Political disengagement among the young

BY: Ricardo Soto| June 19, 2020
Political disengagement among the young



We are living at a pivotal moment in history; our country is at a crossroads. The ultra-right pushes further to consolidate power in the United States while liberal protections once thought sacred are continuously revoked. Now more than ever, we need to ensure that the party is investing its time and energy into efforts that will yield the highest rate of return in the medium and long term. This analysis focuses on young Americans, analyzing their disengagement, and making the case that recruiting and training the young should be our highest priority as a party. By centering younger Americans in our efforts to increase political engagement, we have the best chance of growing into an engaged, productive, and efficient mass party that can push for and receive concessions from the capitalist class.

Political Participation among the Young

Although younger Americans are the most electorally disengaged demographic group in our country, this demographic cohort is and will prove to be the most important group for our party to focus on engaging over the next decade. It is no secret that younger millennials and zoomers (Generation Z) have the lowest electoral participation rate in the country. Comparative voter participation rates broken down by race, gender, sexual orientation, and income do not yield a participation gap as large as the differential between the youngest cohort of voters, those 18–29 years of age, and the oldest group of voters, 65+ years of age.

Beyond this surface-level examination of political engagement, a deeper dive into attempts to mobilize the young for electoral campaigns might further discourage a political operative or organization from making a substantial organizing investment in younger Americans. The prime example of a campaign that banked on this strategy is Senator Bernie Sanders’s second electoral campaign for president in 2020. While Sanders had overwhelming support from young voters in the election, the proportion of primary voters that were of his target age demographic was nearly the same as that age group’s proportion of the electorate in 2016.[1] While electoral disengagement seems to be consistently low when compared to older age demographics, our party, in particular, can capitalize on this electoral disengagement to politically activate those who are otherwise disenchanted with the political process.

49% of younger Americans believe that politics today is no longer able to meet our country’s challenges.

A large reason for the disengagement is distrust in the institutions which create the base of America’s bourgeois democracy. The media, billionaires, and Wall Street have the lowest level of trust from young Americans; however, the federal government, the presidency, and Congress are all trusted always or most of the time by less than 35% of young Americans.[2] Furthermore, both the political process and the politicians are viewed as irredeemable by young Americans, with 67% of them believing that politicians run only for selfish reasons, and 49% of younger Americans believing that politics today is no longer able to meet our country’s challenges. In contrast, only 16% still have confidence in that process.[3]

In addition to this loss of confidence in bourgeois institutions, there has also been a tangible change in the relative extremity of tactics for political concessions that younger Americans see as morally justifiable. The CATO institute logged one of the most clarifying quantitative data points showing a significant political and moral break from that which has been the norm for all generations still prevalent in American society. The most recent Welfare, Work, and Wealth National Survey found that 35% of those aged 18–29 believed and 20% of those aged 30–44 believed that violence against the rich is sometimes justified.[4] Age groups for those 45 and above only had 8%-11% (depending on the grouping) of respondents agree with the statement above.[5] This isn’t meant to be a call to advocating for violence; rather, it is meant to show just how much ideology has shifted in American politics.

Furthermore, normalization of previously taboo political ideologies has occurred at an unprecedented speed, with 28% of zoomers and 36% of millennials having a favorable view of communism.[6] This shift is of interest to our party.

Finally, we must keep in mind how many younger Americans perceive political actions or inaction that they take. Many young Americans see their vote as a form of moral approval for a candidate and their policies as opposed to a strategic decision. Additionally, the more progressive one is, the more likely that a younger individual will see their vote as a form of moral affirmation.[7] Placing morality and ideology over strategic determinations is further evident when one examines the survey data surrounding voting preferences and public policy issues. For example, when younger Americans are given the option of a third-party candidate, only 39% of them would vote for Joe Biden as opposed to 51% when those same respondents are given a binary choice between Trump and Biden.[8] This differential is due to the fact that many of the most progressive and involved young Americans have little interest in voting based on the strategic determination that Biden is the lesser of two evils. This is evident in their overwhelming support of social programs to provide food, housing, and medical care to all Americans.[9] While disagreements persist and are more evenly divided on specific issues, such as tax policy and its relationship to economic growth, the support for those essential services is broad due to a widely held belief in humanism. The takeaway from this political behavior displayed by younger, progressive Americans is that our path towards political activation cannot be solely focused on getting younger people to vote.

Young Americans, by and large, have lost confidence in the bourgeois institutions and political process, and many are in search of a new way forward. In light of the recent events, including the abysmal federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic, mass unemployment, and the mass civil resistance that followed George Floyd’s murder, it is likely that as this year progresses large amounts of the confidence that was still felt by some younger Americans will take a substantial hit. If these moments of crisis serve to delegitimize bourgeois democracy in the eyes of most young Americans, then they will likely result in yet another dip in youth participation in the coming November elections.

Nonetheless, a proper analysis of the political makeup and underlying motivations of young people should allow us to capitalize on the fact that there has not been a demographic group that has been more open to socialism in the past 100 years. It is imperative that we focus our efforts on politically activating and recruiting younger Americans. Thus, we must be prepared to adjust current methods of work or procedural norms in order to most effectively capitalize on the opportunity presented to our party by the younger generations of Americans.

