“Half the world is dying of starvation and the other half is dying of boredom.”
This expression, one of many popularised during the protests of the 1960s, encapsulates a feeling of alienation that many young people today can still relate to.
The capitalist world system, despite its proponents’ claims, does not offer a future worth having to any person, whether they live in the relatively secure - though increasingly less so - core nations or the impoverished and exploited periphery states.
What future does capitalism offer us as a mode of existence? Is it a future worth having? What is the alternative, if any?
These are questions that concern young people in particular. The decisions that are being made by political elites and billionaire investors today will have ramifications long into the future and young people will be living out the direct consequences of decisions made now.
CAPITALIST UTOPIAN FUTURE
Pro-capitalist politicians and intellectuals, not to mention the media, give us a contradictory and erratic vision of our “collective” future. In simple ways, their vision clings to a post-USSR capitalist utopianism, the idea that history is over, that liberal democracy and free market globalisation will wash away social contradictions and usher in a period of prosperity and progress.
History, as a process of conflict that changes systems and societies, is over. The future will be just the same as the present, but with more “choice”, more commodities to be consumed.
While for some of us, this sounds depressing, for the capitalists this is a deeply utopian mindset.
At the same time, for many people in the core nations particularly, the future is painted as terrifying. War, terrorism, crime, mass immigration; all the products of external, terrifying and unknown forces - usually foreign and playing on xenophobic stereotypes - threaten us daily. They are used to justify ongoing authoritarian policies to control and repress people through terror laws and the surveillance state.
WHAT IS THE REALITY?
If we take on board only the vision of the future offered by the establishment, our actions will be paralysed, either stunned by the glory of the capitalist future or shocked into silence by fear. The future is far more complex than the reality projected by the capitalist apologists.
The reality is that the future under capitalism is bleak. The rapid growth of casualisation, a trend that disproportionately affects young people, means that people today live increasingly precarious lives.
We work in smaller workplaces than in the past, but we are more watched and controlled than ever. In hospitality and services, wages tend to be low and workers unorganised.
The US shows us the possible future for workers in the most developed and wealthiest economies: increasing wage slavery and the growth of a massive working poor, as the industrial working class and their traditional heartlands, such as Detroit and Geelong, are gutted by unemployment and social decay.
For the unemployed, we can see the future in the recent government cuts. Young people in particular are in the sights of policies that seek to quarantine welfare and keep people off the dole as long as possible. These policies aim to create an increasingly desperate layer of unemployed people and discipline the labour market to push down wages in general.
For young women, these issues are compounded by patriarchy. Young women are the target of incessant campaigns to dehumanise and disempower them in order to sell them everything from shoes to beauty products.
Corporations have gone to war against the human spirit, destroying our sense of self-esteem. They play on concepts of love and affection. One recent advertising campaign
Beyond this manifestation of sexism, we see the horrific reality of domestic terror and sexual assault perpetrated against women and children. Violence and terror articulate the hierarchies of capitalist society that women and children suffer. In spite of the violence, now in epidemic proportions, only temporary solutions have been offered and it does not seem to be getting better.
Even in areas where we are told progress has been made, such as the rights of LGBTI people, we are still met with limits. The struggles of past generations opened the possibilities of a true sexual revolution, but the revolution was only half complete. Sexual openness, same-sex relationships and other forms of social life are more accepted than before, but we still face the spectre of anti-queer violence, as well as the problem of housing and dispossession of LGBTI youth.
All these issues are compounded for youth of colour. Young people of colour suffer all these issues disproportionally, as well as issues such as police and state terror. For a young person, whether they are African American in Ferguson, or an indigenous person in Redfern, life may end staring down the barrel of a policeman’s gun.
Racism, sexism, oppression of LGBTI people and exploitation bleed our lives of the potential to which we have a right.
Beyond this, we have even more horrific prospects. Capitalism has conjured up, in its search for accumulation, for profits, for infinite growth, a series of economic and ecological crises.
All these issues are likely to intensify, with the contradictions that already exist being made worse by decades of global crisis and decline.
In the midst of this, the rich keep getting richer. The latest reports from Oxfam have found that the richest 1% of the population will soon own as much as the rest of us combined and that 80 people own as much as the poorest half of humanity. This small group of rich people, mainly white, mainly men, is getting wealthier, and the rest of us are getting poorer.
So the establishment, the capitalist world system and their perpetuation of power and violence, do not offer us any future worth considering. It is not a future we want.
IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE?
Yes, but only if we fight for it. If there ever was a time when young people could sit back and expect things to get better, this is not it. What is necessary is a struggle for a better tomorrow. Things will only change if the people as a whole organise for change.
We have seen waves of popular rebellions spread across Latin America, the Middle East and Europe. Whether in liberated territories in Chiapas or Kobani, or under left governments in Venezuela, Bolivia or Greece, people everywhere are demanding and fighting for a better world, one based on solidarity, cooperation and the meeting of human needs.
The only option for young people worth considering is socialism. We need to organise ourselves on our campuses, in our communities and in our workplaces to challenge the authority of those in power and demand that a new society be created in which everyone can have a decent future.
* This article has been edited to correct a wrong assertion that the "Tell her you love her before someone else does" Valentines Day ad campaign was by Wallace Bishop. It was by Michael Hill Jewellers. We apologise to Wallace Bishop for the mistake.