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The Impossiblist Task

The decline of the impossiblist tradition of socialism – and it would be frivolous to deny this decline or minimise its extent – has led to its premature burial. Marx and Engels declared previous varieties of socialism to be “utopian” not because they anticipated a class-free, wage-free, money-free society, but because they failed to realise that such a society is possible only on the foundation of highly developed technology, which alone permits a life of leisure and plenty. To argue that to aspire to a free access society is utopian is an absolutist dogma. It assumes the continued existence of the capitalist market society to be inevitable. In a socialist society there will still be a wide range of talent, skills, and achievement, but in such a society there would not be economic exploitation of class by class. Because the true concern of the Socialist Party is fixed on achieving socialism its only legitimate form of activity in the existing order is preparing for the revolution. Therefore, ‘immediate’ or ‘partial’ demands – that is, demands that fall short of the socialist goal and may thus be granted within the framework of the capitalist system has no place in the Socialist Party’s platform.

The Socialist Party’s approach to class is an “objective” one. It distinguishes social classes in terms of the roles played by groups of men in the process of economic production. Ownership or non-ownership of the means of production becomes a central criterion for determining class membership. Generally speaking, a class develops particular forms of behavior and cultural outlets; it has a distinct prestige rating in society; it develops a unique community of outlooks, a class attitude.  the Marxist theory of classes is intended far less as a sociological device for social classification than a method for studying social change. It asserts that the major motions of modern society can best be understood in terms of class maneuver and class conflict.

Why has socialism failed to thrive? Perhaps, the great demand for labor power and the constant scarcity of labor meant, during most of the 19th and part of the 20th centuries, that the working class could enjoy relatively high wages. Simultaneously, the scarcity of labour stimulated the invention of labor-saving devices, which, in turn, meant a high level of productivity. Maybe because of the constant influx of immigrants, the working class was sharply split into native and newcomer, a split which postponed the emergence of class unity. Importantly, the damage done by Leninism and Stalinism to the socialist case is incalculable. Also detrimental was the reformers “here-and-now” politics proving to be a diversion. One of the false notions that have arisen in recent years is that the impossibilist socialist tradition failed because it was too “theoretical.” If anything it was the other way: the movement was not theoretical enough.

To declare that the struggle of the working class for emancipation ultimately turns upon the conquest of political power is by no means to say that the matter is a purely political one. The class struggle is both political and economic in character, not merely in the sense that the need to gain control of the machinery of government is necessary, among other things, to acquire control of all economic resources, but also in the sense that the workers, if they are to fit themselves for the attainment of their emancipation, must carry on the struggle on the economic field under capitalism. The trade union movement, despite its many shortcomings from the socialist point of view, is the expression of the workers’ attack and resistance against the power of capital in the economic sphere of social activity. The present-day trade unions may appear to many as reactionary organisations on account of many of their pro-capitalist ideas, besides the fact that the capitalist has largely adapted himself to their existence, but beneath the surface of this lies the dire necessity of the workers to carry on their day-to-day struggles through this or some form of economic organisation. The deeply-laid fact is that the master class has never failed to realise that the association of the workers for economic purposes, i.e., for rates of wages, hours and general conditions of employment, is a source of danger to the power of capital over wage labour. To in any way challenge the right of the capitalist to exact his full tribute from the productivity of the workers is fundamentally regarded by the capitalist class as any similar challenge made by the serfs against the feudal lords of a few hundred years ago, or by the slaves of antiquity against the slave owners—as a challenge to be crushed, compromised with, or cajoled, as the circumstances determine.

The International Working Men’s Association constantly stressed the importance of the workers' need to carry on their struggles through the medium of the trade unions, but, at the same time, endeavoured to get the unions to widen their outlook and broaden the basis of their activities. It is a socialist's profound conviction that some sort of fight, however instinctive, has to be made if the working class is to prove worthy of its emancipation from wage slavery and to prevent itself from becoming a permanent makeshift tool in the hands of the ruling class.

At the Hague Congress of the International, held in 1872, Marx proposed a resolution “on the political activity of the proletariat,” and among many other points, stated that:
   "The consolidation of the workers' forces attained in the economic struggle will also have to serve as a lever in the hand of this class for the struggle against the political power of its exploiters. In view of the fact that the owners of the land and of capital always utilised their political privileges to guard and perpetuate their economic monopolies and to enslave labour, the conquest of political power comes to be the great task of the proletariat."

Marx saw and experienced no great readiness on the part of the workers to respond to the socialist appeal, he did not on that account fail to back their efforts at trying to improve their lot through the trade union movement.


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