Suggested Methods of Capitalizing on the Political Potential

It is important that we, as a party, come to terms with our place in the domestic political arena. We do not have any type of concentrated power wherein we can demand concessions from the ruling class. Our primary focus should be on accumulating that power and organizational capacity, as that is the only way in which we will be able to effect change. Our current organizational situation demands that we focus our efforts on collective, internal organization and see recruitment into the party as something beyond bringing members into a club for disparate activities. We are training soldiers in the class struggle, ready to organize workers, promulgate the party line, and fight for the working class with the entirety of their being. Every effort should be made to focus on raising the quality of our recruits not by being picky but by investing our time and energy into training these recruits in both the theoretical and practical. This means focusing on internal structure and training as well as sacrificing participation in some struggles that might seem more immediate but wherein we cannot have any statistically tangible effect on the eventual outcome of said struggle. The primary example of this is the 2020 elections.

While it is important for us to forward the party line and emphasize the importance of voting, we should come to terms with the fact that we, as the Communist Party, will not be the decisive factor in preventing Trump from winning office. Whether he wins or does not win, it will not be due to our action or inaction. This is the primary reason we must focus on internal organization more than ever. If we hope to be the decisive factor in, for example, a national election, we must pick our battles. We only have so many people and so much energy. Frankly, the biological clock is ticking on our party, and it is more vital than ever that we ensure that we will survive another 100 years. We must organize where our organizing makes a difference; right now, our organizing makes the most difference internally.

Pitching the Party toward a New Audience. One key challenge that the party needs to navigate in order to consolidate the class-conscious, self-described Marxist-Leninist, young workers of America in an effective manner is to proactively combat ultra-leftist ideology while also creating an inviting atmosphere for those same zealous communists to come into the party. The prevalence of left-deviationist ideology is primarily due to the fact that younger generations do not have a tradition or familiarity with labor organizing. The lack of both practical organizing experience and knowledge leads to a disconnection of that class-conscious cohort from the modern political realities in American society. However, it is important for the party not to make the mistake of consciously avoiding recruitment among these workers or fearing their involvement in our party.

While these views are a consequence of the lack of a link between the theoretical and the practical, this rhetoric and ideological framework is attractive to the young working class because of two separate but equally important social phenomena: 1) the generationally confined cultural impact that has been created by the current failure of the bourgeois political system to proactively address the existential threat of climate change; 2) the strong effect that cultural liberalism has had on younger Americans to the point where even today’s “communists” propagate communist ideology only to serve individual goals of self-affirmation.

Climate change has had an incalculably strong effect on the outlook that younger people take towards life and our political process. There is no shortage of nihilism among zoomers, in particular, and many younger Americans seem to see the threat as an insurmountable obstacle. This is primarily due to the chains that capitalist hegemony has over the realm of possibility in the minds of most people. In contrast, communism offers hope that utterly breaks through those constraints that were previously thought to exist. Included in this is a vision of a sweeping, armed revolution to overthrow the state and establish an equal society. Romanticism is thus encouraged and psychologically important to the young communist, as it offers that person hope. Anything that might be seen as “reformist” or does not urgently stress the need for an imminent violent revolution will often be interpreted as unappealing.

The ingrained liberalism in most younger novice communists primarily manifests itself in their propagation of ultra-leftist positions for the sake, consciously or unconsciously, of the self-gratification that stems from having a more morally righteous position. This leads to large theoretical and analytical errors wherein the superstructure becomes the dominant driver of history as opposed to the material base and wherein class analysis is not used—such as when these leftists approach issues surrounding the police or the armed forces—and are replaced with individual judgments passed upon those in institutions that are supposedly being examined in a Marxist context.

It is important when recruiting to reiterate our steadfast belief in the power of collective action and the unlimited potential of that solidarity to change the world.

Rather than emphasizing the alignment of those aspects of our party which we share with the liberals in order to encourage unity in struggle, it is important that when recruiting we reiterate and speak to our steadfast belief in the power of collective action and the unlimited potential of that solidarity to change the world. Combating this ultra-leftism cannot be done through the disparagement of the possibility of a revolution that mirrors their conception of the Bolshevik Revolution. Instead, we should emphasize the current state of the communist movement in the United States today and the fact that, regardless of how anyone of us imagines the future revolution to look like, we need to actually accumulate power and strong roots in communities nationwide to even start to think about coordinated decisions to gain simple concessions from the ruling class. Emphasizing the work that has to be done is a natural selling point for the party itself. So many young Marxists are looking for a way to actually organize.

The prevalence of numerous disparate communist parties online is due to the fact that millennials and zoomers simply never had a labor organizing culture to draw from and are not familiar with Marxist methods of agitation. Our party is failing by not recognizing the underlying reasons for the prevalence of ultra-leftist ideology within the modern communist movement, and it is our duty to make rhetorical adjustments in recruitment efforts as well as emphasize the fact that the party is the vessel which contains the vast majority of accumulated communist organizing experience in America. People are looking for a way to work towards a better world, and we need to emphasize that our party is the one and only place to truly develop the skills to achieve that noble aspiration.

