Socialism is a political ideology that began to develop in the nineteenth century, with roots in philosophers from the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly Karl Marx
. To give a complete definition here is almost impossible, as, like most political ideologies, it has many internal divisions and national variations. The Other Wiki
defines it as "an economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy", as opposed to the present capitalist system, whereby the means of production are owned by private individuals. There is no consensus on how social ownership is to be brought about or, once brought about, how it is to be managed; for this reason, this page also describes anti-capitalist anarchism and communism.
Revolutionary or Democratic?
Arise, the workers of all nations!
Arise, oppressed of the earth!
For justice thunders condemnation:
A better world's in birth!
It is time to win emancipation,
Arise, you slaves, no more in thrall!
The earth will rise on new foundations:
We, who were nothing, shall be all!
Perhaps the most important distinction in the socialist, anarchist, and communist movements is how exactly the capitalist system is to be overthrown and socialism brought about. Generally, anti-capitalist movements will self-describe as either revolutionary or democratic. This distinction is well explained here
by The BBC
's economics editor Robert Peston, answering a six year old's question about why he only got Ł1note
-a-week pocket money and how he could get some more:
[Either] all the six-year-olds gang up together and ask the grown-ups nicely to share their money with you (democratic socialism) or where you threaten to break the grown-ups' things unless they share their money with you (revolutionary socialism).
Though flippant, this neatly encapsulates the difference, which comes down to whether or not one should try to bring apart socialism by changing the system from within or without. Democratic movements, such as the British Labour Party, the German SPD and Die Linke
, and others, seeknote
to bring about socialism through participating in the existing democratic structures of the capitalist state; ie, by demonstrating in order to get political rights if you don't already have them, and then fighting elections and winning them. Revolutionary movements, on the other hand, hold that "bourgeois democracy" is not actually anything of the kindnote
, and so real
change can only be secured by coercion. This does not necessarily mean violent coercion; anarchism in particular often advocates non-violent revolutionary means (though violence is still favoured by many), such as general strikes (where everyone stops working until they get what they want) or other direct - though pacifistic - action, such as sit-ins or occupations.
This is not necessarily an ideological distinction (though it usually is), for instance, many British intellectuals in the interwar years expressed support for the Russian Revolution whilst not advocating a similar thing in the UK, pointing out that Britain's flawed democracy was not comparable to Tsarist absolutism.
(Some) Tenets of (Some) Socialists
Those who do not move, do not notice their chains
There are several political claims that generally qualify as socialist. One does not necessarily have to believe in all of them to be a socialist and some are disputed among socialists as to the actual prominence of them (eg. class analysis). Nor does believing in them necessarily make one a socialist either.
: A belief in society and some form of collectivism. This can range from a Nordic- style welfare state to anarcho-collectivism to full-fledged Communism. This belief is generally opposed to liberal individualism as it believes that people cannot be separated from the context in which they live their lives. That said, individual civil liberties are an important part of Socialist theory, and for some strains, individual freedom is the reason for supporting Anarchism in that particular strain.
2. The Benefits of Co-Operation
: Again the belief that human beings are interdependent. It also believes that social groups can be better than the sum of their parts.
3. Class Analysis of Society
: This is the belief that society is divided into different classes, the traditional model being the Marxist division between the proletariat (working class) and the bourgeoisie (owners of the means of production). It also includes the belief that the lower class is exploited by the upper class. Socialists believe in the equality between classes and Marx believed in the complete eradication of class. Opinions on where the middle class fits into that two-tiered model, and who fits into what class, is hotly contested
: The belief that all of humanity is one race and that there should be greater equality between rich and poor nations. A belief in international socialism is a response to international capitalism. "People are more divided by class than nationality".
, to greater or lesser degrees: The moderate critique of capitalism believes in curbing excesses of the free market through policies such as welfare state (see Social Democracy). The Radical critique argues that capitalism should be overthrown (see every other strain).
6. Liberty as Fulfillment
: This means that liberty is found through the development of the individual rather than freedom through purchasing power. Life, liberty, but not property.
7. Humans as Creative Producers
: This can be part of the critique of capitalism; the stultifying nature of working in a factory alienates people from their creative nature.
