When one talks to people about socialism or communism, one very frequently finds that they entirely agree with one regarding the substance of the matter and declare communism to be a very fine thing; “but”, they then say, “it is impossible ever to put such things into practice in real life” - Engels
Fantasy is the first act of rebellion said Freud. Let us indulge ourselves here in that most human of all pursuits – let us imagine the future.
Human society is a particular case in universal evolution. Nothing is eternal and unchangeable. Everything is variable. Every given social form is entirely relative, entirely conditional. Classes and systems succeed each other and differ from each other. For centuries, people have imagined Utopias where advances in technology and attitudes create freedom for all. Capitalism distorts the vision of a future society. We can only see a different system in terms of our present one. The first victim of education is imagination. From a very early age every worker is taught to be “practical”, “realistic” and stop “dreaming dreams”. And yet imagination is the very act of being human. Whatever other aspects make human beings different from other animals, the human capacity to imagine is one of the most striking. The stifling of imagination is essential if the owners are to retain their class monopoly of the planet. That’s because the great revolutionary act for the working class is to imagine an alternative to present day society.
A very natural question arises: “If one can visualise a possible future society then one should be expected to tell something of what that society will be like”. And so one should and so one can, but only within certain limits and with many reservations. In making projections into the future one should realise that one is dealing with the realm of speculation. Where a definiteness of opinion can be allowed is in the realm of the actual: what is and what has been. With the future the best we can hope for is to observe trends in the present and the creation and development of potentials, etc. These can be projected as trends into the future scene which may grow to greater potentials and into actualities that may become definite powers, agencies and institutions. Science does not deal in certainties but in high probabilities. It does not depend on clairvoyance or astrological forecasts for its findings. Nor does it admit the determinists, who tell us that this shall be and that shall not be. Yet, notwithstanding what has been stated, one must allow that science, in its ever restless search for greater knowledge, must permit itself flights of imagination, so to speak, for lacking these it would hardly venture on those essential journeys into the future. In much the same way a socialist speaks of “visualising a future social system”. Science does create for itself what are termed “working hypotheses”; that is to say, it presumes certain things to be so, and for the purpose of establishing a point of departure for definite scientific inquiry it takes its hypothesis as established fact. Of course it recognizes that this at best is speculation but proceeds to then gather data that may prove, or disprove, such hypothesis. In the same way we permit ourselves certain speculations and in so doing “we visualise a future society which will be organised for public good”. But we must never lose sight of the fact that these are speculations, but like the “working hypotheses” of the scientist can be considered valid to the extent that such speculations arise naturally out of our knowledge of the past and the present – and in the absence of any contrary body of facts.
The question is thus put “How will production and distribution be carried on in this visualised possible future society?” Socialism is often described in negative terms: a society with no money, no classes, no government, no exploitation. But it is also possible to speak of socialism from a positive viewpoint, emphasising the features it will have, as opposed to those it will not. The future always looks strange when people's minds are imprisoned within the past, but the nearer we get to the next stage in social development the less strange the idea of production for need becomes. There are thousands of workers walking around with ideas in their minds which are close or identical to those advocated by socialists; as that number grows, and as they gather into the conscious political movement for socialism, the doubts of the critics grow fainter and more absurd and what once seemed unthinkable rises to the top of the agenda of history.
“Have you not heard how it has gone with many a Cause before now: First, few men heed it; Next, most men condemn it; Lastly , all men ACCEPT it - and the Cause is Won", so said William Morris. We must not suppose that socialism is therefore destined to remain a Utopia.