Understanding the WSM 1/3

Our Impossiblism

“Impossiblism” is basically the view that a socialist party should only seek support on the basis of socialism and the abolition of the wages system and not possess any programme of immediate or transitional demands. It is the view that socialism can only arise when a majority of workers want and understand it. Our task as a socialist party is educational to persuade workers to become socialists and when there is a socialist majority to win control of political power rather than propose reforms within capitalism.

 Accepting the label “Impossiblists” does not infer that we oppose the laws of physics and are demanding the impossible, but refers to a split that emerged within the early socialist movement between the “Possiblists” who believed that socialists should work towards attaining reforms as stepping stones to the ultimate goal of socialism, and the “Impossiblists” who demanded socialism as a first premise. It is a division that has been seen in other movements where one group gets into office only to find that they have been elected to manage capitalism, not to implement the socialist objective. “Impossiblists,” say if you want socialism, you have to stand for socialism and nothing but and not claim to be able to run capitalism better than the capitalist parties. No reforms trying to change capitalism without abolishing it – only the clear and constant call for the abolition of the wages system itself. It is reasonable, only to demand the “impossible”.

Nevertheless, the refusal to advocate reforms does not mean that the “Impossiblists” thought a socialist party should oppose palliative policies. On the contrary, any socialist elected to a parliament or a municipal council would vote for any measure considered to be in the interest of the working class. A socialist delegate, when elected, shall always and everywhere make his or her guiding rule: will this legislation advance the interest of the working doss and aid the workers in their class struggle against capitalism? If it will, the socialist is for it; if it will not, the socialist is absolutely opposed to it. In accordance with this principle, the World Socialist Movement pledges itself to conduct all the public affairs placed in its hands in such a manner as to promote the interests of the working class alone. Our critics equate not advocating reform measures with being against them. 

What reformist critics, fail to understand is the logic of the “Impossiblist” position adopted by the WSM. This involved not advocating any reforms to be achieved within capitalism on the grounds that socialism was the only solution and that absolute priority should be given to trying to achieve it.  

The World Socialist Movement does not set itself up as discouraging fellow workers from improving their conditions under capitalism. We simply understand the limits of these attempts due to the constraints imposed by the economic laws of capitalism. Our fellow workers have yet to learn them. But it is one thing to say that the WSM  does not oppose working people fighting for reforms, and quite another to state that we in the WSM should place ourselves in a position of trying to make capitalism work in the interests of the workers when all along we are fully aware that it cannot.

 Suppose the WSM were to embark on a campaign to obtain more housing, better hospitals and so forth. Perhaps it would bring more people to join our organisation. However, on what basis would they join? The same basis on which we appealed to them.

 We would end up having a movement made up of workers who were seeking continual improvement under capitalist methods of production and distribution.

 What happens when such an organisation is voted into political office? It would be obliged to carry out reforms of capitalism. We could cite example after example where a party calling itself “socialist” but advocating immediate demands now and “socialism in the future” that once in political power, instead of abolishing exploitation, merely altered the shape of it. The World Socialist Movement does not advocate political legislation to reform capitalism. To do so would put the socialists in a position of deceiving workers to believe that the capitalist state can function in their interests when it is the State by which the capitalist class maintains its domination over the working class.

 The World Socialist Movement is not concerned with reforms under capitalism. This is the concern of the ruling class which uses reforms to bribe off the working class. Even if the World Socialist Movement was to entirely disappear, the capitalists, by the very class nature of the system, would still have to grant reforms to forestall the development of revolutionary thought among the workers.

On the other hand, a rapidly rising socialist movement would force the capitalist class to grant more and more reforms. We would prefer a working-class armed with concise political knowledge negotiating under terms of a clear understanding of the class struggle. But failing that, we fully acknowledge the class war exists and is being fought, whether people know or want it.

The strength of the World Socialist Movement’s case is that it clearly and unambiguously does not want to get into and control various types of social struggles – housing association struggles are for housing associations, union struggles are for unions.  “Impossiblism” is not standing on the sidelines, it’s getting involved and getting dirty, practically. The organisation for the capture and conversion of political machinery into an agent of emancipation is important involvement. Demanding the “Impossible” means raising the standard of hope, and affirming your own principles, not slavishly looking for yet another doomed battle to join. We can’t build a workers’ movement unless working people stand up and act differently. The choice is between the “Possiblism” of compromise and concession or the “Impossiblism” of rising up and being counted. The World Socialist Movement is not advocating for a few slight changes to capitalism, a few palliatives as the mainstream and left-wing parties do, but demanding an end to the present socio-economic system and everything associated with it.

This, very sadly, at the moment, is just too radical for many people.

Our membership remains small, scattered and, let’s be brutally honest, relatively insignificant and inactive compared to all those marching and demonstrating. We are yet to win a seat in any local much less a national election. And so it is not unusual for our members and sympathisers to sometimes despair. 

Of course, we have faced many obstacles to our growth, such as the 1917 Bolshevik coup and the myriad groupings that sprung from the inspiration of the “Russian Revolution” and which, in truth, have caused untold damage to the true socialist cause. For many years now, we in the WSM have expended a great deal of time and energy to rescue the socialist name from the many Leninist and Trotskyist groups who have sullied the image of socialism by associating it with the former Soviet Union. We have had to distance ourselves from the illusion held by many that socialists advocate violent revolution or that socialism can exist in one country. We have constantly had to compete for the minds of the workers with a myriad of left-wing groups all of whom pedal the politics of confusion, offering the workers fictitious fast-track routes to the Land of Milk and Honey, prepared to recruit anyone willing to fill up a membership form, regardless of socialist knowledge. We have frustratingly watched in dismay the workers’ support for the labour parties and the workers’ belief in their empty promises despite their repeated betrayals of those same workers at every opportunity.

Also contributing a negative impact are the thousands of single-issue groups on the political scene who although well-meaning,  focus workers’ minds on isolated problems, presenting them as if they as the most pressing matter of the day. If their combined energy had have been spent on attacking capitalism as a system, instead of campaigning against problems the system throws up, distracting millions of workers, then our task would be far easier.

So in all honesty, much of our work has been taken up in attempts to rectify the damage done by other political organisations to socialist ideas and in challenging the single-issue mentality of thousands of organisations.

So let’s be fair, the lack of socialist consciousness and desire for real change is not all down to our failure. It’s up to our fellow workers, not us, to establish socialism. But such has been the dead-ends and blind alleys, the distractions, they have had their work cut out to accomplish the required socialist consciousness.

The “Impossiblists” of the World Socialist Movement is not an unsuccessful organisation full of utopian dogmatists. As socialists we are not content to sit back on the sidelines of history – we are original thinkers and are open to innovation and new ideas – providing, that is, that they are sound. We are willing and able to cooperate with men and women the world over to bring about a better society, and we are proud of the small contribution we have already made to the movement that will one day sweep away capitalism once and for all. We remain small in size for numerous reasons outside of our control, not least because we refuse to compromise our position and pursue reforms and single issues to the detriment of revolutionary struggle.

Our message to those who can see no future in the market economy is to join us.