8. People are Sovereign
: Has been used to critique "bourgeois democracy" by Lenin, a term referring to the representative models used in most countries, or systems where who can vote is limited. A more modern critique would ask for increased direct democracy.
9. Social Ownership of the Means of Production
: Marx, writing at the time of the Industrial Revolution, argued that the injustice of capitalism stemmed from the anti-social minority ownership of the means of production. Very
simplified: Why is it fair that the workers do all the work, but the bourgeois get the profits just because they own the factories? Socialists seek to alleviate this claimed injustice either through social mobility, redistributive taxation, and increased workers' participation with social democracy, or expropriation (violent or otherwise) with other strands. The ultimate end is collective ownership of the means of production; such as through a bureacratic state (Soviet Communism) or associations of free producers (Marx himself, anarchism).
10. Wage Slavery
: Among the more extreme ideas, usually pushed by Utopians, Communists, and Anarchists, that any form of monetary pay for work is inherently slave-like: the basic idea is that capitalist societies force people to work for a decent quality of life, thus making the "choice" of work no choice at all. For more information than you require or than we can provide at this juncture, look no further
: In keeping with internationalism, many socialists opposed the creation and maintenance of colonial empires overseas by the Western powers (and then Japan) during the 19th and 20th centuries. It was felt that this was simply another means of capitalist exploitation. Many anti-colonial movements had a socialist bent, such as the ANC in South Africa, the INC in India (sort of) and the Down-With-Imperialism! Union in Korea. Today, this generally translates to opposing foreign wars and interventions as well as trans-national corporations and free trade agreements, whilst supporting indigenous rights and debt relief, since "traditional" imperialist colonialism is functionally dead (except from very
arguably in Tibet and Palestine) or irrevocable (the Americas, Australia).
: The idea that religion ultimately serves the interests of the rich and powerful because it teaches the poorest in societies to be happy with their lot and not cause trouble for the wealthy. The example used by Marx was the strongly monarchist bent of the French Catholic Church pre-The French Revolution
. This opposition to religion in general terms runs a gamut from the "militant atheism" of the USSR, North Korea
, and China (i.e, actively try to stamp out religion and the religious) to moderate secularism. Religious socialists
ditch it altogether (obviously).
Types of Socialism
I believe Socialism is the grandest theory ever presented, and I am sure it will someday rule the world.
Here are the laconic versions
of various types of Socialism. It's important to remember that while there is broad agreement among socialists that capitalism is bad and should be either abolished or at least moderated, there is little else universally agreed upon by them. The flame wars
that erupt over the existence of money, the usefulness of reformism vs. revolution and the proper role of the state in guiding the development of a socialist society are not worth getting into here. It's enough to know that there are deep conflicts between different schools of thought
and that at times it seems they can't cooperate on anything
- Utopian socialism: A 19th-century socialism developed by thinkers such as Saint-Simon. Belief in idyllic, small communities usually. Historical examples of the kind of thing utopian socialists aim for would be the ashram hermitages of India (most famously Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram) or the early kibbutzim of British Mandate Palestine and later Israel.
- State Socialism: A strain that emphasizes government ownership of industry and central planning. The difference between this and Leninism being that State Socialism is often practiced in democratic countries. A good if debatable example would be post-war Britain, especially under Clement Atlee. There is a fine line between this and Social Democracy.
- Social Democracy: Social democracy is a more moderate kind of socialism that seeks to use democratic rather than revolutionary means to achieve its goals. It advocates policies such as full employment and the right to work, the welfare state, and ensuring some equality of outcome through redistribution of wealth. Examples of this form include Postwar Consensus politics in Britain and the Nordic model in Scandinavia. The main difference with State Socialism is that, while the values of Socialism are there, modern Social Democracy actually has no interest in reforming Capitalism into Socialism but rather updating and modifying the Capitalist model to create a more equitable society, making its status as a Socialist ideology hotly debated. Worth noting that in Europe, where it is most popular, Social Democracy parties independent of the major Socialists groups still caucus with those socialists in domestic legislatures, and are usually members of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, which is itself under the blanket of the Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament. Most modern socialist parties in practice adhere to some version of social democracy.
- As an aside, the term "social democracy" in the early twentieth century used to refer to Marxists; it should not be confused with the modern usage of the term; although the German SPDnote was founded in 1875 as a Marxist party, it gradually shifted into a state socialist and then social democratic party following the Second World War.
