When it comes to elections in the United Kingdom, Americans would be excused for a diminished interest in the outcome. (Remember 1776?) But this year, democratic socialists in the United States are increasingly invested, some going so far as to root for one of the candidates for U.K.’s prime minister. For a variety of reasons, if Jeremy Corbyn — a lifelong socialist and leader of the country’s left-leaning Labour Party — wins on December 12, it could signal a win for U.S. democratic socialists, too.
“I think it’s important that the U.K. elect a Labour government, specifically because they are putting forth such an incredibly positive and radical vision [of democratic socialism],” Kristen Cervero, a 22-year-old socialist organizer and national co-chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), told MTV News.
That vision — outlined in the Labour Party’s new manifesto revealed by Corbyn last week — includes taxing the rich; protecting programs like “right to food” and national care services; decreasing or even eliminating the cost of education; introducing rent controls in big cities; and publicly funding health care. Corbyn also has a few positions unique to Great Britain, like keeping the country in the European Union rather than seeing Brexit through.
Since membership surged in 2014, the Labour Party now counts more people among its ranks than any other party, according to U.K. Parliament data. And while none of the major U.K. parties boast particularly high numbers of young members (the average age of membership ranges from 52 to 57), young Brits generally like Corbyn more than his competition. A recent YouGov poll shows that people aged 18-24 feel more favorably toward him than they do to Boris Johnson, the current prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party. Nearly every other age group favors Johnson.
Over 4,000 miles away in the U.S., Cervero was also moved by the Labour Party manifesto Corbyn presented. Such policies “kind of keep us going,” she said of her DSA peers. Ultimately, she believes that if Corbyn is elected, “cross-Atlantic working class solidarity would dramatically change.”
Socialism is a growing ideology in the U.S., where 56,000 people identify as members of the DSA, up from 6,200 in 2015. According to a Gallup poll, 18-29-year-olds in the U.S. are more likely than any other age group to think positively about socialism — but they’re not totally sold on it. The same poll found that they feel only a few points more favorably about socialism than capitalism, which is something of a death knell for the latter: Capitalism’s popularity among young people has plummeted 23 percent in the past eight years, while their view of socialism has stayed relatively stagnant.
If you ask a boomer what they think of socialism, you may hear echoes of misinformation and propaganda left over from the Cold War, a hostile and open rivalry between the U.S. and the communist Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) that led some people to conflate socialism with communism. (The confusion might have something to do with the fact that the U.S.S.R. called itself the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.) But communism isn’t socialism: Under communism, the government owns both property and the means of production, whereas under socialism, individuals still own property but share the means of production, with the latter managed collectively via a democratically elected government. Even so, the anti-communist movement known as the Red Scare had lasting effects: A Hill-HarrisX poll released in May found that respondents 65 and older were more likely to conflate socialism with negative connotations.
But those connotations seem to resonate less with millennials and Gen Zers who came of age in an era characterized by Occupy Wall Street and cascading ecological crises.
“I don’t really think about the Red Scare ever,” Tawny Tidwell, a 33-year-old elected member of DSA’s National Political Committee and an organizer with the North Brooklyn Branch of NYC DSA, told MTV News. “The Cold War was over by the time I was a toddler. I think that people my age and younger don’t really have those associations.”
For them, socialism means a chance at minimizing uncertainty for working people in a world that trades long-term instability for short-term corporate profit — forgiving student loan debt, providing universal health care, and lessening the burden of income inequality while mitigating the worst effects of the climate crisis.