Who are the Impossibilists?
It is obvious that the revolutionary attitude of the S.P.G.B. is making headway within the ranks of the S.D.P. It is recognised by many members of the latter organisation that the advocacy of reforms is not the work of a Socialist.
(in his capacity as propagandist) is to explain briefly and lucidly the position the working class occupy to-day. He must bring the worker to understand that he is a wage slave, compelled by dire necessity to sell his labour-power in return for wages. He must teach the worker to recognise that he belongs to a class who are— and will be—kept in economic bondage until the arrival and institution of the Socialist Republic. This method of propaganda—certainly the correct one—adopted by the S.P.G.B. is growing with such rapidity that the wire-pullers of the S.D.P. can no longer pursue a policy of ignoring methods.
Some time has elapsed since Harry Quelch announced his intention of dealing with “impossibilism,” and of proving the necessity of the advocacy of certain reforms beneficial to the working-class. Behold, now, the long promised article (Justice, June 13/08). The article was a reply to the following letter submitted to “Tattler” :—
“I have also had the following letter handed to me by the Editor :—
“Dear Comrade,—Will you clear up for me the following point—viz., the position of our organisation towards impossibilism ? The controversy between the impossibilists and the S.D.P. I am unable to clear up to my own satisfaction. Socialism teaches that there is an iron law of wages which drags down wages to the level of subsistence. If this is a fact, how can any reform alter the operation of this law ? In other words, is not a poverty-stricken working class a necessity under capitalism ? In reference to unemployment, if unemployment is a necessity of the ruling class, what is the use of appealing to that class for the right to work ? I have heard our comrade Hyndman say that the provision of work for the unemployed would mean the collapse of capitalism. But capitalism being the cause of unemployment, to abolish unemployment is it not necessary to first abolish capitalism ? Dear comrade, if you will solve this problem for me you will earn my gratitude.”
Our organisation is opposed to “impossibilism” because it is impossibilism, and we are Social-Democrats, not impossibilists. The impossibilist position may be summed up as follows: The emancipation of the working-class can only be achieved by the working-class themselves. In order for the working class to achieve its emancipation it is necessary that the workers should be educated, organised and class-conscious. But no reforms of any advantage to the workers are possible under capitalism ; therefore the workers cannot become educated, etc., until they have emancipated themselves; yet they cannot emancipate themselves until they are educated.”
“Tattler’s” summing up of the impossibilist position contains some truth, and we recognise its truth because the italicised passages may be used against the reform-mongering parties like the S.D.P. and the I.L.P., i.e., “We do not preach pure Socialism to the workers because they do not understand it, and they do not understand it because we preach reforms instead,” say these parties.
The argument from our point of view turns upon
If “Tattler” takes education in its narrowest sense, then the educated class and snobocracy of the universities should be revolutionary to the core. That such is not the case, however, even “Tattler” knows. Does education necessarily mean a knowledge of the higher mathematics, Greek, and chemistry ? No ! Education from the Socialist point of view is a recognition of that class antagonism prevalent in society to-day, and a consciousness that the workers as a class must combine in opposition to the capitalist class and its supporters for the purpose of taking, holding, and controlling the political machine, and subsequently the means of life, in their own interest.
The full recognition of this basic principle of Socialist propaganda and of the uncompromising action necessary to the attainment of the above object is absolutely essential from our point of view, and the moment the individual unit of society recognises this and acts accordingly, he is, from the Socialist view-point, educated.
Unless the workers are educated in this sense all efforts at emancipation will be as futile as those already attempted. And that is why “they cannot emancipate themselves until they are educated.”
The administration of education at present lies in the hands of the capitalist class, who will take care that only those subjects tending to keep the workers in subjection, and to make them
shall be taught. The education in Socialist principles takes place after the worker has had his mind chloriformed by the paid agents of the capitalist class.
But before leaving this we may point out that the S.D.P., whilst believing in the class war, has many prominent members of its organisation who state that, in the struggle for working-class emancipation the workers will be led and guided by members of the middle class. They are, apparently, ignorant of the fact that Socialism will not arrive until the class war has reached its most acute stage. It will then be a struggle between two classes—the working class and the capitalist class. It is difficult to discern where another class comes in.
“Tattler” admits that “as long as capitalism lasts there will be unemployed,” which admission proves the futility and fatuity of approaching the capitalist class for measures of alleviation. Such being the case, it should be the duty of the S.D.P.—instead of advocating the “Right to Work”—to teach the worker that demands a large margin of unemployed in order to keep down wages and the standard of living, and to give an increase in profis. Instead, the S.D.P. have for 25 years marched battalions of unemployed from one end of the country to the other, gulling, defrauding, and deceiving the industrial outcasts by telling them this, that and the other Bill will help them. The S.D.P. know perfectly well that the capitalist class will not, in fact, dare not, tamper with the unemployed problem. That is the rock upon which capitalism rests. Take it away and your whole system is abolished. Do the S.D.P. think the capitalist class are going to interfere, knowingly, with their own interests ?
If remedial measures were of any good, how is it that to-day there are
than ever. Frederick Engels wrote in 1886 the following : “Meanwhile each succeeding winter brings up afresh the great question ‘what to do with the unemployed ‘; but while the number of the unemployed keep swelling from year to year, there is no answer to that question.” Since that date the number of unemployed has increased. Industrial development and the perfection of machinery grows apace ; with that goes the displacement of human labour arid consequently an increase of the unemployed. Karl Marx states in “Das Capital,” “Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital . . . grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation ; but with this grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself.”