- Libertarian Socialism: Imagine Anarcho-Syndicalism but less extreme, with the barest minimum of a State as supported by the Libertarian ideal. Government maintains trade relations and protects its people, but it does not interfere with their lives, which are meant to assume a cooperative instead of competitive way of living.
- An alternative concept of "libertarian socialism" includes the existence of the welfare state in that barest minimum to provide an equal playing field for all, therefore making force and fraud (at least directed against another individual) less attractive or pointless (this concept would be a Berserk Button for the more right-wing libertarians, who do not want a welfare state to exist). In this concept, personal freedom and privacy are paramount - the apparatus of the state that seeks to control individual behavior would be dismantled. For example, all drug laws would be repealed and replaced with truth-in-labeling on drugs laws - because it is not the business of the state to protect people from themselves but only from others who might seek to deceive or harm them.
- "Libertarian socialism" or "libertarian communism" have also been used interchangeably for different forms of anarchist socialism. Indeed, the word libertarian itself was first used by an anarcho-communist for his ideas.
- Religious socialism: Given the powerful attraction of socialism and the equally powerful attraction of religion, it was perhaps inevitable many people would find themselves true believers in both. Religious socialism is their attempt to reconcile socialist theory with religious theology.
- Christian socialism: Christian socialists feel that...well..."love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). It is felt that Jesus's teachings, when implemented, most properly lend themselves to the socialist way of government, and that the Christian virtues of charity, mutual forgiveness, and "giving until it hurts" are best expressed through socialism and social movement. A significant strand is Catholic liberation theology, which analyzes faith from a perspective critical of capitalism.
- Buddhist socialism: Buddhism and socialism have, it is claimed, similar ends: the finding of sources of unhappiness through inquiry, and then destroying it. Similarly, hoarding is seen as a human vice, as contrasted to the natural state whereby organisms take only what they need to survive. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, has said "capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability...For this reason I still think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist".
- Islamic socialism: Islamic socialists hold that the principles of the Qu'ran are compatible with social reform, pointing to the doctrine of zakāt (charitable giving), among others. Islamic socialists point to Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī, a companion of the Prophet, who protested against the inequality of the Umayyad Caliphate. It often incorporates pan-Arabism, the belief that the Arab world should be a single united nation. Gamal Abdel Nasser was a notable Islamic socialist, as was Sukarno, the first President of Indonesia. Colonel Gadaffi also espoused a kinda-sorta version of it in his Green Book, though in practice it was so removed from any kind of socialism as to be unrecognisable.
- Chavismo: Officially Bolivarianism, or Bolivarian socialism, Chavismo is the name commonly given to the policies of the late Hugo Chávez. Chavismo nominally involves anti-imperialism, participatory democracy, economic self-sufficiency, an ethic of patriotic service, equitable distribution of natural resources, and anti-corruption. Proponents claim it is a dynamic new movement that provides a much-needed counterweight to the influence of the IMF and United States in South America. Critics say it is at worst a sham ideology designed to keep Chávez's PSUV in power, and at best a well-meaning but incompetent program which is turning Venezuela into a Banana Republic. There is not much middle ground.
- Kemalism: Based around the ideas supported by the Turkish Republic's father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It is basically somewhere between State Socialist and Social Democracy, with a healthy emphasis on state ownership. It doesn't have any real popularity outside of Turkey (though Arab Spring revolutionaries are saying they look towards Turkey's model of government), but over there it is the dominant force in left-wing politics.
- Zapatismo: Zapatismo is the ideology of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacionalnote (EZLN), a revolutionary socialist group based in Chiapas, in the southern part of Mexico, which wages a primary nonviolent "war against the Mexican state". It synthesizes elements of libertarian socialism, anarchism, feminism, and Marxism with a strong anti-globalization ethic, indigenous rights, and traditional Mayan beliefs, along with participatory democracy and the sovereign right of the people to resist unjust rule (including, explicitly, the EZLN's if necessary). It has established several "autonomous municipalities" in Chiapas which it effectively governs according to their own principles. They're not bad at it either. The EZLN's leaders do not reveal their identities, instead using noms de guerre and wearing balaclavas in public appearances. The most famous is "Subcommandante Marcos", who has been called a "modern Che Guevara".
