Toby Young has written an article in the Spectator about how young people get into socialism because the education system at all levels is run by socialists. This is a common trope on the right: that the system is run by people who are socialists, therefore they teach our kids to be little Marxists. On a similar tangent, Kate Hoey at Labour conference this week told a fringe crowd that the reason so many young people are pro-Remain is that they are indoctrinated at universities by pro-Remain professors. Forget the fact that both of these opinions come from the right and that both Young and Hoey would be the type of people to vouch for total human clearheadedness in making political decisions (thus why everyone knew exactly what they were voting for in the 2016 EU referendum) – is there a point here?
I don’t believe the young get into socialism because their teachers tell them to. Even if they were trying to teach our kids the value of Gramsci, I doubt they would get very far. Teenagers like to rebel; to do the thing that their elders disapprove of. Truth is, socialism is kind of sexy before you stop to learn anything whatsoever about it. It’s a windswept Che Guevara, looking hunkily into the mid-distance before turning around and saving some children from polio. It’s bringing down the system with a beret on and a Kalashnikov in hand, all so we can live in a paradise where there is so longer any want or need. Until you read about Stalin, the show trials, Hungary 1956, Pol Pot, actually find out what’s happened in Venezuela over the past twenty years, it all sounds very appealing to impressionable, young minds.
No, it isn’t the young liking socialism that is the problem here at all – and in fact, the true problem is embedded in the Toby Young’s thesis without him seeming to fully comprehend it. The real problem is the fact that so many older, middle-class people who should know much, much better like socialism too these days. People like, say, Jeremy Corbyn, for instance. People who just never got over the thrill of first reading about how a spectre is haunting Europe, or that first experience with “The Motorcycle Diaries”. Perhaps it is actually mostly nostalgia for their younger selfs. I don’t know, but whatever it is, that’s the problem here. If socialism were a mere teenaged phase, as it was for a while, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The fact that so many people over the age of thirty seem to think that socialism is worth another crack, despite its zero percent success rate in the 20th century in regards to avoiding mass murder, totalitarianism and economic meltdown, is what is truly worrying, not some increase in young people pretending to have read “Das Kapital” to try and look cool at university.