Along with the exploitation of the working class grows the increasing intelligence of the workers, who are being organised in order that when the inevitable collapse of the present system takes place, they, the workers, will be competent to deal with the new method and state of society. We, as Socialists, must point out that Socialism is the only hope. That is our aim. That is our sole object. The S.D.P. do not do so, but waste their time deluding the working class into believing that some reforms are good. The “impossibilist” method will not prevent reforms being given by the capitalist class, nor can we avoid accepting reform measures passed by the governing class when it suits their interest to do so. What does matter is the wasting of energies and activities upon the advocacy of reforms, the splitting up of the forces of the workers into opposing factions, each desirous of seeing its own particular pet and paltry palliative pushed persistently and prominently before all others. In these circumstances the workers are necessarily lacking in the one common principle to which all could give allegiance.
The S.D.P. have 40 palliatives down for immediate enactment.
existing in that organisation. Harry Quelch’s principle desire is to see a “Citizen Army” in existence. Hyndman says that Payment of Members’ Election Expenses is the most important. Mrs. Bridges Adams and “Comrade” Warwick insist on the agitation for the Feeding of School Children being the first object of S.D.P. propagandists. Some advocate Old Age Pensions at an age when the majority of the workers are dead; others say that an important reform is the Municipalisation of the Pawnshops, while Mr. J. F. Green says the Eight Hour Day is a measure that he “would like to see in the forefront.” We anticipate being told that these are but individual members, but each of them has his own particular coterie of supporters, and further, each, of the reforms advocated by them and their following is on the list of “immediate reforms” wanted by the S.D.P. It must be borne in mind that while these reforms are being advocated Socialism is being neglected and put in the background. If this is not so then reform and Socialism are synonymous terms, according to the S.D.P.
But then “Tattler” again disagrees and says “There are two directions in which reforms at the present moment could materially benefit the worker,” viz., by a reduction of the hours of labour and, the better housing of the poor. With reference to the first of these it must be remembered that the shorter working day generally means a greater intensity of labour during the time the worker is employed, the
being met by the greater period for recuperation.
Many instances have been cited in THE SOCIALIST STANDARD where a reduction in the hours of labour has led to an increase of unemployed in the particular trade affected. Such increase of production with fewer working hours causes the market to become overstocked owing to the non-effective demand for the commodities produced to excess. During these periods of glutted markets the workers who were employed producing the goods are either placed on short time or cease work until those stocks are depleted.
“Tattler” tells us that it is because the hours of labour devoted to the production of surplus-value are decreased that capitalists always fight against any reduction of the working day. There may be some exceptions to the rule, but very few capitalists revert to a ten hour day after trying one of eight hours. Messrs. Lever Bros., Mather & Platts, Allaij & Co., Brunner Mond, and other firms have not built up their great businesses on a system detrimental to their own interests.
Says “Tattler” (same article) :—
“Granted that a certain proportion of the day’s labour is necessary labour, it is quite clear that the amount of exploitation and of surplus value is in direct proportion to the prolongation of the working day. Thus, given a day of ten hours, four of which represent necessary labour, there are six hours devoted to the production of surplus value. The worker works, then, four hours for himself and six for the capitalist. If the hours are reduced to eight, everything else remaining equal, the worker then only works four hours for the capitalist instead of six. That is certainly a material advantage, and it is quite easy to understand, therefore, the vehemence with which the capitalists always fight against any reduction of the working-day.”
“Everything else remaining equal” Mr. Quelch (or “Tattler,” or the Editor of Justice— they are all the same chap) may have a case. It is precisely because everything else doesn’t remain equal that he has none. It must be recognised that if the workers obtain any
it can only be taken from the capitalist class, who lose thereby. All statistics in connection with the production of wealth prove conclusively that, in spite of the reduction of the hours of labour, the workers (who produce all the wealth) are becoming poorer and poorer, whilst the idle and luxurious capitalist class get richer. Marx has pointed out that, in connection with the reduction of the hours from 12 to 10 per day, “The denser hour of the 10 hours working-day contains more labour—i.e., expended labour power, than the more porous hour of the 12 hour working day. The product, therefore, of one of the former hours has as much or more value than the product of one and one-fifth of the latter hours. Apart from the increased yield of relative surplus-value through the heightened productiveness of labour, the same mass of value is now produced for the capitalist say by three and one-third hours of surplus labour and six and two thirds of necessary labour, as was previously produced by four hours of surplus labour and eight hours of necessary labour.”
The worthy “Tattler” has manufactured a premis not of fact in order to justify a specious argument. Knock away the premis and the bottom is out of the case. By the “Tattler” method anything can be proven. From the Socialist point of view his position on Housing is also wrong. Houses to-day are erected, not for living in, but for the purpose of making profit. If the habitations in the “garden cities” produce more profit than those in the slums, it is reasonable to assume the gradual disappearance and demolition of Slumdom. The wages in Bournville, Port Sunlight, Ancoats and Whitechapel are in each case determined by the cost of subsistence. The “garden cities” mentioned naturally produce better and more efficient wage slaves than those in the slums.
No matter how we turn, no matter what reform is instituted, there the capitalist class, controlling political power and holding the wires of the administrative machinery, aie able to use the same to their own advantage.
“Tattler” then concludes :
“At the same time it must be borne in mind that the tendency is always, not only to keep wages down to the subsistence level, but also to lower the level by reducing the standard of comfort.”
These remarks prove
of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Because the tendency is always on the downward grade, notwithstanding the remedial measures advocated by the S.D.P. and other reform organisations, reform is absolutely useless, as it cannot, on “Tattler’s” own admission, prevent the downward grade. It is evident, then, that the education of the working class must proceed on lines identical with the policy of the S.P.G.B. Whatever the party, the workers can only achieve their emancipation on such lines. Socialism itself implies a scientific organisation of industry, and this can only be realised by class-conscious Socialists.
—CONCILIO ET LABORE