- Eco-socialism: Eco-socialist argue that capitalism and globalization are responsible for the destruction of the environment and the uprooting of native communities. Eco-socialism generally involves strong protections for the environment along with general anti-capitalist and anti-globalist principles. Rather than simply being a "green" movement or arguing for fair trade or corporate responsibility, the eco-socialist argues that capitalism is inherently destructive of the environment.
- Nationalist socialism: Not to be confused with National Socialism (see below), several nationalist movements have proclaimed socialist principles.
- Arab socialism: Arab socialism is generally an explicitly secular version of Islamic socialism (see above), advocating anti-Islamic principles, anti-imperialism, social justice, and pan-Arabism.
- Related to the above is Ba'athism. Ba'athism nominally espouses Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, pan-Arabism, anti-imperialism, and social justice. In practice, Ba'athist movements have functioned as state capitalist or fascist ones, and have never won democratic elections - both Iraq and Syria pursued privatization and personality cultism with Ba'athists in power. The Ba'ath party ruled Iraq from 1968 until the invasion in 2003, whilst it still governs Syria, currently embroiled in civil war. Ba'athist governments seem to have a proclivity for using chemical weapons on their own citizens. It is currently banned in Iraq.
- Irish republican socialism: Irish republican socialism blends socialist principles with Irish republicanism; the belief that the British must be removed from the North of Ireland, either democratically or violently, and a United Irish Republic established. Many Irish Republican movements, both violent and otherwise, have been socialist; the SDLP, Sinn Fein, and the Marxist-Leninist Irish Republican Socialist Movement, which incorporated the Irish National Liberation Army, a North Irish paramilitary group, which disarmed in 2009.
- Basque socialism: Socialism as practiced by Basque nationalists, who want independence from Spain.
Marxism and Communism
Let us finally imagine, for a change, an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labour-power in full self-awareness as one single social labour force.
- Marxism: A more scientific socialism that took the analysis of capitalism and the development of history as key points. Marx analysed the nature of capitalism, how it began, how it divides the world into the two classes of proletariat and bourgeoisie, and how it spreads across nations. Capitalism was seen as one stage of the progression of history, which would eventually collapse due to the contradictions inherent in it and would be replaced by socialism and then communism. A key idea in Marxism is that the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie" - the status quo whereby the rich hold social, political, economic, and cultural power - must be replaced with "dictatorship of the proletariat", whereby the workers hold power. Despite modern confusion, it is not an anti-democratic theory; To Marx, "dictatorship of the proletariat" involved ground-up participatory democracy involving all the workers making their own decisions, pointing to the Paris Commune as an ideal templatenote .
- Communism: This is the general term for what is basically the Anarcho-Syndicalist period after the full revolution, dictatorship included (or skipped). Funnily enough, the importance of this part of it has really died away as many "Communists" now focus on the State Socialist period (Leninists, Stalinists, Trotskyist, etc.) and the Anarcho-Communists have frankly even less influence than the other strains.
- Leninism: The socialist transitional period between capitalism and communism is a period of state socialism, which in the case of the first socialist revolution, Russia, was the totalitarian USSR. Leninism is the version of Marxism developed by V.I Lenin during the run-up and aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Because Russia was viewed as too backwards for true Marxism, Lenin saw education through violence and terror as an accepted and necessary means of building socialism, and of a certain supremacy of intellectuals who must educate the servile masses. Lenin thus developed the idea of a "vanguard party": nominally an organically arising organization of the most politically active and educated of the proletariat who will take the idea of socialism to the rest of the masses, in practice Lenin and his clique. "Dictatorship of the vanguard party" replaces "dictatorship of the proletariat". Funny that. Later Leninist movements have sometimes claimed themselves to be the revolutionary vanguard. Leninism emphasizes so-called "democratic centralism", a strictly majoritarian means of intra-party organization, violent dismantling of the old regime, punishing former capitalist oppressors, and a cultural shift to a proletarian culture, such as through Socialist Realism.
