When the Berlin Wall fell in 1991, advocates of individual liberty and freedom around the world cheered its destruction. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union collapsed. As a result, hundreds of millions of people broke free from an ideology that resulted in 100 million deaths in the 20th century.

To many, the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR) signaled the permanent victory of liberal democracy over the forces of communism and totalitarianism. Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist and Stanford professor, referred to Western liberal democracy as the “final form of human government” and proclaimed the “end of history.”

Unfortunately, Fukuyama spoke too soon — liberal democracy has not replaced communism wholesale. Communist regimes across the globe still oppress their populations and restrict individual rights. China, Venezuela, Cuba, and others still oppress their people and violate human rights. Socialism is growing popular again, particularly in the United States.

Communist and socialist ideologies — responsible for over 100 million deaths from Cambodia to Ukraine — are taking hold in the United States. Politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders and incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — self-declared “Democratic socialists” — have popularized socialist policy proposals such as a federal job guarantee and universal healthcare.

Young Americans are flocking to these proposals and ideas. A recent study by the Victims of Communism Foundation illustrates America’s growing acceptance of socialist ideas and policies.

American socialism by the numbers

Millennials prefer socialism to capitalism. 44% of millennials surveyed would prefer to live in a socialist country, while 7% would prefer to live in a communist country. Only 42% prefer to live under a capitalist system — like the current United States.

Millennials responses stand out in stark contrast when compared to the adults surveyed. 59% of adult respondents preferred capitalism and only 26% of Baby Boomers said they would prefer living under a socialist regime. On the surface, it appears that socialist policies and ideas have widespread appeal among American youth.

BUT here’s the catch.

Most young Americans don’t know what socialism is.

When asked to define socialism by a Gallup poll, 23% of Americans responded with “equality” and 6% of Americans defined it as “being nice or social.” Additionally, 10% of Americans defined socialism as providing enhanced benefits and services. Only 17% of Americans chose the traditional definition of “government ownership or control.”

This means that 29% of Americans have no idea what socialism entails — including 6% who think it just means being friendly and collegial.

America’s loose grasp on socialism is a new phenomenon. In 1949, Americans defined “socialism as state control of the economy over “equality” by a three-to-one margin.” Gallup’s poll is a shocking reminder that if we don’t study history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Why do young Americans favor socialism?

At a recent Victims of Communism Foundation event, panel members were presented with these poll numbers. The moderator asked them why socialist ideas were finding a foothold in American politics.

The panel — made up of politicians and diplomats who had lived under and fought against communist regimes — delivered a powerful response. Panel members argued that widespread ignorance of the historical suffering caused by communism and socialism drove the acceptance of these ideas among American youth.

America 101 took a closer look at the average American’s knowledge of past and current communist regimes. After looking at the data, the panel’s explanation begins to ring true.

Six out of ten Americans aren’t familiar with Venezuela’s communist dictatorship or Nicolas Maduro. Almost half of all millennials have never heard of Mao Zedong — the communist dictator responsible for the deaths of almost 60 million people in 20th century China.

America’s youth are advocating for policies they know little about. They have no idea what these policies mean and are not familiar with the tragedies they have caused.

Communism is responsible for the deaths of 100 million people over the last 100 years. Americans have died fighting to free captive nations from oppressive Communist regimes. Yet these policies are still popular with America’s youth.

What does the trend towards socialism mean?

Millennials are the largest generation in America. Their voice matters and their political preferences will play a role in shaping the future of American government. Unfortunately, they are championing dangerous ideologies that they know nothing about.

We cannot risk ignoring the rising popularity of socialism among America’s youth. Socialism and communism have lead to famine, death, and disaster. It’s imperative that America does a better job educating our youth on the dangers of failed ideologies from the past.

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