Utopian or Realistic

September 25, 2015

by Bill Foster

Recently a young friend told me how she gets quite angry when people try to write off her struggle for social change – for socialism and communism – by saying: “those are nice ideas, but they’re utopian.”

The same thing has happened to me and it makes me angry too. In fact, I imagine that most people, especially young people, who stand up for positive social change have had the experience of being shunted aside as “utopian” and told that they will see things more “realistically” when they “mature.”

It is worthwhile to note the logic of these “realistic and mature anti-utopians.” On the one hand, they pretend to agree with the criticism of the status quo – to agree with my friend when she condemns the wars, the racism, the exploitation of the capitalist system. They even agree that eliminating these things would be good. But they insist that things can never be set right, that human beings can never make their society better. They are telling my friend, myself and countless others that we are wasting our time and should just give up. Their “realism” and “maturity” means bowing their heads and accepting their oppression.

It's a good thing that our fathers and mothers (in fact, all the generations who came before us) never accepted this “logic.” Slaves were told that it was “utopian” to think that slavery could be overthrown. The peoples enslaved by colonialism were told that it was “utopian” to think they could be free and rule themselves. The workers were told that it was “utopian” to think that they could ban together, organize unions and improve their conditions.

So too, Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, the founders of modern communism, were called “utopian” and “unrealistic.” But within a short period of time the program of socialism and communism has spread all over the world. In the Paris Commune in 1871, in the Soviet Union from 1917 until the mid-1950’s and in other countries, socialism proved that it is a very real system and infinitely superior to capitalism.

In every country of the world, all the positive advances of the last 100 years and more have come along the path of socialism. In the United States, such reforms as Social Security or universal public education were created by the struggles of the working people and constituted inroads against capitalism, steps in the direction of socialism.

Today from every pore of our society, the need for and the reality of socialism and communism is growing. Isn’t there an urgent need to guarantee everyone the right to health care? Isn’t there an urgent need to break the political dictatorship of the rich? Isn’t there an urgent demand to stop the wars? Don’t all these demands reflect the collective needs – the common social reality – of the vast majority? Aren’t the people more and more coming out to fight for this program?

Our “mature, realistic anti-utopians” may continue to ignore these facts. But I, for one, can never deny the real aspirations of my heart or the real activity and struggles of my friend and the thousands and millions like her who are struggling to change the world and who will change it.