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Impossibilism is an interpretation of Marxism. It emphasizes the limited value of reforms in overturning capitalism and insists on revolutionary political action as the only reliable method of bringing about socialism.
Origins of the concept
The concept of impossibilism — though not the specific term — was introduced and heavily influenced by the American Marxist theoretician Daniel De Leon, on the basis of theory that De Leon generated before his interest in syndicalism began (see De Leonism). It came to be focused especially on the question of whether socialists should take part in government under capitalism.
At the Paris Congress of the Second International, in 1900, those who favored entry into government, with all the implied compromises, called themselves Possibilists, while those who opposed them characterized them as "Opportunists." Conversely, the revolutionary socialists who opposed ameliorative reforms and participation in capitalist governments were called "Impossibilists" by their detractors because they sought the impossible.
Impossibilist political organizations
Impossibilism was particularly popular in British Columbia in the early 20th century, through the influence of E.T. Kingsley. Several members of Kingsley's Socialist Party of Canada were elected to the British Columbia legislature between 1901 and 1910. It is also the basis of the theory and practice of the oldest British Marxist party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB), founded in 1904.
In the United States the DeLeonist Socialist Labor Party of America (SLP) was viewed as "impossibilist" by its opponents, particularly those in the electorally-oriented Socialist Party of America. A more self-consciously impossibilist organization emerged in 1920 as the Proletarian Party of America, an organization headed by the Scottish-born John Keracher which was directly influenced by the ideas of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Party of Canada.
- Waldo R. Browne (ed.), "Impossiblism, Impossibilist" in What's What in the Labor Movement: A Dictionary of Labor Affairs and Labor Terminology. New York: B.W. Heubsch, 1921; pg. 215.
- Socialist Party of Great Britain
- Socialist Party of Canada
- Socialist Labor Party of America
- Proletarian Party of America
- Karl Kautsky
- Eduard Bernstein
- "Impossibilism," Encyclopedia of Marxism, Marxists Internet Archive, marxists.org/ Retrieved October 16, 2010.
- Larry Gambone, "The History Of Canadian Impossibilism," Socialist History Project, socialisthistory.ca/ Retrieved October 16, 2010.
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