More than just a dream
When one gives a description of socialism, that is, of a moneyless society where the means of production belong to everyone and where each person works on a voluntary basis to produce goods for the satisfaction of human needs and not for profit, one is often greeted with the objection “That’s just a dream. You’re nothing but dreamers, you socialists.” This is a serious accusation because it implies that socialists are pursuing an impossible goal and that our activities are therefore a waste of time.
But there are in fact two kinds of dreams and two kinds of dreamers. Some dreams are no more than fleeting daydreams while others are so sharp and vivid in the mind of the dreamer as to prod them into action with a view to turning the dream into reality. This kind of dream has motivated humanity to some of its greatest achievements, with human labour and ingenuity doing the rest.
Try to imagine, in some far distant past, two human beings peacefully lying by the riverside and watching the birds fly overhead. One of them suddenly exclaims “Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to fly, like that, high up in the sky and sec the world from above?” The other replies, “What’s the point in even thinking about it? The way you’re made, you’re not likely ever to fly, are you? Forget about it.” But in the mind of the one with the stronger imagination the dream has already taken root and on his lips you can read these silent words: “How could it be done?” This dream, like so many others, will come to other minds and be passed on to other people, and even if, back in the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci’s ingenious flying machines were no more than drawings, he was not for all that wasting his time because today human beings can fly higher, faster and further than any of the winged creatures. Although this does not seem to tie in with “human nature”.
But “human nature” is not a constant. Human beings seem terribly limited by it, and yet their physical and intellectual work creates, at each moment in their history, new conditions which open the way to new ideas, which in turn lead to new possibilities and new dreams. Natural forces, once all powerful, now only play a secondary part in human destiny, replaced, particularly in the most developed countries, by social and economic forces. But these are created by human activity and should therefore be within human control.
If men and women today consider themselves competitive, aggressive, lazy, selfish and therefore incapable of living in a social system such as socialism, it is simply because the social system in which they are now living brings out these qualities in people: selfishness, in as much as the essence of capital is to add to itself; competition, because what goes to one owner of capital does not go to the other; aggression when rival capitalists, compelled to expand, come to clash with one another; laziness, since not having to work makes us, even if only momentarily, like one of the ruling class. What stands in the way of a radical transformation of the social system is not in fact our so-called human nature, but a realisation on the part of all workers, men and women alike, that their values and their lives are bound to be greatly influenced by the system they live in and that since they themselves, by their joint productive work, create that system, they can also change it if they so wish.
Why is it, then, that this realisation is not taking place massively, at least in all the developed countries of the world? Why don’t people choose to put an end to their material and psychological difficulties by creating conditions which will from then on have the interest and happiness of humanity as their aim? There is a simple explanation. The present system is of material benefit to a section of our society and this section, though very small (about ten per cent) has the power, thanks particularly to its control of the media and of the education system, to impose certain ideas and to stop the spread of others. And so it does its utmost to preserve the status quo. This can well be considered shortsighted because even for this minority of rich people, a social system which they cannot keep under control and which could lead, at any minute, to the extinction of the whole human race including themselves, is not without its drawbacks for them.
Once this is understood, it becomes clear that the people who insist on visualising the possibility of a different world and who try to capture the imagination of those who remain trapped in their everyday reality — these people who do not just cling to their dream, but work at it wholeheartedly, fighting against ideas forced on them and for the ones they believe in — these people are not just dreamers but active, determined members of society who are doing all they can to change their dream into reality.
The idea of socialism is, like the idea of flying, one of those dreams that seem as old as humanity itself and which has, perhaps, its roots in the social reality of long pre-history. The fact that this dream has not yet come true does not indicate that it is impossible but simply that men and women have not started seriously thinking about it and working to achieve it.