- Stalinism: To be extremely basic, Leninism is internationalist in outlook while Stalinism is isolationist ("Socialism in One Country" being a popular slogan). Previously Leninist states often became Stalinist over time, and never reached anything close to the ideal of stateless communism, though whether this is an inevitable process or a result of Soviet hegemony is debatable. Stalinism relied upon the idea of the vanguard party for its legitimacy; after all, if the vanguard is the most intelligent and adept section of society, who could possibly question its wisdom? It's modern adherents (yes, they exist) generally encourage socialist insolationism, rapid industrialization (or re-industrialization), a strong central state, and the entrenched authority of the vanguard party. Many, such as George Orwell, contend that Stalinism is essentially a twisted mirror of capitalism, since it entrenched in power the bourgeois intellectuals just as firmly as capitalism entrenched the robber-baron, the monarch, and the aristocrat, often with even greater brutality.
- Trotskyism: Imagine Leninism as functionally democratic and you basically have this, so it's easy to see it as a particularly hardline version of State Socialism. As Trotskyites were internationalists, they became bitter opponents of Stalinism. Trotskyism grew out of Leon Trotsky's response to the brutality meted out by the Soviet bureacracy under Stalin.
- Anarcho-Communism: These are Communists that believe that the transitionary State Socialist period is completely unnecessary, that society can jump straight from capitalism with a state to the inherently anarchic communism. Anarcho-Communists generally favor revolution as the primary tactic for the downfall of capitalism, but many favor the General Strike, like the Anarcho-Syndicalists. Generally this synthesizes the anarchist belief that authority is bad, and argues that establishing a system of government to bring about a system of free association is ultimately self-defeating.
- Mao Zedong Thought: Uniquely, Mao Zedong's variant of communism focuses on the divide between the urban and the rural. Maoism argues that the agrarian peasantry, not the urban proletariat, are the truly revolutionary class that will transform the world towards socialism. It focuses on rural insurgency, anti-Confucianism, and the ending of urban oppression of rural areas. Although nominally revered by the modern Chinese Communist Party, it has practically been discarded by most modern Communists, though it still has adherents in nations undergoing rapid transformation from rural to urban, who feel their way of life is under threat. Maoist revolutionary/terrorist movements still exist in India, Nepal, and Peru.
- Socialism with Chinese characteristics: The current official ideology of the Communist Party of China, first articulated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. It blends several ideological strands of Marxism and socialism, adds some new ones, and also emphasizes Chinese nationalism. In essence, the primary argument is that China adopted socialism as a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society, thus it is still in the first stage of socialist development. In order to build communism, therefore, China must become a developed and industrialized nation; justifying the adoption of capitalist policies in order to build up the country. Critics say that this version is no more than an ideological veneer for state-capitalist development, noting the poor quality of public services in China. Others have gone so far as to claim it more resembles a watered-down fascism than socialism.
- Juche: The ideological organization of North Korea, Juche is something of an enigma. "Juche" translates as "independent spirit", and was supposedly devised by Kim Il-sung during his lifetime. It emphasizes the transcendent wisdom of the Kim family, the need for a uniquely Korean socialism, the role of humans in driving history (and the corresponding need for a Great Leader to bring about socialism), and militarism. It has almost no adherents outside North Korea (and quite possibly few within it too), apart from the most disaffected zainichi Koreans in Japan. Functionally, most international observers agree that Juche is largely for the benefit of foreign observers, and that North Korea's system of government most closely resembles ethno-fascism.
Instead of the conservative slogan: "A Fair Day's Pay for a Fair Day's Work", we say instead: "Let's Abolish the Wage System".
-Industrial Workers of the World
Anarchism originally emerged as an anti-Capitalist theory. Anarchists and Socialists are often known to cooperate at rallies, even if they disagree greatly on many issues
- Collectivist Anarchism: A form of anarchism very similar to Anarcho-Communism. However, in contrast to the Anarcho-Communists, Collectivist Anarchists do not see the abolition of money as essential to the revolution. Collectivist Anarchists would continue to have money after the revolution and focus more on collectivizing property and the abolition of private property. However, most Collectivist Anarchists believe that money after the revolution would be a temporary thing and would eventually disappear and no longer be used.
- Anarcho-Syndicalism: The idea that if people are left to their own devices, they will essentially co-operate. Anarcho-Syndicalists often emphasize individual liberties being incompatible with the state as the reason for anarchism, as well as the idea that for there to be Socialism the state must not exist because the state naturally allies itself with big business. The primary tactic advocated by Anarcho-Syndicalists is the General Strike, in which all workers in all industries refuse to work for their masters anymore in order to transform society. This tactic is shared by many Anarcho-Communists. Anarcho-syndicalists are also known for their vehement opposition to strange women lying in ponds distributing swords as a basis for a system of government.
