out historic crowds. In order to regain control of the party and make it respectable and safe in the eyes of the capitalists, the Labour right-wingers engaged in vicious factionalism against Corbyn, falsely accused him of antisemitism, and even sabotaged the Labour party to help it lose, just to prevent a victory led by Corbyn. Therefore, it was not the electorate that was terrified of change, but the Labour right-wing who wanted the support of the capitalists. If the workers didn’t want reforms, then why did the Corbyn movement have to be crushed with the dirtiest of tactics? Obviously, the workers very much did want reforms. The key to a Labour victory would have been for Corbyn to defend himself against the right-wing and to depend on the support of the masses—not to tell a different, less hopeful “story,” as Mason suggests.
Here we see an irrational lack of confidence in the working class disguised as pragmatism, and defeatism (like always) follows close behind. Both Fisher and Mason begin from the premise that the working class doesn’t want socialism or even decent reforms, and then move to the conclusion that we must severely limit what we demand and what we fight for to appease these apparently right-wing workers. Mason has given his open support to Sir Keir Starmer as the only non-Tory option workers will accept. Fisher has inspired many would-be revolutionaries to languish in despair at the thought that nobody can even imagine socialism anymore. We must ask: is it the workers who hate revolutionary ideas, or is it Fisher and Mason?
Writers like these exemplify the attitude of nearly all academics and petty-bourgeois intellectuals: having already given up on the working class and its power to transform society, they go about convincing everyone else that they are just being reasonable and practical. In reality, they are doomers of the most dishonest sort! Whereas pessimistic youth have usually been beaten down by the realities of capitalism while truly desiring a better future, ‘left’ intellectuals have been declaring the impossibility of socialism for over a century—that is, since the working class began fighting for it. Pessimism and cynicism can only play a pernicious role in the movement. Its ‘practical’ theoretical justifications, kindly supplied by the petty bourgeoisie, must be fought with special attention.
It does not matter how many youth hate capitalism and want to end it if they have been convinced it’s not possible. Inaction with an anti-capitalist attitude is still inaction, and it serves the ruling class just as well. Whether millions of youth choose not to fight against capitalism because they are doomers or because they are conservatives actually makes no difference to the capitalists. Therefore, the academics who sell books turning would-be revolutionaries into doomers are not any better than those who openly defend capitalism. In the end, both have done an excellent job serving the ruling class by giving radical youth pages and pages of reasons to sink into inaction.
The true face of the working class
The truth is that capitalism is constantly being threatened by revolution after revolution. In the last century, not a single decade has passed without at least one major revolution—in the 2010s we saw the Arab Spring; in the 2000s, Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan revolution; and already since 2020 we have seen revolutionary uprisings or major class struggles in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Iran, and more. This is not to mention the growth of class struggle in the belly of the imperialist beast, represented by the recent Amazon unionization victory in the United States. “Striketober” was only a little over a year ago, and before that, we saw one of the largest progressive movements in U.S. history, the Black Lives Matter movement, which spread all over the globe. The list of recent movements could go on. The point is that the notion of an indoctrinated and passive working class is a vapid and insulting myth.
For revolutionary leadership and revolutionary optimism
The recent public sector strike in British Columbia proves this. In August, over 1000 workers in the British Columbia General Employees Union (BCGEU) went on strike for higher wages, and explicitly to counter the eroding effect inflation is having on their wages. Strike votes delivered a 95 per cent result in favour of job action and picket lines went up. But unfortunately, the union reached a tentative agreement with the province, and called off the picket lines as a show of “good faith”. The tentative agreement includes raises which average less than five per cent per year, falling well short of current inflation rates, around eight per cent. The workers were ready and willing to fight. A 95 per cent strike vote borders on unanimity, but the union leadership, seemingly scared of a confrontation with the province, pulled the brakes at a decisive moment. If there was a revolutionary leadership at the head of BCGEU, picket lines would not come down until a deal was ratified by the membership, efforts to spread the struggle would be prioritised, and a deal which makes working people poorer would not be embraced. All of these things would inspire the working class to go further, and see the power and potential they have as a class.
Further, in order to actually overthrow capitalism, it is revolutionary Marxist leadership in particular that’s needed. Marxism is the only theory that scientifically explains how capitalism operates, the role of the working class, and the tasks of socialist revolution. The best possible proof of this is the success of the Russian Revolution. With a tiny, mostly illiterate working class in a giant and backward country, a group of resolute Marxists was able to guide the workers to overthrow capitalism and begin the task of building socialism. While this task was not completed due to the isolation of the revolution, this is incontrovertible proof that revolution—successful revolution—is absolutely possible in Canada today.
Unlike in Russia, Canadian workers make up the overwhelming majority of the nation, meaning that we hold an immense amount of leverage. Further, most workers are not only literate but highly educated, meaning that we are more than capable of governing ourselves, ruling our own workplaces, and planning the economy. Finally, Canada is a fully industrialised and advanced capitalist country, with more than enough wealth and resources to create a firm basis for the building of socialism. Even countries that are oppressed by imperialism and not industrially advanced are nowhere near as backward as Russia on the eve of revolution.
Revolution will surely come to Canada sooner or later, and if a Marxist leadership is able to play the role that Bolsheviks did in Russia, then socialism will be on the agenda. Canadian capitalism is far from stable, held together by printed and borrowed money and empty liberal promises. A strong history of Indigenous resistance continues to be built upon, with growing support by the broader working class. Strikes and protests broke out all over Canada in response to the mismanagement of the pandemic; and in August, as mentioned above, one thousand government employees in B.C. went on strike against inflation. This is all with the New Democratic Party (NDP) as the only major ‘left’ party in Canada. Considering that the NDP have been too busy signing off on the crimes of the Liberals to act as real working class leadership, it’s easy to imagine what the workers could achieve with sufficient leadership.
We should not be dismayed by the fact that the masses are not all convinced communists, assuming that they must be hopelessly indoctrinated. We should instead pay close attention to the ever-growing radical mood in Canada. A poll from 2019 showed that 58 per cent of Canadians have a positive view of socialism. A poll from 2021 shows that 66 per cent of the population do not have strong feelings in favour of capitalism. Combined with the nearly 50 per cent of youth who oppose capitalism explicitly, these are highly favourable conditions for revolutionaries.
The fact is that it is irrational to believe in the continued stability of capitalism, and perfectly rational to believe in revolution. By actively involving ourselves in building Marxist leadership, we can create our own reason to be hopeful. That is the core of revolutionary optimism and the antidote to doomerism among the youth. While nobody can guarantee us a socialist future, we must acknowledge that such a future is possible, and we must at least attempt to bring it into reality. To give in to doomerism is to place our futures in the hands of the ruling class, free for the taking. This would be a horrible shame. As the historic revolutionary Leon Trotsky said: “Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence, and enjoy it to the full.”
This article was republished from Fightback.