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Impossibilism is a theory and strategy for bringing about socialism and an interpretation of Marxism that stresses the limited value of political, economic and social reforms within a capitalist economy. It argues that pursuing such reforms is counterproductive as they only strengthen support for the existing system and thereby work to ensure the continuation of the capitalist system, or at the least, impossibilism argues that such reforms are irrelevant to the realization of socialism and should not be a major concern for socialists.
Impossibilism insists that socialists should focus only, or at least primarily, on structural changes (or revolutionary changes) to society as opposed to implementing social reforms. They argue that revolutionary political action is the only viable method of instituting the structural changes necessary to bring about socialism. Impossibilism is thus held in contrast to reformist socialist parties that aim to rally support for socialism by implementing popular social reforms (such as a welfare state) or those who believe that socialism can emerge through gradual economic reforms implemented by an elected social democratic political party.
Impossibilism is the opposite of "possibilism" and "immediatism". Possibilism and immediatism are based on a gradualist path to socialism and a desire on the part of socialists to help ameliorate the social ills "immediately" through practical, existing institutions such as labor unions and electoral politics; thereby de-emphasising socialist objectives. The result is that socialists who embraced possibilism and immediatism sounded and acted little different from non-socialist reformers.
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 and pursue policy reforms that benefited the working-class 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 (those around Jules Guesde) characterized them as political "Opportunists." Conversely, the revolutionary socialists who opposed ameliorative reforms and participation in existing governments were called "Impossibilists" by their detractors because they allegedly sought the impossible by refusing to partake in the governing of capitalism.
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 said to be the basis of the theory and practice of the oldest existing British Marxist party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB), founded in 1904 and the international World Socialist Movement though they reject this description.
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. In France Jules Guesde and the French Workers' Party were accused of impossibilism.
- "Impossiblism", on Marxists.org: http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/i/m.htm
- Rosenstone, Robert. "Why is there no socialism in the United States?". Reviews in American History (November 1978): http://authors.library.caltech.edu/14561/1/HumsWP-0017.pdf
- 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.
See also 
- Classical Marxism
- Karl Kautsky
- Libertarian socialism
- Proletarian Party of America
- Revolutionary socialism
- Socialist Party of Great Britain
- Socialist Party of Canada
- Socialist Party of Canada (WSM)
- Socialist Labor Party of America