- Mutualist Anarchism: A form of Market Socialism where money is issued by a mutual bank cooperatively run by all who use the money and bank. In addition, labor is done through worker cooperatives run democratically by the workers rather than businesses run by businessmen/women. Like with other forms of anarchism, Mutualist Anarchism involves an abolition of private property in favor of possession. This was the form of anarchism supported by Proudhon. Mutualist Anarchists often support transferring from capitalism to anarchism through workers establishing a mutual bank and outcompeting capitalists.
- Individualist Anarchism: A form of anarchism very similar to Mutualist Anarchism. Individualists, like Mutualists, tend to support a mutual bank and a market-based system, but they tend to focus more on self-employed people or having small businesses run and operated by a small number of people rather than large industries with many workers who run the industries. Both are run by the workers, but Individualist Anarchists tend to be in favor of ones in which few workers are involved, more like mom and pop stores than factories. They do still support the abolition of private property and are opposed to what they call usury: rent, interest, and profit. While Individualists are socialists, they favor the free market, but with the caveat that capitalism can never have a truly free market. To Individualist Anarchists, usury hurts the free market and prevents it from working properly, which creates much of the problems in capitalism. Even more than Mutualists, Individualists tend to be in favor of outcompeting capitalism instead of overthrowing it through revolution. This is in part because many Individualist Anarchists are Anarcho-Pacifists as well and are against all violence and coercion.
- Green Anarchism: Overlays with green politics, which are generally regarded as left-wing. The basic idea here is that states and capitalism are central in destroying the environment.
- Anarcho-Primitivism: An extreme form of Green Anarchism that sees civilization and advanced technology as oppressive and exploitative. Anarcho-Primitivists advocate a return to nature and tribal hunter-gatherer life.
Listen...the only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People's Front!
Socialism, like any political movement, has many internal divisions; many modern groups are liable to react with rage if you have the sheer temerity to fail to inquire if they are populist-Leninist, Anarcho-socialist, social democrat, or Populist-Leninist-Anarcho-Socialist Democrats
before calling them "socialist". Many reams of type have been written either condemning or defending certain groups and their opinions; nevertheless, there are some movements which are by objective standards not
socialist, as opposed to groups which other socialists say are not socialist because they don't like them.
- National Socialism: Wikipedia really says it best here.
"Nazism was founded out of elements of the far-right racist völkisch German nationalist movement and the violent anti-communist Freikorps paramilitary culture that fought against the uprisings of communist revolutionaries in post-World War I Germany. The ideology was developed first by Anton Drexler and then Adolf Hitler as a means to draw workers away from communism and into völkisch nationalism. Initially Nazi political strategy focused on anti-big business, anti-bourgeois, and anti-capitalist rhetoric, though such aspects were later downplayed in the 1930s to gain the support from industrial owners for the Nazis; focus was shifted to anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist themes."
- There were left-wing elements in the Nazi Party's early days, but these had been expelled or marginalized by the time Hitler actually seized power. Gregor Strasser, for instance, advocated a staunchly proletariat, anti-capitalist approach to economics and social order during the Party's rise through the '20s. For this among other reasons, however, Strasser fell out with Hitler and was ultimately murdered. By 1933 (if not before) the Nazis were "socialist" in name only.
- Fascism: Despite its support for government control of big business and the finance industry, fascism is extremely hostile to socialism and egalitarianism. Socialists generally consider it to be an extremely statist form of capitalism, whereas historians consider it to be either an ideology that combines influences from both, or something different entirely.
- Liberalism: Including the Democratic Party, and especially the administration of Barack Obama. Modern liberals are frequently Keynesians (ie. they support some degree of government intervention in the economy, especially during times of recession) but liberalism is still a fundamentally individualist ideology, and American liberals are broadly supportive of capitalism and favor its continuation; it cannot possibly be emphasized enough that the Keynesian economic theory is not by its nature necessarily socialist. Keynes himself stated: "The class war will find me on the side of the educated bourgeoisie"-in sum, his goal was to save capitalism from itself. At most there may be some overlap with Social Democracy, but whether that deserves to be considered socialist itself (or something in between) is not widely agreed on either. It should be noted that outside of the US, "liberalism" has different connotations and usually means something like "moderate libertarianism" by American standards. The best way to explain why liberals are not socialists is to say that liberals want to amend the capitalist economic system to make it more fair for everyone, while socialists believe that capitalism is essentially beyond saving and want to replace it.
