The case for a Minimalist and Maximum Movement

September 2021 Forums World Socialist Movement The case for a Minimalist and Maximum Movement

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    Does the SPGB recognise the urgent need to adopt a minimum and maximum peaceful and democratic programme for the urgent need to save this planet and its inhabitants from destruction?

    Surely the SPGB must recognise that its “Impossibilist” opposition to any reforms within the profit system gives the impression to workers that the party and its aims are idealistic and impractical?

    Workers need to be able to grasp something that is visible and practical within the profit system, whilst keeping the admirable objective of replacing the profit system with a non-market society.

    Is there a need to discuss a transitional democratic period of supporting reforms, not reformism, that would facilitate a gradual and then a revolutionary change in class consciousness? Surely, socialists (non-market) would benefit from supporting a fundamental change in the education system, that would allow for school children to experience and debate a co-operative way of producing and sharing, before a final democratic revolution?

    A transitionary phase may include supporting everything that is free at the point of use e.g. the NHS and Education. Also, alternative socialist media, workers’ co-operatives, communes and democratic polls and voting on beneficial reforms through automated voting machines e,g. converted ATMs, computers and smartphones. Of course, socialist MPs would be instructed, as stringently vetted delegates, to carry out the educated will of the majority of the population. Socialist MPs (delegates) would be subject to immediate reselection by educated workers and party members.

    When I talk to workers about delegated MPs and automatic democratic voting they are far more able to understand and visualise the change from a market economy to a non-market society. Surely, all of us need something tangible and practical to visualise and incorporate into our minds. When I talk about a “Big Bang” revolution to workers they feel it is impractical and often impossible.

    When you factor in the fear of freedom, of losing control and the necessity of having to think and act to maintain physical and mental stability as an unconscious motivation, it does seem that such fears can only be overcome gradually in the initial transitionary period.

    Do you really think that educated and aware socialists are going to sit and wait out for a “Big Bang” revolution for many years? No, they are unlikely to do this. That is why I feel strongly that we need a transitionary period within the womb of capitalism, supporting individual reforms by a socialist educated population and this can only be achieved by supporting alternative school education from infancy, such as the “Forest Schools” in Germany.

    The history of “Impossibilism” by the SPGB of opposing all reforms before a majority of educated socialists initiate a revolution is for me is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Please remove the “IM” from “IMPOSSIBLE” and start building socialist consciousness by changing the education of children. The case for reforming education is immediate and wholly necessary in my opinion.

    Please feel free to provide constructive criticism and not just 1904 dogmatism.

    Thank you.



    I think you’ll know that the topic you have raised has been subject to much debate and discussion ever since the 19th Century.

    The SPGB has always supported workers defending themselves against the attacks of the employing class and the State hence our endorsement of the trade union movement and our support for them in industrial disputes. Trying to create a mass movement of people united against austerity attacks is one that must be supported. We have never advocate passive acquiescence to capitalism. When a member of the working class acquires revolutionary consciousness s/he is still compelled to take part in the non-revolutionary struggle. We fight in the here and now, where we are and where we can, as part of the working class and we don’t tell anyone to wait until the revolution arrives and nor do we say that class struggle is a diversion. As workers, socialists don’t sit around and wait for a revolution.

    I’m sure you are aware that we do not oppose “all reforms” but rather we condemn a political policy which is solely directed at achieving them – reformism which views them as permanent palliatives to the many social problems we endure or see them as stepping stones towards socialism. Rejecting reformism is not the same as rejecting reforms that genuinely improve conditions for workers to the extent that this is possible. But there are better equipped organisations and groups to engage in the task of individual reforms than a socialist party. The Socialist Party neither promotes nor opposes reforms to capitalism. However, we believe that a socialist party shouldn’t work for reforms to capitalism.

    The Socialist Party does not oppose reformism because it is against improvements in workers’ lives lest they dampen their revolutionary ardour; nor, because it thinks that decadent capitalism cannot deliver on  reforms. But it is our condition as propertyless wage-slaves that undermines whatever attempts we make to control and better our lives through reforms.

    Every organisation has to decide what it is working for, and whether that aim is important. We in the Socialist Party made a choice. The suggestion that there is no alternative to reformism and making a virtue of the necessity of them by pretending that reformism works is a danger for all see by turning socialism into a distant goal, not an immediate one and trying to convince them of socialism as a long-term aim is a mistake. A party without a clear commitment towards socialism will be mired in long-term reformism.

    To repeat, the Socialist Party does not deny that certain reforms won by the working class have helped to improve our general living and working conditions. Indeed, we see little wrong with people campaigning for reforms that bring essential improvements and enhance the quality of their lives, and some reforms do indeed make a difference to the lives of millions and can be viewed as ‘successful’. There are examples of this in such fields as education, housing, employment of children, work conditions and social security. The Socialist Party acknowledges that the welfare state, the NHS and so on, made living standards for sections of the working class better than they had been under rampant capitalism and its early ideology of laissez-faire.  Some reforms e.g. securing freedom of speech, extending the franchise, stopping a war, benefit the entire working class and socialist movement. However, we also recognise that such ‘successes’ have in reality done little more than to keep workers and their families fit to work and have rarely managed to remove the problem completely.

