Friday, November 9, 2012

Demanding the Impossible

Editorial from the March 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the Socialist Party was formed in 1904 our opponents called us "impossibilists", revolutionaries who took little notice of the practicalities of life, simply content to "demand the impossible" - the working-class conquest of political power for the immediate establishment of socialism, instead of reforms of the present system.

Over 90 years later, socialism still hasn't been achieved and is still considered a dream, mainly because the so-called "possibilists" - with their immediate demands and promises of reform - have diverted the attention of the working class away from fundamental social change. The modern day "possibilists" of Tony Blair's New Labour and Scargill's SLP still plough the reformist furrow, offering variations on an interventionist theme, but disillusion with their so-called "practical politics" is rife.

And why shouldn't it be? The twentieth century has been the century of reform par excellence, yet the problems of the capitalist system remain, with new ones emerging by the day. War, unemployment, stress, insecurity of life, environmental abuse, crime and many other evils haunt the working class and are impervious to the efforts of the reformers. In countries like Britain the rich get richer while the poorest get poorer still, and on a world scale the gap between the rich and poor is probably greater than at any other time in history. Most people on this planet are living in varying degrees of misery and yet the fundamental cause of the problems and misery - the market economy - remains unchallenged.

A principal contention of the Socialist Party at our foundation was that the market economy, having brought about a situation of potential abundance, could never be made to harness its productive potential in the interests of the wage- and salary-earning working class. As the century draws towards its close, we stand by that contention.

In truth, we were not really "impossibilists" in demanding socialism and nothing but for the working class at all - history has demonstrated that the real impossibilists were those who thought it worthwhile attempting to patch up capitalism. In demanding a humanised capitalism they have been demanding the impossible for decades. It is about time they took stock of the situation and admitted they have been wrong. They can then join with real socialists everywhere in building a society capable of solving social problems rather than only creating them.

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