The goal of our Future Historians project is to construct a utopian narrative, from the viewpoint of historians who are looking backward from a future world society, a sort of popular utopian fiction in the tradition of Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888) and Morris' News from Nowhere (1890) – books whose popularity helped bring to life a new socialist movement at the end of the 19th century. Our utopian narrative takes the form of an imaginary textbook written for the teenagers of the year 2117 in order to explain to them How we got from Then (the capitalist dystopia of 2017) to Now (the peaceful, egalitarian, democratic planetary society of 2117). Our project is original in two striking ways: 1) it is one of the rare utopias that attempts to explain how to get “from here to there”; and 2) it is being written collectively by activists and scholars concerned that – given today’s catastrophic situation – there may be no future.
Unlike other utopian stories, our imaginary history textbook of 2118 – tentatively titled Then, Now, and How (TNH) – is not a linear or monolithic narrative. Rather, it is taking the form of a grid that can be read horizontally, vertically, or at random. One dimension of this grid is chronological: Then (2017), Now (2117) and How (the decades of struggle between). The other is topical. The dozen or so topics gathered on this Wiki represent the major problems facing humanity in 2018. (For example, the reader who wishes to learn how the impending climate catastrophe of 2017 had been resolved by 2118 may click on Catastrophes/Now.)
Read vertically, Then presents a history of capitalism's final phase which was engendering ecological catastrophes, increasing economic inequalities, endemic wars and civil wars, and every form of retrogression to more primitive forms of society, including the revival of slavery, debt peonage, mass unemployment, obscene waste and luxury, tyrannical governments, loss of political freedoms, degradation of intellectual life, religious obscurantism, oppression and dehumanization of women, racial minorities, generating millions upon millions of refugees fleeing ecological catastrophes, wars, and political tyranny.
Read vertically, How records a whole series of different struggles among women, working people, oppressed minorities, peasant agriculturalists … coming together, connecting on an intersectional basis, as well as on an international basis, with for example employees/customers/victims of exploitative multinational corporations coming together to focus their mass people power against the concentrated financial power of a few billionaires. It includes the struggles of indigenous peoples, victims of climate catastrophes such as droughts and floods, agriculturalists, forest peoples, all uniting to destroy the carbon-fueled, debt-driven form of industrial agriculture imposed by Monsanto and other agribusinesses and replace it with sustainable localized permaculture. Indeed, these solutions emerged as survival mechanisms when the whole structure of supermarket-based food distribution and corporate production collapsed during the world depression that followed financial catastrophe. It includes the beginnings of people-to-people exchanges of use-values (food, clothing, …) arising spontaneously to replace monopolized capitalist distribution systems such as Amazon and Wal-Mart; of actual human exchanges replacing monopolies that under capitalism masqueraded as “markets.”
Read vertically, Now presents a picture of a plausible future world that has emerged from titanic struggles, making the best use of technologies and forms of self-organization discovered in diverse mass efforts to fix a broken planet and bring about justice and equality in a world-economy based on sharing and caring, replacing competition, profit and domination as the motors of economic activity. Solar energy and other renewables have brought democratically managed, decentralized grids for light and power to communities all over the world, while nearly eliminating the greenhouse effect caused by burning fossil fuels. Forests have been planted wherever appropriate and are absorbing excess carbon from the atmosphere, bringing along shade, renewing the soil, and providing forest products for use as building and other raw materials, furniture, and food. Working people decide the major economic and ecological questions, using computer networks and blockchain technologies to express their choices on what to produce and how, on the basis of detailed plans worked up by think tanks (“planning factories”). Communities are self-governed from below on many levels – geographical (neighborhood, city, region and beyond); occupational (factory, farm, scientific, transport, education, health); cultural groups (language. ethnic, faith/spirituality, artistic). People have the right to choose their identities and to reside in whatever communities they prefer. Nothing about this future is implausible, either scientifically or politically.
Thus, read vertically, the grid of Then, Now, and How – based on reliable and plausible historical and scientific sources – presents an authoritative picture of the non-viability of high-tech, financialized capitalist civilization (Then); the viability and sustainability of future democratic and egalitarian societies based on solar power, agroecology, and self-organization (Now); and the possible roads leading from the death throes of capitalism to the emergence of caring and sharing societies through the convergence of intersectional and international social movements (How).
Reading horizontally, we present a series of critical problems that plagued humans living under a decaying capitalist order in the early 21st century (Then) and sketch out a range of plausible ways in which they were resolved and transcended (How), arriving at democratic, egalitarian and just societies by the early 22nd century (Now). We have somewhat arbitrarily divided these interconnected problems and solutions into Study Topics, designed as a pedagogical device to permit us to gather source materials on which to base our analyses and, to help readers involved in different struggles to foresee possible developments and identify points of intersection with their comrades on other terrains. The source materials are gathered in a shared Dropbox, catalogued into Topic folders and commented upon by participants in the Future Historians project, with the aim of sketching plausible solutions and fleshing out the narratives of Then, Now and How with concrete details and plausible extrapolations.
These conclusions in turn will provide the parameters for further narrative development by the creative writers we hope to enlist as the project proceeds. Inevitably, the result will be a patchwork. History, as we understand it, does not move forward in a straight line nor as an unfolding of an infallible party line. Our purpose in developing these parameters is to suggest the outer limits of what we consider plausible and desirable. Our first rule: “No gods, no extraterrestrials.” Our second rule: “No gulags, no one-party states.”