    Reformism is a most excellent strategy if you want only minor cosmetic changes to society, and are easily satisfied with what you get. Over decades, millions have invested their hopes in so-called “practical” and “possibilist” organisations and policies, hoping against hope that they would be able to neuter the market economy when, in reality, the market economy has successfully neutered them. They turned out to be the real “impossibilists”.

    Demanding the unattainable humane gentle capitalism is one of the greatest tragedies and it is made all the greater because it was all so predictable. Yet still many hold the idea that capitalism can be reformed into something kindly and user-friendly.


    Shouldn’t/couldn’t this interesting discussion be transferred to the General Discussion section?


    Erich Morris above is typical of the elitist approach to socialism – he knows all of the answers but somehow ‘the workers’ need some kind of transitional education programme before they can achieve his lofty level of consciousness. What is his background – probably one of the lowly workers to whom he now  condescends. As for that old ‘maximum and minimum’ programme nonsense – it’s been tried and has failed time and again. The consistent failure of reforms only leads to political cynicism.


    Thank you for your reply. As you preferred to offer insults instead of constructive comments it demonstrates that the SPGB that I knew in the 80s hasn’t developed politically or psychologically enough to bring about a non-market society. I am not an elitist or see reformism as a means to bring about a change in the system. The SPGB would have to choose what reforms would facilitate its objectives if it had “MPs” elected at some point. As someone who is de-repressed and understands the unconscious motives of the human mind I doubt that socialism is in your emotional state, where it cannot be removed. Socialism to work would require people with golden hearts: be kind, be giving and co-operative. My experience of the SPGB in the last century was one of some members threatening to “throw comrades through windows” and expelling members for voting realistically for lesser evils. The SPGB that I knew has barely changed judging from your insulting remarks. I was attempting to help the SPGB and other non-market socialists to change some of their political strategies to bring about socialism before this world and its inhabitants are destroyed. We have only 12 years at the most to reverse climate change. The need for urgent change in political and psychological consciousness could not be more pressing. If you were really concerned about your children’s future then you would embrace the need for a minimal and maximum programme to save this planet and our children’s future. It may not work but neither will the SPGBs “Big Bang” revolution. From another “lowly” worker looking down at everyone in the gutter, just like you.


    EM – Wez, I believe, is not a member of the SPGB, resigning to associate with an anarchist group, I think.

    Myself, I was a member in the 1970s who resigned but joined again in 2000. I wouldn’t have re-joined if I had not witnessed a change of attitude in the SPGB. It is a mellower and friendlier political party. We now prefer discussion forums of Q and A with some opponents rather than adversarial formal debates

    I offered you a lengthy rebuttal of your accusations against the SPGB but I still await your response to it.

    I think many members agree with your pessimistic prognosis that time may well be running out for the establishment of socialism, but it is also very much running out for any chance of reforms can make on climate change. What is required is no more tweaking of legislation and the introduction of some regulations but a “big bang”.


    One specific point you did make was:

    “Socialism to work would require people with golden hearts: be kind, be giving and co-operative.”

    I would say – no. I recall a Situationist pamphlet called the “Right to be Greedy” which made the case that self-interest could motivate people into seeking a different society. The Socialist Party doesn’t agree that socialism is necessarily a society of saints and angels.

    Socialism does not require us all to become altruists, putting the interests of others above our own. In fact socialism doesn’t require people to be any more altruistic than they are today. We will still be concerned primarily with ourselves, with satisfying our needs, our need to be well considered by others as well as our material and sexual needs.

    The coming of socialism will not require great changes in the way we behave, essentially only the accentuation of some of the behaviours which people exhibit today (friendliness, helpfulness, co-operation) at the expense of others which capitalism fosters and encourages.


    Oh, and it just occurred to me, EM, that if you are drafting a minimum programme, it will include a great number of minimum demands that were once achieved but have since been rescinded by both the Tories and Labour. One step forward, two steps back.


    Hi Alan,

    Thank you for your comment about the “anarchist” guy. I will answer your post as soon as possible. I suffer from chronic schizophrenia at times, so my mind wanders a bit and I did take that guy too seriously. Not perfect!

    I do actually agree with you that there have been some changes in the tone of the Socialist Party and I welcome them. The man who made that “throw you through the window” comment at an early 80s conference has I think left the SPGB. I believe he is a Professor now. Must be an elitist chap lol.

    I have always, from the age of 15 years, been a member or at least a bit cynical and pessimistic sympathiser of the party. Dabbled with the Veggie party but they are too idealistic for me. Libby types I mean.