Socialism and its Strands in Practice
We are formenting world-wide fire,
Banks and prisons we shall raze to the ground!
For from the taiga to the British seas,
The Red Army is strongest of all!
This section has been folderized for your convenience by the Provisional Executive Design Bureau for Revolutionary Folder Control.
The USSR and its Mates.
There's of course the Communist bloc (which later had internal splits
, but we digress): The Soviet Union
, and later Red China
and their various satellites in Eastern Europe and the Third World. It took off in 1917 with the October Revolution
and mostly ended in 1989
, after Gorbachev started reforms of the sclerotic system that had become necessary after the armament race drove the Soviet Union into bankruptcy.
Quite a few people who like the theory of Socialism state that the USSR wasn't real Socialism. But we digress.
The planned economy, part 1: production
Since 1928, the Soviet Union had organized its economy centrally, which was run by a state planning committee (in the Soviet Union, it was called Gosplan) which was part of the state bureaucracy. They made the Five-Year Plans and decided which part of the economy should produce which amount of products.
While the numbers of mined coal, produced steel etc. looked good (at least on paper), in practice certain problems cropped up again and again. Since the people in production had no real incentive to work harder (as long as they could avoid punishment), they would instead look for ways to "fulfill the plan" in a way that saved work. (As explained below: Even when they received more money for more work, this didn't automatically mean they could buy more stuff with it. On the other hand, the fact that laziness is its own reward remained true even in Socialism.) For example, if workers in a window pane factory had the order to produce X tons of panes, they would make ridiculously thick panes (less of them necessary to make a ton). If the order was like "produce X square meters of panes", they'd make panes too thin, which would be too brittle. And maybe steal some of the glass for themselves and trade it on the Black Market
Since there also was no market research that deserved the name, sometimes the clothes factories would take perfectly fine cotton from Central Asia and turn it into clothes so ugly even the not really spoiled Russian ladies wouldn't want to buy them.
And while the Soviet Union managed to build up an impressive heavy industry (especially interesting for the war hawks among the Soviet leadership, since heavy industry also means weapons), this achievement became less meaningful after new inventions like computers were made, which they had trouble to reverse engineer.
The planned economy, part 2: sale
If a car salesman in a capitalist society has ten customers who demand a certain model, but only nine such cars, he can demand higher prices. Not everyone considers this fair, but this is the way it works in capitalism. Now in planned economies prices are fixed by the state, so this way doesn't exist for those selling products. So how would they solve this dilemma? This joke explains it:
A woman applies for a job in a state-run shop. The responsible manager asks her:
"Are you married?"
"How many children do you have?"
"Are your parents and parents-in-law still alive?"
"Do you and your husband have siblings?"
"I have four of them, he has five ones."
"Sorry, then we can't give you the job."
Woman: "But why?"
Manager: "See, we actually have to sell some wares over the counter!"
In short: Since (regular) money doesn't matter, the wares will go to those who have the best connections to those selling it.
This was quite often the case, and people would have to waste hours of their life standing in a queue. Which was even worse in places where bread was sold in one store, milk in a second one and meat in a third one, for practicality
. Of course, if you were lucky enough to own hard currency like American dollars or West German marks
, this didn't apply. Which led to another joke that Communism and Capitalism are really Not So Different
, because in both systems you can get everything if you only have enough dollars
The Post-War Consensus of the United Kingdom
In opposition to the USSR's model of totalitarian communism was a British model of "market socialism" which arose out of the government of Clement Attlee
following the Second World War. It had its genesis in the British trade union movement, which formed the British Labour Party. It was helped along by the Beveridge Report on poverty, which called for heavy state intervention to help the poorest in the UK. Just before the end of the War, the Labour Party promised to implement the recommendations of the report, whilst their Conservative opponents flip-flopped. The result was Labour winning a landslide electoral victory in August 1945, kicking out the government of Winston Churchill
and promising to build a "new Jerusalem".
