Positive views of socialism are growing. Forty-two percent of Americans hold a positive view of the ideology in a recent Pew Research report. A Gallup poll placed socialism’s favorability at 36 percent only a decade ago. Why the growing numbers?
A look at personal explanations from the Pew report sheds some light on this growth. In a nutshell, Americans are embracing socialism because they feel it will create better economic conditions and encourage stronger social networks.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels would be proud, for such socialist ideas echo their original reasons for Communism.
According to The Naked Communist, a volume written nearly 50 years ago in the midst of the Cold War, the Communism Marx and Engels envisioned was simply a step up from socialism, growing out of the troubled times in which they lived. History repeats itself, for the troubles which drove the pair toward their theory of Communism are resurfacing in our current culture, as the following five points show.
1. Economic Upheaval
First, the violent economic upheaval of their day. This is believed to have made Marx and Engels over-sensitive to the place of economics in history.
Booming job growth and stock markets give every appearance that the economy is going strong. Despite these positives, there’s a sense of unease as people eye the national debt and wonder if another bubble is about to burst in the housing or college markets. This unease is especially acute among young people who can’t make ends meet. They feel they’ve been dealt a poor hand in comparison to the one their parents had. Escalating demands for equality are the natural outgrowth of this mindset.
2. Increased Conflict
Second, the widespread popularity of the German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Hegel. His theory of ‘Dialectics’ was adopted by Marx and Engels with slight modification to explain all phenomena of nature, the class struggle and the inevitable triumph of a future proletariat society.
When used by Marx and Engels, Hegel’s theory of “Dialectics,” notes The Naked Communist, is simply another way of referring to conflict. Given recent riots, protests, and uncivil debates, “conflict” could easily be considered America’s middle name in the 21st century.
3. Religious Cynicism
Third, the anti-religious cynicism of Nineteenth Century Materialism. This led them to try to explain everything in existence in terms of one single factor—matter. They denied intelligent design in the universe, the existence of God, the divinity of religion and the moral precepts of Judaic-Christian teachings.
The rapid growth of religious “nones” was observed by Pew Research in 2015. Nearly a quarter of American adults claimed to be “atheists or agnostics” or “'nothing in particular'” when it came to religion, a dramatic jump from 16 percent only a few years before. When these “nones” are asked why they identify as such, an attitude of cynicism toward religious institutions, leaders, and practices is prominent, as featured in the chart below.
4. Hunger for Community
Fourth, the social and economic ideals of Utopian Communism. Marx and Engels decided they wanted a communal society, but they felt it had to be a controlled society; they therefore abandoned the brotherhood principle of the Utopians and declared that Communism could only be initiated under a powerful dictatorship.
Separated from church, consumed by work, or busy carting the kids around, many Americans no longer have a community beyond the virtual world. This creates a void ready to be filled by a leader who can promise a cause and sense of belonging to the lonely masses.
5. A Revolutionary Spirit
Fifth, the revolutionary spirit of the Anarchists. Marx and Engels promised two things which appealed to the Anarchists—the use of violent revolution to overthrow existing powers, and eventually the creation of a classless, stateless society.
We may not have anarchy in its purest form, but have you ever heard of Antifa? Like anarchists, Antifa members seem to thrive on disorder, while also thumbing their noses at authority figures.
“It is because of these five important influences,” The Naked Communist concludes, “that the student of Communism will find it to be a vast conglomerate, designed, it would seem, to be all things to all people.”
Marx and Engels presented their Communist ideals to a world that was ripe for change and hungry for a cause. Judging from these five principles, we live in a similar world. Are we on the verge of seeing the popularity of Democratic Socialism morph into the brave new world of Communism 2.0?
[Image Credit: Flickr-Nate Cull CC BY-SA 2.0]
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.