It is not every day that young people are asked by a major international agency whether they want to participate in a “large-scale uprising.” But this is exactly what the Union of European Broadcasters, the world’s largest alliance of public TV stations, did in a survey of nearly one million people between the ages of 18 and 35.
Asked, “Would you actively participate in a large scale uprising against the generation in power if it happened in the next days or months?”, more than half, 53 percent, said yes. In Greece and France, the figure was over 60 percent.
The phrasing of the question seemed calculated to take the edge off the result, intentionally muddying the issue with the hint of an inter-generational conflict. But the responses to the other questions make clear the feelings that animated young people in saying they would join an “uprising.” The survey found that young people are overwhelmingly concerned about social inequality, oppose war and sympathize with refugees.
Asked whether “Banks and money rule the world,” nearly 9 out of 10 young people said they agreed, out of more than 500,000 people who answered the question.
Along the same lines, when respondents were asked whether the “gap between the rich and the poor” is widening, 89 percent agreed.
Asked whether “politicians are corrupt,” respondents were even more categorical, with only 8 percent replying “No, very few of them are.” The overwhelming majority responded with some form of “yes,” answering either “some are” or “virtually all of them are.”
Thomas Grond, Head of Young Audiences at the Union of European Broadcasters, told the WSWS that the figures showed a “catastrophic” collapse in trust in social institutions. “Trust in the media, in politicians, in religious institutions, these have all failed.
“A big part of the young population is not feeling that politics are taking them into consideration,” Grond said. “It’s about preserving the system, and there isn’t a lot of change. And where there is change, it’s backwards.”
Asked if he was surprised by the fact that so many young people said they would be willing to participate in a “large-scale uprising,” Grond answered bluntly: “Not really.” He said the poll showed that, despite their skeptical attitude toward social institutions, young people are broadly optimistic about the future, and “willing to participate” in political life. “Society is simply not giving them a chance to show what they are capable of,” he said.
Grond said he was surprised by the broadly felt opposition to nationalism pervasive among survey participants. “78 percent of young people in Germany said that nationalism is growing and that this is a bad thing,” Grond noted. This compared to just 11 percent who said the growth of nationalism was a positive development.
Significantly, in Germany, where the ruling class is engaged in a campaign to rehabilitate nationalism and militarism—including by academics like Jörg Baberowski, who has said that “Hitler was not cruel” and was “no psychopath”—more than two thirds of young people said they would not be willing to fight in a war.
Throughout Europe, despite the relentless promotion of militarism and pro-war sentiments by the media, more than half of young people said they would refuse to “fight for [their] country.”
Beginning with Britain's June 23, 2016 referendum to leave the European Union, followed by the election of the fascistic billionaire Donald Trump as US president in November, the international media has been full of claims that the populations of the world’s advanced countries are engulfed in an upsurge of nationalism, militarism and right-wing sentiment.
The survey shows something quite different. Asked whether they believe “immigration makes for richer countries,” nearly three quarters said they agree.
These figures beg the obvious question: Given a nearly total discrediting of official politics, a general recognition that banks “rule the world,” widespread antiwar sentiment, and broad opposition to nationalism and xenophobia, why are right-wing, pro-austerity politicians advancing all over the world?
The answer is to be found in the record of what passes for “left” politics. Here are just a few examples:
• In the 2016 US presidential primary, Senator Bernie Sanders won 13.3 million votes by declaring himself to be a “democratic socialist” opposed to the “billionaire class.” The purpose of his campaign, however, was to maintain the political authority of the Democratic Party. Sanders endorsed Clinton, the candidate of Wall Street, after he was defeated in the primaries, ensuring that rhetorical opposition to the status quo would be monopolized by Trump. He has since campaigned throughout the country calling on young people and workers to back the Democratic Party.
• After Syriza (the “Coalition of the Radical Left”) was elected in Greece in January 2015 on a wave of anti-austerity sentiment, the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras dutifully imposed the austerity demands of the European Union. Syriza and its international co-thinkers do not represent the interests of workers and working-class youth, but privileged sections of the upper middle class.
• In the most recent elections in France, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Unsubmissive France) received 7 million votes on the basis of his rhetorical opposition to inequality and war. However, he worked to channel this sentiment behind the political establishment. He refused to call for a boycott in the second round of the election between Marine Le Pen of the fascistic National Front and the ex-banker Emmanuel Macron, implicitly backing Macron, who supports the expansion of war and a massive intensification of the assault on the working class.
It is necessary to build a genuine socialist leadership in the working class, based on opposition to capitalism and all forms of nationalism. The International Committee of the Fourth International and its youth organization, the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE), are fighting to build such a leadership all over the world.