In a world dominated by neoliberalism and free-market capitalism that seems to turn ever further to the right, a strange phenomenon has occurred in recent years: democratic socialism has dramatically risen in popularity. While it seems difficult to understand this pattern, a local level election in the city of Graz, Austria, demonstrated this perfectly, making us question our economic structure.
Last month in Graz, the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ) won the city council elections with 29% of the total vote. Graz, Austria’s second-largest city, is an important economic and cultural hub in Central Europe with a long history of impactful social and welfare programs.
Despite these popular programs, the victory of the KPÖ was so unlikely that it brought the entire country to a standstill, especially given that the current party in power is the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), which leans center-right and has contributed to the resurgence of far-right movements across the world in recent years.
It is worth noting that the KPÖ is only truly communist by name, and tends to align itself with a more democratic socialist agenda. In fact, the party largely campaigned throughout Graz on an extensive housing platform, which proved quite successful in garnering support from outside party lines, attracting much support among the city’s younger residents.
While this one example does little to prove the rise of socialism globally, recent similar developments prove that Graz may indeed be a small piece of a larger puzzle. Leftist ideologies have become quite popular in recent years, especially among young people, as seen in the growth of the Young Democratic Socialist organization on university campuses. With self-identified progressives growing in number day by day, it is probable that we may see similar developments such as those of Graz in the coming future, particularly right here in the United States.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the popularity of democratic socialism has risen as of late. Issues such as free healthcare and student debt forgiveness have come to the forefront of the American political landscape, problems that are extremely relevant to younger generations. A cult of personality around political figures like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has also grown significantly thanks to the rise of democratic socialism, giving leftists in the US a spotlight that was previously dominated by political moderates. A study found that 70% of Millennials and 64% of Gen Z would vote for a socialist, in contrast to only 36% of Baby Boomers. With more and more young people becoming active voters, the movement towards democratic socialism has only just started.
While I have hesitated to label myself a democratic socialist, I can’t help but ask myself why socialism is immediately associated as radical by older generations. Just by looking at the sticker price of a Boston College education ($78,000...yikes!), it makes sense why people are leaning towards democratic socialism now more than ever before. Free education isn’t really all that radical—if anything, it is a necessity. For young people, affording life in the U.S. today has become nearly impossible, with the cost of living reaching unprecedented levels.
Baby Boomers, who treat democratic socialism like nothing more than a rebellious teenage phase, need to start realizing that they are the ones who really created the movement towards democratic socialism. Older generations turned America into a capitalist society that ignored the voices of young people and those without the privilege to thrive under said society. Democratic socialism, more than anything, is a reaction to this challenging world that previous generations created.
These same older generations, who made life so unbearably expensive, are currently still the dominant voting block in our country, but this is changing, as we saw in last year’s election. The recent KPÖ victory will continue to spark conversation and debate: not only in Austrian political circles, but also in progressive and leftist spaces all over the United States. If we continue on this destructive path that makes basic living unattainable, it won’t be long before we start seeing election results similar to those of Graz, Austria. Therefore, it’s time that the United States stops dismissing democratic socialism and starts seriously considering it as a valid political ideology.