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Bryan Griffin: Come Together, Right Now, Over This

On a trip to Paris last week, I walked through the halls and stairwells of one of France’s oldest academic institutions: La Sorbonne. The university was founded as far back as the 1200s and has 24,000 students spread across twelve campuses.

Unsurprising for a student-used facility was the amount of graffiti that littered the hallways and stairwells. Yet, what was incredibly surprising and in fact alarming for such a social justice-minded, world-renowned academic institution was the amount of pro-communism messages and symbols featured among the graffiti.

The letters “CCP” and the hammer and sickle were prevalent and abundant on the walls, elevators, and on flyers. I was told by students that several student groups registered on campus are openly socialist or communist.

An estimated 20 million people were murdered by the Soviet regime that popularized the hammer and sickle as an ideological symbol under dictator Joseph Stalin. He systematically rounded up and executed ethnic minorities, non-conforming members of society, and political opponents.

Today, “CCP” or the Communist Party of China has been outed for running Gulags (concentration camps) that house nearly 1 million political opponents and Muslim Uighurs in Northwest China.

A few days later, at a meeting with students from the University of Freiburg, in southern Germany, I learned that there was a registered “Maoist” student group on their campus.

Mao Zedong, leader of China from 1943 to 1976, was a communist with a particularly ruthless ideology that saw most of China extremely oppressed during his chairmanship. An estimated 30-70 million people died as a result of starvation or mass murder under his leadership.

Back home on American college campuses once extremist groups featuring calls for radical shifts to communism and the overthrow of the free market are now considered legitimate actors in campus politics and boast significant student populations.

Soviet Russia, Mao, and Communism are no idols. Their legacy is death and the worst type of evil and their ideologies should be dead and forgotten. Yet they find root among the left in my generation. I worry, and I wonder why.

Let me pause and acknowledge that, yes, not every millennial is an avowed communist. But there are undeniable trends to be noted. First, groups like I described are found on nearly every university campus and are increasingly treated as equal, legitimate actors among campus political thought and dialogue. In many cases, their activities get university funding like other student groups. Second, the members of such groups are also frequently involved in or leading the social justice community on campus (a community that claims to fight for equality and progress), or vice versa. Campus social justice communities practice their activism with almost unanimous allegiance to the political left.

My generation – the social justice generation – was polled by the Victims of Communism Memorial Fund just under one year ago on their ideological inclinations:

“52% of millennials would prefer to live in a social (46%) or communist (6%) country than a capitalist (40%) one.”

How could such polar opposites – the death and racism of socialism/communism and the seeming righteousness of social justice -- find homes in the same part of the political spectrum or among the same membership?

Perhaps it’s partisanship. The horrors of leftist ideologies like communism and socialism have simmered into the past and the collective focus of the American millennial left is squarely on the American conservative right or Trump administration.

Perhaps it’s ignorance. The same poll I mentioned above also produced the statistic that “26% of all Americans [polled] have never been taught about communism in any education or professional setting. And that half of Americans [polled] associate socialism with welfare states in Western Europe and Scandinavia – not Marxist dictatorships.”

Perhaps it’s idealism. It may seem fairer to redistribute wealth and practice zero-sum transfers of money within society, but in practice this system is always corrupted by its very nature. Concentrating that much unrestrained power always corrupts the arbitrators of the system and violently oppresses the masses.

There is really only one common enemy of the truly progressive, equality-minded individual: big government.

Whether it was Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or any other racist, brutal mastermind they all used the vehicle of the unquestionable authority of the government to murder and oppress. I beg my generation to come together on this. Disagree on policy and promote important causes – but do everything with a mindfulness as to the size of government necessary to achieve these things. In politics, the means is as important as the ends. Once we accrue enough government action to force society to reallocate resources so that everyone has the same, it’s game over. The government is then irreversibly big enough to replicate the worst of history’s examples.

I sincerely hope my generation can come together on this. Recognize the mechanism of the worst of humanity: an unrestrained size and scope of government. Perhaps this history will keep us appropriately vigilant against governments that are too powerful and citizens who are too powerless. We can advocate for a better society, together, through innovative and freedom-preserving means.

Bryan Griffin of the London Center for Policy Research is a lawyer and author who specializes in American policy in the Middle East.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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