'There is a perception that socialism is fair - It is not fair'
One of the most surprising developments from last year’s presidential campaign was the reach enjoyed by Bernie Sanders, a candidate who unabashedly championed socialism as a solution to the country’s economic ills. In the Michigan Democratic primary, Sanders took first place with 598,943 votes to Hillary Clinton's 581,775 votes, winning 87 percent of Democratic voters between the ages of 18-24.
No one seemed more amazed by this than Konstantin Zhukov, a Russian immigrant who was studying at Northwood University during last year’s election season.
“When I heard Bernie Sanders’ ideas, I was surprised to hear them, but at the same time I understood why they would have an appeal, especially among teenagers,” said Zhukov.
“I could understand from studying 2008, the anti-market sentiment was increasing because many people suffered and they were starting to blame it on capitalism and they thought they should blame capitalism,” he added.
“There is a perception that socialism is fair. It is not fair,” said Zhukov.
He says from his perspective, socialism is not the answer. A command-and-control economy has, over the decades, left deep scars on Russia, he says. The damage is so deep, he says, that young people have little hope of succeeding on their own merits, even as the country tries to adopt a capitalistic economy.
“In Russia today, it's all about connections really. Here in the U.S., from what I see, young people have higher hopes and they are mostly in control of their destiny,” said Zhukov.
When he arrived in the U.S., he noticed immediately the differences between the two economic systems. He was surprised by the number of brands he saw on his first trip to Wal-Mart.
“We don’t even have Dr Pepper in Russia,” he said.
He said there is a big difference between poverty in each country.
“Here, under poor living standards, people can afford clothing, travel, things like that, where in Russia, you can't do anything. Sometimes people grow their own food to sustain their lives,” he said.
He noticed also differences with the middle class. He said he could earn more money working part-time at the campus security gate than his mother could as an attorney in a Moscow suburb, even with 20 years of experience.
Unlike older Americans, millennials were born when the Cold War was ending. Much of their knowledge of socialism and communism comes from school or other second-hand sources. And now a survey, conducted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, shows cause for concern.
Of young people polled, more than one-third were unfamiliar with Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx. Of those who recognized the names, 25 percent said they had a favorable opinion of such figures. The only exception was Mao.
Only 55 percent of millennials say communism was and is still a problem compared to 80 percent of baby boomers. The poll also found that two-thirds of millennials agreed with Marxist viewpoints. When presented with a series of statements, the ones millennials agreed with the least came from the Bible: “If any would not work, neither should he eat.”
The Foundation provides a curriculum and training for teachers on the development of communism in the modern world.
As for Zhukov, he said seeing the differences between here and Russia has inspired him to attend graduate school for an advanced degree in economics, which he began this month.