Understanding the WSM 3/3

Impossiblism or Possiblism – Which Shall It Be?

Two International Congresses took place in Paris in 1889. This was originally due to an internal struggle within the French movement between the “Possibilists”, the “Marxists,” or the Impossiblists, represent Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue. William Morris in his address to the Marxist Congress explained:

 “We are striving for is a transformation of the foundations of society, that is, the emancipation of labour through a corresponding reorganisation of all relations, while at the other Congress one will be content to determine the fate of the modern slaves within limits that are compatible with the present order of things. The Possibilists only cultivate electoral opportunism and no socialism. If we went over to the other congress, we would only put the socialist stamp on a bourgeois assembly. Our congress is open to all people of goodwill, but a merger is a complete impossibility. The two congresses are too different to be able to merge. Here one strives for the abolition of the wage system, there, for nothing but feeble reforms. We are revolutionary socialists…”

The Congress passed the resolution “That in all countries where proletarians have the right to vote, they are to join the ranks of the socialist party and, excluding any compromise with any other political party, by means of their ballot papers, under the rule of the relevant state constitution, pursue the conquest of political power…”

The World Socialist Movement’s political platform specifies no immediate demands, but calls on workers to unite to achieve three goals:

1. The transformation, as rapidly as possible, of capitalist property in the means of wealth production (natural resources, factories, mines and transportation, etc) into the collective property of the working class.
2. The democratic organisation and management of industry by the workers.
3. The establishment, as speedily as possible, of production for use instead of production for profit.

The WSM is regarded as part of the “Impossiblist” tradition. It is a tradition that was about “making socialists” who are educated, organised, and prepared to implement fully a socialist society.  You can not create socialism without socialists. The WSM is dedicated to making socialists. Although small yet carefully organised its members are well-informed and are required to pass an examination in socialist principles before being admitted to membership.

The task of the World Socialist Movement is to spread class knowledge. It rejects the reformism of broadly-based movements of less-committed revolutionaries. It holds to a belief in the rationality of the workers, and to educate more and more workers until a self-organised, working-class majority is ready to take over the reins of power.

The WSM prided itself on its openness, where even the business meetings are open. The World  Socialist Movement provides an ideological and organisational rallying point, but the dispersed companion parties also exercise considerable autonomy in their activities.

The insistence by the WSM that workers understand precisely what they were talking about is fuelled by a desire that the workers themselves know exactly what is required of them. How the socialist society will actually be created, and what characteristics it would take is up to the workers themselves.

The main purpose of a revolutionary organisation is not to dictate tactics to fellow workers, it is all about indicating the ways in which they are deceived by the capitalists. Workers must achieve their own emancipation. They need not look for some vanguard party or leader to do it for them. If the workers are ever to be free, they must free themselves. Revolution, when it comes, will be a social, intellectual and cultural, not just a political, revolution. The socialist revolution would be accomplished by a working-class majority organised as a party. The revolution will happen, not only because of the open conflict between workers and capitalists but also in the minds of the workers. It is the extent of working-class knowledge possessed by its membership that determines whether or not it is a revolutionary body.

The “Impossiblist” principles of the WSM guarantees the party’s dedication to the socialist goal, but it does not prevent its members from participating in non-revolutionary working-class struggles as well. As it is usually understood, syndicalism implies the creation of worker-controlled economic structures within industry, opposition to the use of political parties and the political system as a means to further the workers’ cause, and, finally, the withdrawal of labourers’ services in a great general strike which would topple the capitalist system.

The World Socialist Movement rejects the idea that a socialist society can be created by workers’ councils or soviets. The WSM does not regard the general strike as the ultimate weapon in the class struggle. It has never promoted sabotage as did the Industrial Workers of the World. It seeks, instead, to build an inclusive united working-class movement as the next stage in the class struggle. World Socialist Movement members understand that a shorter work week and the creation of a new union organisation would not topple the capitalist system. But, as a first step, it would provide an example and a base of operations. The object is to continue the education of the worker, to secure badly-needed immediate improvements in working conditions, and, thus, through organisation, to further the solidarity of the working class and to prevent premature violence. The workers’ revolt may begin on a regional basis, the socialist revolution must be national, continental, and, ultimately, worldwide.

The World Socialist Movement stands for common ownership and cooperation. The WSM as a party of exploited workers, of both sexes and of all colours, regardless of nationality demand that the industries shall be taken over by the workers who shall operate them for the benefit of the whole people. We demand the means of production and distribution in the name of the workers and under the control of society in the name of the people. We demand the abolition of capitalism and wage-slavery and the unconditional surrender of the capitalist class.

 In the name of the people, the World Socialist Movement condemns the capitalist system. In the name of freedom, we condemn wage slavery. In the name of modern technology and potential abundance, we condemn poverty and deprivation. In the name of peace, we condemn war. We condemn hunger and the needless deaths of children. We condemn ignorance and superstition. In the name of humanity, we demand freedom for every man, woman and child. The workers who have created the world and who support the world should take possession of the world. We demand complete control of industry by the workers; we demand all the wealth they produce for their own enjoyment, and we demand the Earth for all the people. The battles of the workers in the war between classes and those battles of the workers, wherever and however fought, are always and everywhere the battles of the World Socialist Movement. The WSM makes no promises. It doesn’t canvass for votes with false election pledges. We simply deliver this ultimatum to the global capitalist class.

The ballot expresses the will of the people and it means that the working class has a voice, that must be heeded. The workers have never made use of their political power. Workers who vote for a pro-capitalist party do worse than throwing their votes away. They are deserters of their class and their own worst enemy. Though they may be in blissful ignorance of the fact, they are false to themselves and their fellow workers, and sooner or later they reap what they have sown.

Every worker should rally to the banner of his or her class. The overthrow of capitalism is the object of the World Socialist Movement and there can be no compromise. The WSM stands squarely upon its principles in making its appeal to the working class. We do not beg for votes nor bargain for votes. We want votes, but only from those who want socialism – those who recognise it as in their interest and come to it of their own free will. The World Socialist Movement does not seek the trappings of office and the privileges of government. We want all the votes we can get only as a means of developing the political power of the working class. The WSM is organised and administered from the bottom up. Each member has not only an equal voice but is urged to take an active part in all the decision making. There is no leader.

The social reformer for immediate demands and the one-step-at-a-time advocates challenges the WSM’s Impossiblism. The World Socialist Movement will never mistake reform for revolution. We will wrest and extract what we can when we can from the capitalists, but with our eyes always fixed upon the goal and never losing sight of it. Enough is enough. There must be a change. The message of socialism proposes a change of system. Now is the time for the workers to assert their political power, and to demonstrate their unity and solidarity. The education and organisation of the workers is the aim and the purpose of ourselves. Our movement relies wholly upon the power of knowledge and mutual understanding.

If the working class reaches an understanding of socialism and consciousness of itself, no power can prevail against it. The alternative systems advocated by many who describe themselves as anti-capitalists all have the characteristics of capitalism and will, in consequence, be but a form of capitalism. To build a sound socialist movement, it is useless to rely on the support of people who do not understand socialism.  If you wish to abolish profit-making — and capital is wealth used to make a profit by the exploitation of wage-labour — it can be done only by the abolition of capital and wage-labour. What we are saying is that socialism will strip the means of production of their capitalist function (i.e. the making of profit) and will put an end to the necessity of workers selling their labour-power for a wage. In other words, socialism will abolish the capitalist class and the working class when it abolishes capitalist production. Socialist production will be carried on by all capable members of society solely to satisfy the needs of society.