The new government set up the world's first system of socialized medicine, took into state ownership most of Britain's heavy industry, and greatly expanded the system of welfare benefits. It also negotiated the independence of India, which led to the gradual decolonization of the British Empire. These policies were widely popular; the Labour Party never lost a single by-election during its first term (which no government has since managed), won a huge majority, and was returned to office at the end of it. However, Attlee's experiment with state socialism was to be sharply curtailed; in the 1950 election, although he polled more that 1.5 million more votes than the Conservatives, he gained, due to a quirk of the British voting system, a majority of just five. He tried his best to govern with such a slim majority (which basically required his MPs to always be in Parliament to get anything done) but eventually called another election twenty months later, having done what he set out to do. Once again, he took the majority of the popular vote; but this time Britain's system fucked him even more comprehensively; he ended up 26 seats behind
Winston Churchill's returning Conservatives, and Britain's first socialist government left office.
For the next thirty years, both left and right and Britain believed in broadly social democratic policies toward the economy, employment, trade unions, welfare, and foreign affairs. However, in 1979, Margaret Thatcher
came to power, and dismantled it, instituting a policy of monetarism, de-industrialization, interests-based foreign policy, and deregulation in its place, the so-called "neo-liberal consensus". The reasons for the collapse of the consensus are still hotly debated. Right-wing critics argue that socialist trade unions prevented British industry from retaining its competitiveness in the globalizing world. Left-wing ones argue that a lack of investment, right-wing ideological bias against state-owned industry (brought about by the rise of Austrian economics in the Tory Party from 1970), and malevolent class warfare on the right's part were to blame for Union militancy, which ultimately turned the wider public against it.
Substantial nostalgia exists for the post-war consensus in Britain; when Margaret Thatcher
died, her end was met with partying in many of the formerly industrial regions of the UK, and employment in the UK has never been higher than in 1974, just as the consensus reached its apogee. Similarly, inequality has increased massively since the advent of the Thatcher government in '79 and remains both high and rising.
The Nordic Model
This refers to the common traits of the political and economic systems of Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. It has been variously described as "statist individualist", "market socialist", and "social democratic". As it concerns us here, it is useful as a prime example of a social democratic system, or as close as any extant system of government gets to such a system.
The Nordic countries are characterized by high trade union participation, collective bargaining, very high taxes, free education and healthcare, a comprehensive public pension scheme, gender equality, an extensive social safety net and system of public services, and high government spending on key services. These are combined with strong contract law and property rights coupled with an ease of doing business and loose product market regulation.
The Nordic countries have remained resilient through the economic crisis of 2007-11, though their GDP per capita has declined in recent years. The United Nations World Happiness Report 2013
showed that the Nordics are the happiest nations on earth; furthermore, they led the indicators for real GDP per capita, social cohesion, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and governmental integrity and efficiency. Similarly, they are some of the most equal societies on earth.
That said, the system is not without its critics. From the Right, The Economist
has predicted the ultimate collapse of the model as unsustainable (though none of its predictions have, so far, come to pass). Libertarians have criticized it as excessively statist
: while the American popular myth that the Nordics are bureaucratic and inefficient has never been anything but a myth; they do
have some of the world's highest income taxes, which offends some people's conceptions of individualism. From the Left, others have criticized it for not being socialist enough
, pointing to low rates of corporate taxation, high VAT, and the presence of monarchy in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.
Some Famous Socialists:
I entirely agree that people should have the greatest freedom compatible with the freedom of others. There was a time when employers were free to work little children for sixteen hours a day. I remember when employers were free to employ sweated women workers on finishing trousers at a penny halfpenny a pair. There was a time when people were free to neglect sanitation so that thousands died of preventable diseases. For years every attempt to remedy these crying evils was blocked by the same plea of freedom for the individual. It was in fact freedom for the rich and slavery for the poor. Make no mistake, it has only been through the power of the State, given to it by Parliament, that the general public has been protected against the greed of ruthless profit-makers and property owners.
And some notable communists; communism is not quite the same thing but they might as well be mentioned:
For more information on Socialism, please consult Wikipedia
. They can say it much better than here. Please note that this article barely
scratches the surface.