Imparting Accumulated Organizing Experience and Coordinating Agitation. The aforementioned rhetorical and marketing adjustments that are suggested for recruitment efforts are directly related to the need to institute programs to train young comrades on agitation efforts and labor organizing tactics. Currently, the party offers educational seminars primarily on theoretical concepts, Marxist readings, or current political realities. If the true selling point of the party is the experience that we have, our focus needs to be on providing these skills to all new members and effectively transferring that organizing experience to the young comrades that enter into the party. Younger comrades don’t just lack the experience of participating in a union and engaging in politics within a union, but they often don’t know the first thing about unions as political and legal entities. Training modules on the basics concerning unionization from experienced party leaders, mentorship programs to build personal relationships to give theoretical and practical knowledge to new members, and directly coordinating on a district or national level activities pertaining to labor organizing within target workplaces, for example, all are ways in which our party can capitalize on the zeal young members have when joining a communist party while at the same time demonstrating our uniqueness as an organization due to our stockpile of knowledge and our ability to coordinate national organizing drives.

Internal Streamlining and Initiative Support. If we anticipate and hope to grow in membership, we need to proactively scale up our organizational capacity to delegate tasks and manage workflow. Engaging younger members of the party is going to require us to invest in technology that will allow us to expand our organizing capacity, giving us a competitive advantage over other self-identified communist parties inasmuch as we will have a greater ability to coordinate the work that we want to achieve in addition to being able to maximize the amount of work that we can delegate to our newly enrolled younger comrades. Again, we need to focus on emphasizing our ability to effectively organize and grow in order to both increase our political power in society as well as create a virtuous cycle wherein strong growth begets further growth due to an increase in our party’s public profile as well as the direct recruitment opportunities that flow from organizing a workplace.

Furthermore, we need to be sure to provide and increase our level of district organization nationwide, as districts represent a perfect way for the party to provide new members with the opportunities to organize in accordance with nationally determined tactical plans while making the necessary political adjustments to fit their locale, build strong interpersonal relationships with veteran comrades thereby strengthening both their ties and loyalty to our party, and obtain leadership positions ensuring that strong work and dedication can be recognized and subsequently rewarded. District organizations will also be a vital screen by which suggested projects or initiatives can be assessed for feasibility and potential prior to being referred to national, alleviating the need for the national organization to try and manage requests to do specific projects from a growing and active membership base.

Changing the Faces of Our Party. Finally, when designing and producing forward-facing materials meant to be used as an educational resource or a piece of propaganda, we need to make a shift in who we have on camera to deliver the message. It is just a basic fact of life that we relate to those who we share more in common with, and that base instinct is heavily dependent on age and age differentials between two people communicating. Presentations and videos have the additional feature of trying to establish a para-social relationship wherein the viewer relates to the presenter in an intimate way. We must face the reality that presentations need to be both structured and presented in a way that is most directly relatable for the viewers. After all, our goal is effectiveness in our education of the public, and in order to increase that effectiveness, we need to create educational and political context that is relatable to the demographic groups that will be consuming the content or that we want to encourage to consume said content. This means ensuring that presenters represent the diversity of the party’s younger members, ensuring that presenters are effective communicators and extremely personable, and that we make a concerted effort to mobilize and standardize our content creation so that we are presenting a consistent style to viewers. All content should include either young voices or be “tag-teamed” by an experienced veteran comrade and a young comrade being taught and trained by said veteran comrade. Our messaging efforts should be consistent with the aforementioned rhetorical alterations for the purposes of encouraging novice communists to join our organization, maximizing our intake potential, and allowing us the opportunity to perform ideological reconditioning to bring those members in agreement with the party line as determined by our democratic procedures.


It is vital that we, as a party, focus the vast majority of our efforts towards bringing younger Americans into the party. This will help the party fulfill its desire to reach out to many of the other disengaged demographic groups, seeing as younger Americans as a group are substantially more diverse than older Americans. Our investment of time and energy will pay dividends in the long run, as it will allow for the preservation of cross-generational theoretical and practical knowledge that has been accumulated within the party by its membership base. Focusing on young Americans will result in a more active and invigorated CPUSA and ensure that our party survives and thrives for decades to come.

[1] Alemany, Jacqueline. “Power Up: Young Voters Are Turning out in Lower Numbers than Bernie Sanders Expected.” The Washington Post. WP Company, March 5, 2020.
[2] Sun, Cathy. “Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes toward Politics and Public Service.” Rep. Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes toward Politics and Public Service, April 23, 2020.
3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ekins, Emily. “What Americans Think About Poverty, Wealth, and Work.” Rep. What Americans Think About Poverty, Wealth, and Work. CATO Institute , September 24, 2019.
[6] Aucamp, Elizabeth. “US Attitudes Toward Socialism, Communism, and Collectivism.” Rep. US Attitudes Toward Socialism, Communism, and Collectivism. Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, 2019.
[7] Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes toward Politics and Public Service.”
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.

Image: Michael Rawle, Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA 2.0).


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