[Based on a speech delivered by Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya in a seminar “Socialism of the future/the future of socialism” organised jointly by the All India Federation of Trade Unions, Centre for the Study of Developiong Societies and Vasudhaiva Kutambakam, in Hyderabad on 6 January 2003 ]


WHETHER we discuss the future of socialism or socialism of the future, we now have more than eighty-five years of experience with building socialism. From this vantage point of history we can survey the debris of what used to be the Soviet Union till recently, we can study the experiment that is going on in China and a number of other countries in an admittedly adverse environment. Naturally we have strong opinions as to what socialism should be like in different respects. The inadequacies and imperfections of past and present socialism prompt us to dream of a perfect socialism in future. We want socialism to be totally different from capitalism, we want it to look and feel totally different.

But we would do well to remember Marx’s caution that socialism can only be constructed in a historically given situation and emerging from the womb of capitalism, socialism cannot but carry all the birthmarks of capitalism. A lot of social, economic and cultural details that we often discuss, the high degree of decentralisation that we want to see in socialism, may well be perfectly compatible with the vision of communism. Indeed it is communism and not socialism which really constitutes the negation of capitalism.

It is communism which envisions a classless society in which the state can only wither away and decentralisation reign supreme, in which the differences between the city and the countryside disappear, labour finally overcomes its dehumanising and alienating capitalist context and mental and manual work finally loses all distinction to merge into an integrated, glorious and profoundly satisfying celebration of human creativity.

The whole concept of socialism arose on the basis of the realisation that the journey from capitalism to communism could only progress through a period of transition. This transition was theorised as socialism. So even in theory, socialism is a compromise, it is an approximation, it is quite imperfect. Quite early on in the battle for socialism, Marx and Engels realised the importance of making a clear distinction between utopian and scientific socialism. The word scientific is bound to raise many eyebrows in the present era when words like science and truth are viewed with considerable suspicion. But even after stressing all the differences between natural science that can be verified in a laboratory and social science that can never be as exact, it is important to separate myth from reality, fact from fiction, and grasp socialism as something real and practical as opposed to something that is only imaginary and absurdly romantic.

Making a distinction between Utopian and scientific socialism was however not enough. It turned out that history had many more surprises in store and that the first break came in backward Russia and not in advanced Europe. It was nobody's case that socialism could be better constructed in a single country and on a backward social, economic and political foundation, but that’s how it happened in history. As revolutionaries we can only make the most of a chance that comes our way in history. We must grab it with both hands for in history we do not have the luxury of rejecting a chance simply because it does not conform to the pre­determined parameters and standards of our theory.

The debate however still continues and the collapse of the Soviet experiment has only refuelled it. An eminent Marxist like Istvan Meszaros has predicted that the United States might well be the next land to turn socialist and that will really be socialism on a solid technological and political foundation. I wish history were to prove him true. A socialist US will surely be a stunning negation of US imperialism, the most barbaric imperialist power of the world ever since the Sun set on the British Empire and German fascism was overpowered in the Second World War.

But contrary to Meszaros’ belief, the countries that have turned towards socialism since the Russian Revolution of November 1917 have all been backward countries of the Third World. In other words, it is socialism which has had to take on the responsibility of freeing the world from feudal and pre-capitalist survivals while capitalism has continued to lay the scientific and technological foundation for its own eventual negation. The banner of socialism in the present day world really stands for extensive growth of productive forces while intensive growth is still happening within the contours of capitalism. It is probably this combination of extensive and intensive growth which will aggravate the inherent contradictions of the capitalist system and eventually push them up to and beyond a point when the capitalist integument is torn asunder and socialism starts cornering capitalism in its traditional strongholds.

As far as the ongoing battle for socialism is concerned, the overall scene today certainly looks far more encouraging than any period in recent past. During the later years of Soviet Union there was an atmosphere of complacency. The more the quality of socialism deteriorated inside the Soviet Union and worldwide Soviet socialism became synonymous with a never-ending and totally unmanageable arms race between two superpowers, the louder became the claims of developed socialism and even transition to communism. The Chinese experiment with socialism is at least not marked by such a crying contrast between theory and practice. Worldwide, the forces of socialism now have a much better understanding of the limitations of the earlier and ongoing experiments with socialist construction. The relentless development of science and technology and the concomitant growth of people’s consciousness are creating stronger possibilities of a more democratic and less bureaucratic socialist order. And now we have a powerful anti-globalisation anti-imperialist anti-war movement providing a vibrant and conducive international environment for the fight for socialism in any part of the world.

As revolutionary communists we can only feel more hopeful and confident. It is not our job to denounce or idealise the socialist attempts going on in other countries. Our job is to prepare for the victory of socialism in India and to make sure that when we get a chance we can prove it in practice that we have learned a lesson or two from the Soviet debacle or the protracted Chinese experiment with socialism.

Socialism is necessary. Socialism is possible. Socialism is irresistible.