Anyone over the age of 45 will have clear memories of the ecstatic reaction to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
The wall had been erected in 1961 because Germans living in the so-called German Democratic Republic were, at the rate then of more than 10,000 a day, walking from the Russian zone of Berlin to the British, American or French zones.
In the “democratic” republic, all but the most corrupt and stupid of East Germans wanted to leave for one overwhelming reason: that the socialism imposed on their society by the Soviet-backed German communists who ruled them had removed their personal liberty and impoverished them. In the end, it was an ideology that could be enforced only by turning their country into a prison and many of its citizens into a network of informers.
Sadly, many of those too young to recall a world damaged by doctrinaire leftism fail to understand the system of oppression and coercion that enforced it.
According to a Centre for Independent Studies/YouGov poll, 58 per cent of Australian millennials — those born between 1980 and 1996 — have a favourable view of socialism, with only 18 per cent having an unfavourable one. They believe government should have more control of the economy.
However — proving Cicero’s point that “to be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain a child” — only 21 per cent of those questioned said they knew well who Mao Zedong was and 51 per cent said they knew nothing of him at all. Just 26 per cent were familiar with Vladimir Lenin and 34 per cent with Joseph Stalin.
It is perhaps a sign of grace that the older these millennials are, the more sceptical they become about the socialist dream: 64 per cent of the youngest support socialism against only 51 per cent of the oldest. Perhaps there is a chance that they will, eventually, grow up. However, their support for socialism is only half the story. On, it seems, evidence as flimsy as that on which they base their enthusiasm for the left, millennials also revile capitalism. Almost 60 per cent believe it has failed.
It is a regrettable comment on the quality of our university education system that almost as many who have been through it share this prejudice as though they have not experienced its benefits.
That 62 per cent of millennials believe Australian workers are worse off today than 40 years ago is in direct contradiction of all available economic evidence: from the mid-1980s to about 2012, the country experienced the biggest national income boom since the gold rushes; and our economy is in its 27th consecutive year of economic growth, surpassing The Netherlands for the gold medal for the longest economic expansion in the modern era.
Again, there is distressing evidence — distressing, that is, to all those who value freedom and personal liberty — that assumptions are made on the basis of wilful ignorance: 61 per cent of graduates among millennials share this wrongheaded idea.
Similarly, they believe — entirely wrongly — that the government is running down the public services: once these people buy into one aspect of the pro-socialist propaganda, they buy it all.
While the wickedness of Mao, Lenin and Stalin is unknown to these youthful idealists, they are well schooled about the wickedness of the extreme right: 73 per cent of them are well aware of Adolf Hitler and his iniquities. It is a problem the world over — not merely in Australia — that establishments never try to be objective about the enormities of all political extremes.
It remains entirely morally acceptable for political leaders on the left to claim an inheritance from Marx, Lenin or Fidel Castro. Were anyone on the right to express admiration even for a dictator such as Francisco Franco, whose crimes were comparatively mild by the standards of other fascists, and certainly by comparison with Stalin or Mao, they would be denounced.
For a politician or public figure to express any admiration for Hitler or his doctrines is, quite rightly, to invite the termination of a career. So it should for those who
endorse the doctrines of Stalin or Mao, because of the incontrovertible evidence that those doctrines can, in the end, be imposed only by force, deprivation of liberty and murder.
The predominantly well-educated young people who romanticise socialism should be expected to have the intellectual training to look at the evidence, and thereby to understand the harm that the doctrines they find so attractive have done to economies, societies and, above all, individuals.
There is no economy in history that has benefited from socialism. All economies that have enjoyed sustained growth and have broadened prosperity have done so through free trade and free markets; regulation is the enemy of prosperity, and prosperity is the only means of providing the public services that socialists are so fond of claiming they prize. Socialists need to remember that you don’t tax a loss: you only tax a profit. Without profit — without capitalism — you cannot raise the revenue to provide public healthcare, education, law and order, or defence. That is the central hypocrisy of socialism, and one its adherents would do well to recall before they denounce capitalism again.
The other method socialists have tried to raise resources to provide for everyone is by expropriation of private property and collectivism. Anyone who wishes to see the results of that does not even have to look back to the impoverishment of the Soviet bloc or the misery of Mao’s China: recent events in Venezuela, and the way in which thousands of Cubans have risked their lives trying to escape on flimsy vessels to the US, give more immediate and startling evidence.
Much of the fault of this incomprehension among the young must lie with our education system: not just universities, with their acrid determination to teach leftist values above all others and to promote teachers who adhere to them, but in our schools, with the failure to teach basic general knowledge. This is no minor problem, because one day such people may exercise a vote to impose such appalling doctrines, and their collateral damage, on our society. To use a good old Soviet phrase, the re-education had better start here.
Tom Switzer is executive director of the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, where Charles Jacobs is a policy analyst.
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