Global Independent Analytics
Danny Haiphong
Danny Haiphong

Location: USA

Specialization: War, Racism, Capitalist exploitation, Civil rights

Capitalism's Crisis and the Betrayal of A Generation 

Young people will continue to search for alternatives to capitalism. Socialism has become the most popular alternative so far, but the term has yet to be defined in a coherent movement and ideology.

When the US became the world's capitalist superpower after World War II, a so-called social contract emerged between US capital and labor. US imperialism controlled much of the world's capitalist economy and distributed a portion of its spoils to a privileged layer of workers. New Deal benefits such as Social Security and the right to organize into unions created what many believed to be a "middle class." However, without state power, the material gains made by workers after World War II were vulnerable to the contradictions of capitalism. By the 1980's, US global capital effectively broke the social contract and replaced it with endless austerity, privatization, and deunionization.

The transition from social contract to social degradation was brought about by capitalist crises. Historically, periods of expansion allow capitalist enterprises to amass profits without large-scale layoffs and slowdowns in production. But the terrain of capitalism changed greatly in the 1980's, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union. Socialism’s decline laid the basis for global capital to expand rapidly into the previously uncharted markets of the former socialist bloc. The combination of rapid technological changes coupled with finance capital's lust for speculation became a fetter on production. By the 1990’s, factories began to close, production stagnated, and workers experienced layoffs on a large scale. 

Global capital had by this point come to rely on technological advances in production that permanently replaced workers. Capitalist enterprises attempted to reconcile costly technology's downward impact on profits by increasing the surplus value extracted from labor. Workers have since seen their hours increase and wages decline. Healthcare and higher education costs have soared. And it is no coincidence that these developments have coincided with heavy doses of state repression and surveillance, especially against Black Americans.

No other cohort has felt the wrath of capitalist crisis more than youth in the US. Finance capital has leveled over a trillion dollars of debt on the shoulders of students. The US has the highest rate of child poverty in capitalist countries. Youth joblessness stands at 10.5 percent nationally. This number doubles for Black and Latino youth in the US. The jobs that do exist are in low-wage sectors. The stranglehold of finance capital over housing, education, and healthcare has created a perfect storm where people under thirty in the US are now poorer than those who have retired.

It should come as no surprise, then, that young people in the US see themselves as working class rather than the often trumpeted term "middle class." Capitalism has betrayed a large segment of American youth who have been sold corporately-driven promises of a comfortable life. Young people in the US are encouraged to go to school only to incur debt and then find low-wage work. Young Black Americans who live in poverty are more likely to find themselves in prison than landing a decent paying job. The racial and class cleavages of US capitalism have created wounds that young people can neither deny nor heal under the current social order.

These conditions have made the term "socialism" increasingly popular in the US. This development gave rise to the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 and the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016. One-third of youth polled in the US favor socialism over capitalism. Youth is both sick and scared of US-led global capitalism, and rightfully so. The poverty rate in the US has grown higher every year under the Obama Administration than under the prior Bush Administration. Young people overwhelmingly supported the Obama Administration and had nothing to show for it but poverty.

An entire generation of young people in the US thus feels betrayed by capitalism and its enduring crisis. The increasing disaffection with capitalism and the simultaneous embrace of "socialism" provides an opportunity for revolutionary intellectuals and workers to build a movement that articulates a vision of socialism and turns feelings of betrayal into concrete activity. It is important to note that capitalism hasn’t betrayed anyone. Rather, capitalism has been forced to lift all veils to its objective of profit. Capitalism can no longer exploit labor for profit and provide comfort for a segment of workers and students in the US. 

Young people will continue to search for alternatives to capitalism. Socialism has become the most popular alternative so far, but the term has yet to be defined in a coherent movement and ideology. Socialism is not merely the regulation of Wall Street or a more level playing field between workers and the rich. Socialism is a revolutionary transition from the rule of capital to the rule of workers. Until workers and oppressed people struggle to win possession of state power and redistribute wealth based on human need, the betrayal that youth in the US feel now will surely intensify.

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