    My criticisms of the SPGB are based on my fear of what is happening to this world and our kids future. I hope you are right and the “Big Bang” works. I may be wrong. Just trying to help bring about the destruction of this poisonous and wasteful profit system.

    Enough for now. Will respond to your considered arguments soon. Need time to chew the cud and think through what you have said. No worries.





    I’m surprised at being the ‘anarchist guy’ having joined the Socialist Party in 1980! Actually I thought Alan was talking about you EM.



    I have a problem. My reply to you is expansive and ten pages long. You made many reasoned arguments and I want to address as many issues as you raised, that are most worthy of a detailed response. Would you prefer that I email them to you or attempt to fit them in on this forum? What is the word limit on here?



    Alan wrote

    Trying to create a mass movement of people united against austerity attacks is one that must be supported. 


    I too was in the SPGB in the 70s and later returned in the 21st century (I am not a member) . I am not aware of any ‘movements against austerity attacks’ the SPGB supports.


    Alan wrote

     Rejecting reformism is not the same as rejecting reforms that genuinely improve conditions for workers to the extent that this is possible. 


    I am also not aware of  a list of ‘reforms that improve the condition of the working class’ that the SPGB supports. Apart from opposing anti trade union laws.


    My experience is that the SPGB’s ‘hostility clause’ has been used against giving  support to ANY such groups or actions.


    • This reply was modified 2 years, 7 months ago by vincentM.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 7 months ago by vincentM.

    I think this exchange of ideas does illustrate one possible problem – our definition of reformism.   It certainly needs tightening up and made more explicit,  in my view, to avoid misunderstandings.


    The essential point is that its field is the political one – that is to say, it involves the enactment of legislation by the state aimed addressing or ameliorating problems that arise from the workings of capitalism as a socio economic system. So “consciousness raising” (which is the point I think you are alluding to, Francis)  is not strictly reformism.  Nor is trade union activism which  has, as its field of operation, the economic realm  (this distinction between the economic and political fields is one that Marx made, incidentally,  in his correspondence with Bolte).  Some on the Left have a quite distorted view of the SPGB in thinking that it opposes trade unionism or industrial struggle which is absurd; its just that the Party does not get directly involved in trade union matters for the sake of opportunistically recruiting more members.   This would be politically divisive and ironically weaken the unions by fostering political discord even if we agree in principle with the idea of workers organising on sound lines within trade unions.   However that does not mean individual SPGBers cannot themselves be active trade unionists.  Many are and have been and rightly so.


    Also I think it is important to grasp that it is not reforms that the SPGB is opposed to but reformism – the general policy of advocating reforms. The history of the Second International very clearly demonstrates that once you go down that road you end up abandoning revolution in favour of reform. You cannot  both try to end capitalism and mend capitalism.  It has to be one or the other







    Could you also email your longer reply? I’m not one for engaging in online debates – I’m a throwback to socialists arguing half-drunk in pubs – but I’ve always been interested in the minimum/maximum debate.

    In fact, if I remember correctly, when I resigned from the SPGB in the mid-nineties – I rejoined after a couple of years – I cited the minimum/maximum issue in my resignation letter.

    My email address is

    Thanks in advance,



    Vince, it does not take the SPGB rubber stamp of approval for its members to support workers and engage with them in taking action to defend their working and social conditions.

    I could go through the Socialist Standard and p and c numerous sympathetic references to social (albeit not socialist) resistance. Perhaps the trouble is for some readers they are always accompanied by qualification that protest and opposition to government policy is not enough and the message is that to end this ceaseless running on the spot, a socialist revolution is required – the “Big Bang” as EM puts it.

    Many left wing parties will affiliate with existing reform groups to direct them and recruit or they go on to create their own “front” campaigns a la SWP and the Anti Nazi League. This is not what the SPGB does – quite rightly so.

    As I said in my reply to EM there are many organization better positioned than the SPGB are to accomplish the reforms they seek and will actually benefit from not having us cheer-leading it on. As a socialist party I doubt we would get a hearing for opposing the sell-off of playing fields for instance even if we placed that specific immediate demand on a election manifesto. A PTA for instance would be better placed to exert its pressure.

    Also remember that when many of those reforms actually fail to have any meaningful effect or result in an unintended consequence, as many do, we are not associated with its failure. Socialism is not blamed, although sadly when many reforms are described as “socialistic” this is what happens.

    In the past the hostility clause may well have been applied to reform organisations but it was originally intended to be only used against political parties to stop alliances and coalitions with non-socialist parties and politicians but I think such a broad exercise of it no longer receives the sympathy of members and I don’t think a member would be criticized for endorsing or even participating in a campaign by a NGO, for example. But it is horses for courses. I would be critical of a member active in the anti-abortion movement. Maybe others would be more tolerant, but I doubt it. It is an example when the private and personal actions could well impact on the SPGB’s reputation, imho.

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