Friday, August 17, 2018

Be Realistic - Demand the Impossible

 There exists a perspective of the Marxian socialist political theory and strategy known as impossibilism.

Impossibilists may be characterised as presenting a political theory and strategy:
that stresses the limited value of political, economic and social reforms within a capitalist economy…and that pursuing such reforms is counterproductive as they only strengthen support for the existing system…such reforms are irrelevant to the realisation of socialism and should not be a major concern for socialists.” (Wiki)

Impossibilists argue that socialists should be engaged in class struggle, in trades unions and elsewhere but that capitalism imposed limits to the gains for the working class that such activism could achieve. Whilst impossibilists are generally opposed to syndicalism (the idea that socialism can emerge from unions organised at industrial scale rather than by trade or workplace) they are not hostile to trades unions, the function of which is to raise workers’ wages as high as practically possible within capitalism. Impossibilists hold that the political struggle for socialism ought to aim beyond the immediate ‘guerilla war’ of the struggle for immediate demands within capitalism or risk being swallowed up by those struggles. They are not necessarily opposed to individual reforms within capitalism but to a strategy and definition of socialism defined by the reform of capitalism.

This approach remained unchanged during the turbulence of domestic and world history experienced during the twentieth century and has often infuriated and frustrated its friends as well as its opponents.  This it owes in part “to a certain political style which steers an unsteady course between uncompromising clarity and doctrinaire intolerance” (Non-Market Socialism in the Nineneenth and Twentieth Century) but also to a strategy that places its emphasis on persuasion and rational argument – to the development of socialist consciousness – and does not offer the immediate hopes (or jobs) of ‘practical’ political activism or single-issue campaign politics.

There is a caricature of impossibilism which its critics often wrongly draw, that of ‘voluntarism’ – that impossibilists pursue a strategy of conversion person by person until majority of 51% is reached when socialism can be established by the election of a majority of socialists to the legislature. Impossibilists do not seek to ‘convert’ people to its creed in the manner of a religious sect but to encourage members of the working class to draw on their experiences of class struggle and to build their political conclusions based on it. The ‘conversion’ is achieved not by socialists but by the dynamic social experience of class struggle. The political object of impossibilism is to clarify and give purpose to class consciousness that it might move beyond capitalism rather than work for change within it.

The term "impossibilist" emerged, of course, as a term of political abuse. Socialists who stood for the end of capitalism and no compromises along the way were seen to be demanding the impossible. Interestingly, before anyone ever used that word there was another term which was popular: possibilism. The so-called possibilists emerged in France in the early 1880s, and they were the reformists, tired of trying to bring about socialism and nothing less, who imagined that the best possible option would be to chip away at the edifice of capitalism bit-by-bit, reforming it until it looked like socialism. Over a century has passed since these undoubtedly sincere people embarked upon their futile course and everywhere reformist gradualism has ended in the most abject failure. Over a hundred years of demanding "the possible" or "something now" has landed the Labour Party no-where. So, if we who refuse to settle for anything less then real real socialists are impossibilists, perhaps it is time for our fellow workers to be rather more practical and demand "the impossible". We are advocates of the Social Revolution. No reform can bring any permanent economic benefit to the whole working class. Revolution tears an evil up by its roots; reform merely shifts it from one spot to another.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain was not the artificial creation of a bunch of intellectuals flaunting some pre-determined, universal plan of action. The Socialist Party sprang into existence when a group of socialist workers decided to organise for socialism. Mistakes were made at first but these were never more than minor miscalculations since the Socialist Party refused to deviate from its principles and, above all, never kidded itself that numbers were an adequate compensation for compromise. Viewed against the wreckage of the Second, Third and so-called Fourth Internationals the programme of the Socialist Party has stood it in good stead. After all, we are the nucleus of the Final International - the one which will achieve socialism.

'For our demands are most moderateWe only want the earth'
Adapted from here

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