Among the most crude distortions of the teachings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin is the ideology of “impossiblism.” Most of the practitioners of this vulgar revisionism do not know what they are practicing, or even that it has a name. However, impossiblist thought is prevalent among modern day leftists, including those who proclaim themselves to be Marxist-Leninists, in addition to Anarchists, Syndicalists, and other trends of modern anti-capitalist radicalism.
The word “impossiblism” was coined by Daniel DeLeon, the socialist academic who founded the Socialist Labor Party of America, the first “Marxist” organization in the United States. “Impossiblism” is the belief that all reforms to capitalism, and all victories for the working class short of the seizing of the means of production, are counter-productive. The impossibilist believes that voting, forming unions, passing progressive legislation, defending victims of state repression, and all other activities that put the class struggle in motion, and lay bare the contractions of capitalism are merely frivolous and worthless reformism.
The impossibilist believes that such things “reinforce” in workers the mind the morality, or ability to "become human" of the capitalism. The impossibilist counter-poses class struggle with agitation. In affect, the impossibilist transforms the role of a Marxist-Leninist from that of a “tribune of the people” and champion of the oppressed, to that of a religious fanatic or a street corner preacher.
The impossibilist trades in the organization of unions, the formation of militant working class organizations, and the combating of the ruling classes, for simply standing on the side-lines proclaiming the benefits and necessity of socialism.
Utopian Preaching, Not Scientific Class Struggle
By doing so, they not only reject activism, but they reject the key point of Marx and Lenin’s teachings that being the existence and necessity of class struggle. The impossibilist forgets that society is divided into classes that are constantly in political war for control of wealth. The impossibilist sees Socialism as a utopian ideal to be reached upon the fulfillment of a great amount of agitation, a great amount of religious like conversions, in essence the “saving of souls” from all strata society by the evangelism of a church of revolution.
The impossibilist loses credibility to workers, who see them as mentally ill, phrase-mongering, and out of touch with the conditions of reality. Amid the horrors of economic crisis, the worker is in a constant struggle against unemployment, eviction, foreclosure, criminal prosecution, and all the horrors of the present day. A worker who is approached by an impossibilist, sees in them no program to combat these woes or overcome their day to day hardships.
Rather, the impossiblist presents them only with a utopian vision of an imaginary society nowhere to be seen. The impossibilist offers as much consolation and hope to an oppressed worker as a science fiction or fantasy novel, available for purchase at any drug store, book dealer, or library.
When a worker tells an impossiblist of the horrors of their daily life, the impossibilist can only tell them the necessity of a revolution and a new society to follow as a solution Knowing full well that no such revolution is on the near horizon, the worker does not see the impossiblist as of any assistance to them.
Material Basis of Impossiblism
Among the working class and the movement of its emancipation, there are very few impossibilists. Impossibilism is an ideology at home only among intellectuals, artists, and other strata of society with the comfort and free time, as well as the intellectual training to see the necessity of socialism and debate the merits of it.
The impossiblist is often not only out connection with the working class, but sometimes even loathing of it. When the workers reject the teachings of the impossibilist, the impossibilist views this as an inherent fault of the workers and is further reinforced in his/her hatred of the workers and lack of faith in them as an agent of social change.
Lenin’s work "What Is To Be Done? specifically lays out the role of Marxist-Leninists in society. Marxist-Leninists seek to do two things:
1. Organize among the working class, while conducting agitation about the necessity of revolutionary change.
2. Break the working class from the leadership of one wing or other of the capitalist class, and allow it organize in its own, independent interests, strengthening itself to eventually seize control of all of society and destroy class differences.
The impossibilist will falsely accuse genuine Marxist-Leninists of being “economists” and “revisionists.” They will make these accusations on the basis that genuine Marxist-Leninists organize for demands other than Proletarian Revolution. It is then falsely inferred that the goal of Socialist Revolution has been dropped or dis-valued.
Lenin’s Definition of Economism
Such is a distortion of Marxism-Leninism’s concept of “Economism.” Economism is when the abolition of capitalism is rejected, and agitation and theory become absent from the practice of revolutionaries. Economism is often coupled with class collaboration. An economist often finds his/her movement subordinating itself to one wing of the bourgeoisie or other, thinking that it can offer a “better deal” to the working class.
Economism and Impossiblism are but two sides of the same false, revisionist coin. The economist believes that the working class can find liberation only through appeasing liberal capitalists. The Impossiblists believes the working class can find liberation only through be “witnessed” to by themselves, and upon being so enlightened, smashing capitalism under the direction of the wise men who “showed them the way” from their misery. The economist believes that the bourgeoisie must be collaborated with, and morally convinced to accept socialism, as the working class is not strong enough to enact it independently.
Both Economism and Impossiblism reject the idea that the working class are agents of social change and revolution. Economists and Impossiblists both think like the bourgeoisie, because they believe in the theory of “great men” as the makers of history.
The Working Class as the Makers of History
Just as history according to the bourgeoisie tells of slavery being ended by the wisdom of Lincoln, or of segregation ending because of the “I Have A Dream” speech of Martin Luther King, and fails to mention the role of the millions who took up these visions, fighting, bleeding and dying for them, the impossiblists sees the class struggle as similar. They see themselves as the Lincolns or Kings who can strike down material conditions with their words and thoughts, no proletarian action or involvement needed, other than merely standing before their podiums in applause, or marching unthinkingly behind their banners, convinced of their greatness and following their orders.
The economist sees the bourgeoisie as being necessary allies to the working class in its struggle for liberation, underestimating not only the material interest of capitalists in the present order, but the ability of the workers to define their own future and program as was done in 1871, 1917, 1959, 1949, and currently in Latin America when revolutionary struggles gave the Proletariat Political Independence.
Marxist-Leninists, unlike the revisionist twins of Economism and Impossibilsm, realize that the masses are the makers of history. As such Marxist-Leninists seek to direct the masses into confrontation with the bourgeoisie, inspire them to take their independent political line, and build them up as a force to seize the means of production and overturn the brutal economic status quo amidst its self-destruction.
Impossiblism is a false, distortion of Marxism-Leninism. Impossiblism offers no road to Socialism, Communism, or Progress Toward the Empancipation of Humanity.
Long Live The Class Struggle! Long Live Working Class As the Makers of History! Down With Impossibilist Revisionism!