The Youth Are the Vanguard

A talk given at a “Young Communists Speak: Why Join a Revolutionary Party?” webinar sponsored by Workers World Party on Dec. 10.  

We are gathered here today to talk about the crisis facing young workers and the intense radicalization of younger generations here in the heart of the empire. 

It is clear that young people today carry the entire weight of a collapsing capitalist system on their backs. 

By every measure, young people are doing much worse than their parents’ generations.  

One of the ways we see this every day is the war on young people’s mental health, which, by every statistic, has drastically deteriorated. We’ve seen skyrocketing suicide rates. Rates of depression are 20 times greater than they were in our grandparents’ time. ( 

Younger generations also face massive increases in anxiety disorders. This is all evidence of the objective decline of capitalism, even here in the belly of the beast.

Since 2010, life expectancy in the U.S. has continually declined. People born today are living shorter lives than their parents. 

Twenty four percent of 21-year-olds fall below the federal poverty line of making $12,760 per year. (  This doesn’t include full-time students. 

Youth unemployment hit a record 27 percent in the U.S. last spring. Black workers in the U.S. face twice as much unemployment compared to whites. Globally, according to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization, the percentage of young people engaged in the workforce continues to decline and young workers face growing precarity in all aspects of life. 

We are the millions of gig workers, laid-off restaurant and retail workers, Uber drivers, temp workers and chronically underemployed, particularly now during the pandemic. There is a question if we will ever really be fully employed ever again. Young workers’ jobs are the most likely to become automated and deskilled. 

Our wages are over 50 percent lower than those of people in their 40s and 50s and this disparity continues to increase. (

Fifty-two percent of people ages 18 to 29 are living with their parents because of the pandemic. (

We have $1.6 trillion in student debt, amounting to $29,200 per young person. (  I personally have way more debt than that. 

Meanwhile, July was the deadliest month for young people in modern history, as the pandemic and other crises kill thousands of young people. 

The capitalists have no dream, no future in store for us. Prison construction companies plan to build new prisons in the cities, based on third-grade test scores of high school dropouts. Many young people, especially people of color, are more likely to be arrested by the police and incarcerated than go to university. 

Taken all together, capitalism is waging war on young people. Young people of oppressed nationalities, oppressed genders, working class youth, all face the greatest impacts of a system that has no future for them. 

What’s the solution?

The laws of Marxism show that intensifying oppression and exploitation by one increasingly desperate class of billionaires will turn into its opposite, into revolution. Many petty-bourgeois youth and young people from wealthier backgrounds have been thrust downward socially. We have survived two economic crises that have been the biggest in recent memory. We are living through a pandemic that is the complete result of capitalism. 

Yet we have quickly become a generation of resistance. We started occupying city centers across the world at the end of the last economic crisis — the Occupy movement. Since then, young workers have ignited major struggles against racist police brutality, against capitalism’s war on the planet, and against austerity, cutbacks and the growing threat of fascism across the world. Young people have been in the lead. 

We study history to understand how to change the future. Young people, throughout history, have been the vanguard of revolutionary movements.  Che Guevara was 30 at the time of the Cuban Revolution. Fidel was 32. Mao was 26 when the Chinese Communist Party was founded. Revolutionaries like Mumia Abu-Jamal and Fred Hampton organized branches of the Black Panthers as teenagers. 

Here in the center of imperialism and capitalism, young people are leading the way.

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