Student Life

Marxism gives students alternative political options

Coming to college has helped some students expand and reconsider their political views.

When Kiara Marable arrived at Temple University in 2018, she was a self-proclaimed Democratic-Socialist but her views took a drastic turn after she realized the politicians she used to support weren’t standing up for workers’ rights or racial equality.

She ultimately turned to Marxism after coming to college and expanding her viewpoint, realizing many of the Democratic officials she once aligned herself with did not accomplish what they promised. It was time to take a different approach to politics, she said.  

“At the core there’s a sense of revolutionary optimism and that’s what’s important, knowing that revolutions will happen, that there is potential for them to be successful and actually changing things for the better,” said Marable, a senior political science and philosophy major and president of Temple Marxists. 

Temple students are rethinking their political beliefs after reflecting on major current events, like social justice protests and political debates involving climate change. They seek answers in the writings of communist theorists like Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. 

“We as a generation, specifically, are probably the most radical that a generation has come, but we can’t not give credit to the groups that came before us,” said Mason Erdmann, a junior journalism major.

DENOUNCING CAPITALISM

Erdmann shifted his political views from Democratic-Socialism to Marxism after coming to college and learning about political theory and educating himself on the negatives of capitalism, like how it does not benefit the working class, Erdmann said.

Erdmann came to Temple in 2019 and after moving to Philadelphia realized how certain government policies, like universal health care and housing initiatives, impact different groups of people in different ways, and he felt Marxism gave him a more effective way to think about those issues, he said. 

“It’s essential to denounce capitalism in order to benefit society,” Erdmann said. “It’s important to use these theories to explain to every worker and every student why this system is not beneficial to us.” 

Capitalism is a free market economic system in which most means of production and labor forces are privately owned and where the income from those labor forces is largely distributed through the operation of markets, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. 

In the United States, a free market economy, millionaires and billionaires own about 79 percent of all household wealth, according to a 2019 Federal Reserve survey

The poorest people in the U.S. have not seen a growth in income since 1980-2014, while billionaires and the ultra-rich have had their income grow by about 6 percent annually, according to Our World In Data. 

“The youth have been robbed of a future by capitalism,” said Stanton Young, a second-year graduate student at the School of Film and Media Arts. “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel for capitalism. It is the root of the problem.” 

People are quick to make assumptions about Marxism and its principles, yet do not criticize capitalism, said Scott Ritner, a former professor of political theory who now teaches at SUNY Potsdam. 

“Capitalism is an irrational and anarchic system that makes us all compete with each other all the time, regardless of what we think about each other on an individual or collective basis,” Ritner said. 

Young wants to see real change in issues like universal health care and feels as though the current government and Democratic presidents, like Barack Obama, who initially promised to make change have failed to accomplish anything monumental, which was a main factor in his turn to Marxism, Young said. 

“There is a nice rhetoric Democrats use when talking about their party, but they do absolutely nothing to actually better human livelihoods,” Young said. “I think I began to question the system around us, and if at root, if it’s really changeable from within.”

People want more from the government in terms of social safety nets to help meet their basic needs, Ritner said. A government in a capitalist system is not fit to help people acquire that safety net, he added.

“It’s very difficult to both be in favor of capitalism and also be on the side of the working class, because capitalism is predicated on the exploitation of working classes,” Ritner said. 

TURNING TO MARXISM

There is a desire that college aged people have to live in a world in which a person’s worth is not based on how much money they make, Ritner said.

“What is being left for younger generations?” Ritner said. “Young people are starting to seek radical alternatives, especially ones that you know, at least aim towards the idea of the collective and individual good.” 

Marxism teaches that society is defined by the class struggle between the working class and capitalists, who exploit and oppress workers, Ritner said.

Socialism is a form of government where the means of production and natural resources are managed by the state and the state’s duty is to respond to the needs of the people. Communist theories teach that people should be in direct control of resources and the means of production and that government should be abolished to create a classless society, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. 

Fifty-four percent of adults aged 18 to 24 have a negative view of capitalism, according to a 2021 Axios Momentive Poll. Fifty-one percent of young adults view socialism favorably. 

Young started to question capitalism when he was in college and found himself wanting more concrete solutions to complex problems, like climate change and better representation for the working class.

Young wanted to go to college to find new ideas and to learn more about capitalism and the problems within it, he said. Yet, he felt that he was met with a lot of pessimism in his classes and that many people did not think that a socialist viewpoint could be a long-term solution. 

“There is a way out of this, but it’s not through college and it’s not through the Democratic Party,” Young said. “It’s through building an organized apparatus that can organize the working class and fight for a way forward.”

Stanton Young, left, a graduate film major, and Miranda Salvi, right, a sophomore philosophy and sociology major, pose for a photo behind the Temple University Marxists table as they promote their club in September. | TEMPLE UNIVERSITY MARXISTS / COURTESY

Young turned to Marxism because he felt that elected officials were not acting on climate change or wars in the Middle East that never seem to end, Young said.

When Young came to Temple he wanted to make a genuine effort towards bringing about a socialist revolution and overthrowing capitalism, he added. 

When Marable arrived at Temple, she wanted a place where she could express her opinions with like-minded people and find new answers to ongoing problems she felt the current political system does not address efficiently, like racial injustice and poor treatment of workers, she said. 

Marable used social media to look up radical student groups and found the Temple Marxists on Instagram in 2020, she said. 

TAKING ACTION

Temple Marxists held their first meeting of the fall semester at the end of August called, “Revolutionary Marxism: Why are we Communists?” and had one of the largest turnouts they’ve ever had, with about 100 people in attendance. 

Looking at the world around them and seeing the problems in society is making people question the system and look for new ways of doing things, Young said. 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, college students want to see more socialist policies, like universal healthcare and a higher minimum wage put in place, Young said.

“A lot of people might not have necessarily met us by accident, they were already looking for some group that calls themselves ‘Marxists’ and that’s actually willing to offer an analysis of what’s going on in the world,” Young said. 

Temple Marxists are currently preparing to support SEPTA workers should they go on strike to demand higher wages, paid parental leave and increased police presence once their contracts expire at the end of October, Marable said. Temple Marxists is also planning on having club members join the picket line if a strike happens. 

The union voted to authorize a strike on Sunday, 6ABC reported. The vote does not mean a strike will happen but it is an option if an agreement is not reached between the union and SEPTA by midnight on Oct. 31.

Socialism is not a set of principles for people to live by and the world is not going to be changed by just one person, Young said. Collective action from the working class and young people is needed to bring about a revolution and change political and economic structures in America, he added.  

“I am merely but one person who has been radicalized over the course of living under capitalism,” Young said. “I know that millions of other people may feel like that too. I would totally encourage anyone and everyone to come to our meetings with questions and comments.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted what socialist policies Stanton Young said students wanted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests. It has been corrected.

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