I think communism is best understood not as the necessary conclusion of some progressive world-historical process nor contingent on the voluntary will of some organized party-mind but rather as a working hypothesis that is continuously modified until the conclusions of experimental practice perfectly coincide with that hypothesis.
This forecloses a number of possible ways of referring to communism, ways which are prevalent in contemporary discussions:
- Referring to communism directly as if it had positive qualities inherent to it. This presupposes positive knowledge of communism as actually existent, which is false because if something does not yet exist there is no way to describe any of its intrinsic characteristics.
- Referring to communism directly by what it lacks. This may appear to be an advance beyond the limits of the above way except that it is merely a different way of approaching the same thing. To know what something inherently lacks is first to know what that thing is inherently, and so it repeats the same problem as the other approach.
- Referring to communism indirectly by outlining a positive program in the present that is assumed to directly establish communism in the future. This subtly refers to communism positively by considering it to be the inevitable outcome of some strictly delineated path, since an identifiable path known to lead to somewhere only makes sense if you can identify where it leads.
- Referring to communism indirectly by outlining a negative program, that is, of outlining what can definitively be said not to ever help establish communism. This repeats the same issue of point #2 mediated through a conception of a path: you can only identify a path as never leading to some end only if you have traversed that path yourself or appeal to some authority who has already traversed that path and realized that it does not lead to the desired end.
- Referring to communism by any combination of the previous ways, whether this combination occurs simultaneously (making the view internally contradictory) or throughout different points of time (making the person who possess the views inconsistent with themselves).
Each of these varying approaches mistakes a hypothesis for a conclusion: they assume first that they know exactly what is to be realized in the end, and circularly justify their preferred means to realize the end that they assumed in the first place. Such an approach is effectively not scientific and cannot claim the name of “scientific socialism” but becomes a form of dogmatic ideology fulfilling the function of a secular, politicized religion.
Que everyone’s favorite quote from the German Ideology:
“Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”